NFL Litmus Tests

Because so many bad teams have byes this week (New England is the only contender to get Sunday off, with the Bills, Browns, Dolphins, Jets and 49ers all staying home to watch great TV games with the rest of us), handicappers will have a prime opportunity to evaluate top playoff threats vs. quality opposition.

It’s not quite the same as the playoffs, because a lot of non-playoff caliber teams will be exposed. But, the following games in particular will be true litmus tests for teams hoping to close strong.

Sunday
Dallas (4-5) at Atlanta (4-5)
Tennessee (5-4) at Indianapolis (4-5)
Houston (6-3) at Washington (6-3)
Philadelphia (4-5) at New Orleans (8-1)
Minnesota (5-3-1) at Chicago (6-3)

Monday
Kansas City (9-1) at the Los Angeles Rams (9-1)

The week already started with Green Bay and Seattle going right down to the wire. The game ultimately landed on the closing line of Seahawks -3. Both teams recently extended the Rams to tight finishes in Los Angeles…which suggests the NFC race is still up for grabs even with LA at 9-1. That one loss was to New Orleans, who’s been playing better than anybody the past month.

For now, I think we can say that both the Packers and Seahawks are legitimately “Wildcard caliber,” though neither may ultimately reach the postseason in a crowded field. Who’s likely to win Green Bay’s division…the NFC North? Sunday Night’s Minnesota/Chicago game (time-changed for NBC) will go a long way toward answering that question. I personally am very interested to see if the Bears are ready to win a “clutch” game at home with a young QB and relatively new head coach.

Let’s assume New Orleans and the Rams will win their NFC divisions, and the Vikings/Bears winner will be in the driver’s seat in the North? Who wins the East? Washington has a two-game lead over Dallas and Philadelphia, but has been ravaged with injuries recently (as has the Eagles’ defensive secondary for that matter). I’m wondering if any of the three is really ready to step up and play four strong quarters in a row. The eventual NFC East champ may be upset fodder in the first round at home against a talented Wildcard.

In the AFC, it’s pretty clear that Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and New England are clear of the field in terms of conference championship potential. We’ll have to wait for another week to see if the up-and-coming LA Chargers can join that mix. I wouldn’t consider a home game against Denver a test right now. HOUSTON is a team I’m paying very close attention to. Since they forced DeShaun Watson to stop forcing things while taking so many hits, they’ve risen to at least “Wildcard” caliber. Also in the South, I think Tennessee clearly has a playoff caliber defense, while Indianapolis has a playoff caliber offense. I think that Titans/Colts game will be very informative.

Here’s your homework for this weekend in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. 

*Watch or record all the games listed above for intensive viewing

*Do deep dives into the postgame stats afterward

*Focus on the ability to move the chains and score TDs

*Evaluate time management (a killer for GB again)

*Grade young QB’s on ability to handle pressure

You already know what Drew Brees and Matt Ryan can do in big games under pressure. And Andrew Luck for that matter, though he was on the shelf for so long. With this season’s playoffs in mind, really look HARD at Patrick Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, DeShaun Watson, and Jared Goff. Those four players are either going to establish Super Bowl credibility very soon, or disappoint bettors with poorly timed mistakes.

I don’t think you’ll be able to determine who’s going to win their conferences just yet. You’ll definitely see who doesn’t belong. And, there’s a good chance you’ll learn enough to start separating teams at the top. Should Pittsburgh actually be the AFC favorites now instead of Kansas City? You’ll know more Monday night.

This is a very exciting time to be a football handicapper. Even though college football has largely been a dud in terms of TV entertainment value, the schedule continues to offer up opportunities for really big scores (like last Saturday’s 200-unit winner on Utah State over San Jose State that we used as a tutorial in this past Monday’s coursework). More of those are coming up. This pro football season has been a lot of fun for watching and winning. That’s going to continue. Credit to the powers-that-be for offseason rules changes that improved the experience.

If you need some help finding best bets, let The Dean of Sports Handicapping improve your experience. KELSO STURGEON’S top plays can always be purchased at this website by credit card. Questions about extended service and combination packages can be answered in the Vegas Sports Masters office by calling my office at 1-800-755-2255 during normal business hours. Remember to ask about combination packages that also include early season basketball. I won’t have time to devote much coursework to hoops until the turn of the year. My customers are getting nightly selections if you’re interested.

I’ll be back again Monday for our next class-together. I’m currently planning to talk about how to handicap Thanksgiving football…with an emphasis on the special challenges for teams that arise from playing on Thursday or Friday. Though, there’s always a chance that an opportunity for another recap tutorial will pop up depending on how events transpire Saturday and Sunday.

Best of luck to you this weekend. Thanks so much for your continuing attendance, hard work, and support.