Knowing the Key Numbers Can Help the Handicapper

And this columnist should know, because his picks last week went 3-0-1 in the inaugual week of NFL picks.
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In our inaugural

NFL

Vegas Vice

column, we were 3-0-1. Due to a technical glitch on the site, some of you could not view the column until last Sunday afternoon, but at least that got solved in time to give everyone the winning

Raiders

pick.

This week, we are going to discuss the concept of "key numbers" in connection with betting on NFL games. If you were asked what the most common point differential between the winning team and the losing team in an NFL game was, what would your answer be?

Intuitively, the key numbers are 3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 13 and 14. In reality, one of these numbers is far more prevalent than any other -- and that number is 3. Of the 2,179 NFL games played between 1990 and 1998, the point differential of 3 occurred 348 times, or in 16% of the NFL games. This is more than twice the next common point differential, 7 -- which occurred 162 times, or 7% of the time.

How can that help the handicapper? When the point spread is close to 3, it pays to "shop" for the best point spread. If you can get 2 1/2, or get 3 1/2 instead of 3, it will significantly increase your chance of getting a win instead of a push. Also, with the advent of sudden-death overtime, there are almost no ties anymore -- just two in the last nine years. Thus, in betting "teasers" you never want to move the point spread to 0, or + 1/2. (A teaser, as we explained last week, allows a handicapper to move the point spread six points, but in so doing the handicapper must make that move on two games and win both games. More on this below.)

Another teaser tip: Moving teasers from -7 1/2 to -1 1/2 or from +1 1/2 to +7 1/2 takes you through the greatest aggregate percentage of key numbers. Nine-year data also show that almost a quarter of the games in the NFL end up with point differentials of 18 or more, making the point spread nearly irrelevant in those games.

This Week's Picks

Indianapolis (plus 1 1/2) over Miami

This game involves two teams moving in opposite directions. In two out of four games this year,

Dan Marino

has begun showing his age -- making poor decisions and/or throws in last Monday's loss to the

Bills

and against the

Cardinals

in a 19-16 win three weeks ago. On the other hand, the

Colts

have shown that they are now able to win on the road -- having defeated San Diego two weeks ago. The Colts come off a bye week while the

Dolphins

have a short week to prepare because of their appearance on

Monday Night Football

. Peyton Manning is rapidly maturing and clearly is in sync with his stellar corps of receivers. We think Marvin Harrison will have a big game against Terrell Buckley and the Colts will come of age in this game. Indy is 5-1 ATS vs. the Dolphins in their last six games in the Hoosierdome.

Detroit (minus 3 1/2) over San Diego

You know that Bobby Ross (former

Charger

coach) has this game circled on the calendar. The

Lions

have surprised this year and although WR Moore, DE Porcher and CB Westbrook are listed as questionable, we think they will all be back for this one. San Diego has a poor offense, and both Natrone Means and Jim Harbaugh are banged up. The Chargers defense will be missing some key components including CB Charles Dimry and probably CB Terrence Shaw (listed as questionable). The Chargers attacking defense is not as good on the road as it is in the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium. The Lions are coming off a bye week and we imagine that Ross has done a good job of preparing Charlie Batch for the variety of blitzes that the Chargers are sure to throw at him. The Silverdome crowd should also be a factor for the Lions, who play better on artificial turf than natural grass. Look for the Lions to complete a number of long-pass plays.

Cleveland (plus 3) over Cincinnati

The talent level on these two teams is about equal. However, the

Browns'

goal this year is simply to improve in every game, while the

Bengals

will merely be playing out the string after getting pummeled in the last three weeks. Cincy coach Coslet will likely be gone before the season is over and the chemistry on his team is nonexistent. We think Tim Couch is slightly ahead of Akili Smith in his development and we know that Chris Palmer is a better coach than Coslet. The Bengals are 1-7 ATS on the road against divisional opponents in the last two years. The Dawg Pound will be rabid in this game because it is one of the few games in which the Browns have a chance at a straight-up victory.

Bears (plus 13) over Minnesota

The

Bears

are brimming with confidence after their come-from-behind victory against the

Saints

last week. The

Vikings

looked great in the first quarter last week but couldn't put any points on the board for the rest of the game against a Sapp-less Tampa Bay defense. The point spread "push" gives them an 0-3-1 ATS record this year. The Bears are 6-0-1 in their last 7 games as underdogs and 16-7-1 ATS in their last 24 games as underdogs. Like

Rodney Dangerfield

, the Bears continue to get no respect. With 13 points, however, I will give them plenty of respect. Minnesota will win this game but until they show that they can break out of their offensive slump, we will not be laying double digits.

Six-point Teaser of the Week-- Oakland -1 and Buffalo -1/2

As noted below, this is a two-game bet. At most sportsbooks, you must lay 11-10 to make this bet although some sportsbooks make this an even-money bet. This week, we will take the point spread down so that the

Bills

must merely beat the

Steelers

and the Raiders must merely beat the depleted

Broncos

.

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.