Last Week: 1-4
Season: 32-26-2 (.552)
Beware the Fall of the Undefeated
I discovered a trend in the NFL that is so blatant that I cannot believe anyone, including myself, did not stumble upon it much earlier this season. In fact, I am so late in getting to the party that we may not be able to cash in on it at all in 2015 and can only hope it holds true in similar situations next year. We will call this the “Curse of the unbeaten.”
Take yourself back to a place early in the NFL campaign, when sportscasters, commentators and tweeters–anyone, really, who had an interest in pro football–was dumbfounded at how many undefeated teams there were to begin the season. At one time there were six NFL teams who were at least 5-0–the Falcons, Packers, Broncos, Bengals, Patriots and Panthers. All were, as they say, on a roll and clearly out-classing their respective divisions (with the exception of the Falcons and Panthers, who both reside in the NFC South). One-by-one each of those teams, except Carolina, has seen their winning streak come to an inglorious end. The interesting thing, however, has been how those teams performed after that first loss.
The first was the Falcons, who won five in a row before losing in New Orleans 31-21. The next week they had to hang on to beat the Titans (but lose to the point spread as 6-point favorites) 10-7 in Tennessee. Subsequent games saw them lose at home to Tampa Bay and then on the road to the 49ers. Atlanta, in fact, has not won another game, going 1-6 since starting the season without a loss in five games.
Next up is the Green Bay Packers. 6-0 before suffering their first loss on a Sunday night in Denver 29-10. The following week produced a loss at Carolina followed by a surprising upset at the hands of the Lions at home. Unbeaten in six straight to start the season, the Pack then suffered three straight losses.
Then there is Denver, who began their own slide just a week after beating the Packers. After having their 7-0 record spoiled in a 27-24 loss in Indianapolis, the Broncos proceeded to get pounded by the Chiefs at Mile High Stadium. That was followed by a scary 17-15 win at Chicago. Since then they seem to have righted the ship, but another team had dropped two games in a row after being knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten. By this time, surely, someone would have picked up on this phenomenon.
The trend continued with the Bengals (8-0). Sitting fat and happy, Cincinnati welcomed the lowly Houston Texans to town for a Monday Night Football game. The Texans surprised America by stealing a 10-6 victory and handing the Bengals their first loss of the season. One week later, the Bengals suffered their second straight loss, 34-31, to the Arizona Cardinals. (To be fair, the Bengals were a point spread winner in this game as 4-point underdogs.)
The New England Patriots are the latest undefeated team to have their streak end, going 10-0 before a 30-24 loss at Denver. They quickly moved to 10-2 after a stunning 35-28 loss at home the following week to the Philadelphia Eagles, and now face a dangerous Houston team on the road this weekend.
To sum it up, there were six teams who started the season with at least five wins in a row. Five of those teams are no longer undefeated. If you would have bet against each of those teams in the game following their first loss of the season, you would have won four and lost one (.800). Another interesting aspect of this research reveals that, overall, the five teams who have had their winning streaks stopped this season are a collective 8-16 in games after their winning streak. The Broncos and Bengals seem to have “weathered the storm” of the post-streak blues, going undefeated after losing twice following their respective streaks. The Falcons, Packers and Patriots, however, are a dismal 3-12 following their hot starts.
This, now, leaves only the Carolina Panthers, who look like they may skip happily through the rest of the season without a loss. If they should stumble and lose one before the current schedule ends, rest assured we’ll be ready. The one caveat here is, of course, my favorite handicapping axiom: A trend will only last as long as it takes you to identify it.
Chuck’s Choices for Week 14
(Home team in ALL CAPS. Chuck’s Choice is first team named. Point spreads courtesy of Westgate Las Vegas via SportsMemo as of Friday night.)
BENGALS (-3) over Steelers When making a case against the Steelers, I have to refer to their record on the road this season. They have played five road games and have lost at New England, Kansas City and Seattle–three pretty good teams. Cincinnati is a pretty good team, too, and their defense is at least as strong as those in KC and Seattle. The thing that really makes the difference here is the Steelers defense. Though they are second in the league in fantasy points given up in the running game, they are 28th against Wide Receivers, 26th vs. TEs and 22nd against quarterbacks. Those categories happen to be where the Bengals are strongest. Bengals 31, Steelers 10
BROWNS (-1.5) over 49ers San Francisco is playing their second straight road game in the early time slot. They somehow beat the Bears last week, and I’m betting they can’t pull it off twice in two weeks. the Poor House is filled with gamblers who put their money on the Cleveland Browns, but there is reason for the fans to get excited this late in the season despite a 2-10 record. That reason is Johnny Manziel. Whether the team’s motive is to find out what “Johnny Football” can do on the field (they kinda have an idea what he can do off the field), or they simply want to sell late-season tickets, the stadium will be packed with Dawg-Pounders elbowing their way in for a first-hand look at Cleveland’s latest heir to the quarterback throne. If Manziel has the wisdom to let people like TE Gary Barnidge and RB Duke Johnson help him, this should be a breeze. If he thinks he can do it himself, it still might be enough to beat the Niners. Browns 17, 49ers 12
BUCCANEERS (-4.5) over Saints It is not often you see Tampa Bay favored by 4.5 points over anyone. (According to RJ Bell at Pregame.com, this is only the sixth time in the past five years that they have been favored by more than a field goal.) Is is not often you have any reason to pick Tampa Bay as a 4.5 point favorite in an NFL game. This is one of those occasions, and most of the reasons have to do with the Saints. They are abysmal on the road, and especially so on natural turf. There last two road games on the natural surface were losses by a collective 86-31 score. Their defense is still the worst, even after getting rid of DC Rob Ryan. They have given up over 5100 yards and 35 touchdown passes. If those reasons weren’t enough, let’s throw in the fact that they have very little purpose in playing anymore. Their big chance was last week, when they came very close to handing Carolina their first loss of the season. It did not happen, and now they are 4-8 and going nowhere. It looks like Head Coach Sean Payton is headed elsewhere at the end of the season, and QB Drew Brees simply looks old and tired. On the Buccaneers side, it’s an entirely different scenario. They are in the playoff hunt and their number-one draft pick, QB Jameis Winston is the most popular guy in town. Their rushing game is averaging 4.8 yards per attempt, while giving opponents only 3.5 YPA. The cannons at Raymond James Stadium will boom early and often on Sunday. Buccaneers 28, Saints 12
JAGUARS (-1) over Colts I know the Colts have dominated their AFC South opponents over the years, and have 16 straight-up wins (13-2-1 ATS). I also know the Colts have beaten the Jags six straight times. Sometimes those streaks need to come to an end, and here is where the end occurs. In compiling that 16-0 division win streak the Colts have had an Andrew Luck, or at the very least a healthy Matt Hasselbeck, at the helm. Luck is inactive for this game, and Hasselbeck was beaten to a pulp last week by the Steelers. That leaves journeyman Charlie Whitehurst or a crippled Hasselbeck to lead an undermanned Indy team into Jacksonville against a team still energized about their future. Blake Bortles is lighting up the fantasy world with crazy numbers against a Colts team who ranks 30th against WRs and 25th vs. QBs. The one weakness in the Jags defense is against the run, and Indy has no rushing attack to speak of (27th in the league). Jaguars 27, Colts 13
DOLPHINS (+1) over Giants In order to win this game, the Dolphins must control one thing–turnovers. The New York Giants are +9 in turnover differential this season, and are one of 13 teams in the league this year with a differential of +2 or better. They are the only one of those 13 teams with a losing record (6-7). Earlier it was mentioned that the Saints had given up more than 5100 yards on defense this season. The Giants are the only other team to give up more than 5000 yards. On the Miami side, the team is still playing hard for Coach Dan Campbell, and the added luster of the national TV audience on Monday Night will surely add to that excitement. It will be interesting to see how Eli Manning and the Giants’ offensive will hold up to the Dolphins’ pass rush, which has produced 25 sacks since the head coaching change four games into the season. Neither defense is very good against the pass, so this may be an entertaining Monday night affair. Dolphins 45, Giants 39
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