NFL Totals Primer and Week 1 Predictions
by Larry Fiske - 9/8/2009
Bitter cold weather on Saturday gave way to heavy snow on Sunday last December when the Arizona Cardinals boarded buses at their hotel in Providence, Rhode Island, to make the 20-mile trek to Foxboro for their game against the Patriots. The game nearly screamed for the 'under' play as the teams would assuredly emphasize the running game and jostle for field position with receivers unable to make cuts in the muck.
But the 'under' never had a chance. Some 2,699 miles from their home in 85-degree Glendale, Arizona, the Cardinals defense mailed it in. 'Under' players were left stunned and slack-jawed as the Pats rolled to a 44-0 lead after three snowy periods, obliterating the 43.5 O/U on the way to a 47-7 victory. The Cardinals shrugged, showered and headed back to the desert to prepare for a run that would get them to within a few plays on winning the Super Bowl.
Like a straight point-spread wager, betting the O/U total can be tricky. There are some things to watch for, though, which could give you a leg up.
Many NFL handicappers are convinced that beating NFL totals is easier than beating the spread, and almost unanimously they will advise bettors to first take a good look at the 'under'. Most veteran bettors are aware that the public, loving offense, will tend to bet up a number during the week. After an adjustment is made, smart money will then swoop in and hammer the 'under'.
Weather can be a major factor, as noted above, but snow does not consistently depress totals. What does keep the numbers down is wind - the more of it, the less teams reach the end zone. The week after the Patriots bitched-slapped the Cardinals, New England went to Buffalo and played in extreme wind. Field goal attempts went sideways, NE threw only eight passes the entire game, both running games ate up huge chucks of time and the 13-0 final easily paid to those who looked at the 35 O/U and banged the 'under'.
One way to consistently cash on the NFL O/U play is to locate the crappy defense. Denver, the Jets, Arizona, Detroit and Houston all had two things in common last season - they gave up the most points in their divisions, and they had the best records in their division in carrying the 'over'. (Note: Baltimore was an exception. The Ravens were 9-6-1 for the 'over' mainly because their defense was so good that oddsmakers set numbers in the low-30s every week.)
Then there are the numbers. Analysts claim that more NFL games end with 37- and 41-point totals than any other number, so getting a half-point on either end of those numbers can be valuable in picking either way.
Betting the O/U on the second half only can be interesting, and presents opportunities. Oddsmakers have only a few minutes to post lines, and mistakes can be made in haste. 'Unders' are particularly attractive in tight games. Coaches are generally conservative and tend to like to preserve their jobs, so a 10-7 halftime game will likely produce conservative second-half game plans and low scoring.
This season the Patriots have an interesting combination of an expected powerful big-play offense with a suspect defense with a lot of new faces, but oddsmakers will take that into account. Oddsmakers set the number at 47.5 for the opener at home next Monday night against Buffalo.
Carolina and Atlanta have reputations as having high-scoring offenses, but both are run-oriented. The Falcons' number of 44 in the opener against Miami seems too high, as does the Panthers' 43.5 total in their game against Philadelphia.
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