Week #3: Right sides, and bad beats
Robert Perea and Jim Vallet, the Fernley Reporter
After a couple of lucky wins in week 1, the breaks weren’t there in Week 2, as both Jim and I took it on the chin last week. We’ll try to get back on the right side of the ledger this week.
It’s pretty typical that in the first two weeks, both Jim and I had winning weeks when we got lucky breaks, and losing weeks when we didn’t. After all, that’s basically how most people believe this all works, isn’t it?
That’s where the concept of the “right side” comes in. The most basic description of a right side is a team that is never in jeopardy of losing by the point spread, such as an underdog that has the lead throughout the game, or a favorite that leads by much more than the point spread. For my purposes, I also include a bet that wins for the exact reasons I bet it. When that happens, a team can be the “right side” even if the point spread decision is close.
The problem is, using that description, sometimes the “right side” loses. That’s why, for my own tracking purposes, I don’t just keep track of my win and loss record, and the amount of money I’m up or down, but I also keep track of my right sides and wrong sides, which helps me identify which teams I’m consistently right or wrong about. That information is much more valuable to me than which teams I win or lose on. Sometimes, I even grade a right side and a wrong side on the same game.
A perfect example is last Thursday’s game, where I bet the Bengals +6 over the Browns. The basic theory behind the bet was that someway, somehow, the Browns would find a way not to cover the spread, even if they controlled the game. Lo and behold, they led and had control the whole game, but managed to give up two touchdown drives in the last few minutes, and won by 5 and didn’t cover. For my records, that game goes in my spreadsheet as a right side against the Browns, but a wrong side on the Bengals, because despite being an underdog of less than one score, they were never in position to have a chance to win the game.
Every bet I make, I’m obviously hoping to win that individual bet by any means possible, whether right side, wrong side, or blind luck. But in the big picture, may aim is to be on the right side, not just to win, because it’s through understanding teams and being right about them, that will help me get on the right side next time.
(Lines as of Wednesday at William Hill)
Louisville (+3) at Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh put up 55 points against Austin Peay, but when picking on someone their own size, they scored 21 on Syracuse and didn’t cover. Louisville brings the best offense they’ve faced, and the best athletes, and also the desire to erase last week’s loss to Miami. They gave up a couple of long touchdowns to the Hurricanes because of alignment errors, but they have a good coaching staff, and I expect those to be shored up. Louisville is the more tested team, and has more dynamic playmakers.
Tennessee (-3 ½) at South Carolina. This is two programs going in opposite directions. Tennessee is on the upswing under Jeremy Pruitt, who came from Alabama. They finished last season strong and won a bowl game, and those extra practices with a developing team will come in even more valuable now that teams have been limited in preparation. Will Muschamp has been a disappointment at South Carolina, and so far is an example of a great defensive coordinator who isn’t a great head coach. I’d normally wait to bet this hoping the line would go to 3, but I don’t expect the line to move that direction.
Baylor (-17 ½) vs, Kansas. A perfect example of a “right side” was my week #1 bet on Coastal Carolina against Kansas. I’m dipping my bucket back in that well here because Kansas just doesn’t have the horses to compete. Les Miles recruited all freshmen, which is the right thing to do to build the program, but won’t pay off until they have a couple of years to grow and mature. After having two games postponed to start the year because of COVID-19, it’s possible Baylor isn’t quite ready to play, but Baylor beat Kansas by 55 last year, and has won the last eight meetings by an average of 41 points. This is the perfect opponent to break in against.
Liberty (-7) vs. Florida International. Florida International comes into this season with only four starters back on offense, then didn’t have spring practice and hasn’t played a game yet. Liberty is an under the radar program that has a great coach in Hugh Freeze, an explosive offense with a quarterback who transferred from Auburn and played well last week in dominating Western Kentucky.
New England (-6) vs. Las Vegas. The last time the Raiders played in New England, Tom Brady fumbled. That’s all I’m going to say about that. This week, though, an early start game, in a short week, off two consecutive satisfying wins, is a poor scheduling situation for the Raiders.
Houston (+4) at Pittsburgh. The Texans are 0-2, but they’ve lost to the Chiefs and Ravens. Pretty much every other team in the league would be 0-2 if they started off with that schedule. But the Texans still have a playoff caliber roster, and they’re playing a 2-0 Steelers team that has underwhelming wins over the Giants and Broncos, who lost their quarterback and still had a chance to win. After chasing Pat Mahomes and Lamar Jackson the last two weeks, the Texans defenders can at least rush this week knowing where Ben Roethlisberger is going to be. I think Deshaun Watson will find a way to pull this one out.
Atlanta (-3 ½) vs. Chicago. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m betting this game at -3, but it’s 3 ½ at William Hill on Wednesday, so I’ll track the win or loss at that line for this column. Obviously, the big question about this game is whether the Falcons can mentally bounce back from that debacle at Dallas last Sunday, and that’s certainly a valid concern. What’s not a question is that the Falcons can move the ball and put points on the board against anyone, while the Bears might need five plays to score even if the defense left the field.
Before I begin with my weekly rant, it’s important to note that last week, 7 of the 16 NFL favorites covered the point spread, although only two ‘dogs (the Rams and the Raiders) won their games. In Week #1, 9 of the 16 NFL favorites won and covered the spread.
That means a lot of close games. I grew up with the notion that the team that won covered the point spread 80 percent of the time. Clearly, that is not the case for the first two weeks. Was my notion growing up incorrect? Well, according to the Washington Post, since 2003, NFL favorites have covered the point spread only 49.9 percent of the time. So, either my notion growing up was incorrect or things have changed. The answer to that question really doesn’t matter, because we are betting in the present, and, right now, favorites cover the point spread just shy of half the time. Give points when you think you should, but beware.
If you have made more than a couple of bets, you no doubt have been the victim of at least one “bad beat”. A bad beat is a bet you think you have won, but you somehow lose. One of the worst that happened to me is the 1994 Michigan-Colorado football game. I had Michigan in a 10-team parlay for $5, meaning if I won, I would collect $4,000. I won 9 of 10, losing only the Michigan-Colorado game. I was winning (actually, Michigan was winning) with 6 seconds left by the score of 26-21. Colorado had the ball at midfield and Kordell Stewart heaved the ball on the last play of the game 60 yards into 4 players, two Michigan and two Colorado, in the end zone. Somehow, Michael Westbrook caught the ball for a touchdown and I (actually Michigan) lost.
But it’s worse than that, much worse. The Michigan safety on that play, #35, was Charles Winters, who, somehow, let Westbrook get behind him and out battle Michigan defender #22 Ty Law. When Winters was a high school freshman at St. Martin DePorres in Detroit, I was his English teacher. Charles and I had the sort of relationship where we could talk smack to each other and laugh about it. Charles was a great athlete who was later drafted by the Kansas City Royals and won a Grey Cup with the Toronto Argonauts. Charles gave me his baseball schedule when he saw that I was interested in sports and would tease me about why I missed some of his baseball games. When I asked him what he wanted to become when he grew up, Charles would laugh and say, “I wanna be a teacher”, then laugh and look to see who else was watching. What made that whole day bearable, and teaching worthwhile, was that when they put Charles’ picture on the screen, for his major it said “Education”.
Another bad beat for me was the Atlanta Braves-Pittsburgh Pirates National League Championship Series. I did well on my fantasy baseball team that year and bet the entire $300 I won on the Pirates to win that series, who were big underdogs. Going into the bottom of the ninth, I (actually the Pirates) was winning by 3 runs. Right from the start of the inning it was clear this was not going to be easy for the Pirates to close it out. Walks, a couple of cheap hits, errors, a couple of bad calls and the Braves were down by one, and had runners on second and third, and two outs. The Braves sent up Francisco Cabrera to pinch hit. Just then, my sister-in-law called to congratulate me on my win…OH, NO!! The kiss of death. Sure enough, after almost hitting a home run, Cabrera lined a sharp single to left that scored David Justice from third and Sid Bream from second, who was so slow his 40 was timed with a calendar. Braves win, Braves win. I haven’t talked to my sister-in-law since.
One of my friends lost when he bet the under and Arizona’s “Desert Swarm” defense intentionally had their punter take a safety by running 30 yards backwards into the end zone on the last play of the game that put the total over by ½ point. I lost a game once when the New Orleans Saints were covering the point spread with 30 seconds to go but then threw a pick six while attempting to spike the ball and did not cover. Another buddy lost a horse race when, at the top of the stretch, he yelled, “The only way I can lose now is if the horse breaks his leg.” And the horse proceeded to do exactly that. My son lost a game because the coach of the Lions didn’t know how to properly challenge a referee’s call. My friend Tommy lost an over bet by ½ point when the score remained unchanged from the middle of the 2nd Quarter through overtime, during which time 4 field goals of less than 20 yards were missed. And on, and on.
That’s why bettors don’t like games being even remotely close. We know what can happen.
This week’s picks against the spread at William Hill Sports Book on Tuesday, Sept. 22.
Patriots (-6) vs. Las Vegas. It’ll be tough for the Raiders on a short week with a long trip.
Giants (+4 ½) vs. San Francisco. Talk about a tough week for the 49ers!! Even the MRI truck broke down??
Cowboys vs. Seahawks Over 56. I don’t normally like betting totals, but both these teams will score over 30.
Saints (-3) vs. Packers. They’ll bounce back. They always have, at home.
Ravens (-3 ½) vs. Chiefs. The extra ½ point makes me nervous, but the Ravens are the best team right now, and they’re at home.