Handicapping Football Totals

Did you see the Rams flop at home Sunday in a 38-28 loss to the Cardinals? The game sailed over the total, which is not a surprise as the Rams have the fourth-worst defense in the NFL. The Rams have a high octane offense with loads of weapons in the running and passing game, but the defense has been poor the last two years under coordinator Larry Marmie, who replaced the popular Lovie Smith. It’s obvious Marmie does not possess Smith’s talent for defense. 70% of the Rams games have gone over the total this season (7-3). It’s those type of team strengths and weaknesses (bad defense, good offense) that handicappers look for when examining totals. The Rams are 4-1 over the total at home, too, on their slick artificial carpet.

Speaking of Lovie Smith, he’s since gone on to be head coach of the Chicago Bears. He has an abundance of defensive talent, and limited offensive options along with a rookie quarterback. It’s no surprise that Smith prefers to win games with his defense and play conservative offensively with a rookie QB. The Bears are 8-2 under the total this season. Think that’s just a trend? Smith ran the same formula a year ago as Chicago went 10-6 under the total, meaning they are 18-8 under since he’s become Bears coach!

Handicapping totals is about line value, but it’s also about the styles a football team plays. Another factor to keep in mind as we come down the stretch of the NFL season is weather. Northern cities like Chicago, New York, Boston, Philly and Pittsburgh are getting cold this time of year. It’s essential to check weather conditions on game day. Cold weather is tougher on offenses, as is chilling winds and snow which is also something that will become more common.

The Colts improved defense was one of the big surprises of the NFL season. But notice they haven’t been as strong of late, giving up over 20 points in 4 of the last 5 games. The Bengals got them for close to 500 yards Sunday. After starting the season 5-0 under the total, the Colts offense has begun to click, while the defense has begun to bend more and Indy is 5-0 over the total the last five contests. The Bengals/Colts shootout Sunday went over the total in the first half!

You might classify the Cleveland Browns in the Chicago Bears category, too: Plodding offense, tough defense. Head coach Romeo Crennel has a great defensive mind, winning three of the last four Super Bowls as coordinator of the Patriots defense. The Browns are improved defensively under his guidance, going 8-2 under the total. And the Patriots miss Crennel. Along with his absence and numerous injuries to the secondary, the Patriots are 6-3 over the total, with a fine passing attack but a suddenly poor secondary.

Injuries, too, can change a team significantly. The NY Jets have an incredibly anemic offense rotating four QBs this season. The Jets are 4-2 under the total on the road where the offense is averaging just 7 points per game! The Steelers can’t wait for Ben Roethlisberger to get healthy, and notice Pittsburgh is 5-0 under the total on the road with a tough defense and a conservative offense without Big Ben. Stats, styles, coaching and weather all contribute to overs and unders.

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