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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly -- Football 2010
by Al McMordie - 08/08/2010
So what teams should a handicapper look to when analyzing odds: The good, the bad or the ugly ones? Well, you should examine all teams and lines in various situations, of course. However, let me say a few words about how bad and very ugly teams can look wonderful in the eyes of the professional handicapper.
Bad teams can fly under the radar far more easily than good ones. Remember that lines are set in part with public perception in mind. High profile NFL teams that have been to the Super Bowl over the last ten years, like the Patriots, Colts and Steelers, are known as “public teams.” Oddsmakers take extra care not to make bad numbers with these teams as they are guaranteed to attract more money on a regular basis than, say, the Bills or Seahawks. It's the same in college, too, with big-name programs like USC, Florida and Ohio State.
Before the season starts teams can look great on paper, but things don't always play out that way. Well coached teams and winning ones are also more likely to show up and play hard every week. However, small schools and consistently bad teams do not attract as much interest from the betting public. Will the Detroit Lions ever get better? The Lions were supreme money-burners last season, at 4-10-2 ATS.
The Arizona Cardinals are in decent shape now after a good rebuilding job saw them win the NFC two years ago, but only after a decade of incompetent play and very bad teams. From 1998-2002 the Cardinals were 37-59-2 against the spread as an underdog!
Before Marvin Lewis helped turned things around, notice that the Bengals were 21-42 against the number as a dog from 1998-2002 (2-14 s/u, 4-12 ATS in 2002 overall). Real bad teams can be consistently bad against the number.
There are several factors to keep in mind when analyzing bad college and pro teams that can help you as a bettor. Ugly teams can offer go-against opportunities and here are some things to keep in mind about bad teams as you analyze the card each week.
1. Lethargy: Bad teams can develop a sense of complacency and lethargy both in practice and on game day. The Chicago Bears had high hopes a year ago after trading for QB Jay Cutler, but a lot of things fell apart. After a 3-1 start, things went sour in a hurry and the Bears didn't seem to care too often, going 3-9 against the spread to end the season.
2. Disenchantment: Athletes are human and can get frustrated and not show up to play hard if they're not happy. It will be worth watching the current situation at USC, with a new coach in Lane Kiffin and the stench of NCAA sanctions that took away scholarships. This is a program used to winning, something at which Kiffin hasn't had much success. In baseball, star pitcher Zach Greinke of the Royals spoke last week about how frustrated he is to see another rebuilding season taking place around him. How happy can the players be during rebuilding, or train wreck seasons?
3. Player Revolt: Pro and college teams can quit on their coach, making for terrific go-against spots. A year ago, the Denver Broncos appeared to quit on first-year coach Josh McDaniels, during an 0-4 SU/1-3 ATS finish. A few years ago this happened to the Arizona Wildcats as the players tuned out Coach John Mackovich. For betting purposes, this is often evident when the team is supposed to lose: Arizona was 1-10 straight up and 4-7 against the spread last season as an underdog. If an unhappy team knows it's going to lose, why play hard? When situations pop up like this, a good handicapper needs to look beyond stats and angles.
Well-coached teams are far less likely to suffer from these maladies, of course. This is less likely for pro football teams such as the Steelers, Patriots or Colts. It won't happen for well-coached college programs, either, such as the current ones at Boise State, Penn State, Florida or Alabama. But for handicapping purposes, it can be just as profitable to look to go against bad teams with numerous problems, rather than to search for good teams to wager on. Because ugly teams can look "oh so beautiful" when you're cashing tickets at the betting window! Good luck, as always ... Big Al McMordie.