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Handicapping NFL Totals

   by Al McMordie - 10/10/2011

I'm a big fan of playing NFL Totals. Going into Monday Night's Lions/Bears game, I'm 36-22 my last 58 NFL Totals. When analyzing totals, don't be afraid to look beyond the stats. There are other avenues that bettors can utilize to identify winners. Take, for instance, coaching strategy. A year ago at this time the Patriots hadn't used WR Randy Moss (9 catches in four games) before trading him. Part of the strategy was to get more players involved in the passing offense, as the team relied far too much on Welker and Moss the previous season.

The limited number of catches was probably a factor in Moss looking for a trade, because his contract expired at the end of last season and he really wanted to put up big numbers for a bigger payday, or get a contract extension. Even with Moss playing a limited roll the Patriots started 4-0 over the total. That's because the coaching staff maintains an aggressive offensive philosophy. And they ended up being even better offensively without him, carrying an NFL record 15 straight games topping 30 points.

Some coaches are labeled conservative because they like to run the football and wait for the other team to make a mistake. Current coaches like that are Leslie Frazier (Vikings), Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Mike Munchak (Titans), Steve Spagnola (Rams), Tom Coughlin (Giants), and Tony Sparano (Dolphins). These are more run-first oriented styles and none are currently in the Top 15 in the NFL in total offense.

Two years ago the Bengals shifted from a pass-happy attack with QB Carson Palmer to a run-first design. This was put in place because Palmer was turnover-prone while being asked to carry the offense. The coaches felt more balance would help cut down his turnovers and sacks and it did. The Bengals ended up winning the division and started that season 9-6 under the total because of a strong defense and a shift in offensive philosophy.

This is also why it's essential for handicappers to examine not just head coaches but offensive coordinators. Cincy didn't change head coaches that season, but it changed its style under offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. In fact, for the entire second half of the 2009 season, the passing game consisted of nothing but slants and screens, with maybe the occasional overthrown deep ball just to keep the defenses thinking the Bengals had some sort of vertical attack.

This season we’ve seen new offensive coordinator Al Saunders help jump-start the Oakland Raiders offense. All the talk in Carolina is the remarkable play of rookie QB Cam Newton, but don’t forget they have a new OC in Rob Chudzinski, who came over from the San Diego Chargers. What type of offense does San Diego run? An uptempo attack, always attacking under Norv Turner and Chudzinski has changed the philosophy in Carolina, which used to be a run-oriented offense under John Fox. Carolina started 4-1 over the total, too.

Conversely, the Top 5 offensive teams in the NFL (Patriots, Saints, Panthers, Eagles, Packers) all have aggressive, attacking offensive head coaches or assistants. San Diego coach Norv Turner has always been that way, even as offensive coordinator of the Cowboys 20 years ago. Two years ago the Chargers were 10-5-1 over the total.

It's also important to look at personnel on the field. The Chargers want to run an uptempo offensive attack, but they are able to so successfully only because of the talent, such as with QB Phillip Rivers and WR Vincent Jackson.

One method handicappers can use is looking at uptempo teams with defensive weaknesses for overs, or conservative offensive coaches with at least one team being strong defensively for unders. I recall a Chiefs/Chargers game several years ago where you had two teams with strong, versatile offenses and two teams that were poor against the pass. San Diego was 26th defensively against the pass, while KC was 28th. That matchup suggested an aerial show with a lot of points, and the game went over the total of 52 in a 34-31 Chargers victory.

The Jaguars are a perfect team to look at under the total this season. They went all out in the offseason upgrading the defense, which has played well, but the offense is a mess, going with rookie QB Blaine Gabbert. They started 4-1 under the total, a trend that is likely to continue. They have games on tap against conservative/struggling offenses, as well (Steelers, Ravens, Bucs, Titans and twice against the Colts).

Careful study of different strengths and weaknesses can allow you to find winning selections each week on the side or the total. Digging through your handicapping homework on a regular basis will help you dig up winners, too! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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