To successfully handicap the NFL it is important to be constantly re-evaluating teams to understand how they are actually playing, and how they are performing from a betting perspective. If you don't do that then you can be betting based on how a team was performing, not how it is. That can be costly. To help in your evaluation, here's a look at the three best and three worst ATS tams in the NFL through the first quarter of the regular season, and a brief examination of how they are doing it:
Denver Broncos - One of the best ways for a team to cover spreads consistently is for it to be better, or at least perform better, than people expect it to. On that front Denver fits perfectly. They had a rocky and high-profile offseason - quarterback controversy, receiver woes, a new coach that created controversy. It was very easy based on that for the public, and even seasoned analysts, to assume that this was going to be an off year for the Broncos.
Instead they have been very impressive defensively and have played with surprising efficiency on offense en-route to a 4-0 start. They have only been favored twice this year, and never by more than a field goal, so it hasn't been particularly difficult for them to cover since they have been playing so well. The public will start to catch up with the team, and the Broncos will falter sooner or later, so they will fail to cover at some point. Up to this point, though, it has been the betting equivalent of a perfect storm.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints have taken a different approach to their 4-0 ATS record than the Broncos. People expected them to be good, and they have been favored in all four of their games - including two on the road.
The combination of a powerful and multi-faceted offense and a significantly improved defense under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, though, has made them even more effective than people would expect.
Some of their success is due to the schedule - they have faced struggling teams from Detroit and Buffalo, and Philadelphia without Donovan McNabb. The Williams defensive scheme was also able to make rookie Mark Sanchez look very uncomfortable. It has been a convergence of performance and circumstances that has made this team succeed. We'll have to see if they can carry their momentum through their bye week.
San Francisco 49ers - For reasons I can't explain, people did not believe in the Niners coming into the season. There is a lot to like about this team from my perspective. They have a coach that is establishing a new and much needed attitude with the team. The defense is talented and impressive. The running game is deep. QB Shaun Hill is clearly progressing. The team is one miracle Brett Favre pass away from 4-0, and it hasn't been a fluke. They have covered so far through strong play, and they will continue to cover with regularity as long as the public refuses to give them the respect they have clearly earned.
Washington Redskins - It must be the high-profile free agent splashes they make every year, or maybe the history the organization has, that makes people consistently believe that this year is going to be different for the Redskins.
The latest batch of big-name additions this year hasn't been enough to overcome poor coaching and lousy quarterback play. The best they have done from a betting perspective this year is a push, and that came in an opening loss. Beyond that they don't win by enough when they win, and they disappoint when they lose.
Carolina Panthers - Carolina has yet to be favored in their three games. They have also failed to cover. The problems the team has had so far are many - Jake Delhomme has struggled, the running game hasn't been effective, the defense hasn't made a statement, and so on. This is just a case of a team struggling even more than the public gives them credit for. Whether they have the right talent mix on board to turn things around or not is a question that remains totally up in the air.
After completing this article view our NFL Season Win Total Predictions page. Doc's Sports prop bets page is and excellent NFL resource as well. Our Super Bowl handicapping page is also a valuable tool for your NFL research. For 35+ years the team at Doc's Sports Service has provided and insight on NFL handicapping.
Kansas City Chiefs - The Chiefs fired their offensive coordinator right before the season. They have a shocking lack of defensive talent. Or offensive talent, for that matter. Their running game is suspect. Their new, high-priced quarterback has yet to pay dividends. They have played three likely playoff teams in their first four games. This is a team at the very beginning of a long, difficult road to rebuilding. Is it any wonder that they have yet to cover a spread?