Updated on 09/16/2011 7:38AM

Simple strategy works for squares


After a losing run over the New Year's holiday, the betting public bounced back with a big winning Sunday in the NFL.

And "public" is the right word, as it was mostly the tourists and recreational players that were cheering in the sports books Sunday. Professional bettors were, by and large, taking undervalued underdogs and letting the "squares" blindly bet the favorites that needed wins to secure or improve playoff berths.

That usually works for the wise guys, but on this occasion the blind squirrels collected all the nuts as favorite after favorite came through, including public darling teams such as the Packers, Bears, Steelers, 49ers, and Rams.

Every team that needed to win did so, and most of them covered. That also was great news for parlay bettors who were stringing together favorites in "must-win" situations. If the Ravens covered Monday night, bookmakers will be looking at a lot more losses because a lot of parlays are tied to the Monday night game.

Three things kept the bettors from having a truly banner day on Sunday:

1) Many books were taking lower limits on games because of the uncertainty of some playoff scenarios. That saved them from more exposure, and allowed them to move the lines aggressively to limit their liability.

2) After the morning games kicked off, all books in town took the Falcons-Rams, Bills-Dolphins, and Jets-Raiders games off the board until they knew each team's situation. This further limited action, especially because they also suspended parlay cards on those games.

3) The Buccaneers were bet from a 3- to a 4-point favorite over the Eagles in their "meaningless" Sunday night game. With the Bucs leading 13-3, it looked like another win for players, but the Eagles rallied for a 17-13 victory to crush the majority of bettors and kill a lot of parlays.

NFL Trends

Favorites won 10 of the 14 games straight up and were 8-6 against the spread. That might not sound like overwhelming numbers, but three of the dogs who won and covered (Bengals, Lions, and Eagles) were playing against teams that didn't need to win for anything more than pride. The Jets were the only underdog in the other 11 games to pull an outright upset, and the Chiefs were the only dog to cover in a losing effort.

* Heading into Monday night's game, dogs led the season-long battle, 120-113-14. The battle between home and road teams was even closer, as home teams led 118-115-14.

* On the final Sunday, eight games went over their totals and six games were under. All four games in domes (in optimal conditions that most fans think lead to high-scoring games) went under the total, and the first eight outdoor games (in conditions that most fans think lead to low-scoring games) went over. That streak was broken when the Chiefs-Seahawks and Eagles-Bucs contests went under. For the season, the unders held a 126-119-2 edge.

* The Steelers finished the season with the best spread record at 11-4-1, followed by the Bears and Patriots at 11-5. The Chargers had the worst spread mark at 4-10-2.

* The Colts-Broncos game went under on Sunday, but the Colts were still 13-3 on the season with the over. The Bears and Jets also reversed their trend by going over in their final games, but ended the season with the best under records, at 11-5.

Speaking of over/unders . . .

Predicting which NFL teams will exceed expectations and which teams will fall on their faces is a popular summer pastime in Las Vegas. The Imperial Palace sports book on the Strip feeds that discussion by posting its over/under season win totals in May.

* Of the eight teams with season win totals posted at 9 1/2 or higher, the Rams were the only one to exceed their total, going 14-2.

* The three teams at the bottom of the list (Cardinals, Browns, and Bengals) all exceeded their totals.

* The Raiders (10) and Seahawks (9) were the only teams to exactly match their total. Bettors who bet the Raiders to go over had to think they had a gimme when they were at 10-3 with three games to play.

* The biggest overachiever and underachiever were in the same division: the NFC Central. The Bears were listed at 7 and won 13 games, while the Lions were listed at 7 1/2 and only won 2.

* Back in June, I suggested three over/under plays and hit two of them. I was correct on the Chargers and the Bills to go under their totals, but was wrong on the Colts going over. I also offered three "leans" and was right on the Steelers over, wrong on the Titans over, and pushed with the Seahawks.

Bankrolls plummet late

I have to look to my over/under predictions for good news because my bankroll plays had a second straight losing week. The NFL bankroll, which starting the season at 1,000 units and entering last weekend was at 877 units, lost another 67 to enter the postseason at 810. I had double-play 22-units losses on the Jaguars and Broncos and 11-unit losses on the Titans, Raiders, and 49ers-Saints over. A 10-unit win on the 49ers -2 1/2 was the only winning selection.

The news on the college side of the ledger was only slightly better. After getting off to a 6-0 record in bowl games, the New Year's games and the Orange and Rose bowls were not good to the bankroll and I lost my last three picks and six of my last eight. All told, I was 11-10 in bowl games. The college bankroll, which opened the season at 1,000 units and entered the bowl season at 963 units, broke even in the bowls to close the season at 963. My season record was 36-36.