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Recent Play Trumps Overall Statistics

   by Bryan Leonard - 11/08/2007

If an NFL team is averaging 18 points per game, that's about average. However, a handicapper should not stop there when analyzing a team's offense. If that offense scored 10 points in each of its first four games, then scored 28 in each of its last four, that's a VERY significant difference. They may be averaging 18 per game overall, but it's far more important to me that they are averaging 28 the last four.

This is because teams change over the course of a season. Maybe they had injuries, maybe they got key players back from injuries, maybe the offense needed time to gel, maybe the coaching staff made adjustments. All kinds of reasons could be found, but the important thing is to try and identify those reasons, which will better help you predict what is going to happen.

There’s no better example than the New Orleans Saints. At the halfway point of the season, they stood at 4-4, average. But that’s not at all what stands out about this team. After an 0-4 SU/ATS start to the year, the Saints rode a 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS mark.

The Saints had validated their recent play with a 41-24 thrashing of the Jaguars in the Superdome. Their fourth win in a row pulled the resurgent Saints (4-4) into a second-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South, just a half-game behind Tampa Bay (5-4). As they have done the previous three weeks, the Saints combined an impressive offensive display with a solid defensive performance to keep their winning streak alive. QB Drew Brees threw for 445 yards — the third-highest total in club history. Brees has poor overall numbers when it comes to TDs and picks, but not when you just look at the four recent games.

Michigan State in college football has been like that in recent years. I recall when they played Purdue a year ago, I noticed that Purdue's defense was awful during the first half of the season, giving up over 30 points in four of their first six games. But the next 4 games they allowed 10, 24 (to Wisconsin), 12 (to Penn State) and 15 points (to Michigan State).

Michigan State had totally packed it in ever since that horrific collapse against Notre Dame, losing 6 in a row against the spread. The defense allowed over 30 points in four straight games! The overall defensive numbers for Purdue and Michigan State may be poor, but I was more interested in how they've played the previous month. The Spartans were favored, but lost the game straight up to Purdue, scoring just 15 points.

Another play I had that same weekend was underdog Mississippi State. The general public thinks of the Bulldogs as a terrible offensive team, which they have been the last four seasons under Sylvester Croom. They got shut out in their first two games of 2006. However, that was back in early September, and I noticed that the last next games Mississippi State had scored 35, 24, 31 and 24 points! That's a fairly productive offense.

The Crimson Tide, meanwhile, were on a 3-11 spread record run when laying double digits. The previous week's blowout victory over Florida International wasn't nearly as impressive as the final score. Alabama had just 224 total yards of offense against an 0-8 Sun Belt team playing without 18 players who were suspended! Alabama had played four conference games scoring in regulation 17, 13, 20 and 13 points. Now they were laying double digits to an offense that has scored 24 and 31 points the previous two weeks against SEC defenses.

In addition, it was a big game for Mississippi State head coach Croom who played at Alabama yet was overlooked when the job went to Mike Shula. Mississippi State won the game, 24-16, as a +14 dog. You know the old saying: What have you done for me lately? It can work to find handicapping edges each week, as well!

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