The Muffed Punt: Home NFL underdogs barking loud in Week 1

Week 1 of the NFL season holds a special place on the sports betting calendar. At least, for the bookmakers it does. There’s no further gap between the bettors and books than in the first week of NFL action, when football fans slap their money down on the counter – or click their money down if you’re betting online – and get the harsh reminder that we don’t know jack squat about this game we all love so much. 

No amount of training camp updates, stacks of preview mags, or hours of preseason viewing can stop the inevitable beating most bettors will suffer in the early goings of the NFL schedule. Don’t believe me? Check out the numbers from Nevada sportsbooks each September (see below). It’s like the god damn opening scene from Blade every time football kicks off. And guess what, we’re not Wesley Snipes.

Truth be told, no one really knows what the hell is going to happen once the ball is snapped but for the most part, oddsmakers have the closest thing to a crystal ball when it comes to cooking up the weekly pointspreads. Hey, look at Thursday’s 28-21 finish between the Steelers and Patriots which pushed with the 7-point spread most books were dealing on this game. They gotta be doing something right.

And those modern-day soothsayers have proclaimed home-field advantage to be worth about as much as a Tim Tebow Eagles jersey in Week 1, pegging eight host teams as underdogs. The 2015 Week 1 home pups include Chicago (+6.5), Buffalo (+2.5), Washington (+3.5), Jacksonville (+3), St. Louis (+4), Oakland (+3.5), Atlanta (+3.5), and San Francisco (+2.5), with some books dealing Houston as a pick’em. This ties the 2010 Week 1 schedule for the highest amount of opening week home pups since 1985, with those eight 2010 underdogs going 5-3 SU and ATS.

In fact, Week 1 home underdogs have been quite the bountiful wager when put against those opening-game spreads, going 81-67-4 ATS (58-94 SU) – covering at almost 55 percent over the past 30 seasons. That’s enough to turn a profit over all those years but it ain’t Eli Manning money.

However, much like in nature, dogs do the most damage when they’re members of a pack. When oddsmakers have decided that six or more teams deserved to be Week 1 underdogs, those clubs getting the points in front of their screaming faithful have used those spreads as bulletin board material. Since 1985, there have been 10 seasons which featured six or more Week 1 home dogs (1985, 1986, 1987, 1990, 1995, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2010), with those teams posting a combined 42-23-1 ATS mark. That’s a near 65 percent winner right there!

Shake & Bake with some tips on handling packs of dogs.

Last season, home dogs went 2-1 SU and ATS in Week 1 and finished 42-39-2 ATS on the year. Since 2000, home underdogs have been a losing wager at 592-606-37 ATS (49%) and jumping in the DeLorean, gunning it to 88 mph, and going back to 1985, hosts getting the points are a collective 1,152-1,100-65 ATS (51%).

Put that slim rake against the 55 percent ATS winning clip owned by Week 1 home dogs in that same span and sportsbooks close the window quickly on any weakness they may show early into the schedule. So to quote the great American poet DMX, “Where my dogs at?”

Dancing in September

As mentioned above, bettors have been at the mercy of bookmakers in the first month of the football season, at least in Nevada. According to the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, Silver State sportsbooks have crushed football bettors (NFL and college) for almost $101 million over the past three Septembers (2012 to 2014), celebrating holds of 13.33 percent in September 2012, 8.29 percent in 2013, and 10.71 percent in 2014.

The public eventually catches up to the oddsmakers’ football knowledge in October, which has earned Nevada books just $34.8 million in football winnings the last three years. Those holds (win percentages) dropped to 4.47 percent in 2014, 5.28 percent in 2013, and -1.98 percent in 2012 when bettors took sportsbook operators to the cleaners for a loss of $6.2 million.

Even in November, when Vegas has shattered gaming records the past couple years, the holds don’t come close to September’s dominance. Nevada books have won $46.9 million on football bets in November the past three years and actually lost money on pigskin with -$5.3 million in payouts in 2012, when they were dealt a -1.57 percent win percentage. They did much better the following two Novembers, but still posted holds of just 6.84 and 6.96 percent in 2013 and 2014 respectively.

Pants-pooping Trend of the Week

I tweeted this one out earlier but it’s such a great trend, you’re going to hear it again: Teams coming off a Super Bowl loss – looking at you Seattle – are a dismal 6-9 SU and only 3-12 ATS in Week 1 of the following season. The Seahawks, who fell victim to this curse in 2006 (9-6 Week 1 win at Detroit, didn’t cover as 6-point faves), are giving the Rams four points at home Sunday.

Computer model

Last year, our great Las Vegas writer Colin Kelly looked into if today’s modern sports video games could accurately predict the score – or at least the spread – of real-life games. Many scoffed at the idea. Then Madden 15 went and called the Super Bowl XLIX score exactly right, including the Pats coming back from a 10-point hole down 24-14.

That got me thinking.

My kid loves Madden. So much so, that the best form of punishment I can threaten is, “You don’t want to take out the recycling?! Well, how about I erase your damn Madden Ultimate Team then!” Recycling goes out every day now. On top of being the Excalibur of parenting tools, Madden 16 may also unlock the mysteries of Week 1.

So I took some of the most interesting matchups from this weekend’s sked and simulated them through the video game three times, to give some deviation to the results, as best I could with updated rosters and weather conditions according to Sunday’s forecasts. Here’s what I got:

Green Bay at Chicago (+6.5): 40-28 Packers, 20-16 Packers, 26-15 Packers [Average: 28.7-16.3 Packers]
Indianapolis at Buffalo (+2.5): 31-21 Bills, 13-6 Colts, 38-24 Bills [Average: 25-19.3 Bills]
New Orleans at Arizona (-2.5): 27-13 Arizona, 26-17 Saints, 35-10 Saints [Average: 24.7-18 Saints]
Baltimore at Denver (-4): 31-27 Ravens, 31-10 Broncos, 19-10 Ravens (Manning got hurt) [Average: 22.7-20 Broncos]
New York at Dallas (-6): 27-24 OT Cowboys, 35-6 Cowboys, 27-9 Cowboys (Damn straight!) [29.7-13 Cowboys]

We’ll check these out next week and see how they did predicting the ATS results, as well as provide a couple more. Gives me an excuse to play video games.

Books are sweating…

The Packers. Green Bay is drawing one-sided action in their opening night trip to Chicago, so much so that the season-ending injury to WR Jordy Nelson did little to deter Cheeseheads from piling it on and moving this Week 1 spread from Green Bay -5 to -6.5.


We’ll miss you Key & Peele. SLAP ASS!

According to Jason Simbal, vice president of risk management for CG Technology in Las Vegas, there have been just a dozen bets on the Bears – that’s right, 12 – as of Friday afternoon, compared to about 90 on the Packers. That ticket count will climb drastically once the hotels fill up this weekend but Simbal says all those bettors will be on Green Bay as well.

Wiseguys love…

The Raiders. Oakland is the smartest pick on the board, according to CG Technology in Las Vegas. Sharp bettors have taken the Raiders from +3.5 down to +3 hosting the Bengals, which doesn’t look like a massive move but is when you consider the field-goal spread is a key number. Some online books have dipped as low as Oakland +2.5 as of Friday afternoon.

Banker game of Week 1…

Monday night doubleheader. Everyone is high on the Vikings and the Eagles this year, so it’s no surprise all the action on the Monday Night Football double bill is on those two teams. According to CG Technology, how those primetime finales pan out will decide whether Week 1 is a win or a loss for bookmakers. An upset or two on Sunday would kill off a lot of the parlay action rolling into Monday, but the single-game wagering on these contests will be very one-sided.

Daily fantasy Player of the Week

Each week, I’ll give you a good option for your daily fantasy league. And no it won’t be some obvious cheese pick like, “Take Dez Bryant”. We’re talkin’ real DFS advice you can use. And when you win the $1 million jackpot because of me, you can pay off my 2011 Honda Odyssey – AKA “The Millennium Falcon”. Deal? Deal…

DFS Player of the Week: Owen Daniels, TE Denver Broncos

Daniels reunites with his former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak in the Mile High City, but it’s more Peyton Manning than the guy wearing the headset that has us excited about Daniels’ DFS potential in Week 1. Manning has leaned heavily on tight ends on his season debuts, totaling 351 yards and seven touchdowns to TEs in his last four Week 1 games (did not play in 2011).

Last year, Manning found TE Julius Thomas for 104 yards and three scores versus the Colts in the opener. Daniels steps into a gaping hole in the depth chart at TE for Denver and is available for the low, low DFS price of $5,500 this weekend.

Week 1 biggest line moves

The NFL Week 1 lines are different from every other week of the season because most books have had them up since the spring. That means, while Weeks 2 through 17 have six days to take betting action, Week 1 has six months.

The biggest line move is the San Francisco 49ers flipping from 4-point favorites to 2.5-point underdogs hosting Minnesota on Monday Night Football. The Niners, who are three years removed from playing in the Super Bowl, had the WORST. SUMMER. EVER! You know that summer when your girlfriend dumped you for a lifeguard, you broke your foot kicking a wall afterwards, and then it pretty much rained every day once you got your cast off? Well, San Fran’s summer was worse.

Super Bowl 50 futures

The 49ers’ woes were also felt across the Super Bowl 50 futures market, with San Francisco dropping from 25/1 to 100/1 to win the Big Game, which is actually being played in their backyard at Levi’s Stadium. That adjustment puts the Niners on par with long shots like Tampa Bay, which moved from 200/1 to 100/1, and Oakland, which jumped from 300/1 to 100/1 heading into Week 1.

If you want to get really real about Super Bowl betting, like Method Man really real, than Philadelphia and Indianapolis’ respective jumps from 16/1 to 8/1 are the most notable, according to the Westgate Superbook. My beloved Cowboys opened at 12/1 back in January (that’s right, Super Bowl 50 odds were out before Super Bowl XLIX was even played) and are now paying off at 14/1. Stupid Vegas. Thanks for the free money.

We know how to pick’em

We’ll
see our share of pick’em spreads on the NFL board this season. Rather
than go in-depth into this matchup and dissect every little detail to
get you off the fence or flip a coin like some people would do, we’re
leaving the pick’ems up to the cheerleaders and giving the nod to the
team with the hottest squad. Week 1 has one game that is showing pick at
some online books: Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans. So take a
look, and cast your vote in the comment section below.

Sunday’s menu

Every Sunday, I get up, get some caffeine in my veins and clean my house like I’m a serial killer and CSI is on the way. It’s a win/win for my wife and me. She gets a clean house and doesn’t have to do it. And I get to sit in front of the TV and watch football from the 1 p.m. ET kickoff to the final whistle of the Sunday nighter, uninterrupted without requests to do anything but “quiet the f#ck down, the baby’s sleeping!”

And, as part of this beautiful symbiotic Sunday relationship, I like to haul out the slow cooker and make a great meal that takes nothing more than throwing everything in a big pot and walking away. On the menu this Sunday…

Song for Sunday

As we head into Week 1 of the NFL season, I’ll leave you with this classic from Foreigner (aren’t they all?). Seems only fitting being Week 1 and all. Good luck and enjoy the games…

Follow Covers Features Editor Jason Logan on Twitter @CoversJLo. Check out JLo’s Covers archive for his latest features and columns, including his NFL’s biggest betting mismatches Week 1.

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