12/31/2009 12:00AM

Wrong team favored in BCS title game


This Sunday is Week 17 of the NFL season, and there are certainly a lot of games with playoff implications, but those games are surrounded all weekend with wall-to-wall college football as we head toward Thursday's BCS national title game between Alabama and Texas.

The line has bounced between Alabama -4 and -5 since "opening" on Dec. 5, when this matchup was officially announced. But what a lot of people don't know - even avid college football fans and so-called media experts - is that a line on this game was posted at Lucky's sports books here in Nevada before the SEC and Big 12 championship games and Texas was a 3-point favorite. Lucky's also had Florida -1 vs. Texas. After all, for the better part of the season, Florida/Alabama/Texas had been lumped at the top of the college football universe and there were cases to be made for any of them being best.

But as we all saw, Alabama routed Florida, and Texas struggled to barely beat Nebraska, needing a last-second field goal after nearly letting time run out. Lo and behold, based mostly on just those games, Alabama was made the favorite. I try to not overreact to single-game performances (besides, the Longhorns' struggles against Nebraska looks a lot more excusable after seeing how the Huskers shut out Arizona 33-0 in the Holiday Bowl this past Wednesday night), so I'm trusting that the oddsmakers had it right with Texas as the favorite, and I'm taking the Longhorns plus the points in the national title game.

Also since then, Alabama running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy over Texas quarterback Colt McCoy (another case where one game - for each player, in this case - changed people's perception instead of looking at the full body of work). It has been very profitable to bet against Heisman Trophy winners in bowl games over the years because the other teams are motivated to prove they can stop the star. According to professional handicapper Marc Lawrence of playbook.com, betting against the Heisman winner's team since 1980 has resulted in a record of 21-7 (75 percent) against the spread. When the opponent has a win percentage of at least 66.7 that improves to 20-4 ATS (83 percent), and if the opponent also has a solid defense that allows fewer than 17 points per game, that trend improves to 16-2 (89 percent). As if playing for the national title isn't enough motivation, Texas will be out to defend McCoy's honor and prove he should have won the Heisman (kind of like when Texas and Vince Young upset USC and Heisman winner Reggie Bush in the national title game four years ago).

Back to the NFL betting board

I went 1-2 last week in the NFL with a win on the Buccaneers +14 vs. the Saints as they beat them outright 20-17 in overtime. But I lost on the Jaguars +7 1/2 vs. the Patriots and the Ravens +2 1/2 vs. the Steelers (hopefully you bet it at +3 on game day and got a push as the Steelers won 23-20).

All 16 NFL games are being played on Sunday. It's also probably the toughest week to navigate because of all the uncertainty of whether playoff-bound teams are going to rest their starters. A lot of people will also point to teams that are "playing out the string" but I believe that we're much more likely to see professional players put forth a full effort instead of going through the motions and we can find value in overadjusted lines in this final week.

Chiefs +13 vs. Broncos

The Chiefs are only 6-9 against the spread, but they have covered the last two times they were double-digit underdogs, losing 27-24 to the Steelers on Nov. 22 and just last Sunday in a 17-10 loss to the Bengals. Now they are getting nearly two touchdowns against a divisional rival. The Broncos, despite being one of the pleasant surprises this year with a record of 8-7 straight-up and 9-6 against the spread, are more of a coin-flip when a favorite as they are just 2-2 ATS, plus the only time they were installed as double-digit chalk was two weeks ago against the Raiders when they lost outright, 20-19. Another point to consider is that while this line is inflated because of the Broncos' supposed must-win situation, there's a better-than-decent chance that the Broncos will be eliminated by the time this game kicks off if the Steelers or Texans win earlier in the day.

PLAY: Chiefs for 1 unit.

Raiders +10 1/2 vs. Ravens

The Raiders have been another lousy team this year, bad enough that they have been made double-digit underdogs for the eighth time this season. However, the Raiders are 5-2 ATS in those other seven games, including outright upsets of the Eagles, Bengals, Steelers, and Broncos. The Ravens are the better team, but they have been inconsistent enough that it wouldn't be the biggest shock in the world to see them blow this win-and-you're-in opportunity (they certainly seized defeat from the jaws of victory last week against the Steelers). And just like in the Broncos' game, there's enough room for error here in the overinflated line where the favorite can still win the game yet I win the wager.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.

Bengals +10 vs. Jets

The Bengals have won the AFC North and will have a home game in the divisional playoffs, and obviously this line wouldn't be this high if many people weren't speculating that they will rest starters and lay down for the Jets. However, Chad Ochocinco and other Bengals have been saying they want to play this whole game. It's obvious they hear the backlash from the Colts resting their starters last week and want to stay sharp for the playoffs. Besides, if the Patriots lose to the Texans earlier in day, the Bengals could move up to the No. 3 seed. The Jets are also unfamiliar with this role of double-digit favorite; the biggest spread they have had this year was -9 1/ 2 in Week 6 vs. the Bills and they lost 16-13.

PLAY: Bengals for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). Season record: 27-23, including 2-2 on 2-unit plays, for a net profit of 1.6 units.