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Finding Over-Priced Favorites
by Scott Spreitzer - 10/26/2004
While Joe Public loves to load up money on favorites, professional handicappers have no trouble pulling the trigger on live dogs. I bring this up because last week I found an outstanding value play on the Arizona Cardinals and released it as my NFL Dog of the Year. The Cards were a 7-point home dog, yet led 13-3 at the half and wound up with a 25-17 victory. In the end, no need for the points, though thatâ€™s one of the benefits of backing barking dogs. If you bet the favorite, your team not only has to win the game but cover. Dogs provide a nice insurance policy that can come in handy in a close game. You may recall last week, when analyzing the matchup, I wrote, â€œI believe this game comes down to a field goal, and would not be surprised if Arizona pulls the outright upset.â€쳌
When eyeing upcoming games, do you instinctively look for favorites? Are you a bettor who is shy of dogs? Well donâ€™t be. Thereâ€™s value all over the board if you know how to look properly, in sides, totals, halftime bets, and even prop wagers. And of course, underdogs.
Iâ€™m not a strong believer in spread trends, unless the angle can be backed up with something tangible. For example, when examining the Cardinals last week against the Seahawks I wrote, â€œArizona has been an outstanding play as of late when hosting a division foe following a bye week. Theyâ€™re 6-0 ATS in this situation and 8-2 ATS if theyâ€™re a dog off a bye week in which they lost the week prior to the bye.â€쳌
Stats donâ€™t always tell the whole story, of course, but those particular numbers were strong because I believe most teams off a bye week have several edges on an opponent. That extra week of rest is important for players to get healthy â€“ which is a key factor in the physically demanding world of pro football â€“ and for coaches to spend extra time studying their opponent for weak spots. In addition, the last few seasons Arizona has been a team that performs very differently at home and on the road. The Cardinals were 4-4 SU, 6-2 ATS at home in 2003 and 0-8 SU/ATS on the road! This season theyâ€™ve upgraded their head coaching position under Dennis Green and have continued to be tough at home. In fact, over their last 13 home games, Arizona is 10-3 against the number. Thatâ€™s no accident. This team plays hard at home.
Last week that same team was a 7-point home dog against a Seattle club that was in a tailspin and had just lost their key defensive offseason acquisition in DL Grant Wistrom. That was a lot of points to be giving an Arizona offense that, behind QB Josh McCown and rookie WR Larry Fitzgerald, was in a groove scoring 34 and 28 points the previous two games! And thatâ€™s another aspect about dogs to remember: Look at what the team has done all season AND what theyâ€™ve done recently. Many times a team that may look bad in September can have a very different look in October for many reasons. Let me run through some of the things I look for when assessing whether to play a live dog.
1) Can the dog win the game? If the team Iâ€™m looking at to win the game comes as an underdog, naturally Iâ€™m going to lean toward playing the dog. Getting points is an added bonus.
2) Defense: A better defense or an improving one can help dogs keep the game close. In the Arizona/Seattle write-up, I noted that the Cardinals were second in the NFL at creating turnovers.
3) Running game: Does the underdog have a clear advantage running the football for this game? If a team can run the football on an opponent, they can control the ball and the clock. This usually means the opponent has fewer chances to score, which means you have to look at the superior running team thatâ€™s getting the points.
4) Matchups: In the Arizona/Seattle Dog of the Year last week, I wrote about how Seattle defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes would use run-blitz packages on first and second down, but that it would be a problem for the Seahawks because inconsistent SS Terreal Bierria was at a disadvantage against Fitzgerald. Also, Seattle didnâ€™t have anyone to replace the imposing Wistrom up front. Identify individual matchups and analyze, just like the coaches are doing each week in the film room
5) Home field: Itâ€™s not uncommon to see a weak home dog rise up and play its best game of the season in front of the cheering home crowd.
6) Bye week: More rest and preparation can mean advantages emotionally and physically for a team.
When analyzing each weekâ€™s NFL card, I always start by making reasons for and against each underdog. That doesnâ€™t mean I donâ€™t play favorites, but looking to play dogs first
definitely allows me to find over-priced favorites at least two or three times per week!
Good Luck, as alwaysâ€¦Scott Spreitzer.