Haney's Handle: Football betting not confined by the calendar

Apr 4, 2012 |
Haney's Handle: Football betting not confined by the calendar
The Broncos' "Pro Football Championship" odds vary from book to book.
The Broncos' "Pro Football Championship" odds vary from book to book.
One of the most apt metaphors for football season compared it to a richly detailed, sprawling and engrossing novel that draws readers in as it unfolds, revealing twists and surprises with each chapter.

That comparison is hopelessly outdated, however. I mean, who has the attention span to read actual words anymore, right?

The updated version of the metaphor comes from National Football League spokesman Greg Aiello, who recently likened the league to the “ultimate reality show,” with big stories emerging throughout the year and the season no longer really confined to its traditional portion of the calendar.

He wasn’t referencing any betting angle, of course. But I’ve been a supporter of Aiello since he assisted me with an article I was writing on how Las Vegas casinos were opting to officially refer to the Super Bowl as the “Pro Football Championship Game”.

I suspected the NFL, whose relationship with Las Vegas is acrimonious at times, was applying pressure and protecting its trademarked term for the title game. Aiello assured me the league had nothing to do with it, in a highly professional manner … though I thought I detected a bemused note in his answer, a sort of Gilda Radner-esque “It’s always something” undertone.

The most prominent development in this ultimate reality show was the Denver Broncos’ signing of Peyton Manning, which drew downright hyperbolic coverage from all of the usual media suspects, up to and including TMZ. Some of the betting line movement that followed was intriguing, although not as extreme as some outlets would have us believe. The Broncos did not become Super Bowl favorites, for example.

A quick one-off here: I have neither the time nor the inclination to track all of the sports betting-related misinformation spread by media outlets that should know better. That would be a truly Herculean - or is it Sisyphean? - task. Suffice it to say that I’ve long maintained gambling remains the only topic in which you can make things up out of whole cloth, publish it and not be challenged on it. In the realms of politics and business, outrageous lies are par for the course but you can bet someone from the other side of the issue will challenge them.

This week in Las Vegas, the LVH sportsbook had the Broncos at 15-1 to win the Super Bowl - the eighth choice behind the Packers, Patriots, Saints, Texans, 49ers, Eagles and Ravens. The Steelers and Giants were also 15-1 shots. Incidentally, the LVH is one of the few operations to officially refer to the game as “Super Bowl XLVII.”

By comparison, the Broncos were 9-1 at Caesars properties and 12-1 at Lucky’s to win the “2012-13 Pro Football Championship.” Lucky’s also has the Broncos’ regular-season win total at 9.5 wins (under -120/over -110) - approximately 2.5 wins higher than I personally would have had them before the Manning signing.

A much lesser-noted development captured my imagination, though. Ricky Williams, on the occasion of having an 8-foot, 1,000-pound bronze statue of himself unveiled at the University of Texas, proposed that the NFL extend its regular season from 16 to 18 games, but with a new regulation that each player must sit out two games during the season. In a world in which “thinking outside the box” has become the most meaningless of clichés, Williams actually does it.

“You make the same money for 18 games, but it’s not as much pain and not as hard on players’ bodies,” Williams told reporters. “There’s a lot of fun things you could do with that.”

Agreed. Consider the oddsmaking implications alone.

Meanwhile, optimism is brewing around Williams’ Texas Longhorns, most likely prompted by the potential for a devastating ground game. Texas opened at 30-1 to win the BCS championship at all MGM Resorts properties, but the line has been adjusted to 15-1 as of this week.

Spouting information about football, even from a gambling perspective, around the time most bettors seem concerned about baseball’s Opening Day consistently draws howls of protests. It happens every year.

I like to refer to Charles Bukowski’s advice about thinking for yourself, acting the contrarian, when going to the racetrack: “Don’t sit near the loudmouths and the advisers. These people are poison. They know nothing and they are lonely hearts. They want to talk. Their idea is that we are all good guys in this thing together and we can beat the track. There’s no truth to it. The people bet against each other.”

It’s an imperfect analogy, because sports betting is not a pari-mutuel enterprise, but a good one, because you certainly are competing against other bettors in the marketplace.

It’s shortsighted to protest that it’s the “wrong season” or “too early” to be thinking about football and handicapping the sport. If you’re a football bettor, I promise your competition is already doing those things.

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