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Analyzing NFL Totals

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/09/2007

One key aspect of handicapping totals in the NFL is defense. Offensive stats are one thing, but just as important is WHO that team is playing. Or more specifically, if a bad offense is playing a bad defense, they are more likely to move the football, certainly more than the overall stats may suggest.

For instance, the Chiefs have a bad offense. In three of their games, they took on strong defenses in the Bears, Vikings and Jaguars. How did the offense do? Awful, scoring 10, 13 and 7 points. In fact, all of those games went under the total. Kansas City is easier to defend because they run a predictable, one-dimensional offense. It’s easier for ddefensive coordinators to map out a game plan for and much easier for good defenses to shut down.

The one KC game that went over the total was when they scored 30 on San Diego. Even after allowing 3 points to Denver, the Chargers are still ranked 22nd in the NFL in total defense.

I used this strategy on Sunday when the Jets and Giants hooked up in NY. In my analysis I noted, “A pair of bad defenses meet in the Meadowlands. The Giants are 16th in total defense, the Jets are 28th. And the injury front is even worse. Jets starting strong safety Erik Coleman has a concussion and won't play against the Giants. The Giants DE Michael Strahan (knee) and S Gibril Wilson (hip) are limping along with DE Osi Umenyiora, who has missed practice time.

“The Jets defense is real bad, giving up over 25 ppg while the Giants are giving up 25 ppg, despite dominating the Eagles last week. Jets rookie CB Darrelle Revis had 11 passes caught on him last week. Now he has to face Amani Toomer and tall Plaxico Burress. QB Chad Pennington and the Jets passing offense has gone no-huddle a lot this season, which helps in scoring, while the Giants have a strong passing attack. This total is too low with all these offensive passing weapons, veteran QBs and suspect defenses. The over came in easily in a 35-24 Giants comeback win.

It wasn’t just one fact, such as bad defenses, it was several other factors, including veteran QB play, injuries and the Jets no-huddle attack. But the main point that first led me to the game was a pair of weak defenses meeting.

The previous week I had the Bears/Lions over the total. Oddsmakers were focused on the Bears poor quarterback play with Brian Griese stepping in for Rex Grossman. However, that stood out for me was the Bears defense. Sure, they were great last season, but in 2007 they have been smacked with injuries.

Talented safety Mike Brown was hurt in the opener (knee) and is out, and nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek is out with a season-ending knee injury. LB Lance Briggs is not 100%, Tommie Harris hobbled out of the last game with a sprained knee ligament and cornerback Nathan Vasher is out. The Bears were facing the Lions' passing machine without their top cornerbacks. Vasher will be sidelined for a month with a partially torn groin muscle, and Charles Tillman is out for two games with a high right ankle sprain.

Ricky Manning Jr. and seventh-round pick Trumaine McBride were the starters. The defense is great when healthy, but they are depleted and the against Dallas they allowed 34 points, 131 yards rushing and 300 passing! The Lions run a wide-open attack with WR Roy Williams, WR Mike Furrey and rookie WR Calvin Johnson, great toys for OC Mike Martz (who never saw a pass play he didn’t like). But Detroit spent all their offseason upgrading the offense and ignored the defense.

That was evident in the previous game, a 56-21 loss at Philadelphia, giving up 536 yards! When analyzing totals, don’t start with offensive play, but any defensive deficiencies, such as injuries and poor play. Reading between the lines can help you spot a soft betting line!

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