Time to bet on & against NFL teams

Dec 15, 2009 5:08 PM

Looking at NFL streaks, two things stand out in 2009: The Saints and Colts. It was quite a story two years ago when the Patriots were trying to march through the NFL regular season at 16-0 as it hadn’t happened in 35 years. Now, just two years later, a pair of teams are threatening to do it!

Oddsmakers caught up quickly to these powerhouses. After starting 5-0 SU/ATS, the Saints went 2-4 ATS, often as a double digit favorite. That’s what can happen to public teams, either popular teams or ones with a flashy offense like the 2009 Saints have. The Colts, too, have that dynamic offense and after starting 4-1 ATS, they went 2-3-1.

Normally we are at the time of the pro football campaign where some teams have mentally and physically packed in the season. It’s been a lost season or one with higher expectations and players, especially ones on poorly coached teams, can just go through the motions. That can show up on the scoreboard and at the wagering window.

The Bears might be in that group, with the heat on Coach Lovie Smith in what was supposed to be a better season. The Bears limped through November and early December on a 1-4 SU, 0-4-1 ATS run doing far more wrong than right. It’s been a tough season with injuries, especially on defense where Chicago played recently with three linebackers who began the season as reserves. You have to wonder about the focus of the offense and quarterback Jay Cutler when you hear reports he is going to lobby for USC offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates in the offseason.

The Lions have plenty of reasons to play hard with a new coach and a boatload of young players needing experience, yet they have been money-burners down the stretch at 1-5-1 ATS.

Teams that need to be watched closely as on the bubble for packing it in might be the Texans (0-3 SU/ATS collapse with plenty to play for), the Bills, Chiefs, Raiders, Browns and Bucs, teams winding up lost seasons.

One only has to look back one year ago at the play of the Raiders (2-3 SU/ATS run), Rams (0-9 SU, 3-6 ATS) or Jaguars (1-5 SU/ATS) and see teams that weren’t giving 100%. The Raiders are double-digit losers for the seventh straight season. The Rams lost their last nine games under Jim Haslett, their second coach of the 2008 season, getting outscored 216-73.

On the other side of the coin are teams having great seasons, such as the Vikings, Eagles, Packers, Bengals and Chargers. Think the Bengals are having trouble getting motivated? They were not expected to be very good, but after going 4-0 against the Ravens and Steelers they are sitting pretty to cash in a surprising division title. You won’t see teams like that taking a day off in December, at least until after a clinch party. Players and coaches on these teams largely take their roles seriously and look forward to showing up for work.

One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes teams having dismal seasons will get fired up to face the top teams, especially at home. It can help ease the pain of a disappointing season. Everyone wants a shot at knocking off the best, which should be a warning to the Colts and Saints. Last year the Rams started 0-4 SU/ATS, but in a home game against the talented Cowboys, the Rams won 34-14 as a big dog. Later on they lost back-to-back games to mediocre teams, the 49ers and Bears, by scores of 35-16 and 27-3. Clearly that game against Dallas was their Super Bowl. Everyone’s been trying to knock off the defending champs and the Browns did it on national TV, thumping the Giants 35-14 – a rare bright spot in a tough season.

2007 was unique for powerhouses, with the Packers and Cowboys starting 10-1 and the Patriots going 16-0. You may recall the 4-7 Ravens dominating the 11-0 Pats on Monday night as a +19 dog, playing with fire before a last second 27-24 defeat. The 2007 Eagles failed to make the playoffs or have a winning record, but as a +24 dog they gave the unbeaten Pats all they could handle. New England needed a late TD to survive 31-28. "It was the most complete game we played all year," Eagles LB Omar Gaither said. Offensive lineman Shawn Andrews added, "People built them up to be Goliath. At the same time, a lot of people made us out to be a 24-point spread, and we know they’re not that much better than us."

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Jim Fiest