Your weekly gambling column, featuring smart plays, oddball propositions, all your tales of woe — plus, betting advice from a 13-year-old boy! Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org. Subject: Bad beats.
A couple weeks ago, Bill Simmons came out with a column entitled, "New rules help define '09 playoffs," in which he attempted to lay out a revised system for betting on football. In gambling, there are no rules besides the ones posted on the casino wall. When making your picks, you better not have a calculator in hand or a checklist at your desk. Football is unpredictable. It defies any system, even the Sports Guy's.
Who could have predicted Flozell Adams's injury (Flozell's first name, by the way, sounds like something you'd buy to clear up nasal congestion), or Reggie Bush's finding a little extra skip in his step? (I really think Kim Kardashian serves as additional motivation for Reggie. Imagine if I were dating Kendall Jenner; this column would be written entirely in heroic couplets.) Nobody could have anticipated Norv Turner choking against the Jets. (OK, maybe everybody could have predicted that.)
My point is, the most powerful gambling tool isn't a calculator, computer, brain, or even game tape. It's your gut. Only the gut can measure the grit of the Jets. Only the gut can foresee Wade Phillips and his coaches looking like a bunch of men arguing over who took the last cookie. Sometimes saying to yourself, "I just can't picture Wade Philips going to a conference championship game," or, "The Saints have too many intangibles to get eliminated in their first game," is the best gambling advice you can get. Of course, it never hurts to think things through. I've put together of list of often-overlooked things to consider before pacing a bet. Keep in mind this is not a Bible or a checklist — just some rational things to factor into the equation.
1. Fresh legs have been dominating. I don't think it's much of an argument that the two best backs left in the playoffs are Adrian Peterson and Thomas Jones. We've seen the effects of a heavy workload on both of these stars. I know Peterson has had poor blocking, but dating back to Week 11, he has averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Chester Taylor has averaged 4.6. Thomas Jones has accumulated 75 yards on 29 carries this postseason. The old burst just isn't there.
So far, the most productive rushing games have come from Reggie Bush, Shonn Greene (twice), and Cedric Benson. Bush had only 144 touches in the regular season and zero in the 13 days leading into Saturday. Greene has probably been the MVP of the playoffs so far. He averaged less than seven touches per game during the regular season. You may argue that Cedric Benson led the league in attempts this year, but remember that, in Week 17, Marvin Lewis gave Benson his own personal bye week. The result? 169 yards.
2. Don't play mind games with medium and small spreads. Nothing in life grinds my gears more than the reaction whenever a line moves, like, a point and a half. (Vegas has drilled into our minds that seven points is a large margin of victory.) Once again, the most important gambling stat of the postseason is 8-0. So far, the winning team in every game has covered the spread. Here's a rule of thumb I follow for basically every game I pick: If the line is five points or less, 90 percent of the time I pick the team I think is going to win.
3. Ignore "motivation." Any "reporting" by Rachel Nichols or Ed Werder or whoever that says, for instance, that Rex Ryan has the Jets "extra fired up for today's game" is a bunch of bullshit. Each and every NFL player spends hours in the weight room, long nights reading playbooks, time away from family, and days on the practice field to make it to this point. The lives of NFL players have revolved around football since the seventh grade. They don't need a coach, towel boy, or a rapping 40-year-old quarterback who watches too much American Idol. Motivation or fire has nothing to do with a rookie screwing up coverage or a tight end missing his block.
The NFL isn't about who wants it more. It's about who's done more. Maybe Jim Caldwell has the Colts playing like a bunch of choir boys, and Rex Ryan has his Jets blabbing like WWE wrestlers, but I don't see that affecting the outcome of the game. I see preparation and talent as the critical factors in these last three games.
4. When in doubt, take the better coach. I'm not telling you to always go with the coach who has a better résumé. I'm just saying, when you are really struggling with a game, take the coach with more success in big games.
This isn't really an issue this week, though you could make an argument about the discrepancy in football IQs between Sean Payton and Tony Kornheiser. (Wait, no, I think his name is Brad Childress. It's hard to tell, because all I see when I look at their scalps is my own reflection.) Either way, throw coaching into the equation, but seldom make it the deciding factor.
Game to bet: Colts -7.5 vs. Jets
Prediction: Colts, 27-13. As a Jets fan I'm feeling very scared. I don't think they have enough to respond to Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark, and the most physically talented receiver of all-time, Austin Collie. For whatever reason, I see Manning with a big statement game, proving to everybody that the Jets aren't making a run and that the best team this whole time has been the Colts. Last game, Indy did a very good job containing Ray Rice and not letting Flacco do a thing. I expect little bit of an encore, but with an upgrade in offense for both teams.
Pivotal Player: Kerry Rhodes. He will have a big responsibility Sunday: covering Dallas Clark. Because Revis will shut down Wayne, that forces Manning to make Clark a big part of the offense. I think that matchup will be the difference between the Jets covering and not covering. It says here that Clark gets nine catches for 126 yards. I don't trust Rhodes.
Biggest Concern: The Jets have been iffy at receiver since Week 1. I'd trust Bernie Madoff more with my money than I'd trust Braylon Edwards with a deep ball. Jerricho Cotchery is all too average. Dustin Keller is probably Sanchez's No. 1 option. A barely above-average tight end as your first option can come back to haunt you when down 10 with eight minutes to go.
Inside the Numb3rs: The Colts' average margin of victory vs. non-divisional opponents this year was more than 12 points. Remember that the Jets can really only run the ball. The Colts allowed 4.3 yards per carry this year, which is about average. The Chargers, on the other hand, allowed 4.5, which is in the bottom 10. I say Thomas Jones gets 11 carries for 27 yards, and Shonn Greene gets 21 rushes for 77 yards.
Fair Question: Is Donald Brown a player to watch? There's a possibility that Brown has a breakout game. He's a talented back who's been injured a lot, and he fits the fresh-legs theory. Perhaps the Jets will be so focused on Manning that Brown sneaks up on them and goes for 120 total yards.
Bold Prediction: Austin Collie and Dallas Clark will outgain Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garçon and all the other Colts receivers by at least 50 yards. Reggie Wayne will be shut down, and like I said, Clark is a lock for seven catches. Collie has also been a tad better than Garçon of late. Which means that, yes, I'm predicting a 30-year-old Iowan and a slow, small BYU graduate to outperform Reggie Wayne and a Mountain Union legend.
Possibly Relevant 2009 Movie Quote: "Its funny because he's fat!" — Ken Jeong, The Hangover. I think it's fair to say that the Colts are one of the most buttoned-up teams in the NFL, so Jim Caldwell would never have the balls to call Rex Ryan fat. We'd all like to see a little beef between the two of them — beef? Somewhere, Rex Ryan just perked up — but Caldwell seems to be possessed by the spirit of Tony Dungy. Maybe some back-and-forth between Rex and Jim would lead to violence. I don't know if there's anything in the world I'd rather see than a fistfight between Rex Ryan and Jim Caldwell. Maybe a rap battle between Peter King and Larry King, competing for the title of King of Rap.
Game to avoid: Vikings +4.5 at Saints
Prediction: Vikings, 34-28. The Vikings looked unbelievable against a very good Dallas team. When the Vikings are at their best, there is no better offense in the league. I am still not convinced that the Saints are a legitimate team after embarrassing the Cardinals. The Cardinals defense, as we already knew, is awful, and Reggie Bush came out of nowhere. He will be a non-factor Sunday night. Also, there is this aura that the media have attached to the Superdome that just isn't deserved. When the Saints played all their starters, they lost at home to the Cowboys and Bucs.
Stay away from this one. The Saints have a lot of offensive potential as well, and if Favre plays a ho-hum game I could see the Vikings putting up only 24 points, which won't be nearly enough to win.
Pivotal Player: Chester Taylor. Adrian Peterson has been silent for more than a month now. A healthy Chester Taylor isn't bad. I think they'll need a bit more of a balanced offense against the Saints. I could see him with 80 yards on 15 carries. Not enough to break the game open, but good enough to even out the offensive playcalling.
Biggest Concern: Drew Brees's protection. The Saints' o-line may be a solid group, but never have I seen a defensive front dominate the Cowboys the way the Vikings' d-line did Monday. Watch your back, Brees.
Inside the Numb3rs: The Vikings have six players with over 40 catches this year. Some say Jabari Greer will shut down Sidney Rice. I disagree, but even if he does, there's a family of players waiting for their number to be called.
Fair Question: Do the Vikings have the slightest chance if their defensive line does not perform? I don't think so. Antoine Winfield has been playing poorly of late, and there are too many Saints weapons to contain. The Purple People Eaters should be prepared to chase after Brees or it's an automatic loss.
Bold Prediction: Drew Brees will have a completion percentage under 50. The Vikings are going to force him to make some stupid throws. This will be a game where the Saints never really establish a rhythm. Write him in at 18-for-38 with 1 TD, 2 INTs, and 238 yards.
Possibly Relevant 2009 Movie Quote: "I just came back from the new Harry Potter movie. Harry's getting old. They should start calling him Harold Potter" — Leo, Funny People. Brett Favre is getting old ... very old. And now he is probably losing a little bit of touch with the world. Do his teammates respect him? I'm sure they do. But I can't hep but think that he's one of those awkward Little League coaches who embarrass themselves for just a little bit of cred from the kids. I'm sure they all think he's just a little strange.
GIRL I'D LIKE TO KISS OF THE WEEK: RACHEL GLANDORF
She is the fiancée of Colt McCoy and very kissable. A great match for a Texas QB headed to the NFL.
JERSEY SHORE CAST REPORT CARD
Congratulations Ronnie, Mike, Nicole, Jeni, Sammi, Pauly, and Vinny. You made it through a season of Jersey Shore. (Angelina? Shame on you. By leaving the house, the only person you're hurting is yourself.) You'll be graded based on all but the last episode, according to the following criteria:
1. Risk: Has he/she made some risky decisions or is an edgy person? (Engages in fights, sexual adventure, stands up for self, parties too hard, instigator of drama.)
2. Guido Personality: Does he/she fit the stereotype? (Men: lots of hair gel, potential steroid user, takes shirt off to go out. Women: dresses in revealing outfits, a lot going on with hair, dancer. Both: artificially tan, family oriented, expensive accessories, thick accent, confidence, values social life.)
3. Intelligence: Is the person smart? (Seems academically intelligent, common sense, decision-making, reasonable, understands consequences, shows knowledge of outside world.)
4. Comedy: Does he/she make people laugh on the show? (Unintentional comedy, intentional comedy.)
5. Social Activity: How often is he/she the center of things? (Partier, vibrant personality, popular, controversy.)
6. Drama: Are they always causing or somehow involved in dramatic incidents? (Relationship changes, fights, tears, dicey decisions.)
7. Realism: How well would he/she fit in the real world? (Unorthodox appearance, different personality, couldn't relate to others, craving for attention.)
*All grades are A's or B's.
BAD BEATS: READERS SHARE THEIR TALES OF WOE
September 1997 / Oklahoma @ California / Line: Cal -4.5
On a sunny Fall day in September, I arrive at Memorial Stadium with my friend Casey. I have Cal minus 4.5 points and feeling pretty confident about the wager. Cal comes out of the blocks rolling against a surprisingly poor 1997 Sooners team and by halftime Cal is up 28-0. Casey turns to me and says, "You are only giving 4.5!? This one is in the bag!"
Now any jinx is unforgivable in my mind, but a statement of victory before the second half has kicked off is downright blasphemy. I explain to Casey that he has jinxed the game and I will now lose the bet. He further taunts the Jinx Gods by stating that jinxes are bullshit and how I am an idiot if I am worried while up 4 TDs and laying 4.5.
Needless to say the tables turn quickly and Oklahoma takes the opening kickoff 80 yards for a quick score (28-7). I turn to Casey and he is still beaming with confidence. Cal muffs the kickoff and Oklahoma recovers the muff on a bounce and takes it to the house (28-14). Casey is now silent and starting to look concerned that he has really screwed up. The remainder of the half is a blur, but with about 2 minutes remaining, Oklahoma has completed the comeback and the score is tied at 34s. Casey has not said a word since the 2nd Oklahoma score.
Cal has the ball and drives inside Oklahoma's 25 with less than 30 seconds on the clock. With time running out, they are content to settle for a field goal, which does not help me. Suddenly a miracle happens as Oklahoma crowds the line to defend against a dive designed to net 2 yards and set up the field goal kicker between the hash marks. The halfback shoots through the first level (as halfbacks are wont to do) and takes it for six (40-34).
As the crowd is going wild and I am smiling ear to ear, Casey finally exhales and says, "see, I told you are that jinxing nonsense is bullshit, you just won!" I cringe, rip him a new asshole and await the inevitable. Blocked extra point returned 98 yards for an Oklahoma 2pt conversion. Final score…Cal 40-36. (Z.D.)
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POLITICAL PROP BET OF THE WEEK: PRESIDENTIAL EDITION
Via Paddy Power: winning candidate, 2012 U.S. presidential election
Barack Obama 4/5
Mitt Romney 7/1
Haley Barbour 9/1
Sarah Palin 10/1
Hillary Clinton 10/1
Newt Gingrich 12/1
John Boehner 16/1
Joe Biden 16/1
Mike Huckabee 20/1
Tim Pawlenty 22/1
Jon Huntsman 25/1
Bobby Jindal 25/1
Bill Owens 33/1
Chuck Hagel 33/1
Fred Thompson 33/1
David Petraeus 40/1
Lindsey Graham 40/1
Rudolph Giuliani 40/1
Chuck Baldwin 40/1
Jeb Bush 40/1
Evan Bayh 40/1
Tom Ridge 50/1
George Allen 66/1
Al Gore 66/1
John McCain 66/1
Condoleezza Rice 66/1
John Edward 66/1
George Pataki 80/1
Bill Frist 80/1
Jim Webb 100/1
Kathleen Sebelius 100/1
Tim Kaine 100/1
Arnold Schwarzenegger 100/1
Sam Brownback 100/1
Janet Napolitano 100/1
John Kerry 100/1
Michael Bloomberg 100/1
Mark Warner 150/1
Caroline Kennedy 150/1
Dick Cheney 200/1
Will Smith 250/1
Paris Hilton 1000/1
Laura Bush 1000/1