10/10/2013 1:17PM

Dave Tuley: Double-digit underdogs hard to resist in NFL


LAS VEGAS – Parity or disparity?

We always hear about parity in the NFL and the old mantra that “on any given Sunday” any team can beat any other team. That’s still true for the most part, and on Monday Night Football the Jets beat the Falcons 30-28 as a 10-point underdog, the second time this season that a double-digit dog pulled off an outright upset (the previous one was the Colts’ 27-7 rout of the 49ers in Week 3 as a 10.5-point dog).

Now there’s another long-held slogan that’s been talked about in recent weeks: “just pick the winner.” That saying comes from the fact that around 82.5 percent of the time in the NFL the point spread won’t come into play: either the favorite will win by more than the spread or the underdog will win outright. This has been getting discussed more recently because over the past three weeks, there are only two games where the point spread has mattered: the Titans’ 20-17 win/push as a 3-point favorite over the Chargers in Week 3 and the Broncos’ 51-48 win over the Cowboys in Week 5 after closing as a consensus 8-point favorite.

So, out of the last 45 games heading into Thursday night’s Giants-Bears game, 43 of them (95.6 percent) have not had the spread come into play.

But just like most things in life, there’s a logical explanation for this. There were a disproportionate number of games over the two previous weeks (nine in Week 3, six in Week 4) with lines at a field goal or less. That makes it far less likely for the final score to fall into the range of the favorite winning but not covering.

Compare that to the fact that there were only three lines of a field goal or less in Week 1 and five in Week 2, and you can see how it was understandable that there were five games apiece where the spread came into play. Even after adding in Week  5 with its sole favorite win/non-cover, there have now been 12 out of the 87 games played so far where the spread has come into play, or put the other way, 75 of the 87 games have been where the “points didn’t matter” but the 86.2 percent is not too far off where we’d expect to be. As we see more games with bigger spreads, that’s pretty sure to be right around the norm.

That brings us to this week. Seven of the 15 games have a spread of a field goal or less, but then we have seven games lined at a touchdown or more. The only spread in the no-man’s land between 3 and 7 is the Cowboys as a 5.5-point favorite over the Redskins on Sunday night.

So while it wouldn’t be surprising if all of the outright winners of the games with small spreads also covered, there’s a lot of wiggle room for higher than the 1-in-8 average of non-covering wins by the favorite with the big spreads.

We’ll see how it all shakes out.

Back to the betting board

Last week, I lost with Illinois in the colleges and the Jaguars in the pros as I’ve dropped to my worst records in all of the years of doing this column. This week, I’m staying in the pros with the three double-digit underdogs.

Titans +13.5 vs. Seahawks

We all know the Seahawks play much better at home (8-0 SU and ATS last year, 2-0 SU and ATS already this year with blowouts of the 49ers and Jaguars), but I don’t think this line gives the Titans as much credit for their improvement, even with the loss of Jake Locker. The Titans (also 2-0 ATS on the road with their Week 1 upset of the Steelers and spread-covering loss to the Texans in Week 2) are strong enough on defense, allowing 19 points a game, to keep this close.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Jaguars +27.5 vs. Broncos

This has flirted with being the biggest NFL spread of all time (1966, Baltimore Colts –28 vs. Atlanta Falcons, according to The Gold Sheet). History has shown that NFL teams getting 20 or more points have covered six in a row. But I’m not just taking it because of the number; look at how much better the Jacksonville offense looked last week with Justin Blackmon back from suspension. He can do what fellow former Oklahoma State receiver Dez Bryant did to the Broncos’ secondary last week and keep them in the game (hey, within three touchdowns is “in the game” enough for our purposes here).

PLAY: Jaguars for 1 unit.

Cardinals +11 vs. 49ers

The 49ers look back in form off two blowout wins, but the Cardinals’ defense has carried them to the same 3-2 record and looked even better last week with the return of Darryl Washington from suspension. The key will be if the Cardinals’ offense can score enough, but I expect this to be a relatively low-scoring game and the Cards to keep it in single digits.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

NCAA record: 3-5 for net loss of 1.5 units (based on risking 1.1 to win 1). NFL record: 1-5 for a net loss of 4.5 units.