Football Full of Surprises


by Kelso Sturgeon
Contributing Sportsbook Editor


I don't need to tell you...just hours after Mississippi State was named the #1 team in the country in college football...and after the Dallas Cowboys utterly dominated the Seattle Seahawks (in Seattle!) that the sports betting world has been full of surprises in recent weeks. Either one of those by themselves would have been tough to imagine back in August. That they would happen almost unison is a parlay without a payoff. Nobody could imagine odds that long!

Of course, it's not just those two teams. Ole Miss is right on the heels of their state rival in the SEC West and National Championship race. TCU is a few seconds away from being right there with them. As is Arizona. In the NFL, the pro football version of Arizona leads the NFC West ahead of Seattle and San Francisco. And, people are pointing to the Cleveland Browns as one of the hottest teams in the league! (Don't even get me started on baseball...all the series favorites lost in the first round!)

Bizzaro indeed.

I've always emphasized the need to read and react to students here in my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. No matter how much preparation work you do, surprises are always going to happen. It's impossible to fully anticipate all developments. The good news is that oddsmakers are in the same boat. Look at their lines in games involving the Mississippi teams this year! Being a winning sports bettor doesn't mean correctly anticipating EVERYTHING. It just means staying ahead of the oddsmakers enough to win more than 52.5% of your bets.

Here are some key factors to look at in football that will help you do that the rest of the way.

HEALTH

The fact that the Dallas Cowboys have kept their PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS healthy is a huge reason for their surge into contention this season. Their running backs and receivers are playing at full speed, and their offensive line is opening holes and providing protection. Any team that stays healthy is going to be in good shape in a league where injuries are so common. Other teams are getting hurt! Pay close attention to the injury lists every week (particularly in college football mid-majors, which are often overlooked by the money that shapes the market). And, of course, put a special emphasis on PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS.

REAL PRODUCTION

Pretenders in both college and pro football can make temporary headlines by enjoying good fortune in the areas of turnovers and special teams. You want to focus on true nuts and bolts football. Who's winning at the point of attack? Who's moving the chains consistently on offense, and preventing their opponents from doing that on defense? Who is winning WITHOUT getting a bunch of cheap points from turnovers and special teams? The general public (and too many oddsmakers) focus on final scores rather than how those final scores were accomplished. The Mississippi schools announced themselves very early this year with impressive stats...and confirmed their current excellence with very solid numbers the past few weeks in test games. Surprises often tell you they're coming. You need to know how to hear their footsteps as they approach.

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

This is more of an issue in college football than in the pro's, but it's still a factor in the NFL too. Getting results against soft opponents doesn't necessarily mean anything. Sometimes it does...because true champions win convincingly vs. mediocrity and below too. But, it's possible to "fake" quality by bullying lesser teams. Oklahoma keeps showing us that over and over again, as does Baylor for that matter. You can say the same thing about Oregon to a degree. Mississippi State came off the pretenders list when they absolutely crushed LSU in Baton Rouge. Ole Miss did the same when they shut down Alabama to score a clean win. The Dallas Cowboys now have a blowout win over New Orleans, and a surprisingly dominant stat win at Seattle. This isn't beating Chattanooga or the Jacksonville Jaguars by 40 points. Getting results and winning the key categories against quality opposition means a team is for real. If oddsmakers aren't giving them that respect, you need to step in and take advantage.

RECORDS AGAINST THE SPREAD

Almost by definition, surprises make themselves apparent in pointspread records (or moneyline results in baseball). Vegas pointspreads define expectations. Teams who have great or poor ATS records aren't playing to expectations. I think you'll find it helpful, though, if you turn the traditional thinking about ATS records a few degrees. Don't use them to evaluate teams. Use them to evaluate ODDSMAKERS! Don't say "The Cowboys are 4-2 ATS this year, they must be worth betting." Say, "Oddsmakers are having trouble with the Cowboys, I'm going to monitor that closely until the line catches up." Vegas eventually catches up! If a team is 7-1 ATS but the line is almost right on the money now, that 88% success rate won't help you going forward. Focus on ATS records and "distance" from the spread so you can profit until the element of surprise has worn off and the value is gone.

You'll be tempted to start thinking that all the cats are out of the bag now, and that no more surprises are in store. WRONG! The most important thing the Dean of Sports Handicapping can do for you today is to alert you to the fact that surprises are just beginning. Some examples...

  • Teams who had been dealing with injuries are about to get healthy
  • Young quarterbacks will improve their performances as they ride the learning curve
  • Teams who had been holding their own vs. tough opponents are about to play some easy ones
  • Teams learning new schematics are closer to having them mastered in time for the stretch run

    Some college teams have already jumped as much as a full touchdown in Power Ratings. For NFL teams, it's more like 3-4 points because the scale is so much tighter. Be aware that OTHER teams are about to do that because things are now just clicking into place. On the other end of the spectrum...

  • Teams who had been healthy are about to suffer some bad injury luck
  • Some backup quarterbacks are going to get chances, and they're not ready!
  • Teams short on depth are about to start showing signs of fatigue
  • Teams who don't respect their head coach are about to throw in the towel

    It happens every year. Many of my biggest bets in October and November in both college and pro football are focused on teams I'm betting AGAINST rather than teams I'm betting on. Some surprising collapses are imminent!

    It's fun to have some new teams in the spotlight this season. Handicapping and sports betting is always more enjoyable in this kind of environment. There's a buzz in the sportsbooks. And, oddsmakers start kicking in walls when things don't go their way! I encourage you to embrace surprise in the marketplace because volatility creates opportunities.

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