If there was one right way to bet on sports then everybody would do it. While not every strategy is successful, winning handicappers are all looking for the same thing, a way to finish with a strong ROI.
Tiering teams is a tactic my dad has used for years. It helps bettors fit each squad within the big picture of the league as a whole. When teams in the same tier face each other, you should consider taking points if the spread is more than a field goal. When teams in different tiers match up, you should strongly consider laying points if the spread is under a touchdown.
As for the tiers, themselves, that is where the work comes in. Each week, minor adjustments are made so that we have as firm a grasp as possible on all 32 teams.
Last week, we warned about overreacting, particularly early in the season. Remember how good the Rams, Vikings, and Cowboys looked in Week 1? That said, there are things that we probably can consider reliable information after two games that was not obvious prior to opening kickoff. The Bengals and Giants have a lot of work to do, while the Bills, Ravens, and Panthers seem to have stout defenses. I’m still taking a conservative approach to re-tiering, as always, so that I don’t succumb to recency bias. More clarification is coming in Week 3 as matchups like Atlanta/Detroit and Tampa Bay/Minnesota should prove especially helpful in assessing true quality.
This is the definition of why you shouldn’t overreact. The Pats were 3/1 to win the Super Bowl before the year began, slipped to 9/2 following a home loss against a quality Kansas City team, and now are 7/2 after crushing New Orleans. Is New England flawed? Yes, like all teams they have weaknesses. In the short term, they have some injury issues, but it appears Don’t’a’ Hightower will be back soon, and Rob Gronkowski’s groin issue isn’t serious. They are the only team in the NFL that feels like a lock for a playoff bye, and that keeps them in a tier by themselves.
This group has been narrowed a bit. Think of these teams as the ones that would have a reasonable chance of beating the Patriots. Though the Chargers are 0-2, they would be 2-0 if they had a better kicker, and tight losses to Denver and Miami (also in this tier) are not criminal. A lot of people might not like Miami being in this tier, but they have beaten the Pats in three of the last four years and are (at least) respectable on both sides of the ball. By contrast, the Bills have only beaten New England twice since 2011, and though they battled hard at Carolina in Week 2, their offense is, at best, one-dimensional, and at worst, completely impotent; their perfect game-plan to compete with the Pats is unclear.
This is a new grouping, mostly comprised of teams that have dropped out of the second tier. If you were purely going by Weeks 1 and 2, the Bengals and Giants would be at the very bottom of the league. They both had high expectations to start the year, though, and those weren’t unwarranted given their underlying numbers from 2016 and the sheer amount of talent on their rosters. They have too much potential to drop them any further at this point.
Arizona was pretty dreadful in a Week 1 loss to Detroit and almost as bad in a Week 2 overtime win against Indy. That said, if they can tread water while David Johnson is injured, things can improve later in the campaign.
The Saints have a big game this week against Carolina. They have lost convincingly twice, but the Vikings looked good with Sam Bradford healthy, and the Patriots are the best team in the NFL. The Bills are better than tier four, and not as good as tier two at this stage.
These squads all have a reason for optimism: some are developing young quarterbacks; some are battling key injuries; others showed flashes of promise in the first two games. But they should all be creating a game-plan for 2018, nonetheless. They can compete and bettors should not necessarily shy away when they’re getting points against the teams a tier (or two) ahead of them, but they would be double-digit dogs against the Patriots and are no lock to beat the squads in the bottom tier.
Always bet against a team going 0-16. It has happened just once in NFL history (the 2008 Lions). While all three will compete in certain weeks — and the Browns and Niners are 1-1 ATS — this tris has looked about as bad as expected so far. The Browns haven’t embarrassed themselves, though they are not exactly threatening to win games either. San Francisco is not bad on defense, but the offense is a major problem. The Jets are a train wreck but have played both of their games on the road.
Last week, several games fit the formula I set out at the top and just felt right. This week’s slate is somewhat less inviting.
The Rams make some sense on Thursday, laying less than a field goal in San Francisco, but it is LA’s first road game this year, and the easiest matchup thus far for the 49ers.
For similar reasons, the Dolphins laying less than a touchdown against the Jets fits. That said, it is the Jets first home game this season, and unlike last week, when the Chargers were flying blind, there is tape on the Fins now for Jets coaches to pore over.
The Ravens -4 in London against Jacksonville is sensible, but Baltimore has played awful opponents so far and their numbers could be inflated.
The top play is pretty clearly Dallas as a three-point favorite in Arizona. Though they have played two road games, the Cardinals are lucky to have a win, are banged up, and have an old roster. Dallas was sharp in their opener against the Giants and got their butt kicked against an underrated Denver team in the Mile High City.
Dallas will run the ball more on Monday, and that is good since they have the best offensive line in the NFL. Though the Cards defend the ground game well, without David Johnson, they will not be effective moving the chains with their rushing attack. If we look at passing game versus passing game, Arizona is struggling to protect Carson Palmer, and the aging quarterback is missing throws and turning the ball over at an alarming rate (four interceptions through two games).
While Dak Prescott wasn’t good in Week 2, he won’t be asked to throw 50 passes in Arizona — or ever again this season — and should get back to the efficient passer he’s been so far in his young career.
Featured photo credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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