A team without their starting quarterback sends most bettors to their opponents.
Like a firefighter charging toward trouble while everyone else is scrambling to get away, I gravitate to backup quarterbacks. For good reason.
First, their teams almost always get an adjustment on the point spread that is more than compensated for by the extra motivation a team operates with when needing to compensate for the loss of a starter. In fact, my whole career in picking football games with motivational factors a key component started with the loss of a quarterback.
I was in high school in 1965, and each Saturday my Dad and I would pick the games out of the San Francisco Chronicle. The Green Sheet featured the point spreads for both college and pro football every Saturday, and while my Dad, who attended Notre Dame, was always interested in who he assumed the Irish would beat that day, we were more focused on the NFL Sunday slate of games.
On November 13, 1965, we were enjoying our weekly ritual when Dad came upon the Minnesota Vikings hosting the Baltimore Colts. “The Vikings will win that one easy with Unitas sidelined,” he said while putting his check mark next to Minnesota.
Johnny Unitas was going to miss his first full game for the Colts in seven years due to a back injury suffered against the Chicago Bears the week before. His replacement was an undrafted quarterback that no one knew how to pronounce his name. It was spelled Cuozzo and pronounced QUAH ZOE.
I agreed with Dad that the Colts were in trouble without Unitas, and we were both surprised while sitting in his den on Sunday and watching the scores roll in from Minnesota that had the Colts dominating the Vikings. After the Colts won, Cuozzo tossing five touchdowns, my Dad shrugged his shoulders and figured it was a bad Vikings game plan. He was a coach, and he thought everything was tied to talent and execution.
I was intrigued by the fact that an undrafted and untested quarterback could succeed in his first start in relief of an injured first stringer. I spent the next week at the library looking through old newspapers to find how other teams did when needing to substitute at the quarterback position. Turns out, that more than half of the teams seemingly crippled by the loss of their starting quarterback won their games. Most of them were underdogs, putting their point spread winning percentage near a 70%.
I expect that early lesson in finding motivated teams is going to pay dividends this weekend. At least three teams will be forced to start a backup in place of an injured starter. They are the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins.
The Texans and Dolphins carry additional factors that point to wins for the “crippled” team.
In the Dolphins case, they were good enough to beat Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots on opening day in Foxboro, then had a showdown last week against the considered best team in the AFC East, the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo was coming off an upset home loss on opening day to the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Dolphins were headed home following their narrow one point win in New England.
A win by the Dolphins last week would have pushed them two games ahead of a team on paper better than them, a tall order. The Dolphins just didn’t lose in this spot, they got clobbered, 35-0, and in the process lost starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
The Las Vegas Raiders host the Dolphins on Sunday, and conventional wisdom says they are meeting them at a perfect time, with Tua sidelined. Jon Gruden’s Raiders have opened the 2021 season with a pair of impressive wins. Twice they have been underdogs, first against the Baltimore Ravens in the Monday Night Football opener and again last Sunday against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
The Raiders won both those games, and now return home to host a Dolphins team that got hammered last week and needs to start Jacoby Brissett in place of their injured starter.
Who do you think is more motivated? Who has the fear of failure staring them in the face?
The team with back-to-back upset wins now favored, or the team that is looking into the abyss of having their season slip to 1-2 three weeks into the campaign?
I know what I think … and I think I’m right.
Qoxhi Picks: Miami Dolphins (+4) over Las Vegas Raiders