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Dogs end strong

Dec 17, 2002 12:41 AM

   The final two weeks of the NFL regular season generally feature a number of sub-plots to follow.

   There are teams battling for the final playoff spots, teams positioning themselves for home field advantage, some eliminated clubs on a mission to play spoiler to arch-rivals, and usually a few sad teams that have for all intents and purposes quit.

   One avenue for handicapping the final two weeks that we don’t think has been fully explored concerns teams with first year coaches. These teams often suffer through losing seasons (since most of the time when a coach is replaced the team is bad to begin with).

   The charts break down the last five seasons and search for teams with new coaches. The figures point out how these teams fared in the last four weeks of the season:

   The underdogs came away with the best results. The home/away splits are not too revealing, although away underdogs were the single best zone overall.

   Over the last two weeks of a team’s regular season schedule from 1997 to 2001 time-span, the underdog/favorite breakouts are even more pronounced. A team led by a first year head coach has been a historically brilliant wager as an underdog, but suspect when favored.

   Indeed, it may be that the final two games are built up in importance for the purposes of showing just how far the team has progressed and how they will be ready to take the next step the following season.

   The team’s record on the year was perhaps an important consideration in that you would think the best performance against the line would come with teams that were generally “under the radar” of the betting public. This turns out to be moderately true.

   Excellent teams (.650 win percentage or higher) (with new coaches) were just 7-19 ATS over the last four weeks, and 4-10 over the final two weeks.

   There is a “bumper crop” of newly located coaches in the NFL in 2002, with seven changes at the top in place before the season began: Dungy (Indianapolis), Schottenheimer (San Diego), Gruden (Tampa Bay), Fox (Carolina), Callahan (Oakland), Spurrier (Washington), Tice (Minnesota).

   For the most part, the above “headset men” are probably earning “A” or “B” grades for the season, with the notable exception of the most hyped coach of the bunch — Steve Spurrier — whose Redskins have been a disappointment to many prognosticators.

   For wagering purposes though, the pattern is clear. Watch for a spot where one of the above new coaches leads his team into the game as a proud underdog. Then, see if you can’t find some other reason to believe that this team under the command of a first year coach will be finishing strong!

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