Rotowire had its annual meeting among employees/writers in Vegas over the All Star Break. It was a terrific time, for a variety of reasons: (1) an in-person, fantasy draft with 13 other writers, which Liss just blogged about here, (2) I threw $100 on the NL winning the All Star game by exactly 4 runs, which paid out at +900; (3) getting to one-up Liss' crazy payout for a Royal Flush on the poker table with a crazier profit by my sick run of cards at Blackjack, which ended with me winning with house money in the High Limit room; and (4) a fun time hanging out with a bunch of guys who like sports as much as me.
The part of the trip that will give me lasting enjoyment throughout the NFL season, though, started when I found betting lines for individual NFL games ATS at the Hilton. They don't have all the games, but they do have what the call the 2011-2012 NFL Games of the Year. It's basically a list of several games between high-profile teams and several Monday-night games. There are at least 3-4 games available for betting, against the spread, each week from Week 1 through Week 17.
As I perused the games, it quickly occurred to me that the entire concept was totally insane on Vegas' part. How the hell could anyone predict, with any degree of certainty, what a line should be for two NFL teams in Week 10, or, for that matter, any other week? The NFL isn't like baseball, where we all pretty much know which teams will be good and which ones will suck - teams we think will be terrible make the playoffs, and vice versa, every single year. The uncertainty in the NFL on a year-to-year basis is absolutely enormous. And this year, that uncertainty is even greater in light of the lockout and the fact that free agency has yet to transpire. Given all of this uncertainty, betting on big underdogs seemed like a great idea to me, especially for games later in the season. By betting on 'dogs, I can "lock in" points ATS and hope, as the season unfolds, that the line changes in favor of that team given the natural changes/injuries that occur during any NFL season.
If this isn't making sense, take a look at the games on which I placed a $50 wager...
Week 3, Redskins +7 at Cowboys. Division rivalry, Monday-night game. I'll gladly lock in 7 points. The Redskins might be better than we think; we won't know until we see how the QB situation unfolds.
Week 6, Cowboys +7 at Patriots. Dallas arguably has more talent than the Patriots; the is a lot of points to lock in.
Week 8, Saints at Rams +3.5. If Sam Bradford improves as expected, the Rams can easily beat the Saints outright at home. Getting more than a FG is crazy, especially since these teams might be closer than we think once Week 8 rolls around.
Week 9, Giants +6 at Patriots. How do we know the Patriots will be 3 points better than the Giants come week 9?
Week 10, Vikings +11.5 at Packers. This is arguably the craziest line on the page. I talked about this at length with Dalton Del Don, and we agreed as follows. The worst-case scenario here - if everything goes right for GB and everything wrong for Minny in the first 9 weeks of the season - is a line of 14. But the line could be far less than the current 11.5. Maybe Aaron Rodgers gets hurt. Maybe the Vikings surprise. Maybe Vince Young signs with Minnesota and they're better than the Packers. But even if none of those things happen, a line of more than 10 is huge, especially for division rivals on Monday night ... and that's when we know one team is great and the other is bad. Come week 10, that may or may not be the case for the Packers and Vikings. 11.5 points is a huge number to "lock in" with so much uncertainty.
Week 11, Chiefs +8.5 at Patriots. Yes, the Chiefs puked on themselves in the playoffs against the Ravens ... but they won their division and made the playoffs and they could, as a young team, improve in 2011. 8.5 points is a big number to "lock in" against a team that may or may not be dominant come Week 11.
Week 12, Packers at Lions +4. The Lions are at home and getting more than a FG. If their young talent gels, getting four points could be a steal when Week 12 rolls around.
Week 12, 49ers +7.5 at Ravens. Are you getting the point yet? Sure, the Ravens will probably be good. We think. But we don't know for sure what they'll look like come Week 12, and we certainly don't know what the 49ers will look like.
Week 14, Browns +9 at Steelers. Colt McCoy showed flashes last year ... maybe he looks like a star in the making come Week 14. Maybe Big Ben will be injured. Even if not, I'm locking in 9 points in a division rivalry. And this game is on Thursday night, which only helps the underdog.
Week 14, Raiders +9.5 at Packers. I really like bets like this with teams like the Packers, who are heavily dependent on one player. If Rodgers is hurt (and it's certainly possible given his injury/concussion issues), this line will seem like a gift. If not, I'm getting 9.5 with a Raiders team that showed last year it is good enough to beat anyone on any given day. Heck, you can say that about any NFL team, and that's the point of these bets.
Week 15, Jaguars +7.5 at Falcons. I'm not in love with the Jaguars, but who knows what they'll look like when Week 15 arrives. Plus, I'll take any team getting 7.5 points with a short week (this game is on Thursday night).
Week 16, Bears +7.5 at Packers. I don't understand this line at all. I watched all three Bears/Packers games last year. The Bears won one, and the other two were close, hard-fought contests. The disparity between these teams isn't 7.5 points ... and that's based on what we know now. Come Week 16, this line might look huge.
Week 17, Bucs +5 at Falcons. My favorite pick on the board, I threw $100 on this one. Think about it - has there |STAR|ever|STAR| been a line in Vegas that had more uncertainty than this one? The lockout is pending. There has been no free agency. The NFL has to play out the preseason and 16 NFL games - who knows how good the Bucs and Falcons will be come Week 17. And then consider it's Week 17 - when teams often rest players or don't care, depending on playoff implications. It's crazy that I can lock in five points in Week 17 with a young Bucs squad. Look at it this way - many times, right before Week 17, a line is "off" while Vegas tries to figure out if that team will start its players. How can the line be "off" then but be available now at +5?
There are other games on the list; this is a good representative sample.
Note that I picked more games later in the season, and for good reason - the later it is in the year, the more uncertainty there will be about the quality of the teams, so the more the points matter. To illustrate, there is more certainty for the Week 1 lines than the Week 12 lines, so the Week 12 dogs have more value.
I pick all the NFL games against the spread each week in Staff Picks. Throughout the season, I'll periodically refer back to these picks/lines. As I do, I suspect you'll see that several of these lines will look like tremendous values and that it was a good idea for me to "lock in" points with these underdogs. In other words, out of these 13 games, I want to go 10-3 or better, and I think it's totally reasonable.
If you're rich and/or have some guts, go throw some cash on each of these games (at Hilton in Vegas). As far as sports betting goes, these bets are as good as it gets.