Gridiron analyst Gregg Easterbrook has long-lamented teams punting on 4th down and short. The mathematics, undoubtedly, are on his side – in a given game between random opponents, the team that tries to convert on 4th down more often, all else being equal, is slightly more likely to win.
But there’s more than meets the calculator. For instance, when NFL coaches punt on 4th down with time running out and a mathematical chance to win, it’s not necessarily to save face (as Easterbrook has charged over the years). It’s a long-term business decision. Who needs their starting QB beaten up any more, when odds of victory are slim?
Coaches see the larger picture. But betting is usually a sprint to the weekend at hand.
Louisville wunderkind Lamar Jackson is likely to take a beating this season, unless Bobby Petrino’s make-shift offensive line can get better in a hurry. But even if Jackson is likely to get punished by season’s end, should that make a difference in how to bet on his success at present?
Who: Louisville Cardinals at North Carolina Tar Heels
When: Saturday, September 9th, 12 PM
Where: Kenan Stadium, Raleigh, NC
Lines: Louisville (-10) at North Carolina (+10) / O/U Total: (62)
We’re not betting futures here, so let’s think short-term. In what situation is the Cardinals’ QB most likely to take a reality-check on the chin? His talent is unimpeachable, and the club will win games as long as Smiley Face is taking the snaps at 100%. This is a question of when a shaky offensive line (which gave up 6 QB hurries against a pedestrian Purdue squad last week) will finally start springing leaks and leave the Heisman winner high and dry.
Could it be the Tar Heels in Week 1? UNC is at home, which helps out any pass rush. But the defense was a fright last weekend, giving up 14 points in the 4th quarter to lose to California. The ‘Heels gave up close to 500 yards of offense against a mid-range P5 program, and switched to freshman Chazz Surratt at QB after a listless start.
Louisville has the speed at safety and linebacker (LB Stacy Thomas scored on a pick-6 against Purdue) to prevent North Carolina from lighting up the scoreboard early. That’s a key to finding a value bet on this contest.
On a point spread of 10 points, it helps to look at who might score in garbage time. UNC’s best running back in Week 1 was a converted frosh linebacker (!) named Michael Carter…not exactly the best backfield arrangement for scoring points in the 1st or the 4th quarter.
Surratt may find limited success in the air. But we’re betting on Lamar Jackson to have another massive performance – while he’s fully unscathed from the danger his OL creates for him. Right now, those broken plays are a wonder to behold thanks to the swift QB, who should rack up another comfortable win on Saturday.
Take Louisville to cover at (-10).