The betting public has a bad and costly habit of drawing conclusions about teams early in the NFL season based on very limited data. After one week, for example, the view in the public eye this year was that the Texans were terrible and the Cardinals were victims of the Super Bowl jinx. All those opinions did in the second week is cost people a pile of money.
Jumping to conclusions can be even more dangerous after two weeks because the public assumes that they are seeing trends, and that the teams really are what they have seen so far. Here's a look at five teams that can be quite reasonably assumed to be better than they have appeared so far this year. Because of the starts they have had the public should start to turn against them - at least relative to the support they normally get. That can create real opportunities for value seekers with a long term view.
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Tennessee Titans - The Titans have limped out of the gate at 0-2, but there are at least a few reasons to believe that this team is going to improve significantly. First, they haven't had an easy schedule so far - opening against Pittsburgh and then playing a Houston team hungry to make up for an embarrassing start. That's no excuse, but the schedule definitely lets up at different points in the season. Next, good teams are good in large part because of good offensive line play. The Titans certainly have that - they have protected the quarterback well, and Chris Johnson was able to amass 197 rushing yards in just 16 carries against the Texans. Offensive line dominance will start to pay off as the season progresses. More significantly than all that, though, this is a defense that is sure to improve. They came into the season with a new coordinator after Jim Schwartz left to coach the Lions and without their best player after Albert Haynesworth left for the big money. Either loss would require adjustment, but both are going to require patience. Once the defense gels this team will be much tougher to beat - remember, they have lost both of their games by just a field goal.
Jacksonville Jaguars - Jacksonville has some issues but they are not your typical 0-2 team. Their struggles have come about as much because of bad luck as anything - they have opened up against two wily veteran quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner, and Warner had the most accurate day in NFL history against them. Against somewhat more mortal quarterbacks - and there are a lot of them out there - this team will fare better. There is a lot of youth on this team - especially defensively. With time they will get more confident, develop a better pass rush, and start to live up to their well hidden potential.
San Diego Chargers - You've heard this story too many times before - Norv Turner has a tremendously talented team, but they look lethargic and disinterested out of the gate. That seems to happen every year, and this year is no exception. They needed a miracle to get past lowly Oakland, and then they couldn't keep up with Baltimore. There are clear examples of underachievement on both sides of the ball starting with the stars - Shawne Merriman has been lousy, and LaDainian Tomlinson has been a shell of himself in his limited appearances. This team simply has too much talent and too big of an opportunity this year, to continue to play like they have. They will get their act together soon, and that will provide a brief opportunity to cash in before the public's preseason confidence in this squad is restored.
New England Patriots - The solid Super Bowl favorites are just one Leodis McKelvin brain freeze away from an unthinkable 0-2 start. It has been ugly, and it's been one of the biggest stories of the season. The public still heavily backed New England last week, and many still will, but they are likely to be more hesitant than usual until the old Patriots show up again. There are lots of reasons to be concerned about this team, but they still have the core of players that made them the favorites, and they still have the coaching staff that has been so successful. Like with the Chargers, I expect there to be just a small window to capitalize on this team until the public feels their faith flooding back.
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Detroit Lions - It's hard to defend a team that has yet to win or cover and which has been blown away twice this year while riding a 19-game losing streak. Make no mistake, though, this is not the Detroit team that we have become used to. Matt Stafford is gaining confidence before out eyes, the running game was solid enough to outgain Adrian Peterson and the Vikings this week, and the defense has shown real progress. The team has looked bad in large part because their scheduling has seen them play two explosively offensive teams to start the season. They have some more average squads coming up and that will make a big difference. Last year I was confident that this team wouldn't in a game. This year I am equally confident that they will win a few.