For those unlucky souls who wagered on the Denver Broncos last Sunday afternoon, you have my sympathies. For those even unluckier bettors who never slept Saturday night after risking their dough on the Northwestern Wildcats against Ohio State, you have my even deeper condolences. But if you’re going to live in the sports wagering world, it’s smarter to accept the hard core reality of “bad beats”. I’m inventing a term for those who bet on both teams as “tragic beats”.
Yes, it seemed impossible to lose picking Northwestern as a +5.5 underdog until remembering college teams learned the desperation lateral drill from their elders in the NFL. Trailing 34-30 with 8 ticks left on the clock a giant backwards fumble gone wrong resulted in a meaningless Ohio State touchdown, enabling the Buckeyes to cover the spread, winning 40-30, as the final gun sounded. Gun may be a bad choice of words as many players felt reaching for one as they could not believe their horrible luck strike near midnight. Even ancient broadcaster Brent Musburger slyly acknowledged the bizarre turn of events affecting the wagering spread “for those number crunchers out there” as colleague Kirk Herbstreit played dumb.
Then many wounded bettors were given several hours to recover late on Sunday afternoon to potentially focus on the week’s big NFL game: Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys.
History will remember this for being the 4th highest scoring NFL contest ever, a 51-48 Broncos victory. Denver bettors will angrily recall the Cowboys defense not purposely letting Peyton Manning and company roll in free for a touchdown with 1:40 left and two timeouts to work with. That clever strategy might have allowed for Tony Romo and the Boys trying to score and tie the game instead of Denver kneeling for their last second chip shot field goal win.
The critical difference? Denver wins but loses if you bet them at -6.5 or popular number -7 or higher in Las Vegas and many online sportsbooks to encourage even action. As Peyton screamed for the offense into the crouch formation with 25 seconds remaining, the bookmakers could have begun paying those who wagered on the Cowboys immediately.
So what can we take from these ultra-painful wagering lessons that can be of some value?
First, the coaches and players on the field play every second of the game TO WIN, not cover our bets. Secondly, there is a fundamental huge amount OF LUCK covering the spread that must be accounted for beyond what we are all willing to accept. Checking all statistical models and allowing for the customary 10% per game vigorish, a player must win at least 55.1% of all single game action to break even. Lastly, we must account for the usual uneven per game wagering, possibly higher risk parlays and emotional decisions that follow-up those tragic beats similar to Northwestern. Add up reality and you could be better off consulting Mr. Spock than any supposed “professional handicappers” promising guaranteed wins as high as 70%.
This Sunday’s Blackboard Lesson
A test may come as early as this Sunday when the same Denver Broncos return home to face the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars. According to The Gold Sheet, a publication who has tracked point spreads for over 60 years, the Broncos – 28 ties as the largest NFL favorite since the Baltimore Colts faced the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966. Incidentally, the Falcons covered that game but only a fool would use that example as a wagering direction.
Wisely it is best to avoid handicapping this game remembering tactical lessons learned from merely a week ago. Should the Broncos be ahead say 38-7 in the fourth quarter, a question might be will be whether Manning will be coaching from the sidelines instead of even being remotely near the huddle? Might the Jaguars sit their first string starters in desperation measures to preview new 0-6 players? Again, both team’s object is to win the game or plan for next week, not evaluate the record-breaking 28 point spread.
If you bet the Northwestern Wildcats or Denver Broncos last week you did not make a tactical mistake. You simply were the victim of fateful bad karma that is going to happen at times during the College and NFL seasons. If you bet the Ohio State Buckeyes and/or Dallas Cowboys last week and thought you were very smart instead of very lucky, good luck this week and for the rest of the season. You are going to need every bit of it.
Check back every week for more from Behind the Lines.