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Saturday, December 19, 2009

In Pursuit of Perfection

In the game of handicapping, perfection is dangerous because it simply doesn't exist.

Perfection only exists in the mind of a casual bettor who hits a miracle parlay during his buddy's bachelor party romp in Vegas. A fleeting moment of perfection creates a lifetime of unrealistic expectations. Before he knows it, Joe Bachelor is slumped over at an off-strip casino buffet filling out his final desperate "get even" parlay card.

As we approach the final three weeks of the NFL regular season, two teams, the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints, still remain in pursuit of perfection. If you don't want to join Joe Bachelor in the cheap seafood line, Be careful not to ride them to the bitter end without doing your homework first.

Let's take a look at their body of work so far:

Indianapolis Colts (14-0, 9-4-1 ATS)
Games Remaining: home vs NY Jets (7-6 ATS, 4-3 ROAD ATS), away vs Buffalo Bills (7-6 ATS, 2-5 HOME ATS)

Both are favorable matchups. I expect the Jets to open up as 5-5.5 pt dogs and wouldn't be surprised if the public jumps on the Jets and moves the line solely because of the "they need the win more" theory. This is a commonly subscribed theory among sports bettors, that belief that the team desperate to save their season will circle the wagons and show up with the motivation to slay a significantly better team. If you see this mid-week movement, don't be afraid to jump on the Colts at the 3.5-4 pt range.

Here's a potential negative: Manning's Colts have flirted with perfection before and disappointed Indy Backers by sitting their starters in seemingly meaningless losses. This shouldn't be too alarming because this is an Indy team that still has a lot to prove. Despite the fact that he's an heir to Tony Dungy's conservative philosophies, rookie coach Jim Caldwell showed no sign of taking his pedal off the gas in a teeter toter 35-31 victory Week 15 win in Jacksonville. Caldwell has the opportunity to go undefeated in his first season, and if the Colts go to Buffalo in week 17 still unblemished, expect Caldwell to play to the whistle in order to achieve perfection.

New Orleans Saints (13-0, 8-5 ATS)
Games remaining: home vs Dallas (6-7 ATS, 2-4 ROAD ATS), home vs Tampa Bay (4-9 ATS, 3-3 ROAD ATS), away vs Carolina (6-7 ATS, 2-4 HOME ATS)

Unlike the Colts, the Saints still have something to play for: home field advantage throughout the playoffs. While it's unlikely they'll relinquish the top seed in the NFC to the Vikings, it's one of many incentives New Orleans has to keep winning.

The problem is the Saints haven't been covering lately (0-2 ATS last two weeks, 2-5 in the last seven). They face inflated spreads every week because of their prolific scoring offense (an NFL best 35.8ppg), but the fact of the matter is that they've been playing down to the level of their competition in recent weeks (close comeback win at Atlanta, miracle comeback at Washington).

This isn't an indictment on the Saints chances to win the Superbowl, their gritty resolve in the face of adversity is exactly what head coach Sean Payton wants to see out of his team heading into the playoffs. But too blindly tail the Saints against the spread is a risky play, especially considering their remaining schedule against a wounded (but dangerous) Cowboys squad and the road finale against a Carolina team that gave New Orleans their first true test during their week nine matchup.

The surviving members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins reconvene to pop a bottle of champagne after the last remaining undefeated NFL teams falls every season. This year the bubbly might have to wait: it's certainly plausible that both New Orleans and Indianapolis may pull it off. Just remember, for us bettors there are never any bottles of Dom Peringon waiting for us. Tread carefully when following these hot teams and do your homework on each matchup. Our battle is against the spread and our war is versus the oddsmakers, leave the assault on history to the warriors on the gridiron.


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