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Bettor's Choice: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly!

   by Al McMordie - 10/29/2010

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 or ones that have been to the Super Bowl over the last 10 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 Alabama, Florida and Ohio State.

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. The Carolina Panthers, for instance, are having a dreadful season and are not a public team, but for much of the last decade under John Fox they have been outstanding as an underdog.

Real bad teams can be consistently bad against the number (like the Raiders). That's an example of a team with below-average talent and lousy coaching, the worst possible mixture. There are several factors to keep in mind when analyzing bad 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.

Lethargy: We are at that point in the season where football teams, both pro and college, are beginning to get a sense of whether they have a legitimate shot at the postseason or not. Bad teams can develop a sense of complacency and lethargy both in practice and on game day. North Texas just fired its coach, and teams like Duke, San Jose State and both New Mexico schools have had poor campaigns. Do they really want to play all out the last month of the season?

In the NFL, the Jaguars, Bills and 49ers are having worse seasons than expected (though Buffalo is starting to show signs of life with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick). At what point do such teams begin to pack it in? I recall a few years ago when the NY Giants had a disappointing start, they tuned out coach Jim Fassell and had a miserable finish, going 0-8 against the spread to end the season.

Disenchantment: Athletes are human and can get frustrated and not show up to play hard if they're not happy. There's no better example than the 2009 Washington Redskins. They were expected to be pretty good with their talent and the offseason acquisition of Albert Haynesworth, but what a disaster under Jim Zorn. Management made some poor moves in failing to upgrade the offensive line and the team was hit with bad luck, in the form of injuries. So how happy could the players be in what was a train wreck season?

Player Revolt: Pro and college teams can quit on their coach, making for terrific go-against spots. 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, and is installed as an underdog: Arizona was 1-10 straight up and 4-7 against the spread that season as a dog.

Well coached teams are far less likely to suffer from these maladies, of course. This won't happen to pro teams such as the Eagles, Patriots, Steelers or any team coached by towering figures like Bill Parcells. It won't happen for well-coached college programs, either, such as the current coaches at Penn State, TCU, Alabama and Florida, to name a few. 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...Al McMordie.

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