Organized Sports is a recurring sports column named for a seminal DC avant-hardcore song by the equally stupid and brilliant (to me, “equally stupid and brilliant” pretty much just means “brilliant”) band Void. Take from that what you will.
Three weeks have gone by, and I’ve yet to see any sort of success with my picks this year. So far I’ve tried researching all the teams, watching as much football as I could, even pretending to be Jon Gruden and trying to get into his 18-hours-of-tape-a-day-THIS-GUY mindset, losing a piece of my soul and a large chunk of my sanity in the process. But still no success, so it’s time to go back to the drawing board, the single best strategy for making the right picks against the spread when the lines are set by the sportsbooks.
Fading the public.
(Note: All point spreads listed here are the lines at the time bets were made. Be sure to consult your very legitimate and legal sports book [cough] before making a bet of your own; lines move constantly due to the action on particular games. Also, gambling is illegal in many states. And watch out for those offshore betting sites, lest you end up like an online poker professional. Okay? Okay. Onward and upward.)
Last Week’s Record: 7-8-1
My Record So Far: 19-27-2
Thursday Night Game (9/26 8:30PM ET)
San Francisco 49ers (-3) at St. Louis Rams
Fading the public is a simple concept. When setting the lines, Vegas sportsbooks don’t just want to get even money on both sides of the bet—though that is often the outcome—they want to exploit the weaknesses of logic in the public and come out ahead, even beyond the vig they take out of all bets that are not even money. The public loves to bet on favorites, and the public loves to bet on overs because they want to see a lot of points. So your best bet, with nothing else considered, is to take the underdog and the under, because you’re betting with the books and against the public. And that’s what I’m going to do this week, explaining as I go. Because the 49ers are favored, even on the road (the home field advantage is calculated in the home team’s favor, adding three points, so on a neutral field, the 49ers would be favored by six), I’m taking the Rams, because the public will be going the other way.
My Pick: Rams +3
Sunday Early Games (9/29 1PM ET)
Baltimore Ravens (-3.5) at Buffalo Bills
Again, the road team is favored, which means they are considered to be a much better team than their opponent. The Ravens are also a popular team, which is another thing to take into consideration: certain teams have a large public following. In the NFL, the Packers, Steelers, Giants, and a few other teams have large national fanbases which means they get more money bet on them than other teams. The Ravens are one of those nationally-recognized “public” teams, particularly due to recent success. So it’s good to go against them here.
My Pick: Bills +3.5
Cincinnati Bengals (-5) at Cleveland Browns
If there is such a thing as a game between two very non-”public” teams, it would be this Ohio-only matchup between the Bengals and Browns. Both teams have their loyal fans, sure, but even those fans would surely have to bet against the home team with gun to head. Because the Bengals are favored, and the public loves a favorite, and the Bengals received a lot of preseason hype this year due to being the Hard Knocks team, fade the public by taking the Browns.
My Pick: Browns +5
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-3)
This one is tough, because though the Bears are the underdog, they are a public team with a lot of fans across the country. I’ll have to let some measure of judgment come in here, and take the Bears because I think they’re the better team. I’m sort of fading the public, but not completely, though I think this is the smart pick.
My Pick: Bears +3
Seattle Seahawks (-3) at Houston Texans
The Seahawks are not normally a public team, but after their victory over the 49ers in the season’s second week, they’ve basically been crowned NFC Champs, if not Super Bowl winners, already. Media hype can affect betting, and they’re a favorite on top of it, so I’ll have to take the Texans here.
My Pick: Texans +3
Indianapolis Colts (-8) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Colts seemed like they were falling off from last year, but last week they beat the 49ers. No matter what might have happened, they’d be favored against the Jaguars this week, as the Jags are far and away the worst team in the league, who failed to cover nineteen-and-the-hook against Seattle last week. No matter: the public will be taking the small, fast horsies, so I’m going with the Floridian big cats.
My Pick: Jaguars +8
New York Giants at Kansas City Chiefs (-4)
Here, we have another tricky one. The Giants, being a New York team, and the preferred New York team for a lot of people, tend to get the East Coast bias public vote when it comes to the Vegas books. That would normally lead me to take the Chiefs, even though they’re favored, except for the fact that the Giants have been terrible this year, going 0-3, and they’ve lost a lot of public support, with some pundits in the media even saying they’re among the worst of the 0-3 teams. I guess that means I’ll be taking the Giants to lost by fewer than four points against the 3-0 Chiefs. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Well, it’s not. Fading the public. Licking the fade pub.
My Pick: Giants +4
Pittsburgh Steelers at Minnesota Vikings (-1) (in London)
This isn’t really a home game for the Vikings, as it is being played in London, so the home field advantage doesn’t come into play, meaning these teams are seen as about equally good (or bad, in this case). The Steelers may be the most “public” team out there, besides the Cowboys, perhaps, as you’ll know if you’ve ever attended a game in your city where the Steelers were the visiting team, and seen your stadium overrun by loud, fat people waving yellow towels (hey, I can say that, I’m fat too). Because of that, I’m gonna take the Vikings.
My Pick: Vikings -1
Arizona Cardinals at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3)
If you’re even betting on this game, you’re likely a degenerate gambler, since it’s likely no one outside of the Phoenix and Tampa areas will even be watching. I’m not even exactly sure why the Bucs are favored, but Vegas always knows more than we do, and because the public likes favorites, once again this means I’m going underdog. Let’s go Carson Palmer!
My Pick: Cardinals +3
Sunday Late Games (9/29 4:05/4:25PM ET)
New York Jets at Tennessee Titans (-4.5)
In many sports, New York teams are public teams. That goes for the New York Knicks, even though they’re never as good as they’re supposed to be, and that goes for the New York Giants too. The same does not go for the New York Jets, because of their history of post-Namath futility, which makes it okay to take them when you’re fading the public, even going against the Titans when they’re favored.
My Pick: Jets +4.5
Dallas Cowboys (-2) at San Diego Chargers
If the biggest public team is not the Steelers, it is the Cowboys. “America’s Team” claims front-running fans across the nation, still coasting on those Aikman-Smith-Irvin teams from the 1990s. Betting against the Cowboys is always a solid move.
My Pick: Chargers +2
Philadelphia Eagles at Denver Broncos (-10)
Though the spread is high, the public will likely be going hard behind the Denver Broncos. So far this year, Peyton Manning, one of the NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE’s most popular players, is having quite the season, with twelve touchdowns and no interceptions in three games. Peyton is also a heavily hyped player, so with the combination of media attention and public love, the Broncos are hugely “public” right now. Which means, as counterintuitive as it may seem with how butt the Eagles have looked at times, except when playing the much more butt Washington Redskins, it’s time to take the Iggles and the points.
My Pick: Eagles +10
Washington Redskins (-3) at Oakland Raiders
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Raiders too were a public team, when they were the intimidating silver and black assassins, when the autumn wind was a pirate. Now, after Al Davis ran the franchise into the ground by just drafting the fastest guy every draft, with the exception of Jamarcus Russell, they are definitely not, which is how the similarly woeful Redskins can be favored against them on the road, playing on West Coast time. The autumn wind is me picking the Raiders.
My Pick: Raiders +3
Sunday Night Game (9/29 8:25PM ET)
New England Patriots at Atlanta Falcons (-1.5)
It’s hard to tell whether or not the Patriots have a nationwide fan base, because the media sure makes it seem like they do, but when I lived in Boston, not even native Bostonians gave a shit about them. I’ll have to assume they’re the more public team here, though, based on that media attention, which reaches its apotheosis every time they play and an analyst makes excuses for Tom Brady he’d never make for any other quarterback. When Tom Brady throws a fit and yells at his receivers, he’s a leader. When he throws behind his receivers, he’s doing it on purpose to avoid an interception. When he can’t win the Super Bowl as the best player on his team (he was not on any of those teams that won) he still gets to be called part of a dynasty. I think Mike Mayock got his lisp from too much Brady on the tonsils.
My Pick: Falcons +1.5
Monday Night Football (9/30 8:30PM ET)
Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints (-6)
Since their comeback to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, it’s been hard to root against the Saints, even once their bounty program was revealed. They were a perennially terrible franchise finally gaining success, and doing so with a likable face. With Sean Payton back, they’re playing well, and favored highly at home against the Dolphins. But the Dolphins are also playing well, and with this line, betting the underdog is the only way to go.
My Pick: Dolphins +6
Will fading the public get me back on the right side of the ledger? Or will I lose even more because I’m hating the public? Find out next week.