Ahoy-Hoy fellow Ruthless Review aficionados! I’m J.J., your provisional NFL pickery columnist for the upcoming 2017-18 season. This is given because the legendary Dick is now occupied over at some thingie called A Real Job. He did work for a place called Entertainment and Sports Programming Networks – whatever the hell that is? Plexico is flashing knowing smirks at every new DNC email leak, and gambling his life away. Sally’s watching slasher movies and has promised Goat to start writing again, and Guy McCardle is leaning back and cracking his knuckles after writing one of the best things I’ve read this year, so you’re stuck with me for the time being. I don’t think I’m a nihilist because I got kicked out of a NIHILISTICS gig at CBGB back when years started with the numeral 1, and I’m not an award-winning pornographer, unless you count grainy, ill-advised self-nudes as pornography and cease-and-desist letters as an award. That said, I can debate pop culture with the best of them. Dig it: most everything sucks and every cool thing gets banned, cancelled or co-opted because the vast majority of America apparently prefers its dates farmer-only, its yachty’s little, and its hills real housewives of Beverley. Debate over.
That said, by the Grace of Christ/Buddha/Satan/Beyonce, we do have football. Sweet, violent, LOUD American football. And allow me to put your minds at ease, fellow goons; well have football for a loooooong time to come. Its not going anywhere. Consider the fact that a demonstrable majority of Americans support socialized medicine, logical restrictions on gun ownership, and some degree of access to abortions. Yet all three of those topics are a source of constant, endless, insufferable debate regardless of the statistically proven opinions of the citizenry, not to mention the equivalents of a hornets nest in terms of public/social conversations and, to be honest, idiotic issues to broach during ones introductory column that is supposed to be about gambling. Yet they remain political footballs (see? Arguably still on topic!) because of lobbyists, greed, and the pliant moral compasses of elected officials. With that in mind, consider that NFL teams are essentially owned by 30 of the richest people on Earth (and Mark Davis and his mom and 81 moderately-less-rich Wisconsinites) and that those teams in turn generate obscene revenues and resources for gigantic broadcasting monoliths, the armed forces, beer companies, apparel manufacturers, and so-forth. Papa John could beat back any popular outcry calling for the dismantling of the football industrial complex by himself with the change on the floor of his ugly-ass camaro.
A brief word or two on media outlets and columnists who are looking to out-quick the zeitgeist by running Should You Be Watching Football? think-pieces: this paper of record is still apologizing for leading us into the Iraq war (4491 American casualties), this goof thinks the future of the American left hinges on chang[ing] the way they think about abortion and this website referred to that catch me outside window-lickers unintelligible accent whilst declaring her one of the absolute best memes of 2017 (so far). This is disingenuous, manufactured concern. It is the infantilization of grown men. We the viewers did not accidentally spill a latte on the concussion research paper right before the NFLPA reps walked into our office, just as we the viewers don’t really care what Colin Kaepernick thinks about Ghana if hes a better quarterback than Ryan Mallett (he is, objectively), so do not let some clown insert us into a morality play, imagined or otherwise. Its football. Its been here for a long time and it will be here when we die. Again, debate over.
As a freeborn man of the U.S.A., gorging on way too much football five days per week is my birthright, as is drinking gallons of watery domestic beer in 12 to 14 hour stretches every Saturday and Sunday. Americans of every gender, ethnicity, and age wait with bated breath for 1:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon, and for good reason. Football and greed are two of the few remaining things most of us still agree on, so if you really think about it, gambling on football is really a patriotic rite of passage. I’m not kidding when I tell you that I bonded with my father at a young age by figuring out spreads, comparing tip sheets, and watching those weird Lee Pete tout barker shows that used to play on the USA Network. Things have obviously gotten more sophisticated since we got our spreads on halved sheets of legal paper in the backs of cigar stores and bars that served breakfast so long as you like soup for breakfast, but the game and ritual remain more or less the same. And that’s where I come in.
Alright then. Introductory paragraph designed to curry favor with editorial staff and lasso identity to better writers? Check. Unnecessary political grandstanding likely to alienate significant portion of readership (adjusted for intelligently discriminatory tastes of typical Ruthless reader)? Check. Sycophantic parenthetical to suck up to all of the above? Check. Sardonic references to alcoholism and rather complicated relationship with father to seem relate-able? Check! I think were good here. ON TO THE GAMES!!!!!
Ah crumbs. No games yet.
Alright-alright- alright! There are games. Thing is, they’re preseason games, which I would normally advise against betting on with any real money. As far as that goes I mean, this is Ruthless, right? So I figure the readership is already hip to this stuff (see sycophantic parenthetical supra) and I assume we all know the basics. Never bet more than you can afford to lose. Never bet with your heart. That’s about it I guess.
Okay, then. Pre-season football. Now and then I will toss money on preseason games, but only if I’m going to watch it anyway and need a reason to care. Mind you, were talking half-units, or even quarter-units, because if were being honest its a bit silly to try and predict games wherein the participants are not necessarily trying to win. To begin with, the lines are very small; as of this writing the biggest line is Kansas City -4 at home against San Francisco on August 11. That makes a certain kind of sense, as KC was 12-4 last year, while SF was 2-14. So I could theoretically bet it right now, in which case I would take KC.
The problem is, after I lay KC in order to lock in that line, Andy Reid could hold a press conference and say that he wants to rest Alex Smith, who turned 33 in May, due to something that happened in camp (look for an increase in this since Ryan Tannehill just Bridgewatered his knee running out of bounds). That makes Tyler Bray my starter. If you recall, Bray jumped the gun in 2013 and left Tennessee early, only to go un-drafted. He signed with the Chiefs as a UFA, and has remained there ever since, typically a good sign that hes developing. It was widely assumed that he was there to learn behind Smith and eventually grow into a starter, but last year he was beat out by Philadelphia’s prodigal son Nick Foles, then doing his tour through the central states, for the backup gig. Then, KC traded up in order to draft Patrick Mahomes with the tenth pick in this years draft; not a great harbinger for Bray. Of course, Mahomes then got held up at apparently-fake gunpoint by couple of addicts which isn’t a great herald for him, either. Or anyone else, really. Anyway, lets say with Smith on the sidelines, Bray starts the game and looks suspect. All of the sudden I’m left with the tandem of the unproven Mahomes and Joel Stave, who bounded through three different practice squads last year and whose future probably lies in Wisconsin politics. On the other side of the ball I’m dealing with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, neither of whom are Joe Montana but both of whom are desperate to stake their claim for the starting job and, failing that, any job. Such is the dubious nature of the attractive preseason line.
Some bettors more flippant than I will also tell you that you can gain an edge by looking at the prior preseason record of the coaches, as opposed to the teams, involved. There is a certain logic to this; trends would indicate that Bill Belichick and Mike Mularkey tend to take their early games more seriously, whereas Marvin Lewis and Jim Caldwell do the opposite. That said, a lot of that is based upon the situation at hand, which is not always made obvious by easily-available stats, in which case you are researching why Caldwell has gone 1-5 in his second preseason game over the past six years, and this is the point at which I remind you that you are betting on preseason football!
Otherwise, obviously you can pay attention to press conferences, game plans, and team-specific bloggers who stake out camps. Given that they are sometimes deliberately misleading you can’t take pressers seriously during the regular season and those are typically filled with platitudes anyway (we are going to put the best team on the field in order to put points on the board) but if its still the preseason and due to roster or cap space it becomes obvious that one of two name tailbacks has to be cut, and a coach says they’re going to test the running game or see how well X and Y integrate into our system then you probably will see more running plays. In that case, you would look at the under, which tends to skew low in the preseason. At press time, Houston/Carolina and Denver/Chicago tie for the lowest on the board at 36, whereas Jags/Pats is at 40.5 likely due to the aforementioned tendencies of Bill Belichick and – go figure – Doug Marrone.
In addition to injuries and precautions, holdouts can affect preseason play, though I tend to run away from the herd on this one. First off, don’t listen to any nonsense about team chemistry being altered by holdouts or contract disputes; that is lazy sports-writing from hacks who pine for the days when linebackers had to sell insurance or used cars in the off-season. Assume most every NFL player is acutely aware of the fact that they are part of one of the most specialized skilled labor forces in the world, and that they work for billionaires (or Mark Davis and his mom or 81 moderately-less-rich Wisconsinites) who claim poverty when asked to pay fair market value for their services. However, if a name player is injured or holding out, some rush to bet the other side, which I think is myopic. In those situations, if the guy behind him on the depth chart has a realistic shot at nabbing a starting role, either there or somewhere else, I figure hes gonna play the first few series balls-out in a game where his colleagues might not. Houstons Deshaun Watson is the last rookie who hasn’t signed or publicly agreed to the terms of his contract, and if that’s still the case on Wednesday, I’m (literally) willing to wager that Tom Savage goes that much harder when they come into Carolina as three point dogs.
And that, my friends, is about all of the advice I can give you in terms of betting preseason football. If Goat lets me stick around, next time well discuss props, as there are a couple of sexy edges on regular season win totals and playoff futures, and we can metaphorically challenge the existence of a just and merciful God by asking if there is a solid ROI on taking the Pats or the Cowboys to win the whole damn thing. Then, once the season starts, we can start finding our 1,000,000 STAR LOCK of the week, just as soon as I hire an intern who’s good at math so I can scrub away my losses with wonky math because lets face it, were gambling on football and unless you’re actually on the field it would be dishonest to guarantee anything other than making the whole thing a little more fun. But that I can hopefully do. Good luck!