Vegas Vice: the NFL Edition - TheStreet

Vegas Vice: the NFL Edition

Whom should you bet on: underdogs or favorites? Plus, NFL picks of the week.
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Last week we were 2-3, bringing our season record to 7-6 (54%). The sportsbooks in Las Vegas are having one of their best seasons ever. Why? Because underdogs are covering the spread this


season at an amazing clip and "the public" always bets on favorites. The "dogs" are 53-25 ATS so far this season. Last year, the sportsbooks were not smiling, since the favorites in the NFL were 127-106 ATS. Historically, betting favorites in the NFL is a losing proposition. Since 1980 the favorites in the NFL have covered the spread only about 47.8% of the time. Thus, even with the vigorish (having to bet $11 to win $10), if you bet on every underdog for the last 18+ years, you would be winning money on your underdog plays. In only four of the last 19 years have favorites covered more games than underdogs in the NFL.

One of our earlier

columns this season was devoted to trying to alert you to the need for a self-audit when you are betting on the NFL. If you are betting on more than 50% favorites on a weekly basis, you must re-evaluate your method for selecting games. I always look at the underdogs first and try to get my best plays from that group. Only then will I look at betting favorites. Remember, the oddsmaker knows that the public bets on favorites, and shades the line higher than he otherwise would. If the point spread is less than three, I merely try to pick the straight-up winner in the game since we documented

last week that only 167 out of 2,179 NFL games between 1990 and 1998 were ties or were decided by one or two points.

This Week's Picks

San Diego (plus 3) Over Green Bay



defense has been dominant this year and is the chief reason why the Chargers are 4-1. Last week we bet against the Chargers and lived to regret it, since, despite Erik "Tommy" Kramer throwing four interceptions, the Chargers eked out a last-second victory over the


. Natrone Means is finally healthy and with a decent running game, we think Kramer will be able to use more play-action and complete more passes to his own receivers and avoid interceptions. San Diego CB Terrence Shaw is back in the lineup but SS Rodney Harrison (an excellent player) is listed as doubtful for this week's game. Green Bay is on the road for the second consecutive week against an AFC West opponent.

We still love Brett Favre but since Mike Holmgren left, Robert Brooks retired and Mark Chmura was injured, the Green Bay offense has been sputtering. We will take the three points and hope, as we did last week, that if Favre orchestrates one of his remarkable comebacks, it will be when the


only needs to kick a field goal to win the game.

Seattle (minus 2 1/2) Over Buffalo

This is the injury list for


this week: OG Reuben Brown -- Questionable, TE Jay Riemersma -- Questionable, DT Ted Washington -- Questionable, WR Eric Moulds -- Out, LB John Holecek -- Out, RB Thurman Thomas -- Out, G Joe Panos -- Out. All of these players have been major contributors to Buffalo's success this season. Buffalo has to make the cross-country trek to Seattle after their demoralizing loss to the


last week. The Seahawks' passing defense has allowed only one team to pass for more than 220 yards against them -- San Diego last week -- and in that game they picked off three passes. Although I have the utmost respect for Doug Flutie, I think that the absence of Moulds and Riemersma will be too much for him to overcome. Seattle will stack the line of scrimmage this week and will stop the


from running. The Bills defense is tough against the run, giving up an average of less than 3.3 yards per run, but Oakland dented the defense for 195 rushing yards last week. The play of Ted Washington is one of the reasons for the great rushing defense and if he does not play, Ricky Watters will have a 100-yard rushing day. Seattle is 0-8 ATS as a home favorite to AFC East opponents since 1994 -- but that was a pre-Holmgren statistic.

Redskins (plus 2) Over Cowboys

This is a revenge game for the


, who blew a 21-point lead to the


in the opening game of the season. The Redskins have one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL. Troy Aikman has no one to pass to anymore with the cluster injuries to the Dallas wide receivers. Thus, if the Cowboys win the game it will be because Emmitt Smith has a 100+ yard rushing game. Although the Redskins' defense could have been charitably described as pathetic for most of this season, the addition of Bill Arnsparger to their staff is a huge plus. In addition, Champ Bailey, who intercepted three passes last week against Arizona, is the best rookie DB to come into the league in many years. The Cowboys defense is tough, but as they showed on


last week, they are not the greatest tacklers in the world -- led by the best nontackler in the country, Deion Sanders. We will find out whether the Redskins are for real this week -- and I bet that question will be answered in the affirmative.

Cleveland (plus 19) Over St. Louis

We can't resist the 19 points. You may even be able to get 20 by game time. Yes, the


are a putrid offensive team, averaging 8.3 points per game this season, and, yes, the


are a prolific offensive team averaging 36.6 points per game this season. But do you really think the Rams will be "up" for this game? For those of you younger than 30, you probably do not remember that Dick Vermeil's 1980 Philadelphia


team had the best regular season record in the NFL -- and then was defeated early in the playoffs. I'll bet Philadelphian

James J. Cramer

vividly remembers.

In the NFL you simply cannot get "up" for every game. And because the talent level in the NFL is not that disparate, any time you are taking this number of points in the regular season, it is a good bet, just like last week when the Browns covered as 17 1/2-point underdogs to the


. The Rams are 5-0 straight-up and ATS. They will not go 16-0 ATS and I think Coach Vermeil will remember the lesson he learned in 1980. The Rams have essentially clinched the NFC West and there is no reason to go to the whip.

Six-Point Teaser: Oakland (minus 1/2) Over the Jets and Minnesota (minus 1) Over San Francisco

As I have repeatedly stated in this column -- the only teaser bets that make sense are ones where you are moving through the 3, 4, 6 and 7 numbers. I am betting that the


will win straight-up over the


and that the


, with Jeff George at QB, will be able to handle the



As a reminder, a teaser permits you to move the spread six points on two games, but you must pick the winner in both games.

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.