Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Brief History of the Point Spread

And WWOD?'s NFL Week 1 Picks Against the Spread

Yeah, there is fantasy football. And the Suicide Pool. There is even the newfangled Fantasy League Suicide Pool. But when you're going to talk about football-related wagering you've got to follow the words of Vizini. You've got to "go back to the beginning." Or at least back to the most important thing. And, that means wagering against the point spread.

Right up through the early 1940s, however, there was no point spread in American gambling. There were odds. That's it. You could get 5-to-1 odds that the Cubs were going to beat the Yankees in the 1932 World Series (I made up those odds but you get it) but that was as sophisticated as things got. In other words, you could only bet on the final win/lost result of a game or a series of games (like the World Series). When making such wagers it didn't make a difference if a game was decided by one point or by a 100 points. If you picked the winner then you won and if you backed the loser then you lost.

That is until a history student from the University of Chicago came along and changed everything. After earning his Master's Degree from the prestigious Midwestern institution of higher learning, Charles K. McNeill went on to teach math at the Riverdale County School in Connecticut. He briefly taught John F. Kennedy in this capacity. McNeil would also hold down a day job as a securities analyst before turning his time and his mind toward gambling. Supposedly, McNeil was raking the cash in on the straight winner/loser wagers at such a brisk clip that no established book makers would take a bet from him. So, like any industrious compulsive gambler he started his own gambling interest and totally revolutionized the sporting life in the process. He pioneered the point spread and nothing would ever be the same.

The point spread, of course, is the estimated difference (the estimating is done in Vegas) between the scores of the two teams competing in a particular football game. For example, the New York Bretts are favored over the Miami Penningphins by 3 points. The "point spread" is 3 points. Knowing this information a prospective sport has the choice of either betting on the Jets to win by MORE than three or betting on the Dolphins to lose by LESS than three, or to win the game outright. If you were to bet on the underdog Dolphins and "take the points" then you would win your wager provided the the Dolphins' point total at the end of the game plus three points is greater than whatever the Jets manage to put up on the score board. Got it? Good. Oh, and if the Jets were to win by exactly three points (which mean the folks in Vegas did a darn good job) then everyone keeps there money. It's called a "push" and no cash changes hands.

Without further adieu, the WWOD? Week 1 Picks:
1. Arizona (-2.5) over San Francisco
If I were a serious enough gambler to have a system then such a system would probably have a rule that prohibited betting on any team quarterbacked by Kurt Warner. But, since I don't have a system I'm taking Warner and his stud receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin to beat the Niners and the newbie P.T. Barnum O'Sullivan by a touchdown or more.

2. Cincinnati (-2) over Baltimore.
Starting at QB for the Baltimore Ravens is Joe Flacco, who has started just two seasons at the University of Delaware. His big college wins came against the Northern Iowa Panthers and the Southern Illinois Salukis. And those were upset wins. Say what you will about Sincinnati but they are not ECAC teams. I'm committed to betting against Flacco until he proves that a bad idea. Or, at least, until the point spread reaches a touchdown.
NOTE: By this same logic I should be betting against Matt Ryan and the Falcons until they prove they can beat a team or a spread. However, I can't bring myself to bet against Matty Ice.

3. Jacksonville (-3) over Tennessee
Jacksonville looked legit last year in almost knocking of the Patriots in the playoffs. I would think there season-ending loss has them hungry for more and ready to start this season quick. On the other hand, I think the Titans were likely satisfied with just having reached the playoffs last season and could have been a mbit more complacent over the offseason. Moreover, I think David Gerrard and Vince Young are going in opposite directions. The Jacksonville signal-caller was third in the league last year in QB rating with an 18/3 TD/INT split while Young was 26th in QB rating with a 9/17 ratio.

4. New York Jetropolitans (-3) over Miami Penningphins
Although I'm absolutely terrified of Chad Pennington this morning I have to play the unemotional numbers here. If things go to form the Favred-Up Jets should be able to stay ahead by more than a field goal against the team that went 1-15 last season. Right?

Bonus Prop Bet of the Week:
Jerricho Cotchery Receptions OVER 5.5
Although I do think that most prop bets are just ways of handing over money to your bookmaker I do also think that if you take a good look at the weekly props you can find one that is worth a fiver. This week's pick is Cotchery making at least 6 receptions in his first game with Brett Favre.

We'll see how these picks turn out and if I win more than I lose then this will become a weekly feature for the duration of the NFL season.