Be Cautious with Bowl Dogs - What Sharps are Thinking in NFL Week 15

Tony Salinas: Be Cautious with Bowl Dogs

For years and years, I recommended that bettors focus on underdogs in early bowl games. And, for years and years, that was GREAT advice! But, for many reasons, focusing on underdogs is no longer an auto-pilot strategy you should use in the first couple of weeks of bowl action.

In case you've already forgotten what happened last year, let me remind you how the first few bowls on the schedule played out in December of 2010.

New Mexico Bowl: UTEP (+10) lost big to BYU 52-24
Humanitarian Bowl: Fresno State (+1.5) lost big to Northern Illinois 40-17
New Orleans Bowl: Ohio (+2) lost big to Troy 48-21
Beef O'Brady Bowl: Southern Miss (+2) lost to Louisville 31-28
Maaco Bowl: Utah (+15.5) lost to Boise State 26-3
Poinsettia Bowl: Navy (+3) lost big to San Diego State 35-14

Ring any bells? Dog players were thrashed with an 0-6 start to the bowl campaign. It wasn't until Game Seven when underdog Tulsa broke through at Hawaii with a 62-35 win as a 10-point puppy. Yes, it was a 37-point cover! But, that didn't make up for all the blowout losses underdogs had suffered earlier.

Now, I'm not going to tell you that you should focus all of your money on favorites during Saturday's tripleheader and in next week's early games. Treat each game individually and look for true value. My point today is that the auto-pilot strategy that worked so well during my many decades living out here in Las Vegas no longer applies. Among the reasons:

  • There are so many bowl games in the current era that some REALLY BAD teams get invited. It's much tougher for a team that bad to pull off an upset, even if the opposing favorite is flat. Way in the past, you'd be asking, maybe, the 40th best team to play well for you in an early bowl. Now it's the 70th best team...and they're just not as trustworthy.

  • There are so many bowl games now that favorites in the early games aren't necessarily disappointed to be in a bowl! A couple of decades ago, the "early bowl" favorites were often teams from good conferences who were disappointed to be in a lesser bowl. They wouldn't show up mentally, and you'd clean up going against them. Now, you're seeing many motivated favorites showing up. Maybe the raw caliber of the favorites is worse than 25 years ago...but the motivation is much better. Teams like Northern Illinois and Troy really showed up to play a year ago this weekend.

  • Oddsmakers adjusted to the tendencies of the past, and just don't offer big underdog value the way they used to. Some believe they've overadjusted, and there's actually value on favorites. We'll see how that plays out this year. Right now...it's important to know that the free points that were there for you for so many years aren't really there any more except in very rare circumstances.

  • Public teams don't play in early games any more! One of the hallmarks of my high roller approach is that I bet against the public. Sorry, but the public couldn't care less about Temple-Wyoming, Utah State-Ohio, or Louisiana Lafayette-San Diego State. There's no dumb money to fade! In earlier years, you'd have some great double whammy situations where a public team was laying too many points in a game they didn't care about. Now...there are few public teams playing before Christmas, and many of the favorites are happy to be bowling anywhere they're invited.

In the past, I'd have used this spot to encourage you to focus almost exclusively on underdogs...or to at least shade your action toward underdogs. And, I'd also have been telling you to bet against "public" teams who were getting too much respect in the line. Now, I have to tell you to handicap each game like it's a regular season matchup. What are each team's strengths and weaknesses? Who's likely to have a home area advantage even when there's no home field advantage? Who has a quarterback who can find the end zone...and who has a quarterback who's going to turn the over four times if he falls behind?

I've had some time to study these games since the matchups were announced. I'm really looking forward to this first week of action. You can purchase the exact same plays I'm betting the biggest myself right here at the website with your credit card. Game day releases go up a few hours before kickoff. I do have very affordable rates for the rest of football (college and pro). If you have any questions, call my handicapping office at 1-888-536-8880. Be sure to check on my early season basketball rates when you call.

Saturday's picks will be up by mid-morning Eastern time, and early morning Vegas time. We have a lot of football (don't forget about Dallas-Tampa Bay in the NFL) and college basketball. I'll be back once again this weekend to talk how "need" can be overrated in the NFL during the last few weeks of the season. I'll talk more about my Sunday plans in pro football at that time.

Last year dog-only players certainly took the worst of it in early bowl action. Be sure you're betting smart this time around. GET THE BEST OF IT WITH TONY SALINAS!

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Market Report: What Sharps are Thinking in NFL Week 15

Time once again for another look at what sharps (professional wagerers) in Las Vegas are thinking about this weekend's NFL games based on the market moves. We'll take the games in rotation order so you can make notes in your schedule. Jacksonville and Atlanta have already played their Week 15 game.

DALLAS AT TAMPA BAY: An opener of Dallas -6.5 moved to Dallas -7, which is probably a mix of support for the favorite beneath the key number and position taking. The public isn't likely to bet Tampa Bay with passion given how badly they've been playing lately. And, Dallas obviously needs to win in the playoff race. So, if you liked Dallas here, it made sense to act quickly. And, if you thought the public might take the line all the way past the key number up to -7.5 or -8, then early betting on the favorite made sense too in terms of shooting middles. The total opened at 46 but is up to 47 or 47.5 because Tampa Bay's been playing some shootouts lately and the Dallas defense hasn't looked very sharp.

WASHINGTON AT THE NY GIANTS: Here we have the opposite story. The Giants opened at -7.5 as a division leader with need...but sharps bet divisional underdog Washington down to +7, and now we're even seeing +6.5. The Giants have had trouble as pricey favorites in recent weeks. You'll recall they lost a home game outright to Seattle on this field, and only won by a field goal over Buffalo and Miami. Sharps felt a TD was too high given that shaky home form. An opener of 45.5 is up to 46.5 because the Giants have played a lot of shootouts this year, and because Rex Grossman has kicked the Washington offense into a higher gear since regaining the starting job at quarterback.

GREEN BAY AT KANSAS CITY: The Packers opened at -14. That line didn't move much at first, but we are seeing some underdog money come in before press time. Many stores are at -13.5 now. Green Bay has made it clear that they'll back off with big leads because they want to be at full strength in the playoffs. Kansas City's coaching and quarterback changes may help them be more competitive at high prices. There may not be a replay of last week's tank job in New York in other words. Not much interest yet in the total.

NEW ORLEANS AT MINNESOTA: We have a lot of games this week that opened near a touchdown. New Orleans was right at -7. This may be a game that hops between 6.5 and 7 through the weekend, with Minnesota money hitting +7, but New Orleans money coming in at -6.5. We can report that sharps were impressed by Joe Webb in his backup role last week for the Vikings. Sportsbooks hate this kind of game because a final margin of exactly seven would mean that nobody loses and half the bettors win. The total is up a half a point from 51 to 51.5

SEATTLE AT CHICAGO: The Bears opened at -4, but were bet down to -3.5. It's interesting that the line didn't come all the way down to -3. Sportsbooks are concerned that Chicago money would flood in at that point. The sharps we've checked with don't see the Bears with Caleb Hanie as superior to Seattle at the moment. Remember that Chicago lost to Kansas City on this field two weeks ago, and has shown no offense since Jay Cutler got hurt. It will be interesting to see what game day money does here. Little interest in the total yet...but any chance for poor weather would inspire Under money given the style that the Bears are playing lately.

MIAMI AT BUFFALO: No line yet as we go to press because Miami quarterback Mike Moore's status was up in the air. He's been upgraded to probable, so a number will be coming up soon. Note that Miami fired its head coach this week even though they had been playing fairly well the past month or so.

CAROLINA AT HOUSTON: Houston opened just below the key number of seven at -6.5. It's interesting that sharps didn't drive the line higher here for position-taking or because of support. The line has come down to Houston -6 as we go to press. There's a thought that Houston will let down off winning their division last week...and that Cam Newton is much better than C.J. Yates at quarterback, even if Yates has performed better than expected. Sharps like the Panthers here...and the Under as well with an opening total of 46.5 coming down to 45.

TENNESSEE AT INDIANAPOLIS: Another game near seven, with Tennessee opening at -7 but falling to -6.5. Among the reasons for the fall...Tennessee's starting quarterback is dealing with an injury...and the Colts are a winless team who are overdue to get an outright victory. You often see the 0-for teams rally for at least one victory in the last few weeks of a season. That plus home field, and you see some sharps playing the home dog for value. The total has risen from 40.5 to 41.5 on Over support.

CINCINNATI AT ST. LOUIS: The only interest in this game so far has been on the total. An opener of 38.5 is up to 40. The Rams did play an Over this past Monday Night vs. Seattle, as their defense is showing signs of giving up on the season. Perhaps that's the reason. There aren't a lot of math reasons for an Over in St. Louis games generally. Cincinnati has opened at -6.5 and stayed there. This suggests that sharps DON'T like the Bengals at such a high price or they would have jumped in (like they did on Dallas at that price). A line move to Bengals -7 from public money would bring in a lot of sharps on the Rams +7 based on what we're hearing.

DETROIT AT OAKLAND: An opener of pick-em has moved to Detroit -1. Many sharps have soured on Oakland given their poor play of late. Sharps were at first optimistic about Carson Palmer leading the team to the playoffs. Now they're betting on Oakland to lose at home against another playoff contender that hasn't been in the best of form. Not much interest in the total yet.

NEW ENGLAND AT DENVER: Big move on New England at the opener of -4.5. The Patriots are all the way up to -7 now. Looks like oddsmakers were trying to defend against Tim Tebow money and overshot the mark quite a bit. Sharps think Brady vs. Tebow is a mismatch...and that Tebow can't keep up in a shootout. Let's see who the public likes Sunday morning. They generally love betting on the Pats at single digit prices...but some have jumped on the Tebow bandwagon. Early New England money is very well positioned for middles. An opening total of 46.5 has moved down to 46.

NY JETS AT PHILADELPHIA: The Eagles opened at -2, and were bet up to -3 fairly quickly. Oddsmakers didn't know how much support Philadelphia would get after ending their slump last week with a win at Miami. Remember that the smart money didn't show any support for the Eagles in that game. This one may settle as one of those tug-of-war games with the dog getting money at +3 but the favorite getting money at anything less. An opening total of 45 has dropped to 44, which may signal weather possibilities...or might be because a defensive struggle is expected.

CLEVELAND AT ARIZONA: Another game in the touchdown range, with Arizona opening at -6.5 and moving up to -7. We have quarterback issues for both teams. Colt McCoy of Cleveland is doubtful after suffering a concussion vs. Pittsburgh last week. Kevin Kolb was knocked out of last week's game with San Francisco, but is currently probable for this one. That money move may have been a reflection of the likelihood of Kolb facing Seneca Wallace...or maybe based on recent form. Arizona's been on a good run of late while Cleveland continues to flounder.

BALTIMORE AT SAN DIEGO: Baltimore opened at -1, and the smart money moved that up to -2.5. We haven't seen enough support to get it all the way to -3 though. And, sticking at -2.5 would bring in a lot of San Diego teaser bets in two-teamers with a move up to +8.5 that crosses the 3 and the 7. So, sportsbooks may have a choice here of who they want to root for, and how they want to be positioned. If this line doesn't go to three...many places will be rooting for Baltimore -8.5 to defend against teasers. Should they take the line to a full field goal, that would stop the teaser bets, but then create a lot of San Diego +3 action that might leave the books one-sided too.

PITTSBURGH AT SAN FRANCISCO: No line yet as we go to press because of Ben Roethlisberger's status. The Steelers may even wait until Monday to make a final call so they can see what happens with Baltimore, New England, and Houston on Sunday in the race for first round byes. Those four teams are all 10-3 heading into the weekend. Remember that the Steelers have to finish ahead of Baltimore to have a shot to earn a bye because the Ravens own the tiebreaker for the AFC North crown.

That wraps up this week's look at what sharps are thinking in the NFL. Back again with you next Friday afternoon for the next "Market Report" of Wise Guy betting in pro football.

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