Ruthless regrets to inform you that recently-installed NFL pick columnist J.J. Duquesne (b. Jay Jay Duquesne, Pangaea, Me Decade) is no more, having gone into absolute, unmitigated shock this week when informed that we are now flirting with a nuclear war. This is in spite of repeatedly being told that North Korea would not be able to bomb the U.S. or its protectorates for several more years, and that this capability was totally coincidentally discovered five days after the grand jury impaneled to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election was made public.
J.J. will likely be best remembered for that bit about Papa Johns Camaro in last weeks column. He is survived by a wife who is still young enough to do better, and a dog that will go to his grave having never known his name. He will be sorely missed. Well, sorely is a bit over the top. He only wrote one column. But most people are missed, right? So he might be missed. Perhaps.
Okay, okay fine, no more politics after this paragraph, but Christ on a bike, what if you got a new gig at an esteemed publication with an astute, forward-thinking, and (what the hell why not) sexually attractive readership? And then this crap happened a day and a half after your first byline went up? Quick quiz: what is the fastest way to bring about planetary apocalyptic doom? Yep.
Now then, discounting that MMA-obsessed manchild who runs Chechnya, name the two worst heads of state that you could possibly think of to get involved in that particular pissing contest? You see where I am going here. The point is well apparently the point is that I am the real victim here. So with that in mind [POST SHAMELESS GOFUNDME / PATREON LINK HERE]. I guess Guam can forget about hosting one of those goofy international games, but fret not, Guam is a land of no income or excise tax and UFC midcarder John Tuck. They might have forced you to watch another Jags/Dolphins Already-Out-Of-Contention Bowl, anyhow.
Now lets talk some football, on the assumption that the world does not burn between the time I finish typing and when Goat hits publish after getting a thumbs-up from the Council of Areopagites (I assume that’s how this works). Last time we discussed ways to try and gain an edge in betting preseason games, like gauging how seriously certain coaches take preseason games based on prior records. We also paid attention to depth chart battles, and discussed taking media reports about game plans at face value. In this column, we will look at some team futures and props. If Goat doesn’t axe me for dying two paragraphs ago, we can analyze individual player props next time.
First, a quick primer for all you non-degenerates out there, who might still spend time with loved ones and go outside now and then. As if that somehow holds more intrinsic value than abusing intoxicants so you can stay awake until 4:12 a.m. for the thrill of F5ing a score tracker page every nine seconds like a monkey with dementia. Because hey, sometimes the community college game you need for your parlay to hit is not on TV, online, or even being Periscoped by one of the players parasitic family members.
People tend to use the terms prop and future interchangeably, though there is an actual difference. A prop is betting on anything other than the final outcome of a game, cockfight, or third-grade girls gym class red rover championship. Ergo, the coin flip, the length of the national anthem, first team to score, and longest punt are all prop bets. A futures bet is a bet on a game in the… uhh future… but without knowing which teams will be participating. Betting that the Green Bay Packers will win the Super Bowl, the NFC Championship, and/or the NFC North Division Title is a future bet.
As you may already know, Ruthless resident game of chance oracle Plexico Gingrich wrote two pieces outlining baseball props in 2015. While those were about baseball, which reportedly sucks, both columns are illustrative as to why and how you can gain an edge on season-long props. In the first column, he sets forth why a small prop bet regarding win totals is a decent value in terms of giving you something to root for all season.
Let me allow you a peek behind the curtain, so to speak. My wife is a masochist. And not the good kind, where I get to wear one of those Pulp Fiction Zed/Malcolm McLaren in The Great Rock n Roll Swindle masks to bed every night. Nope, a seemingly-intelligent NYU graduate willingly picked the New York Jets as her favorite football team. As such, despite my numerous protestations, an appreciable chunk of my Sundays are usually spent watching Gang Green find new and exciting ways to repeatedly shoot themselves in the foot. Mind you, I mean that metaphorically but would not be the least bit surprised if in two weeks I read that Charone Peake literally did so after an altercation caused by the Ms. Pac-Man machine at Barcade taking his quarter or something. In any event, every Sunday I am treated to an hour or two of Jets football, until the ball and chain hurls a half-full Natty Daddy tall boy that (impressively) lands in the dog food bag. That is my signal that this years version of Geno Fitzpennington has thrown his fourth interception and I can go back to watching the Red Zone Channel.
Given that a toxic amalgamation of co-dependence, territorial broadcast rights, and love mandates that I will be watching these games anyway, I have paid a decedent amount of attention to the season win total prop for the Jets. It currently sits at 4.5, after opening at 5.5. As was the case with Plex and the Dodgers, I can chuck $100 on the win total going over to win $160, which gives me something to root for all season. Now, there are obviously a litany of problems with the Jets this year. Rookie safety Jamal Adams is probably the best DB on the team. TE’s have become high-end commodities in today’s game and their depth chart is atrocious. Quincy Enunwa is done for the year and possibly forever, and they have all but conceded that they are tanking the season to rebuild. I would be remiss not to mention the QB situation. Josh McCown is arguably the third best passer in his own family. Christian Hackenberg appears to be on Peter Thiels payroll for some mysterious reason. Hell, if you wrote a movie script and gave the name Bryce Petty to a 6’3″ 230 pound white QB, the producer would scold you for being too on the nose.
And yet, I still like the over 4.5. Obviously, in this instance I’m not going to bet yet, because this is not a line I need to lock in and if anything, the money line will swell for the over. The under 4.5 is currently at -200, meaning that is where the action has been, given that it dropped one whole game. Further, the -200 tied to the under is pretty disproportionate to the +160 ROI I can get with the over. For the sake of comparison, most season win totals are in the even/-105 to -125/135 range at present. So all indications are that we are running away from the herd, meaning patience is prudent. The split dropping to 4 is probably a bit much to ask, but in the worst case scenario the payout will only drop $10 or $20. That is a small price to pay for waiting out the three remaining preseason games. If the Jets were to lose one of their few true impact players like Mo Wilkerson -or- Sheldon Richardson, the under becomes the better bet anyway, assuming that your spouse is not a masochist.
Returning to the actual bet, keep in mind that the Jets went 5-11 last year. All jokes aside I think the McCown/Hackenberg/Petty triumvirate is actually an upgrade over the departed Ryan Fitzpatrick, let alone Geno Smith. And for the record, the story was never that Geno got in a fight with a teammate – that happens more often than you would think – but that the other guys in the locker room took the side of the guy who got cut. The Jets also get two games each with the Dolphins and Bills, the latter of whose entire offensive game plan appears to be LeSean McCoy, now every hour of 29 years old. This plays right into the one thing the Jets have going for them, the front-loaded defense capable of shutting down a run-first offense like the Bills, or for that matter week four opponents the Jaguars. As for the Dolphins, they will be casting their lot with Jay Cutler, who went 1-4 with four touchdowns and five interceptions in the five games he started last year. So beyond hosing Kaepernick out of another job he was qualified for, the Dolphins are also depriving the world of what would have certainly been the most passionate and incisive color analysis ever broadcast. So all told, the Jets get four winnable divisional match-ups, the aforementioned Jags game, and three other games against opponents coming off of losing seasons. Two of those are at home and the other is in Cleveland, so I’m willing to take a +160 flyer on the leagues punchline.
Mr. Gingrichs other analogous piece discusses individual player props, which I intend to focus on next week. However, beyond the specific player analysis and the rare slapstick gag that works in print, there are some good rules laid out for props and futures. Summarily speaking, those are: (1) look for the holes in prop/future odds making, as these are sometimes an afterthought for the bookmakers and not as refined as conventional spread-setting; (2) exploit the lower caps on props when possible, as the lower caps correlate to plays the book is less concerned about; (3) do your homework ahead of time; (4) read the damn news for the love of God, and; (5) shop for the best lines. While preparation is important, placing early season-dependent bets is tempered because injuries are much more common in football, but there is obviously a rational middle ground between picking the Super Bowl winner on Independence Day and calling in 19 props a half-hour before opening night kickoff
In the interest of full disclosure, Ruthless does, or did, have an affiliate-ship with 5dimes. However, I did business with 5 Dimes long before Goat plucked me from obscurity to mock and disparage my loved ones before a worldwide audience. My investments are generally split between 5 Dimes, Bovada (which in my experience tends to have more favorable MMA money lines and parlay payouts), and actual bookmakers. The last-of-a-dying-breed legitimate Italian businessmen from Bensonhurst work off of paper tickets or phone calls. The legitimate Russian businessmen from Coney Island will hopefully continue to do business with me even after they undertake their forthcoming cabinet appointments. Dealing with a bookmaker inconveniently involves the dying art of personal interaction, and the legitimate Russian businessmen strongly prefer face-to-face payouts and collections at a specific bar. However, the trade-off is their willingness to take action on things like minor league fights or the Little League World Series (no, see my cousin was playing?) and leniency on teasers and late calls. Hey, sometimes you are so hot you just have to get one last bet in, but Hawaii kicked off 45 seconds ago. And for what it is worth, always take the over, because the Rainbow Warriors are the undisputed kings of the late night comically-inept Mountain West shootout.
Understandably, not everyone lives in a large metropolitan area or has the need or inclination to tie up with an old school bookie. This is especially true if the deal affords you the esteemed privilege of walking through Sheepshead Bay with a gently-used Buick Enclaves worth of cash in a gym bag so you can hand it off to a guy drinking vodka at nine in the morning. However, most everyone can make use of offshore books, and this is where line shopping is important. There are all sorts of sites that compare money lines and spreads from legit and grey-area offshore books. I like to use Vegas Insider for the specific purpose of line shopping/comps, because the display easy to read, and devoid of a bunch of $10000 FREE SLOT PLAY ads that ratchet up the squick factor. Their consensus row gives the mode spread from 34 different books which is helpful for reference purposes. Once the season starts, I will probably use the Vegas Insider consensus line in this column, since that would theoretically represent the number available to the largest number of (astute, forward-thinking, sexually attractive) readers.
Thus far, the hottest NFL future bet appears to be the New England Patriots winning the AFC East, which is a perfect case study in the importance of line shopping. The futures money line opened at -500 at either South Point or CG Tech. That line saw more action than a hooker on an aircraft carrier, to such a degree that the Westgate Superbook opened at -1400 in late May. As I write this, the Pats AFC East money line is -700 at MyBookie, -920 at SportBet, -1000 at Bovada, and -2000 at TopBet. The last 5 Dimes line I saw was also -920 but at present the AFC East winner is not on the board. Granted, the books offering the better line may cap your stake, and the good line is still 1/7, but the point is obvious. Maybe you are just putting your money down because you’re from Boston. You might be splitting a ticket with friends. Perhaps you have simply resigned yourself to the substantial likelihood that the league is going to flex every Pats game, every Pats practice, reruns of 1998-99 Michigan games, and Gisele Bndchens scenes from The Devil Wears Prada into prime time. Regardless of your gambling savvy, you are still better off taking the line that will pay you almost three times as much for being right, so long as money can be exchanged for goods and services.
When I tell people who are not from Boston that the Patriots are objectively the best team in football, I feel like a parent explaining the death of a goldfish. That is certainly not something my Queens neighbors want to hear, but it is demonstrably true, at least from a statistical standpoint. Sportsline has them pegged to win 12.2 games based on 10000 sim seasons. Football Outsiders has them at the top of their likely playoff berth chart, with an astronomical 87.5% chance of postseason play based upon Defense-adjusted Value Over Average or DVOA, explained here. Hell, even if you are of the (beloved) poorly educated ilk, consider whether or not you can even remember the last time the Pats did not win the AFC East. It was nine years ago, when Tom Brady got hurt in week one and did not play the rest of the year. They also won it the five years before that. The last time they truly got beat out of a division title, by the Dolphins no less, was 2002. George W. Bush was certain to go down in history as Americas worst president. Tom Brady was a 25-year-old who slept in conventional pajamas. Ricky Williams hadn’t yet retired or gone on a confusing yet admirable journey of self-discovery. I’m not 100% sure they even wore face-masks. My point is, the Pats of recent years have evolved into a dynasty, and they are better on paper than they were last year, somehow loaded with talent and simultaneously deep. They could probably win every divisional game with a hungover Jimmy Garoppolo under center, fresh off of a night of drinking malt liquor out of his Worlds Most Insufferably Handsome Man trophy. Sometimes the herd is right, and while -700 is approaching bridge jumper territory, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which they do not repeat as AFC East Champions.
The Dallas season win total is worth mentioning in light of everything happening with Ezekiel Elliott this week. This past spring, the Dallas O/U opened at 9.5 at both South Point and the Westgate Superbook. Kenny White, a high-profile odds-maker and Billy Walters protege, hurriedly did some press claiming that South Point would lose big money because of the line, and that he would have set it at 10.5. Those inclined to believe that Mr. White did this out of the goodness of his heart, and not as native advertising for South Point published under CBS Sports byline, seemingly ate it up, because the lines tied to the over went from near-even to the -130 range. The line more or less stayed put over the summer, until the six-game suspension was announced, and all of the sudden the win total drops to 8.5.
For our purposes, questions about who did what, the NFL’s legislative process, and what is fair are of no import. What is important is that as soon as the suspension was public knowledge, everyone – including the books – knew that he would appeal it, and that most people figure it will settle between two and four games. So if the handicappers knew that six games was not the real suspension, but that he would probably at least miss two, we have to determine why the O/U dropped one game. I don’t think the new 8.5 line is a reflection of new money coming in after the announcement, because the drop to 8.5 was almost instantaneous. I don’t think its bait, either. There probably really is an algorithm for determining how many wins become losses if a star tailback misses between two and four games. And I think its off by about 1.5 games.
Three of those first six games are against the Cards, Rams, and 49ers. Despite being a monster last year, the Cowboys drew six sub-.500 opponents on this years schedule, though this is obviously due in part to sharing a division with the Eagles. Furthermore, I spent weeks and weeks doing research and have determined that Ezekiel Elliott did not in fact score every single point for Dallas last year. Turns out his friend Rayne, in addition to having the only known perfect unisex stripper name in existence, is shaping up to be a once-in-a-generation QB. Rayne Dakota Prescott had a TD/INT split of 23/4 as a rookie which is just outright lunacy. In terms of percentages he is roughly the equivalent of Aaron Rodgers, without an offense custom-built to his specifications or an outpouring of media/public sympathy due to his brother going on a garbage TV show and turning out to be a creep. Granted, he has some areas to work on. Despite a great performance he still lost the biggest game of his career, and he average only 229 yards per game, both of which will infuriate the Cowboys petulant fan base over time. Worse yet, The Fortress is a horrible nickname for an NFL quarterback, though to be fair it would be an awesome handle for an offensive guard in The LFL (the first L doesn’t stand for Lingerie anymore; who knew?). However, the first two will probably become afterthoughts with experience, and maybe he can sell The Fortress as ironic or something. Anyone that talented can win more than nine games in a season, and having an elite back behind him for 12 or 14 games will make it a certainty.
As aforesaid, next week we will discuss individual player props as we bound toward meaningful games, and with those come spreads and totals that adhere to logic. In the interim, do the homework, watch the exhibitions, and look for the edges we can use to make money once the season gets rolling.
lf you care, I am as of this minute up a respectable $234 based upon very small, conservative bets on preseason games that I was home to watch. The wins were SEA over LAC (even), NYJ +3 over TEN, PIT +4 over NYG, and DEN +1 at CHI. I of course lost the two games I discussed last week, as KC -1.5 was as dumb as I said it was and HOU needed a hell of a lot more than Deshaun Watsons full attention and 2 points to bear CAR. Of course, anybody can say they are up every week, and in all honesty the last thing I want to do with this opportunity is to come off as some sort of carnie. So feel free to follow me on Twitter @artistsfirstllc if you like and I will try and post my football action as it occurs. Please remember the overarching purpose of this whole enterprise is to have fun and make a little pocket change, and as such threatening to kill me in a public forum because you misinterpreted something I said about Ryan Mallett and his serial-killer eyes. Good luck!