Every National Football League season I find myself at some point writing an article just like this one. This is the one where I long for the day of the 1970′s when teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders were basically favorites every single week. I long for the days of the 1980′s when you knew the Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers were the dominant teams week in and week out.
As the 1990′s drifted along, it became clear that free agency and salary cap issues were starting to eliminate the ‘sure thing’ each Sunday when it came to placing a wager. Yes, there were the Cowboys of the early ’90′s and then the New England Patriots over the last 10 years but never in my lifetime I have seen each week so difficult to find good, safe bets.
Did he just say “good, safe bets?” Believe it or not I did and there really was a day when all you had to worry about was whether or not a team would cover. Winning was almost a guarantee.
Sunday’s NFL action offered a perfect example of how quickly things can change. The Indianapolis Colts traveled west to play the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park and the Niners were heavy favorites. Some sports books even had them listed as high as 10 point favorites. There was a reason for that huge spread though.
Every trend pointed to a big win for San Fran. Under Head Coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers were 8-0 following a loss or in one case, a tie. What that also meant was that the team under Harbaugh had never lost two games in a row. Factor in also the fact the 49ers were coming off an embarrassing loss to division-rival Seattle and this game just had all the makings of a big 49ers win.
Some would argue that the off-field issues surrounding Aldon Smith’s drunk-driving arrest may have factored in and that’s possible but was it enough to suggest the 49ers weren’t going to play well across the board offensively and defensively? I don’t think so.
Also on Sunday you saw a Cleveland Browns’ team just days before traded away its’ best player when they sent Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first round draft pick. Oh, and they were without starting quarterback Brandon Weeden who was out with a thumb injury. That meant veteran Jason Campbell, who relieved Weeden against Baltimore the prior week would get the start right? Ummm, wrong.
The Browns decided to go with Brian Hoyer who had one previous start during his career which has been spent largely as Tom Brady’s back-up. Facing a Minnesota team that had lost two tough games on the road in their home opener seemed too large of a task for the depleted Browns team. The front office of the Browns made no bones about the fact that they were playing for next year and even offered that they may not be done dealing players in an effort to stockpile draft picks.
So it came as no surprise that the Browns went into Minnesota as big underdogs and won right? Yup. That’s exactly what they did and have again left me scratching my head.
The bottom line of what I’m getting at is that in today’s NFL, you must do far more than just look at records and trends. You have to dig much deeper in order to find success when wagering games. You also have to consider the new rules which greatly increase the offense’s ability to score too.
I may wish for the good old days, but they aren’t happening any time soon.