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NFL Notes

   by Scott Spreitzer - 12/08/2008

So what did we learn when the Chargers pounded the Raiders on Thursday night football, 34-7? That the Oakland Raiders are a bad football team. This is no news bulletin, as the Raiders are 22-71 the past six seasons. They were outgained 372-163 and have the second worst offense in the NFL. What was most interesting, from a handicapping perspective, was the attitude of several players following the game.

A handful of players were seen and heard in the locker room joking, laughing and generally having a good time in the aftermath of a 10th straight prime-time television loss. Defensive team captain Nnamdi Asomugha criticized the postgame scene, wondering why more players weren't upset. "There are guys that are frustrated every game," Asomugha said.

Coach Tom Cable said, "I think any time you get beat, I don't know if there's anything to laugh about. I don't think there's anything you feel good about when you get beat.â€쳌 Asomugha added, "We don't play good football, we don't play sound football. We've been undisciplined.â€쳌 The Raiders gained 163 yards, 59 of them in the second half. Think they cared after halftime?

This is common late in any football season: too many players on a bad team that don’t care. This can lead to awful play on the gridiron – and blowout losses. It’s not common to see this early in the season, as hopes are usually high for improvement by all teams. The Rams defied this in 2008, as they started the season not caring, starting 0-4 SU/ATS, before firing their coach. It was clearly an unhappy, confused clubhouse, as the moment interim coach Jim Haslett took over, the Rams won two in a row as big underdogs over Dallas and Washington.

Of course, that didn’t last long, going on a 0-6 SU/2-4 ATS run. There are signs coming from their locker room again of discontent, which shouldn’t be a shock. RB Steven Jackson played well last week in his first extended action in six weeks. At the half, he seemed on pace to reach 100 yards rushing, but got just one touch in the fourth quarter, a 1-yard carry with 14:04 remaining. Thereafter, Antonio Pittman and Kenneth Darby handled the running-back chores.

Jackson insisted that he didn’t take himself out of the game, even though coach Jim Haslett said Jackson “was gassed, and his leg was hurting.â€쳌 After the game, Jackson didn’t like that or agree. “I wish he’d quit saying that,â€쳌 snapped Jackson when informed what his coach had said. The two claim to have made amends – which may be true – but it’s a situation worth watching carefully. Discontent can spread quickly in unhappy locker rooms, which can follow them onto the field.

On the flip side, winning cures locker room unhappiness. We witness the odd soap opera of Giants’ WR Plaxico Burress, yet the team continued to win even when he was suspended. You can tell that was a problem child of one person alone on an island. His antics weren’t disrupting the team at all. Part of it is that good coaches know how to communicate and keep a team together when things like that happen, and another part is that winning keeps teams focused and happy. The Patriots had a similar wacky wideout in 2001, All-Pro Terry Glenn, and coach Bell Belichick cut him in midseason. The players backed the coach and continued to win – all the way through the Super Bowl.

But it’s the bad teams, the fractured, unharmonious ones, that get my attention this time of the football season. They can offer ample wagering opportunities. Teams trailing badly at the half aren’t likely to make an effort in the second half. The Rams trailed the Jets 40-0 at the half, then lost the second half, 7-3.

Bad offensive teams like the Rams, Raiders and Lions offer opportunities to wager the second half under the total. The Rams trailed the 49ers 35-3 at the half the next week, then 13 total points were scored in the second half. Teams ahead at home by big margins will look to play it safe, run the football, not show anything on offense, and just get out with a win rather than run it up in the second half. The Raiders were down 27-7 at the half to the Chargers, then 7 total points were scored in the second half.

Think it’s fun showing up to play for the Detroit Lions? The Lions are last in the league in run defense and are starting a pair of rookie ends. QB Daunte Culpepper is running the offense, a guy who wasn’t even on the team in preseason and September. He has seven turnovers while completing barely 50 percent of his passes. The Lions have used seven starting offensive line combinations. Even with the offseason additions of Leigh Bodden and Brian Kelly, the Lions’ defense has managed only four INTs. The record for fewest in a 16-game season is five.

Trailing 35-10 at the half on Thanksgiving Day, Detroit was outscored 12-0 in the second half – losing the second half line plus going under the total as Tennessee went conservative. "We hit the first punch and they fell," one Titans’ player said. The toothless Lions have earned that 0-13 SU, 5-8 ATS record partially by not playing 60 minutes of football many Sundays, especially on the road – and don’t expect that to change.

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