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Sports Betting Illusions
by Bryan Leonard - 10/03/2006
That oasis the thirsty caravan driver sees on the horizon turns out not to be there. The beautiful girl across the room turns out to be far less so as you get closer (unless you've had too many). Our eyes can play tricks with our mind as there are mirages all over. In the world of sports handicapping, teams and statistics can sometimes be an illusion.
Take the Baltimore Ravens offense. The Ravens are averaging 23.3 points per game, good for 8th in the NFL. Very impressive. Has new QB Steve McNair made that much of an impact? After all, that was the plan all along when they acquired him. Let's take a closer look. The Ravens offense ranks 22nd overall, or tenth worst! Suddenly that offense doesn't look so deadly anymore. So what is happening?
What happened is that that high scoring average masks the real offensive production, which has been sub-par. For instance, the Ravens are averaging just 109 yards rushing and 182 yards passing. That passing offense is 8th worst in the NFL, something McNair was brought in to fix. The defense is scoring and forcing turnovers, setting up great field position for the offense.
Here's another: The New Orleans Saints have the 5th best defense in the NFL. This is surprising as they've been awful the last few years and spent this offseason upgrading the offense. A closer look shows they played the anemic Browns offense and the one-dimensional Falcons. And that Atlanta game was a bit of a fluke, as the Saints were playing their first home game and the whole city was fired up at the return. Oh, and it was national TV. The Saints played brilliant, but is that one game indicative of how strong their defense really is?
Likely not. One reason is that three games into the season is too small a sample. Another is that this same Saints defense gave up 27 points and 322 passing yards to Green Bay. When the season ends, the Saints will not have a Top 5 defense.
It's important that handicappers analyze games with the ability to look for mirages and illusions. It's not enough to simply say, â€œThis is the No. 5 overall defense in the NFL, therefore they are very strong defensively.â€쳌 There are always more pieces of the puzzle to fit together concrete conclusions, especially when it means putting your hard earned money down on what you perceive to be a soft number.
This happened to me Tuesday night when Southern Miss was playing at Central Florida. I noticed that a year ago the two combined for 83 points as the Golden Eagles dominated in a 52-31 victory. But the offenses didn't perform as well as the score would indicate. Southern Miss tallied 351 total yards and just 73 on the ground. The Knights managed just 356 total yards, 96 of those on the ground. Both teams prefer to move the ball on the ground based on the past history of their coaches, so I was anticipating far more rushing attempts and success in this meeting.
The Golden Eagles are averaging a solid 5.3 yards per rush while UCF allows just 3.7 ypr. Central Florida is averaging just 2.8 ypr thus far but they played without their best rusher Kevin Smith last week who was suspended. He came back this week and Coach O'Leary expects a much improved ground game. I gave out and played the game under the total and it sailed easily under in a 19-14 final. Again, mirages and illusions are sprinkled all over the sports betting world. The astute capper learns to distinguish the fog from what is real, and turn that into real profits!