The casino industry makes money because people like to spend time gambling. A great deal of the sports-touting industry – analysts, pod-casters and pro handicappers – are in business because nobody likes to spend time watching game film.
An NFL head coach will always secretly have a better feel for the direction his program is taking than any bettor or prognosticator. But perfect knowledge is impossible even to insiders, and we all have our lives to live. With limited time to research picks but a hunger for that next big score, bettors employ trends, quick-picks and quirky systems.
Trends follow talent over time, so it’s not too often that overly-mathematical handicapping skews the Vegas odds that much. Typically, the prediction an assistant coach might make to his buddies (assuming he is sober and leaves his feelings out of it) is only 3-4 points more accurate on average than that of a professional tout.
But every once in a while? Man oh man.
The Houston Texans and their sensational rookie quarterback DeShaun Watson are as impressive as any team to ever carry a 2-3 record. In Week 3, Watson dueled Tom Brady to a 2nd-half stalemate on the Patriots’ home field. Week 4 brought a captivating 57-14 blow-out of the Titans.
Last Sunday, Houston defensive stalwart J.J. Watt broke his leg in front of the home faithful. Many fans cried, shedding an extra tear that the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs were in town. What did Watson do? He only threw 5 touchdown passes, rushed for 10 yards a carry, and nearly out-gunned Alex Smith in a wild 4th quarter.
In Week 6 the hapless Cleveland Browns trudge to Space City to meet the Texans and their dynamite new QB. The Browns are 0-5, pathetically losing to 3 below-average teams in a row.
And what are the odds? The point spread – what?! – has Houston winning a pretty tight one.
Who: Cleveland Browns at Houston Texans
When: Sunday, October 15th, 1 PM EST
Where: NRG Stadium, Houston, TX
Lines: Cleveland (+10) at Houston (-10) / O/U Total: (47)
What are the bookies thinking? And why isn’t the point spread shooting up like a rocket?
It must be J.J. Watt’s injury. Considered the heart and soul of the franchise, Watt was a key inside anchor for the Houston defense, and will be missed sorely if the team makes the playoffs. But the shock and hesitation of bettors taking the Texans at short odds is largely due to Watt’s celebrity. Losing a defender is never the same as losing a QB, because the QB touches the ball on every play and is playing a more important position. Yet pundits and odds-makers have treated Watt’s tibia fracture as if Joe Montana snapped a hamstring.
Besides, if Watson keeps growing into a star, it’ll be a young quarterback who is considered “the franchise” in Houston from now on.
Maybe it’s the trends. Houston has only a modest head-to-head record against Cleveland in their last 8 match-ups, holding a record of 5-3 with average total yards about even. If you’ve heard a guy in a bar say, “Cleveland always plays Houston tough” or something similar, you know how prevalent such analysis can be…especially if it can be read, spoken, heard or absorbed in 5 seconds or less.
But as “scientific” as analyzing recent series-results can seem, it’s really not scientific at all…especially in pro football where talent is largely alike across 32 NFL teams. Try a “control group” experiment and simulate 3 or 4 seasons in a row on Madden. Look at the results on the randomized video game. You’ll see lots of “quirky” trends. Gee, the Redskins upset the Patriots in 2 straight games! Heads, heads, tails.
The only “trend” that matters in this AFC contest is the direction of the 2 teams playing. In 2017.
Cleveland is set up to lose badly. There is no way a poor, porous team with low-morale saunters into Houston and plays with a speedy, physical team desperate for a victory.
Look for Watson and potential Pro Bowl receiver DeAndre Hopkins to dominate the proceedings and the scoreboard. and place as many units as you please on the Texans to prevail – bigly.