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NFL Round 2
by Scott Spreitzer - 01/06/2009
For years and years, handicappers had to sweat Week Two of the NFL Playoffs because the plays that "made sense" would often get annihilated once the teams took the field.
In a nutshell:
*Oddsmakers would stack the lines against the bye teams because the public loved laying points with rested, superior teams. The pointspreads might be 3-4 points (or more) higher than normal.
*Recognizing value, professional wagerers and serious handicappers would back the underdogs getting all of those bonus points. Sure, a bye week and home field is worth something. But, in a league with parity, those edges shouldn't be worth THAT much.
*The rested superior teams would jump out to big leads and coast to blowout victories, rendering the pointspreads meaningless. The public would clean up, the sportsbooks and value wagerers would lick their wounds and come back to fight another day.
Now, we all know that the public loses over the long haul, and that smart bettors grind out a living. This was a temporary four game bump in the road that didn't matter much in the big picture. Still, it was painful to endure if you were the type to bet on line value.
That's changed in recent years. The "best of the best" just aren't head and shoulders above the pack any more. And, the tendency for games to get "shorter" because of how teams run clock has enabled underdogs to be more competitive. Look at what happened last year during Round Two:
JANUARY 2008, ROUND TWO
San Diego (+10) beat Indianapolis 28-24 (a 14-cover for the dog)
NY Giants (+7) beat Dallas 21-17 (an 11-point cover for the dog)
Jacksonville (+13) lost to New England 31-20 (a 2-point cover for the dog)
Seattle (+7) lost to Green Bay 42-20 (blowout loss)
The only "value" loss came in a blizzard, and not many coastal teams are going to beat Green Bay in a blizzard.
As the games were being played, it was clear that the differences just weren't that big amongst the teams.
Composite First Quarter Score: Favorites 28, Underdogs 28 (dead heat)
Composite Halftime Score: Favorites 66, Underdogs 52 (3.5 points per game)
Composite Final Score: Favorites 124, Underdogs 87 (about 6 points per game)
The Favorites slowly pulled way as a group, but not by enough of a margin to justify the pointspreads. And, if Seattle hadn't been so poorly suited to playing in a blizzard, the margins would have been much closer. It would have been a near dead heat at halftime, and a much tighter full game average.
Let's go back two seasons.
JANUARY 2007, ROUND TWO
Indianapolis (+4) beat Baltimore 15-6 (a 13-point cover)
Seattle (+9) lost to Chicago 27-24 in OT (a 9-point cover in regulation)
New England (+5) beat San Diego 24-21 (an 8-point cover)
Philadelphia (+6) lost to New Orleans 27-24 (a 3-point cover)
That was a 4-0 board sweep for the Underdogs, making it 7-1 ATS the last two seasons. Underdogs were 4-4 straight up too, meaning a great moneyline profit if you were betting those teams to win outright.
Look out Tennessee, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and the NY Giants! Home field and a week off are no longer a guarantee of postseason success!
I'm not saying all the underdogs will be locks this weekend. It's very possible NONE will cover. The fundamentals at the point of attack and in turnover prevention will play a big role like always. Quarterback quality isn't ever going to stop mattering at this level. Teams who move the chains will beat those who don't. Just remember that playoff teams seem to be much more evenly matched these days in those key areas than they used to be. We don't have super-teams who crush their opponents the first time they take the field. And, the games are so short that there's not much time to run away and hide unless your opponent is giving away gift scores with turnovers.
Let this point register for a second. The best teams in the NFL, after enjoying an extra week to rest and prepare, and getting to play on their home fields in front of rabid crowds, are just 4-4 straight up the last two years! STRAIGHT UP!
When you study the games this weekend, try to determine how much (if at all) the lines have been adjusted because of historical public preferences. Or, have the books adjusted to recent season's results? Of course, the public may be a bit gun shy after going 1-7 on favorites the last two years in this round!
Study the stats, study the players, study the health of the rosters. Know the weather forecast and make sure you can justify your opinion at the current line that's being offered. Can you make a case for a favorite if the hurdle is higher than it should be? You'd better be sure you can make a STRONG case for either side on this particular weekend, particularly in the areas of third down conversions and turnovers.