NFL Handicapping in a Year of Parity

50 Unit Game of the Week Scores Saturday! UNLV (-14.5) over San Jose St. 41-13
Sensational Sept. Triple Crown 2-1

I have to admit The Dean of Sports Handicapping wasn't expected this to be a year of "parity" in the NFL. Over the summer, it seemed pretty clear that we were going to have a class of elites who were almost already locked into playoff contendership, and then several very bad teams who'd be in position to tank for the #1 draft pick.

But, three weeks into the 2017 season, the picture is much more complicated than that. There are only TWO undefeated teams, the defending NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons, and perennial AFC playoff team the Kansas City Chiefs. And, Atlanta very easily could have lost two of its three games!

There are only two teams who have covered all three of their outings against the Vegas number. The same Kansas City Chiefs have truly impressed with win/covers over the New England Patriots, Philadelphia Eagles, and Los Angeles Chargers. Two of those came on the road...and one obviously against the defending Super Bowl champs. The other is Buffalo, who is 3-0 ATS with tight squeezes against the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers, before last week's upset of Denver.

There are only two teams who are 0-3 against the spread. Both examples play into the theme of parity, as Seattle and Arizona have performed much worse than expected. Seattle was supposed to be a legitimate Super Bowl threat. Instead, they've been outclassed on the road by Green Bay and Tennessee, while barely surviving upstart San Francisco at home. Arizona was supposed to challenge for a Wildcard. They've looked awful vs. Detroit, Indianapolis, and Dallas, needing overtime to survive shorthanded Indy.

While it's always been true that "anything can happen on any given day." It's clear that, at least through the earliest stages of the news season, we're temporarily dealing with a tighter dynamic. It's not a "surprise" when an underdog hangs with a favorite. It's become the norm. What makes great teams GREAT hasn't shown up yet. It's too early for bad teams to throw in the towel and give up hope. Maybe that projected distance between "have's" and "have-nots" will show up more dramatically in November.

That means it's going to be tricky for you students here in my Advanced College of Sports Betting to find truly great blowout scenarios for your personal bets over these next few weeks. The general public learned that last weekend, particularly in the early Sunday session when underdogs covered every game but one. I'm not going to suggest that you should only bet on underdogs. This week, in particular, many of last week's dog success stories are going to be in letdown spots...while many of last week's favorites are going to be breathing fire.

Which brings me to an interesting approach for you to consider this week and all through October. You've probably heard about "the zig-zag theory" in the NBA Playoffs. Longtime handicappers and bettors will consider that strategy whenever relatively even teams are playing each other. You assume the winner of a game lets down, while the loser gets mad and makes adjustments. This leads to a scenario of alternating wins and covers through the course of a competitive series. It just might be time to apply that to this stretch of parity in the NFL.

*Don't ask teams low in NFL Power Ratings or Computer Ratings to play well two weeks in a row.

*Don't ask teams high in NFL Power Ratings or Computer Ratings to play poorly two weeks in a row (unless you see clear issues on the offensive line, which are dragging down a few projected contenders).

*Do ask quality teams to bounce back strong from double digit losses

*Do anticipate bad teams falling back to earth after scoring an upset victory, or losing a heartbreaker that took a lot of effort.

Most obvious "bounce back" teams this week:
Oakland and Denver (who play each other)
Baltimore
Tampa Bay
Miami

Carolina and Arizona are also in bounce-back spots from double-digit home losses. But, they're dealing with such serious injury issues (and off-the-field turmoil), that it's much dicier to assume a bounce back for those two.

Most obvious "letdown" teams this week:
Jacksonville
Chicago
NY Jets
Buffalo
Houston
New Orleans
Minnesota (with Keenum)
Washington

I'm not saying all of those teams will be flat. Chicago has a big divisional game Thursday in Green Bay. Maybe they'll stay motivated for that before letting down later (or maybe not!). All I'm saying is that this is a group that you should use as your launch point for trying to pin down the very best letdown spots to fade.

I've started the assignment for you. Now, dig deeper to try to find the best "reversal" scenarios from last week, to go along with your weekly assessment of PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS and the other football factors we've discussed over our many seasons of coursework.

If you'd like some help finding smart plays, KELSO STURGEON'S BEST GAMES can be purchased right here at the website with your credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office during normal business hours at 1-800-755-2255, or on weekends before the first games get started. The weekday schedule is about to get very busy with good football this week and the baseball playoffs next week. Be sure to check on combination packages.

Thanks very much for your time and attendance. See you again next week for our next class.

 

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