Beating the Spread
My three principles for betting against a spread:
Hold on, HOLD ON Royal. The Knicks AND Nets beat the HEAT and you’re not gonna write about it!? What about Tanaka likely being signed by the Yankees!? The Giants lost their O.C., don’t you wanna write about that?! OR, how bout’ those Rangers upsetting the Blackhawks?!
The Heat don’t care about basketball until May. Japanese pitchers don’t always pan out (I see you, Dice-K). I’ve been crying for a new O.C. in NY for years. And every team the Blackhawks play treats it like Game 7 because… well they’re the Blackhawks.
So now that I’ve appeased my NY buddies…
Wait, wait, wait I can’t resist. Is JOE JOHNSON the best player on the Nets!? I mean seriously, look at them! I can’t. I just can’t. OK sorry I’m done really I swear I’m done. Organized thoughts from here on out I promise.
1. Understand how Vegas determines the spread
Vegas had the Bengals as 7 point favorites last weekend against the Chargers. Theoretically, if there was a rematch this weekend, I think Vegas would still be picking the Bengals to win, but maybe it would be Bengals (-4) or (-5). Here’s why:
Vegas doesn’t care about momentum. Vegas doesn’t care about emotion. Vegas doesn’t care about stats like, “White quarterbacks under 6’3” whose last name starts with a “G” against a dome team when the temperature is less than 53.4 degrees Farenheit win 71% of the time against teams wearing red when there’s a full moon.” (totally made up by the way). Vegas cares about quantifiable, non-obscure statistics. As foreign as this sounds to Andy Dalton-haters (myself included), his regular-season numbers overrode his (and the Bengals’) overall playoff terribleness.
The facts of the matter are, Dalton threw for roughly 4300 yards, 33 TD’s vs. 20 INT’s, and completed 62% of his passes. He has an all-pro receiver in AJ Green who just about walks on water at Cincy. Cincy’s defense deserved respect against a team that probably had no business being in the playoffs. And, the Bengals were at home in “The Jungle” in January against a team from cushy San Diego. At this point in their careers, Marvin Lewis is the better, more experienced coach and the in the quarterback comparison you basically had a push.
Now lets not pick this up and run with it too far. Bookmakers don’t look at hard, non-obscure statistics ONLY. They are, however, looking for quantifiable statistics that indicate success/failure over a period of time. So when certain, more “obscure” statistics/trends exist that compound one another, we see these oddsmakers give in a bit.
Thus the line in the Saints-Eagles game last week (Eagles -2.5). The Saints were 3-5 on the road, combined with the fact that they were playing in the cold, on grass, in the playoffs. The Brees and the Saints hadn’t won a road playoff game in history. The Eagles had won seven of their last eight and four straight at home.
However, my guess is that most bookies were still taking the Saints to cover that spread and maybe even to win outright. Why? Refer to step two of my betting strategy below.
2. Understand why Vegas makes the spreads what they are.
The goal of any bookie is to entice you into betting a certain way while in reality they’re thinking the outcome could very easily go the other way. Maybe they’re laying off a big bet. Maybe they’ve got their own bets with their boys placed somewhere else. But they’re goal is to make money regardless of the outcomes in the long run.
So lets put this in example format. I’m a legit bookmaker (the non-sketchy type). I think the Saints are gonna pull of the win (like they did). So given the trends that show the Saints are awful on the road, in the playoffs, in the cold etc., with an Eagles -2.5 spread I’m hoping just over half, lets say 55% of the money of bets placed is on the Eagles to cover the spread and win by a field goal because I think the Eagles will actually lose outright or simply not cover. So, Saints win, I pay out $45 for every $100 placed and gain 55$ for every $100. Net-net, Saints win and I get $10 on the $100 and if the Eagles cover, I’m only out $10 on the $100.
Cold. Saints on the road, in the playoffs. Eagles looking hot. So you take one look at that Eagles-Saints spread and say, “Yea, given all the trends in favor of Philly, they’ll easily cover by a field goal. I think Philly wins 24-21, maybe 23-20 or whatever.”
That’s what they want. They take one look at those trends and go back to what they know and what has worked, tried and true. They’re betting on the Saints.
The trick is, figuring out which way THEY think most people will bet, and comparing that to what the actual spread should be.
So yes, most bookies probably thought a 7 point spread for the Bengals against the Chargers would be high enough to entice Joe Shmo to bet for the Chargers to cover. In that case, Andy Dalton didn’t let us down, the Chargers won and you probably did too (unless you’re from Cincinatti and you drank the Kool-Aid). Vegas lost last week on that one.
Score one for the little guy. Good for you. Excited? Don’t be. This leads me to #3.
3. You’re not Rainman. Get ready to lose.
Understand that even if you’re somehow awesome at predicting the outcomes of sports games, statistically you will probably only make money if you’re willing to lose often and make a lot of bets over a long period of time.
Bookies have been doing this for a long time, they’re still around and they’re still making money, so obviously they’re good at this.
So… Lets get to the picks.
Saints (+8.5) over Seahawks
I like to start the process of making these picks by predicting the final score before I even see the spread. I came up with 31-24 Seahawks.
Next, I try to figure out what the spread is and why. Seahawks -8.5 points. The Seahawks are undoubtedly the better team, at home. They trounced the Saints in Seattle not too long ago. They have a week of rest. They have undoubtedly the best defense in the league. Those fans are so loud, so crazy. Russell Wilson has played like the best QB in the NFL not named Peyton Manning. Surely they can beat the Saints by 9, probably even 10, why not 14!?
Wrong. I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what Vegas wants Joe Shmo to think. The fact of the matter is that no team in the NFL has been more disrespected over the past few weeks than the Saints. Drew Brees is still Drew Brees. He played poorly last week in my opinion and still won against a tough Eagles team inPhiladelphia, ON the road, IN the cold, ON the grass. But the defensive play of the Saints gave me more positive vibes than anything the offense did. Those guys manned up.
P.S. Brees still threw for 4000+ 33 TD’s, and had a completion percentage of 68%.
P.S.S. Brees has won a Super Bowl. I love Russell Wilson, but he’s still aspiring to be the player Brees already is.
Seattle is still better. They’re just not 9 or 10 points better. Show Brees some ‘SPECT! Seattle by a TD.
Seahawks 31, Saints 24
Colts (+7) over Patriots
Please just humor me on this one. I’m abandoning all sense of deliberate thought and picking this one on gut instinct.
So far this post has been all about trying to take a more scientific approach to how we look at picking these games. But I’m so damn split on this one, I have to just throw the formula away and wing it. This is, without a doubt, the most exciting matchup of the weekend. It’s also the one I’m most unsure about.
On the one hand, I like the Patriots for the same reason I like the Saints. Their quarterback. But it goes beyond that. The offense has been the Tom Brady show this year. He’s all they got. AND THEY STILL GOT THE TWO-SEED! Yup. No Gronk, no Hernandez, no Welker, no Randy Moss, no big-time running back, Deion Branch isn’t even walking through that door. It almost doesn’t make sense.
But… it kind of does. They played the Dolphins, Jets, and Bills twice because they’re in the second-worst division in football (looking at you, NFC East). While Gronk has been in and out, they’ve had some guys step up. It seems like whoever they start at running back somehow produces as long as they aren’t fumbling. Amendola hasn’t been Welker, but he’s had a few huge games, and Kenbrel Thompkins seems to have a Sportscenter catch for every critical drop (which is a lot).
And then there’s this other half of me that believes more in the Andrew Luck who had four TD’s last week than the guy who threw three picks in that historic comeback against the Chiefs. The other half of me says that this Colts team has no concept of what it means to give up. So much respect for those guys. The other half of me wants to give them the Auburn Tigers’ “Team of Destiny” tag. There’s just something about that squad I can’t quantify. The type of thing that tempts my gut into forcing me to say, “Hey, I don’t know why, but I’m picking these guys to win out.”
I was really hoping for this game to be another snowy classic, reminiscent of that epic Raiders-Patriots matchup oh so long ago. But the Colts are still playing the Pats on the road. At Foxboro. 100% chance of rain, 40 degrees Farenheit. Its gonna be cold. Its gonna be wet. And it’s the playoffs. All signs point to a Tom Brady “W.”
I dunno. I’m so split on this one, I wish I could cop out and say they tie, but I can’t. So…
Patriots 24, Colts 21 F/OT
San Francisco (-1) over Panthers
To me, this one is a no-brainer actually (which means I’m obviously missing something and I’m gonna get totally burned).
I am a huge Cam Newton fan, but he’s still never played a playoff game and I really foresee this red-hot 49ers defense sending linebackers, corners, safeties on differently disguised blitzes, dropping ends into coverage to force bad throws, etc. “Home field advantage” in Carolina means nothing to me, and it means nothing to the team that just beat the Packers at Lambeau at almost record-low temperatures.
Side Note: did you see Kaepernick last weekend with no sleeves while the Cali boy (Rodgers) was all bundled up? I just thought that was funny.
Anyways, I think Harbaugh will find a way around (**cough** Crabtree **cough**) these linebackers when the running game stalls with Frank Gore against the likes of Luke Kuechly.
Niners 22, Panthers 17
Denver (-9.5) over San Diego
San Diego is on a tear. They’ve won their last 5 games including a win against Denver. Philip Rivers doesn’t even have to throw the ball that much when they eliminate turnovers on offense, force them on defense, and run the ball with a slew of running backs you and I used to call “busts.” Plus, Peyton hasn’t been particularly good in the playoffs, blah, blah blah blah, blahbitty blah blah blah.
It’s Peyton freakin’ Manning. If it weren’t for his brother having two rings and some dude named Tawm Brady having a few rings, he would probably be widely considered the greatest quarterback of all time.
He’s still Peyton Manning! He’s still the guy who soaks his feet in holy-miracle water, while dissecting game film on his iPad and wearing his helmet because he’s in the zone. You know those parents who bring their work home with them? I imagine Peyton Manning is like that. Look, he probably tries not to, but he probably can’t help it. His wife probably just shakes her head, smirks, and says, “Baby, you’re talking about work again…”
Say this like, ten times. Or at least until you believe the Broncos will cover the spread and then some against this clown of a “playoff” team:
“5477 yards and 55 TD’s”
again now “5477 yards and 55 TD’s” “5477 yards and 55 TD’s”
getting the picture yet? “5477 yards and 55 TD’s” “5477 yards and 55 TD’s”
I want you to remember that. And I want you to understand that bookies want you to pick San Diego to cover. Bookies don’t care about momentum, they care about 5477 yards and 55 TD’s. They care about 68% completion percentage, only 10 INTs, an 82.9 QBR, a 115.1 passer rating, all from a 37 year-old 16-year veteran who’s still pissed off about last year.
Now, just real quick trip to fantasy land…
Can you imagine what will ensue if the Broncos lose this game? I’m talking a CATEGORY-5, DEFCON-12, s***storm people. We would have to listen to insufferable idiots on talk radio talk about how, “they always knew,” or “they’ve always said,” that “Peyton Manning can’t get it done in the playoffs.” Ugh. I cringe just thinking about it. I think it would be funny to see if John Elway’s head actually explodes. We may even here the dreaded “TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW! TEBOW!” chants from the crowd.
… Sorry. Couldn’t resist.
Denver 38, San Diego 21