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Anticipating NFL Surprises

   by Scott Spreitzer - 08/19/2007

Regular season win totals in the NFL have become a hot betting
proposition here in Las Vegas. Gamblers are always chomping at the bit
to bet pro football during the summer. These regular season win props
allow people to do just that. And, frankly, sharp bettors have made ALOT
of money exploiting soft lines.

I found early on that much of my preparation for a coming NFL season puts
me in ideal position to attack these poor numbers. In the past I was
always a fast starter in football because of my offseason analysis.
Now, I was able to further increase my profits because I could anticipate
what the mainstream media would call surprise performances from
various teams.

It's a definite advantage to be able to spot many of the lesser teams who are ready to
"arrive" this year, and also to spot many of the top teams from the prior season who
are ready to fall back to earth.

Even if you're not interested in playing regular season win props, you
should still be trying to anticipate these surprises! Today I'm going to
explain some of the strategies I've developed for uncovering the big
movers from year to year.

First, you have to realize that football is a sport of parity. There's
just not that big a difference from top to bottom, and the difference
between top and middle barely exists at all. With that in mind, you
have to look for teams to regress to the mean. Teams with a winning
record are likely to drop back toward .500. Teams with bad records are
likely to lift themselves up in the direction of .500.

Bottom line: don't expect too many winning teams to get better, and don't
expect too many losing teams to get worse!

Also, any team that changes their head coach in the offseason will see
these chances magnified. Bad teams are extremely likely to get better
because they've fired a guy who couldn't win. Good teams are very likely
to fall back to earth because the prior guy probably retired, and a
change messes up what had been working.

After looking at the big picture issues involving the teams and coaching
changes, you have to move to the quarterback position. Here are the
guidelines I use:

*Established veterans will maintain their level of performance. The only
time to be wary of veterans is when they've made it past 35 years of
age. Then you have to pencil in a slight decrease in production from
year to year.

*Young quarterbacks generally improve slightly from year to year. I've
found in the past that most guys who are destined to be stars will make
that clear by the end of their second season. Just be aware that these
guys get better during the season, not between seasons. Don't make the
mistake of assuming that some young QB is about to make a huge leap
forward in the coming campaign. Detroit and Houston kept thinking that
way about Joey Harrington and David Carr. So did bettors who believed
the offseason hype. I'll pencil in slight improvement for very young
guys. But once a guy has played at least three seasons, I consider him a
veteran who's about to plateau for several years.

*Rookie quarterbacks will probably be in the mid 70s or lower in passer
rating. Now, in this league, it's relatively rare to know before the
season starts that a rookie will be getting all the snaps. You have to
assume some early season troubles to even anticipate something like
that. Teams like this I'm probably skeptical of anyway heading into a
season, so the change to the rookie doesn't have much of an impact.

*Because quarterback play is relatively stable these days, the only way
teams have dramatic differences involves trades or free agency. This is
where you have to look for potential surprises.

Who's likely to make a big jump forward? Any team that replaced a bad
quarterback with a decent veteran via an offseason transaction, or any
team that was starting a young quarterback who hasn't reached three full
seasons in the league yet.

Who's likely to fall backward? Any team replacing an established veteran
with a questionable newcomer at quarterback. Any team with an old
quarterback who may find that this is the year he hits a wall.

The final area I want to discuss today is "luck" from the prior season.
Teams who had better won-lost records than they deserved in 2006 are
likely to fall back to earth in 2007. Teams who had worse won-lost
records than they deserved are likely to get better.

How can you tell who the lucky or unlucky teams were? I look at records
in games decided by six points or less (assuming teams with great
records caught some breaks, and teams with bad records deserved better).
And, I look at the stat rankings on offense and defense, and make a
determination about whether those stats are reflective of the won-lost
record. Here's a quick example from 2006. The Tennessee Titans ranked
27th on offense, and 32nd on defense, yet finished 8-8. They're unlikely
to be that lucky again this season.

Once you've evaluated teams in this light, many of the so-called
surprises jump off the page. You find teams who were unlucky last year
and have made changes that are likely to lead to a surge. Teams like
this may pick up as many as four-to-five extra wins this year. You find
teams who were lucky last year, and have stood pat with personnel who
really aren't that good. They may drop from playoff contender to 5-11 in
a finger snap.

I'm not going to run through my personal selections for surprise teams.
I need to keep that information close to the vest for my early season
selection process. I do think that those of you who do the work in
preseason preparation will be well-positioned to get off to a very hot
start come September.

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