01/03/2013 3:04PM

Dave Tuley: Vikings, Bengals look strong with the points


LAS VEGAS – The NFL playoffs are finally here after a regular season that had more ups and downs than Kim Kardashian’s Celebrity Quotient (Q rating).

The season started with almost every Sunday being Dog Day Afternoon as underdogs dominated and the sports books were collecting record profits (and contrarian bettors such as yours truly also were on the way to having banner seasons). As we reported here the past few months, the Nevada sports books won a record $43.5 million from football bettors in September, but as we discuss here all the time, these things are cyclical and everyone knew the gravy train would end at least to some extent.

The books lost $6.2 million in October, but they might have lost that amount alone on Sunday, Nov. 4, when every major decision went against the books. We’re still waiting on the official figures from November (they usually come out about 5 weeks after a month ends), but in talking to sports book directors they say it’s ugly and December didn’t get much better.

For the NFL season, underdogs still ended up going 131-117-7 against the spread (52.82 percent, or barely above the 52.38 percent that’s needed to break even when laying the standard vigorish of 11 to win 10).

So, if the books usually win when the dogs are barking, how come they claim to have lost so much when it’s pretty much ended up close to 50-50? Well, it all comes down to which favorites and dogs are covering. There can be a week where dogs are dominating, but if popular teams like the Patriots, Broncos, Packers, etc. all come in, the books can still be in trouble, especially if more bettors than normal are cashing parlays at bigger odds.

Another NFL betting trend I track is called “moves,” which is when a line is bet enough to move substantially. I want to see how the major decisions in these games go on a given week. I don’t have a set-in-stone formula for a game needing to move X amount of points, so it’s more of a subjective number, but for the whole year “moves” went 85-60 (58.62 percent) in favor of the bettors, so whether it was wiseguys steaming the right games or the public just loading up on the right teams, the books are looking at trouble.

That was the one league-wide trend that didn’t regress to the mean over the course of the season. Other betting stats: home underdogs 44-42-2, double-digit dogs 14-16, over/unders 124-129-3. The books pretty much split action and took their cut on those wagers.

On an individual team basis, the squads that resisted that regression to the mean the most (or the ones that the oddsmakers just weren’t able to catch up with over the course of the regular season) were the Redskins at 12-4 against the spread, followed by the Seahawks and Rams (who covered at Seattle in the final week to catch them), the Broncos and Colts at 10-5-1, and the Buccaneers at 9-5-2 (though I guess the oddsmakers did catch up as they were a league-best 8-2 ATS before pushing two in a row and then failing to cover three straight before beating the Falcons in Week 17). Most of the other playoff teams are among the leaders in the ATS standings, with the Patriots, Texans, Packers, and 49ers all at 9-7, the Falcons and Bengals at 9-6-1, and the Vikings at 8-7-1. The only playoff team with a losing ATS record is the Ravens at 6-9-1.

On the other end of the spectrum, it probably won’t surprise anyone that the team with the worst spread record was the Eagles at 3-12-1 ATS as they underachieved for the second straight year. Other money-burners were the Raiders and Chiefs at 5-11.

Back to the NFL betting board

I went 2-1 against the spread last week to finish the season strong as the Vikings beat the Packers outright as 3.5-point underdogs and the Rams covered against the Seahawks. My loss was on the Dolphins against the Patriots, who picked up added incentive when the Texans lost to the Colts early in the day and opened the door for the Patriots to steal a first-round bye. Still, I was happy to get back over .500 in my weekly plays posted here though they’re still losing with the vig. Hopefully, we can resolve that in the playoffs.

Bengals +4.5 vs. Texans

This really looks like two teams heading in the opposite direction. The Bengals are went 7-1 SU and ATS over the second half of the season, while the Texans limped home from the quarter pole at 1-3 SU and ATS as they let home-field advantage slip away and have to play this opening weekend. The Bengals are playing better right now with a balanced attack (though all they really need is Andy Dalton and A.J. Green) and an underrated defense that actually ranks just ahead of the Texans’ more ballyhooed unit in yardage allowed.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Vikings +7.5 vs. Packers

I rode Adrian Peterson and the Vikings to victory last week, and I see no reason to jump off now. In addition to the Vikings beating the Packers in Minneapolis, look back at the previous meeting, which came at Lambeau on Dec. 2, and you can see the Vikings very easily could have won that game as well (and Peterson actually ran for more yards on the not-so-frozen-as-it-used-to-be tundra). I would have been on the Vikes again even if the line was short of a touchdown, but I’ll gladly take the additional points as insurance. Another trend that didn’t regress to the mean was underdogs of 7.5 to 9.5 points: they were 16-6 (72.7 percent) ATS this year.

PLAY: Vikings for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-1 for a net profit of 0.9 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 25-24 for a net loss of 1.4 units .