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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 7:00 AM

You longtime readers know that I emphasize PLAYMAKERS and GAMEBREAKERS in my handicapping process. The results of last weekend in the NFL provided a very clear reminder to Las Vegas bettors that it’s important to know who can and who can’t make plays in December.

I want to be clear here. I’m not talking about the calendar per se. I’m talking about the dynamics that come into play in the final weeks of an NFL season. That means:

 

CLUTCH ABILITY

A lot of quarterbacks flunked the clutch test last week, and will probably continue to do so. The crowded playoff picture features a lot of teams right now who start quarterbacks and other skill position players who have little or no history in games that matter. You saw a few fizzle last week in fairly dramatic fashion. That’s going to continue because it’s hard to handle intense pressure the first time you see it at this level. And, opponents who need to win will throw everything and the kitchen sink at you in hopes of forcing mistakes. Brian Hoyer of Cleveland basically disintegrated under pressure the past month. That’s why he’s being replaced by Johnny Manziel.

(Here’s a quick homework assignment for you. Run through last week’s boxscores and list all the quarterbacks who posted subpar numbers in big games.)

 

PLAYING THROUGH INJURIES

It’s a fact-of-life in the NFL that everybody’s hurt in December. This is a brutal sport, and athletes are either on the Injured List or playing hurt right now. Be sure you know which QB’s and skill position players are hobbled. Go beyond media reports to use the eye-test. Some respected observers are concerned that Peyton Manning may be trying to hide an injury given the poor form of his throws in recent days.

(More homework: Go through the official injury reports and write down the name of every quarterback, running back, and wide receiver who’s dealing with a physical issue. Try to anticipate how they’ll perform this coming weekend given what they’re enduring.)

 

THE WEATHER

December often brings weather challenges in the Northeast and Midwest regarding cold temperatures, precipitation, and wind. The latter is particularly important for quarterbacks who are either hobbled or inexperienced. Young quarterbacks get easily frustrated under pressure…and that really magnifies if the wind is blowing at 10-15 mph. Knowing who can make plays in December is often about who can make plays in challenging weather. Which quarterbacks have established they can throw bullets through the wind? Which receivers have established they can hold onto the ball when it’s freezing?

(Homework here: monitor weather forecasts for all of this weekend’s outdoor games, then try to determine which skill set players are either well or poorly suited to get the job done in that environment. I’m not going to tip my hand too much here…but be aware that there are early games scheduled for Cleveland, Buffalo, New York, and New England this Sunday…and then course a Monday Nighter in Chicago.)

I believe that today’s point of emphasis will help you pick more winners this week and through the rest of the month. And, perhaps more importantly, it will keep you from backing losers that should have been avoided. Most of you are probably betting too many games anyway. If I can help you turn a 5-5 record into a 3-2 record, I’ve done my job. Use today’s guidance to be pickier!

Today’s discussion doesn’t mean that you should leave THE MOTIVATION FACTOR, the other part of my two-pronged attack, out of the mix. I’m guessing that most of you are already doing a good job with that in the NFL. You know who needs to win. You know who looks like they’ve thrown in the towel. You’re able to spot non-contenders who are likely to be in a flat spot right after a big result. Keep doing that! Just be smarter about determining who can make plays in December!

If you’d like some additional help with the NFL this week…or Saturday’s Army/Navy game in college football…or every day in basketball…my daily BEST BETS can be purchased right here at this very website with your major credit card. Questions about extended service can be answered personally by one of my representatives in the Vegas-Sports-Masters office at 1-888-777-4155.

Back again early next week for the next edition of my College of Advanced Sports Betting and Handicapping. Either Monday or Thursday of next week will be devoted to the college football bowls which begin on December 20. We’ll probably have a mix of college and pro football through the college football championship game. College basketball will play a larger role in our content mix beginning in January…and the NBA will become more prominent after the NFL Playoffs have ended.

The Dean of Sports Handicapping encourages you to determine who can be a PLAYMAKER in December…and he wants you to be a PICK WINNER all year round!

 

Be sure to follow:

Kelso Sturgeon on twitter @vsm_sturgeon

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