Two Kinds of Sharps
There are typically two kinds of NFL bettors – or so I thought: "sharps" and "squares." The squares are the average joes who watch the Packers blow out the Raiders and decide they'll easily do the same to the Chiefs. Squares tend to bet favorites, overvalue name players and put too much stock in recent events. Sharps tend to look at indicators of performance that are more reliable than wins and losses or even point differential, consider historical context and are less swayed by what happened last week.
Often, sharps and squares are on opposite sides of the same game, and one can look at the sports book simply as a middleman that takes a fee (in the form of the vig) to transfer money from one to the other.
But this somewhat simplistic view of the sports betting market has been complicated for me this year as I've noticed there seem to be two different kinds of sharps:
On the one hand, there are the "number-crunching" sharps whose aim is to project team strength on quantifiable data from the games. They look at stats like yards per passing attempt, success rate on plays, yards per play, etc. Some of the better systems I've come across are Massey-Peabody, numberfire.com, Advanced NFL Stats, Accuscore and Football Outsiders. (Not all of these sites attempt to beat the spread, but you could easily apply their conclusions to that end, and many sharps have their own propietary systems that are similar).
A hallmark of these systems is they don't take into account subjective factors such as how a team looked, what players are on its roster, or how it tends to bounce back after tough road losses in the division.
On the other hand there are the "feel" sharps who bet based on an aggregation of factors including how the squares are betting, how NFL games have gone historically and how games "set up" situationally. For example, by objective measures, the Packers should have been 14-point favorites in Kansas City. But it's human nature for a team to get up for a home game against an undefeated Super Bowl champion, especially one that's fired its coach and whose players are looking to impress whomever the successor might be.
Some number-crunching sharps might write those factors off as noise because they're hard to quantify, and there are counterexamples, like the Vikings getting blown out in a home game against the Saints that had many of the same indicators as the Chiefs-Packers. So they don't think it's wise to get into the business of figuring out when these "set-up" situations apply and when they don't. For the "feel" sharps, the number crunchers might do well overall, but they miss important factors in particular games that override simple year-to-date indications of performance.
As a result, it's not merely sharps and squares on opposite sides of the same game, but sometimes different kinds of sharps. Often, I'll see 95 percent of the public is on a particular road favorite, I'll take the home dog, then find out that the number crunchers love the road favorite, too.
In the end, I think both approaches can work. I once had a Wall Street trader talk to me about starting a sports betting fund, and he wanted two groups of analysts – number-crunchers and feel guys working independently and betting the picks they agreed on. I think that's probably a good way to go about it, though if you're a feel bettor (as I am), you can easily double-check your hunches against the numbers systems linked above. I usually won't do that unless it's on a game for which I have absolutely no feel, however (usually about eight per week, and ones I would never pick except that it's my job).
Tom Brady vs. Tim Tebow
I thought Tebow actually played well (8.8 YPA, 92 rushing yards, no INT), but he's not the type to overcome three fumbles against the Patriots – at least not at this point. I also liked that after scoring on a quarterback sneak Tom Brady spiked the ball emphatically in the end zone and showed himself to be every bit as fired up and willing to get his team going as Tebow. In the end, the religion angle is a red herring, something that people with baggage on both sides of that divide are giving far too much importance. Both players obviously want to win badly and appear to be unusually dedicated to their crafts. That's the only belief system that's relevant, and in that respect Brady and Tebow worship at the same altar.
John Fox Turns Down Divine Help
With the Broncos down 18 in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had Tebow sacked for a safety, but before he went down he fumbled the ball, then had the presence of mind to pick it up and roll out of the pocket and throw an incomplete pass. After that miracle, the Broncos somehow managed to get to 4th and 4, though still deep in their own end, and Fox decided to punt.
When you're down three scores in the fourth quarter to a team your defense cannot stop, you must go for the first down on 4th and short, no matter where you are. When Fox eventually meets his maker (assuming such a thing exists), he'll no doubt ask why He abandoned the Broncos in the Patriots game, and God will say: "What are you talking about? I spared you the sure safety or defensive TD, got you to 4th and 4, and you punted!"
Things to Take Away from Week 15
• It's unsporting of the Lions to block Sebastian Janikowski's potential game-winning 65-yard field goal. I get that they would have lost the game and possibly missed the playoffs, but when someone's going for an all-time record, I want to see if the kick has the distance. Incidentally, I might have had the Raiders plus half a point.
• Maurice Jones-Drew owners had to be ecstatic with his 112 rushing yards in a game that the Jaguars trailed 41-0 late in the third quarter, and Jones-Drew sprained his ankle. It seems he wants to win the rushing title, and I'd expect the Jaguars to try to get it for him to the extent they can.
• When Aaron Rodgers has a bad game, you get 235 yards and a touchdown, no interceptions, 32 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. If you double the rush yards (as they usually count double), that's 297 yards passing and 10 points worth of touchdowns (2.5 TD passes in most leagues). So his floor is 300 and 2.5 with no turnovers.
• Like the Packers, the Texans had a bad game, but Arian Foster had 16 carries for 109 yards and five catches for 58 yards. He now has 50 catches for 600 yards despite missing two games.
• C.J. Spiller, Reggie Bush and the Seahawks defense put a lot of people in the finals this week. Wes Welker, Percy Harvin. Rob Gronkowski and the Ravens Defense sent a lot of people home.
• Drew Brees, Calvin Johnson and LeSean McCoy are supposed to do well for you, but it's nice when your best players have their best games of the season during the playoffs.
• Donald Brown, Reggie Bush and McCoy all had long touchdown runs after the game was largely salted away, giving them huge days. This seemed to be a routine occurrence in the days of Emmitt Smith and Terrell Davis – they'd have 20 for 100 and a TD, and they'd be running clock against a tired defense, break a big one and finish with a monster numbers. These days, between the better teams often being pass-heavy and also having running back committees, it's a rarer sight.
• The Giants played one of the worst games I've ever seen by any team at any level in any sport. It was beyond unwatchable, and I seriously had to question whether I had been a murderous dictator in a past life to deserve to watch (and be emotionally invested in) such a ghastly spectacle.
• Had Cleveland (up 17-7 with 10 minutes left) held on, I would have won a survivor pool.
• If Peyton Manning's the MVP on account of how bad the Colts are without him, then Jay Cutler has to be the runner up.
• That the Titans would trot out an aging and injured Matt Hasselbeck over the more dynamic future of their franchise Jake Locker makes no football sense. It makes you wonder whether personal/political considerations are at play – maybe Hasselbeck's a popular veteran in the locker room. Otherwise, it's hard to fathom.
• The Chiefs must have really hated Todd Haley. In a way, they were all Jamaal Charles owners last year – in reality football.
• The Chargers and Eagles could beat any team in the NFL right now, and both are still alive for the playoffs. The Eagles need to win out (@ DAL, vs. WAS) and the Giants (3-point dogs) to lose to the Jets, then beat Dallas (who they beat in Dallas). It's not that farfetched. The Chargers need to win out, and the Broncos to lose at Buffalo and to the Chiefs at Denver (less likely). Incidentally, Yahoo! has a great Playoff Scenario tool you can mess around with to figure out different teams' odds.
• A healthy Ryan Mathews is a top-10 back. Despite missing two full games (and parts of others), he's got 47 catches and is sixth in the league in yards from scrimmage (1472).
• Philip Rivers played a nearly perfect game against the Ravens Sunday night and now has his YPA up to 8.0 on the year. Of course, that makes him ninth in the league this year, behind even Carson Palmer.
Things to Watch For in Week 16
• The Eagles head to Dallas to try and remain in the race.
• The Giants and Jets try to pick up the pieces.
• The Falcons go to New Orleans on Monday night, where Drew Brees has a chance to break Dan Marino's single-season record for passing yards.
• The Chargers try to keep their slim playoff hopes alive in Detroit
• The Cardinals-Bengals game is actually relevant to the playoff picture.
Beating the Book
Texans -5.5 at Colts
Normally I pick a lot of underdogs, especially ones at home, but I have to go with the "number crunching" sharps here and lay the points. The Texans have been one of the best teams in the league for most of the year, while the Colts have arguably been its worst. Moreover, the Colts broke their winless streak last week, and the desperation factor has likely abated. And the Texans are a good buy-low after a bad home loss to the Panthers. I expect them to bounce back. Back Houston.
Texans 30 - 17
Last week we won with the Chiefs to go 10-5 in this forum, 8-8 on the week and 110-109-5 overall. We were 10-7 in this forum last season and 40-27 over the four years of the column (we skipped Week 17 in 2007). From 1999-2010 we've gone 1565-1387 against the spread (53%, not including ties). The full article comes out Wednesday night.
Surviving Week 16
I was lucky enough to have the Falcons last week, but there was otherwise a lot of carnage as the Texans, Giants, Packers and Titans all went down, and the Cardinals barely scraped by. That said, let's take a look at this week's slate:
|Team||Opponent||% Picked*||Vegas ML**||Vegas Odds|