First thing's first: I'm not really a "good" gambler, and in my experience, anyone that claims to be really good at this stuff is either lucky, or lying. So let's not do that. My credentials for this column consist of a decade's worth of gambling, and mostly breaking even. But that's something, right?!
In any case, gambling's one of the biggest reasons I love football, and given the number of NFL gambling columns out there, I'm clearly not alone. So when the higher-ups at SB Nation asked one of us to pair with Odd Shark to write a column about NFL gambling, I jumped at the chance. Not as an expert, but as someone with a
complicated system for how to win each weekend an amateur's enthusiasm and addict's dedication. So... How do non-experts gamble?
First off, we can read the NFL Standings and see which teams aren't as good as their record would indicate (and vice versa), and we can also keep an eye on which teams are being overvalued based on misleading games the week before. Then, looking at the Vegas odds and lines for each week, we can go through a pick a few games to exploit. And by we, I mean me.
Then you can laugh at my pain when I come out looking like a complete f**king fool.
Like this week, when I'm pretty much guaranteed to lose after winning money for the first three weeks of the NFL season. Here's Sunday's lines courtesy of OddsShark.com:
- New York Jets (- 5.5) at Buffalo
- Detroit at Green Bay (-14)
- Baltimore at Pittsburgh (-1)
- Denver at Tennessee (-6.5)
- San Francisco at Atlanta (-7)
- Cincinnati (-3) at Cleveland
- Carolina at New Orleans (-13.5)
- Seattle (-1) at St. Louis
- Houston (-3.5) at Oakland
- Indianapolis (-8) at Jacksonville
- Washington at Philadelphia (-6)
- Arizona at San Diego (-8)
- Chicago at New York Giants (-4)
- New England (-1) at Miami
Rather than break down each game, we'll pick five to breakdown. "Five for the Money," you say? No, that's a terrible name. But these are five games that even Wade Phillips could figure out. I think. My picks in bold.
1. New York Jets (-5.5) at Buffalo
Thanks to Odds Shark's little tidbits of information, I found out that the Jets are 1-10 against the spread in their last 11 October road games. On the other side, Buffalo is 8-2 against the spread in their last 10 October home games. So what do we make of those numbers?
Well, clearly, we're due for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction. The Bills haven't been good enough to have an .800 winning percentage at anything, let alone something related to football success. And the Jets are better this year than they've been in years. Mark Sanchez has shown signs of competence in recent weeks, the defense continues to kick everyone's ass, and they're coming off a huge road win in Miami.
More importantly, Buffalo isn't getting enough points here. The Bills looked good against New England, but the Patriots defense doesn't hold a candle to New York's. And do you really think Ryan Fitzpatrick is going to have two good games in a row? THE Ryan Fitzpatrick? This one's going to get ugly for him.
2. Seattle (-1) at St. Louis
Ah... Another team that's getting overvalued after surprising us last week. But did the Rams really surprise anyone, or was it the Redskins that surprised the world by losing to the worst team in football?
I'm going with the second option there. Seattle's 5-0 in their last five trips to St. Louis, and the Seahawks are looking like the best team in the NFC West at this point. By default, of course, but still. If Seattle's destiny is to become the 8-8 champions of the NFC West, winning games like this is what's going to get them there. It'd be one thing if Seattle was favored by six or seven, but with giving just one? Take the 'Hawks.
3. Baltimore (+1) at Pittsburgh
Do you think the Steelers are going undefeated without Big Ben? If someone had asked you that before the season, you'd have laughed them out of the room. But here we are, and Pittsburgh is a game away from making us all look stupid.
Then again, it just feels wrong. Charlie Batch looked pretty spectacular last week, leading many of us to forget that he's Charlie Batch. There's a reason we all thought the Steelers would be screwed this first month, and that reason is Charlie Batch. Plus, Peter King tweeted this during Sunday's game:
There's nothing more satisfying than betting against the scrappy, mediocre players that sportswriters like King absolutely LOVE. When you win, it's not even about the money. It's like a victory for reason and sanity. So for that alone, it's worth gambling that Joe Flacco can repeat last week's performance and lead the Ravens to victory on Sunday. "Chuck" Batch? GTFO.
4. Indianapolis (-8) at Jacksonville
This is just stupid. The Jaguars are a mess, David Garrard is David Garrard, and Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning. But doesn't it seem like these teams constantly play close games? Jacksonville won in Indianapolis last year, 23-21, and dropped the second game, 31-24, after they gave up a 10-point second half lead.
For whatever reason, the Jaguars seem less overwhelmed by Indy than the rest of league. Plus, throw in the Colts injuries, a terrible run defense vs. Maurice Jones-Drew, and Jacksonville playing at home (grasping at straws now), and eight points just seems a little high. Whatever you want to say about Jacksonville this year, David Garrard's a Pro Bowl quarterback. Can't take that away from him.
Seriously. Take Jacksonville. At worst, it'll feed a healthy resentment toward Peyton Manning.
5. Houston (-3.5) at Oakland
This one's tough, because we're almost at the point of the season where Oakland begins winning games just to screw with us. That, and Houston looked awful at home last week, and could very well revert to their mediocre performance from the past few years. Every year, the Texans find new and creative ways to tease us into taking them seriously, only to revert to form by October.
It's October now, and you know what? Time for the Texans to die. I originally picked the Texans, but after writing the paragraph above, it just doesn't feel right. Andre Johnson's banged up, they're heading cross country, and the Raiders are just crazy enough to win a game like this. And the Texans are just gutless enough to lose. Especially when you consider they should have lost Week 2 in Washington... Maybe we're overvaluing Houston a little bit.
So I'm taking Oakland. And it's a perfect example of why this column may very well destroy my life. Here I am talking myself into betting on Bruce Gradkowski and Tom Cable to win. And I'm going to gamble on it, because now, I rationalize every risk by saying, "It's for work!" This is terrible, and it's dangerous. I'm betting on Bruce Gradkowski? Just shoot me in the face.
Hunter S. Thompson once said, "Maybe it's true that habitual gambling really is a fatal disease worse than brain cancer. I will do some research and report back next week on my Findings." And I'm about to become a guinea pig, myself. For work, technically, but that only makes it worse. I'll report back next week.