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Digging for NFL Gold
by Scott Spreitzer - 11/25/2008
A lot of handicappers are having trouble separating the cream from the crop in the NFL right now. Two thirds of the league is at .500 or better, which means everyone but the truly horrible teams are still in the playoff race.
It's easy to tell who the really bad teams are. But how do you differentiate amongst all the contenders? I know a lot of guys are having trouble with that. Even some of the most respected computer ratings have glaring errors that couldn't possibly be right. Tennessee, the NY Jets, and the NY Giants are the class of their respective conferences. How do you rank the next dozen teams? What about the next 20?
Many teams seem kind of "okay" right now. You'd be surprised how many don't look "okay" once you weed out their wins over losers! Unbalanced schedules have created illusions that sharp handicappers need to pierce through. I've got a strategy for doing just that.
I went through and compiled the NFL standings throwing out games against losing opponents. How do teams perform against that large hunk that's at .500 or better? You're going to be surprised at the results. I strongly believe what you're about to read will help you pick winners from now all the way through the playoffs.
First, let me get rid of the losers. The 11 teams with losing records before Monday night's results: Detroit, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Jacksonville, Houston, San Diego, Oakland, and Kansas City. The records you're about to see EXCLUDE all games played against those teams. To get a sense of how bad this group is, if you do add in their games, they combine to go 8-66-1!
Here's how the AFC contenders looked through Sunday's Week 12 of the NFL season against opponents with .500 records or better:
NY Jets: 5-1
New England: 4-3
We start to see some rocks sink to the bottom, don't we? You can see the troubles rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is having when he doesn't get to face somebody like Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Oakland. You can see why Buffalo fell off the pace as soon as they had to face real opposition. Pittsburgh may surprise some people. I know many who consider the Steelers as a serious Super Bowl threat. They're 2-3 against class teams, with one of the wins coming over (2-4 v. winning teams) Baltimore in overtime. I saw an ESPN pundit trying to explain why he thought the Steelers weren't anything special. He was right. He just should have said they were 2-3 against non-losing teams this year!
At the top, we have Tennessee along with the Jets. The Jets surprise thanks to their very strong play within their division. Denver may have caught a break with good results against the NFC South. You still see Indianapolis in the mix even though they're not up to past standards. Peyton Manning is a winner, even if his team is shorthanded. If the Colts can just get into the playoffs, they may have a better shot at getting back to the Super Bowl than people realize.
Here's the NFC
NY Giants: 6-0
Tampa Bay: 5-3
Green Bay: 3-5
New Orleans: 1-5
Again, a few rocks sink to the bottom. I saw a respected computer group insisting that Philadelphia was the second best team in football. They're 11th best in the NFC against teams with winning records. Give me a break! Nobody in the NFC North looks good in this study.
On the plus side, the NY Giants look like they'll have some competition in the playoffs come January. Dallas isn't that from being a threat if they can just get their act together and get Tony Romo healthy. The NFC South champion will be a handful too.
It's real easy to lose sight of true differences between teams when the media keeps talking about the "on any given day" scenarios. It's just not a case where there are a couple of good teams and the next 20 are about even. You have to focus on what happens when those teams play each other to see what's really going on. Baltimore, Buffalo, and New Orleans are not playing as well as the standings would suggest. A few of the others are closer to Tennessee and the NY Giants than you might think.
You've heard the analogy about seeing the forest from the trees? It's time to study these individual trees very closely so you can plant and harvest some winners from now through the playoffs!