The most important rule of gambling is and will always be, “Don’t bet an amount you can’t afford to lose.”
It applies no matter how confident you are about the situation. When it comes to sports betting, we all have those occasional wagers we see as a “sure thing,” but sure things are a myth, like the yeti, or his North American cousin, the sasquatch. (Deep cut there for the Seinfeld superfans.)
Even Floyd Mayweather over Conor McGregor wasn’t a sure thing. It was close to a sure thing. It was a very, very likely thing that was outrageously mispriced. But it wasn’t a sure thing. Mayweather could have suffered an in-ring injury, and the supposed lock of the century would have sent sharp bettors searching for jobs as fry cooks.
And as NFL bettors were reminded this week, even the best of bets, picks, fantasy plays, etc., can go up in smoke with a single awkward landing from a quarterback. You can see every angle, make every calculation, and determine that you have an indisputable plus-EV play, and that’s great if you employ a process-oriented mentality and risk modest percentages of your bankroll on each wager. But from a results-oriented perspective, even brilliant plays fail frequently because there are no guarantees in the world of unscripted entertainment.
If you bet the Ravens to cover as big favorites over the Broncos on Sunday, you probably weren’t counting on Lamar Jackson to injure his knee in the first quarter and exit after throwing four passes. (It’s unclear whether the former league MVP, playing without a long-term contract, will miss additional games.)
If you recently locked in an attractive price on the 49ers to win the NFC, you were likely figuring on them having veteran Jimmy Garoppolo under center as opposed to almost-undrafted rookie Brock Purdy, who was called into action because Jimmy G broke his left foot Sunday and is kaput for the season.
Even the team the Niners and Purdy defeated in Week 13, the Dolphins, had a scary moment with QB Tua Tagovailoa — he of the multiple concussions this season — leaving the game briefly due to an ankle issue, though he seems to be OK (at least until the next hit).
And those are just the quarterbacks. Kenneth Walker of the Seahawks, Treylon Burks of the Titans, Aaron Jones of the Packers — the list of skill position players who caused promising DFS tournament lineups to go all “min cash at best” because they got hurt Sunday is lengthy. And it’s that way most weeks. (And that’s to say nothing of the defensive players and offensive linemen whose injuries get less press but are no less pivotal.)
There are times when a major injury works out for the team. If Purdy is as sturdy as he looked against Miami, maybe 49ers futures bets are still alive. It wasn’t so long ago that backup QB Nick Foles won a Super Bowl for the Eagles. And look at what the Washington Commanders have been doing since Taylor Heinicke was handed the keys.
Sure, there’s a common denominator with those latter two, and it’s Carson Wentz — and Niners bettors don’t have that specific comforting thought to fall back on. Nor do gamblers with money on most of the 32 NFL teams. In many cases, if the starting quarterback goes down, the wager goes down with it.
The Bills are the current Super Bowl favorite, but they become an extreme longshot if Josh Allen hits the IR. The Chiefs stop being a championship contender if they lose Patrick Mahomes. Same for the Eagles without Jalen Hurts and the Cowboys without Dak Prescott, even if Gardner Minshew and Cooper Rush, respectively, are fine stopgap measures to get you through a few non-elimination games.
Ryan Tannehill is nobody’s idea of an elite quarterback, but the Titans are finished this season if he goes out. And does anyone think the Bengals can contend without Joe Burrow?
Perhaps this is all highly obvious analysis. But it’s worth a reminder every once in a while, and Sunday’s suffering served as one: Any sports wager is one torn-up ligament away from becoming a torn-up ticket.
With that, let’s take a look at the opening lines and assorted betting odds and ends for Week 14.
The consensus lines
Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state. But here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for each of the 13 games in Week 14 (the final bye week of the season leaves us without the Commanders, Saints, Falcons, Colts, Packers, and Bears):
Raiders (-5.5) at Rams
Jets at Bills (-9.5)
Browns at Bengals (-5)
Texans at Cowboys (-16.5)
Vikings (-1) at Lions
Jaguars at Titans (-3.5)
Eagles (-6.5) at Giants
Ravens at Steelers (-2)
Chiefs (-9) at Broncos
Buccaneers at 49ers (-3)
Panthers at Seahawks (-5)
Dolphins (-2.5) at Chargers
Patriots (-1.5) at Cardinals
Line move to watch
If the Bucs look particularly good or bad on Monday Night Football against the Saints, that could cause reassessments of what to do with the spread against Purdy and the Niners. And if Jackson is cleared to play for the Ravens after his MRI comes back — which seems a longshot, and the bookmakers have certainly set their lines based on the assumption of no Lamar — Baltimore would flip from ‘dog to fave in Pittsburgh.
But if you’re looking for a spread with the potential to shift a bit just because it’s a funky opening line, how about the 10-2 Vikings only giving a point in Detroit? Sure, the Lions are gaining steam, they’ve won four of their last five, they’re at home, and the Vikings continue to win via black magic while impressing nobody. But the 10-2 team is favored by only a single point? I’m guessing Minnesota will attract enough action to move it to -2 at some point this week.
Intriguing moneyline underdogs to consider
Goodbye, Red Hot Rasky. Hello, Ice Cold Rasky. I finally had an 0-for-3 week, losing with the Jets against Minnesota (came close), the Texans against the Browns (small consolation, but I was right that Deshaun Watson was going to stink in his first game back), and the Titans in Philly (a plain old awful pick with no “buts”).
Whatever caveats I offer, 0-for-3 is 0-for 3. Then again, the Bengals were the only underdog of more than a point that won outright on Sunday, so there wasn’t much Red Hot Rasky could have done last week other than not pick any moneyline underdogs.
But that’s not how RHR rolls. Let’s get back out there and find some ‘dogs with ML value.
Bronze medal: Ravens +115 (Caesars) at Steelers. Are we sure the Ravens aren’t the better team even with Tyler Huntley at QB? It’s not like the offense under Lamar was lighting the world on fire; the Ravens have topped 27 points only once this season. This shapes up as a close, low-scoring “smashmouth” AFC North game, and we’ll take any kind of plus money on the team that’s three games up in the standings.
Silver medal: Jets +355 (Betfred) at Bills. The Jets are a solid football team — strong defense, with Mike White an upgrade over Zach Wilson. But this isn’t so much a bet on the Jets as it is a gamble on the inconsistency of the Bills. Every three or four weeks, Buffalo finds a way to lose a close game to an inferior team. It happened against these very Jets on Nov. 6. At +355, you can pad your bankroll nicely if it happens again.
Gold medal: Chargers +130 (Barstool Sportsbook) vs. Dolphins. What a huge game this is for both teams. But it’s an absolute must-win for the Chargers, who, after losing to the Raiders in Week 13 to fall to 6-6, now have just a 30% chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. Who knows how healthy the Chargers will be — it feels like they haven’t been at full strength at any point in the Justin Herbert era — but they need to win this one and they know it, so let’s take plus money on the backs-against-the-wall squad.
Textbook teaser candidates
Fans of the three-team (or more) teaser know what to look for: favorites of 6 or more who become very safe bets if you reduce the spread by about a touchdown. Here are this week’s options that fit the bill:
Bills: Can tease down to -3.5 or -2.5 hosting the AFC East rival J-E-T-S Jets Jets Jets.
Cowboys: Can tease down to -10.5 or -9.5 at home against cross-state non-rival Houston.
Eagles: Can tease down to -0.5 or +0.5 at the Meadowlands against the NFC East rival Giants.
Chiefs: Can tease down to -3 or -2 visiting AFC West rival/doormat Denver.
Pick three (or more), pick 6 points or 7 (or 6.5), and let the sweating of a +140 or so return begin. Unfortunately, we can come up with a good reason this week to pass on each of these (other than the Cowboys, who could beat the Texans by double-digits with Gary Hogeboom — now, at age 64 — at quarterback).
Weird things can happen in these divisional games. Maybe a two-teamer with the NFC East’s Eagles and Cowboys will work, but you’d want to go 7 points with Dallas and 6 with Philly. Take that incongruity as a sign. Find a better way to wager your money than by teasing. (Unless you want to tease Dallas with some point totals … )
Four weeks ago in this space, I confidently declared that the MVP of the league would assuredly come from the then-favored trio of Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, and Jalen Hurts. Even though I’d still say there’s something like a 90% chance it’s one of those three — and about 87 of those 90 percentage points come from Mahomes and Hurts — I have to acknowledge that Joe Burrow is suddenly lurking. He’s now the third choice, as high as +800 at FanDuel, FOX Bet, and PointsBet. The Bengals may need to win out, finishing 13-4, to get Burrow the MVP, but if indeed they do that, that would mean they’ll have beaten Buffalo in Week 17, which gives Burrow head-to-head wins over both Mahomes and Allen. A lot of this is in the Eagles’ hands. If they finish 16-1, it’s gotta be Hurts, right? But whereas I wrote off Burrow’s chances a month ago, I’m recognizing them now.
The Geno Smith Comeback Player of the Year market is interesting. He’s running away with it on the odds board, at -900 at DraftKings, and based on what’s happened so far this season, that’s a logical number. But there’s a lot of season left. The Seahawks are 7-5 with a few tough games remaining on their schedule, and it’s feeling like they peaked a month ago. If they don’t make the playoffs, Geno isn’t the lock to win this award that he appears to be at present.
Highest total on the board for Week 14? Lions-Vikings, 53.5. Lowest? Niners-Bucs, 37.5. A half-point north of that, we find my favorite over/under of the week: Ravens-Steelers, 38. I love the under there. Anyone on board to tease it up 7 points with the Cowboys against the Texans? (But remember: Only do it with money you can afford to lose. Injuries can happen. And “Line It Up” columnists are not necessarily sharps.)
Photo: Sergio Estrada/USA TODAY