On a whim, I joined three buddies in Vegas over the weekend. The usual shenanigans ensued: Copious drinking, copious eating, random conversations with suspect characters, mocking my single friends for striking out at the clubs, mocking them even more for needing 15 minutes to figure out that the attractive women picking them up at 5:30 am were professionals, all the good stuff.
And then there were the sports bets.
As I had the last three times I went to Vegas, I called up Rotowire.com prognosticator extraordinaire Chris Liss, handicapped the most interesting games on the board, and laid bets at the nearest sports book. This tradition started in the summer of '07, when Chris and I drove to Vegas for a random 112-degree weekend, then went on an epic roll of baseball bets (and poker dominance, me going 6-1 on the MLB front, Chris 7-1. We were winning with the likes of Jason Simontacchi and Jorge de la Rosa. It was awesome, so much so that I knew my comeuppance would come one day soon.
Turned out to be Thanksgiving weekend, 2008.
Chris and I we had our pick of NFL, NBA games to bet on. We decided we'd pick a few NBA games for the Friday night, then a few early NFL games, giving me enough time to collect before my flight out Sunday late afternoon.
Here are the games we liked:
Packers -3 at home vs. Panthers
Not too complicated. The Panthers owned the better record. But liked the way the Packers were playing, liked that the game was in Lambeau, liked that Green Bay needed a win, and that Carolina was just 2-3 on the road coming into the game, despite the Panthers' overall 8-3 mark. We chose the Packers.
Bengals +7.5 at home vs. Ravens
There were a bunch of ugly potential picks on the NFL slate this weekend, and this was one of the biggest. Terrible team, facing a Ravens squad that looked like it's for real.
A central tenet of both my betting philosophy, and Chris' (notably in his excellent weekly column Beating the Book, is to go against the herd. As Chris wrote in describing our big weekend last summer:
2. Fading the Herd
In almost all these cases, it was fairly obvious where most of the money would be going - who's going to bet Davies against a name pitcher like Maddux at home? Who's going to bet Mitre on the road against Lowe? There's always a premium when you buy the name brand and always a discount when you take the one you've never heard of. When looking for underdogs, get the ones that the average bettor wouldn't touch. They wouldn't have built those palaces on the strip if the majority were usually right.
So naturally we banked the Bengals.
Browns +5 at home vs. Colts
Chris saw this as a great ugly game, with everyone likely to back the Colts, even in Cleveland's cold weather and hostile environment. He took the Browns. I chickened out.
Hawks Money Line +210 at Raptors
The Raptors were favored by 5 1/2. But I'm a sucker for Money Line bets, and managed to rope Chris in on the Hawks, who we both viewed as the superior team. That the Raptors were coming off a big win led by a 39-point Chris Bosh performance only enhanced our Hawks hunch.
Thunder +2 at home vs. TWolves
The Thunder were on a 13-game losing streak coming into this one–they started the year with 1-0, then plummeted to 1-13. Doesn't get any uglier than that, and we liked the devastating OK City homecourt advantage too. Go Thunder.
Bucks +9 at Pistons
One of my biggest betting regrets of all time was going to Vegas last fall, calling Chris to run down some picks, and ignoring his biggest piece of advice. When it comes to the NBA, he says, ALWAYS back the Bucks as a home underdog. Even if it's against the Lakers, the Bucks are only getting one point, LeBron just got traded to L.A., and the Bucks are only allowed three players on the court at once. The Bucks were home dogs against the Mavs that night, I ignored Chris, and missed a big payday.
As soon as I saw the Bucks this time, I pounced, and Chris joined. They weren't at home, but it had to be done.
Bengals + 7.5 vs. Ravens: Ravens blew them out of the stadium. Rams as a big home dog against the Dolphins was the other game we considered betting. But I blew it. LOSS.
Packers -3 vs. Panthers: This game ended just before I got in my cab to the airport. Tie game, Packers drive to the Carolina 1, get stuffed repeatedly, kick a field goal to go up 3 and set up a push. Carolina then drives the length of the field and scored a TD to win it. Argh! LOSS.
Browns +5 vs. Colts: Chris won. I lost. I'm happy for Chris. Not that happy, though.
Hawks Money Line +210 vs. Raptors: Chris called me Saturday, assuming we'd won this game. The Raptors were favored by 5 1/2 and won by 5 (after the Hawks declined to foul in the last eight seconds), causing two guys next to me to celebrate like they'd won the Super Bowl. I informed Chris that the Hawks' win against the spread was meaningless, because I'd taken the sucker Money Line bet. LOSS.
Thunder +2 vs. TWolves: The Thunder miraculously rallied from nine down, took a brief lead with 1:05 left and tied it in the closing seconds, setting up overtime and a much-needed win for both them and us. Then Mike Miller hit a game-winning jumper with 0.1 seconds left to make the game a push. Shoot me now. TIE
Bucks +9 vs. Pistons: The Bucks rule only works when they're at home. Spread was +9 on the road...and they lost by 10. Shoot me twice. LOSS.
We did get one big shot at redemption.
The Heat were playing in Phoenix, getting eight points. Chris and I agreed that if Dwyane Wade was on his
game, Miami could definitely beat the spread, maybe even pull off a road win. But, Chris noted, both the Heat and Suns were so unpredictable, that this was a game to avoid. As I was making my bets, I thought about sneaking in a Heat wager anyway. After losing by 30-plus in their previous game against Portland, I had a hunch Miami would come out ready to play. Just after tip-off, I learned that Steve Nash was out for the Suns too.
Wade went off for 43.
The Heat won by 15.
I did not place a wager.
In retrospect, I probably should have stayed home for Thanksgiving.