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A Powerful Cocktail: Mismatches and Defenses

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/08/2006



Offenses get all the publicity and certainly too much interest with the general betting public. But good defenses are more important than offenses when it comes to winning championships and often times covering numbers. In fact, this past Sunday five of the statistically worse defenses in the NFL (Bengals, 49ers, Lions, Cardinals, and Titans) all failed to win or cover. And some lost REAL bad by scores of 45-14, 32-10, 38-13 and 41-0.

The Bengals were even a significant favorite Sunday. Yet, they still have a major weakness, like last season, of stopping the run. In three of their games they've allowed 113, 170 and 236 yards rushing. The Patriots have a new philosophy of running the football more this season because of a very deep offensive line, a healthy RB Corey Dillon and rookie bull Laurence Maroney and they exploited that edge against the Bengals run defense.

This week we will have a football game each night of the week. From a handicapping point of view, it's essential to look at each game and look for match-ups where one team might be able to exploit a strength against the opponent's weakness. If a strong passing team faces a team with an awful secondary, like the Tennessee Titans or NY Giants, that is an edge a competent coaching staff will look to exploit.

Or, if a strong defense is facing a team with no offensive line or a young quarterback, that's another advantage. There happens to be a whole lot of inexperienced QBs this NFL season, such as Andrew Walter (Raiders), Charlie Frye (Browns), Matt Leinart (Cardinals) and Vince Young (Titans). Other teams have injured starting QBs, like the Chiefs currently with Damon Huard, the Bills with J.P. Losman and the Raiders with Aaron Brooks still on the shelf.

This comes to mind after a recent NFL slate where I examined defensive match-ups to find a betting edge. When the Ravens visited the Browns last week, I notice that the Baltimore defense hadn't given up a touchdown. Based on the way the Cleveland offensive line has played the streak was likely to continue. You had a great Ravens defense against a young Browns QB playing behind an injured offensive line. The Browns were 29th in the league in total offense and weren't likely to erupt offensively. It stood to reason that the Browns approach to the game would be to keep the ball on the ground and shorten the game.

But I didn't stop there. History also showed that the Ravens have gone under the posted total in 14 of 17 road games, while the Browns have gone under the posted total in 12 of 17 at home. I looked for the defenses to rule as 3 of the last 4 in this series had gone under the total averaging just 30 points in the process. And what happened? The conservative teams tallied 29 points with the Ravens winning late, 15-14, another easy under!

Another team that has a great defense is Denver. They were getting a lot of points their last game at New England because the offense had struggled and it was a revenge spot for the Pats. However, the Denver defense wasn't getting the respect it deserved. Defensively they have permitted just 31 points in three games, and had not yielded a touchdown the first two games. Mike Shanahan was 3-0 ATS as a dog last season and 19-8 ATS as a dog overall. A great defensive team can keep a club in a game and cover numbers, especially as a dog. Analyzing defensive ability and mismatches in football can unearth outstanding wagering opportunities on live dogs, games under the total and undervalued favorites.

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