Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
It was another bad week (6-10), but in truth, it could have been worse as we were 2-8 through the early games and rallied in the afternoon and night games (4-2) to avoid total disaster. Over the last four weeks, we're 22-38, pretty much destroying what had been a very nice first half of the season. As someone who takes this column and task seriously, it's upsetting to me (and Damon as well).
But we talked it over the last couple days, and both of us feel pretty convinced this is just one of those stretches where the obvious happens a little more often than usual - big favorites win and cover when they're supposed to, and bad teams get crushed. That's always going to hurt us, but I don't think it fundamentally changes the dynamic between the public and the Book. People will chase past performance, form conclusions and keep riding it out. The Book will adjust to those perceptions, and the teams that have done well recently will always look like good values. This is because people equate past performance with present value and forget to make adequate space for uncertainty. If team A beat team B by 10 last week, and team C is better than team A, then why is team C favored by only 8 this week? Past performance dictates they should be favored by more. Team C looks like a great bet to the public, but it doesn't realize there's a lot of uncertainty about whether the teams will perform according to their histories. Teams change each week in terms of health, experience, attitude, cohesion, etc., and that uncertainty favors the underdog - in part because it's getting points (and points are certain), and in part because change is good when you're struggling.
So the bottom line is we're doubling down. We don't know whether it'll pan out this week, but unless something's fundamentally different about the NFL that we're missing, we think it's the right play over the long haul.
Titans -11 at Lions
It's really too bad the Titans lost last week because it would be so much more exciting to see 0-11 play 11-0. And then if the Lions won on Thanksgiving Day... it would be globally transformative.
But back to the situation at hand. Damon and I are both incredibly sick of backing the league's worst teams. As Damon said: "If we go Tennessee, there will always be hope they cover late in the game. But if we back Detroit, it's very likely to be over by the second quarter, and watching the game will be miserable." I completely agree. Moreover, Tennessee, coming off a loss, is sure to be more focused, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We shudder to think about what it would be like rooting for Daunte Culpepper to succeed against that unit... All that said, we've got to go Detroit. Who cares if you're miserable while watching the game? The misery is part of the enjoyment. And you can't pick scared. Maybe Tennessee rolls, but a few bad weeks aren't going to push us off our contrarian perch. To hell with the 11-point road favorite. We're backing Detroit. Give the locals some joy amidst the miserable economic situation this holiday season.
Titans 20 - 16
Seahawks +12.5 at Cowboys
The Cowboys got the ball down the field to Terrell Owens last week, and that means they're back. It's that capability that makes them potentially an elite team. But that eliteness is priced in here as this is an awfully big line against a team with a Pro Bowl quarterback and Hall of Fame coach. Take Seattle who doesn't roll over.
Cowboys 31 - 23
Cardinals +3 at Eagles
It's been a bad month for eagles generally, and the NFL team is no exception. Still, the Cardinals haven't beaten a winning team on the road this year (the Eagles are at .500), and the temperature's likely to be in the 30s - not frigid, but also not nearly as comfortable as the confines of their retractable-dome stadium. Expect Philadelphia to bounce back.
Eagles 27 - 19
49ers +7 at Bills
We felt the Niners had turned the corner a couple weeks ago, playing well in Arizona and then beating up on the Rams. Of course, last week Terrell Owens and Tony Romo lit them up, but that doesn't change our overall impression that this team is no longer a doormat. Back San Francisco who keeps it close, despite travelling cross country for an early game and despite playing in chilly weather.
Bills 20 - 18
Ravens -7.5 at Bengals
Last week, we got the Ravens right for once - it was bound to happen sooner or later... Coming off their blowout win over Philly, we think they're a good sell-high, especially against a Cincinnati team that knows them well and won't be intimidated by their tough front seven. Take the Bengals who keep it close and possibly win outright.
Bengals 24 - 20
Colts -5 at Browns
The Colts are rounding into form of late, while the Browns were only able to muster six points at home against the Texans last week. Still, the Book isn't giving money away, and there's no doubt that everyone is going to be backing Indy. Back Cleveland.
Colts 24 - 23
Panthers +3 at Packers
It might be too obvious, but Damon and I agreed pretty quickly on the Packers - they're a more dynamic team, and Carolina is 2-3 on the road this year (6-0 at home). Back Green Bay.
Packers 27 - 20
Dolphins -7.5 at Rams
This line was off the board in a lot of places, and we're not sure why. Is the difference between Marc Bulger and Trent Green really preventing anyone from setting a line? In any event, we're ill from backing the Rams against the Bears last week. Is a ray of hope through the end of the first quarter too much to ask? And why is this line only 7.5? The Dolphins are as good as the Bears, and that line was 9.5? And the Bears covered easily - shouldn't it go up instead of down? I won't pretend to know why this line isn't 10 [actually, I think I figured it out while writing the intro], but at 7.5, the Book is begging you to take the Dolphins. And we'll resist. Back St. Louis.
Dolphins 20 - 16
Saints +3.5 at Buccaneers
Drew Brees looked great on Monday night against Green Bay, but going into Tampa has been a much tougher proposition this season. The Bucs are undefeated at home, and New Orleans is 1-4 on the road (not counting their win in London, a neutral site). Back Tampa.
Buccaneers 24 - 17
Giants -3.5 at Redskins
We keep going against the Giants and losing, but remember we did the same thing with the Patriots last year. People thought we were nuts through eight weeks, but New England covered only one game in the second half. This is a different team, and a different year, but the public's on the G-Men, and the Book knows it. Plus, the Redskins, unwatchable and boring as they are, play hard more often than not, and we think they'll bring their "A" game against a division rival that happens to be the top team in the league. Back Washington who keeps it close.
Giants 23 - 20
Falcons +4.5 at Chargers
This line is retarded as the Falcons are the better team but for some reason are getting more than a field goal. Still, we're going with San Diego - it's a good buy-low, and the Falcons stock couldn't be higher right now after a big win over the Panthers. We realize we did the same thing when the Chargers were favored by 15.5 over the Chiefs, and San Diego barely hung on for the win, but you can't get dissuaded by a few bad results. Back San Diego.
Chargers 27 - 21
Broncos +9 at Jets
We've come around on the Jets. Brett Favre's playing under control, they're getting Leon Washington more involved, the line's blocking well and they're very tough to run on. Still, everyone's aware of this after their impressive win at Tennessee, and it's been priced into the line. Expect the Broncos to bounce back and be competitive. Back Denver.
Jets 20 - 19
Steelers +1 at Patriots
The Pats are a nice story this year, winning despite losing arguably the best player in the league, but now they're facing a real defense, and we expect them to struggle. Back the Steelers.
Steelers 27 - 16
Chiefs +3 at Raiders
This is an interesting game actually. The Raiders rolled over Kansas City in Arrowhead earlier this year, and they're coming off a big win in Denver. The Chiefs have played some exciting games the last several weeks, but don't have much to show for it. In the end, we think this will be a competitive contest between two rivals that haven't thrown in the towel yet, and as such, we'll take the points. Back KC.
Chiefs 27 - 24
Bears +3.5 at Vikings
The first game was an 89-point shootout, but the over/under this time is less than half of that (42). We're mostly agnostic about this game, but we settled on Minnesota for some odd reason. Maybe Adrian Peterson torches the Bears yet again at home. Back the Vikings.
Vikings 27 - 17
Jaguars +3.5 at Texans
I was undecided on this game, but Damon guaranteed me that Houston would cover. I asked him why and he pointed out that the public is still on the Jaguars even though they've been awful this year. That's good enough for me. Back the Texans and hope Sage Rosenfels doesn't hand away the game for no reason.
Texans 31 - 20
We were 6-10 in Week 12, to put us at 87-84-5 on the season. We were 127-120-9 last season. From 1999-2007, we were 1184-1018 - not including ties - (53.8 percent).
Article first appeared 11/26/08