John Madden was never a fan of mine.
I was in my 20’s when I served in the Oakland Raiders organization beginning in 1973. Fresh out of college, where I spent as much time handicapping National Football League games as preparing for poly-sci examines, Madden held my conversations with him where I pointed out motivational highs and lows for his team as heresy.
Madden was smart.
He couldn’t control the motivational factors that led a team into traps after a number of wins or advantageous spots for the Silver and Black. He was only interested in what he had control over; the Raiders preparation and the personnel he put on the field.
He was on one side of a tug-of-war battle and pulling the only rope he had in the game.
In fact, NFL results, when the books insert point spreads, actually create a three-way tug-of-war. There is the talent and success of a team based on what Madden totally focused. Second, there are the factors I uncovered, tracking season flows that fed one result into the next. Thirdly, there is the books role of setting lines that best assure the house makes money in opposition to public opinion.
From Madden’s perspective, the Buffalo Bills, who currently own a 5-1 mark and one of the best defenses in the league, have a huge edge over the Philadelphia Eagles this week when they meet in Buffalo. The Eagles, Super Bowl champions two years ago and a playoff team last season, are struggling in 2019. Their once stout defense has been pierced for more points, 186, than Carson Wentz has been able to tally, 171.
To put the Eagles defense in perspective, know this, only five teams have allowed more points than the Eagles this year. Those teams are not playoff contenders, and are namely the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Giants, Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.
Contrast that inept play with the strength of the Bills defense, ranked third in the league in points given-up with 91 allowed. Only the 48 points and 64 points surrendered by the two undefeated teams, the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers respectively, are better.
From a pure football perspective, the Bills should be a solid pick over the Eagles on Sunday. But, what that assumes, is that what has transpired before these two teams meet this week in Buffalo will simply be repeated. Past results were generated by elements not only tied to what came previously, but by the factors that dictated those scores.
This was the stuff Madden hated.
Often success feeds failure, while failure leads to success.
No one knows this principle better than the books. If a team is riding high and becoming an easy public bet, they will set a spread that lures wagers to the wrong side of their game. The books have control over the third rope in this tug-of-war to locate point spread winners.
By Madden’s scale, it is Buffalo this week. But, from a week-to-week flow on my charts, it is the Eagles. For confirmation of this assessment, all I need to see is what way the books are tugging on their rope.
If the books wanted Eagles money, they would have the team that has won five of six games with a shutdown defense giving a lot of points on the spread. But, they are not. Instead, the books opened this game with the home standing Bills only favored by 2 points. That line enticed nearly 60% of the wagers over to the Bills side, and during the week, the books at times have dropped the spread to the Eagles only getting 1½ points.
The Eagles are on the road for a third straight week and have failed with lopsided defeats in their last two outings, losses to the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. The Bills have only one loss in six starts, but are facing a huge motivational trap this week as home favorites over a team looking at the abyss of falling out of serious playoff contention halfway through the season.
Madden wouldn’t agree, but in this game, he is pulling the short rope.
Qoxhi Picks: Philadelphia Eagles (+2) over Buffalo Bills