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Handicapping: Remembering the Past

   by Bryan Leonard - 08/20/2007

Handicappers should have good memories, or at least have a full supply of pencils and notebooks handy. Events from earlier in the season as well as past seasons can help find edges against the spread. A few years ago, for instance, when the NFL opened the season, the Bills flattened the Patriots in Week 1 31-0. The fortunes of the teams changed the rest of the way, and in Week 17 the Bills were out of the playoff while the Patriots were 13-2. The teams met in the finale, with the Patriots winning 31-0. Think the players remembered that first meeting?

Preseason football offers examples of this, too. A year ago I had the Giants over the Chiefs in preseason action. One aspect of the game that stood out for me was an incident that took place a year ago in preseason between the opposing coaches.

Herm Edwards was the new coach of the Chiefs, but the season before he was coaching the Jets. And in that preseason, Edwards had an agreement with NY Giants coach Tom Coughlin to have "no rough stuff" in their inter-squad scrimmage. Then Edwards, for whatever reason, forgot his agreement. The Jets unloaded on their cross-town rivals and it infuriated the Giants coach.

NY Giant players were stunned and brought it up several times that preseason. Word out of New York a year later was that Coughlin had not forgotten it, either. That was a factor in my handicapping. Because picking motivational spots in the preseason is important, largely because they can be difficult to find. Most times, teams just want to go through the motions and stay healthy. Preseason is for examining young talent, figuring out who to keep or cut, and for the starters to work out a little of the rust.

However, you can find spots where coaches are angry with a team's performance and ask for a superior effort. And, yes, there can even be revenge spots in preseason, similar to what the Giants and Chiefs experienced Thursday. Last week word was that the Eagles were furious with the Ravens for blitzing all the time. Donovan McNabb, off knee surgery, played only two series in the 29-3 loss to Baltimore. That’s something to file away if the two meet later or next preseason.

Make notes on incidents like this that stand out during a season, even preseason. Maybe a player mouths off at an opposing player, or takes a cheap shot on the field. Or one team humiliates another. Or even a team's bus gets stuck in traffic and unruly fans pelt the bus and the players with debris, anything like that that can stand out as unusual or motivational down the road.

Tennessee LB Keith Bullock was talking trash last week against the Patriots, a team that ran up the score in a 40-23 regular season 2006 finale that knocked the Titans out of the playoffs. These things can even carry over into the regular season and back into preseason!

That is an obvious example, but over the course of a season there are many other examples a good handicapper can find, many of them subtle. Looking for winning spread situations requires one to keep copious notes and to understand that even tiny, seemingly innocuous details can be very important down the road. Because the road to ATS success is paved with tiny details.

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