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Choose Wisely
by Dennis Ranahan

On Thursday, the National Football League will kickoff their third week of preseason play. It is true that this is the August week when most teams will play their projected starters most. But, the second assumption that goes with that fact is that this is the week the better teams will win at a significantly higher rate.

The better teams will actually win less here than in a typical regular season week of play.


Why what?

Why do teams win less here or why do bettors back the better teams because they think playing more starters will lead to more favorites winning?

First, bettors will back the better teams more because they think they have an edge knowing it is the third week and starters will see more action. It is simple thinking, but bettors have never distinguished themselves because of their deep analytical thought.

As for why the most talented teams don’t necessarily win more in this week of preseason action is because, well, it is still preseason for them. Even with their veteran starters seeing more action, the final score is always determined late and in the fourth quarter the field will be littered with many athletes on the cusp on making an NFL roster or catching a plane out of town before the season opens in two weeks. The best organizations are still using this game to evaluate their personnel, and once the starters have gotten in extra preparation their attention will shift to marginal athletes to help guide their final cuts.

Third week or any of preseason games, the most important job of teams that will be in the final mix for a Super Bowl championship is using the preseason to prepare for that drive without regard to a preseason score. Conversely, the weaker teams are still using the preseason for the dual purpose of evaluating talent and exciting their fan base. The most important trigger to enthusing a fan base is for their team to win, even in the preseason. It should not go unnoticed that the only two teams in NFL history to compile 0-16 regular seasons, the 2008 Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns last year, compiled perfect 4-0 preseasons before their winless campaigns.

What works in the preseason is exactly what is required to beat the point spread in the regular season, a deeper dive into the reasons why a team is poised to win or lose. And, you know those guys with the budgets to light the casinos and offer you either side of a wagering proposition and consistently separate you from your money? They know more than you.

They are not in business to build your bankroll.

What they know can often be read in the point spreads and whenever there is a line that looks out of whack and one the public leaps at as if they spotted a sure thing, the books are probably playing the bettors for suckers.

Take a line this week.

The Green Bay Packers are 2-0 this preseason and one of the favorites to vie for the Vince Lombardi Trophy. Last week, at home against the talented Pittsburgh Steelers, the Packers tallied 51 points. Only two other times this century has a team tallied 50 or more points in a preseason game, that being the Dallas Cowboys in 2003, who put up 52 against the Oakland Raiders, and the 2010 Packers, who tagged the Indianapolis Colts with 59 points during the third week of preseason play.

Know what those two high scoring teams had in common?

They were favored on the point spread.

The books knew who was going to win, albeit maybe by not as wide of a magin as they did.

I vividly recall the 2003 game in which the Cowboys blew out Oakland because my clients thought we were nuts for recommending a wager on Dallas that night given the Raiders were the defending AFC Champions and opened that week as a point spread favorite. By kickoff, Dallas had shifted to a four point favorite even while most individual wagers were backing Oakland.

The big money was on Dallas, because they knew the game plans for the two teams created a mismatch against the perceived better team.

This Friday, the Raiders, who have split their first two preseason games while beating the winless Detroit Lions and dropping a game last weekend to the Los Angeles Rams, are favored over the undefeated Packers. No big deal, right? The outlaw line on this game opened with Oakland favored by 2½ points, but by the time the wise guys got first crack at betting that number the point spread had ballooned to Oakland by 7 points.

The public saw the opportunity of getting the Packers plus a touchdown on the spread and have lined up on Green Bay.

Which means this, the public is betting against the wise guys and against the books; the people who saw value in Oakland because of the coaches game plans and the smartest people in this game that adjusted the line accordingly.

So, you have a choice on this game. Bet on the low hanging fruit the public sees, or take your cue from the wise guys and books.

Qoxhi Picks: Oakland Raiders (-7) over Green Bay Packers