I love dogs. My family constantly had two dogs throughout my childhood. I have always said there is no such thing as an ugly dog -- until I met NFL gamblers. For reasons I have tried my hardest to comprehend, no one likes betting a very bad team getting a lot of points, the "ugly dog," more than a so-called "sharp" or "wise guy." I stress "so-called" because it's time to reconsider that term for NFL betting.
"We don't have anyone that's been consistently winning in the NFL and we haven't had anyone like that for several years now," SuperBook director and oddsmaker John Murray told ESPN.
Sharps make money betting sports. That is a fact. I know some quite well from my years living in Las Vegas. It is not a charade. Are there farces who misrepresent themselves? Of course -- especially on Twitter -- but real ones do exist and they are quite impressive. However, I am of the belief that there is no such thing as an NFL sharp.
NFL sides are hands down the hardest to beat at the books. Every knowledgeable bettor and bookmaker will validate this claim. Simply, the sportsbooks offer the highest limits for that very reason. The house is not really scared of any NFL bets. The market is just too difficult to beat consistently, which makes last week's public beatdown so notable.
Accentuating my skepticism is the weekly stubbornness of professional bettors backing dogs with fleas -- the outlier that rarely rewards the bettor.
Over the past two seasons, many respected bettors routinely backed the lowly Cleveland Browns (9-23 ATS combined in 2016 and 2017), even though the team demonstrated extreme incompetence and managed only one win over that span. This year, the Buffalo Bills (2-7 ATS) have become the trendy stinker. And often these dogs are catching less than a touchdown, which makes it all so mind-boggling.
"I'm losing on these pigs," professional bettor Bill Krackonberger laughingly told ESPN, while sharing that he bets much smaller on the NFL than he does all other sports. "Imagine that. I think I am getting extra value on a double-digit dog."
Why get so cute with such ugliness? Is it ego? Do bettors just want to puff out their chests to brag when the stars miraculously align for a cover? Why else would someone take their taxed income and lay -110 on such bad teams? It's a topic we've discussed at great length on the "Behind the Bets with Doug Kezirian" podcast (shameless plug). For every cover -- like Buffalo's historic outright win in Week 3 over Minnesota -- there are predictable blowout losses that occur much more frequently.
"It's a methodology in that most guys just bet the numbers," says ESPN contributor and professional bettor Preston Johnson, while also sharing that he balances his computer model with sports knowledge to help avoid the pitfalls of dirty dogs and trying to fade hot streaks. "A lot of the same guys betting on the Browns and Bills are betting against the Chiefs."
That's another silly and unsuccessful approach. Kansas City leads the NFL with an 8-1 record against the spread. Plus, bettors complain when their bad teams blow covers in the fourth quarter. Honestly, what do you expect? Bad teams have low power ratings for a reason. Just like how great teams cover, awful teams find ways to not cover.
Additionally, for years the "so-called sharps" have faded the New England Patriots and backed their opponent getting "too many points," or so they think. It's just a bad idea. Since 2003, Bill Belichick is 138-98-5 against the spread as a favorite and Tom Brady is 174-116-7 ATS in his career. I have never understood the infatuation with betting against the greatest coach-quarterback quo in NFL history. Truthfully, we are spoiled by having weekly opportunities to bet on them. Professional bettors will miss them when they're gone.
In a weird way, I almost don't blame these pro bettors. For years, this approach has succeeded across all sports and they do make money -- but they have met their kryptonite.
"A 'sharp' NFL play is a bet from someone I consider sharp because that person is winning overall, but where they are winning is not necessarily in the NFL," Murray said.
The NFL betting market has tightened. Football has changed. Offenses are more prolific, thanks to player-safety rules and evolving quarterback play, making the ugly underdog -- often with a weak quarterback -- less potent. Yet, these stubborn bettors cannot help themselves. It is practically in their DNA.
Here's what I like this weekend (2-1 last week)
Cincinnati -14 (vs. South Florida): The Bulls started the season with a misleading 7-0 record, but have shown their true colors the past two games in losing by a combined 47 points. I expect the downturn to continue with this warm-weather program having to face temperatures in the 20s and 30s. The Bearcats are 3-0 ATS as a double-digit favorite this year.
Tennessee +5 (vs. Kentucky): One of the most popular college football betting strategies is to fade a team coming off an emotional loss. The Wildcats fit the mold after failing to qualify for the SEC championship game by losing to Georgia last week. I'll side with the Vols, who have played better the past month and covered in three of their past four SEC games.
Ohio State -3.5 (at Michigan State): The Buckeyes clearly have some defensive issues, allowing 80 points in their past two games. They've also failed to cover five straight, but this is the first time all season Ohio State is laying single digits. I will roll the dice a bit with a team that still has a chance to make the CFP. Plus, Michigan State QB Brian Lewerke has been nursing an injured right throwing shoulder and should have trouble matching Ohio State's offensive firepower.
Buccaneers -3 (vs. Redskins): Washington has been decimated by injuries and could start four new players on its offensive line. That does not bode well for QB Alex Smith, who is already reluctant to throw downfield. I expect the Bucs' offense to shine with Ryan Fitzpatrick and grind out a much-needed win.