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Bettor's Choice: The Good, the Bad, or the Ugly?

   by Al McMordie - 10/10/2004

Bettor’s Choice: The Good, the Bad or the Ugly?

by Big Al McMordie

So what teams should a handicapper look to when analyzing odds: The good, the bad or the ugly ones? Well, you should examine all teams and lines in various situations, of course. However, let me say a few words about how bad and very ugly teams can look wonderful in the eyes of the professional handicapper.

Bad teams can fly under the radar far more easily than good ones. Remember that lines are set in part with public perception in mind. High profile NFL teams that have been to the Super Bowl over the last ten years, like the Packers, Rams and Raiders, are known as "public teams." Oddsmakers take extra care not to make bad numbers with these teams as they are guaranteed to attract more money on a regular basis than, say, the Bills or Cardinals. It’s the same in college, too, with big-name programs like USC, Florida and Ohio State.

Well coached teams and winning ones are also more likely to show up and play hard every week. However, small schools and consistently bad teams do not attract as much interest from the betting public. The Arizona Cardinals are in decent shape now under the guidance of Dennis Green, but only after several years of incompetent play and very bad teams. From 1998-2002 the Cardinals were 37-59-2 ATS as an underdog! Before Marvin Lewis turned things around last season, notice that the Bengals were 21-42 ATS as a dog from 1998-2002 (2-14 SU, 4-12 ATS in 2002 overall). Real bad teams can be consistently bad against the number. There are several factors to keep in mind when analyzing bad teams that can help you as a bettor. Ugly teams can offer go-against opportunities and here are some things to keep in mind about bad teams as you analyze the card each week.

1. Lethargy: We are approaching that point in the season where football teams, both pro and college, are beginning to get a sense of whether they have a legitimate shot at the postseason or not. Bad teams can develop a sense of complacency and lethargy both in practice and on game day. The NY Giants last fall had aspirations of making the playoffs, but everything fell apart. After a miserable start, the Giants tuned out coach Jim Fassell and had an even more miserable finish, going 0-8 ATS to end the season.

2. Disenchantment: Athletes are human and can get frustrated and not show up to play hard if they’re not happy. It will be worth watching the current situation in Miami under Dave Wannstedt. Management made some poor moves in failing to upgrade the offensive line and the team was hit with bad luck, with the retirement of Ricky Williams and the loss of free agent WR David Boston in August. And Dave Wannstedt certainly has never stepped up as a big game coach, either. The Dolphins appear to be an unhappy bunch under Wannstedt and started 0-5 SU and ATS. This team has come very close to the playoffs the last two seasons, so how happy can the players be in what is shaping up as a train wreck season?

3. Player Revolt: Pro and college teams can quit on their coach, making for terrific go-against spots. A year ago, this happened to the Arizona Wildcats as the players tuned out Coach John Mackovic. For betting purposes, this is often evident when the team is supposed to lose: Arizona was 1-10 SU and 4-7 ATS last season as an underdog. If an unhappy team knows it’s going to lose, why play hard? This was evident with the NY Giants and Oakland in 2003, too, and may occur in Miami.

Well coached teams are far less likely to suffer from these maladies, of course. This won’t happen for pro teams such as the Chiefs, Patriots and any team coached by Bill Parcells. It won’t happen for well coached college programs, either, such as the current coaches at Boise State, Rice, Toledo, Michigan and Miami, Florida, to name a few. But for handicapping purposes, it can be just as profitable to look to go against bad teams with numerous problems, rather than to search for good teams to wager on. Because ugly teams can look oh so beautiful when you’re cashing tickets at the betting window!

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