Week #7 picks: Tales from the sportsbook
Robert Perea and Jim Vallet, The Fernley Reporter
As any astute people watcher can attest, conventional wisdom is often not very wise. Nowhere is that more on display than in a sportsbook.
One of the jobs I had as I worked myself through college was for Leroy’s Sports in Las Vegas. Then, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I worked in the Cal-Neva satellite sportsbooks in Carson City as a second job. In my younger days, I also used to like to hang out in sports books to watch games, although I don’t anymore, because of mobile sports betting apps, and because I can’t stand the stupid things sports fans argue about.
Some of the dumbest things you will ever see and hear happen on Sunday mornings in sportsbooks. It’s a treasure trove of misinformation that can work to your great advantage, if you have the guts to bet against conventional wisdom.
During those years working in the sportsbooks in Carson City, I used to work on Sunday mornings with my friend Shon. We would keep mental track of the teams everyone seemed to be on, and when the morning rush ended, usually about five minutes before the 10 a.m. kickoffs, we would always look at each other and agree on the one team that everybody was betting against, and nobody was betting on.
We used to call that team the St. Jude play of the day. St. Jude, if you aren’t familiar, is the Patron Saint of Lost Causes. One year, of the 15 Sundays we worked together, the St. Jude play of the day won 11 times and pushed once.
Another friend and I have a saying for when we are in a sportsbook and we hear a bettor touting some play that convinces us he is going to lose. Whenever one of us hears that, we will call or text the other and say “God sent me a simpleton.”
My favorite example of that is the 1999 BCS Championship game between Virginia Tech and Florida St. As I’m wont to do, I’d spent most of two weeks analyzing that game, and I went to the Carson City Nugget to bet on the Hokies. But while I was standing in line, a homeless man plopped down a baggie full of change on the counter and asked “How much do I have to bet to win $5 on Virginia Tech?” I knew right then that whether it was a blowout, or something fluky, there was no way Virginia Tech was going to win, and I bet everything I had in my pocket on Florida St.
Now that I don’t hang out in sportsbooks, I rarely have those experiences. But last Sunday, before the morning games kicked off, I happened to notice the bet percentages posted on Covers.com, which are complied from various online sportsbooks. To my chagrin, the two most heavily bet sides happened to be the two games I picked in this column last week, the Vikings and Rams. I knew I was going 0-2 before any games even started.
Then, while updating my database Sunday evening with my latest losing efforts, I came to a horrifying realization. So far this year, I’m the simpleton.
The picks (Lines as of Wednesday at William Hill):
Georgia Southern (+5 ½) at Coastal Carolina. Coastal Carolina is 4-0 and ranked in the top 25 for the first time in school history, heady stuff for a team that hadn’t won more than four games in its first three years in the FBS. But now instead of being the underdog, like they were in all three of their wins against FBS teams so far this season, they’re the favorite and have to find a way to win by a margin, in a game that sets up as a trouble spot for them. After the highest profile win in their four years in FBS, on ESPN against Arkansas St. last week, they face a team whose strength, running the football, matches straight up against their own weakness, stopping the run. Grayson McCall and C.J. Marable are good enough that they’re going to make a few plays and put points on the board, but Shai Werts and a deep stable of running backs should be able to match them.
Minnesota (+3) vs. Michigan. Minnesota was absolutely a better team last year than Michigan, but this line means Michigan is being rated to close to a touchdown better on a neutral field. But Michigan only has three starters back on offense. It’s entirely possible that one of their two quarterbacks, either sophomore Joe Milton, or Damonte Ranch graduate Cade McNamara, are an upgrade over last year’s starter, Shea Patterson, but I absolutely know what to expect from Minnesota’s Tanner Morgan, because he’s proven it.
Miami (-12 ½) vs. Virginia. I never understood why Bronco Mendenhall left BYU for Virginia, but in his first couple years there, he did better than expected. But this year, despite Mendenhall being a defensive specialist, the Cavaliers can’t stop the run or the pass, and they’ve gone through four quarterbacks on offense, and still haven’t found any consistency. Miami doesn’t need a kill to cover this spread, just a solid victory, and that’s what I expect from them.
Air Force (-7) at San Jose St. I wasn’t expecting much when Air Force played Navy a couple weeks ago, because the Academy offered “turnbacks” to the players, allowing them to sit out up to two semesters of their enlistment due to COVID-19, which about 40 players accepted. But as the Navy game showed, the Falcons are still going to be adept at running the option, while the Spartans had to hold practice in Humboldt County because of restrictions in Santa Clara County. The one common theme we’ve seen this season is that it’s taking even good defenses two or three games to catch up to offenses, and I’d expect the disrupted preparation is going to have the Spartans all out of sorts trying to stop the option.
Green Bay (-3 ½) at Houston. After getting hit and harassed all day at Tamp Bay last week, Aaron Rodgers faces a much softer defense here that allows the third most yards in the league. Houston has played with abandon since Bill O’Brien was fired and probably will here too, but if the Packers are a Super Bowl contender, they take care of business here.
Carolina (+7 ½) at New Orleans. The Saints are allowing 30 pints per game on defense, and I’ll take any competent foe against that kind of defense. Carolina is better than competent.
Ezekiel Elliott had a bad game Monday night on national TV. “Zeke” fumbled twice, and had a season low 49 yards rushing in the Cowboys’ embarrassing, worse-than-the-score 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The two fumbles lost raised his season total to four fumbles lost, or one less than his entire NFL career going into this season.
After his second lost fumble, the Cowboys’ running back was shown pointing to himself, taking the blame for the fumble. Elliott continued to throw himself under the bus after the game, saying the loss was on him due to his limited production and two lost fumbles.
Zeke, Zeke, Zeke!! That’s not how we do it in America today! When someone, anyone messes up, that person blames someone, or something else! That person changes the subject! That person makes nonsensical claims to distract from the real issue! That person would say, “Well, what about Barry Sanders? He once lost three fumbles in one game.”
I will admit, I was not an Ezeziel Elliott fan before Tuesday. I don’t know him at all, but there have been reports of domestic violence, a skirmish with a security guard, and other issues with the law. But hearing Elliott take the blame for a Cowboys’ loss in which there was plenty of blame to go around in our country’s current climate compels me to do my best to try and help my new buddy Zeke out. Here’s how I suggest Ezekiel Elliott spin his bad day:
+” The NFL is forcing me to give up my rights and wear a helmet when I play. Me and Antonio Brown are on the same page with this one. The helmet cramps my hair and impairs my vision. I have the right to not wear a helmet if I choose.”
+ “The new coach is not using me correctly. I need to be fed the ball. I need a good game plan. I have the right to get the ball whenever I want it. Me and Le’Veon Bell are simpatico with this.”
+ “ Our offensive line sucks. I have been very generous to my offensive linemen in the past, but not this year. If they want me to produce, they have to block.”
+ ”The governor of Texas is killing me. He’s only allowing 10,000 people at our games. How am I supposed to get motivated?”
+ “I’m doing a great job at protecting the ball. I’m rounding the corner on fumbles, and I will be back to normal by next week.”
+ “ The schedule makers are biased against the Cowboys. We play in a very tough division, and then we’re supposed to go play the Cardinals? It’s a fact that it’s tougher to win at home, and we have to come out of a tough division against the Cardinals at home and win?”
+ “The stats people are spreading fake news. I really didn’t fumble, I merely dropped the ball. There is a difference.”
+ “ The other teams have been cheating. The Patriots deflated the ball, and I caught them. If you look at the video I tweeted, you can see the Falcons had 13 men on the field! I caught teams filming our sidelines! Lock them up!”
Sadly, Ezekiel Elliott is not the only one who needs to spin last week’s performance. In a performance that truly rivals Elliott’s Monday night effort, yours truly only managed to pick one game 1 game in 5 correctly. Using Maryann’s mascot method or Shelly’s uniform color method from last week’s column could not possibly have produced worse results. So, here’s how I spin my own poor performance:
- “My record last week was great. I’m really doing a great job
+ “My computer and all the NFL shows are feeding me fake news! How can the NFL Network rate the Packers as #1 the way they looked? How can anyone say the 49ers are dead because of their “injuries” and rate the Rams as the second best team in the NFC with what happened Sunday night? How can anyone say that Denver Broncos’ coach Vic Fangio looks like he’s asleep on the sidelines the way the Broncos hammered the Patriots? It’s all a hoax.”
+ “The oddsmakers are biased against me! They let their bet writers take long breaks and do not allow me to set whatever lines I want
for the games!”
+ “The Fernley Reporter is anti-Vallet! Perea changes my correct picks to wrong ones! There should be an investigation, I have the goods on them.”
+ “What about Chris Berman when he was on ESPN? His record against the spread was 2-222!”
Here are my picks against the spread. Lines are from espn.com/nfldailylines as of Wednesday, Oct. 21.
Pittsburgh Steelers (+1) at Tennessee Titans. The Steelers defend the run well, and will force Ryan Tannehill to beat them through the air. I don’t think he can.
Green Bay Packers (-3.5) at Houston Texans. I don’t know what happened to the Packers last week.
Arizona Cardinals (+3.5) vs Seattle Seahawks The Seahawks will struggle to stop the Cardinals, but will put up points themselves. I like getting 3 ½ points at home.
Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) at Denver Broncos. Good game last week, Broncos, but field goals alone will not cover against KC.
Las Vegas Raiders (+3) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both these teams have been up and down, and I think I’m onto their ups and downs.