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Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Saturday, December 10, 2011 at 6:18 PM

One of the most important keys in the field of Advanced Handicapping is to understand how successful teams get the job done. Every season will feature a handful of teams who are performing at a level much higher than Vegas oddsmakers had anticipated. If you can figure out how these teams are succeeding, you’ll be well positioned to ride the hot play for as long as it lasts…and then to go the other way once the line has caught up.

Let’s briefly run through the best ATS teams in the NFL this season and see how and why they’re succeeding. This should help your handicapping efforts as you attack this Sunday’s card.

SAN FRANCISCO: 10-1-1 ATS

The only bad game the 49ers played this year was Thanksgiving Night in Baltimore…and that was a tough spot on the road against a good defense with a short preparation week. Heading into today, Jim Harbaugh has never lost against the spread in the NFL if he’s had a week to prepare!

This team’s strengths have been defense and the rushing game. Quarterback Alex Smith is far from a star. But, Harbaugh has been able to limit his mistakes by playing a very conservative offense that lets everyone else win the game for them. Smith is no longer losing games (and losing Las Vegas bets SF backers) like he had under previous head coaches.

If San Francisco is facing a team that can’t stop the run, or has a shaky offense…then they’re still well-suited to beat Vegas expectations. They’ll be most vulnerable against good run defenses, and quarterbacks who can avoid mistakes. Kevin Kolb played very well for Arizona last week against Dallas. Can he do the same thing Sunday at home against San Francisco? That’s what handicappers need to focus on.

HOUSTON: 8-3-1 ATS

Though Coach Gary Kubiak has a reputation for passing all the time (and losing close games), this year’s Texans squad has basically been an AFC clone of San Francisco. They’re playing great defense, and winning games on the ground. Quarterback Matt Schaub wasn’t having all that great a season statistically when he got hurt. Houston has kept right on winning with third teamer C.J. Yates running the team.

I’m not optimistic about Yates’s chances to lead Houston through the playoffs. But, if the Texans are matched up against a defense that’s poor against the run…or against an offense that struggles vs. good defenses, then they can at least keep right on covering pointspreads. Houston faces an interesting challenge in Cincinnati Sunday. The tiring Bengals may or may not be able to slow down Houston’s rush attack. Can Andy Dalton avoid mistakes and put points on the board? Matt Ryan of Atlanta couldn’t do that in Houston last week.

GREEN BAY: 8-4 ATS

Even though the Packers didn’t meet expectations last week against the Giants, they’ve still covered two-thirds of their pointspreads this season. This is a terrific accomplishment because their spreads are so high! Oddsmakers had tabbed Green Bay as the best team in the league before the season started. Yet, Aaron Rodgers and company is still covering spreads.

Green Bay is succeeding much differently than our first two examples. They have a fantastic quarterback putting up great numbers. The running game is there, but not as intimidating as what you see in San Francisco and Houston. The defense has frankly been a big disappointment…content to sit back and hope for turnovers while allowing a lot of points.

It’s going to take a great pass defense to derail the Packers (though, the best teams sometimes derail themselves one or two times with flat performances). If you want to bet against the Packers, be sure your pass defense has a chance…be sure your offense is capable of scoring in garbage time if they fall behind…and try to find a spot on the schedule that the Packers might look past.

Oakland certainly has a chance to spring an upset in Green Bay Sunday if the Packers look past them. Can they hang with a fully focused host?

NEW ORLEANS: 8-4 ATS

We had two grinders to start the article. Let’s finish with two aerial attacks. New Orleans is very similar to Green Bay in terms of how they succeed…and how well they fly past Vegas expectations when things are clicking. These are the last two NFC teams to play in the Super Bowl (and win it!)…and not much has changed with either team since they lifted the Lombardi Trophy over their heads.

Drew Brees is very difficult to stop. Only fade him in spots where he’s facing a good pass defense, or he’s playing in weather conditions that hinder his ability to spread the ball around successfully. The Saints defense can be had by sharp teams who move the ball and avoid mistakes. Does Tennessee fit that description now that their running game is back on track?

Different styles can win and cover in this league. Advanced Handicapping must recognize those differences and adjust accordingly. What trips up a team like San Francisco or Houston won’t have much affect on Green Bay or New Orleans. What slows down the Packers or Saints may not even matter against San Francisco because the styles are so different.

I’ll be posting some very strong NFL selections for my clients Sunday morning that are backed by the full force of my Advanced Handicapping approach. I may or may not be involved in games featuring the teams I just talked about. I go where the edges are…and I pound those edges as hard as they merit.

My next written lecture from my College of Advanced Handicapping is scheduled for early next week. Thanks to all of you who continue to come back for each installment. Remember to check the home page of this website for video updates over the weekend and through the week

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