Over or under: It’s a matter of philosophy

Oct 8, 2002 5:01 AM

   There are many factors to examine when studying football totals.

   Defensive and offensive statistics need to be examined. Some of the questions a good handicapper asks: Is there speed in the defensive secondary? Does a club have a one-dimensional offense? Do they prefer a powerful running game or wide-open passing attacks? What kind of weather conditions will be in effect this game? Is the game on grass or artificial turf?

   Another area that has surfaced early in this pro football is coaching philosophy. Many coaches subscribe to the Vince Lombardi/Bill Parcells school of football, where the ground game took a slight precedence over passing. They tried to construct their teams so that ball control could be an element of their game plans.

   In Super Bowl XXV, the Giants upset the Bills 20-19 as a +6 dog and held an edge in time of possession by a whopping 40:33 to 19:27! Parcells came up with a ball control plan to try and keep the football out of the hands of Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s run-and-shoot offense. One 14-play Giants drive took 9:29 off the clock.

   Former coaches such as Jimmy Johnson and Bill Walsh had philosophies that were markedly different. They were more like gunslingers in the old West, ready to score a touchdown on every single play.

   You can find betting edges, particularly in totals, by understanding some coaching philosophies. For example, in preseason, a scribe covering the Carolina Panthers noted that new coach John Fox preferred a conservative, ball-control attack. “Get ready for a lot of 16-10 games,” he noted.

   Carolina got off to a surprising 3-1 start (4-0 ATS). Not as surprising was Carolina going under the total in three of the four games. In fact, while pro football scores league-wide have risen remarkably, Carolina scores have looked a lot like last year: 17-14, 10-7, 21-14.

   New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel certainly prefers conservative, smash-mouth football. A year ago, the defending NFC champion Giants started the season 9-3-1 under the total. This year, the under is 3-1.

   Marty Schottenheimer is similar, as well. While with Washington last season, the under started 5-1. This season Schottenheimer has moved on to San Diego with the under going 3-1 through four games.

   Tony Dungy was ultra-conservative while with Tampa Bay. The book is still open on Dungy in Indianapolis, but it was interesting to see the Colts (#2 in the NFL offensively in 2001) go under in two of their first three games.

   On the flip side, there are several pro teams with coaches who prefer a wide-open offense and have average defenses. This is a great combination for an over and the Raiders and the Bills have fit this scenario.

   Bill Callahan ran a wide-open offense in Oakland as the offensive coordinator under Jon Gruden. This year as head man he clearly hasn’t changed the run-and-gun philosophy.

   With weapons such as Rich Gannon, Tyrone Wheatley and Tim Brown, the Raiders went over the total with ease in their first three games.

   Buffalo has done the same thing. Coach Gregg Williams has not held back his talented passing game with newcomers Drew Bledsoe and rookie Josh Reed joining WRs Peerless Price and Eric Moulds. With a poor defense and a great passing offense, the Bills were outscoring teams by a 33-32 average after four games. The over was 4-0.

   The Kansas City Chiefs also fit the “great offense, poor defense” model. The Chiefs went over the total in three of their first four games, outscoring teams by a 35-33 average. Kansas City was very good offensively last year (sixth both rushing and passing), with Trent Green, Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez. The defense was 22nd overall, a nice mixture for over bettors.

   Current Kansas City head coach Dick Vermeil was the architect of the Rams’ Super Bowl championship team in 1999-2000, which displayed a dynamic offense. A lot of credit went to Vermeil’s imaginative offensive coordinator, Mike Martz.

   Perhaps not enough credit went to Vermeil, who certainly has gotten the most out of his offensive weapons in St. Louis and Kansas City.