Saturday, January 4, 2020

Nurse the Hate: Wild Card Weekend Ill-Advised Wagers

I will be completely frank.  These NFL Wild Card Games are a complete mystery to me.  That won't stop me from betting on them as I literally have nothing else to do.  Sure, I could dive into the DOCGs of Friuli and try to remember oblique Italian river and village names.  A rainy Saturday afternoon is absolutely ideal to dig into grape compositions of tiny production wines that no one outside of the Northern Italian region you can't even pronounce correctly has ever seen (much less tasted) while a basset hound whines at your feet for something (anything) else to be happening, BUT if I have said it once, I have said it a thousand times.  The first weekend of January belongs to the Houston Texans.

I am not sure how many years in a row the Texans have been pasted on the first weekend of January on poorly viewed Saturday afternoon telecasts.  I remember one magical Texans playoff appearance where totally ineffective ex-Brown Brian Hoyer led the Texans to a 30-0 Playoff loss with spectacularly ineffective Brandon Weeden standing on the sideline.  That was a vision.  It seems like every NFL Wild Card Weekend, I vaguely remember that the Texans playoff game is on well into the third quarter.  When I turn it on, the Texans are down by three scores and the announcing team gamely tries to suggest how the Texans can rally back enough to keep the viewer engaged.  The good news for the Texans is that they play the Bills, a team that hasn't won a playoff game since 1995.

In 1995 I was living upstairs in an aging duplex, scrambling to get The Cowslingers booked at Lili's in Detroit, hoping my Acura Integra wouldn't break down, and dating a girl that had a pistol unexpectedly fall out of her purse at the Symposium.  I am fairly certain I saw her a few years later on a pornographic videotape one of my friends had rented back in the days when you had to go to the back room of independent movie rental stores to secure such forbidden fruit.  Based on the date of the film title, she made more money that weekend than I did while I was obliviously playing Top Cats in Cincinnati.  She also had a better time as evidenced by the footage.  Ah, 1995...  The Buffalo Bills had it much more together than I did.

The Texans are favored by 3.5 over the Bills today.  The Texans are at home.  There are a few reasons to take the Texans today.  They have played a tougher schedule this season, and teams that have played tougher schedules win about 70% of the time in the first round of the playoffs.  JJ Watt is back on the field, a legitimate difference maker on defense if healthy.  They have Deshaun Watson at QB, a player that has been christened as having "it", the perception of always winning close games.  Obviously I should bet on the Texans...

However, Will Fuller is out for the Texans.  Fuller's stats don't look like m much, but he is the guy that spends the field for the Texans.  Watson's yardage per completion drops two yards plus when Fuller isn't on the field.  While that doesn't seem like big deal, a drop of two yards per completion would move the #12 QB in the league down to the bottom of the NFL.  Translation:  Watson becomes Baker Mayfield.  That is quite concerning to the savvy wagerer.

I think this is one of those games where the guys at BW3 making bets on their phone will reflexively bet on the Texans because of their high profile stars like Watson, Watt and Hopkins.  The Bills were on a prominent national TV game once this year.  Sure, they crushed Dallas, but by now everyone has decided that the Cowboys aren't much better than the Cardinals or Bengals.  Buffalo plays great defense and can run the ball.  That keeps games close.  I think the Bills can win this if they can put a rush on Watson.  Gimme the points.  I am not taking a "strong position" but I am taking Buffalo +3.5.

Let's be honest.  The Patriots have been more than underwhelming down the stretch.  Father Time has finally caught up to Tom Brady.  It's always shocking when a great player becomes ordinary.  It happens so quickly.  The sudden decline of Peyton Manning comes to mind.  It's the worst in boxing where there's nowhere to hide. One minute you are Muhammed Ali, the baddest man on the planet.  The next you are being whipped by Leon Spinks and we all have to hide our eyes at the sad carnage.  In case you missed it, the only reason the Patriots are playing this week is because Tom Brady threw a pick 6 and lost to the Dolphins in a must win game last week.  Yes, the Dolphins...

The Titans have been impressive in the second half of the season.  They have league leading running back Derrick Henry, a beast of a man built for cold weather football.  Ryan Tannehill has been a top 7 QB since he took over for Marcus Mariota, something that is still difficult to grasp but impossible to deny.  Statistically they should go in and beat the Patriots.  The ultimate "public team", New England gets every benefit of the doubt, even when the eye test plainly shows that the end of their incredible run is at hand.  All dynasties end, and it appears that we are going to witness that tonight in Foxboro.

Of course, I am not out of my mind.  I don't know how the Patriots will do it, but they will.  A blocked punt.  A strip sack.  Using an obscure rule to their advantage.  Gronkowski unexpectedly suiting up.  Randy Moss back in a time machine.  Something has been cooked up.  Belichek will somehow come up with a scheme and get an edge over the Titans.  Logic dictates that the right side is Tennessee with the points, but I'm taking New England money line.  I'm not betting against the Patriots until I see they are dead and in the ground.

I have only been to New Orleans once.  Arriving on a Saturday in late December, the Saints were playing an otherwise meaningless game prior to the playoffs.  I had no idea and watched with some detachment as the game played on TVs in the cafe where I stopped in for a quick lunch.  They scored three touchdowns in about 4 minutes and the cafe I was in provided a complimentary shot after each score.  When I use the word "complimentary", I really mean "mandatory" as all the patrons and staff were insistent that the liquor be knocked back immediately.  I was just a tourist rube looking for po' boy, not a massive mid afternoon bender 40 minutes after getting off the plane.  This is what is called "home field advantage" in New Orleans.

I think this is the Saints year in the NFC.  They have had the Super Bowl ripped away from them in the last two years in maybe the most cruel way since the Browns lost "The Drive" and "The Fumble" games in successive years in the 80s.  The 2019 Saints are probably one of the best teams in NFL history to not have a bye in the Playoffs.  The bad news for the Saints is that they play a very good and vastly underrated Vikings team in round one.  The Vegas line of New Orleans -6.5 is too many.  However, I just can't visualize Kirt Cousins coming into New Orleans and beating the Saints in the bright spotlight of the Playoffs.

Cousins covers in 70% of his 1pm starts.  He covers 30% of all other start times.  This has become an open secret in the seedy internet gambling community.  I think that is the only thing keeping this Sunday 1pm game at the 6.5 points.  My gut tells me that sports books across the country are going to be absolutely loaded on New Orleans -.5 halves of teasers tied into the Patriots +1.5.  This means one of those two teams is going to lose.  I don't know how Vegas does it, but they always do.  In the United States in 2020, the smartest people in our nation run sports books and the dumbest run the actual country.  It's a shame, but it is undeniable.  We should give there nuclear codes to the guy setting the NFL lines at Westgate.  He knows what's up.  With a trembling hand, I am taking Minnesota +6.5 if New England loses on Saturday night and hope they don't get blown out.  

I have been arguing all season with the guy I workout with that the Eagles were going to make the Playoffs.  He kept harping on how much the Eagles sucked.  It was hard to dispute.  The Eagles have become like the 2010s Steelers, a team that doesn't seem very good on paper and looks unimpressive on the field.  Then, when the dust clears, they somehow win just enough to keep going.  There is no reason to think the Eagles will beat Seattle on Sunday.  All of their receivers are injured.  They have offensive lineman out.  They are walking wounded.  Seattle's Russell Wilson has been an MVP, stabbing a dagger in opponent's hearts late.  You just can't count him out.

Allow me this counter narrative.  Seattle has won a disproportionate number off close games this year, a trend that eventually comes back to the mean.  In fact, the team has lost close games in December, many of them late at night and out of The Public's mind.  The Seahawks have been a run first team, and their running backs are decimated.  They had to resign Marshawn Lynch off the street, a former great player that is in slightly better shape than I am, which is to say "a tad doughy".  I think they re-signed Tolbert too, a real nod to previous Super Bowl glories.  Perhaps the Eagles should sign Foles for the game Sunday to make this a real nostalgia show.  Regardless, the stats suggest Seattle is a 9-7 team, slightly over average.  The line places them as better than the Eagles.  Opening at Seattle -1.5, it has moved to Seattle +1.5.  I will take the Eagles at home as this is the type of ugly game that should suit them.  Philadelphia -1.5 with minimal confidence.     




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