Top 10 football bets for the 2017 season
By Gary Trask
All of the above can be a bit depressing.
But for people like yours truly, there is always a bright side to the realization that summer is quickly fading away. Football season is here, and that means it's the undisputed greatest time of the year for sports bettors.
Thanks to the TV networks that realize we simply can't get enough, football "weekends" now consist of five days, beginning Thursday night and running straight through Monday Night Football games. In between, there are literally hundreds of games on TV at all hours of the day.
God bless America.
Like the TV networks, sportsbooks all over the planet appreciate the popularity of football with their clientele and have basically made it a year-round sport to bet on. Books at the South Point Hotel Casino and Spa, Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino, and Golden Nugget - Las Vegas had point spreads for this season's games and the season over/under win totals posted as early as this past spring. Each summer, CG Technology, which manages nine sportsbooks in Nevada, hangs a line on every single NFL regular season game for the entire season.
So, with a healthy bankroll thanks to our successful wagers on the Mayweather-McGregor fight (including a nice 21-to-1 payout from USFantasy), let's roll into the 2017 football season with 10 best bets, keeping in mind our own advice and making sure we don't commit the most common mistakes made by football bettors.
10. Michigan +7.5 over Penn State (21 October)
We start in the colleges where we'll take advantage of the "Games of the Year" lines provided by the South Point, whose sportsbook boasts two veteran sportsbook directors with seven decades of experience: Jimmy Vaccaro and Chris Andrews.
Last year at this time, Michigan was the darling of public bettors, drawing as many wagers to win the NCAA title as Alabama. Although they failed to make the playoffs, the Wolverines responded with a very good year, going 10-3, and if it weren't for a double OT loss at Ohio State in the regular season finale, they may have very well been in the Final Four.
Fast forward to this year, and Michigan is a forgotten team. Yes, they lost a slew of starters, but one thing you can bet your last dollar on is that Jim Harbaugh teams will get better as the season goes along. For proof, take a look at his history not only at Michigan but with the San Francisco 49ers, and at Stanford before that. And in two years with the Maize and Blue, Harbaugh has lost a total of five games, and none of those setbacks came by more than seven points.
Penn State, meanwhile, is one of this year's "public" teams, after a surprising season last year that ended up with the Nittany Lions playing in the Rose Bowl. Any team that comes out of nowhere like PSU did last year is always on my radar to regress the following season.
Last season, Michigan beat Penn State, 49-10, as an 18-point home favorite. Now, 12 months later, we're getting over a TD with Michigan? I realize much has changed over the last year, but I'm willing to bet the tide hasn't shifted more than 25 points. What's more, we love that when Penn State takes the field against Michigan, it will have a monster game on deck the following week at Ohio State. No, they won't be looking past Michigan, but I'm pretty certain the chance to knock off the Buckeyes for a second straight year will most certainly serve as some sort of distraction for these college kids as they prepare for Michigan.
Lay -$110 to win $100 on Michigan +7.5 points now, as there's a decent chance this line will slide under the magic -7 point before kickoff.
9. Hurts to win the Heisman
Our next two wagers are longshot future bets that we think provide tremendous value. We start with Alabama QB Jalen Hurts to win the Heisman Trophy at the Westgate, one of the very best sportsbooks in Las Vegas.
In addition to being a top player on one of the best teams in the country, a prerequisite for winning the Heisman is ensuring you are on TV regularly for all the world to see you. That won't be a problem for Hurts, who is Alabama's first returning QB since 2013 following a fantastic freshman year. Hurts, who is also the Tide's first running-threat QB in some time, hit the proverbial "wall" last season and wasn't at his best late in the season, but he's a year older and stronger in 2017, and he will learn from last year's sharp decline. He didn't put up huge numbers in his team's season-opening win over Florida State over the weekend, but the Tide got the "W" and their next big threat to lose doesn't come until the season finale against Auburn.
A quarterback has won the Heisman in 14 of the last 17 years, and the other signal callers that are favored ahead of Hurts (Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett and 2016 winner Lamar Jackson) all have enough chinks in their resumes for us to take a stab with Hurts at 20-to-1.
Let's call for another longshot to win college football's iconic trophy and lay $50 to win $1,000 on Hurst to win the Heisman.
8. Clemson to win National Championship
In my heart of hearts, do I really think Clemson will repeat in 2017? Simply put, no. But do I think they have a legitimate chance to make it to the Final Four? Of course.
With that said, if they do sneak into the playoffs and I'm holding a 30-to-1 ticket in my hands from the South Point, there's a lot of maneuvering and hedging that can be done at that point.
Yes, the Tigers lose all-world QB Deshaun Watson, who despite not winning a Heisman may have been the best player in the country the last two seasons. But this is still a team that has lost two games by a total of six points the last two seasons, and that includes a 45-40 loss to Alabama in the title game two years ago. The defense will be stacked once again, and the schedule is manageable. If they can get through Auburn at home (9 September), at Louisville (16 September) and at Virginia Tech (30 September) – games they will be favored to win – with just one or no losses, and take care of business elsewhere, it will likely all come down to the Florida State game on 11 November. Not only did that game get much easier for the Tigers with the news from this past weekend that FSU's starting QB Deondre Francois will be lost for the season, but it will also be played at home inside an electric Memorial Stadium, where Clemson is 60-10 the last 10 years.
So, it's not unfathomable for Clemson to go back to the ACC Championship Game, where, if the Tigers make it, they will be favored. A win there will most likely send them to the playoffs, which is when we'll pull out those hedge clippers. It's a long road, but realistic enough for us to take our shot at inviting 30-to-1 odds that were still available on Monday.
Lay $100 to win $3,000 on Clemson to win 2017 National Championship.
7. The "field" to lead NFL in TD receptions
Now, we turn to the NFL, and every year at this time I always hit up my go-to guy for proposition bets, John Dudley.
Many moons ago, John and I were colleagues at a now-defunct all-sports radio station in Boston. John's passion is football, and he recently authored a very clever book called Football's Foremost Fives, a must-read for any true football fan and especially those who are self-professed stat geeks. Anyway, John has always had a knack for doing the necessary research and digging up tremendous value in the prop bet market, particularly in the NFL, and he was kind enough to share one with us this year.
At Bovada Sportsbook, the number of players listed to have the "Most Regular Season Receiving Touchdowns" is limited, with just 20 choices, including only two tight ends. That clears the way for us to grab the 5-to-1 on "the field."
There are plenty of players not on this list who could conceivably lead the league in TD grabs, according to John:
- Arizona WR Larry Fitzgerald led the league in receptions last year, and scored 19 receiving TDs between the 2008 regular season and postseason.
- Tennessee WR Eric Decker posted double-digit TDs three times with the Broncos and Jets, and he now figures to be the No. 1 receiver in Tennessee.
- Other wideouts with high TD upside include the Packers’ Davante Adams, the Chargers’ Keenan Allen, the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs, the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, the Patriots’ Chris Hogan, the Giants’ Brandon Marshall, the Colts’ Donte Moncrief, the Dolphins’ DeVante Parker, the Redskins’ Terrelle Pryor, and the Broncos’ Emmanuel Sanders.
- Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham led the league with 16 TD catches as a member of the Saints in 2013, and he is said to be lighter and healthier than in recent years.
- Other tight ends with high TD upside include the Packers’ Martellus Bennett, the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce, the Panthers’ Greg Olsen, and the Redskins’ Jordan Reed.
6. Cowboys to win the NFC East
One of the biggest stories of the NFL preseason has been the suspension of Dallas RB Ezekiel Elliot for six games due to an alleged, off-the-field domestic assault issue. Yes, this a blow to the Cowboys, since Elliot led the league in rushing last year as a rookie. But we think the reaction in the betting markets has been overblown.
Since we don't think the Eagles are quite ready to make the jump and win the NFC East, the main hurdle for Dallas on the path to winning another divisional crown is the NY Giants, and we predict a decline for the G-Men. The Giants won 11 games last year, but were 8-3 in one-score games, including a 4-1 record in games decided by a field goal or less. Expect a regression there.
The schedule-makers also didn’t do the Giants any favors as they make four trips to the West Coast and have to face four teams that will be coming off a bye week. That means, according to ESPN, they'll have 22 fewer days of rest than their opponents this season, which is the most of any other team in the league, by far. (The Lions, who we will bet against later in this column, are second, with 12 fewer days of rest.)
Put it all together, and we'll grab the inflated odds and lay $100 to win $200 on the Cowboys to win the NFC East, and hope QB Dak Prescott doesn't suffer a sophomore slump.
5. Titans to make the playoffs
The Titans haven't been to the postseason since 2008, but because of a young and up-and-coming quarterback and the weak division they play in, the team is favored to win the AFC South (6-to-5 at Westgate) and favored to make the playoffs (-140).
We typically like to sell a team when it receives too much preseason hype, but in this case we're buying the Titans and would rather lay the -140 that they make the playoffs, instead of hoping they take the division outright at plus odds.
First off, we are not believers in the Houston Texans and the Indianapolis Colts, Tennessee's main competition in the division. Secondly, according to Warren Sharp's 2017 Football Preview, an invaluable handicapping tool, Tennessee will play the sixth-easiest schedule in the league, and the third-easiest once they get through Week 4.
Lay $140 to win $100 on the Titans to make the playoffs, and if they struggle in the early going and you can get a better price on them making the playoffs and/or winning the division, go ahead and fire away. The schedule is much more manageable as it moves into October and beyond.
4. Cardinals to make the playoffs
Arizona posted its first losing season under head coach Bruce Arians last year at 7-8-1 and failed to make the playoffs, but a look inside the numbers shows that they actually outgained their opponents by 62 yards per game.
This year, according the Sharp, the Cards schedule is the fourth-easiest in the NFL as they play just four Top 10 teams, the second-fewest in the league, with three of those games at home. Will they beat out the Seahawks for the NFC West title? Not likely, especially with an aging Carson Palmer at QB, but we're more than happy to jump in and get a plus-price on a team to make the playoffs that just two years ago was in the NFC Championship Game.
At Bovada, lay $100 to win $145 on the Cardinals to make the playoffs.
3. Bengals to make the playoffs
Cincinnati is another team that missed the playoffs last year, but we see returning to the postseason in 2017. Last year's 6-9-1 record snapped a streak of four-straight double-digit win seasons, and can be mostly blamed on injuries as key offensive cogs Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green all missed significant time. Sharp points out that this is also a team that will play just four Top 10 teams this season, as well as benefit from playing six bottom 10 teams, the second most in the NFL.
I am not a fan of head coach Marvin Lewis and think he should have been canned years ago. Even still, in his 14 years on the Bengals sideline he has only posted back-to-back losing seasons once. I can see this team making it back to the playoffs and maybe even knocking off the Steelers for the divisional crown, before disappointing their fans once again with an early postseason exit.
But by that time, we'll have already gone to the Westgate and cashed our ticket on the Bengals making the playoffs, laying $100 to win $190.
2. Lions under 8 wins
For 11 consecutive seasons, at least four NFL teams have failed to make the playoffs after doing so the previous season. A prime candidate for one of those teams this season is the Detroit Lions.
The Lions went 9-7 last year, but they were outscored by opponents and only one of those wins was by more than one score, with five of them coming by three points or less. This year, per Sharp's rankings, 11 of their 16 games are against Top 16 opponents. Considering they have a well-below-average head coach in Jim Caldwell and they didn't address many of the defensive concerns that plagued them last year (well-respected site FootballOutsiders.com ranked them 32nd out of 32 teams in defensive efficiency in 2016), we see nothing but a relapse season for the Lions.
QB Matthew Stafford has a new contract with a lot of zeroes at the end of his paycheck and he may be worthy of an early pick in your fantasy football draft, but the fact remains he has lost a mind-boggling 46 out of 51 games in his career against teams that end the season with a winning record.
Matthew Stafford is 5-46 against teams with a record over .500 in his career.— J.R. (@JReidDraftScout) July 16, 2017
While we can lay much less juice at a few Las Vegas sportsbooks and get Detroit's win total at 7.5, we're more than willing to pay extra at Bovada and wager $225 to win $100 that the Lions go under eight wins, meaning they'd have to go at least 9-7 again to beat us. Not happening.
1. Raiders under 10 wins
Here's a classic case of us going against the public and fading a "trendy" pick. The Raiders went 12-4 last season and were primed for a deep run in the playoffs before starting QB Derek Carr got injured and was lost for the season. Carr returns in 2017, and so have the Raider backers.
One Nevada sportsbook we spoke to told us they had more wagers on the Silver and Black to win the Super Bowl than any other team. Some of that is because the Raiders are moving to Las Vegas in two years, and the locals have already adopted them. But it also shows just how popular this team is right now with the betting public.
Here's the rub. The Raiders could very well be as good, or better, than they were last year. But, at the same time, they may very well record fewer wins. That's what we're betting will happen.
Why? First off, despite that crushing injury to Carr, Oakland enjoyed plenty of good fortune last season, going 9-2 in one-score games and an amazing 5-0 in games decided by three points or less. The Raiders also won three games in which their opponent held a lead in the fourth quarter. What's more, they had a ridiculous +16 in turnover margin.
Defensively, they were not very good (Football Outsiders ranked the Oakland "D" 22nd in the league), and as a result, the Raiders' +31 point differential was the lowest in NFL history for a 12-win team.
Trust me, folks, these things have a way of evening out.
So, we'll once again pay a little extra juice at Bovada and lay $175 to win $100 that the Raiders go under 10 wins, meaning it will take an 11-win season for us to lose this bet.