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Betting Angles for NFL Totals
by Al McMordie - 10/10/2010
When analyzing totals, don't be afraid to look beyond the stats. There are other avenues that bettors can utilize to identify winners. Take, for instance, coaching strategy. The Patriots hadn't used WR Randy Moss (9 catches in four games) before trading him. Part of the strategy was to get more players involved in the passing offense, as the team relied far too much on Welker and Moss a year ago.
The limited number of catches was probably a factor in Moss looking for a trade, because his contract expires at the end of this season and he really wanted to put up big numbers for a bigger payday, or get a contract extension. Even with Moss playing a limited roll the Patriots started 4-0 over the total. That's because the coaching staff maintains an aggressive offensive philosophy.
Some coaches are labeled conservative because they like to run the football and wait for the other team to make a mistake. Current coaches like that are Jon Fox (Panthers), Mike Tomlin (Steelers), Jeff Fisher (Titans), Steve Spagnuola (Rams), Tom Coughlin (Giants), and Tony Sporano (Dolphins). These are more run-first oriented styles and only the Giants are currently in the Top 10 in the NFL in total offense.
A year ago the Bengals shifted from a pass-happy attack with QB Carson Palmer to a run-first design. This was put in place because Palmer was turnover prone while being asked to carry the offense. The coaches felt more balance would help cut down his turnovers and sacks and it did. The Bengals ended up winning the division and started last season 9-6 under the total because of a strong defense and a shift in offensive philosophy.
This is also why it's essential for handicappers to examine not just head coaches but offensive coordinators. Cincy didn't change head coaches last season, but they changed their style under offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski. In fact, tor the entire second half of the 2009 season, the passing game consisted of nothing but slants and screens, with maybe the occasional overthrown deep ball just to keep the defenses thinking the Bengals had some sort of vertical attack.
The running game was without a doubt the bread and butter of the '09 offense. But the stubbornness and repetitiveness of the Bratkowski approach was easily sniffed out as the year wore on. Cedric Benson had more than 27 carries six times, and that includes the three-and-a-half games missed because of his hip injury. He had 301 total carries, and he might have had close to 400 without the injury. After going over the total in Week 1 of this season, the Bengals went on a 2-0 run under, scoring 15 and 20 points (both wins). When they get a lead, they sit on it.
Conversely, the Top 5 offensive teams in the NFL (Chargers, Texans, Colts, Broncos, Cowboys) all have aggressive, attacking offensive head coaches or assistants. San Diego coach Norv Turner has always been that way, even as offensive coordinator of the Cowboys 20 years ago, and the Chargers currently have more overs than unders. Should that be a surprise? A year ago the Chargers were 10-5-1 over the total.
It's also important to look at personnel on the field. The Chargers want to run an uptempo offensive attack, but they are able to so successfully only because of the talent, such as with QB Phillip Rivers and TE Antonio Gates. The Steelers have had more unders because of their coaching philosophy AND the fact that their defense is so dominant. They don't have to come out and go for the jugular on offense in the first half. If they had a weak defense and fell behind 13-0 each week in the first half, that might change their game plans.
One method handicappers can use is looking at uptempo teams with defensive weaknesses for overs, or conservative offensive coaches with at least one team being strong defensively for unders. I recall a Chiefs/Chargers game several years ago where you had two teams with strong, versatile offenses and two teams that were poor against the pass. San Diego was 26th defensively against the pass, while KC was 28th. That matchup suggested an aerial show with a lot of points, and the game went over the total of 52 in a 34-31 Chargers victory.
The Jaguars might be a team to look at over the total for these reasons. Jack Del Rio is by nature a conservative coach, but he knew the team needed help offensively a few years ago and brought in pass-happy Dirk Koetter as offensive coordinator. They don't have great personnel to run and uptempo attack, but they still try it. And combined with a lousy defense (30th in the NFL) because of so many key players leaving the last few years, Jacksonville started 2-1-1 over the total. With games against potent passing attacks on the horizon (Cowboys, Colts twice, Texans twice), there could be spots for high scoring games.
Careful study of different strengths and weaknesses can allow you to find winning selections each week on the side or the total. Digging through your handicapping homework on a regular basis will help you did up winners, too! Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.