There are three strong prevailing trends this season in the NFL.
• NFC underdogs have gone 34-7-2 this season, even after suffering their first losing week of the season 2-3-1 ATS in Week 7. (Editor’s note: 1-4-1 if you bet the games before Sunday).
• Teams heading into the bye week are 1-13 ATS, discounting the games where one pre-bye team faced off against another (0-2 ATS in Week 7).
• Teams coming out of the bye were on a 7-2 ATS streak heading into the Bears-Lions showdown on Monday Night (2-1 so far in Week 7).
All three trends pass the “does it make any sense” test. The NFC underdog trend has a relatively simple explanation. The worst teams in the NFL are in the AFC this year. Carolina, St. Louis and Tampa Bay – the three lowest rated NFC teams in my power ratings – all rank above the likes of Jacksonville, KC, Buffalo, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Tennessee and Oakland.
No surprise that the NFC has dominated interconference play thus far. Without any weaklings to beat up on, we’ve seen NFC favorites struggle to build margins against their in-conference competitors.
The pre-bye trend of failure is an interesting one to consider. There’s no short or long term database history to support it, which means many bettors are going to conclude it’s just a quick blip on the betting radar screen. I’m not convinced that’s the case.
Last year, the NFL signed a new labor agreement with the players that ensured every team gets four full days off during their bye, a new stipulation. The prospect of a four day vacation in the midst of a brutal six month stretch with no other time off appears to be quite a distraction…at least so far.
Of course, the flip side is that after their four day break, we’re seeing a renewed focus from the post-bye squads. And with so many of those teams playing so poorly before the bye, it’s no surprise we’re seeing significantly better efforts in their first game back.
Do the trends hold any water? This week, I focused on five teams coming into or going out of the bye week.
This defense has spent most of the last month getting gashed. Who can forget the 90 points allowed in a six quarter span against the Pats and 49ers! Tennessee became the fourth straight opponent to gain 180-plus on the ground with 2 TD’s on the board before facing a third down try.
No penetration from the front four or contain from the linebackers…plus poor coverage in the secondary. This defense needs some major schematic adjustments during their bye week!
This offense is going to move the football against the lesser defenses they face – good balance, strong running between the tackles.
When Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t under pressure, he’s a pretty good decision maker in the pocket. Lots of second-down-and-short situations thanks to Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller’s powerful rushing, even behind a banged up offensive line. But every week, Fitzpatrick seems to make three or four simply awful throws if you have a Bills ticket in your pocket – like the INT that cost them the game with the Titans.
After losing to Dallas, the Panthers dropped to 1-9 SU in games decided by 7 points or less in the Ron Rivera/Cam Newton era, including the last three. This offense finished fifth in the NFL in scoring last year. This year, they’ve exceeded 14 points only twice with most of the same personnel. One major culprit is poor offensive line play.
Against a four-man rush, they couldn’t protect Newton, and neither DeAngelo Williams nor Jonathan Stewart had any room to run. The Panthers lack all sorts of fundamentals – blocking and tackling are not their strong points. Not what you would expect to see from a well-coached team coming out of a bye week.
Cam was somewhat better at settling for check down routes than earlier in the season and this offense utilizes his running ability extremely effectively. A team with this kind of balance and playmakers should not be scoring in the low teens.
Talk about a no-show before the bye-week! Then again, maybe this is what Baltimore really is right now. This defense came to Houston ranked in the bottom quartile of the NFL in both run yardage and total yardage. They had Terrell Suggs back in the lineup; the only true pass rusher this team has.
Suggs had a sack and knocked away balls in pass coverage downfield, amazing six months removed from ACL surgery. Unfortunately for Baltimore, the other 10 defenders spent the afternoon getting gashed, unable to stop the run or the pass while allowing six scoring drives (including four TD’s) in a 35 minute span.
Joe Flacco simply isn’t the same QB on the highway as he is in Baltimore. He’s much more tentative in the pocket, holds the ball too long, and his accuracy is problematic. This offense averaged three yards per play, truly woeful numbers.
Flacco started 7-20 with two INT’s and zero third down conversions in the first half. His career numbers show a dramatic home/road split; this year’s splits are even greater. That’s why the Ravens highest scoring game on the road this year matches their lowest point total at home.
New Orleans Saints
Anyone who thinks the NFL isn’t a QB driven league needs to watch New Orleans for a game or two. This defense remains a sieve; allowing the Bucs to gain a season high 513 total yards. With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, they gave up the tying TD pass twice; one negated by a heel out of bounds; the other on a penalty. They got a little bit lucky to escape with the win. The Saints are getting very little from their backs.
A great passing game without complementary pieces can win Super Bowls – just look at the Packers two years ago for a recent, prime example when an early 14-0 deficit turned into a 7-point halftime lead with four consecutive long TD drives.
It’s hard to count this team out completely either for one reason only – Drew Brees is that good. Can’t bet this team UNDER. Saints totals still aren’t high enough even after six consecutive 50-plus point games to open the season.
Even though this offense torched the Ravens defense, I still have questions whether they can trade points with the elite attacks of the NFL. The Texans lack playmakers – a slow, plodding ball control offense. The defense is every bit as good as advertised – blowing up the line of scrimmage and not allowing any open receivers downfield.
No team in the league bats down more passes, and even when they don’t reach the passer they’re having a positive impact. Houston leads the league with 25 forced three and outs after holding the Ravens to three plays or less on seven different drives. A well coached football team, for sure!