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NFL notebook Week 8

   by Larry Ness - 10/29/2005


Where have all the overtimes games gone? There have been just FOUR overtime games played through Week 7 and the season's first 102 games! At that pace, the 2005 season would fail to get to double-digits in OT games for the first time since 1998!

The NFL adopted its current overtime policy in the 1974 season. That first year, just two games went into OT, with the first-ever OT game (Pittsburgh at Denver on Sept 22), ending in a 35-35 tie. Interestingly, the only other OT game that year came when the Jets and Giants went into OT on Nov 10 in the Yale Bowl, with the Jets winning on a five-yard TD pass from Joe Namath to Em Boozer with 6:53 remaining.

From 1974 through 1977, there were a total of just 22 OT games, an average of 5 1/2 per season. In 1978 the league adopted its 16-game schedule and from then until the end of the century in 1999 (not including the strike year of 1982), there were 261 OT games, an average of a little over 12 per season. The high came in 1995 with 21 OT games, while the 1993 and 1998 seasons featured just seven.

However, things changed in the new millennium. After 13 OT games in 2000 and 17 in 2001, the 2002 season set an all-time record with 25 OT games and the 2003 season followed with 23! Last year, the total fell to just 12, which leads us to this year's low total (so far).

What's going on? Are margins of victory up this year as compared to the 2002 and 2003 seasons? Yes and no. In 2002 and 2003, 48.8 percent of all games played were decided by seven points or less and 24.0 percent of all games were decided by three points or less. So far in 2005, 44.1 percent of all games have been decided by seven points or less, a percentage that is on pace to be the lowest since the 1992 season, when only 39.3 percent of the games were decided by a TD or less. However, the percentage of games decided by three points or less is up in 2005 from the 2002 and 2003 seasons, 26.5 from 24.0.

It's been a great year so far for home teams, as I pointed out in last week's notebook. The USA Today sports section, just this past Wednesday, noted that home teams are winning at a record pace in 2005 (maybe those guys are reading this column too?). Home teams are now 67-35 SU and 56-43-3 ATS. Their SU winning percentage of .657 is on pace to eclipse the all-time record (since the 1970 merger) of .643 (144-80) recorded by home teams in the 1985 season.

Since home teams are typically favored in NFL games, there have been just 22 home dogs through the season's first seven weeks, the fact that home teams are doing so well has naturally led to a good season for NFL favorites. Typically, NFL favorites are under .500 ATS, posting just two winning seasons since 1990. The last time NFL favorites were plus units for a season came in 1998. That year, NFL favorites went 127-110 or plus-six units. The other winning season one could have had collectively betting on NFL favorites was in 1990, when they went 122-102, or plus-9.8 units.

However, through the first seven weeks of the 2005 season, NFL favorites are 54-44 ATS, showing a net gain of plus-5.6 units.

Getting back to the success of home teams in 2005, there are seven teams currently unbeaten at home and all seven either lead their division or are tied for the lead. Only the Indianapolis Colts (4-0) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0) are undefeated on the road. The Steelers in fact, own the NFL's longest current regular season road winning streak with 10 straight road wins. That's a pretty impressive run, considering the Colts' 4-0 road mark in 2005 is the next-longest road winning streak.

As for the longest current home winning streak, it's the Colts with eight straight. The Steelers had won 11 straight regular season games at home but lost to the Patriots in Week 3. Trailing the Colts with six straight home wins are the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks. The NY Giants, including their "home' game with the New Orleans Saints in Week 2, have won five straight at the Meadowlands.

WEEK 8 PREVIEW

The NFL's lone unbeaten, the 7-0 Indianapolis Colts, have a bye this week but the league's lone winless team, the 0-6 Houston Texans, host Cleveland. The Texans (1-5 ATS) are a small favorite (minus-two points) for the second time this year. There are two rather odd first-place showdowns this week. In the AFC East, 3-3 New England (minus-nine) hosts 3-4 Buffalo in the Sunday night game, while in the NFC North, 3-3 Chicago is at 3-3 Detroit (minus-three). The Redskins (4-2) haven't made the playoffs since 1999 but behind the rejuvenated Mark Brunell visit the Meadowlands for a first-place battle with the 4-2 Giants (minus-2 1/2). Surprise teams like the Tampa Bay Bucs (6-1) and the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) are both big favorites to continue their winning ways. Tampa Bay is an 11-point favorite at San Francisco and Cincinnati is a nine-point choice at home over Green Bay. The week's marquee game is in Denver, where the 5-2 Broncos are 3 1/2-point favorites over the 4-2 Eagles. NFC teams went 6-0 SU and 4-2 ATS against AFC teams last week.

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