I’ve always considered myself an optimist.
For instance, I believe world peace is a realistic goal (well, so long as you don’t include the Middle East). I believe the UNLV football team will play in—and win—another bowl game before the apocalypse hits. I believe there’s a special place in hell reserved for the Kardashian sisters, the cast of Jersey Shore, Ashton Kutcher and every other talentless “celebrity” who fell ass-backward into millions while the rest of us schleps grind it out 24/7 just so we can pay the mortgage (not that I’m bitter or anything).
Finally, I believe there will be a 2011 NFL season, even while those close to the labor dispute continue to predict doom and gloom. Local sports books, which stand to lose millions if the season gets sacked or even truncated, must share my optimism, as they continue to accept futures wagers on teams to win the AFC and NFC as well as the Super Bowl.
Of course, the longer the bickering between billionaires (NFL owners) and millionaires (players) drags on, the more likely it is that bookmakers will take down those futures odds and replace them with such props as “What will happen first: UNLV wins two games or the NFL season kicks off?” (Actually, the Nevada Gaming Commission prohibits that type of noncompetitive action, but you better believe sports book directors would post such odds if they could.)
But as long as local books are operating under the premise that a full 16-game season will be played, let’s go ahead and dissect some of those futures numbers and see if we can uncover some value. (Note: All odds are as of April 25 and courtesy of Station Casinos.)
AFC: The Patriots (14-to-5) are once again the favorites … and somewhere Bill Belichick is frowning about it. Much as I despise New England, it’s easy to understand the oddsmakers’ viewpoint. Led by QB Tom Brady, the Patriots are coming off an NFL-best 14-2 season, and what few holes Belichick has he can plug with the nine picks he possesses in this week’s draft (including three of the first 33). Plus, the majority of New England’s toughest nondivision games are at home (Chargers, Cowboys, Giants, Chiefs and Colts).
As good as the Patriots figure to be, though, I’d never recommend placing a futures bet on a favorite because it’s impossible to get legitimate value. The same theory applies to the group of teams behind New England, including the Ravens (9-to-2); Steelers, Jets and Colts (all 5-to-1); and Chargers (6-to-1). However, if I were to make an exception (and get at least 7-to-1 odds), I’d consider Baltimore, which has reached the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
Long shots in the AFC? How about the Texans (10-to-1), who will be in the hunt if they can field an average defense to complement an explosive offense, and Dolphins (25-to-1), who won seven games last year even though QB Chad Henne had more interceptions (19) than TD passes (15).
NFC: The defending champion Packers (5-to-2) get the nod, but they’re unbettable for two reasons: 1) Along with the Steelers, they’re the most “public” team in Vegas, so the odds are always adjusted in anticipation of Cheeseheads rolling through town in the offseason; and 2) the “Super Bowl Hangover” syndrome is real (none of the last five Super Bowl champs won a playoff game, and only two qualified for the postseason).
Right behind Green Bay are the Falcons (5-to-1) and Saints (5-to-1), and I like both teams for different reasons (Atlanta QB Matt Ryan has another year of experience; New Orleans was decimated by injuries last year and still went 11-5). However, it’s a third squad from the NFC South that I’m eyeing: The Buccaneers (12-to-1). Many forget (or never even knew) that if Tampa Bay hadn’t lost a Week 15 home game to Detroit in overtime (and the Lions at the time had lost 26 straight road contests), the Bucs would’ve made the playoffs at the expense of … the Packers!
QB Josh Freeman made huge strides in his sophomore season, and the young defense allowed 17 points or less in six of the last eight games. Throw in a manageable schedule (toughest nondivision road game is either Tennessee or San Francisco), and I’m high on the 2011 Bucs—assuming, of course, that there is a 2011 Bucs.
NBA AIR BALLS: The results are in on two of my NBA playoff wagers, and let’s just say I was about as accurate as Shaquille O’Neal from the free-throw line. First, the Bulls took a 3-0 series lead on Indiana but failed to complete the four-game sweep ($100). Even worse, the Knicks ($50) got swept by the Celtics (the only first-round sweep), dropping my bankroll to $7,486. My only other first-round series play ($50 on the Trail Blazers over the Mavericks) was in trouble, as Dallas was up 3-2 at press time. No truth to the rumor that if I go 0-for-3, the Cavaliers will offer me a contract.