Tuesday September 18
LAS VEGAS – The sports books here (and elsewhere) cleaned up for the second straight Sunday, though they gave back a lot of their profits with the favorites covering on Sunday and Monday night.
It wasn't just the public but also the sharps that had a hard time figuring out the NFL card. I've been saying that with the LVH SuperContest growing to a record 745 entrants this year that field is now a complete mix of the square and sharps and probably a very good indicator of the overall market.
Picking five games a apiece, the field went a combined 1,768-1,767 (50.01%), a mere 1 game over .500, with 190 pushes (the Bengals-Browns game landed on the contest line of 7). Everyone knows that if you split your games 50/50 that you lose your vig, so the books were happy to rake it in. The Top 5 consensus picks had a winning week at 3-2, but needed the 49ers and Falcons, the third and fifth most selected teams, respectively, to bail out a lot of players as those picks were 1-2 entering the night games after being 1-4 last week.
There's one group of bettors that avoided the bloodbath and had a stellar weekend. I like to call them the Ugly Puppy Society (UPS), of which I'm a charter member. We're people that aren't afraid to play ugly underdogs. The biggest ugly underdog this past weekend was the Cardinals as a 13.5-point underdog at the Patriots, who hadn't lost a home opener since Tom Brady took over as quarterback. Historically, double-digit underdogs in the NFL are gold, yet the public loaded up on the Patriots as if it were a foregone conclusion. We all saw what happened, and although the Cardinals almost blew the outright win at odds of 6-1, the point-spread cover was never in doubt.
The other segment of ugly puppies can usually be seen in home dogs. Teams have to usually be pretty ugly to be getting credited for home field advantage and yet still not be the favorite, and the lineup of six home underdogs last weekend fit the bill: Colts, Panthers, Dolphins, Jaguars, Seahawks, and Rams. I mean, if you were going to pick the six worst teams in the league, the Browns (maybe Titans) would be the only team(s) with a chance to crack the list.
However, those teams went a combined 5-1 ATS with all five winners also pulling outright upsets. The Jaguars were the only one to come up short.
Now, I know it's hard to pull the trigger on teams like that. It's also usually a case where the favored road team is pretty decent to warrant still being favored after home field is added (taking the Panthers at just +2.5, for example, against the Saints, who many expected to bounce back from their loss to the Redskins and avoid an 0-2 start.
So how do we benefit moving forward? Well, look at this weekend's schedule and we see 9 – count em – 9 home underdogs: Panthers vs. the defending champion Giants on Thursday night, Vikings vs. the increasingly popular 49ers, Titans vs. Lions, Dolphins vs. Jets, Browns vs. Bills, Cardinals vs. Eagles, Broncos vs. Texans, Raiders vs. Steelers, Seahawks vs. Packers. That's another ugly bunch with the Broncos being the only team considered anywhere near the league's elite.
(Writer's Note: OK, I do have to mention something here. This is not a road to guaranteed riches. In fact, last year home dogs were 44-38-1 ATS for a barely profitable 53.7% and the same with double-digit dogs at 21-18-2 at 53.8%. I would say that long-term I would expect the home dogs to go 5-4 ATS for 55.5%, but it's certainly possible they could go 4-4-1, 4-5, 3-6 or worse. There are times when all the favorites come in, too. What I'm mostly proposing is that if you find yourself loading up on favorites that “will kill them” or “can't lose,” you might want to take a closer look at those games. Even if you don't have the intestinal fortitude to actually bet these ugly puppies, if it causes you to pass on some overpriced favorites along the way I've done my job. I certainly consider readers of PredictionMachine.com to be sharper than the general public, but if you doubt what I'm saying here, I challenge anyone to go through their past wagering history and show me where they've shown a profit with double-digit favorites or laying points on NFL road teams.)
Let's take a quick look at the Week 2 games with home underdogs (when this column was originally posted on Tuesday, there were 9 home underdogs, but the Panthers went from a 1-point underdog to a 2.5-point favorite on Wednesday afternoon after it was announced that WR Hakeem Nicks would be out):
Panthers +1.5 vs. Giants (Thursday): Carolina is again getting less than a field goal at home against an upper-tier team. It sure worked last Sunday, but the Giants have been so much better on the road.
Vikings +7 vs. 49ers: The San Fran bandwagon is filling up. Fading them will take a lot of guts.
Titans +3 vs. Lions: Hard to back Titans but those who have gone against the Lions are 2-0 ATS so far.
Dolphins +3 vs. Jets: A pair of Jekyll-and-Hyde teams here. Where did that performance come from for the Dolphins? However, it was against the Raiders, so not sure how much credit to give them.
Browns +3 vs. Bills: Buffalo bounced back this past week, but Browns are 1-0-1 ATS this year after getting a push against the Bengals and covering against the Eagles in the opener.
Cardinals +4 vs. Eagles: You have an Arizona team showing it can pull out close games and a Philadelphia team with back-to-back 1-point wins.
Broncos +1 vs. Texans: It looks like a toss-up just like the spread suggests.
Raiders +4.5 vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh bounced back from opening loss at Denver (which was pretty much a coin-flip until the Broncos' late TD and subsequent pick 6) to look much better in win over the Jets. I'm not sure even I can take the Raiders after their loss in Miami.
Seahawks +3.5 vs. Packers: I'm actually pleasantly surprised that we're seeing more than a field goal on this line as I was afraid the Seattle home field advantage would have gotten so much attention that the line would be depressed. The Seahawks manhandled the Cowboys and I'm not sure this year's Packers are too much better than Dallas.
Good luck this weekend (and every weekend).