For the record, and on a full-season basis, no team did worse against the pointspread in 2011 than the St. Louis Rams. They covered a mere three times, with one push, a pointspread tie, which can either be a click-your-heels or pull-your-hair-out experience, and I’ve lived both.
Where were we? Oh, yes, the Rams. In three-quarters of their games a season ago, they failed to cover. Now, you may say, ‘Well, of course — the Rams were awful,” but a poor straight-up record doesn’t necessarily mean a team is a bad bet. The Browns, for instance, were 8-6-2 against the spread a season ago despite winning just four games. Even the Colts, a horrid 2-14 like St. Louis, managed to cover a half-dozen times last season.
Of course, some teams are just beyond help. Take the 2011 Buccaneers. They won just four games, and they covered but four times. Quite tellingly, only one of those covers came in defeat. Eight of their losses were by 11 points or more, and by season’s end, it was just about impossible to make much of a case for Tampa Bay to be competitive.
The Buccaneers were a bad team and an awful bet. Some times, it can be this easy to spot a club to avoid.
But that’s usually not the case. Teams of some quality can give handicappers headaches, too.
Look no further than the Dallas Cowboys.
In 2011, the Cowboys were favored in 11-of-16 regular season games. They won eight of those 11 games, a success rate that tied for 10th-best in the NFL, according to PFW data and my research.
But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys were a good bet as favorites. They covered just three times, with one push, in those 11 games. Their 30 percent cover rate when laying points — for our purposes, the push is non-event — was worst among the 14 teams favored 10 times or more in 2011, which includes the 11 postseason contests. Going back to 2010, the Cowboys are just 4-14-2 ATS as favorites in their last 20 regular-season contests. They were 2-3 ATS as underdogs in 2011, but they were a strong 5-2 in this role two seasons ago.
Pointspread favorites, per PFW data, won 176-of-265 games straight-up a season ago, a 66.4 percent success rate. However, those favorites covered the spread at a mere 47.4 percent clip, excluding 12 pushes. Eighty-nine pointspread favorites completely crashed and burned, losing outright and against the spread, while 44 favorites managed to win but not cover.
The Cowboys were a particularly egregious offender in this second category. In four games — both meetings vs. Washington, vs. Seattle and Thanksgiving Day vs. Miami — the Cowboys prevailed, but by less than their backers would have surely liked. All of their non-covers were by less than a TD, and the Seattle ATS loss was by a mere half-point.
The Cowboys are annually a popular team with the betting public, and when they are good, the hype, for better and for worse, is thick. Some of the best Dallas teams in recent years have had spectacular moments, and the 2012 edition, on its best, will be formidable.
How good are the Cowboys? Handicappers need to ask themselves that very question, both now and throughout the season, and particularly when they are favored.