NFL Inception: Finding Early-Season Gold
by Bovada Sportsbook Staff | August 14, 2012
NFL oddsmakers at the Bovada Sportsbook work tirelessly to balance the spread and avoid early-
season surprises. However, the rule “any given Sunday …” makes it impossible to have the perfect
NFL betting season. There are always a couple teams in training camp
who appear destined for a top-five draft pick, only to go on a winning streak against the spread that
leaves oddsmakers scrambling for weeks.
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How does the NFL bettor find the “money” team early? Though you’ll have mind-bending cash
cows like the 2007-08 New England Patriots — the Brady-to-Moss combo made no spread too large to
conquer — smart money says you can narrow your search by finding the squads that play hard and play
The 2011 San Francisco 49ers are a perfect example. Following another sub-.500 finish to the
2010-11 season the Niners hired rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh then made questionable moves by
keeping 2005 first-round flop Alex Smith at quarterback and giving into the contract demands of aging
and oft-injured running back Frank Gore. Expectations were understandably low, but oddsmakers
weren’t accounting for Harbaugh’s throwback style, and steady leadership.
The Niners took the “no mistakes” approach. They ran the ball third-most in the league; ranked
31st in pass attempts and were dead last in turnovers. Meanwhile the D did the heavy lifting, holding
opponents to just 14.3 points per game. The result, Harbaugh’s Niners opened the season 9-0-1 ATS
and finished 11-4-1 ATS overall (13-3 straight up). A pro bowl season for bettors who caught them
The Cincinnati Bengals started the 2011 season with a rookie QB and wide receiver, making the
running game and ball-security a necessity. The Bengals went 7-1 ATS the first eight weeks of the
season before second half odds brought them back to earth.
There are odd exceptions. The Green Bay Packers aired it out recklessly but Aaron Rodgers was so
good, only throwing six picks next to 45 touchdowns, that the Packers finished behind the Niners with
the second-best turnover ratio. Green Bay cashed in for bettors with an 11-5 ATS record.
Teams who could have a betting breakout in 2012:
– The St. Louis Rams (3-12-1 ATS in 2011): While head coaches league-wide
are looking for ways to air it out, new St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher’s philosophy is still to run, control the
clock, and run some more. On the betting side his plan worked while coaching the Tennessee Titans.
During the first six weeks of the regular season Fisher holds a record of 17-7 ATS since 2007. The
personnel are in St. Louis to bring the smashmouth, mistake-free style Fisher wants.
– Washington Redskins (6-9-1 ATS in 2011): The Redskins plan to ease rookie,
dual-threat QB Robert Griffin lll into his starting role by supporting him with a steady running game.
Sounds similar to the Carolina Panthers approach, who eased Cam Newton into his role as QB before
allowing him to breakout. The result was Carolina starting the season 5-3 ATS, including a four-game
win streak versus Green Bay, Jacksonville, Chicago and New Orleans. The Redskins also return in 2012
with a solid defense that ranked 13th overall last year.
– Cleveland Browns (8-6 ATS in 2011): This all depends on the health of rookie
RB Trent Richardson, who is rehabbing after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee.
Richardson has Adrian Peterson talent needed to control the clock and keep Cleveland’s defense
fresh. That could keep a guaranteed underdog like Cleveland in games for four quarters.
NFL regular season totals are up right now in the Bovada Sportsbook.