8 potential schedule pitfalls

All games are not created equal. And as we’re about to find out, this widely accepted concept provides some nice betting opportunities for the 2012 season.

Let’s start with the fact that divisional games are without question the most important matchups on a team’s schedule. A victory against a divisional opponent actually counts for more than one win, as the NFL tiebreak system for division champions looks first at the head-to-head record between the tied clubs and then at the best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the division, assuming the tied clubs went 1-1 heads up.

Eli ManningA win over the Dallas Cowboys in Week 1 could go a long way for the Giants in 2012.

For example, if the Giants beat the Cowboys and the Eagles defeat the Browns in Week 1 this season, Big Blue would be on top of the division at 1-0 ahead of Philadelphia, due to their divisional win over the Cowboys.

Next in the pecking order comes wins over conference opponents, which could prove to have implications for teams in the wildcard hunt. Cincinnati (9-7) defeated Tennessee (9-7) during the regular season last year, which gave the Bengals the sixth wildcard spot over the Titans. Had the two teams not played during the regular season, Tennessee would have been postseason bound on the strength of a 7-5 conference record over Cincinnati’s 6-6 mark.

Which brings us to non-conference wins, which happens to be the subject of today’s analysis. Apart from helping a team’s overall record, non-conference wins mean nothing when it comes to NFL tiebreaking procedures. And because of that one, simple fact, we can use historical data to give us an edge when looking at the 2012 regular season schedule.

Here’s the data we’re going to look for:

1. Over the last five years…
2. Teams that have played a road non-conference game…
3. One week before a road divisional game

This scenario has come into play 49 times over the last five seasons. The results?

1. The road teams in the non-conference games have gone 12-37 (.245) straight-up
2. The road teams in the non conference games have gone 17-32 (.347) against the spread

Maybe the road teams in the non-conference games are looking ahead to a big matchup the following week, or maybe they just got caught in a bad spot, but the bottom line is the following:

If you had bet against each of the 49 road teams in their non-conference matchup by wagering a flat $100 at 11/10 odds, you would be picking at a rock-solid 65.3% and would have turned a profit of $1,330.

If only we could put this information to good use for the coming season. Oh wait, the schedule makers were nice enough to give us eight games this season in which a team will play a road game against a non-conference opponent one week before a road game against a divisional opponent! Eureka!


Week 9 (November 4): Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars
Cantor opening line:
Lions -4.5

Why: The Lions travel to Minnesota in Week 10 for a meeting with the Vikings, who Detroit will need to beat twice this season if they want any chance of hosting a playoff game come January.

Week 10 (November 11): San Diego Chargers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Cantor opening line:
Chargers -3

Why: The Bolts will travel 2,400+ miles to South Florida before a Week 11 road date against Peyton Manning and the Broncos that could have major implications in the race for the AFC West crown. Be advised that the Chargers are just 6-9 straight-up over the last five years in games played east of the Mississippi River.

Week 12 (November 22): Houston Texans at Detroit Lions
Cantor opening line:
Texans +2.5

Why: The Texans travel to Detroit on short rest for a Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions one week before a key divisional matchup at Tennessee. With the Titans being the only team capable of contending with Houston for the AFC South title, the Texans could get caught looking ahead while trapped in an already difficult spot.

Week 13 (December 9): Arizona Cardinals at New York Jets
Cantor opening line:
Cardinals +6.5

Why: With multiple metrics pointing to a potential slide for the 49ers in 2012, the NFC West could be a bit more open this season than most are anticipating. Should the Cardinals find themselves in the hunt come December, a Week 14 road date at Seattle could prove pivotal in Arizona’s quest for a postseason berth. Over the last 30 years, these two teams have met in New York only twice, with the Jets emerging victorious both times.

Week 15 (December 13): Cincinnati Bengals at Philadelphia Eagles
Cantor opening line:
Cincinnati +7

Andy DaltonAndy Dalton and the Bengals are walking into a tough spot in Week 15.

Why: Despite a 2-4 record within the division last season, the Bengals were able to qualify for the postseason because they possessed a key tiebreaker over the Tennessee Titans. Marvin Lewis’ crew may not be that fortunate in 2012, which is why a Week 16 road matchup at Pittsburgh could prove to be the difference between a January spent playing football and a January spent hacking up the golf course. Take note that this is a Thursday game (short rest) and that Philly will be jockeying for playoff position as well.

Week 15 (December 16): Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns
Cantor opening line:
Redskins -1

Why: It’s the battle between the team who got RG3 and the team who chose not to break the bank for the Heisman Trophy winner’s services. It’s highly unlikely that either Washington or Cleveland will be in the playoff hunt this late in the season, but the ‘Skins have been known to play spoiler to Philadelphia in the past, which is an opportunity they could once again have come Week 16, should the Birds live up to expectations in 2012.

Week 15 (December 16): San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
Cantor opening line:
49ers +6.5

Why: If the NFC West tightens up like some believe it will in 2012, the 49ers could find themselves in critical divisional battles to close out the year, with a Week 16 road date at Seattle followed by the season finale at home vs. Arizona. Traveling east for a marquee night game isn’t easy (the 49ers came up short at Baltimore on Thanksgiving night last year), especially when your final destination is a place like Foxborough, where the Pats have gone 36-4 straight-up over the last five years.

Week 16 (December 23): Oakland Raiders at Carolina Panthers
Cantor opening line:
Raiders +4.5

Why: With a full offseason under his belt, former Pro Bowler Carson Palmer could be ready to lead the Raiders into unchartered territory in 2012. And by “unchartered,” we mean “actually contending for the postseason.” The Silver & Black will conclude the regular season with a road showdown against the much-hated Chargers, but will have to go through Carolina in Week 16 f irst. That won’t be easy, as Oakland is just 3-14 straight-up east of the Mississippi River over the last five years.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh


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