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NFL Handicapping Tips – Week 7

Crushing Losses and Tailspins

What characterized the Detroit Lions of 2007? A team that started 6-2 and had postseason visions, only to collapse and miss the playoffs. It was a team in a total tailspin the second half of the season. They couldn’t win (1-7) or cover games (1-7 ATS). Teams can feel helpless when the wheels fall off or they suffer a crushing defeat. It takes a good coaching staff to get a team to focus and prepare itself mentally the following week.

I bring this up because of what happened to the Houston Texans on Sunday, a catastrophic 31-27 collapse against Colts, blowing a 27-10 lead in the final four minutes. The Colts scored 21 points in a late span of 2:10, two TDs thanks to fumbles by QB Sage Rosenfels. Texans fans had wanted to see Matt Schaub replaced all season, and Rosenfels was nearly flawless for three quarters. Then came one of the most colossal collapses in the history of the NFL.

Oddly, we saw something similar a year ago with the same franchise. A year ago the Texans started 2-0 SU/ATS then hosted rival Indy. The Colts stole a 30-24 victory at Houston in a close game, even though the Texans were decimated with injuries. Houston entered that game without star receiver Andre Johnson (sprained knee), and lost running back Ahman Green to a knee injury on the first series of the second quarter. Backup Ron Dayne was inactive because of bruised ribs, so the Texans had to rely on third-stringer Samkon Gado for the rest of the game. Rookie Jacoby Jones, who started for Johnson, left in the third quarter with a separated shoulder, and center Steve McKinney left with a knee sprain in the fourth quarter!

The Texans played hard, even getting the ATS cover, but couldn’t keep their undefeated record alive. What’s important to note is what happened after that game: Houston went in the tank, going 0-6 ATS the next six games, winning straight up only once.

What happens is teams can feel frustrated over close losses or shocking collapses and not have it in them to give 100% the next game. That’s especially true during a bad season, or with a bad coaching staff, or on a team with a lame duck coach.

A year ago, the Baltimore Ravens outplayed the unbeaten Patriots as a +19 dog, only to lose on a last second TD pass, 27-24 on Monday night. The Ravens had the edge in yards 376-326 and should have won. The Patriots caught several lucky breaks down the stretch, including untimely Baltimore penalties and a fumble of an interception return by Ed Reed. RB Willis McGahee said, “The loss takes away everything. We played our hearts out.” And CB Chris McAlister complained, “It’s hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time.”

It was clear the Ravens had put everything they had into that one game in a lost season, and had their hearts broken. The next week the Ravens were a 9-point home dog to the Colts….and lost 44-20. They packed it in, trailing 37-7 at the half. Ravens coach Brian Billick said, “It’s hugely disappointing to our fans, the players, the organization, everybody, to not follow up last Monday with a better game than that.'”

The 2008 Ravens might be worth watching. They have a strong defense but also have QB problems. Baltimore started 2-0, but is off its first defeat last week against Tennessee. In that game, Titans QB Kerry Collins threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Alge Crumpler with 1:56 left to rally Tennessee to a 13-10 win. The Ravens received 11 penalties for 91 yards in a matchup between two teams that once were, and seem to still be, bitter rivals. We’ll see if Baltimore’s new coach can get his team focused the next game against the Colts.

Although it happens less often, sometimes teams can use emotional frustration for a big win the next week. In 2003, the Buccaneers had a stunning 38-35 Monday night loss to Indianapolis, when they blew a 21-point lead in the final four minutes. The next week, Tampa Bay rolled 35-13 over the Redskins, holding a 22-point lead with 6:55 to play. “I’ve never been more uncomfortable with a 22-point lead in my life,” coach Jon Gruden joked. Gruden kept his team cool and focused during practice that week after the devastating loss, something Brian Billick failed to do last season after the loss to New England. Keep close tabs on coaches and players all during the week to see what they are saying about a tough loss or a lucky win. It can pay off handsomely at the wagering window – the next week!

Good luck, as always…Al McMordie.


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