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The Muffed Punt: Uptick in upsets has given NFL road dogs betting bite
By Jason Logan

We sports bettors have a certain contempt for mainstream media. We speak a different language than most of the talking heads barking at us through the TV.

We know that come Super Bowl time, when a reporter says, “Vegas has odds on the color of the Gatorade bath”, we know Vegas does not in fact have any odds on the color of the Gatorade bath. They aren’t allowed to (yet). It’s the offshores that can post odds on whatever the hell they want.

We get it when Al Michaels does his sly wink-and-nod to sports bettors with his subtle, “This one isn’t ‘Over’ yet for some people” when calling a fourth-quarter blowout on Sunday Night Football. Heck, we’re the only ones still watching that tripe. You’re welcome NFL.

And we can’t stand it when analysts get all antsy in their pantsy over a so-called “upset” when the spread was a mere field goal in favor of the home team. C’mon! It would’ve been dead even on a neutral field!

That brings us to one of the lingering questions that has hovered over sports since people started keeping score: just what constitutes an upset?

If you asked the drama-fed media, they’ll tell you anytime they can sensationalize a game as an upset, they will. It sells. But if you ask a sports bettor, we’ll have a completely different set of parameters. And the great thing about sports betting – one of the many – is that we can actually quantify what really makes an upset because oddsmakers give us an idea of how the game should play out.

For me, and because this is my NFL column and not yours, I see an upset as any football game in which an underdog of six or more points won outright. That’s a touchdown – minus the PAT – or two field goals, and as we discussed last week, books will often run a spread of -4 or -4.5 right up to six. It seems like a logical cut-off when qualifying upsets. Of course, you can take home and away into account, but for the sake of keeping it simple on a Friday morning (which is when I write this bad boy), we’re sticking to six.

Given that measuring stick, we can see how many “true” upsets happen in the run of a NFL regular season. And while upsets were slowly going the way of the dinosaur over the past 15 seasons, they may be on the way back, like Han Solo and snap-back hats.

From 2000 to 2014, 336 NFL underdogs of six or more points stunned their opponent outright, with just under 21 percent of 6-plus pups actually winning those games. It wasn’t always this way, though. From 1985 to 1999, NFL underdogs of 6-plus enjoyed a much higher outright winning percentage, upsetting their favored opponents almost 31 percent of the time.

That’s a 10 percent difference between those spans in terms of SU winning clip, but the ATS results didn’t vary too far from the norm. Underdogs of six or more went 754-673-26 ATS from 1985 to 1999 (53%) and were 811-743-33 ATS (52%) from 2000 to 2014.

What the 2015 season presents is a small sample, but encouraging for those who live for the Cinderella story. Heading into Week 9, underdogs of six-plus are 11-28 SU – winning just over 28 percent – after the Browns got smoked as 13-point pups against the Bengals. Of those 39 games, the underdogs managed to go 21-16-1 ATS – covering the spread at a 55 percent clip.

Based on those ATS trends, you could have blindly bet big dogs and turned a small profit at the midway mark of the schedule. But who wants small profits? The real money, at least for the 2015 season, has been in betting underdogs of six or more points on the road.

Following the Thursday nighter, road teams getting six or more points are 9-22 SU (29%) and 18-12-1 ATS (60%). What makes these results even more special is the fact that this proposition went just 264-1201-2 SU (21%) and 601-1175-28 ATS from 2014 to 2000, producing just 51 percent ATS winners for those grabbing the points by the handful.

The Week 9 schedule features more than a few underdogs of six points or more. The Redskins are getting 14 points in New England (+950 moneyline), the Titans are getting 7.5 points in New Orleans (+325 moneyline), the Jaguars are +7.5 visiting the Jets (+295 moneyline), and the Niners are touchdown dogs at home to the Falcons (+250 moneyline).

A $10 flyer parlaying all four moneylines would pay out at more than $6,159. That’s not going to happen. However, if you like playing the odds – and you know you do, admit it – this season would tell us (with underdogs of six or more winning outright 28 percent of the time) that at least one of those sizable pups will give the mainstream media an upset worth losing their shit over.

Who will it be?

Homeward Bound

Above, we looked at how well road underdogs of six points or more have done for bettors this season. And it’s pretty good. On the flip side of that, home dogs of 6-plus have been roughed up in front of their faithful.

Heading into Week 9, with only one team in this category (San Francisco +7 vs. Atlanta), home dogs of six or more are 2-6 SU and 3-5 ATS in 2015. However, going back to 2000, home dogs have been a solid play, with a 104-287-1 SU mark (26%) and 213-174-5 ATS record (55%). Between 1985 and 1999, home pups of six or more finished 82-255-1 SU (24%) and 172-158-8 ATS (52%).

On the season, home dogs overall are 20-17-1 ATS – covering just over 54 percent of the time.

Pass or be passed

Last week, Wall Street Journal reporter Kevin Clark wrote about the impending quarterback crisis facing the NFL, as more and more college QBs coming out of the draft are nowhere close to being ready to play at the pro level.

The situation sounds dire, but in the heads of football bettors we only have one reaction: How does this impact my wagers every Sunday?

Well, for an answer, let’s look at how important QB play is to the pointspread at this point in the season.

Seven teams currently boast a QB rating of 100.0 or higher heading into Week 9 (New England, Cincinnati, Green Bay, Arizona, Oakland, San Diego and New Orleans), and they are a combined 37-16 SU (only San Diego has a losing record at 2-6) and 32-18-3 ATS (only Chargers have a losing ATS mark at 3-5), covering the spread 64 percent of the time.

On the other hand, there are seven teams allowing opposing QBs to post an average passer rating of 100.0 or higher (Tampa Bay, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Chicago, San Diego, and San Francisco). Those guys are a combined 16-38 SU (Saints are best at 4-4) and 19-33-2 ATS (only Bucs and Saints in black at 4-3 ATS), covering at a dismal 36.5 percent clip.

Given those numbers, we better start training up some new QBs – and good – before this whole football betting thing goes down the crapper.

Pants Pooping Trend of the Week

Good teams produce good stats, so anything positive involving the New England Patriots should kind of be expected. It doesn’t make it any less impressive though – and that’s just what the Pats have been (impressive) against non-conference competition.

As of 2002, New England is 43-10 SU versus NFC opponents – the best non-conference record among NFL teams. That domination has bled over the betting side of things, with Brady & Co. posting a 31-21-1 ATS mark in those games – covering just under 60 percent of the time.

And wouldn’t you know it: the Pats have a NFC opponent lined up for Week 9, giving two touchdowns to the Redskins Sunday.

Pointspreads and pork backs

It’s the weekend, which means myself and Rob Cressy from talk shop. Fun fact: that leather recliner I’m sitting on cost me only $20… because the old lady who lived down the hall died in it. Whatever, I’m not made of recliners people!

The Madden Project

The Madden machine went 1-2 ATS in Week 8 but did call the Broncos’ win over the Packers and almost damn near called the correct score in one of our sims, coming up 29-10. If you haven’t followed along, you should have an idea of what we’re doing here: Simulating games on Madden 16 for Xbox One to see if they hold any water when it comes to capping the spread. Here’s what it came up with this week:

Green Bay at Carolina: 41-17/27-21/16-21 =
Green Bay wins 28-19.6

Denver at Indianapolis: 28-38/35-31/27-28 =
Indianapolis wins 32.3-30

Philadelphia at Dallas: 17-10/16-28/33-14 =
Philadelphia wins 22-17.3

Last week: 1-2 ATS
Madden 16 season: 14-13-1 ATS (51.8%)

Biggest line move…

Technically, the biggest line move is the Broncos-Colts spread which opened all the way back in the spring at Colts -3. CG Technology, which operates books at The M, Venetian and Cosmopolitan, posted spreads on all games Week 1 to Week 16 in April and, according to those early odds, this is an eight-point swing. Hot damn.

Wiseguys love…

The Rams. Minnesota opened as a 2.5-point home favorite hosting St. Louis and sharp money jumped on the road team and trimmed this spread as low as a pick’em before action came back in on the Vikings.

Books are sweating…

The Falcons. Atlanta opened -4 and has been bet up to a touchdown with some offshore books dealing the Falcons -7.5. The reason bookies are sweating this matchup is because this is a weak late afternoon game and any parlays surviving the 1 p.m ET kickoffs will be tied to Atlanta going up against the hot mess that is the 49ers.

Banker game…

Broncos at Colts. The public, which turned its back on the Broncos after a less-than-sexy start, is back on Denver as their darling in Week 9. It’s amazing what a win over Green Bay will do. It’s like dumping the frumpy high school girl before the summer, then to have her come back in the fall looking like Margot Robbie. You were beggin’ on your hands and knees for a second shot.

Daily Fantasy Player of the Week (Weak?)

Even a broken clock is right twice a day, but my DFS picks can’t even seem to drum up that type of consistency. I took Martavis Bryant last week thinking Ben Roethlisberger’s return would spark the passing game. It didn’t really and Bryant had just four grabs for 49 yards and 6.9 DFS points.

The one guy I can put the blame on for my bust is TE Heath Miller, who vultured 10 receptions and 105 yards from Bryant after being MIA for most of the season. Well, I’m making a friend of out this enemy and selecting Miller as my DFS pick’o’the week this Sunday.

Oakland has allowed 446 yards and eight touchdowns to tight ends this season and with the secondary busy chasing down Antonio Brown and the wideouts, Miller could be primed for another big day. He’s the fourth highest TE option at $5,800 on FanDuel, which seems a little expensive considering he hasn’t done much in 2015. But, at this point, what do I have to lose? Money, right…

Injury you should know

Khaled Holmes, C Indianapolis Colts

New offensive coordinator, new tempo and a defensive foe that ranks tops in the NFL. Not the spot you want to be in without your starting center. Holmes sat out last week’s wet-and-wild game in Carolina and could sit out again with a neck injury when the Broncos come to town Sunday.

I’ve always said center is the most undervalued position in terms of value to the football spread. And we saw that with Indianapolis last week, when backup center Jonotthan Harrison botched a snap on the very first play of the game, causing a fumble and a Panthers recovery for an eventual field goal – three points the Colts wish they had back after losing 29-26 in overtime.

We know how to pick’em

We usually reserve this spot for games with a pick’em spread but since there currently aren’t any games hovering on the fence, we will go with the one game that did drop as low as pick earlier in the week at select sportsbooks: St. Louis at Minnesota.

Sharp money chopped the Vikings down from -2.5 to a pick’em but the line has since come back to -2. We toss all the hardcore handicapping out the window and simply pick the team who has the hottest cheerleaders. And you thought Adrian Peterson vs. Todd Gurley was a sexy matchup…

Sunday’s menu

My Cowboys play the Sunday night game, which means I’m not glued to the TV for an extended period Sunday. That freedom allows me to do a little more with dinner. That said, I don’t want to be slaving over a hot stove all day either.

You know what I haven’t had in long time? Chili. Yeah, that’s the ticket. I have my own recipe for chili – AKA Rose Bowl Chili (first made it the night Vince Young went HAM against USC) – and I’m not sharing it. But this one looks pretty good…

Song for Sunday

Week 8 was the fantasy football rapture for me. Not only did I lose the week but I also lost Le’Veon Bell and Keenan Allen for the season, forcing me to pick up some undesirables off the waiver wire to round out my roster. But we must move forward, so for anyone who felt the sting of those injuries or the other notables no longer with us, this goes out to you. Be strong.