Now is no time for errors

Dec 2, 2002 11:37 PM

   The question for those who wager on December NFL games is what changes to make to our chosen approach to handicapping.

   It stands to reason that motivation and resulting pressure varies considerably for teams in the last weeks depending on their record and their post-season outlook. Consequently the astute handicapper most likely needs to make some adjustments to the everyday analysis.

   Looking at over 10 years worth of late season games, there’s one thing that stands out as remarkable — the success of home underdogs.

   Our database shows that dogs have hit at almost a 61% clip during the last four weeks, while road favorites have been a gambler’s ruin. Home favorites and away underdogs have been closer to a 50/50 split.

   The next idea we had to check on was how teams have performed at the end of the year when the season as a whole has either been disappointing or exceeded expectations. In both these cases we are basing this evaluation on how a team’s current in-season won-lost record compares to its prior year record.

   Teams having good seasons (with winning percentages of 20% better than the prior year) are good bets at home, but below par on the road. As big home favorites (laying five or more points) such teams have a 61 percent success rate against the line.

   The next obvious place to turn is to look at the events in a team’s last game and how that might alter their ATS results. Turnovers are a prime factor and those stats from a team’s previous game carries great weight.

Teams that committed 4+ turnovers in the last game

As Underdogs: 55-37 (60 percent).

As Favorites: 31-48 (39 percent)

Teams that had 4+ takeaways in the last game

As home teams: 46-31 (58 percent)

As away teams (50 percent)

Teams that had 0 takeaways in the last game

As home teams: 54-36 (60 percent)

Teams with -3 or worse net turnovers in the last game

As Underdogs: 46-25 (65 percent)

As Favorites: 26-36 (42 percent)

   Another frequently important stats field is rushing yards — allowing high yardage is sometimes a symptom of a team that packed it in to some extent in a given game. History suggests that teams can recover.

   Sides allowing at least 150 yards rushing in their previous game were 103-88 overall, but an outstanding 37-11 (77 percent) coming back as home underdogs! In particular, go against good teams when they are playing on the road.

   Visiting teams with a winning percentage of 60 or higher facing a sub-.600 home foe, the home side is 68-39 versus the line. Home favorites won 70 percent ATS versus opponents with a better record (at least .600) coming into the meeting.

   Some concluding points:

   a) Give home underdogs very serious consideration, but play away favorites sparingly if at all.

   b) Turnovers in the last game can be a tip-off to performance in this one, but not probably in the way you would assume.

   c) Look to take a stand against good teams when they are playing on the road against lesser foes.

   There are of course other factors people look towards at this time of year (cold weather teams, playoff implications), but the starter rules above can go a long way to ensuring a happy holiday season.

   TwoMinuteWarning.com features innovative statistical coverage of the NFL to help you win.