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Totals Wagering: Don't Ignore Defenses

   by Bryan Leonard - 12/10/2007

When examining football totals, many focus on the offensive strengths for overs or weaknesses on unders. Does this team have a decent quarterback? Can they pass the football? Could the weather be a factor? Is the game indoors? Does this team have a capable backup QB if the starter is hurting?

All of these things are worth taking into account. However, it’s just as important to look at defensive strengths and weaknesses. I bring this up after the total on the Bears/Redskins game opened at 37. Part of this was a reaction to the way the public perceives these teams. The reputation of the Bears, based on their Super Bowl run last season, is of a great defensive team.

True, they’ve been very strong defensively ever since Lovie Smith has been there – except for this season, that is. Injuries have decimated this defense. Here was my analysis of the game: “Both teams have defensive problems, so it’s surprising this total is so low. The Bears have been a mess defensively all season because of injuries. Chicago is 28th in the NFL in total defense, that’s worse than the Jets, Saints, 49ers and winless Dolphins! They are 6-4 over the total the last 10 games.

The offense has QB Rex Grossman bombing away deep, and he has excellent speed with Muhammad, Berrian and TEs Olsen and Clark. Grossman was 25 of 46 passes for 296 yards Sunday and did not throw an interception. The Bears secondary has been a mess all season with injuries, as has Washington. Injured cornerback Carlos Rogers is out for the year, and star Sean Taylor passed away last week. The Redskins have allowed 28 ppg the last six games. The weather for this game is expected to be decent for this time of year, with no wind. Washington is on a 5-2 run over the total and this total is too low.â€쳌

Even with BOTH starting quarterbacks getting knocked out of the game, it still went over the total thanks to 33 second half points. Notice that my interest barely focused on the QBs. Instead, both teams had massive defensive deficiencies.

The Redskins' Jason Campbell was carted off with a dislocated kneecap, while Rex Grossman wad knocked out of the game in the first quarter with an injury to his left leg. It didn’t matter, either, and that’s not often the case when you examine totals focused solely on offensive capabilities. Losing a starting QB in a game you wager to go over could be disastrous if that was your main focus, but it’s essential to examine many areas of a game, not just one.

When Grossman was benched after a 34-10 loss to Dallas, the totals on the Chicago games went from 45 to 41, 37 and 42 the next three games with backup QB Brian Griese taking over. Yet, all three games sailed over the total. I’m not denigrating the importance of QB play, merely pointing out that oddsmakers shifted dramatically because of the change, but skipped over the fact that the Chicago defense was dropping like flies. In those four games the defense alone allowed 34, 37, 20 and 34 points.

The Eagles are another team with a defensive reputation, yet the secondary has battled injuries all season and has been burned repeatedly. Philly recently went on a 5-1 run over the total giving up 25 or more points in 4 of 5 games. So when examining totals, look at a complete picture of a game, don’t just focus on star quarterbacks or key offensive players. A bad defense can get you a cover on an over as easily as a great offense can.

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