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NFL Teams: Look Through the Smoke

   by Bryan Leonard - 09/27/2006

Week 3 of the NFL season provided a great example of why it's so important in the handicapping profession to have patience. Teams don't always look as good as they are expected to be over the first two weeks, while other teams look far better than they really are. It's important not to react to roller coaster swings with teams, but to remain on an even keel with a keen eye that looks beyond the hyperbole. Let's look at some NFL teams that have been distorted because of their play and public perception.

Jaguars: Jacksonville is a talented team that will be a force in the AFC again. However, there were accolades about this team taking the next step after flattening the Cowboys and shutting out the Steelers the first two games. In Week 3, the Jaguars played a sloppy game, letting a potential win at Indy slip through their grasp. Two missed field goals and allowing a TD on a punt return killed them. Teams that rise to that next level are fundamentally sound and don't beat themselves. Where is this Jacksonville team? We don't know just yet.

Falcons: Michael Vick and the Falcons looked like they wouldn't need to throw a pass the entire season the way they ran over Carolina and Tampa Bay the first two games. And the new-look defense was allowing 4.5 points per contest! Then they went to New Orleans Monday night and the whole country saw a very different team, one that allowed 146 rush yards in a 23-3 loss. And Vick still can't pass. Don't make those reservations for the NFC Championship game just yet.

Ravens: The Ravens have won their first three games for the first time in franchise history. The monster defense and new QB Steve McNair might be enough to carry this team a long way. Then came Sunday's lucky 15-14 win at Cleveland, trailing by 11 in the fourth as a big road favorite. The truth is, McNair hasn't played all that well. The team's rushing average of 109 yards is ranked 16th in the NFL, and none of the team's top three running backs, Jamal Lewis, Musa Smith and Mike Anderson, has a 100-yard rushing game this season. Smith, the No. 2 back, has carried the ball 12 times for 38 yards. The teams they beat are a combined 0-8.

Broncos: Denver was lucky to be 1-1, getting smacked around in a loss at St. Louis and needing OT to win at home against the Chiefs, 9-6, who were without QB Trent Green. All we heard coming out of Denver was criticism like “This offense stinks! Get rid of Jake Plummer!â€쳌 Then the talented Broncos went to New England and dominated Sunday, especially defensively, and got their patented running game going. There's nothing wrong with this team.

There is a balancing act that goes on in sports, especially early in the season. Since teams have only played two or three games, those contests get magnified in the eyes of fans and bettors, but they don't tell the whole story, either. The Broncos weren't as bad offensively as they appeared after two games, while the Falcons weren't as dominant as they appeared. Remember that oddsmakers take public perception into account when making numbers, and it's essential to look through the smoke and differentiate between what's really there and what is exaggerated.

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