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Go ‘under’ in bad
final week matchups

Dec 23, 2003 12:56 AM

So after 15 grueling games along with months of physical punishment and emotional turmoil, players and coaches have reached the regular season finale.

Of the 32 two teams that started out on the path to triumph this season, only 12 will qualify for postseason play. Some teams deep down inside may have known back in the preseason that they weren’t likely to be going far. Others may have had high hopes, only to see them dashed on the rocks of the injury reports.

It doesn’t matter in the end how a team came to be where it is. Handicappers focus on how teams acquit themselves in the finale when perhaps there is less reason to be playing at full force.

Lame duck coaches are an interesting category ”” do these types go light on the preparations for the last time out before the axe will fall, or are they pushing hard to try and go out as winners?

With varied objectives for the teams (the infamous "resting of key players" can come into play), it seems plausible to think that there may be some important historical trends to consider.

We’ll begin our review by looking at the games played in the final week of the regular season from 1990 on.

We selected the three cutoff points for classifying the teams based on the number of wins coming into that week’s games. A team with 10 victories already is looking very good to make the playoffs, and has had a good season regardless. A team with 7 to 9 may still be in contention, but is a middle of the pack type. And a team with less than 7 is guaranteed a losing season.

The best bets in past final week games have generally been specific home favorite plays. Indeed when you have a great away team (10+ wins already) facing a middle of the road home side (7 to 9 wins), the home side is an excellent 17-4 ATS, including 9-1 as a favorite.

A middle of the pack away team at a great home team has seen the home squad go 12-4 ATS as the favorite. Also, when a poor away side faces a great home team, the home side is 14-4 ATS. This last finding is interesting in that the good teams will undoubtedly have had some games which were relatively meaningless in the mix.

Home dogs as a whole were 41-28 (59 percent) but if you stayed clear of the bad home sides (less than 7 wins) except when facing a like bad away team, you would see it’s a formidable 25-9 (73 percent).

Another area of focus for many sports bettors is totals, and looking at similar matchup breakdowns on an over/under basis we find less value to this type of analysis.

The best pattern comes in a game between two "down and out" squads with fewer than seven wins, where the under has been the way to go, especially when the home side is favored. Other than that, we’re not seeing any strong trends.

Bottom line: Home favorites have offered up some very viable value in season finales. Home underdogs still pack a punch in this late stage of the season, doubly so when the home side is at least a respectable team.



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