NFL Betting: Finding Value in Second Half of Season
by Trevor Whenham - 11/06/2008
We are now more than halfway through the NFL season. That means we have seen more than enough football to form opinions of the teams in the league. More importantly, the public has been able to form their opinions of the teams. That's important because once the public gets an opinion they like to hang onto it. We can find betting value in the second half, then, if we can identify teams which seem likely to be stronger in the second half than they were in the first half. Those teams may exceed public expectations and cover some lines. Here's a look at five teams that could be poised to finish strong and help bettors pad their bankrolls:
Miami - Based on their year last year 4-4 is a major success. Heck, 4-12 would be a major success based on where they were. That clearly isn't going to happen, though, because this is a team moving in the right direction. They have won two in a row and four of six. The clearest sign of their progress, though, is their last win over Denver. The Broncos aren't playing particularly well, but it's still impressive to go into Denver in November when you come from the sunshine and beat the home team by nine in front of a vocal crowd. Besides the signs of progress, the biggest reason to like this team in the second half is their schedule. They play five pretty lousy teams - Seattle, Oakland, St. Louis, San Francisco, and Kansas City. All of those games are winnable. Their three remaining conference games are, too. They've already shown that they can beat Buffalo and New England, and the Jets aren't the most consistent team in the league. The team is just one game out of the division lead, and in the crazy and wide open AFC East it is completely possible that this team could go from one win to the playoffs in one year.
Cincinnati - This team could get better because they can't get much worse. Their win over Jacksonville capitalized on a struggling team, but it also showed signs of pride that had been missing in the first half. The team isn't helped out by a brutal second half schedule, but there are still reasons to think that they won't be quite the disaster that they have been so far. Carson Palmer could return later on in the season, though that seems increasingly unlikely. If not, then Ryan Fitzpatrick is looking better with each outing and can only improve with more playing time. The biggest reason to be optimistic, strangely, may be that they are playing such a tough schedule. The team has covered just three games this year, but they have come against three of the four biggest spreads that they have faced. If they play tough teams then they will again face big spreads, and they could be able to at least cover if not win outright.
Indianapolis - It has been dangerous and costly this year to assume that the Colts have turned the corner. Every time they have played well they seem to follow it up with a disappointment. Still, as lackluster as they have been, things could be worse. They are still 4-4, and though they are out of touch in their division they are still very much in the wildcard hunt. Given the veterans at the core of this team you have to imagine that the possibility of another playoff run will be enough to get them to lift their game. The injury situation is getting to be a bit more under control as the season progresses, and Peyton Manning is showing signs of finally getting over the knee injury that has severely hampered his play. This is not the Colts team we are used to, and they won't be this year, but they are still better than they have been, and it seems a good bet that they will show it. There is one other factor in play, too. This is likely Tony Dungy's last season as coach. He is well liked by his team, so it would seem likely that the team would play hard for him down the stretch.
Seattle - The Seahawks were the solid favorites to win the NFC West yet again, yet somehow they are at 2-6 and showing few signs of life. As bleak as things have been, there are reasons to believe that the second half might be a little better. First and foremost, Matt Hasselbeck should return to action at some point. Hasselbeck has been the driving force of this team's success, and their backup situation is just not good enough to improve him. He'll be rusty, and perhaps not entirely healthy because of his ongoing back problems, but Hasselbeck at 70 percent is still twice as good as what they have had. Their schedule is also reasonably favorable. Most significantly, their last trip to the Eastern Time Zone, a place they are ridiculously bad, is next week in Miami. After that they play closer to home, so their biggest excuse isn't a factor. I'm not suggesting that this team is going to scare anyone or make a heroic playoff rush or anything. They have covered two of their last three, though, and they should be better in the second half than they have been so far.
Kansas City - I can't believe that I am putting the Chiefs on this list, but here they are. Up until they won I thought that they were the favorites to go winless on the year. There is one key reason to think that they could have a decent second half (decent, for them, would be two more wins) - they are much better ATS (4-4) than you would expect a 1-7 team to be. They have covered their last two games, and in both they have had leads late against decent opponents - the Jets and the Bucs. They haven't been able to hold on in either case, but they have covered easily. Their running game has been very solid. Tyler Thigpen has done a decent impression of an NFL quarterback in both games. They are still a long way from good, but with five games remaining against teams at or below .500 there is a solid chance that they will be able to pull out a couple if they can keep staying close. If nothing else, they should be able to keep covering spreads at a higher rate than most people would guess.