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Box Score Mania

   by Bryan Leonard - 10/31/2007

There are many different handicapping strategies to look at during football season: Betting angles, trends, statistical matchups, situational handicapping, and many more. There are also tried and true methods, too, which shouldn’t be overlooked. Statistics are the most basic of handicapping analysis. There are many revealing factors, as well as highly unusual stats, that crop up in every Sunday NFL box scores.

The Jaguars pulled of a 24-23 win at Tampa Bay. At first glance, you might think the new-look Jacksonville offense is beginning to click. After all, they had a strategic change this offseason, bringing in Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. He ran pass-happy attacks at Boise and Arizona State and coach Jack Del Rio brought him in to ignite the Jaguars predictable offense.

However, a closer look at the box score finds Tampa Bay with the edge in yards 385-219. That’s not a wide-open offense by the Jags! When we examine the game we find 3 turnovers by the Bucs, which tells much of the story. In addition, the Jaguars were going with backup QB Quinn Gray, making his first NFL start because of an injury to David Garrard. The Jaguars admitted they went with a run-oriented game plan to take the pressure off the new QB. Gray threw only 16 passes for 100 yards. Sports bettors should take note that the Jaguars will likely continue to run the football more until Garrard comes back.

The box score of the Lions' 16-7 victory over the Bears offers an interesting clue about a change in Detroit’s philosophy. Ever since RB Kevin Jones came back against Tampa Bay, the Lions are trying to run the football more. It has helped the offense in other ways: Lions QB Jon Kitna hasn't had a turnover in the last two games. Those two games went under the total, as well, as running the football can grind the clock down and keep scoring lower.

Another thing that stands out from that box score is Chicago QB Brian Griese: 4 picks! Two of his passes were picked off in the end zone and one at the goal line. The Bears managed just 63 yards on the ground as the Lions brought up a safety into the box to help keep Cedric Benson and Adrian Peterson in check. "We knew they were going to try to throw the ball," Lions cornerback Fernando Bryant said. "Griese had been throwing the ball great his last four times. So we knew what to expect. We made them one-dimensional."

The surprising Browns got another win, this time 27-20 on the road at St. Louis. A close look at the box score reveals something we’ve known all season: Their defense still stinks. The Browns gave up nearly 400 yards of offense and 24 first downs to a crippled St. Louis Rams team that was further depleted by the loss of three offensive starters during the game. "It doesn't matter, if you win," said Browns defensive lineman Shaun Smith. Sure, but good teams can stop the opposition, and the Browns aren’t there. The Browns have a strong offense and poor defense, which explains a 5-0-1 run over the total.

It’s essential to dissect box scores, but you need to know how to interpret data and how to apply the following week when examining teams and point spreads.

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