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The Oddsmaker’s Dirty Little Secret: San Francisco 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers entered the 2013-2014 season as favorites to win the Super Bowl, but adversity and poor play have contributed to the team’s shocking 1-2 start.  Star outside linebacker Aldon Smith was placed on the reserve non-football injury list Monday as he enters rehab for substance abuse.  The loss of Smith is significant in that he had an NFC-leading 19.5 sacks last season and had 3.5-sacks through the first few weeks of the 2013 campaign.  “We’re not going to hang our heads,” coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Football is not easy, there are struggles.  We’ve got some adversity, no question about it. We also have the rare opportunity to stare adversity in the face and whip it. That’s our goal.”

Despite all of the problems facing San Francisco, the 49ers remain legitimate Super Bowl contenders as they travel to St. Louis to face the Rams on Thursday night.  Let’s look inside the numbers to see how this game breaks down from a handicapping/betting standpoint:

San Francisco 49ers (-3) (-110) at St. Louis Rams

  • San Francisco is 0.2 yards per play worse than average offensively this season (5.6 yards per play against teams that combine to allow 5.8 yards per play), while the Rams are 0.6 yards per play worse than average defensively (6.4 yards per play to teams that combine to average 5.8 yards per play);
  • St. Louis is 0.7 yards per play worse than average offensively (5.2 yards per play to teams that combine to allow 5.9 yards per play), while the 49ers are 0.9 yards per play better than average defensively (5.4 yards per play to teams that combine to average 6.3 yards per play);
  • Overall, San Francisco maintains a 0.4 yards per play advantage offensively and a 1.6 yards per play advantage defensively over the Rams.

We also know that coach Harbaugh responds well to adversity as he is 2-0 SU and ATS on the road following a loss, with both wins coming by a combined score of 47-8. Harbaugh is also 12-6-1 ATS when playing with revenge, including 4-0-1 ATS versus opponents with a losing record, whereas the Rams are 1-11 ATS versus division foes off a loss with revenge.  Pro Edge’s database also tells us that San Francisco is 10-0 ATS in division games when playing with revenge versus an opponent off consecutive losses.

Based on everything discussed above, the nagging question for sports bettors and handicappers alike is why did the oddsmakers install San Francisco as a mere 3-point favorite against the hapless Rams?  Could it be that the 49ers may be without linebacker Patrick Willis (groin), defensive back Nnamdi Asomugha (leg) and tight end Vernon Davis (hamstring)?  Unlikely.  Could it be that quarterback Colin Kaepernick is starting to hear a chorus of criticism?  Highly unlikely as Kaepernick uses that criticism for motivation.  “It helps me,” Kaepernick recently said in reference to the criticism on Twitter.

That leaves us with one remaining question: What is the oddsmaker’s dirty little secret?