The law of averages finally caught up with me last week -- with a vengeance! I was 1-3 on my picks, and because the Buffalo
were a "double" play, I was officially 1-4, bringing my season record to 38-34 (53%).
I will assume that most of you have seen the play on which Tennessee beat Buffalo, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The Bills' special-teams coach lost his job this week as a result of the "Nashville Miracle." In gambling parlance, the result of the game for all those who bet Buffalo either on the money line or plus-5 points was the dreaded "bad beat." The bad beat is a rite of passage for the gambler. Until you have had one game where you were so positive of the result that you'd already spent the money you won, you cannot call yourself a bettor.
Early in my betting career, when I lived on the East Coast and was a Type-A personality, such a bad beat would result in my throwing a hard object through the television screen after a play such as the
scoring with 3 seconds left in the game. It also would have resulted in a string of swear words being uttered so loud that the neighbors would come running to my apartment to make sure everything was all right.
Now, with the discipline of more than 20 years of betting under my belt, I barely muttered "F#$!in' Bills!" under my breath loudly enough for my 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son to overhear. I then moved on to watch the next game involving the
with my television still intact. Bad beats, however, do not disappear from your memory so quickly.
Oddly enough, the previous worst bad beat I suffered involved the Bills and the Titans' predecessor -- the Houston
-- in a memorable playoff game in the early '90s in which I had the Oilers plus-3 points. The Oilers led by 35 points at halftime. The Bills ended up winning the game by 3 points, and even though my bet was a push in that game, I still considered it one of my all-time bad beats.
One of this column's readers,
, was nice enough to email condolences on the bad beat and recount one of his own -- a playoff game in the late '80s between the Denver
and the New England
. Chuck had the Patriots plus the points and a bet on the over in the game. As time was winding down, the Patriots had the ball inside their own 10-yard line and were covering the point spread by a point. The game was 3 points under the projected total.
Chuck figured that the worst that could happen was that he would split his bet if the game ended without further scoring, or if Denver intercepted a last-gasp pass and ran it into the end zone. Instead, Denver's defensive end Rulon Jones chased New England quarterback Tony Eason down in the end zone for a Denver safety, causing Chuck to lose both bets and forever remember the game as a bad beat. For those of you who bet on the Bills last Saturday, congratulations on breaking your "maiden" and welcome to the nonexclusive bad-beat club.
The Second Round of the Playoffs
Since 1990, home teams are 30-6 straight up, or SU, in this round of the playoffs. The
teams are 17-1, and the
teams are 13-5. Last year, home teams were 4-0 SU in this round and 3-1 against the spread, or ATS. Two years ago, the home teams were 3-1, with the 1-point underdog Broncos being the lone road team to win (beating the Kansas City
) on their way to a
win. Favorites are 22-13-1 ATS in this round. In the last five years, 13 of the 20 games have been decided by 10 points or more -- far more percentage-wise than in the regular season.
This Week's Picks
Jacksonville Jaguars (minus 8) over Miami Dolphins
If this were a regular-season game, it would be a no-brainer to bet on the
plus the points. But this is the playoffs, where home teams rarely lose and blowouts of 10 or more points are the rule rather than the exception. The Dolphins looked like a decent team last week although, in my opinion, much of it was due to the ineptitude of their opponent the Seattle
, whose players looked like they were simply going through the motions. Under the conservative game plan devised by Jimmy Johnson, the Dolphins were able to run at will against the Seahawks, and Dan Marino was not asked to do anything other than complete routine passes.
I don't think
defensive coordinator Dom Capers will allow Marino the same luxury this week. Jacksonville's defense was sixth in the
against the rush this year, allowing opponents only 90 yards per game. Capers will have eight men stacked "in the box" to stop the Dolphin running attack. The Jags have sacked opposing quarterbacks 57 times this season, and I think Capers' defense will force Marino into some bad throws. I am still firmly convinced that Marino's arm strength is not where it needs to be to play quarterback in the NFL. In fact, in last week's games, almost all of Marino's completions were on timing patterns where Marino simply threw to a "spot."
As long as the Dolphins keep the game close, Johnson can stick with his running attack. But if the Dolphins fall behind by two touchdowns or more, the conservative offense will have to be modified, and that is when the Jaguar defense will really be able to pounce.
On offense, there are question marks for the Jaguars. While offensive lineman Leon Searcy will play for Jacksonville, All-Pro Tony Boselli is gone for the year and the extent of Mark Brunell's sprained knee is not fully known. I do think running back Fred Taylor will eventually wear down an undersized Miami defense. I also think the Jaguars have one of the best pair of wide receivers in the league in Keenan McCardell and Jimmy Smith. When I am laying 8 points, I want teams that have shown an ability to win by a large margin. In 10 of its 14 victories this year, Jacksonville has won by 10 or more points. I'll lay the 8 points here.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (minus 5) over Washington Redskins
Washington running back Stephen Davis is the key to this game. The
coach Norv Turner says he will be happy if Davis is in the game for 10 to 15 plays. My pick shows that I don't think he will finish the game because of his myriad injuries. Without Davis, the Redskins become a one-dimensional passing team -- the type of team the
defense feasts upon. The Bucs have the finest front four in pro football and are able to drop seven players into pass coverage because the front four can pressure the opposing quarterback without having to blitz.
On the other side of the ball, the Washington defense has improved over the course of the season, but its major problem is an inability to tackle. That flaw is particularly troublesome against the Bucs' conservative running attack, featuring Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. Tony Dungy will not put too much pressure on rookie quarterback Shaun King, and I think he will only be asked to pass 20 to 25 times during the game. If the Bucs can control the ball through their running game, the Redskin defense will eventually wear down and the Bucs should be able to cover the 5-point spread. Unless Davis has a miraculous recovery by Saturday afternoon, I will be playing the Bucs minus the 5 points.
St. Louis Rams (minus 7) over Minnesota Vikings
For the last few weeks, I have touted the
as one of the teams that will be in the Super Bowl. I am not shying away from my prediction this week, and the Rams will be my biggest play of the weekend. Many people are jumping on the Minnesota bandwagon this week because of its "pounding" of the
last week. The Cowboys were inept and self-destructive last week. Any team that uses its allotted three timeouts before the halfway mark of the first quarter, puts 12 men on the field when the other team is punting in a fourth-down-and-4-yards-to-go situation and allows the opposition to score on a third-down-and-25-yards-to-go play deserves to be pounded, and its head coach deserves to be fired. The
will not be playing in the comfort of the
this week; the audibles will not come so easily in a raucous
Most importantly, the prolific balanced offense of the Rams will score at least 35 points on one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Vikings offense is well balanced and excellent and will score some points against a St. Louis defense that only gives up 15 points per game. However, I don't feel that Minnesota will score enough to stay within the 7-point spread. I am also strongly considering a parlay bet on the Rams minus 7 and the over 52 1/2 on the game, since if my scenario of 35 points by the Rams comes true, the game will probably also go over the total.
Tennessee Titans (plus 6) over Indianapolis Colts
Last week, the Titans showed how good their head coach Jeff Fisher really is in preparing for every eventuality. Fisher is, by nature, a conservative coach who tries to keep his team in the game for the first three quarters and win the game in the fourth quarter. This type of coach is great for underdog players but bad for favorite players. This week, I think Fisher will be able to run Eddie George against a
defense that allows an average of 107 yards per game against the run. I am not a big Steve McNair fan, and last week's game did not improve my opinion of the Titan quarterback. The Titan defense is the key to this game, and I think it will be able to hold the Colts in check and keep the game close into the fourth quarter.
The Colts were somewhat disappointing toward the end of the season. The Buffalo Bills completely dominated Indianapolis in the last game of the season, and in the prior week, the Colts had to come from behind to eke out a victory against the
, 29-28. Even in their last two home games, the Colts were only able to defeat the Redskins, 24-21, and the Patriots, 20-15. I love the Indianapolis triumvirate of quarterback Peyton Manning, running back Edgerrin James and wide receiver Marvin Harrison, but I am concerned about the late-season slump by the Colts. If Titan defensive end Jevon Kearse can cause a turnover or two, the young Colts may become rattled, and I give the Titans a chance to win this game SU. I'll take the 6 points that are currently available.
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