Patriots vs. Vegas/Week 11 Power Poll
Vegas always wins. That’s one adage to live by if you don’t happen to reside in the top one percent of gamblers. There’s a reason the Vegas Strip is so gaudy, the casinos are so flashy and the sportsbooks are so ethereal (so to speak). It’s because you’re leaving your money there. Duh. The point of this piece is not to rant about the ploys and allure of casinos, because there are tons of spots around the country where you can get screwed at the blackjack table and have it sanctioned by the state legislature. However only in one locale can you happen upon the aforementioned, otherworldly venue called a sportsbook, and wager on any sporting event you desire. That would be Las Vegas (and the rest of the barren state it’s a part of, Nevada).
The reason Vegas always wins when it comes to sports wagering is because, quite simply, it’s smarter than the vast majority of people making bets. Vegas has professional analysts, cutting edge computers and some of the most shrewd statisticians, all working in accord to assure it comes out on top. The logic behind Vegas gambling lines (or “point spreads”) is simple. The goal is to set a line that will attract an equal number of wagers on either side. In other words, if 1000 people are each going to bet $100 on a specific game, oddsmakers ideally want 500 of those wagers to go on the favored team and the other 500 to go on the underdog. Considering for each bet the gambler must pay a ten percent wager-fee (colloquially called “the vig”), if oddsmakers succeed in balancing the bets, the house takes in its ten percent on all bets made, and wins. Of course the strategy is far more complex than that, but in a nutshell that’s the essence of a Nevada sportsbook.
So how does this tie into the Patriots? Put bluntly, the Patriots are seriously threatening to fleece Vegas like no sports team in my memory (and possibly of all-time). The answer to how and why the Patriots (read: those people gambling on the Patriots) are systematically beating Vegas is two fold. First is the the sheer talent and capability of this team relative to the rest of the league. They’re better than the field, and everybody knows it. Second (and more importantly within the context of Vegas) is CameraGate. Post-CameraGate, Bill Belichick has his team so bloodthirsty and vengeance-seeking, even Vegas can’t account for it. Traditionally in professional sports, wins and losses are more or less all that matter to teams (meaning average margin of victory isn’t very significant). Unlike college, where writers and coaches vote to determine how teams rank in relation to one another (which is why forty and fifty point blowouts are common in the NCAA), professional sports boil down to “Ws” or “Ls”. In addition, Vegas has always benefited from the concept of professionalism within pro sports. That is to say that these guys are, at the core, part of a business, and while habitually competing against one another, they are nonetheless colleagues in their respective professions.
The Patriots are nobody’s colleagues but their own. You can throw “professionalism” into a bucket with “running up the score”, douse it with lighter fluid, add a lit match and toss it right out the window. The only way this team interprets the notion of professionalism is by playing sixty minutes of butt-kicking football every week. This is the conundrum Vegas has found itself trying to solve. Here are two constants that Vegas must cope with: 1) on any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team; 2) the Patriots are winning football games by an average of 25 points.
Now because the goal of a sportsbook is to get action on both sides of a point spread, and given the historically-tested “any given Sunday” theory, Vegas is wary about pushing NFL lines into the 20s, no matter how obvious a perceived mismatch there is. It screws up that balance they’re looking for, and usually teams don’t keep pouring it on with three touchdown leads. Except Bill’s boys, driven by superior talent and fueled by retribution. For the record, the Patriots are either 9-0-1 or 9-1 against the spread this year (the line against the Colts fluctuated from -4 to -5.5 and the Patriots won by four, so some gamblers who utilized the four point spread conceivably pushed their bets that week, neither winning nor losing.)
That said, non-compulsive gamblers likely steered clear of the Colts game, simply because Pats-Colts has proven a tall order to predict. To put all this in perspective, imagine you were in Las Vegas before Week 1 of the NFL season and put $100 on the Patriots. If each week, minus the Colts game, you let it all ride (ie reinvested your initial bet plus what you profited into another Patriots-wager), today you would be sitting on $46,080 (or $51,200 – $5,120). The little more than five grand would be the ten percent you owe to the sportsbook for placing the bets.
Allow me to be the first (or millionth) to inform you: you’re not supposed to be able to turn a hundred bucks into fifty thousand. Vegas is supposed to curb that streak waaaaay before it gets going. If you went on a run like that at the blackjack table the casino powers would have you set up in a luxury suite before you turned your first ten grand. Yet here we are, two-thirds through the 2007 NFL season, and the Patriots have already dealt a severe blow to the sports gaming monopoly residing in the western desert. Believe me, there are many serious gamblers out there riding the heck out of this Patriots wave. Sure, in the grand scheme it may only be a pin prick through the monstrous moneymaking enterprise that is Vegas, but rest assured, it’s a pin prick straight through the heart of the beast.
How’s that for a different take on the Patriots’ dominance? Now here’s my latest power poll, highlighting the cream of NFL mortals…
NFL Top Five Power Poll: Week 11
1. Patriots (10-0) The Pats are early 22 point favorites this week against the Eagles. Now someone tell me they’re surprised.
2. Cowboys (9-1) For the first time since I’ve been an online sportswriter (which isn’t terribly long, but still) I have an NFC team in the top two. My logic here is that with the Colts losing twice and the Cowboys standing at 9-0 against everyone but the Patriots, they deserve the ranking. The Tony Romo to Terrell Owens combo has been jaw-dropping of late. Since their loss to New England in Week 6, the Boys have run off four straight, and Romo has found T.O. eight times for touchdowns. The defense has played markedly better as well. After giving up 48 points to New England, the Dallas D has shut down opposing offenses to the tune of 18.5 points per game.
3. Packers (9-1) What more can you say about Brett Favre and the Pack? Green Bay has won in Denver, in Kansas City and in New Jersey against the Giants. Favre’s quarterback rating of 98.6 is the highest of his career since 1995 (99.5), when he was embarking on a streak of three-straight league MVP awards. He’s already thrown more touchdowns (19) than he did all last year (18). What was unquestionably the team’s greatest weakness, its running game, appears to be solved. Ryan Grant (who? an undrafted free agent from Notre Dame, that’s who) has busted onto the scene, and averaged over 90 yards rushing in Green Bay’s last four games, all wins. Assuming the Packers win on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit (never an easy task), home field in the NFC will be on the line Thursday night November 29, when the Pack travels to Dallas.
4. Colts (8-2) The Colts are having a season in ’07 similar to the ’06 Patriots campaign. They’ve battled key injuries throughout (most significantly, Marvin Harrison) and struggled to win games. But they’ve continually found ways to post victories and look like a 12-4 team that will be contending for the second bye in the AFC. Still the Colts must get healthy if they want to even gain a rematch with the Patriots, let alone entertain notions of defending their crown against the Pats.
5. Giants (7-3) Earning a spot in the top five for the first time, the Geeeeeee-Men. As in “geeee this team loves laying an egg after a 6-2 start”. Yes, the Giants probably did lose the division by shooting themselves in the feet multiple times two weeks ago at the Meadowlands against Dallas. Down two games in the standings (which is basically three because the Giants lost both matchups with the Cowboys), the New York football Giants better get used to winning on the road, because that’s what they’ll have to do (again) come playoff time. The good news is with a fairly kind schedule (Minnesota, at Chicago, at Philly, Washington, at Buffalo) down the stretch, the G-Men should be 11-4 entering the season finale at home against the Patriots. Barring a Cowboys-implosion or a Patriots-loss, this game will be very interesting because neither the Giants (who will have the top wild card locked up) nor the Patriots (who will have home field secured) will have a lot to play for. Which means this game will officially qualify as “most playoff-like game with least on the line” status.
5a. Steelers (7-3) Let’s not mince words. When you lose to a 1-8 team you probably don’t deserve to be in the top five, no matter what your record is. Luckily the Steelers have the football tradition, not to mention a top-five running back and quarterback as well as one of the league’s elite defenses. That said, each statement the Steelers have made this year has been a losing statement (see: Arizona and the Jets). To date, their biggest win was a 38-7 trouncing on a Monday night of a Ravens team we all know would be better off with USC’s offense. After they beat the Dolphins and Bengals, Pittsburgh will see where it truly matches up on the proverbial measuring stick. On Sunday December 9, the 9-3 Steelers will travel to Foxborough to meet the 12-0 Patriots.