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NFL Big Dogs and Big Chalk
by Al McMordie - 12/09/2011
Public money is not shy about coming in on the favorites, many times regardless of the number. The last week in the NFL was filled to the brim with large chalk. The Patriots, Steelers and 49ers all opened as big favorites and this past weekend the Seahawks, Lions , Jets and Packers were, so it was a Sunday of expected one-sided games.
But there's a twist to keep in mind with one-sided games: They're not always one-sided. Don't get duped into believing that just because an oddsmaker places a high number on one side that the game will be a rout. The Patriots were a 14-point dog in the Super Bowl 10 years ago and won straight up over the Rams and were a 12-point dog three years ago and lost straight up to the Giants. Three straight recent college football national champions were all big dogs in the title game, in Oklahoma, Ohio State and LSU. The game is played on the field and there's a reason they keep score.
This is even more important to remember in the NFL because of parity. Make no mistake that the best college football team in the country would get flattened by the worst NFL team if they were to play. For example, the Colts and all their problems this season might be a 20-point favorite over LSU, or the Carolina Panthers a 30-point favorite over Cam Newton’s former team, Auburn. There's not a great deal of difference talent-wise between some of the top teams in the NFL and those below .500.
Look at the turnarounds in one season of the 49ers, Lions and Bengals this season, and last year with the Chiefs and Bucs making a run at the playoffs. The league absolutely loves parity, which benefits the fans and league revenue.
Those big favorites I mentioned on the card from last week? The 49ers had little trouble with the Rams, winning 26-0, but the Patriots were a 20-point favorite over the Colts and had to hang on late for a 31-24 victory. An NFL team hadn’t been that big a favorite since 2007 (the Pats again) and they failed to cover three times, so the last four 20+ points favorites in the NFL are 0-4 against the spread.
Last week the Browns were a 14-point dog at Pittsburgh, yet it was a 7-3 game late in the fourth, an easy cover for the big dog. A year ago this week the Chiefs were a 9-point favorite over the Broncos but it ended up a 10-6 close one and the Cowboys going to Indy and winning as a dog, putting up 38 points!
With the season winding down and many spots where good teams are playing bad ones you will continue to see big favorites. It's important to keep in mind that inflated favorites can offer excellent betting value on underdogs. Teams like the Cowboys, Giants, Broncos, Raiders, Ravens, Steelers, Falcons Saints, Bears, Jets and Lions are locked in tight races for division titles and playoff seedings, so there's no doubt these teams have motivation the final month of the season.
The same can't be said of teams like the Panthers, Cardinals, Redskins, Colts, Browns, Bucs , Jags and Vikings where question marks and off-field concerns abound. Jacksonville just fired its head coach, while the Chargers and Eagles have coaching staff changes that will be making changes.
Live dogs that are giving that extra effort are worth supporting, while teams just going through the motions are dangerous to support no matter how much perceived line value there is. But there are some teams with bad records that are playing hard for their coaches, like the Dolphins, Redskins and Panthers. Sometimes it can be difficult for some sports bettors to take dogs, as they "feel" more comfortable taking favorites. Well if you're that way and want to make a profit betting sports, get over it. There can be tremendous value in getting a lot of points, especially late in the season, because ugly dogs are nothing to bark at - when they get the money! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.