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Weekly Football Handicapping + Expert Analysis

Betting Ugly Dogs

Bryan Leonard

Some folks don’t even like LOOKING at ugly underdogs, never mind finding the courage to take the points. But don’t hold your nose and pass on every ugly looking team on the board, because that’s why the point spread was invented. Too many bettors play favorites. I recall one bettor telling me his rule was to NEVER play a bad team. With all due respect, this is the wrong way to look at handicapping. Dogs offer just as much value as favorites.

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A successful handicapper knows how to back bad teams if the situation is right. Remember: The goal is not to predict who will win the game, but to get the money by covering the number. Let me run through some of the things that helped me to play those live dogs.

In the NFL in Week 1, there were a whole crop of home dogs, and ones that were facing a divisional opponent ended up going 4-2 ATS, with several straight up wins. I recall a few years ago in college football giving out a pair of very ugly dogs – Syracuse and Temple – and cashing. Syracuse is often a far different team at home in the very loud Carrier Dome than on the road.

Many teams are like this, and it’s important to understand this when you compile and analyze weekly power ratings. That season the Orangemen faced two strong offenses in Purdue and Virginia and lost badly, 51-0 and 31-10. So, the public asked, what chance do they stand against Florida State? But those two losses were on the road. Notice that the previous year Syracuse was 1-4 on the road, but 5-2 straight up and against the spread at home.

They were a home dog three times that season and went 2-1 ATS, even winning two of those games straight up, 39-14 over Boston College and 38-12 over Notre Dame. I wrote in my newsletter, “The Carrier Dome is never an easy place to play. The Orangemen are 6-3 ATS when hosting non-conference competition with an average cover of 9.9 points.

Over the last four years they are 18-8 ATS in the Carrier Dome.” I also noted that it could be a flat spot in the schedule for Florida State, with key ACC matchups on deck. While calling for a straight up win was a long shot, there were plenty of facts to suggest that Syracuse would give the Seminoles a tough go and stay within the number.

And they did easily as a +19 dog, as a last minute drive was picked off in the end zone in the 17-13 FSU victory. The Orange stayed within the number from start to finish.

Another home dog that was catching two TDs that weekend was a bad Temple team. Fortunately, they were playing a rebuilding Pitt squad. Despite a tough start to the season, the Owls had played all non-conference games, meaning they were still undefeated in the Big East. And Pittsburgh’s rebuilding offense was averaging 19 points per game, yet they we being asked to cover as a 14-point favorite. Temple was 3-1 ATS against the Panthers the previous three seasons, as Pitt won those games by just 14, 7 and 7 points.

Yes, the Owls were an ugly dog, but Pittsburgh had an ugly offense of its own. And laying double digits on the road was far too much, which is why I made it a play.

Other times a bad team can begin to change, rising to the occasion, either to end a long losing skid or gain some revenge on a team that may have humiliated them a year earlier. Other times new coaches can make a big difference, as we saw with Iowa State and Paul Rhodes last season, or Rex Ryan in 2009 with the NY Jets.

Dogs can offer better value at times than the favorite, especially when loads of public money pushes a favorite, also known as a steam play.

As you can see, it takes plenty of homework when attempting to unearth hidden betting value. And don’t be afraid of those ugly dogs, because they pay off the same as big favorites.

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