NFL Juggernauts and Fading Has Beens
By Jim Feist
NFL parity is alive and well in 2016! The Vikings were the only undefeated team at 5-0 in October….then lost four in a row along with their offensive coordinator. The Eagles and their rookie quarterback were the talk of the NFL, starting 3-0 SU/ATS in September…followed by a 1-4 SU/ATS skid, losing twice as chalk to the delight of money-line underdog bettors.
Even the 49ers looked like world beaters opening night a 28-0 win as a home dog…before a 0-8/1-7 ATS run brought them quickly back to earth. Every team has flaws that can be exploited. The Broncos won the title last year with a bone-crushing defense. But this season they haven’t been dominant against the run, while the offense has had to work in new quarterbacks after Peyton Manning retired and Brock Osweiler moved on.
He moved on to Houston, where the Texans backed up the Brinks truck for the kid without properly evaluating how good or bad he really is. Despite having a good chance to repeat as division champs, it’s been a painful Houston offense to watch all season, one of the worst in the league.
Several teams have been exploited because of injuries to their quarterbacks, such as the Seahawks, Steelers, Jets and Vikings. A year ago at time the Patriots were sizzling, starting 10-0 before injuries on the offensive line slowed down their unstoppable offense.
Teams can get healthy, too, and suddenly start playing much better. We saw this with QB Russell Wilson last month, getting healthy from early season ankle injuries when he tore apart the New England secondary as a +7 road dog, 31-24. The Miami Dolphins had a rough start before getting a key pair of offensive line starters back, which helped fuel a 4-0 SU, 3-0-1 ATS run. They were a +7 home dog to the Steelers when the streak began and won in impressive fashion, 30-15.
The Atlanta Falcons have been impressive with the dazzling offense. But don’t forget a year ago they started 5-0 for their new coach, then stumbled badly on both sides of the ball.
The season is littered with flops. The Jets, Chargers, Panthers, Cardinals and Bengals were expected to be better. The Rams have had high hopes the last four years with a slew of draft picks, but have been maddeningly inconsistent because of quarterback play and an ultra-conservative offense. Note to Jeff Fisher: Have you heard of the forward pass? It is a part of the game, you know.
The fact is it’s always like this, which is why we love the game. Late last season the Jets needed to win the finale at Buffalo to make the playoffs, but folded up in a Ryan Fitzpatrick turnover-fest. Unfortunately for Jet fans, that turned out to be a primer for this season. Hard to believe they were calling him “FitzMagic” then.
Two years ago the Chiefs destroyed the Patriots on national TV then later beat Seattle, the two teams that ended up in the Super Bowl. The Chiefs, meanwhile, missed the playoffs despite beating the best of each conference. Those same Patriots were 2-2 at the time with all kinds of question marks, but stormed to the stretch to capture another title.
That same season how many teams with losing records could say they beat the Broncos, 49ers and then-defending champion Seahawks? Only the Rams could, if you can believe that.
Oddsmakers make adjustments on teams all during the season, such as seven years ago when the Saints and Colts started red hot. After starting 6-0 SU/ATS, the Saints went 2-8 ATS to end the regular season, often as a double digit favorite. That’s what can happen to public teams, either popular teams or ones with a flashy offense like the 2013 Broncos, 2009 Saints and 2007 Patriots.
Normally we are at the time of the pro football campaign where some teams have mentally and physically packed in the season. It’s been a lost season or one with higher expectations and players, especially ones on poorly coached teams, can just go through the motions. That can show up on the scoreboard and at the wagering window.
It must be difficult for players on the 49ers and Browns to show up for work this time of the year, but the fact is most NFL teams have been in the hunt for a winning season all year. Three years ago Houston lost 10 in a row after a 2-0 start and then fired their coach. The Redskins went from a division title in 2012 to a train wreck the next three seasons…and then a division title again last year.
Most pro athletes have pride and know the score. Taking out their frustrations on a powerhouse team is not uncommon. The good teams aren’t that much better from year to year than bad ones. Parity and the salary cap have leveled the playing field and schedules are longer, all of which makes it that much harder to dominate.
The 1962 Green Bay Packers enjoyed a 10-0 start on the way to a 13-1 season, ending in a 16-7 win in the championship game over the Giants as one of Vince Lombardi’s best teams. They came close to running the table, except for a surprising Thanksgiving Day loss to Detroit, 26-14 (trailing 26-0 to the fired up Lions). Even NFL David’s can be gunning for Goliath this time of the season – if they haven’t already packed it in.
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