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NFL: Buy or Sell?

   by ASA - 11/26/2008

Each week I will focus on teams you might want to “buyâ€쳌 or “sellâ€쳌 in the short term based on a number of factors including scheduling, how they are currently playing, injuries, etc… Here are my recommendations in this week’s article.

BUY – New England “OVERâ€쳌 the total

Earlier this season, these Patriots were definitely an “underâ€쳌 play. They had a stretch where their offense put up more than 23 points just twice in an eight game span. Matt Cassel hadn’t started a game since high school and was trying to get acclimated to the job. Now this team looks like they are heading back in the direction of last year’s high scoring outfit that averaged just under 37 points per game.

The New England offense has definitely kicked it in high gear the last few weeks scoring 31 points on the NY Jets and 48 on Miami. New York had been playing very well on defense allowing more than 17 points just once in their previous five games leading up to their match up with the Pats. Then after allowing 31 to Cassel and company, the Jets turned around and shut down an undefeated Tennessee team to just 13 points. Same scenario with Miami who had held their previous four opponent all under 20 points before New England erupted for nearly half a hundred. This point scoring binge had been fueled by former USC back up QB Matt Cassel who has looked a bit like Tom Brady as of late. In his last two games he has completed 60 of his 94 passes (64%) for a whopping 815 yards. He has also thrown six TD’s and just one interception in those two games. Head coach Bill Belichick has used a pass to run ratio of nearly 2 to 1 the last two games calling just 50 running plays as compared to 94 passes. Now Belichick is clearly comfortable with Cassel throwing the ball and I look for him to continue that trend. Throwing the ball all over the field obviously lends itself to playing the “overâ€쳌.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Pats have also slowed a bit as the season has progressed. They have allowed 62 points in their last two games and opposing passers (Favre and Pennington) have put up a combined 599 yards passing. Because the 2007 offense received all of the publicity, last year’s Patriot defense didn’t get the credit they deserved. They ended the year at 4th in the NFL in total defense. This year’s defense is older and they have dropped back closer to the middle of the pack at 12th in the league. They are no longer a shut down defense and I expect teams to continue to put up points against them.

The Patriots host a very good defense this week in Pittsburgh. However with a fairly low number at 39.5, this one could definitely be an “overâ€쳌. After that New England is on the road, however they are facing two defenses ranked 25th and 29th in the NFL in Oakland and Seattle. I look for the high scoring to continue with New England and I’m buying the “overâ€쳌 in their upcoming games.

SELL – Jacksonville Jags

The Jags had two huge games in which they pretty much had to win to remain in playoff contention. They lost both convincingly to Tennessee and Minnesota. Now they hit the road for three of their last five games including back to backers this week @ Houston and the following @ Chicago. The Jags were looking for much better things in 2008 and I expect this team to “tank itâ€쳌 as they say now knowing at 4-7, they have almost no chance to make the playoffs.

Jacksonville will have a tough time focusing on their upcoming games with a once promising season that has gone south fast. They have lost four of their last five games with their only win coming against 0-11 Detroit. Two of those four losses have come against teams they should beat including the 4-7 Browns at home and they 1-9-1 Bengals on the road. Head coach Jack Del Rio has had some locker room problems and the rumors of a divided team have surfaced. Del Rio had to suspend and demote his best linebacker, Mike Peterson, a few weeks ago. Word is that he has also had to implement locker room “changesâ€쳌 as of late. RB Fred Taylor was asked this week what the problem was with the Jaguars this year. His response was honest and very telling. “We’re not a good team. We have good players. We have very good players. We are not a good team. The mix is all wrong. That’s what it is.â€쳌 Not necessarily a ringing endorsement for this team from this point going forward.

The Jaguars have had to rely rather heavily on QB David Garrard to generate something on offense. He is much better, as all QB’s are, if he can manage a game with a strong running attack and throw when needed. That was the original plan this season, however despite having possibly the best 1 – 2 punch at RB in the NFL, this team has failed to reach 100 yards rushing in five of their eleven games in 2008. RB’s Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew are running behind a porous offensive line that has not been able to open any running lanes. Garrard has an average at best receiving corps and if you take out the Detroit game, he has thrown just one TD and four interceptions in his last three games. The lack of a strong running game is putting extra pressure on Garrard and he is not the “top notchâ€쳌 type quarterback that can handle that.

The Jaguars, as we mentioned, travel to Houston on Monday Night. The Texans have actually out gained eight of their last nine opponents and will be looking to avenge a 30-27 overtime loss they feel they blew in Jacksonville earlier this season. Then it’s off to Chicago to face the Bears fifth ranked rush defense which adds up to more pressure again on Garrard to make something happen on offense. Two home games against good teams (Green Bay and Indianapolis) and then off to Baltimore to close out the season. That’s not a schedule to turn around a floundering season. I feel Jacksonville will struggle and simply “play outâ€쳌 the season without a lot of passion.

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