Gamblor was correct in both of the games last week, going 2-0, but unfortunately it wasn’t confident enough in either pick to wager any money, so it’s take for the week was absolutely nothing. Of course, as I keep mentioning, Gamblor’s picks are only theoretical during the postseason. Which is rather unfortunate because it has done quite well, having put together a record of 7-3 so far for a weighted win percentage of 84.1% and a theoretical profit of $456. However, considering its performance last year during the playoffs (I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but trust me, it was bad) I’m not quite ready to let it off the leash in January just yet.
The only true guarantee in sports gambling is that there’s no such thing as a sure thing. Time and time again this has been proven to us by the casinos, as teams that seem like guaranteed locks somehow find a way to shit the bed and fail to cover – or lose outright. Unfortunately, that’s the way the system works – or there wouldn’t be a system at all. If you’re like most gamblers out there, including me, you’ve ended the season down a few chips thanks to all those sure things that turned out to be duds. I’m convinced that this year’s Superbowl will turn out to be yet another cautionary tale of how the house always finds a way to win. We’ll probably see Peyton Manning deliver a stellar performance but get handcuffed by shady officiating, and the Saints will score a late touchdown to cut the Colts’ margin of victory to just less than the spread. That kind of shit happens all the time when Vegas is involved. But occasionally, every once in a blue moon, the tables turn, and the casinos are the ones who watch in horror as a single freak bounce of the football costs them millions and millions of dollars in the span of a few horrifying seconds. Which brings me to my feature for the week:
(To watch this video, right-click and hit play)
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For this countdown I have to thank several contributors – the incomparable Walter Cherepinsky of walterfootball.com, who has been handicapping for ten solid years and is still incredibly polite and encouraging to neophytes like me, Steve Makinen of statfox.com, which has been an invaluable resource without which Gamblor might not even exist, and poker pro Joe Pelton, who is a thorough class act and is definitely someone you should be watching (and rooting) for at the WSOP in May.
The Sportsbooks’ Top 5 Worst Bad Beats of All Time:
5. New England Patriots 25, Buffalo Bills 21. November 29, 1998. It’s a rare occurrence that officials will call interference on a Hail Mary pass – it has only happened once in recent memory, in this year’s contest between the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns where Matt Stafford managed to pull himself together after a shoulder injury to toss the winning touchdown on an untimed play from the one yard line. When hosting the Buffalo Bills in 1998, the New England Patriots benefited from a similar call that enabled them to win the game in an identical fashion – with an untimed touchdown pass from the one yard line. This game is actually widely credited for bringing instant replay back to the NFL, as the Patriots had benefited from a questionable call on fourth down earlier during their final drive, where Bills players later reported hearing one official say to another “just give it to them.” But the way that this game killed the books was the twist that came after the Patriots scored to take a 23-21 lead. With the Patriots laying three points, it looked to be a certain push for the books – a very pleasant prospect considering that the majority of money was on the home team. But Buffalo coach Wade Phillips, disgusted with the interference call, ordered his team to leave the field and Patriots kicker Adam Vinatieri walked the ball into the end zone for an uncontested two point conversion – covering the spread for the Patriots and costing the books quite a bit of money.
4. Jacksonville Jaguars 30, Pittsburgh Steelers 21. September 22, 1997. The kickers in this year’s playoffs, led by the normally automatic puppy-eyed Nate Kaeding, have been notoriously awful. But that doesn’t compare with the kicking disaster that befell the books early in the 1997 season. After a trip to the AFC conference championship in 1996 and a 2-0 start to their season, the Jaguars were looking strong hosting the 1-1 Pittsburgh Steelers in a widely anticipated Monday Night Football matchup. It was Jacksonville’s first chance to host a Monday night game, and fans flocked to both the stadium (setting an attendance record of 73,016) and the sportsbooks to show their support for the team, which was favored by four points. The sportsbooks enjoyed the close contest, and felt relieved when Jacksonville was held to a short field goal with just over four minutes left to take a 23-21 lead. Pittsburgh managed to mount a late drive, and got within field goal range with enough time left for a 40-yard game-winning attempt by kicker Norm Johnson. There really was only one thing that could happen that would enable the Jaguars to cover the spread. The field goal needed to be blocked. And the first defensive player to get near the blocked kick needed to ignore their coach’s instructions, channel their inner Leon Lett, and refuse to let the dying ball lay dead. That irrepressible bastard would need to successfully run the ball back 58 yards for a touchdown. Which is exactly what Jaguars safety Chris Hudson did.
3. New England Patriots 34, Cleveland Browns 17. October 7, 2007. In the first part of the 2007 season the Patriots were simply unstoppable. They had won their first four games by scores of 38-14, 38-14, 38-7, and 34-13. Furthermore, they had covered the spread in 9 of their last 10 games, and were facing a Cleveland team that had already lost to Oakland and only boasted victories over Cincinnati (who would finish the season 7-9) and Baltimore (who would end up 5-11). There was simply no way that Vegas could set a line high enough for this game, and most books finally settled with the Patriots favored from 15.5 to 16 points. And when New England jumped out to a 20-0 lead by the end of the first half it seemed as though the Patriots would yet again cost the books a small fortune. But Cleveland managed to claw their way back into the game (from a gambling perspective), scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to close the gap to 27-17. After pinning the Browns deep in their own territory with just 42 seconds remaining, New England was content to play a soft prevent defense and a classic backdoor cover, one of Vegas’ favorite occurrences, seemed likely. But Browns tight end Kellen Winslow was stripped of the ball by Patriots defensive back Randall Gay, who ran the ball in for a touchdown to cover the spread. And while this loss was devastating for the books, it wasn’t even the end – New England went on to cover their next three games as huge favorites. It wasn’t until Week 9 that the Patriots finally failed to cover a spread in their 24-20 victory against the Colts as 4.5 point favorites, ending a span where they covered the spread in 13 out of 14 games and cost the books an absolute fortune.
2. Tennessee Titans 22, Buffalo Bills 16. January 8, 2000. Normally, when officials make a questionable call at the end of the game (such as at the end of a 2008 game between the Steelers and the Chargers when a Troy Polamalu touchdown at the end of the regulation was erroneously stricken from the record books) it magically manages to benefit the sportsbooks. But the officials finally managed to screw over Vegas at the end of the wild card playoff game between the Titans and the Bills in 2000, an ending that has been since referred to as the “Music City Miracle.” The Titans, playing with home field advantage, were favored by four points and were also heavily favored by bettors. When the Titans scored a field goal to go up 15-13 with under two minutes remaining, the books were able to relax, figuring that even in the unlikely event of a Buffalo turnover, the Titans would be able to kill the clock. When Buffalo managed to kick a field goal to take the lead with just 16 seconds left on the clock, a Titans cover was pretty much unthinkable – all Buffalo needed to do was perform a squib kickoff and the Titans would be out of range for even a Hail Mary with the few seconds remaining on the clock. But Lorenzo Neil picked up the bouncing kick and handed it to tight end Frank Wycheck, who threw it from the middle of the field to the sideline where Kevin Dyson caught it and raced upfield for a thrilling 75-yard touchdown. The officials reviewed the play, but found inconclusive evidence to overturn, and the touchdown was upheld, leading to a 22-16 victory for the Titans and a heartbreaking defeat for both the Bills…and the books.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 35, Dallas Cowboys 31. January 21, 1979. The worst “bad beat” in sportsbook history, on a day that is referred to as “Black Sunday” by the oddsmakers, happened at the end of Superbowl XIII. When the books set the line for this game, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who were poised to win their fourth NFL title of the decade, were favored by 3.5 points. Money flowed in on the Steelers, enough to make the sportsbooks nervous. So they moved the line down to 4.5 points to balance things out. And it worked, many gamblers were enticed to take the Cowboys. When Pittsburgh scored a touchdown with seven minutes left in the game to go up 35-17, the books were feeling pretty comfortable. But Roger Staubach led the Cowboys on one of his familiar late-game drives and closed the gap to 35-24. And when Dallas recovered the ensuing onsides kick with just over two minutes left in the game, fingernails began to get chewed. Staubach led the Cowboys 52 yards in a nine play drive that ended when he tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Butch Johnson with just 22 seconds left in the game, leading to a final score of 35-31. Everyone who bet on the Steelers at -3.5 got paid, and everyone who bet on the Cowboys at +4.5 got paid. In other words, almost everyone who bet on the Superbowl that year won their bet. It was the biggest loss that sportsbooks ever suffered – and most likely ever will suffer – in a single game.
|NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
Gamblor’s Pick: Indianapolis (-4.5)
Bet Amount: $18.22
|WHY IT’S WRONG: Once again, considering pure statistics only, Gamblor thinks this line is a little on
the high side. To me, it now looks like a trap. The line opened at as high as 6 and my friend Tim warned me that he thought a middle opportunity would be available later in the week when the line came down. I thought he was wrong – bettors were already lining up to bet on Indianapolis. It seemed more likely to me that the books would slide the line upwards just a bit to 6.5 to push a little more money onto the Saints. But they have done the exact opposite.
The primary motivation for this shift has been the questionable condition of Dwight Freeney’s ankle. This is a pretty classic play on the insecurities of most gamblers (especially in an age where fantasy football is king) – that a single player’s performance will dramatically affect the game in one way or another. It won’t. Freeney is a great player, and he won’t be at 100%, but even if he were the plays he would make wouldn’t make as much of a difference as everyone seems to think.
Like everyone else, I think this game is basically going to boil down to how well each team’s offense functions. Peyton Manning is probably the player with the greatest football mind of my generation. It was incredible to watch him figure out the Jets defense – it was overwhelmingly apparent during his last drive of the first half that he knew how to beat them. It was like watching a talented mechanic diagnose an engine problem – once he figured out what the problem was, it was just a matter of selecting the right size wrench and turning it a few times.
It won’t be quite so easy for Drew Brees, although he’s also very capable of dissecting the Colts’ pass defense, which isn’t quite as good as it looks on paper. And the Saints have a running game to work with, which will spread them out a good bit more than the Jets were able to do. The Saints will be frustrated that they’re underdogs against the Colts – this should give them just enough extra motivation to keep this one close.
I’ll probably be rooting for whichever team is behind during this game – which I expect will be New Orleans. But with offenses that are this potent, things can change in a big hurry so I suspect my allegiances will chance once or twice during the game. I’m hoping for a close game, and as such, I see the Saints covering the spread. It’s hard to believe that Manning will let this one slip away in a season where he’s played the best football of his career, but I do think it won’t be by more than a field goal.
Enjoy the game this week, folks. And thanks for reading this season.
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