09/27/2012 3:39PM

Tuley: Replacement referees made little impact on NFL betting

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NFL fan No. 1: “Remember the referee lockout of 2012?”

NFL fan No. 2: “Whoa. Yes, those were some crazy times.”

NFL fan No. 1: “Yep. Pass me a beer.”

 

Some people would like you to believe that it’s going to be years until the NFL lockout of its referees spurs such mundane conversation. But my gut instinct tells me that the three-week lockout, which ended Thursday with an agreement between the owners and the referees, will be an afterthought in a matter of weeks.

Oh, sure, there has been endless talk about how the NFL was ruining the integrity of the games with replacement refs – that there was anarchy on the field with players trying to get away with everything and having no respect for the officials – but now we should be back to business as usual.

In fact, as far as betting on the NFL is concerned, not much changed with the replacement referees and nothing has changed in the hours after the real refs were announced to be coming back. Despite all the rhetoric out there, here in Vegas we believe that money speaks for itself, and despite the vocal minority out there saying they wouldn’t bet any games with replacement referees, the sports books here are saying they’re on a record pace, with handle up about 25 percent over the first three weeks of last season.

Granted, Monday night’s Debacle in Seattle, which was decided 14-12 in favor of the Seahawks when the replacement referees gave them a touchdown on the last play of the game rather than a Green Bay Packer interception, might have turned some people off. But most insiders here believe NFL betting would have continued on pace even with the replacement refs. (Full disclosure: I had the Seahawks in this column to go 2-0 on the week and 5-0 in the LVH SuperContest.) It’ll be interesting to see if there’s any increase in betting with the real refs back.

Before the season, there was a lot of talk that replacement refs would give preferential treatment to the home teams (or star players they were supposedly going to be in awe of) and that they would call fewer penalties and scoring would skyrocket. In Week 1, that didn’t happen as home teams were 9-7 straight up and 8-8 against the spread (very similar to historical averages). In Week 2, home teams won 14 of the 16 games and were 11-4-1 against the spread. That got a lot of media coverage and many people said, “Aha, see, they are favoring home teams after all. We need to bet the home teams.”

Of course, those voices quieted down this past week as home teams went 8-8 straight up and a bankroll-crushing 6-10 ATS. Those people who bet the home teams on Sunday might have been out of money and not able to benefit from the refs giving Seattle the win Monday night.

So, for the replacement ref era, home teams were 31-17 SU (64.6 percent, compared to around 57 percent long-term) and 25-22-1ATS – nothing too out of the ordinary.

As for the higher scoring, overs were just 16-15-1 through two weeks. Even though the totals were higher in Week 3, over bettors got beat as well when unders went 10-6.

The reality is that as many bad calls that were made, the impact was minor in Las Vegas in the grand scheme of things. And since there was no real way to handicap how the refs would call a given game, they were just as likely to help a bettor as they were to hurt him. Those that took the “bad beat” with the Packers might have benefited from replacement ref calls in another game. (I could also argue that Packer backers were very lucky to be covering the spread at all as the Seahawks were clearly the right side for 90 percent of the game and Green Bay was life-and-death to get in the end zone for the go-ahead and potential covering touchdown.)

For the last anecdotal proof that the replacement refs had a minimal impact on the betting world, I checked the lines on Thursday morning and compared them to the lines that were available on Wednesday night before the news of a settlement: not a single point spread had moved more than a half-point and only four totals moved a point or more. Three of those totals were increases, with 49ers-Jets going from 39.5 to 40.5, Raiders-Broncos from 47.5 to 48.5, and Giants-Eagles from 46.5 to 47.5 (which kind of contradicts the whole theory that the replacements were behind any increase in scoring). The only total to drop was Bears-Cowboys from 43.5 to 42.

Now we can get back to hating the real referees, just like it should be.

Back to the betting board . . .

I went 2-0 with my picks last week with the Vikings and Seahawks, not only covering the spread vs. the 49ers and Packers, respectively, but also with both pulling outright upsets. That gets me back to .500 for the season, which was my goal last week. Now I shoot for profitability with these three games.

Panthers +7 vs. Falcons

Atlanta has been one of the feel-good stories so far this season, but I don’t believe they should be a full touchdown favorite here. The Panthers are a Jekyll/Hyde team, looking great in their win over Saints and then getting blown out by Giants, so I’m counting on the good doctor to show up for this divisional contest. The key will be in avoiding turnovers (they’re a league-worst minus-8 in turnover differential).

PLAY: Panthers for 1 unit.

Titans +12 vs. Texans

I like this Houston team, but longtime readers know I love double-digit NFL underdogs more. Double-digit underdogs are just 1-2 ATS this season heading into Thursday night, with the Cardinals’ upset of the Patriots being the sole winner. The Titans showed life in their 44-41 overtime win over the Lions and should stick around against their division rival, which will be just happy to get a win.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.

Saints +7.5 vs. Packers

This is a big game for both teams, which were expected to battle for NFC supremacy but are off to slow starts, with the Packers 1-2 and the Saints 0-3. The New Orleans defense hasn’t stopped anybody (insert a “they need to reinstitute a bounty program” joke here), but this line still looks inflated at over a touchdown. This should be a shootout with the game coming down to the last possession, and I love having the 7.5-point cushion.

PLAY: Saints for 1 unit.

Last week: 2-0 for profit of 2 units. NFL overall: 4-4 for net loss of 0.4 units (risking 1.1 units to win 1).