Underdogs starting to lose their NFL dominance

Oct 30, 2012 3:05 AM

Last week, I wrote about the three strongest prevailing angles for the 2012 NFL season. Let me update the numbers from a week ago.

NFC Underdogs – any underdog in any game – have gone 37-12-2 this season. But that angle has now suffered back-to-back losing weeks, looking like it’s come and gone as the market has adjusted to reflect the NFC’s dominance – just 3-5 ATS in Week 8 after a 2-3-1 ATS mark in Week 7.

Teams heading into the bye week are now 1-14 ATS, discounting the games where one pre-bye team faced off against another. The Jets were the only team to fall into this category last Sunday, with the 49ers pending on Monday Night. This trend is still very live; 0-3 ATS over the past two weeks.

And teams coming out of the bye are on a 9-5 ATS streak; again discounting the games where one post-bye team faced another. But that trend seems to be flatlining: 2-2 ATS in Week 7 followed by another 2-2 performance in Week 8.

What’s really going on with these pre-bye or post-bye squads? For the second straight week, I focused my attention on five teams in one of these two roles.

Miami Dolphins

I like coaches who take some chances to get their team some positive mojo (the anti-Ron Rivera). Here, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin pulled the trigger on a surprise onside kick following their opening field goal drive. Miami recovered, but they couldn’t move the ball. Still, it was a strong momentum boost for the road team. And that was only the start of a complete special teams mismatch that overshadowed every other aspect of the game. This was not the type of game where yardage numbers from the box score are going to be meaningful in any way.

Philbin and special teams coach Darren Rizzi coached up a masterful performance. When your team recovers an onside kick, blocks a punt for a touchdown, blocks a field goal and has a 57 yard kick return in the same game, you’ve clearly done something very right! Attention to details on special teams equals good coaching, plain and simple.

Before we anoint the Dolphins as serious contenders to unseat the Patriots in the AFC East, there are definitely offensive concerns to consider. Miami lacks big play potential; not a well-oiled unit by any stretch of the imagination. With Matt Moore replacing the injured Ryan Tannehill, Miami struggled to move the football with any consistency; a potential issue moving forward.

Philadelphia Eagles

The defense looked much worse after firing coordinator Juan Castillo during the bye week and replacing him with Todd Bowles. They were bullied at the line of scrimmage, couldn’t stop the run or get off the field on third down and left receivers racing wide open downfield; a truly miserable showing. 

The worst part about it for the Eagles was their defensive superstars were complete no-shows. Dominique Rodgers Cromartie blew the coverage on the Falcons’ first touchdown, then got called for pass interference and defensive holding on the same play to set up the second TD. Remember, DRC was the same guy who was vehemently defending Castillo in the media during the bye! 

Nnamdi Asomugha got beat on Julio Jones long TD bomb. Either these cornerbacks are wildly overrated or there are bad schemes here! With no pass rush – Philly has a grand total of two sacks since Week 3 – this situation may not turn around anytime soon. Talent does not equal victories in this league! 

Michael Vick’s rushing totals are the lowest in his career – he’s primarily a pocket passer these days, and not a great one either. Homefield edge? You could have heard a pin drop in this stadium well before halftime.

Atlanta Falcons

Maybe I’ve been selling this team a little short thus far because the only victory the Falcons have against a team above .500 came in Week 2 against the 4-3 Broncos. All six of their other wins were facing sub .500 opponents as we reach Week 9 – the halfway point of the season. The Falcons came in the Philly game with an NFL worst -1.5 yards per carry (gaining 3.7, allowing 5.2; #28 in the NFL in defending the run); a very rare case of an undefeated team being outgained on a yards per play basis. 

The Falcons ran the ball effectively, and there’s no question that this passing game is explosive. Most impressive were the offensive schemes that created repeated mismatches, like star WR Roddy White cruising downfield guarded by a defensive lineman. 

This team has lots of different weapons on offense, and not just the big boys. Their first two TD’s were scored by relative unknowns Drew Davis and Jason Snelling. Seven different receivers caught Matt Ryan’s first 11 passes (10 completed). When any teams scores on every possession for the first three quarters of an NFL game, clearly, they’re doing something very right!

New York Jets

This pass defense is getting the job done. A Calvin Pace sack killed a Dolphins drive knocking Miami’s QB out of the game and the downfield coverage was excellent all afternoon. That’s about the only positive from another dismal showing for the last place Jets – the third time they’ve lost by three scores or more. They seemed like a team more worried about the weather and getting out of town before the bye week than one interested in winning the game. Basically a complete no-show.

New York’s run defense is not effective – Miami ran well between the tackles all afternoon. The offense was largely non-existent against a “real” defense – they weren’t facing off against New England this week! This is not an effective start to the first half: punt, blocked punt, fumble, punt, punt, punt, with a grand total of two first downs and four 3-and-outs. 

Didn’t this team spend all training camp working on the Wildcat which was supposed to revolutionize this offense? We haven’t seen much creativity from Tony Sparano’s offense all year, and Mark Sanchez had yet another rough game. RB Shonn Greene busted through the line for what should have been an easy TD run, but got caught from behind; lacking that extra burst of speed for a feature back. 

New England Patriots

If there’s one team in the NFL that you can expect to have full focus before the bye week, it’s Belichick’s Patriots. And boy, this was a complete annihilation. Gronk was beating double coverage for touchdowns; Brandon Lloyd was making sick receptions in the end zone. I’d really hate to be a defensive coordinator trying to design a plan to stop these guys. When Brady has time to throw, he’s the best QB in the world. 

After some early season struggles, this OL is playing like an elite unit right now, blowing open holes for the backs and giving Brady all day to throw. And the Pats leaky secondary sure played better once the team started blitzing effectively; their best defensive showing since Week 1 at Tennessee. The Pats looked like a Super Bowl team here!

Ted Sevransky is one of the nation’s premier sports handicappers and analysts. Follow Teddy on Twitter @teddy_covers or visit his page at experts.covers.com. Contact Ted Sevransky at[email protected]

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