Youmans: 10 betting lessons from NFL Week 4


Everyone in Las Vegas wants to win. The unfortunate truth is that the majority of gamblers end up as losers, which is what the Las Vegas Raiders were through the season’s first three games. As a result, the pressure was intense on coach Josh McDaniels, quarterback Derek Carr and everyone else in the organization.

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Even the beer and hot dog vendors, parking lot attendants and ushers who showed up Sunday at Allegiant Stadium were desperate for a win.

It’s miserable being 0-3. Every football bettor and handicapper has been in that uncomfortable hot spot — after you lose the first three games, that fourth game suddenly becomes the most important thing in life. Winning one game is priority No. 1 and nothing else matters.

Sometimes, it’s a simple handicap. The only 0-3 team in the NFL needed to get rid of that lonely, losing feeling in Week 4. I expected the mission to be accomplished, which is why I made the Raiders my best bet on the entire football card this weekend. At the same time, I also figured it wouldn’t be easy — and it wasn’t.

The Raiders needed some luck — beginning with a 68-yard fumble return for a touchdown by cornerback Amik Robertson late in the first half and ending with Denver running back Mike Boone’s dropped pass with 1:38 remaining — to pull out a 32-23 victory over the Broncos.

Las Vegas was a 2.5-point favorite at most sportsbooks, though the line closed -3 at Circa Sports and a few other books (the line actually opened -1.5). It seemed the Raiders might win by two points before Boone, running open near midfield, dropped a perfectly-placed deep ball from Russell Wilson on fourth-and-5.

“Man, that was a sweat,” said handicapper Dan Saley, who made the Raiders -2.5 his best bet in the Circa Friday Football Invitational, the $25,000 weekly contest hosted by VSiN.

Saley, who has a 2-year-old son named Raider, is making a living as a professional bettor and had a significant amount of money on the Raiders. (It’s true that Raider is his son’s name, and credit to his wife for approving it.)

The situational spot dictated a bet on the Raiders, a talented yet winless team returning home after three down-to-the-wire defeats. The Broncos were 2-1, but both of their wins were ugly. Wilson was struggling to move the offense and his new coach, Nathaniel Hackett, appeared clueless.

As it turned out, Wilson played his best game of the season, passing for 237 yards and accounting for three touchdowns, but the Broncos fell short mostly because of running back Melvin Gordon’s fumble and Boone’s dropped pass.

While there were aspects of the matchup that slightly favored the Raiders, their urgency to win was the overriding factor in my handicap. The Raiders prevailed in large part due to Josh Jacobs rushing for 144 yards and two touchdowns. Carr did not throw an interception, wideout Davante Adams made a few big plays and McDaniels’ play calling was improved.

What handicappers learn over the course of time, and many times the hard way, is that teams in must-win situations get in those situations for the wrong reasons. But the Raiders were better than their 0-3 record and proved to be the right side in this spot. That winning bet came with some sweat, as did some other lessons from Week 4.

Breakfast with a London game is a good start to Sunday mornings

There were nine games in the 10 a.m. Pacific time slot Sunday, and there’s no need for that many games at the same time. In my opinion, this would be the ideal weekly schedule: a Thursday night game, a Saturday night game, a London game at 6:30 a.m. Pacific, seven early games, three afternoon games, a Sunday night game and a Monday night doubleheader.

I was in the Circa book for the kickoff of Saints-Vikings, but after getting quickly annoyed by watching Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins and his inability to expand a lead, it was back to the room for a nap. A decision was made to wake up for the fourth quarter.

I bet the Vikings -2.5 and used that as a play in the Circa Millions and Westgate SuperContest. The number was good, considering Minnesota was up to -3.5 by Saturday night and -4 or 4.5 by kickoff. The number mattered, of course, as the Vikings won a wild one, 28-25.

It can be argued there should be no point-spread dropoff from Jameis Winston, the Saints’ injured starting quarterback, to backup Andy Dalton. Winston usually throws an interception … or three. Dalton, with his towering wave of red hair, was probably an upgrade in this case. The “Red Rifle” went 20-for-28 passing for 236 yards and one touchdown with no mistakes. New Orleans lost despite having the better quarterback.

There was an energetic crowd in the book. Win or lose — but especially if you have a winner — the London game is a good way to start the day.

The betting public does occasionally beat the bookmakers

The books generally rule, and that was true the first three weeks, but this Sunday was an exception. A successful day for the bettors was fueled by wins and covers by the Eagles and Raiders.

“Every now and then, you got to pay,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “The handle never goes backward. It stays the same or goes forward. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger. This stuff is just insane.”

David Purdum of reported what I also heard from a few bookmakers. Purdum tweeted, “Sportsbooks are reporting a losing Sunday, their first of the NFL season.”

Vaccaro said his book paid out a 10-team parlay for $60,000. In the SuperContest, the top five most-selected teams went 5-0 (Vikings -2.5, Cowboys -3, Cardinals %plussign% 1, Titans %plussign% 3.5, Raiders -3).

Ravens coach John Harbaugh was right to go for it

Baltimore blew another big lead at home, this time turning a 20-3 second-quarter advantage against Buffalo into a 23-20 loss. While the Bills, favored by 3 to 3.5, were a popular money-line play, it was not a major point-spread decision.

Harbaugh’s call to go for a touchdown instead of a go-ahead field goal was a much-debated decision. On fourth down from the 2-yard line with 4:15 remaining, Harbaugh put the game in quarterback Lamar Jackson’s hands. Jackson missed an open receiver and threw an interception. Josh Allen drove the Bills 77 yards to set up the winning field goal as time expired.

Results-based critics hated Harbaugh’s gamble; I liked the call. For what it’s worth, the ESPN win probability model showed the Ravens had a 73.5% chance of winning by going for the touchdown, compared to 69.7% by kicking the field goal.

Sometimes, a line is simply wrong

During Saturday morning’s “Lombardi Line” show on VSiN, host Michael Lombardi asked me, “Why is the Cowboys line only 3?”

It was a good question, as I had wondered the same thing all week. I made the Cowboys -4.5, and Lombardi said he thought the line should be -6. If you do this long enough, you know it’s typically smart to stay away when a line stinks or looks suspicious.

Dallas was starting Cooper Rush at quarterback in place of injured Dak Prescott for the third consecutive week, so maybe that was why. Rush had played well and was 2-0, however. Washington was off back-to-back losses, so it was hard to make a strong case for taking only a field goal with Carson Wentz, who was sacked nine times the previous week.

Rush passed for 223 yards and two touchdowns, clearly outplaying Wentz in the Cowboys’ 25-10 win. It was just a bad line. The oddsmakers, and the sharps in the betting market who sided with the underdog, were wrong. The only thing that stunk was the Commanders, and that should come as no surprise.

Saquon Barkley is the biggest reason for the Giants’ success

When he’s healthy — and that has been rare the past few years — Barkley is the best running back in the NFL. He’s back this season, and as good as ever. Barkley carried the ball 31 times for 146 yards as the Giants improved to 3-1 with a 20-12 victory over the Bears.

It’s a mystery why the Bears were attracting sharp betting action as 3-point road dogs. It is obvious that many sharps think the Giants are overrated and phony. There are problems, but the Giants are better than their market power rating and somewhat for real, mostly due to Barkley’s comeback and the arrival of new coach Brian Daboll.

It’s fine to doubt Giants quarterback Daniel Jones, but what were the reasons for betting on Chicago? The angry mob that lost with the Bears will blame second-year quarterback Justin Fields, but he’s not holding the team back. Fields passed for 174 yards and ran for 52 yards while getting sacked six times. Fields is playing behind a mediocre offensive line and surrounded by very few playmakers. Barkley, the league’s rushing leader, is a big-time playmaker.

The Giants are in a bad spot in Week 5. Jones and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor were both injured against the Bears, and the Giants opened as 8-point dogs against the Packers in London. I’m not betting against Aaron Rodgers this week.

The Packers are flawed, but that’s perfectly fine

Rodgers was out of rhythm in the first half against the Patriots — throwing the fourth pick-six of his career — and needed to lead a comeback to lift the Packers, 9.5-point favorites, to a 27-24 win in overtime.

It’s definitely concerning that Rodgers is making few big plays in the passing game and Green Bay’s run defense is showing too many leaks. It’s a concern when the Packers are fortunate to beat a New England team playing a third-string rookie quarterback for most of the game. Rodgers admitted those concerns, saying he needs to improve and the offense has a long way to go.

The season is a marathon. It’s sometimes a negative to peak too soon. The Eagles are the hottest team in the NFC right now, but allow Rodgers and the Packers some time to make improvements and you can bet they will be a major factor in January. It’s always better to learn from wins, and Green Bay has won three in a row.

The Steelers’ QB situation is sinking their season

It’s just a matter of time before Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, who appears headed for his first losing season, makes a permanent quarterback switch from Mitch Trubisky to rookie Kenny Pickett. Tomlin made a temporary switch Sunday in the second half of a 24-20 loss to the Jets.

Pickett was 13-for-13 passing — completing 10 throws to his teammates and three to Jets defenders — in relief. In fairness, one of his interceptions was deflected by his tight end and another was on a Hail Mary. Pickett at least sparked a lifeless offense.

There was another problem: Pittsburgh’s defense, minus injured edge rusher T.J. Watt, could not stop Jets quarterback Zach Wilson when it counted. It’s tough to predict Pickett will be the answer, so I’m not going to be betting on the Steelers in the near future and it’s not even tempting to take 14 points at Buffalo in Week 5.

The Seahawks are not the worst team in the league

As of today, the Texans are stuck with the NFL’s worst record (0-3-1) and the Commanders (1-3) have the league’s worst nickname and point differential (-34). The Bears and Seahawks, expected to be bottom-feeders, are each 2-2. The worst-team-in-the-league label will be a fluid situation for the next three months, but Seattle is not hopeless.

Geno Smith passed for 320 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions or sacks, and Rashaad Penny rushed for 151 yards and two scores in the Seahawks’ 48-45 win at Detroit. The Lions were banged up with injuries, but those were offensive issues. What’s the excuse for the defense?

The betting public was wise to side with the Seahawks as road dogs, and it’s obvious the Lions are still not fit for the favorite’s role. Jared Goff will give Detroit a quarterback edge this week at New England, which is a 3-point favorite.

Remember that a game can be lost on the first play

The latest Patrick Mahomes-Tom Brady showdown in Tampa Bay went Mahomes’ way as the Chiefs coasted to a 41-31 win. The Buccaneers, who closed as 2-point favorites, were buried early and chasing all night after rookie Rachaad White fumbled the opening kickoff and Mahomes passed for a touchdown two plays later.

It was not part of the Bucs’ game plan to spot Mahomes a seven-point lead, and the kickoff-return blunder essentially ended the game.

“I agree,” said Chuck Edel, a Las Vegas professional bettor who was on the Bucs. “But KC also played their ‘A’ game and I’m not sure anyone would beat the Chiefs the way they played.”