Week #4 picks: Bet with your head, or with your heart?

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By Jim Vallet and Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter

Jim’s picks

All bettors face this dilemma. My favorite team is playing and I want to bet on them. But, either the line doesn’t look good to me, or I don’t feel right about my team’s situation. So, should I bet on my team anyway (bet with my heart) or should I either bet against them, or not bet at all (bet with my head). 

In football, I can’t bet against the Detroit Lions, Michigan, or Notre Dame. What do I do every Thanksgiving, the only time the Lions are guaranteed to be on TV here? The Lions have a bad won-lost record over the last, oh, 50 years or so, but they have been simply AWFUL against the spread. Michigan, when they were really good, only ran up a score when Bo Schembechler was mad at the other team, so since they were giving lots of points they didn’t cover a lot. Notre Dame, because of its national following, is ALWAYS giving too many points, so they have not covered a lot, either. So, should I make what I believe is a bad bet so I can cheer for my squads, or not bet at all, since I CAN’T bet against them?

I learned my lesson from my dad. My dad was a good man, the life of every party, and I miss him every day, but he was also a bad bettor, because my dad bet with his heart. 

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Because my dad loved the Lions, he made a season-long bet in a season where the Lions went 4-10, on the Lions straight up. He didn’t get a single point even when the line was Lions +10. For that year, my dad lost $600 when he didn’t have to. He also lost $500 when Tom Dempsey kicked a then record 63-yard field goal on the game’s final play to beat the Lions in a game where Lions star Alex Karras said he would “walk home” if the Lions lost.

Because my dad loved the NFL, he didn’t like the upstart AFL (he called that league, “the AF of L”. I was too young to know that there is a labor union with that title). So, when Joe Namath and the Jets played the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III, my dad gave 9-1 odds on $100 and lost $900 because he didn’t want to give 17 points. 

Because my dad loved the Michigan and Notre Dame fight songs (and they are, without a doubt, the best fight songs in the history of the world) he loved their football teams, and if my dad loved a team, he bet on it). Sadly for us, although the won-lost records of Michigan and Notre Dame have been very good over the years, the records of these two teams against the spread had not been good. 

Because my dad believed that sporting events were, “rigged”, his goal was to be in on the fix. So, what’s the point of researching the two teams when the real information was in knowing what the “real deal” was? In fairness to my father, Detroit sports at that time were riddled with betting scandals involving horse racing, pro football and baseball, and college sports. He believed this so much that, instead of reading the program, he would take me to the track when I was very young and have me stand by the $50 window and then report to him which horse those bettors were betting on. I don’t remember if this method of picking horses was successful or not, but I suspect it wasn’t.

As a result of all of this, my dad lost money on sports gambling. He bet with his heart. I suggest you bet with your head.

I still miss my dad, but I suspect he’s still making bad bets with his heart in heaven.

Here’s my picks for this week, although if you look at my season record, maybe you should use your head in deciding whether to follow my advice. Spreads are according to espn.com/dailylines on Wednesday, Sept. 30.

Dallas Cowboys (-4.5) vs. Cleveland Browns. Cowboys have not been good so far, but they have too much talent not to turn it around and this is the perfect time and opponent.

Miami Dolphins (+6.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks. Long trip, time change, a couple of close (lucky?) wins in a row, no pass rush all gang up to beat MVP to-this-point Russell Wilson and his crew.

Houston Texans (-4.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings. Houston beats mediocre teams and struggles against good ones.

Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) at Tennessee Titans. Unfair advantage for the Steelers due to Titan Covid scare. Pittsburgh is good on its own, and the Steelers don’t need any help.

Buffalo Bills (-3) at Las Vegas Raiders. The Bills are good. We’ll see about the Raiders.

Philadelphia Eagles (+7) at San Francisco 49ers. George Kittle is back, but how can the 49ers cover a 7 point spread? Philadelphia is desperate. 

Last week

College 0-0

NFL 2-3

Season

College 0-0

NFL 8-8

Robert’s picks

I had a much different idea in mind for the lead-in to my picks this week, until I read Jim’s, which compelled me to provide a counterpoint. Sort of.

For many bettors, Jim is right on point. I’ve had this conversation with probably hundreds of bettors over the 30 some years I’ve been betting on sports, and I’ve found that most of them share Jim’s opinion – they can’t bet against their favorite teams, and when they bet ON their favorite teams, they’re usually overly optimistic.

I’m on the other side of that coin. I have no problem betting against my favorite teams. I do it all the time. I am 100 percent unsentimental when it comes to betting. The part of my brain that controls my emotional response to my teams winning and losing is completely disconnected from the part that analyzes what I think is going to happen in a game. In fact, I’ve often wished I had the discipline to only bet on or against my favorite teams, because I tend to get in pretty good sync with teams I follow closely and have a good idea when they’re primed to win, or lose.

In fact, tracking how I did betting on my favorite teams is how I began tracking every team I bet on and against, so I could see if I was repeatedly winning or losing on the same teams. Through the years, I’ve found that my winning percentage when I bet on teams I follow closely is much higher than my overall percentage. But even more valuable than knowing when to bet on or against them, being familiar with them helps me recognize when a game is not a play. When you consider that with the vigorish, a loss costs you 10 percent more than a win gains, avoiding a loser is more valuable than betting a winner.

The picks:

Auburn (+6 ½) at Georgia. Auburn was one of the most talented teams in the country last year, except they were held back by an inexperienced freshman quarterback. But Bo Nix looked like a completely different player last week in Auburn’s debut against Kentucky, avoiding the kind of mistakes that killed the Tigers a year ago. If he can successfully manage a game, in addition to his playmaking abilities, every team in the country will have their hands full with Auburn. Georgia is the one with an unproven quarterback this time. This is the best matchup of the season so far, and I’ll take a touchdown in what I consider a tossup game.

North Texas (-1 ½) vs. Southern Mississippi. This is a bet against Southern Miss, which got outscored 66-10 after taking a 14-0 lead on Tulane last week. But lest that makes it appear as a reactionary take, this is a program in disarray. Coach Jay Hopson resigned after the team lost its first game against South Alabama, lost to Louisiana Tech when that team had almost half its roster quarantined because of Covid-19 contact tracing, and then imploded against Tulane. Granted, the Mean Green defense has only lived up to the green part of that moniker so far, but with an offense that averages 619 yards per game, almost evenly balanced between the run and the pass, I expect North Texas to manage to at the very least put up one score more than Southern Miss.

Jacksonville (+3) at Cincinnati. Joe Burrow has been sacked 14 times in three games, and the Bengals rank 30th in the NFL in rushing with just 70 yards per game. If your offensive line is that bad, you shouldn’t be laying a field goal to any team in the NFL.

Houston (-4 ½) vs. Minnesota. The Texans put up a good battle, but couldn’t quite get there at Pittsburgh last week. The Texans have lost to the Chiefs, Ravens and Steelers, so this is the softest defense they’ve seen. I’m willing to give them one more chance, in a battle of winless teams.

San Francisco (-7) vs. Philadelphia. Even with all their injuries, the 49ers can rely on the same recipe that saw them easily handle the Jets and Giants the past two weeks. The Eagles have almost as many injuries as the 49ers, and have fewer weapons, so the 49ers can control the game with the running game, short passes and a few big plays sprinkled in, while the Eagles have trouble sustaining drives.

Last week

College 2-1-1

NFL 1-2

Season

College 5-3-1

NFL 5-6

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