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Gary Trask

Gary  Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has worked as a writer and editor more than 25 years. The Boston native was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's inaugural Media Committee.

Contact Gary at and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

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Top 10 NFL betting season in review and playoff betting tidbits

4 Jan 2021

By Gary Trask
Somehow, some way, the National Football League completed its entire regular season on Sunday.

It wasn’t a typical NFL season, however, as a number of games were moved to mid-week due to COVID-19, and some teams were even forced to play games without a legit QB or an entire set of wide receivers.

Nonetheless, the regular season came to an exciting end on Sunday night and now 14 teams and 13 games remain.

Hopefully, the NFL can continue to maneuver its way to playing a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in February. Before Wildcard Weekend kicks off on Saturday with an unprecedented pair of triple header playoff games, let’s take a look back at a truly unique 2020 regular season from a betting perspective and make some fearless predictions on what will unfold in the coming week.

10. Future bets cash in
We’re happy to report we went 3-1 on our NFL future bets that were presented here back in early September.
The three winners were, for the most part, not much of a sweat. We cashed in on the Broncos under 7.5 wins as Denver stumbled to a 5-11 record. We also had the Giants under 6.5 wins and that officially cashed in Week 16 when the G-Men clinched their fourth consecutive 10-loss season. Admittedly, the Giants were much better than I thought they would be under rookie head coach Joe Judge, competing for a division title until the bitter end. We caught a break when star RB Saquon Barkley was lost for the season with an injury in Week 2, but under 6.5 wins was a winner, nonetheless.

We also had the Colts (-160) to make the playoffs and although Indy entered Week 17 needing help to punch a ticket to the postseason, this was an 11-win team in a year where the number of playoff teams was expanded, so we were never really truly concerned about this one not cashing in.

The lone loss was Dallas to win the NFC East and this was a huge swing and miss as the Cowboys were a disaster under new head coach Mike McCarthy. Yes, it didn’t help our cause when starting QB Dak Prescott went down for the season in Week 6 and The Boys had to use a collection of Andy Dalton, Ben DiNucci and Garret Gilbert behind center the rest of the way. But even with Prescott, Dallas went 2-3 and was showing cracks.

It was a miracle that this bet was still alive heading into yesterday’s action, but that was only because the NFC East was such an abomination this year as Washington captured the “NFC Least” with a 7-9 record.

9. Underdogs rule
If you like to take the points in the NFL, 2020 was likely a profitable season for you as underdogs finished the season 139-109-3 (56%) against the spread, which is the best record for dogs since 2006, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

But before you go blaming the underdog trend on the pandemic, keep in mind that this is the third-straight year NFL dogs have had a winning ATS season.

The top two teams in the NFL Pointspread Standings were Buffalo and Miami, who both covered 11 of 16 games, while Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Baltimore went 10-6 ATS. The Dolphins are the only team in the top 5 that didn’t make the playoffs.

The worst team against the spread this year was “our” Dallas Cowboys, who managed to cover just five games. Other NFL money-burning teams this year were Cleveland, Minnesota, Houston, Philadelphia and the New York Jets, all of which went 6-10 ATS. Of these teams, only the Browns are moving on to the playoffs.

8. Scoring up, totals adjust
This was the highest-scoring regular season in NFL history with 12,692 points, shattering the previous record of 11,987 in 2013. With that said, you would think “overs” would have been a very profitable bet this season, but that’s not necessarily the case.

Early on, the lack of offensive holding calls and no fans in the stands proved to be huge advantages to the offenses and “overs” sprinted out to 31-15-2 (67%) start.

But this is precisely why it is so difficult to win at sports betting. The oddsmakers don’t just sit on their hands and watch bettors cash in week after week. They adjust. And their altercations to the totals worked as overs finished the season 129-122-5 (51%).

The best “over” teams in the NFL this season were Las Vegas and Tennessee, which both went over in 12 out of 16 games. The Giants went over just three times all season while the Rams were the second best “under” team this year, with 12 unders and four overs.

7. New playoff format
OK, let’s put the pandemic regular season behind us and look ahead to the playoffs. The NFL postseason has a new look to it this year as the number of teams that qualify expanded from 12 to 14 teams.

Another major change is that only one team in each conference receives a first-round bye. In previous years, the top two teams in each conference got that much needed week of rest and only had to win two games to get to the Super Bowl.

This is significant since over the last seven seasons, all 14 Super Bowl participants were either the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and enjoyed the first-round bye.

The two No. 1 seeds this year that will join us on the couch this weekend to watch the games are the Green Bay Packers in the NFC and the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC.

6. NFL Playoff betting trends
As mentioned, we are blessed with six NFL playoff games to bet on this weekend due to the new format.

While I’m not big on betting trends, it’s worth noting that favorites have struggled in the Wildcard Round in recent years. Over the last 10 seasons, underdogs have been barking, going 24-16 (60%) at the betting window. Dogs have been especially strong on Wildcard Weekend the last three seasons, going 11-1 ATS with eight outright victories.

Another tried and true betting angle in the NFL postseason is going against quarterbacks who don’t have any playoff experience. Since 2002, the year the NFL expanded to 32 teams, NFL playoff debutant QBs have gone 15-32 straight up and 14-32-1 against the spread, according to BetLabs, eliminating games in which two rookie playoff signal-callers were facing off against each other.

On the road, these quarterbacks are 6-13 straight-up and 7-12 ATS. As underdogs, they are 6-17 straight-up and 8-14-1 where it counts.

5. A wildcard wager
The above rookie playoff QB angle leads us to a wager on Sunday night when the Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) face the Cleveland Browns and QB Baker Mayfield, who will be the lone QB making his first-career playoff start this weekend, unless, of course, Jared Goff does not return from an injured thumb for the Rams.

Not only is Mayfield a rookie playoff QB, but he struggles when pressured, as four of the team’s five losses this year came against teams that rank in the top 6 in the league in blitz percentage, including the Steelers, who rank second in that category. In those four losses, which included an ugly loss to the lowly Jets, Mayfield averaged a QB Rating of 37.9. His full season QBR was 72.4.

Pittsburgh rested most of its key players on Sunday in the regular season finale loss to these same Browns in a game that didn’t really matter to the Steelers. This was a team that really needed some rest since its bye week was basically stripped from it due to some COVID-19 issues with the Tennessee Titans earlier in the season, forcing the Steelers to play a modified schedule. QB Ben Roethlisberger didn’t even make the trip to Cleveland yesterday, so he’ll be as rested as he’s been all season when this game kicks off Sunday night.

Meanwhile, the Browns have been in "must win" mode for a few weeks now and have been hit hard with some COVID-19 issues, so the Steelers should be the more healthy and rested team.

When these two teams last met with full rosters intact in Week 5, the Steelers rolled, 38-7, as a three-point favorite and Mayfield went 10 for 18 with one TD, two interceptions and was sacked four times.

Despite their struggles in the last quarter of the season, I’ll take the postseason veteran and two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach-QB combination of Mike Tomlin and Big Ben to prevail over the playoff rookie combo of Mayfield and Kevin Stefanski on field that the Brownies have lost 17 straight games.

4. Is KC overrated?
Full disclosure: Patrick Mahomes has become my favorite athlete to watch since Larry Bird. The KC QB is absolutely electrifying and he always seems to do something on the football field that I’ve never seen before. There’s nothing more fun than sitting down and watching a Chiefs game and having Mahomes on your side.

Having said that, there is a case to be made that the Chiefs have become overvalued in the betting market. That may sound blasphemous when you consider the Super Bowl defending champs are not only the top overall seed in the playoffs this year, but (eliminating yesterday’s meaningless game with the Chargers in which KC rested a slew of starters) this is a team that has won 23 of its last 24 games dating back to last season.

But a closer look at the numbers shows that during the first 17 games of that streak, the Chiefs failed to cover just twice. Over the last nine weeks, KC has gone 0-7-1 against the spread. KC’s last seven wins have come by a TOTAL of 23 points. The Chiefs haven’t won a game by more than six points since they drilled the Jets, 35-9, on 1 November.

And let’s not forget, on their way to being crowned Super Bowl champs last year, the Chiefs became the first playoff team to comeback from three double-digit deficits in the same season. People tend to forget that KC trailed by 10 points in the Super Bowl last year against the 49ers. Heck, if not for a miraculous 24-point comeback against the Texans in the divisional round last year, we would be talking about how Patrick Mahomes “can’t win the big one.”

My point here is that these things tend to catch up to a team. You can only depend on those kinds of comebacks for so long and in the NFL it truly is very difficult to repeat as champions. Only seven teams have done it in history, and just two teams have pulled off the back-to-back trick since 1997 (New England in 2003 and 2004, and Denver in 1997 and 1998).

So, despite the Chiefs having that coveted first-round bye and being the heavy favorite at +220 to win the Super Bowl at bet365 Sportsbook & Racebook, we’re going to call for an upset this year somewhere along the road to the Super Bowl in Tampa Bay.

3. If not KC, who?
So, who is going to knock off the champs, who are priced at -115 to win the AFC at Unibet Sports & Racebook? The two most likely candidates are the Bills (+350) and the Ravens (+600).

Entering the season, Baltimore (+500) was right up there with the Chiefs (+450) as the Super Bowl favorite, but the team got hit with a number of injuries and a rash of COVID-19 issues. Reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson took a step way back and after Week 11, the Ravens were 6-5, mired in a three-game losing streak and in danger to miss the playoffs. They responded by winning their last five games by a combined 186-89, albeit against four non-playoff teams, and now head into the playoffs with a full head of steam.

How far have the Ravens come in regards to the Super Bowl odds? About a month ago, you could have got them at 40-to-1 to win it all. Today, at bet365, the price is 11-to-1.

Buffalo, meanwhile, has become the darling of the NFL and is the hottest team in the league right now. Take away that Hail Mary, final-second loss at Arizona six weeks ago and the Bills would be riding a 10-game winning streak.

Other than that loss, Buffalo’s two other setbacks came on back-to-back weeks when they were forced to play a mid-week game against Tennessee because of COVID-19, and then the next week lost a 26-17 decision at home to the Chiefs. Since then, Josh Allen has established himself as an elite QB and after recovering from some early season injuries, the defense held its last six opponents to 24 points or less and the team's last seven wins have all come by double digits.

2. What about the NFC?
The NFC is wide open, in our minds. As the season went along, all four of the NFC's top four teams (Green Bay, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Seattle) took turns as the conference's darling.

After a hot start, Russell Wilson and Seattle were the favorites entering Week 6 at +200. Then, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers heated up and by Week 8 they were the NFC favorite at +300.

That all changed when the Saints demolished Tampa Bay in Week 8 and thrusted back into the discussion and were as low as +180 to win the NFC heading into Week 14. But the betting public cooled on the Saints after New Orleans suffered some key injuries – including to QB Drew Brees – and lost to Philadelphia.

Meanwhile, the Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers kept winning. They entered the season 15-to-1 to win the NFC. By Week 6 that was down to 6-to-1 and entering December the Pack was the NFC favorite at 3-to-1.

Now, with the NFC road having to go through Lambeau Field and Green Bay securing the first-round bye, the Packers are the clear-cut NFC favorite at +160 at Unibet.

Yes, all four of these teams have their warts, but they also all have future Hall of Fame QBs that have won Super Bowls. A case can be made for each and every one of them to prevail in the Super Bowl.

1. Who wins the Super Bowl?
While I hate to buck the trend of Super Bowl teams taking advantage of the postseason bye and I absolutely despise going against Mahomes, I’m going to stick to my preseason prediction and call for New Orleans to beat Baltimore in Super Bowl LV.

Baltimore may be a sleeping giant right now. People tend to forget that this team was the odds-on favorite at +200 to win the Super Bowl last year before getting shocked at home by Tennessee in the divisional round of the playoffs. They have a Super Bowl winning head coach, a championship caliber defense and the reigning MVP who can take control of a game and, if needed, churn the clock against KC and/or Buffalo and keep Mahomes and/or Allen on the sideline. First things first, though. In order to advance, the Ravens are going to have to avenge that playoff loss from a year ago and go on the road and beat Tennessee in the wildcard round.

As for the Saints, who are listed at 8-to-1 to win the Super Bowl at bet-at-home Sportsbook & Racebook, as flashy as Kansas City’s run has been over the last couple years, New Orleans has very quietly gone 38-10 straight up the last three regular seasons, before suffering some brutal playoff losses. Brees missed four games this season with broken ribs, but was that a blessing in disguise? Veteran QBs like Brady and Peyton Manning both missed multiple regular season games during Super Bowl marches for the Patriots and Broncos in recent years, proving that sometimes avoiding the wear and tear of an entire season can actually be helpful come playoff time.

But, make no mistake about it, this team needs a healthy Brees, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara on offense to make it all the way to Tampa. Brees looked good and relatively healthy in a dominating Week 17 win over Carolina. Kamara missed the season finale because of COVID protocols, but is expected back for the wildcard game against Chicago, while Thomas sat out the final stages of the regular season for the sole reason of being healthy for the postseason. With those three guys healthy, the Saints can go to Green Bay and win, if need be.

On defense, this team is underrated. The Saints ranked fourth in the league in both yards allowed per play and opponent QB passer rating, two key metrics to success in the playoffs.

When the dust settles, look for Brees to pull a John Elway/Peyton Manning by winning a second Super Bowl ring and then riding off into the sunset (or TV booth) and retiring.
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