If there was one right way to bet on sports then everybody would do it. While not every strategy is successful, winning handicappers are all looking for the same thing, a way to finish with a strong ROI.
Tiering teams is a tactic my dad has used for years. It helps bettors fit each squad within the big picture of the league as a whole. When teams in the same tier face each other, you should consider taking points if the spread is more than a field goal. When teams in different tiers match up, you should strongly consider laying points if the spread is under a touchdown. As for the tiers, themselves, that is where the work comes in. Each week, minor adjustments are made from the week prior (see the up/down arrows) so that we have as firm a grasp as possible on all 32 teams.
Week 6 in the NFL saw 11 underdogs cover the spread, improving dogs to 54-36-1 ATS this year. The Dolphins (+12 at the Falcons) won outright, and the Jets (+10 vs the Patriots) might have if not for a questionable reply call. The Pats were the only Tier 1 team to win, and for Green Bay, losing wasn’t the worst part of their week. Without Aaron Rodgers, they’re no longer Super Bowl contenders, but are still a Tier 2 squad.
My lack of faith in the huge majority of the league was confirmed this week when, come Tuesday morning, I realized that I had the most trust in the teams coming off a bye. Evidently, not playing is the way to inspire confidence this year. That makes it tempting to remove the top tier, entirely, and have two-thirds of the league in one grouping. That, however, would defeat the purpose of this exercise, and would also be an overreaction, something I always caution against. That said, with injuries and suspensions factored in, there is a major shakeup at the top. Atlanta, Denver, and Green Bay have all been relegated, with Philadelphia and Pittsburgh moving up. Yes, the Steelers lost to Jacksonville two weeks ago. But I’m chalking up Ben Roethlisberger’s five-interception game as an anomaly and, guess what, every team in the league has at least one loss, and only five teams are perfect at home this season.
It feels like we’ve been down this road before with the Eagles, who started last season 3-0, yet finished 7-9. This year is different, however. They are 5-1 and won in impressive fashion at Carolina on Thursday night. Their lone loss is to Kansas City on the road. They’ve played tight games, sure, but they are winning them, which is a lot more than we can say about most of the league. With a balanced offense, a dominant front-seven, and a budding young QB, they have the makeup of a team that should be strong week after week.
This group has grown to include half the league, and little separates the top from the bottom. You might be tempted to drop Green Bay sans Rodgers to Tier 3, but again, don’t overreact, even to an injury to the league’s best player. Bretty Hundley was thrown into an impossible position in Week 6; the team has been grooming him for some time and previous glimpses were a lot more encouraging.
Carolina, meanwhile is 4-2, but added middle linebacker Luke Kuechly to an injured list that already included tight end Greg Olson.
Yes, the Raiders are 2-4, but Derek Carr is back now for a squad that was 12-4 last year. If the Raiders beat Kansas City on Thursday Night Football, it would be just a minor upset.
Many of these teams continue to be competitive, including the Giants, who stunned Denver on Sunday Night Football. Arizona is 3-3, but two of their wins are against the Colts and 49ers. The Jags are wildly inconsistent: after beating the Steelers on the road, they lost to the Rams at home. Baltimore’s next two games (at Minnesota then versus Miami on four days’ rest) will tell us a lot more about the Ravens, more specifically, whether the defense is dominant enough to mask a truly inept passing game.
There is certainly an argument to be made that the Jets belong in Tier 3. They are 3-3, and their loss to New England on Sunday was tight. I’ll be a real believer if they show well this week in Miami. It still seems as though they are built to tank and draft a quarterback. Perhaps their roster is too good to execute that plan, but it sure doesn’t look like it on paper.
Minnesota is a six-point favorite at home against Baltimore; there is reason to like that play, but a word of caution: it isn’t a great idea to bet on teams that recently looked much improved (i.e. Minnesota) against squads coming off an unexpectedly ugly loss (i.e. Baltimore). The public has a short memory, and betting with the masses is bad business.
Miami is only a three-point home favorite against the Jets, and taking the Dolphins makes sense. This is a revenge game for Miami, which lost an ugly 20-6 game at MetLife in Week 3. The idea that this would be a pickèm game at a neutral site does not seem accurate. The only reliable unit in this game is the Miami defense.
The best bet of the week is Denver (+1.5) getting points in LA against the Chargers. There will be more Broncos fans in attendance than Charger supporters and the public is biased against Denver following their stinker on Sunday Night Football. Denver QB Trevor Semian is dealing with a shoulder injury, and Brock Osweiler may have to start; but Denver’s success this week will be more contingent on the ground game, facing a Charger defense that’s last in the league against the run. Plus, the Broncos have won two straight, seven out of eight, and 11 of the last 13 head-to-head with the Chargers.
Featured photo: Broncos Standing For National Anthem (by Tech. Sgt. Wolfram M. Stumpf (CC License)]
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