By: Kimberly Southwick
Last week, I detailed my qualifications along with the sometimes-foolish ways I make my picks and predictions. This week, I’ll back track a bit to how exactly this “against the spread”* thing works, for those of you who are more poet than sports gambler. (This blog is called “Poets on Sports”, right?)
Every NFL game has a favorite and an underdog—a team that is statistically most likely to win, and a team with less of a chance. When you bet outright, you pick the team you think will win the game. When you bet against the spread, there’s a certain amount the favorited team has to cover by, called a line or a spread, which is the amount of points that the bookmaker has set up for the game to be decided on. In other words, the spread is sort of like a handicap for the underdog. This makes choosing which team you think will win more difficult than choosing outright, without the spread. I think it’s much more difficult, and I pride myself on betting against the spread rather than on outright winners. Since it’s a lot more guesswork, some people don’t understand why anyone would choose to bet against the spread, but I think it makes it more fun.
For instance, the Eagles/Giants game this week, the line I have to work with is 1.5. This means that the favorite must win by more than 2 points for anyone who chooses the favorite to “win” the bet. Clearly a half point can’t be scored, but this is to avoid a tie. For instance, if the game below ends Giants 20/Eagles 18, though the Giants would have won the game for the books (and I would cry), anyone who chooses the Eagles would win the bet because they get the line points added to the Eagles’ final score. The score with the spread added would be Giants 20/Eagles 20.5.
N.Y GIANTS @ VS EAGLES !! ===== 1.5
The way that the pool I bet on sets up each line is by putting the favorite on the left, the underdog on the right, and the line/# of points that will be added to the underdog’s score to decide the winning bet after a series of equal signs. The commish also indicates which team is the home team by using an “@” sign. Some notes about my above pick: I hate the Giants. I don’t like Eli Manning’s face, especially when he does something stupid or someone else has done something he doesn’t like, and it looks like he’s saying, inside, “aw man!” I don’t like their coach and all his stomping around and throwing off his headset and yelling at people. No matter what the line is or who’s getting the points, I would never pick them against my Eagles.
Generally, when you’re betting on a game straight up rather than against the spread, a large majority of those playing will obviously pick the team that’s favorited to win. Over at ESPN, for instance, their experts (people who I’ve actually heard of—Ron Jaworski and Mike Ditka to name two) all pick St. Louis, Denver, Atlanta, and Green Bay to win outright during week 5.
CBS Sports have their experts (who I’ve never heard of) pick both straight up and against the spread. Outright, they all had Cleveland winning (one guy from ESPN did not) and they have St. Louis, San Francisco, Denver, San Diego, and Atlanta, winning on Sunday. ESPN’s experts all have Green Bay, St. Louis, San Francisco, Denver and Atlanta, too. Against the spread, however, the CBS Sports experts’ picks vary, illustrating how much more difficult it is to pick a winner with points on the line.
MIAMI @ VS BALTIMORE ===== 2.5
GREEN BAY @ VS DETROIT ===== 6.5
ST. LOUIS @ VS JACK- VILLE ===== 11.5
KANSAS CITY VS TENNESSEE @ ===== 2.5
NEW ENGLAND VS CINCINNATI @ ===== 1.5
NEW ORLEANS VS CHICAGO @ ===== 1.5
SEATTLE VS INDY COLTS @ ===== 2.5
CAROLINA VS ARIZONA @ ===== 1.5
DENVER VS DALLAS @ ===== 8.5
SAN FRAN @ VS HOUSTON ===== 5.5
SAN DIEGO VS OAKLAND @ ===== 5.5
The hardest pick for me to make based on my own knowledge/biases, the “expert” picks on ESPN outright, and CBS sports and this random guy’s picks** both against the spread, was San Fran v. Houston. Everyone is pretty sure that the 49ers are going to win this game. But half of the CBS Sports guys think that it won’t be by more than a touchdown and the other half do. Here is a situation where I whip out a random personal connection to make my pick: the Production Editor of the lit journal I run, Gigantic Sequins, lives in San Fran, and the Poetry Editor is moving from Houston to San Fran. All signs point to the 49ers. And if not, I will personally blame them for the loss.
Another difficult choice was Oakland over San Diego. CBS Sports is giving Oakland 4.5, one point less of a spread than the pool I’m in, and one out of fourteen ESPN experts pick the Chargers to win outright. It’s the riskiest choice I’ll make this week, but I’m going with Oakland because of the risk and because on my pool the line is 5.5. If you know most people are going to pick a certain team to win, if you pick the opposite and the opposite team wins, you have a win that most other people don’t have. This can easily backfire, but betting is all about fun—and risk is fun. Look at Wall Street. Those guys are having so much fun.
:: MONDAY NIGHT ::
ATLANTA @ VS N.Y. JETS ===== 8.5
MONDAY NIGHT POINTS: 42
Another difficult choice is the Monday Night Football game between the Falcolns and the Jets. I am partial to the Jets personally, but other spreads are giving them 10.5 points rather than 8.5 points and more than half the experts still pick Atlanta. I’m going to go with Atlanta here because of that, and because I know I won’t be watching the game. The Voice is on Monday and we don’t have ESPN.
NY GIANTS VS EAGLES —— ( 53.5 ) —— OVER / UNDER
SEATTLE VS INDY COLTS —— ( 44.5 ) —— OVER / UNDER
DENVER VS DALLAS —— ( 56.5 ) —— OVER / UNDER
MOST POINTS: Denver
FEWEST POINTS : Jacksonville
Over/unders take a little knowledge and a little research. Like picking against the spread, they’re supposed to be really close to the points that will wind up being scored– often you live or die on that half point’s line. Most points and fewest are the thing I think I’m the worst at because I don’t watch as much football as other people. I try not to pick against the picks I’ve made above, and I often pick the same teams week after week.
:: COLLEGE ::
LOUISVILLE VS TEMPLE @ ===== 33.5
RUTGERS VS S M U @ ===== 3.5
PENN STATE VS INDIANA @ ===== 2.5
MIAMI @ VS GEORGIA TECH ===== 7.5
MICHIGAN @ VS MINNESOTA ===== 18.6
ARIZONA STATE VS NOTRE DAME ( N ) ===== 6.5
OHIO STATE VS NORTHWESTERN @ ===== 7.5
The college games on the pool can be truly random– but they can make or break your chance at a weekly win. College football is a different beast than the NFL, and because I don’t get a chance to watch it often, my picks are the guessiest here. I go with personal preferences (I teach at Temple, so I’m gonna pick Temple; my cousin went to Michigan, so I’m gonna pick Michigan) as well as a sort of disbelief that a team would lose when given an astronomical line. But a college game is sometimes decided by a spread over 30, so there’s that, too. I don’t have time nor patience to research these games. Pure guesses.
Most sports bloggers who post their picks put some sort of disclaimer up, like, “these are not for sure, I don’t know everything/anything, make your bets carefully, don’t blame me if you lose.” Since this blog is called Poets on Sports, and since I hope that through this post I’ve detailed the difficulties (and fun) in betting against the spread in the first place, I’m gonna let you figure that one out yourself.
EXPLANATIONS OF ASTERISK(S)
* There’s a wikipedia page for Spread Betting that I originally went to for terminology/a concise way to explain this, but it was pretty much no help. Good ol’ Wikipedia.
**I wanted a non-expert’s picks against the spread to look at this week. I picked him randomly, but I do enjoy his honesty and also how he explains each of his picks, some games more specifically than others—I won’t lie, he has a soft spot for the Eagles. That helps.