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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, October 2, 2012 at 10:30 PM

Most respected Power Ratings are showing a fairly condensed NFL right now. The best teams would be about 10-11 point favorites on a neutral field over the worst teams. Make that 13-14 points at home. Last Thursday’s Baltimore-Cleveland game was close to a “best vs. worst” scenario. Baltimore was only laying 12 points, and could only win by seven.

Whenever the league gets stacked up like this, TURNOVERS loom very large in determining who wins games and who covers pointspreads. It’s not accurate to say “every game is a coin flip.” But, it’s more that way than normal right now because there are no superpowers who are playing  unstoppable football at the top…and nobody’s thrown in the towel while starting a useless backup quarterback at the bottom.

Quick Notes:

*Houston is undefeated at 4-0, and has been winning by big margins. But, some of that has been inflated by cheap points off of turnovers. They actually lost yardage stats to Tennessee last week, and didn’t have great stats in their season opening win over Miami. They “look” like a juggernaut because of a +7 turnover differential against what’s been a very weak schedule.

*New England was supposed to be a superpower, but lost to Arizona and Baltimore within their first three games.

*Green Bay was supposed to be a superpower, but their offense is nowhere near past form at the moment.

*Philadelphia was supposed to be a superpower, but they’ve been playing nailbiters every week (except for a bad loss at Arizona).

The teams who were supposed to run away and hide from the league with Power Ratings that would make them -14 to -17 at home vs. bad teams just aren’t hitting on all cylinders right now. What about the other end of the spectrum?

*Cleveland’s offense has looked like a high school team for long stretches. Yet, they’ve covered spreads against Philadelphia and Baltimore, while pushing at Cincinnati. The defense is playing feisty enough to stay within striking distance of tall spreads.

*Miami is starting a rookie quarterback just like Cleveland is. Yet, the Dolphins have actually impressed for long stretches in their last three games. They would have taken out both Arizona and the NY Jets the last two weeks if they had more experience at QB. They did rout Oakland. Miami was supposed to be a doormat, but stopped playing like one after their season opener.

Nobody’s really great, though Houston is closest to proving there are at the moment. Nobody’s really horrible, though the lesser teams will look horrible in their bad turnover games. What YOU need to do as handicappers is to realize the role that turnover extremes are playing in recent results…then try to develop ways to exploit the turnover tendencies of quarterbacks, certain offensive schematics, and certain defensive schematics.

Nothing’s going to tell you when Kansas City is about to lose the ball six times at home to San Diego. But, you can put the odds in your favor in terms of showing profit over the long haul by thinking through the process and finding some edges.

A quick review of this past weekend’s results will reinforce that point:

*New England trailed Buffalo at the half, but exploded afterward thanks to a Bills turnover barrage. New England won the category 6-2 in their 52-28 victory.

*Minnesota didn’t score an offensive TD, but beat Detroit 20-13 thanks to a pair of non-offensive touchdowns and a 1-0 turnover edge. Detroit’s defensive and special teams execution has been nowhere this year, causing a 1-3 start that easily could have been 0-4.

*San Francisco squashed the Jets thanks partly to a 4-0 edge in the turnover department. New York never had a chance to get into the game (it was only 10-0 at the half) because they kept giving the ball away.

*We already mentioned San Diego beat Kansas 6-1 in takeaways. Kansas City actually won all the stat categories but turnovers in what turned out to be a 37-20 Chargers win.

*Houston had two interception returns for TD’s as part of a 3-0 edge in takeaways in their easy win over Tennessee. Again here, Tennessee won stat categories handily outside of the turnover department.

*Same story in St. Louis. The Rams lost most stat categories, but won turnovers 3-1 in their 19-13 victory over Seattle.

*Same song, new verse in Arizona. Miami won stats but lost turnovers 4-2 in an overtime heartbreaker. The Cards sure seem to be a pretender at 4-0 in the standings. They are finding ways to win though thanks to miscues from opponents.

*Washington won a 24-22 thriller over Tampa Bay, thanks partly to a +1 edge in turnovers.

*Philadelphia did the same in a 19-17 sweater against the NY Giants, with the same 1-0 edge in takeaways.

*Chicago used a 5-1 turnover advantage (highlighted by a pair of interception returns for touchdowns) to run away and hide from Dallas as a road underdog in the Monday Night game.

Generally speaking, the league is relatively evenly matched in terms of moving the ball up-and-down the field in a 60-minute sprint (the game clock moves very fast right now with the way teams run clock, meaning there’s less time for superiority to truly manifest itself). And, Vegas lines don’t have to be great to be in the neighborhood of a condensed league. Maybe a line is -5 when it should be -4. Maybe one team is a 2-point favorite when the game is really pick-em. A condensed league means fewer meaningful errors from oddsmakers just because the range is so tight.

Turnovers become the single most influential “tie breaker” in terms of determining who wins and covers. We’ve told you often in the past that a turnover is typically worth about four points in terms of scoreboard impact. A team with a +1 differential gets about four “free” points in a tight game against a tight Vegas spread. That’s a big deal! +2 or more and we’re talking about high impact indeed.

That means you should study:

*Turnover tendencies of every quarterback

*Downfield throwing tendencies for every offense (determining “high risk” vs. “conservative”)

*Aggressiveness or passiveness of every defense

*Intangibles (letdowns, lookaheads) that could influence concentration and lead to turnovers

*As we get deeper into the season, the role weather might play in exacerbating turnover probabilities

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can’t handicap turnovers. Nobody can handicap anything “perfectly.” But, knowing generally who’s more likely to play the cleaner game is going to be the single biggest factor in properly handicapping what is currently a very condensed league. You’re not trying to be perfect. You’re trying to hit better than 52.5% so you can show a profit. Hopefully today’s NOTEBOOK entry will help you do that going forward if you’ve struggled out of the gate.

If you’d like some more help, game day releases go up daily here at the website. Link up with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK on Thursday and build your bankroll through a weekend of blockbusters. You can also sign up for the full season online. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for more information. Remember to check on postseason baseball when you call.

Here’s what’s ahead this week in the NOTEBOOK:

Thursday: Stat preview of Arizona-St. Louis in the NFL

Friday: Stat preview of Georgia-South Carolina (probable SEC East Championship!)

Saturday: Stat preview of West Virginia-Texas (possible Big 12 Championship!)

Sunday: Stat preview of San Diego-New Orleans in the NFL

Monday: Stat preview of Houston-NY Jets in the NFL

Visit the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports! And, remember that being a winner is as much about avoiding miscues as it is about producing in crunch time. That’s true on the field and when you’re handicapping. JIM HURLEY knows which potholes to avoid as he leads you down the road to riches. Get on the NETWORK BANDWAGON today!

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