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Situational Analysis - Precision Data-Mining and Modern Football (Part II)...By Nelson Lardner

In Part I, I took pains to delineate the gradual development of the modern school of football-handicapping thought that ranges well beyond simplistic power-rating/home-field-advantage comparisons, and injury-report chasing. It's undeniable that such practitioners as the aforementioned Al McMordie, Marc Lawrence, Dr. Bob (Stoll) and Scott Kellen are market forces, to varying degrees. Large portions of their significant customer bases hang on their every pronouncement, as these operatives wield a tangible influence on quoted numbers at many a major outlet. These fiscal power displays indicate that one or more of these fellows has accomplished something over the years so as to attract loyal audiences of evident means.

No endorsements, here . . . that's not my job. But since the demise of Mike McCusker's acerbic reports in the late 80s, any sustained Consumer Reports-type writing in this field has been markedly absent from the commercial marketplace. Thus, the curious are free to check out the multi-year records of each of these major players at, as well as at such outlets as On a comparison basis, raw numbers don't lie, and anyone looking for paid help without doing any work on their own must weigh historical results against quoted rates for services rendered, and decide for themselves whether they can justify the expense involved in going this route. To rationalize levels of expense, any potential investor in a four- figure football service needs to understand that if you're not playing for nickels (minimum), you're putting yourself far in the hole, right off the reel.

For those who work the football fields on their own - and I'm making a bold assumption that's largely who I'm addressing here - I can't imagine NOT being interested in the quality data that's being generated these days, so long as it's truly relevant to deciphering pigskin pointspread propositions on offer. Much of the best and sharpest output I've eyeballed in this area is relevant to quirks in college and NFL scheduling vis-a-vis certain aspects of current form, the schedule being among the most significant factors in regular-season handicapping. Amazingly, it remains broadly overlooked by virtually all football fundamentalists, as well as by technicians who remain blind to its spectacular power in specific situations. Instead, many look in the wrong directions, putting far too much credence in such red herrings as "lookahead" games - occasionally relevant, but not nearly as often as so many believe.

For readily-available free samples of what can be generated by the diligent, take a peek at the free ATS and over/under stuff available on Wednesdays at They maintain their policy of not charging for Humpday glimpses at much of their relevant raw team data, and with the calibre of brain food available for $0, you might wish to take the opportunity to peek at the data, even if you may not be willing to pounce on some of the conclusions you're invited to draw.

You get a lot of interesting statistics-based team goodies in these free samples . . . much more than such widely-circulated chestnuts as how horrible the Bills typically are immediately after playing Miami (not that there's anything wrong with that . . . ), and how frequently the Dolphins have underperformed as favorites over the past half-decade or so. Where you clearly have to be careful is when teams have changed character; all those no-good numbers relating to the Bengals during their decade-plus stroll through the wilderness which spanned the passing into the new century need to be broadly discounted, if not wholly disregarded. The Cardinals appear to be in the early stages of pulling out of a similar malaise, but their stinko numbers still make Arizona hard to "get to", especially when they're taking their act out of town.

Some team stuff sounds good, but like cotton candy, when you examine it closely, there's little to it. You can dredge up numbers that indicate that, say, the 49ers have covered in more than 90% of the games they've won since they crashed and burned before Steve Mariucci's eyes in the late '90s. Hold on a minute . . . NO KIDDING . . . many, many of the Niners' wins in the last seven-plus years came when they were UNDERDOGS . . . so they covered, when they won? No bull, Sherlock.

The data that's trickiest is the stuff I call "monkeys at typewriters" output . . . largely-coincidental, with scarcely-discernable threads of logic running through it. While some make sense (for instance, how horribly the Lions have performed for literally decades when traveling to play West of the Rockies), teams very good/bad ATS records against representatives of other specific league conferences can fall under this category. The Bears have lost but one pointspread decision to a representative of the AFC West over the past decade. That's tough for me to rationalize, but there it is. It's a factor, I reckon, but I refuse to weigh it as strongly as the raw statistic might urge.

There's more, still, to observe about this vital topic, and we shall, in Part III . . .

Nelson Lardner

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