The Supreme Court opened the door for sports betting legalization with its May ruling that struck down a 1992 law that banned commercial sports betting in most states. Sports betting is not yet legal in Illinois, but with football season underway, former Northwestern offensive lineman Eric Olson will take a weekly look at the odds surrounding the action on the field.
By way of introduction, I am Eric Olson. I played football for Northwestern from 2012- 2016, started over 30 games at Right Tackle, got a Master’s in Predictive Analytics and love to look at football through the eyes of a sports bettor. I will be writing up my weekly NFL, and a few college picks here at NBC Sports Chicago. With the legalization of sports betting in a handful of states already, and possibly growing to others soon, there will be a lot of new interest and increased awareness on the sports betting factors around the games this year. The best pieces of advice I can give you are: #1 Don’t bet what you can’t afford #2 If it feels too good to be true, it probably is. And #3 If it feels ugly when you place it, good. Other than that, let’s have some fun and hopefully have some success along the way.
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts 9/30 12:00pm CT
Line: Colts -2
Betting Percentages Split: 70% of tickets on Colts
The play: Texans +2
I LOVE betting bad games in the NFL. The mud is where edges can be found. Go where the people don’t want to go. And in a game that nobody wants to watch, I want to be on the side that nobody wants to be on (30% of bets on the Texans). To be successful in the NFL, you have to be contrarian, you have to make bets that feel gross. You think betting on the Bills felt good last weekend? This is a fantastic buy low spot here for the Texans. They have looked awful thus far and have been a team that I loved to fade to start the season, as I pegged them to not meet expectations and to see some regression from Watson. However, once you see the public jump off the bandwagon, you jump back on with both feet. The Texans still have talent on their roster and I love them in a divisional game that they NEED to finally show up and put a full game together. Ride the Texans and the points
Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots 9/30 12:00pm CT
Line: Patriots -6.5
Betting Percentages Split: 58% of tickets on the Dolphins
The play: Patriots -6.5
You want some stats, people? I said, you want some stats?!? Well here ya go: this is the least amount of public support the Patriots have gotten in 1,771 days (42% of bets). The Patriots are 75% against the spread coming off a loss. The Patriots cover the spread by an average of 17.6 points following back to back losses (only happened five times in the Brady era). Remember what I said about the public hoping off the bandwagon? Well, I never thought I’d see the day when that bandwagon involved Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, and now that it presents itself, allow me to jump right on. This game screams regression to the mean for both sides. Take the Pats laying the points at home.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Denver Broncos 10/1 7:15pm CT
Line: Chiefs -5
Betting Percentages Split: 67% of tickets on Chiefs
The play: Broncos +5
Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs have been nothing short of spectacular thus far, sitting at both 3-0 straight up and against the spread. To most, that would probably mean you should keep riding the hot hand. To me, this means it’s time to fade the bandwagon and look for some regression. As tape continues to pile up on Mahomes, his magic will more likely than not slowly start to fade. I think going on the road to Mile High, in primetime, against a good defense, is the perfect time to start to see the Chiefs offense come back to earth. Not to mention, their defense STINKS. Betting on a home, non-public dog in a primetime game is always a good side to be on. Take the Broncos catching 5 points at home.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Tennessee Titans 9/30 12:00pm CT
Line: Eagles -4
Betting Percentages Split: 70% of tickets on Eagles
The play: Titans +4
The Eagles should not be giving 4 points to a decent Titans on the road, not yet at least. I firmly believe that the Eagles will hit their stride as the year goes on and Wentz settles in. That time however, has not arrived. This line surprised me after the Titans have strung together a few positive results, including beating Jacksonville last week, but what really surprised me was the public not hopping on the Titans. The eye test (what the public usually bets based on) would probably favor the Titans here based on some shaky Eagles play and a relatively large line, yet we see 70% of bets on the Birds. When a line surprises me AND the public is on the other side, it’s an auto play for me. Give me the Titans at home getting 4 points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Chicago Bears 9/30 12:00pm CT
Line: Bears - 3
Betting Percentages Split: 51% of tickets on Bucs
The play: Bucs +3
This game is very, very difficult to handicap. We don’t know who will be starting at QB for the Bucs. If Fitzpatrick does start, which version of him will we be getting? Are the Bears actually good? Can they move the ball at all when they aren’t on Nagy’s script to start the game? The only question that I feel confident in is that I do think Fitz will start. My reasoning here for taking the Bucs is that I simply do not trust Trubisky to perform as a favorite in a regular 12:00pm kickoff game. He showed up (kind of) against both the Seahawks and Packers when the spotlight was on, but struggled against the Cardinals. The Bucs are a better team than the Cards. I’ll back the Bucs and the points.
Bonus College Game
Michigan vs. Northwestern 9/29 3:30pm CT
Line: Michigan -14.5
Betting Percentages Split: 75% of tickets on Michigan
The play: Northwestern +14.5
Having played at Northwestern, I know how this program operates. Simply put, these spots are where we flourish; when we have no expectations, and nobody believes in us. Harbaugh and Co. will be coming to sleepy Ryan Field on a quiet Evanston Saturday afternoon with absolutely no narrative to get up for this game. On the other side, this game has the ability to completely change the course of the season for Northwestern after two disappointing results. I have been in the locker room before games like this and there isn’t a single person in there that doesn’t believe we can play with anybody in the country. Northwestern hangs around and keeps this in the number. Sprinkle a little on the money line while you’re at it.
Bonus Bonus College Game
Take Penn State +3.5
Home underdog, in a nationally televised game, getting less than 30% of bets. Automatic play for me.