NFL Edition: It's the Coaches, Stupid!

It turns out that the quality of the coaches is a lot more important than we thought. So we tweaked our model.
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We were 2-3 last week, bringing our season record to 11-12 (48%). In light of our sub-.500 record in the NFL, we are re-evaluating the manner in which we make selections for NFL games. In watching last week's games, it became apparent that some coaches (for example, Mike Holmgren) are way better than other coaches (for example, Ray Rhodes) in head-to-head matchups.

Yet we had always presumed that the coaching talent in the NFL was roughly equal, and that the matchups on the field and the talent level of the players were the major factors in handicapping pro football games. We were

wrong

. From now on, we will not be recommending any favorites where there is a definite edge in favor of the underdog team's coach.

This Week's Picks

Atlanta (plus 6) Over Jacksonville

Atlanta

is getting healthier and Chris Chandler is not listed as either questionable or probable for this game. Tim Dwight is also becoming a "go-to" guy for Chandler. Despite all its troubles this year, Atlanta is still 4-4 against-the-spread (ATS).

Jacksonville

is the class of the

AFC

and routed the hapless

Bengals

last week in a game that saw the return of running back Fred Taylor. Although the Jags are 6-1 straight up, they are only 4-3 ATS and have had trouble scoring at times. QB Mark Brunell is still nicked-up and All-Pro tackle Tony Boselli is listed as questionable for this week's game. The Falcons have not thrown in the towel this season and we expect to see a spirited defense hold the Jags' offense in check. This is a classic NFL game where the point spread will make a difference in the betting outcome of the game. The Jags win but don't cover against the feisty home underdog.

Indianapolis (minus 3 1/2) Over Kansas City

We continue to be impressed by this young

Indianapolis

team, which is relentless in its offensive attack. Young studs Manning, Harrison and James have given this perennially underachieving team a good chance to make the playoffs this year, particularly if they "take care of business" in their home games. The Colts' (5-1-1 ATS) major weakness is an undersized defensive line.

Dallas

exploited that weakness last week, although turnovers doomed the Cowboys. The Chiefs (4-3 ATS) have an excellent offensive line and love to run the ball up the middle, but if they fall behind in the game, the running attack will be less important. We don't trust Elvis Grbac in a come-from-behind role and we think that will be the Chiefs' role for most of the day.

Cleveland (plus 3 1/2) Over Baltimore

The Ravens don't know which of their three quarterbacks to use.

Cleveland

is set at the position with rookie Tim Couch, whose last-second Hail Mary pass last week gave the Browns their inaugural franchise victory -- while the Ravens were snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against the

Bills

. We don't expect Ravens owner Art Modell to be making the trip back to Cleveland any time in the near future, but we do expect the "Dawg Pound" to significantly disrupt the Ravens' rhythm.

Baltimore

is 3-4 ATS while the Browns are 4-3-1 ATS. This will be an incredibly low-scoring game and points will be at a premium. The Ravens won the first game between the teams this year, 17-10, and we look for the Browns to turn the tables on Baltimore this week before a rabid home crowd.

San Diego (Pick 'Em) Over Denver

Denver has QB problems this week. Both Bubby Brister and Brian Griese missed significant practice time this week with injuries. The Chargers, despite being crushed by

Kansas City

last week on the road, are a tough defensive team that plays well at home. The Chargers are getting healthier by the week, although safety Rodney Harrison is listed as questionable for the game on Sunday.

Denver

, on the other hand, lost another key player, Ed McCaffery, to injury last week. This will be a low-scoring game and we think the home-field advantage will work in favor of San Diego, which is 4-3 ATS this year.

St. Louis (minus 3 1/2) Over Detroit

The Rams (6-1 ATS) are back on their preferred artificial turf surface.

Detroit

is 5-2 straight up and ATS and has been overachieving this year. Their defense, which was 25th in the NFL last year, has limited five of seven opponents to fewer than 75 yards. Their offense does it with mirrors. The Lions were extremely pumped up for last Sunday night's game against the

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

. We are betting that this team, which has ordinary talent, cannot get up for this contest. Conversely, the Rams, despite playing as poorly as was possible in the first quarter of their game last week, just missed sending the game against the Titans into overtime. The Rams have far more offensive weapons than the Lions and we think that Kurt Warner will exploit a vulnerable Detroit secondary early in the game.

Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years.