When it comes to sports betting, I follow the credo set forth by Robert De Niro in Heat (or at least a variant version of it): “never bet anything on the table that you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if the odds turn against you.” Actually, it’s more like when the odds turn against you, because you will lose. The goal is to find the plays that work for you as a whole, trying as best you can to put yourself in a win-win situation (which is near impossible, the oddsmakers in Vegas are really good at their job).
The best example I can give you of a win-win situation is last season’s Superbowl, where I had placed a small bet at the beginning of the season on the Seahawks to win the whole damn thing (and I came damn close to winning!), so when the time of the big game eventually came, I spread some money around on some prop bets in an attempt to cover my ass. I took Tom Brady over 2 TD passes, as well as Tom Brady to throw more TD passes than Russell Wilson. I figured a Patriots win would most likely come from Brady’s arm, and if Brady didn’t show up, the Seahawks bet would pay off. Yet there was also a chance that Brady would outgun Wilson but the ‘Hawks would pull of the win on the back of multiple Beast mode Touchdowns. The chance that I lost all three bets was very slim. Flashback to the INT heard round the world at the end of the game, even if Wilson had thrown that TD, Brady would still have had more than Wilson, and I would have come up fat. Alas, I just about broke even (among many other bets, I made $1 on the game). But hey, a guaranteed small win one yard shy of a big win, that’s how you beat Vegas.
But no one cares about past victories. This is a “what do you have for me lately” game that I play, and so I’m going to try and break down some of the smart plays for the upcoming NFL season. Not all of them will pan out, but if you play it smart (I will say this multiple times this article), you can set yourself up to be sitting in the hot seat towards the end of the season.
These are my Smart Bets for the 2015 NFL Season: (odds subject to change)
Superbowl winners: Go ahead, throw your money away. I will be too. Superbowl winners are simply too exciting a come up to not at least try and pick some. While no one team is what I would call a “smart play” before the season even starts, the best strategy is to lay down a small bet (with a big payoff) on three different teams, with at least one from each conference. That way you (hopefully) have a couple dogs in the race come playoff time.
That said, the two odds on favorites to win the 2015 Lombardi Trophy are (still, even after the Jordy Nelson injury) the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks, both sitting at +650 currently. An over 6 to 1 payoff for the two teams that will undoubtedly be sitting comfortably atop their respective divisions come January, you might just want to take both and hope they square off against each other in the NFC Championship game. At least one of the two should get there, at this point though it’s a toss up as to which one.
While I honestly don’t think there’s a chance in hell the AFC claims supremacy this year, the Indianapolis Colts are easily the smartest play in the American Conference. At +850, you get a solid payout riding a team with a future first ballot Hall of Fame player entering his fourth year in pro football. I don’t think Andre Johnson is the addition that’s going to put them over the hump, but Frank Gore just might be. The best downhill runner in the business adds a toughness and a grind-ability that should perfectly compliment Andrew Luck’s “I might out-finesse you or I might just shove it down your fucking throat” playing style.
A bit of a darkhorse pick, since there’s still questions surrounding Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and head coach Jason Garret in terms of their ability to step up and get it done when the lights are shining the brightest, is the Dallas Cowboys. Currently +1600 to win the Superbowl, you get $16 for every $1 you risk. That’s as much of a longshot as I like to pick when it comes to this type of bet. Some people may want the 40 to 1 payouts that the Cardinals, Falcons and Chiefs offer, but you may as well go throw $100 at the high school kid working the ring toss at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
Division Titles: These bets are tricky, in that teams like the Packers, Colts and Seahawks are fairly sure bets, but I’ve learned the hard way never to take negative odds in a division race, since there’s still no legitimate way to know for sure how a season is going to play out. The amount of money you would have to risk in order to make any real money on the Colts winning the AFC South (-500) goes out the window and out of your pocket the second Andrew Luck misses four games with a broken finger (even though he still comes back in time to climb through the playoffs and win the AFC). So let’s stick with Division winners that carry positive odds along with them.
If the Dallas Cowboys are my darkhorse pick for SuperBowl XLX, they are most certainly worth some +180 action to win the NFC East. Their only real competition in this department is the Philadelphia Eagles, but I’ll take Tony Romo over an injured Sam Bradford (is he injured yet? He will be…) any day of the week. This will be an exciting bet, to be sure, as either way the division won’t be clinched until way late in the season, so you might as well take the positive odds of the Cowboys over the even money on the Eagles (odds that are assuming no injury to Bradford).
Between the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals, everyone in the AFC North gets positive odds as there is no real “favorite” (+160, +190, +260 respectively). Out of this group the most likely to emerge, I feel, is the Steelers (and no, it’s not because of the addition of Michael Vick). The Steelers have weapons. Whatever position it is, they have a dynamic, explosive, top ten player that can win games. Sure, they’ll have to spread it around through a tough schedule in one of the toughest divisions in football (the Bengals can beat almost any team they play, provided it’s not during the playoffs), this is a bet I’ll be placing come time for the regular season to start.
For those of you that are subscribed Peyton-haters, there’s a big play to be made in the AFC West, with the Kansas City Chiefs currently sitting at +320 to win their division. I’m not sure why the Broncos are a favorite here, or as much of a favorite as they are. It’s as if the oddsmakers haven’t watched Peyton’s slow decline since the embarrassing Superbowl loss two years ago. Chiefs are still the underdogs, I’m not sure the Chargers aren’t a better play at +550, but one of the two should upset the Broncos this year in the AFC West (possibly even the Raiders?)
Season Wins: Most of these are way too tough to call. As I said before, the oddsmakers in Vegas are really, really good. But there’s always one or two teams among the masses where you can feel pretty good about taking either the over or the under.
If there’s one bet you should bet the deed to your house on (provided it’s a vacation home you haven’t visited in years, since we’re only betting what we can afford to lose), it’s taking the under on the Denver Broncos to win 10.5 games this year. Assuming they go 4-2 in the division (which I think is their best case scenario), they also have to contend with the Ravens, Lions, Packers, Colts, Patriots and Steelers. There should be four more losses in there somewhere, and that’s all we need.
A very interesting play for this season, if you take the Cowboys to win the NFC East, is to hedge it with the Philadelphia Eagles to win over 9.5 games. Consider this, assuming the division comes down to these two teams (RGIII ain’t winning shit anytime soon) the Eagles would most certainly have to win 10 games in order to cement the division crown. That means you either win on the Cowboys, win on the Eagles, or win on the Eagles season wins while also winning on the Cowboys division title (think Eagles 10-6 and Cowboys 11-5). Minimize risks, maximize rewards, that’s what the game is all about after all.
Most Rushing Yards: Another throw away bet that has a possibility to be fun, so don’t go banking your season on winning this one. Two things you need to look for on this one, good offensive line and youth. Your pick can absolutely NOT get injured this season or it’s all downhill. C.J. Anderson at 10 to 1 against is a great pick, but probably won’t pan out. You just never know on this one. But he is THE go to guy in the Denver backfield, he hasn’t been banged up too much, and he’s playing behind a quarterback that defenses will still refuse to stack the box against. It’s a recipe for success that relies on lightning striking the same place not twice but sixteen times, so throw $1 on it and sit back and watch your other bets pay off.