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by Jim Feist - 12/14/2010
Looking at NFL in 2010, it's clear that after a brief hiatus, parity has returned. Look at teams that were recent doormats who are playing well: Jaguars, Chiefs, Rams, Bucs. Even the Browns and Raiders have been competitive, with shots at respectable seasons after bad starts.
The season is also littered with flops. The Cowboys and Vikings were expected to be Super Bowl contenders but were out of it at the halfway point of the season. The 49ers, Texans and Titans had high hopes but have disappointed, and even the mighty Colts have taken a step back because of injuries and a poor offensive line. The same Colts' team was 14-0 a year ago.
The Texans have been big flops after a 2-0 start, failing to cover in 7 of the next 10 games. This team is 3-7-1 ATS its last 11 as chalk. The Bengals, too, have been money-burners on a 2-8 ATS run.
Oddsmakers make adjustments on teams all during the season, such as a year ago when the Saints and Colts started red hot. After starting 6-0 SU/ATS, the Saints went 2-8 ATS to end the regular season, often as a double digit favorite. That's what can happen to public teams, either popular teams or ones with a flashy offense like the 2009 Saints and 2007 Patriots.
Normally we are at the time of the pro football campaign where some teams have mentally and physically packed in the season. It's been a lost season or one with higher expectations and players, especially ones on poorly coached teams, can just go through the motions. That can show up on the scoreboard and at the wagering window.
The 49ers appear to be in that group, with the heat on Mike Singletary in what was supposed to be a better season as we saw in recent no-show defeats to the Bucs and Packers.
Carolina has been a disaster, on a recent 2-7 ATS run. Two weeks ago when they took a long road trip to Seattle, the money actually came in on them as a dog. Wise guys and the public looked like they were on to something as the Panthers jumped to a 14-0 lead, but in the end it was another double digit disaster in a 31-14 defeat.
Teams that need to be watched closely as on the bubble for packing it in might be the Texans, Bills, Vikings, Cardinals, Bengals and Broncos. A year ago the Jaguars melted down in a 0-4 SU/ATS finish.
Two years ago the Raiders (2-3 SU/ATS run), Rams (0-9 SU, 3-6 ATS) and Jaguars (1-5 SU/ATS) finished up poorly, teams that clearly weren't giving 100%. The Rams lost their last nine games under Jim Haslett, their second coach of the 2008 season, getting outscored 216-73.
On the other side of the coin are teams having great seasons, such as the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, Chiefs, Packers, Eagles and Bears. Think the surprising Chiefs are having trouble getting motivated? They were not expected to be very good, but are in the driver's seat for a surprise playoff appearance. You won't see teams like that taking a day of in December, at least until after a clinch party. Players and coaches on these teams largely take their roles seriously and look forward to showing up for work.
One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes teams having dismal seasons will get fired up to face the top teams, especially at home. It can help ease the pain of a disappointing season. Everyone wants a shot at knocking off the best. In 2009 the Rams started 0-4 SU/ATS, but in a home game against the talented Cowboys, the Rams won 34-14 as a big dog. Later on they lost back-to-back games to mediocre teams, the 49ers and Bears, by scores of 35-16 and 27-3. Clearly that game against Dallas was their Super Bowl. Everyone's been trying to knock off the defending champs and the Browns did it on national TV, thumping the Giants 35-14 -- a rare bright spot in a tough season.
2007 was unique for powerhouses, with the Packers and Cowboys starting 10-1 and the Patriots going 16-0. You may recall the 4-7 Ravens dominating the 11-0 Pats on Monday night as a +19 dog, playing with fire before a last second 27-24 defeat. The 2007 Eagles failed to make the playoffs or have a winning record, but as a +24 dog they gave the unbeaten Pats all they could handle. New England needed a late TD to survive 31-28. "It was the most complete game we played all year," Eagles LB Omar Gaither said. Offensive lineman Shawn Andrews added, "People built them up to be Goliath. At the same time, a lot of people made us out to be a 24-point spread, and we know they're not that much better than us."
Pro players have pride and know the score. Taking out their frustrations on a powerhouse team is not uncommon and can offer line value. The good teams aren't that much better from year to year than bad ones. Parity and the salary cap have leveled the playing field and schedules are longer, all of which makes it that much harder to dominate.
The 1962 Green Bay Packers enjoyed a 10-0 start on the way to a 13-1 season, ending in a 16-7 win in the championship game over the Giants as one of Vince Lombardi's best teams. They came close to running the table, except for a surprising Thanksgiving Day loss to Detroit, 26-14 (trailing 26-0 to the fired up Lions).
The 1985 Bears had a powerhouse team behind defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan's 46-defense. They held 11 opponents to 10 points or less and started 12-0 SU, 10-1-1 ATS. They looked unstoppable, until a Monday night game at Miami when Dan Marino passed over the 46-defense as the Dolphins won 38-24. Chicago finished 18-1 SU, 15-3-1 ATS with playoff victories of 21-0, 24-0 and 46-10.
The 2005 Colts started a sizzling 13-0 SU, 9-4-1 ATS until injuries cropped up. In Week 15 they lost 26-17 at home to the Chargers. "It's tough to go 16-0. You have to play well every week," coach Tony Dungy said. Other factors creep in, such as resting players to get primed for the postseason. The next week the Seahawks dominated a depleted Indianapolis team, 28-13, playing without Pro Bowlers Marvin Harrison, Cato June and Bob Sanders, while Peyton Manning played just one quarter. Even NFL David's are gunning for Goliath this time of the season.