09/24/2009 12:00AM

Best bets often disappoint


What is a best bet?

I'm having a hard time with that concept lately. We hear best bets all the time in this business, whether it's a racetrack tout, a sports handicapper giving his lock of the week, or just two people asking each other for their top play in the race and sports books here.

Theoretically, best bets should have higher winning percentages than regular plays, but it doesn't always work out that way. On my website this year, I'm 10-5 against the spread in the NFL. Now, out of respect to my longtime DRF readers, I try to post my best bets in this space each Saturday, yet these are only 2 for 4 so far, meaning my non-best-bets are 8-1. Go figure.

But I'm not alone. In the Leroy's Money Talks Invitational, a contest in which pro handicappers put up $5,000 of their own money and then square off in head-to-head, single-elimination matches by picking seven games with a best bet to be used as a tiebreaker. The composite record the first two weeks is 15-13 (53.6 percent) against the spread. The best bet record is 1-3 (25 percent). Last year in the same contest, the overall record was 111-103-6 (52 percent) with the best bets at 13-18-1 (42 percent).

All these thoughts about best bets takes me back to 2002. I did a Breeders' Cup seminar at the Paris Las Vegas hotel-casino and a half-dozen radio shows in which I gave out Volponi as my play in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Late in the week, I was on a show with Dave Cokin, who does local radio here in Vegas but is best known as a handicapper/tout in the Jim Feist group. Approaching the top of the hour, we ran short on time and instead of asking me for my thoughts on the Classic, as every other host had done on the shows I had done that week, he switched into tout mode and asked "What's your best bet on the card?"

I knew what he meant. He was asking for the surest winner for his listeners. Now, I'm a confident handicapper and believe I know betting value when I see it, but I'm not arrogant enough to say a 40-1 longshot against a full field in the biggest race of the year qualifies as a best bet. In retrospect, I obviously wish I had! Instead, I rambled on about how I thought all my selections that day would outrun their odds but didn't like one above the others. We ran out of time and didn't even get to blurt out Volponi or any other play.

Let the bettor beware. I'm going with these four best bets on Sunday's NFL card. I don't rate one above the others, just above the other games I like on the card (Titans, Buccaneers, Dolphins, Bengals, Raiders). We will see if they outperform those picks.

Lions +6 vs. Redskins

Just like last week when I was on the Rams +10 vs. the Redskins, this is more of a play against Washington. The Redskins didn't deserve to be double-digit favorites last week even against the lowly Rams (and won 9-7 but did not cover) and aren't good enough to deserve being 6-point road favorites even against the cowardly Lions. In both games so far this year, the Lions have stuck around early before getting blown out late, so the better bet might be +3 in the first half.

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

49ers +7 vs. Vikings

Both teams are 2-0 straight up and against the spread, but I rate the 49ers' accomplishment as more impressive because they beat the Cardinals and the Seahawks while the Vikings beat up on the Browns and the Lions. San Fran coach Mike Singletary has his team playing tough defense and will present a much bigger challenge for Adrian Peterson and Brett Favre. The offense isn't flashy (unless you like Frank Gore breaking off Peterson-like runs at slower speeds) but takes what the defense gives it. That should be enough to keep them within a touchdown.

PLAY: 49ers for 1 unit.P

Bills +6 vs. Saints

It's scary to jump in front of the train from the City of New Orleans as it has been well-documented that the Saints are on a record-setting pace with 93 points in their first two games, but I'm siding with the home underdog here. A lesser-known fact is that the last 16 times that the Saints have scored 28 or more points in back-to-back games, they're 1-15 against the spread the following game when facing a team with a winning percentage under .666. Buffalo fits the bill at 1-1, though they could very well be 2-0 if not for the last-minute loss to the Patriots in Week 1. The Bills' defense should be able to slow down the Saints, and the Bills' offense is looking much more potent as well and can match them score for score.

PLAY: Bills for 1 unit.

Cardinals -2 1/ 2 vs. Colts

I know what regular readers are thinking . . . isn't that a typo with a minus sign in front of Tuley's pick? Nope. I've earned quite the reputation as an underdog-or-pass handicapper. In fact, back to the "best bet" theme, I do a weekly podcast with Marc Lawrence (playbook.com) and at the end of my segment he asks for a best bet. This week, Lawrence said, "I know for certain I've got the plus sign marked down here . . ." but then I actually took this favorite. Call Ripley's. The Colts have struggled to get by the Jaguars and Dolphins. The Cardinals will be able to run on the Colts' defense just like those teams did, plus they have a much better passing attack than either of those teams. And the Cardinals' defense can stand up to the Colts' quick-striking offense.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.1 units (regular plays are risking 1.1 units to win 1 unit; Dolphins play last week was even-money). Season record: 2-4 for a net loss of 2.3 units.