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Big Dogs and Big Favorites

   by Al McMordie - 12/12/2010

Public money is not shy about coming in on the favorites, many times regardless of the number. The last week in the NFL was filled to the brim with large chalk. The Saints, Giants, Chiefs, Packers, Eagles and Chargers all opened as big favorites, so it was a Sunday of expected one-sided games.

But there's a twist to keep in mind with one-sided games: They're not always one-sided. Don't get duped into believing that just because an oddsmaker places a high number on one side that the game will be a rout. The Patriots were a 14-point dog in the Super Bowl nine years ago and won straight up over the Rams and were a 12-point dog three years ago and lost straight up to the Giants. Three straight recent college football national champions were all big dogs in the title game, in Oklahoma, Ohio State and LSU. The game is played on the field and there's a reason they keep score.

This is even more important to remember in the NFL because of parity. Make no mistake that the best college football team in the country would get flattened by the worst NFL team if they were to play. For example, the 49ers might be a 24-point favorite over Oregon, or the Carolina Panthers a 19-point favorite over Auburn. There's not a great deal of difference talent-wise between some of the top teams in the NFL and those below .500.

Look at the turnarounds in one season of the Chiefs and Bucs this year thinking playoffs, while the Bengals went from division champ to train wreck in less than a year. The league absolutely loves parity, which benefits the fans and league revenue.

Those big favorites I mentioned on the card from last week? The Chargers were the biggest favorite on the board, 13-points, and the Raiders flattened them, 28-13. The Chiefs were a 9-point favorite over the Broncos but it ended up a 10-6 close one. Even underdog Carolina jumped up 14-0 at Seattle before getting steamrolled, putting a scare in Seahawk backers early on. And how about the Cowboys going to Indy and winning as a dog, putting up 38 points?

With the season winding down and many spots where good teams are playing bad ones you will continue to see big favorites. It's important to keep in mind that inflated favorites can offer excellent betting value on underdogs. The banged up Colts were a road favorite at Tennessee last week and were clearly motivated to end a 3-game skid, especially with a huge division game coming up against front-running Jacksonville.

They played like a motivated team and would have covered if not for a garbage TD on the final play. Teams like the Colts, Ravens, Steelers, Rams, Saints, Falcons, Bears, Eagles and Giants are locked in tight races for division titles and playoff seedings, so there's no doubt these teams have motivation the final month of the season.

The same can't be said of teams like the Bengals, Panthers, Cardinals and Broncos where question marks and off-field concerns abound. Cincy head coach Marvin Lewis is in the final year of his contract with the Bengals. Fired Denver Coach Josh McDaniels was basically being asked to do not one but two jobs he had never done before and do them at the same time. The situation in Denver is a mess requiring a lot of rebuilding, a talent starved defense that has been neglected in recent drafts, plus a team with just six picks in the 2011 draft and financial limitations in free agency. Toss in poor TV ratings, thousands of empty seats and you have to wonder how much interest players are going to have for the Broncos as the lost season concludes. Live dogs that are giving that extra effort are worth supporting, while teams just going through the motions are dangerous to support no matter how much perceived line value there is.

But there are some teams with bad records that are playing hard for their coaches, like the Bills, Browns, Titans, Dolphins and Cowboys. Sometimes it can be difficult for some sports bettors to take dogs, as they "feel" more comfortable taking favorites. Well if you're that way and want to make a profit betting sports, get over it. There can be tremendous value in getting a lot of points, especially late in the season, because ugly dogs are nothing to bark at - when they get the money!

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