Inside Slant

Dave Larkin breaks down the Week 1 betting lines and picks his best bets. 

I don’t claim to be an expert at betting football games.

After all, gambling is, by definition, a bit of a toss-up. If you manage to come out of a season with anywhere around 55% of your bets earning a profit, you can afford to pat yourself on the back. Getting to that point is the hard part, but my aim is to help you do that across a season with some under the radar wagers.

What gambling on football does allow us to do is have a little bit of fun with games we might not normally be interested in. While wagering on the spread and total points is the norm, your best bet might be to eschew these and go with more unconventional options.

Last season, I finished with a record just a hint over .500, which is respectable but not where I wanted to be. This season, we can turn over a new leaf, learn from our shortfalls of 2015 and deliver a profit bonanza in 2016.

Or, at least, we can do our best. This pro football is a fickle beast to bet on, so remember that this should only be undertaken as a recreational hobby.

Before we dive into Week 1, we should first take a look back at the historical trends and what they can tell us. These trends are airtight and have yielded a positive return on investment over a large sample size when put to the test. This is not an exhaustive list; in all, there are 21 so-called ‘golden rules’, but I feel the selection below will get us off on the right foot.


‘GOLDEN RULES’ OF WAGERING ON NFL GAMES

(Credit: Sporting Charts.com)

* Rules below apply to any given week; some rules are based on a larger sample size and only apply after Week 4 of
the season

1. Bet on underdogs when the point spread is at or above 10

10-year Success Rate: 56.1%
Comment: Here is a bet that is commonly exploited by the gambling cognoscenti, or ‘sharps’ as they are known in the business. Taking a cursory glance at the Week 1 lines, the only game that applies is Miami’s intimidating opener at Seattle, where the Fins are grabbing 10.5 points. Certainly there is a narrative that can be constructed to back the Dolphins. The Seahawks, despite many anointing them as champions in the preseason, are not without their flaws and teams are bound to be a little more error-prone in their first outing of the season.

2. Bet on favorites on Thursdays

10-year Success Rate: 58.5%
Comment: The Thursday night opener has traditionally been a chance for the reigning Super Bowl champion, in their house, to inflict a whooping on the unsuspecting visitors. This year’s opener sees the Broncos, sans Peyton Manning and with Trevor Siemian freshly installed as the starting quarterback, as three-point underdogs against the Carolina Panthers, who they defeated in Super Bowl 50. This one is tough to call, but I would generally side with the home team, so jumping on the Broncos while they’re getting points is the smart play here.

3. Bet on underdogs in September

10-year Success Rate: 50.3%
Comment: The 50.3% success rate for this particular bet doesn’t exactly scream ‘sure thing’, but there is strong anecdotal evidence from watching football for many years that, especially in early weeks, the smart gamblers can exploit the somewhat confusing points spreads. After all, Vegas is guessing as much as we are until we have a larger sample size. Week 1 underdogs that I quite like are Tampa Bay getting three points at Atlanta and San Diego getting seven points at Kansas City.

4. Bet on favorites on Mondays

10-year Success Rate: 54.4%
Comment: The double header of Monday night games in Week 1 provides us with two road favorites in Pittsburgh (-3) at Washington and Los Angeles (-2.5) at San Francisco. Last year the Vikings got blindsided by the 49ers; could the Rams suffer a similar fate despite being favored? The team I like here is Pittsburgh in what could be a shootout.

5. Bet on visitors in divisional games

10-year Success Rate: 52.2% Comment: As if to reinforce my original stances on Tampa Bay (+3 at Atlanta) and San Diego (+7 at Kansas City), this bet may also provide some clarity for gamblers waffling over what to do with the Giants at Cowboys match-up. The game is a pick ‘em as it stands, but that may change. If you trust the Giants – and I can’t say I do – jump on it before it is too late.


WEEK 1 PUNTS

San Diego (+7) at Kansas City @ 5/6

The Chargers are a strong bounce back candidate for me this year, with their propensity to be involved in near-miss games proving their downfall in 2015. Such a run of misfortune is not sustainable into 2016, surely. To put it into perspective: in 2015, San Diego lost eight games by a single score. If we take a page from our ‘golden rules’ outlined above, the Chargers make an excellent upset pick for Week 1 just as everyone is piling on to the Chiefs bandwagon. Will the Chargers actually pull off the upset? Maybe. Will they at least keep it within a score? If last year is anything to go by, then you should be feeling pretty confident with this bet.

Green Bay at Jacksonville – total points UNDER 48.0 @ 10/11

Sometimes you have to pick your spots and be brave enough to go against the grain. This game represents a good opportunity to capitalize on conventional wisdom – by completely ignoring it. The Packers have one of the best offenses in the league on paper, but Jordy Nelson likely won’t be game ready with his recovery from knee tendinitis and at times the Pack keep it closer to the vest than the casual fan realises. The Jaguars boast a cadre of skill players capable of matching Rodgers and company blow for blow, but both these defenses have the potential to be stingy. The total seems a tad high for me.

Home team total points: Arizona under 27 points vs. New England @ 10/11

Haven’t we seen this movie before? Against all odds, the wily Bill Belichick constructs a game plan to not only get a team out of their comfort zone, but to rip the blanket off and leave them a sobbing mess in the street wondering what just happened. The Cardinals offense has its fair share of apologists, but I trust what I see and what I see is that Carson Palmer is lacking something since the playoff run of last season. Preseason is preseason, sure, and we can dismiss it to a certain extent, but if you think Belichick can’t get under Palmer’s skin with frustrating schemes, then think again. It won’t be the most popular bet, but the Patriots have the ability to slow this game down, keep Palmer and the Cardinals offense on the bench and limit their opportunities down the field.

Miami (+10.5) at Seattle @ 20/23

It is strange to see a team getting so disrespected without even playing a snap. On the flip side, it is eye- opening to see a team getting so much deference. Reputations count for something, sure, but 10 points seems like an awful lot for the Seahawks to cover. Adam Gase will not wave his magic wand and turn Miami’s roster into a contender overnight, but I believe they have more than enough in their locker to give Seattle trouble. Seattle will probably win this comfortably, but a 30-20 Seahawks victory still notches up a win for you.

WATCH LIST – SEASON-LONG BETS

This year my friends and I got together and pooled our (limited) resources to cherry pick a few value bets. There are one or two I feel very confident about in light of offseason news on the Cowboys and Titans especially. Without further ado, here are the bets to watch this season. And remember, it’s not too late to join me on this shaky bandwagon.

Dallas Cowboys UNDER 9.5 wins @ 5/6

By far my most confident bet, and I was bullish even before the Tony Romo injury news broke. While Dak Prescott is a compelling talent who should provide a respectable threat from the quarterback position, his lack of experience will eventually be exploited. The Cowboys defense is what really concerns me; the suspensions cripple an already suspect unit. In a division that is known for its tight races, take the under.

Tennessee to win AFC South @ 17/2

If Dallas is my most confident bet, this is definitely my punt of the year. Call me crazy, but Tennessee looks like they have something of an identity. It has been a struggle for them for years, but Marcus Mariota has the talent to keep this offense viable all season – and the schedule is not bad either. The Texans are probably the most sensible team to bet on, but my question to you is: why not the Titans?

Sterling Shepard to win Offensive Rookie of the Year @ 20/1

I have been a fan of Shepard’s game since watching him play at Oklahoma, and the Giants are clearly loving what they see from the rookie thus far. Shepard has shone in preseason on limited snaps, and has seized the starting role opposite Odell Beckham Jr Jr. It is simple logic, but I believe Beckham’s presence and a veteran quarterback like Eli Manning – combined with the immense talent Shepard promises to deliver on – will yield a very strong season. He will have to beat out Ezekiel Elliott, but the Cowboys’ struggles may turn some people off him. Shepard is poised to pounce if the Giants can rebound.


Make sure to check back next week for more betting tips ahead of Week 8’s slate of games. Follow me on Twitter @davlar87.