With the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win in overtime Monday over the Baltimore Ravens, the first month of the 2008 NFL season is officially in the books. So what have we learned?
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the first American president to put the spotlight on his first hundred days in office. The first month of the NFL season is just as important for handicappers. Every team’s strengths and weaknesses are on display, with a growing sample size of data to analyze.
Here’s one important stat: 0-4. That’s where the St. Louis Rams and Cincinnati Bengals find themselves after Week 4 of the 2008 campaign. The Rams are also 0-4 against the spread and have already fired coach Scott Linehan. Cincinnati is 1-3 ATS and not providing coach Marvin Lewis much job security right now. The Detroit Lions are on the ropes at 0-3 SU and ATS; they finally parted ways with president and CEO Matt Millen after seven years of futility.
There are no quick solutions on the field for any of those three teams. They have been awful in every facet of the game, and will continue to be for some time. How long they’ll continue to have betting value depends in part on who will be playing quarterback from now on. Rams interim coach Jim Haslett is reportedly going with Marc Bulger, Carson Palmer may be out long term with elbow problems, and Jon Kitna might be giving way to Drew Stanton if the Lions don’t turn things around in a hurry.
While the usual suspects kick around the NFL basement, fans of the New England Patriots (2-1 SU, 1-2 ATS) and the Indianapolis Colts (1-2 SU and ATS) are not terribly pleased right now. Injuries are threatening to ruin their seasons; the Pats are without Tom Brady, while the Colts are missing most of their offensive line in front of Peyton Manning – which could prove to be an even worse predicament, although the Colts are holding at 6-1 to win the Super Bowl. New England has slipped from 5-2 favorites to 15-1 dark horses with Matt Cassel at the helm.
With the AFC’s big boys struggling, the focus is shifting toward the Tennessee Titans – the last remaining “perfect” team at 4-0 SU and ATS. The Titans are picking up right where they left off for handicappers last year, when they went 8-5 ATS in games where massive DT Albert Haynesworth was healthy. Tennessee’s offense isn’t anything to write home about with Kerry Collins taking over for Vince Young, but Collins makes fewer mistakes and lets the running game do the heavy lifting. It’s the same philosophy the Baltimore Ravens (2-1 SU, 3-0 ATS) have employed while nurturing rookie QB Joe Flacco.
The NFL’s reversals of fortune may be headline grabbers, but chalk is still where it’s at. Favorites have gone 34-24-2 ATS thus far, and despite all the aforementioned defense, the Over is a fat 34-24 against the betting odds after four weeks. You can give the Rams and Lions much of the credit for this. The Over is a combined 5-2 for those teams, who have honked six of their seven games as underdogs. The Houston Texans (0-3 SU, 1-2 ATS, Over 3-0) are also struggling to keep points off the board, allowing at least 30 points in all three games – again, all three as underdogs.
And how is the Brett Favre thing working out? After his six-TD performance against Arizona, everything is rosy again in New York even though the Jets wrap up September at 2-2 SU and ATS. Favre’s old team, the Green Bay Packers, shares the same record but not the same good vibes after losing two in a row. Aaron Rodgers has a sprained right shoulder and might not play in Week 5.
Meanwhile, Chad Pennington’s trip from New York to Miami hasn’t helped much, as the Dolphins are 1-2 SU and ATS despite Pennington’s usual efficiency (87.9 passer rating). Then again, that 38-13 pounding of New England (-12.5) in Week 3 might be the start of something good in South Florida; aside from their awful special teams, Miami is playing reasonably well on both sides of the ball. Maybe there is room for an underdog or two at the table.