Monday Night Preview

SAN FRANCISCO SQUEAKING BY AS THEY TRY TO STAY IN SUPER BOWL PICTURE

The San Francisco 49ers have played in the last three NFC Championship games, but don’t yet have a Super Bowl ring to show for it. It’s generally assumed that THIS is the final season of the Jim Harbaugh era because he and the front office have grown tired of each other during this marriage of near-misses and heartbreaks.

Is the best this team has to offer already in the rearview mirror? Or, have recent gut-check wins over Philadelphia and Kansas City made it clear that the Niners are still a force to be reckoned with in the championship chase?

DID SF PLAY LIKE CHAMPIONS?
SF (-3.5) beat Dallas 28-17 (probably yes, but stats weren’t great)
SF (-7) lost to Chicago 28-20 (until that horrible fourth quarter!)
SF (-3) lost at Arizona 23-14 (definitely not)
SF (-3.5) beat Philadelphia 26-21 (yes, but Eagles had 3 non-offensive TDs)
SF (-4.5) beat Kansas City 22-17 (borderline)

You can see definite stretches of greatness. But, there sure weren’t any WOW games yet. The win over the Eagles had WOW stats. The first three quarters of the Chicago game were pretty dominant. San Francisco seems on the cusp of greatness, but also on the cusp of imploding!

Monday Night’s divisional showdown at St. Louis (1-3) could answer a lot of questions about the course the rest of 2014 takes. A poor showing, similar to the bad road loss at Arizona a few weeks ago, would suggest that the Niners are no longer a truly serious threat. A decisive victory, and Seattle will have to sweat SF once again.

Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats are saying about this particular game, and San Francisco chances to finally break through and go the distance this season.

Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
San Francisco: 3-2 (ranked #11 according to USA Today)
St. Louis: 1-3 (ranked #28 according to USA Today)

San Francisco’s played a pretty tough schedule, and has managed to post a winning record. The home loss to Chicago was embarrassing because that should have been a victory. But, there’s nothing there to suggest San Francisco is a pretender. It’s St. Louis who’s in trouble. Down to #3 quarterback Austin Davis (who’s been a pleasant surprise amidst the losses), the Rams are still just a 1-3 team against one of the softest schedules in the league. (Note that we use Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings to measure strength of schedule in our NOTEBOOK previews).

Yards-Per-Play
San Francisco: 5.4 on offense, 5.0 on defense
St. Louis: 5.8 on offense, 6.0 on defense

This is where you have to be concerned about the Niners as championship material. That’s an exact match for last year’s full season numbers (coming against the #4 schedule)…which wasn’t good enough in a league where Seattle won it all at 5.6 to 4.4, and Denver reached the Super Bowl at 6.3 to 5.3. San Francisco needs to lift its game to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy. For Monday Night, clear edges over St. Louis…but not necessarily enough to justify a confident pick on the team at the current Vegas price. Davis is moving the ball for the Rams, which gives them a chance to find the end zone and make this a game.

Turnover Differential
San Francisco: +5
St. Louis: -2

This category is very good news for San Francisco, though the turnovers they do make have a tendency to blow up in their face. Colin Kaepernick continues to mature, and will be a top-level quarterback if he can ever figure out how to avoid those game-changing miscues. Ron Jaworski was over-the-top when he suggested Kaepernick could be the best in the league. He’s not catching Andrew Luck at Luck’s pace! A positive differential in this category can help trump unimpressive YPP differentials. The Niners were +12 for the season in 2013. It’s not surprising that St. Louis is in negative territory with such an inexperienced starting quarterback. Though, you have to assume that -2 vs. a poor schedule is going to be worse vs. a quality schedule. The Rams are stepping up in class this week. For MNF handicappers, this is a very important category…possibly the swing category for a selection. If you’re taking the home dog, you’d better be confident that Davis can avoid a bad turnover game.

Market Performance
San Francisco: 3-2 ATS
St. Louis: 1-3 ATS

No change here from the straight up category. San Francisco has been slightly underrated. And, the loss to Chicago would have been a cover if not for all the late turnovers. The Niners carried a double digit lead into the fourth quarter as 7-point favorites. The best way to summarize it is this: the market was expecting a dramatic fall from grace this season because of off-the-field griping and a sluggish August. San Francisco hasn’t fallen. YET! St. Louis is 2-2 ATS if you played them at Philadelphia before the huge game-day line move. They didn’t cover the official closer of +3.5…but did cash at +6.5 or higher, which was available for quite some time. St. Louis was also in position to cover vs. Dallas when they blew a huge lead. So, the Rams are closer to market expectations than that 25% success rate would suggest. 

Current Line: San Francisco by 3.5, total of 43.5

It’s not likely that this game would drop down to the key number of three. The public loves betting big name teams at cheap prices. Squares are going to see SF -3 as a very cheap price. So, we may have a “sharps vs. squares” battle with the Wise Guys on St. Louis +3.5 and the public laying the chalk. Sportsbooks don’t to offer a three unless they absolutely have to because a final margin of exactly three would mean the public doesn’t lose while the Wise Guys win.

JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats are suggesting that turnovers will probably be the key deciding factor. San Francisco can move on the ground. St. Louis is moving through the air, and would be a definite threat to score in garbage time in a way that comes through the back door. A couple key mistakes from Kaepernick, and we have an exciting home dog upset. Those same mistakes from Davis would probably trigger a Niners laugher that would be reminiscent of SF’s season opener at Dallas.

How should YOU play the game? JIM HURLEY has been working very closely with his full team of experts. He knows Monday Night is the most important betting night of the week. His scouts, sources, statheads, computer programmers, and Wise Guy connections have all reported from their various precincts. Whether it ends up being the side or total…you’re going to be on the best Las Vegas betting option!

You can purchase the final word for Monday right here at the website with your credit card in the hours leading up to kickoff. If you have any questions about tonight, or special offers on combination packages for football and baseball, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. There’s still plenty of postseason baseball left!

We’ll be talking football through the week, with some college football notes Tuesday, and then an expanded preview for Thursday Night’s renewal of the NY Jets/New England Patriots rivalry well in advance of kickoff. Then, don’t miss are game-by-game stat notes for the NFL that will run every weekend.

Back with you tomorrow for more handicapping talk. Now, GO GET THE MONEY in MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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