Pandemic football: An introduction to our weekly best bets
Robert Perea, and Jim Vallet, The Fernley Reporter
I love college football. In fact, I love college football so much, that saying I love college football is woefully inadequate. My 13 favorite days of the year are the 13 Saturdays of the college football season, and on the night before the first Saturday of the season, I usually have as much trouble sleeping as I did as a young boy on Christmas Eve. I also love the NFL, although in a different way.
Jim Vallet and I had planned to include our weekly football picks as a new column in the Fernley Reporter for this season, and for a while, it looked like we might not have a season. But we do, and it is upon us, so for as long as it lasts, and at the risk of huge humiliation, we will each post our weekly best bets in this column and hope for the best. The rules are simple. We will each pick between five and seven games a week, college or pro.
Because William Hill is the only sports book available in Fernley, I will use the lines available at William Hill at the time of the writing.
Winning at sports betting is difficult enough, but this year adds a new dimension with the truncated offseason leaving us no idea how prepared certain teams are to begin the season. But, unpredictability is actually to the advantage of the diligent, so here’s hoping all the hours a week I spend on this stuff works out.
I hope you enjoy.
Here are my Week 1 picks:
Syracuse/North Carolina over 65 ½. I actually bet this game on Monday when the total was 63 ½, because I expected it to go up, and it has. I was really excited when Syracuse hired Rocky Long disciple Tony White as defensive coordinator to install the 3-3-5 defense, for two reasons. One, is because the 3-3-5 is my favorite defense, and Rocky Long is my favorite coach. Second, was because I was excited to bet that I don’t think Syracuse will be ready to run it yet. The 3-3-5 is a very complex defense, and with only three days of spring practice before things got shut down, and limited prep time since teams were allowed to resume, I don’t see any way the Orangemen will be proficient at it to start the season. The premise of the 3-3-5 defense is that we can’t match them physically up front, so let’s confuse the hell out of them. It’s a blitz heavy defense, where any of the back eight players might blitz on any given play. But it takes time to master, because the defense has to cover for the player who vacates his position to blitz. I think North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell is just the man to exploit that. He was terrific as a freshman last year, throwing 38 touchdown passes and only 7 interceptions, and he has three excellent receivers and two good running backs to work with, as well as four of last year’s starting offensive linemen back. But Syracuse quarterback Tommy DeVito is a playmaker too, and the Orange run a hurry-up spread offense that sets a goal every week of getting off 100 snaps per game, so I think the Orangemen will get some too. That’s why I think betting over is a better way to capitalize on betting against the Syracuse defense than laying 23 points.
Coastal Carolina (+7) at Kansas. Author Annie Proulx a few years ago wrote a terrific short story called “Tits Up in a Ditch” about a young woman who dumped her loser boyfriend after he rolled their Jeep, and she finally recognized the vehicle with its wheels up as a metaphor for the relationship. It’s also the perfect metaphor for the Kansas program that Les Miles took over last year. The Jayhawks were way under the normal allotment of scholarship players because previous coaches had recruited junior college players to try for a quick talent upgrade. That means they went nearly four years with hardly any freshmen. Miles is turning that philosophy around, but it means the program now has very few juniors or seniors. Immaturity and lack of experience should be exacerbated by the decreased preparation time, and the Chanticleers beat the Jayhawks 12-7 last season. I think they can do it again.
South Alabama (+8 ½) vs. Tulane. One of the risks of betting underdogs in nonconference play in college football is that often they are just outmanned and overmatched. That could end up being the case here, but South Alabama wasn’t overmatched against Southern Mississippi. Willie Fritz has revived the moribund Tulane program and had a pretty good team the last two years. And I love their triple option offense. But this is not a team that is built to win by large margins against competent foes, and South Alabama looked better than just competent last week. It’s possible they get blown out and I’ll feel like an idiot, but I actually think they can win the game, and the points are just a bonus.
Atlanta (+2) vs Seattle. Dan Quinn was about to get fired last year, until the Falcons won 6 of their last 8 games. They should come into this season with a combination of a chip on their shoulder from underachieving last season, and confidence from the hot finish. Everyone knows Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley, but tight end Hayden Hurst coming over from the Ravens is a way under the radar acquisition that is going to take advantage of the defensive attention teams have to pay outside.
Las Vegas (-3) at Carolina. I’m not in the habit of laying points on the road with mediocre teams, so this could come back to bite me. But Las Vegas (How long is it going to take before that doesn’t sound weird?) is in the third year of Jon Gruden’s rebuilding project, while the Panthers have not just a first-year coach, but one that was a college head coach and not an NFL assistant. If my theory is right that the offseason will favor continuity over teams recovering from disarray, then this is the game that should prove it.
Chicago (+3) at Detroit. Mitch Trubisky sucks. OK, now that’s out of the way, I still think the Bears are better across the board than the Lions. I could get all analytical on this one, but the Chicago defense is the best unit on the field, and I don’t think the Lions should be favored by 3.
LA Rams (+3) over Dallas. Normally, in the first week of preseason, I bet on teams that come into the season with a chip on their shoulder. Basically, I mean teams that were expected to be good last year, and for whatever reason, weren’t. The Rams fit that to a T. The reason behind that theory is that a team with a chip on its shoulder is more diligent in offseason preparation, and is therefore more ready to play. This year there is no preaseason, but I still think the chip on the shoulder factor matters in terms of preparation, maybe even more so since they’re playing games that matter right out of the chute.
I love betting NFL games. It’s hard, and the chances of long term financial success are low. The teams are all good, they play WAY too many games, they don’t always have adequate time to prepare, they cross time zones frequently, even traveling to Mexico and England to play one game, some of the players are obviously not stellar citizens while others are. We have no idea who’s sick, what the players did the night before the game, or whom the coach is mad at.
It seems to me that betting college games would be much easier. If you know that the left tackle for Eastern MIchigan is out this week and the team they’re playing has a great pass rusher, you have a huge advantage because EMU probably does not have an adequate replacement. That does not happen in the NFL because there simply are no bad or inadequate football players in a league where bad players know “NFL” stands for “not for long”. So, perceived advantages and disadvantages are frequently just that: A perception. Anybody really can beat anybody else on any given Sunday. When I hear somebody say that Alabama, or any college team, could beat Jacksonville, or any pro team, I know I am listening to a fool. Alabama, in any given year, may have 9 or 10 future professionals on its roster. The Jacksonville Jaguars have 53 every year.
The obvious question to me is, “Why don’t you bet college games instead of the NFL if you believe that?” The answer is simple-when our children were still living at home, my wife let me watch football all day only one day a week, and Saturday was usually filled with kid activities. That left Sunday and the NFL, and now I’m hopelessly hooked.
So here are my picks for NFL Week 1 against the spread as listed on espn.com as of Wednesday, Sept. 9.
Buffalo (-6.5) vs. New York Jets. The Bills have the best defense in football. The Jets have…issues.
Chicago (+3) at Detroit. The Lions really do have a real running back this year (D’Andre Swift), but he, in typical Lion fashion, is hurting. Unfortunately for the Lions, Khalil Mack is not.
Miami (+6.5) at New England. Two teams that seem to be going in different directions, but we have heard that about the Patriots before. Cam Newton has not looked right since his shoulder injury, and was an inaccurate passer before that. Newton plus Belichick does not equal a lot of wins, in my book.
Arizona (+7) at San Francisco. The 49ers are good, but so is the Cardinals’ offense. Too many points.
Dallas (-3) at LA Rams. The Cowboys’ offense is for real. The Rams are good on defense, and not handing the ball to Todd Gurley will help. Sean McVay will have to prove his genius reputation.
Tennessee (pick) at Denver A lot of questions for Denver, and the only certain answer is no Von Miller.