Motivational Handicapping

Professional handicappers are always in tune with potential emotional situations. This time of the football season offers more avenues than usual, such as a team off a bad game looking to bounce back, or college football rivalry games and NFL divisional games. Texas and Texas A&M play this weekend and I think back to one year ago when No. 2 Texas was a 27-point favorite over the Aggies.

Yet, A&M coach Dennis Franchione put in an unexpected wrinkle, going with a Wishbone and running right at the Longhorns. They ran extremely well and nearly pulled off the upset, eventually losing but covering easily. The Aggies were fired up to not only face the unbeaten No. 2 team in the nation, but also one of their state rivals. They played with extra emotion that day.

You can even find players and coaches talking about emotion the week before a game. I used this last week when North Carolina football rivals UNC and NC State met. It was a classic case of a late season game featuring one team on the decline and another one playing with fire. NC State under Chuck Amato has gone from a 10 win season in 2002 steadily down to the 3-7 mark last week. They were a typical example of a team that has packed in the season and here they were FAVORED against a conference and state rival. Remember that many bad teams not going to a bowl game can focus on a late season rivalry game as their bowl.

Look at some of the facts coming into that game: NC State has lost EVERY road game played this year by 6 points or more. They haven’t scored more than 24 points in any game this season. They have been outrushed 8 of the last 9 weeks. NC State has been held to under 225 passing yards in all but one game all season. The Wolfpack does not deserve to be favored on the road to anyone. Under Amato NC State is 1-11 against the spread as a favorite!

Say what you want about the Tar Heel’s talent, they continue to play hard week in and week out. Departing head coach John Bunting should get another great effort from his team this week in his final home game. Bunting is 4-1 straight up against Amato including upsets the last two years as double digit underdogs. The dog is 10-4 ATS in this series and the Tar Heels have won 10 of 13 games in straight up fashion. I expected a supreme effort from the home team and once again the Heels won the game as a dog.

This can happen in the NFL, too, especially with divisional games. All head coaches in the NFL stress to their players how important division games are, even if they don’t admit it publicly. I had San Francisco on Sunday against NFC West rival Seattle. Seattle was coming off an emotional win over the Rams on a last second field goal, sweeping the Rams giving Seattle a two game divisional cushion. In addition, they still had backup QB Seneca Wallace playing and RB Shaun Alexander was returning after a long layoff. You can’t expect players like that to be in mid-season form and Alexander was not a factor (37 rushes on 17 carries).

Seattle the last few years has been great at home, but a very different one on the road. They struggled to beat a bad Detroit team 9-6. They were crushed at Chicago 37-6, beat St Louis 30-28 on a last second field goal and lost at Kansas City 35-28. So in four road games they haven’t beaten an opponent by more than 3 points. San Fran was on a 2-game win streak as a DOG each time, and the defense has allowed 3, 13 and 14 points the last three games. The Seattle defense has been poor most of the season. These teams are far more equal than the line suggests.

They had a season-high 416 yards. The 49ers scored their 17th offensive touchdown of the season against Seattle. San Francisco scored 17 offensive touchdowns all of last year. “It’s amazing when you are able to win, the confidence that can build,” defensive team captain Bryant Young said. “Wow, what a victory.” And what an easy cover!

Bryan Leonard is a documented member of the Professional Handicappers League. Read all of his articles at []

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FM Dallas

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