In 1967, I was sitting at our family dinner table, a teenager at the time, and my father, who always supported me by pressing for something more, was questioning my current theory on handicapping the National Football League.
“That just means every team that lost last week is going to win this week,” he said while I was explaining my latest approach to finding NFL winners was based on teams have more motivation after a loss than a win. Turns out, the idea had merit, yet like a lot of other things in life, not absolute.
In the 52 years since that dinner table conversation, my work has revealed a lot more about how teams prepare and how a loss can add to team focus. It also uncovered when a setback is just a precursor to another defeat. I have had an opportunity not only to study this in the abstract, but spent a decade working for professional teams, beginning in 1973 with the Oakland Raiders, to study team preparation firsthand.
One factor I found, is that a loss by a good team followed by a contest against a highly regarded opponent is a solid motivator for the team looking to end a one game losing streak. A second discovery, is that a loss followed by a game against an opponent the losing team thinks they can dominate does not add to their chances for success.
Tomorrow, and Monday night, we are going to get an opportunity to see how good teams do after a defeat because six of the most highly regarded teams in the NFL lost their last game. Both the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers lost their first game of the season after eight wins. The New Orleans had their six game winning streak snapped by the Atlanta Falcons, and the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs all lost last Sunday.
In 1967, I would have been contending to my Dad that all these teams were going to bounce back with a win this weekend. They might, but there are a lot of other factors that feed their results, and when the point spread is added into the equation, even more elements are available to consider.
The two teams that had their perfect seasons snapped are in opposite corners this Sunday. The 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals, and opened on the point spread as nearly a two-touchdown favorite. This would suggest they don’t get a motivational boost off last week’s loss. But the Patriots, are on the road against a team that has their respect and beat them in the Super Bowl two years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles. The only problem with this game is that despite losing last week, the Patriots are favored on the road this Sunday.
How about New Orleans? Like New England, the Saints lost last week but are now favored on the road against a division opponent that they beat six weeks ago, namely the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It is unlikely that the Buccaneers are truly the team to inspire a special performance from Sean Payton’s squad.
The Rams lost last Sunday in Pittsburgh to a Steelers team that was beaten on Thursday night by the Cleveland Browns. The problem with thinking the Rams are going to bounce off that loss with a win is to dismiss that this may be a down year for both teams that meet at the Los Angeles Coliseum tomorrow. The Rams entertain the Chicago Bears, who avoided falling into last place in their division race last Sunday with a win over the Detroit Lions. The Bears had finished in the NFC North Division cellar four straight seasons before a breakout campaign in 2018 in which they won their division. On the heels of that success, following years of losing seasons, it is common for a team inexperienced at winning to have a down year. And the Rams, last year’s NFC Champions, have now failed to score an offensive touchdown in their last 18 possessions. The Rams offense, which scored 527 points last year, is struggling this season.
The Kansas City Chiefs, who lost in Tennessee last Sunday, are in Mexico this week for an International Game against AFC West rival Los Angeles. The Chargers also lost their last game, against the Oakland Raiders a week ago Thursday, which means they have had more time to prepare for this Monday night meeting outside the country.
Which leaves us with just one game, and like the story of the three bears, this one seems just right. The Dallas Cowboys, who lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday night, now travel to Detroit to meet a struggling Lions team that has not covered a point spread since a mid-October game against the Green Bay Packers.
The Lions are also forced to go with backup quarterback Jeff Driskel while starter Matthew Stafford continues to recover from a hip injury. In other words, it is the Lions who have a motivational edge on Sunday despite the Cowboys losing last week.
Hey Dad, you were right, losing last week doesn’t always mean a win for a good team in their next game.
Qoxhi Picks: Detroit Lions (+7) over Dallas Cowboys