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Whatever Happened To NFL Garbage Time?

   by Scott Spreitzer - 11/24/2007

I think the biggest reason that we’re seeing a dearth of underdog
value in the NFL this season is that BAD OFFENSES can’t score in garbage
time.

In the past there was always “insuranceâ€쳌 with underdog selections
in the NFL. There’s enough parity that any dog was capable of winning a game
straight up if they played over their heads. If they put up any kind of
fight at all, they’d be there at the end and get you the money. Or,
if they played badly, they could STILL come back and cover a spread of
more than a touchdown with a late garbage time score.

This year, we’re seeing that many teams just don’t have any idea
how to drive the field and score. It doesn’t matter if they’re facing a
garbage time defense or not. They can’t do it!

This was clear this past Thanksgiving, as both the NY Jets and Atlanta
Falcons failed to put many points on the board after they had fallen
behind. The Jets only scored three points all day in Dallas. Atlanta
only scored three points after the first quarter at home against
Indianapolis. Even though both were double digit underdogs, neither had
an offense that could put points on the board in the fourth quarter.

We’re seeing a lot of that this year. Two weeks ago in this space I
ran a listing of all NFL teams based on offensive touchdowns per game.
About a third of the league was at 1.5 or less. A few teams who had been
performing better have dropped down because of injuries or personnel changes
(Miami had an offense with Trent Green, they haven’t with his replacements).
If you’re only scoring 1.5 TD’s per game, it’s going to be hard to
cover pointspreads unless your own defense is playing great.

I can tell you that a lot of professional wagerers
have been costing themselves money by chasing big underdogs. It’s a
strategy that had worked well in the past. Those of you with NFL
databases know that double digit underdogs are usually a moneymaker.
This year, some extremes in quarterback ability have taken that away:

*Many of the best teams have excellent quarterbacks. This elite set is
moving the ball at will and putting points on the board.

*Many teams in the bottom third of the league either have inexperienced
quarterbacks, or guys who have established that they’re not very good
(or are in their mid 40’s!). This group can’t even score in garbage
time right now.

It’s a mismatch that the Las Vegas pointspreads haven’t been able
to capture. The old standards don’t matter any more. It used to be that
10 points was a lot, and 14 points seemed like a gift. If the best teams
are going to score 30 or more every week, and the worst teams are going
to score 13 or less every week, taking 10-14 points isn’t a gift!

Here are my suggestions:

*Focus on underdogs who have a decent quarterback and have established
that they can move the ball. These underdogs are still covering their
spreads for the most part. You know, 2007 hasn’t been a replay of
2005 when the favorites went crazy. Good dogs are still covering. And, you
still have that garbage time insurance with teams that can move the
ball.

*Don’t make a habit of going against the elite teams until they
show some vulnerability. Did the Eagles show the blueprint for hanging
with the Pats on Sunday night?

*Don’t ask an inexperienced quarterback to win for you. If a team has
to make a change because of injury or inefficiency, the backups just
aren’t bringing anything new to the table. Pro defenses are too complicated
for inexperienced signal callers to master right away. Not everybody has
a veteran in place like Feeley.

You might feel this limits your options on an NFL Sunday. It does! If
you had been following this approach all season, it’s likely to have
trimmed a bunch of pointspread losers from your slate. You want to
limit your exposure. You want to limit your investments to the very best
cover options.

Take out the garbage so you’re left with the goods!

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