Football season's getting close. Last week, with little to pick from, we chose one game -- which we nailed, picking the Cleveland Browns (minus 1 1/2 points) as they beat the Eagles 33-23. This week, we get a full slate of preseason games to choose from.
But before we get to the picks, let's examine a betting opportunity that offers the casual fan a season-long rooting interest at a relatively small cost. Perhaps more importantly, for those of you who are stock or currency arbitragers during the week, an NFL Win Total bet often presents an opportunity to lock in a profit no matter whether the team wins more or fewer games than the posted total.
Many sports books offer customers the opportunity to bet on whether a particular NFL team will win more or fewer games than the posted total. With the advent of Internet sports books, there are many opportunities to arbitrage the over-under win totals. The only question is whether it is worth tying up your money from August through early January.
The chart below lists the NFL win totals at one Las Vegas sports book:
In surfing the Internet, I found a number of opportunities to arbitrage if I were so inclined. For example, I could make the following wagers at the Las Vegas sports book and arbitrage it with a wager at an offshore sports book:
- Cincinnati Bengals Under 5 1/2 -110 and Over 5 1/2 +125
New York Jets Under 8 +115 and Over +120
Denver Broncos Over 9 1/2 -135 and Over +140
Tennessee Titans Under 10 +125 and Over +100
Tampa Bay Under 10 1/2 +115 and Over +100
Admittedly, the spreads are not the greatest in the world for a six-month investment. There are also opportunities to play "hedges," in which sports books offer different over-under numbers. For example, the Washington Redskins' win total ranges from 11 to 12 at different sports books.
In deciding whether to make a bet on the win total, it is absolutely necessary to review the playing schedule of the team you're thinking about betting on. Take a look at the Redskins' schedule to see why the bettors have flocked to the under on the Redskins total of 12. Because the media have anointed Washington as this year's Super Bowl champion, and in anticipation of money being bet by squares (unsophisticated bettors), the sports books posted a high total on the Redskins.
But the Redskins' schedule, in addition to their division games, has them playing Jacksonville and St. Louis on the road and Tampa Bay, Baltimore and Tennessee at home. In addition to the normal road games they have to play in their own division, these out-of-division games all are going to be difficult games for the Redskins. As indicated by the chart above, the "wise guys" already have bet heavily on the under for the Washington win total.
The public also has been betting heavily on the Eagles to go over the total of six wins, Buffalo to go under the total of nine wins and Seattle to go under the total of nine wins. The preseason performances of teams also will affect the wagering on the win totals.
This Week's Picks
Oakland Raiders (plus 6) at St. Louis Rams (Saturday)
Like last week's pick on the Browns, this is another "technical play" based on statistics from prior years. The Raiders are 9-0 ATS (against the spread) in the first preseason game over the past nine years. This shows that Raider owner Al Davis puts a premium on winning early preseason games. Conversely, St. Louis is 0-6-1 ATS in its first preseason game over the past seven years. The Rams have a new coach this year, Mike Martz, but his history as a Dick Vermeil assistant last year and as a Redskins offensive coordinator prior to that, gives no indication that he places a premium on preseason victories.
Former Eagle starting quarterback Bobby Hoying will get most of the QB action for the Raiders after starter Rich Gannon plays a couple of series. Rookie Scott Dreisbach will mop up in the fourth quarter. For the Rams, Kurt Warner will play one or two series, but backup QB Trent Green is having trouble with his surgically repaired knee and may or may not play. Joe Germaine is the third-string quarterback. I see this game as a tossup and will be happy to take six points.
Minnesota Vikings (minus 4 1/2) over New Orleans Saints (Saturday)
Minnesota coach Dennis Green is 6-1-1 ATS when his team is a favorite in the first game of the preseason. New Orleans has had extensive injuries already and we think rookie coach Jim Haslett will not push his troops too hard in this game. The Saints do have the advantage of having played one game already but they travel for the second week in a row. We see them pointing to a win in their final exhibition game at home on Aug. 25.
Carolina Panthers -- Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 38 points) (Friday night)
This game features two teams that both have major injury problems on their offensive lines. Without an offensive line, a team can have the greatest quarterback and running backs in the world and still won't be able to score. Carolina starting QB Steve Beuerlein probably won't play at all, and Jacksonville QB Mark Brunell will play only one or two series. The Jaguars' defense is still top-notch and we just don't see a whole lot of points being scored in this game.
Barry Lieberman is the general counsel for a Las Vegas gaming company and an associate of James Padinha. He's been an amateur gambler for more than 20 years, and welcomes your feedback at