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Don't Get Defensive, Take Offense to Winning
May 3rd, 2022

If only the old cliches were true, handicapping football would be a piece of cake. You know, “Winning begins with defense” or “Games are won at the point of attack”. If this were true, Buddy Ryan’s old Eagle teams with Hall-of-Famers and Pro Bowlers galore would have won a few Super Bowls. They never won a playoff game.

Marty Schottenheimer eventually lost his job in Kansas City because his final team went from Super Bowl favorites to regular season flop because his mega-talented defense was always on the field.

When you consider that the line is affected much more by the quality of skilled position players than anything else, if the old cliches were true, defensive dogs would hit about 90%. 

When was the last time a game was taken off the board or circled solely due to the injury of a great defensive player?  The answer is probably the same as the last time a quarterback’s status was unknown and the game was on the board and not circled in every sports book.

One of the biggest reasons that so many gamblers, not to mention football fans have this misconception is that they do not draw a distinction between a great offense and a high powered one.

Great offenses are not the ones that can consistently beat a team with a 60-yard bomb, but teams that can over and over again get 15-20 play seven-minute scoring drives.

Also, there is no such thing as depth these days, so a few key injuries to skilled position players can literally mean the difference between worst and first.  

Indianapolis and Denver entered 2001 as among the favorites to win the Super Bowl and rightfully so. However, neither made the postseason and not surprisingly. Both teams were devastated by injuries.

Indianapolis became the quintessential team that put up seemingly impressive stats, but knowledgeable handicappers and football fans know that there is a big difference between impressive fantasy football numbers and quality statistics for winning on the field and with the offshore book.

Great offenses keep defenses off the field. The greatest team of all time was the 1972 Miami Dolphins, who not-so-coincidently had the greatest ball control team ever.

They gained an average of 5.6 yards per play. Their fourth leading rusher averaged 5.3 yards per carry. The reason their “No Name Defense” was so successful was because you don’t give up many points or much yardage when you are standing on the sidelines watching your offense meticulously move those yard markers.

Great offenses are not measured by points scored. There are no official statistics, but much like the complicated quarterback ratings, a more accurate formula for measuring a successful offense would take strongly into account points per possession and average length of each possession.

There is a colossal difference average points per game and average points per possession. Likewise, there is a monster divergence between time of possession and length of each possession.

The best, if not the only way to slow down the St. Louis Rams when all their pieces are healthy is to take them out of a rhythm. If Kurt Warner is watching seven minute drives by his opponent from the sidelines, not only can he not develop a groove, but he will not throw too many touchdown passes from the sidelines.

The best defense is not just a great offense; it is a great ball control offense. But yes, long drives punctuated by scores are the best defense because it is a lot easier to play defense with a big lead when the other team’s options are limited.

When of the biggest gifts when it comes to NFL totals is when it comes to a stud ball control offensive player is hurt, most people falsely assume that their games become lower scoring. False. Often teams must compensate by opening it up more. It is no coincidence that when Edgerrin James went down with injury last year, the Colts games became much higher scoring. They still had the aptitude to score, but not an ability to keep their suspect defense off of the field.

Do not give me balderdash about the stats Dominic Rhodes put up. Do not get me wrong, he is one of the best backups in the league, but he was facing defenses geared to stopping the pass and no matter how you slice it, he is not in the same class as James.

While the chic media told you how disappointing Denver’s defense was, I guarantee you if Terrell Davis and Ed McCaffrey were healthy, not to mention the arm of Brian Greise, magically the Broncos would have had some of the best defensive stats in the league.

Also, before you say that the Ravens of two years ago and the Patriots of last year, were defensive oriented teams, one must consider the factors. There were just were not any great healthy, note healthy offenses out there, so some mediocre team had to win by default.

Not to mention, we all saw clearly that the Ravens missed chain-moving Jamal Lewis and that the Patriots “defense” suddenly improved when Tom Brady looked like the greatest Cinderella story since, well Kurt Warner.

This is not to mention that the Ravens became the ultimate aberration of winning a championship with a mediocre offense with a defense that some say was the best ever. Not one of the top in the game, but maybe the best ever. Plus, let’s face it, Brian Billick one of the game’s top offense minds, proved you can get blood from a stone by somehow making (gulp) Trent Dilfer a mistake-free quarterback.

If you want great defensive stats, get a great ball control offense. But the most important caveat is that that offense has to stay healthy. The Cowboys of the early 90’s and the Broncos of the late 90’s are perfect examples. The difference between a team among the bottom statistically on defense and at the top is a great quarterback, running back and receivers/tight ends. Both the aforesaid teams more than met that.

So, you want another undefeated team like the 1972 Dolphins? Give me two thousand yard rushers (in a 14-game schedule) and someone the caliber of Jim Kiick as a third option. Add two parts much better than average QB’s like Bob Greise and Earl Morrall. Throw in nice receiving corps and I give you another No Name Defense with any starting unit in the NFL.

But what does this mean in handicapping?  Again, as alluded to, convoluted logic so often applies to totals when a key offensive player is hurt. In many cases, it increases the likelihood of points being scored contrary to popular belief.

The same is true on the other side of the ball. If a run-stopping middle linebacker is hurt, it often will mean that the other team will run more. It may mean that they will have more success on offense but not necessarily score more points. It could mean more ball control, thus fewer total possessions.

Good handicappers must evaluate all injuries in their totality. Bookmakers make a fortune because suckers assume that if a key offensive player is hurt, it is likely to mean fewer points or if a key defensive player is out, it means more points.

The oddsmakers know and adjust accordingly. Joe Q Public adjusts incorrectly. But someone must subsidize our winnings.

Joe Duffy’s Picks at is the top source for winners on the Internet  He is perhaps the most published and respected author on sports gambling theory and has been featured as a regular guest as the handicapping expert on the Rick Ballou Show on Sporting News Radio, Gamblers Zoo national radio show, the Meat and Potatoes gambling show, Pro Fantasy Sports Internet radio and Grogan’s Fantasy Football show. Check out his daily news and notes at

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Joe Duffy is founder of featuring the world’s top sports service selections.
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