Behind the Betting Lines 12/17/2004

by T.B
Courtesy of
12/17/2004 3:15 PM EST

Behind The Lines Vol. 16

Saturday NFL football returns this weekend and the sportsbooks are wondering if it will be a blessing or a curse. College football was a very solid winner this year, especially in contrast to the pounding the NFL has dished out to the men who write the bets. To compare it to the stock market, NFL 2004 has been the Dow Jones of 2001 while the NCAA has been a steady mutual fund. Not spectacular returns, but a nice little profit week after week. Well the NCAA has basically been on hiatus for two weeks and we don’t get another bowl game until Tuesday night, with something called the Champs Sports Bowl that features two teams with a 6-5 record. That oughtta get the pulse racing.

As bad an NFL season it has been, football is always better than no football. The NBA and college basketball, while providing a steady earn, don’t provide the opportunity for monster profit and bigtime decisions. And actually last week’s Sunday NFL card was a success for the books. This season joyful Monday mornings in offshore sportsbooks have been hard to come by, kinda like watching porn with with ugly, fat chicks.

In last week’s column I talked about the market correction (to continue our stock market train of thought) that had taken place in the pointspreads. There were seven games that opened with spreads of 9 points or higher. In those games the favorites only went 2-5. What kept the day from becoming a huge success was the fact that in 4 of the 5 losses the favorites did cover on their teaser bets. That’s why even on Sunday night with a Washington win on the pointspread, it wasn’t a case of the rich getting richer because there were a whole lotta teasers out there with the Eagles waiting to come in.

How does all this numbers jostling tie in with the bet percentages we utilize here on Sports Insights? With those huge spreads last week we saw a severe dip in how rabidly the public got down on certain teams. They still liked the cream of the crop; the Pats, Colts, Steelers, Eagles. But we didn’t see them backing them with numbers in the high 80’s to mid 90’s like we had been. The bookies were wondering when the numbers would tighten up. Usually the public does alright the first half of the season and then come late November and the month of December, that’s historically when the books clean house.

So what do we have ahead of us? Was last week an aberration, a one-week reprieve for the sportbooks? Or will the last few weeks of the season save NFL 2004 in the eyes of the bookies? Let’s take a look at some telling numbers for NFL Week 15.

– this week only 6 games had opening spreads of a TD or higher, compared with 13 games last week
– there are 7 teams getting more than 75% of the bets in their contest, compared to 2 last week

Not surprisingly, as the spreads have come down the public’s confidence has returned and their piling on again. Still it’s not as outrageous as the week’s leading up to the big numbers change. The bettors are having a mental duel right now, kinda like in the movies with the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. One side is preaching caution because they know the history of the bookies’ revenge late in the NFL season. The other side is saying, “F**k that, this is our year. Let’s load up again!” With less than 24 hours to go before kickoff we’ll have our answer soon enough. A couple games of interest …

Baltimore @ Indianapolis – Sun. 8:35 (ESPN)

Very interesting number in this one, the Colts are a 7.5 point favorite at home. Week after week, even after it was readily apparent that Indy was a scoring machine and nobody could slow down Peyton Manning, the Colts weren’t getting saddled with a big number. Last week on the road against Houston they were strapped with 10.5 and couldn’t cover.

If this game were played just a couple of week’s ago, the spread is probably a touchdown for a number of reasons: the oddsmakers had their heads up their own asses, nobody likes to move off 7, and the habit of making these primetime clashes into monster decisions. And if the number was -7, you’d see Indy getting over 90% of the bets instead of the 63% they’re pulling in now. There is an 8 out there as well. Who knows, maybe the number should be 10. But the public has to be thinking that Kyle Boller can put up some points on Indy’s defense, even though Jamal Lewis is still listed as questionable.

Carolina @ Atlanta – Sat. 8:30 (ESPN)

This is the game I’m most anticipating this weekend. Carolina was left for dead after six straight losses, they were a joke of a team after making the Super Bowl last year. But what a turnaround, they’ve now run off 5 straight victories and one national commentator this week called them the one team that scares the Eagles. Atlanta responded to their shutout loss to Tampa Bay by coming home and clinching the NFC South with a convincing home win against Oakland last week. In fact, Atlanta has only lost once at home all year and that was over two months ago.

But again, it looks like the hook is coming into play here. Atlanta opened -3.5, instead of -3. Again it’s a surprise because it’s a primetime ESPN game and 3 is such a huge number. But with that extra half point, the public is coming in heavy on Carolina with 74% of the Straight bets. Obviously that isn’t all to do with the extra half point. Atlanta has had some holes exposed and there is no team in the league hotter than Carolina right now. Should be a great game.

Teaser Of The Week

I’ve backed some pretty awful teams in this spot, usually when they’re getting more than two touchdowns in the teaser. Most have come through. Last week however, Cleveland did not. They were abysmal, not even worthy of being called an NFL franchise. As a result this spot dropped back down to 6-5 since we started the feature. That ain’t gonna pay the bills. This week looks like easy pickings so we’re gonna go 2 for the price of 1 here.

First off, the class of the league. The Giants are BRUTAL, the Steelers have one loss. Take Pittsburgh down to -3. Philly is awesome, Dallas is God knows what. Take Philly at home down to – 4.5.

In the second teaser we’ll go for the lower class, in fact we’ll go with the 2 teams fighting it out for the first pick in the 2005 Draft. Start with San Francisco up to + 12.5, at home, against Washington. I know Washington played tough at home against Philly last week, but that was their Super Bowl. Home game, primetime and they felt Philly piled it on in their first meeting. Finish with Miami up to + 16.5 on Monday night against New England. They come to play week after week and the Pats don’t have a blowout makeup. Enjoy the games this weekend … T.B.