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Recent Play Trumps Overall Play

   by Bryan Leonard - 01/02/2009

If an NFL team is averaging 18 points per game, that's about average. However, a handicapper should not stop there when analyzing a team's offense. If that offense scored 10 points in each of its first four games, then scored 28 in each of its last four, that's a VERY significant difference. They may be averaging 18 per game overall, but it's far more important to me that they are averaging 28 the last four.

This is because teams change over the course of a season. Maybe they had injuries, maybe they got key players back from injuries, maybe the offense needed time to gel, maybe the coaching staff made adjustments. All kinds of reasons could be found, but the important thing is to try and identify those reasons, which will better help you predict what is going to happen.

With the playoffs commencing, this is an excellent time of the season to examine this. The Colts, Chargers and Eagles are three teams entering the playoffs on impressive winning streaks. The San Diego offense has been absolutely tearing up opposing defenses of late, far different from the first half of the season when they were inconsistent.

A team like the Arizona Cardinals, however, has been playing possum the last month, after clinching their first division title in 33 years. Will that poor play carry into the postseason? Remember how bad the Cardinals have played on the road? You have to wonder if that will continue if they advance and head to Carolina or NY.

I recall the New Orleans Saints last year, as at the halfway point of the season, they stood at 4-4, average. But that’s not at all that stood out about: After an 0-4 SU/ATS start to the year, the Saints rode a 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS mark. To me, that was more important than the overall 4-4 record.

The Saints had validated their hot streak with a 41-24 thrashing of the Jaguars in the Superdome. Their fourth win in a row pulled the resurgent Saints into a second-place tie with Carolina in the NFC South, just a half-game behind Tampa Bay. As they had done the previous three weeks, the Saints combined an impressive offensive display with a solid defensive performance to keep their winning streak alive. QB Drew Brees threw for 445 yards — the third-highest total in club history. Brees had poor overall numbers when it came to TDs and picks at that point, but not when you look at the four recent games.

Michigan State in college football has been like that in recent years. I recall when they played Purdue in 2006, I noticed that Purdue's defense was awful during the first half of the season, giving up over 30 points in four of their first six games. But the next 4 games they allowed 10, 24 (to Wisconsin), 12 (to Penn State) and 15 points (to Michigan State).

Michigan State had totally packed it in ever since that horrific collapse against Notre Dame, losing 6 in a row against the spread. The defense allowed over 30 points in four straight games! The overall defensive numbers for Purdue and Michigan State may be poor, but I was more interested in how they've played the previous month. The Spartans were favored, but lost the game straight up to Purdue, scoring just 15 points.

Recent play, for me, carries more weight than overall numbers. You know the old saying: What have you done for me lately? It can work to find handicapping edges each week, as well!

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