If you’ve lived in this town for more than five minutes, you’ve heard a version of what I like to call Las Vegas’ most obnoxious cliché: How do you think they were able to build all those extravagant hotels? I’m happy to report that the last 22 people who have dared to utter that garbage in my presence have gotten punched in the face (including a couple of relatives). I’m not, however, happy to report that said cliché punched me—and about 98 percent of the NFL betting public—in the face on Oct. 8. Really hard.
The backstory: Last week, my top play was the undefeated Houston Texans (who outscored their first four opponents by an average of 17.5 points per game) minus-7½ at the woeful New York Jets (who were coming off a 34-0 home loss to the 49ers and had their best defensive and offensive players go down with season-ending injuries in successive games). As the week went along, the line for the Monday-night contest jumped from 7½ to 8 … then 8½ … then 9 … then 9½ … then 10! If sportsbook directors had tried to give away Jets tickets to customers, they would’ve been rebuffed as though they had herpes.
You know how this ends: The Texans dominated for 2½ quarters, but kept settling for field goals instead of touchdowns; the Jets got the requisite kickoff return for a touchdown in the second half (plus a little Tim Tebow magic); Houston eked out a 23-17 win; and those aforementioned sportsbook directors popped champagne corks all over town as if it were New Year’s Eve.
And now you know why sometimes I hate the NFL more than Alex Rodriguez hates pressure. On to this week’s selections (note: all point spreads are as of Oct. 9) …
$330 on 49ers -5 vs. Giants: I’m not sure what Jim Harbaugh said or did to his team after its first loss of the year, but whatever it was, he should copyright it. Since a 24-13 upset loss in Minnesota, the 49ers have responded with victories over the Jets (road) and Bills (home) by the combined score of 79-3! Now San Francisco gets to exact some revenge on the Giants, who hijacked a Super Bowl appearance (and probably the Niners’ sixth Super Bowl trophy) with a 20-17 overtime win in last year’s NFC title game.
New York dug itself out of a quick 14-0 hole against the Browns last week, pummeling Cleveland 41-27, but I still believe in Santa Claus more than I do the 2012 Giants. Their three wins are against teams (Browns, Panthers, Bucs) that are a combined 2-12, and their injury report contains as many names as a phonebook (and key names at that). Most importantly, Harbaugh is now known in betting circles as Jim “ATM” Harbaugh—since taking over in San Francisco prior to last season, Harbaugh’s club is 17-5-1 against the spread, including 10-1-1 ATS at home and 12-4 ATS as a favorite.
$220 on Iowa +10 at Michigan State: At least once a week, my daughter approaches me with a math question, and my response is always the same: “I don’t know. Go ask your brother.” My daughter is in sixth grade; my son is a freshman in high school. So, yeah, I’m a little mathematically challenged. That said, I’m sharp enough to understand that you can’t cover a 10-point spread if you can’t score 11 points. OK, maybe I’m exaggerating Michigan State’s offensive deficiencies, but not by much. Yes, the Spartans pulled out a 31-27 comeback win last week at Indiana, which had given up 44 and 41 points in its previous two games, but they had just 17 points through three quarters. Prior to that, the Spartans scored just 16 against Ohio State, 23 against Eastern Michigan (whose other four opponents have averaged 40.8 points), three against Notre Dame and 17 against Boise State.
Michigan State has been favored in all six of its games, but has cashed just once, going 0-4 ATS at home.
$110 on Vanderbilt +8½ vs. Florida: Trap, sandwich, letdown, look-ahead—pick your favorite sports-handicapping cliché; they all apply to Florida. The letdown angle: The Gators are coming off an impressive 14-6 win over No. 4 LSU. The trap/sandwich/look-ahead approach: The Gators play this ho-hum game at Vanderbilt right after the LSU win and right before successive showdowns against No. 3 South Carolina (at home) and No. 14 Georgia (on the road, and Georgia was ranked fifth last week).
Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is legitimately frisky—just ask Missouri (which lost 19-15 to the Commodores at home last week) and South Carolina (which barely escaped Vandy with a 17-13 win in the season opener). The Commodores covered in both games, and they’re on ATS runs of 9-4 overall, 9-1 at home and 4-0 when playing in October.
$110 on Cowboys +3½ at Ravens: The Cowboys have faced two physical defenses this year (Bears and Seahawks). In those two contests, the offense produced 17 legitimate points (not counting a garbage touchdown), Tony Romo had two TD passes vs. six interceptions, and Dallas lost by scores of 27-7 and 34-18. Now, following a bye week, Romo and Co. travel to Baltimore to face a Ravens’ defense that in its last two games has given up just 22 points (one TD) and forced six turnovers.
So why support the Cowboys when they’re barely catching a field goal and when they’ve failed to cover in three straight games and 11 of their last 14 (going just 2-5 ATS on the road)? Two reasons: 1) Because the Ravens have cashed in just one of their last six home games, and 2) Because we’ve reached the point in the NFL season when not very little makes sense.
See Texans vs. Jets …
BEST OF THE REST: College: West Virginia -3½ at Texas Tech ($77); Stanford-Notre Dame UNDER 44½ ($55); North Carolina -7 at Miami, Fla. ($55); Fresno State +7 at Boise State ($55); South Carolina +2½ at LSU ($44). NFL: Seahawks +3½ vs. Patriots ($66); Eagles -4½ vs. Lions ($55); Rams-Dolphins UNDER 37½ ($44); Texans -3½ vs. Packers ($44).