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.
It is here. Football season is upon us. The best time of year has begun. 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.
Jacksonville Jaguars vs New York Giants, 9/9 12:00pm CT
The Line: Jaguars -3
Betting Percentage Split: 50/50
The play: Giants +3
The Jacksonville Jaguars wildly overachieved in 2017. The New York Giants wildly under achieved in 2017. Week 1 is a phenomenal time to exploit biases like this from the previous season. In fact, teams that won under six games the year before are an incredible 59% against the spread in week 1 of the following year over the last 8 years. The Giants are not a 3-13 team based on the talent on their roster. Odell is happy, McAdoo and his stupid haircut are out, Saquon is in, the OL is revamped and seemingly there is actually some sort of balance in the locker room. The Jaguars may have the best defense in league for a second straight year, but that doesn’t mean they will recapture the spark they had in 2017. Bortles is still a very, very average NFL quarterback and I am not ready to pencil this team as the new AFC powerhouse for years to come like some people seem so set to do. Take advantage of this situational play and take the team that under achieved the previous year at home getting points with a veteran QB.
San Francisco 49ers vs Minnesota Vikings, 9/9 12:00pm CT
The Line: Vikings -6.5
Betting Percentage Split: 66% of tickets on the Vikings
The play: Vikings -6.5
Everybody and their mother have the 49ers as their ‘surprise’ team this year. People love to talk about how Jimmy G went 5-0 in his first 5 starts, but look past the fact that he had a pedestrian 7:5 interception to TD ratio, he won his last two games against a Rams team that sat all of their starters and a Jags team that already clinched their division; not to mention, the Niners had one of and will have one of the worst defenses in the NFL. The Vikings return nearly their entire NFC Championship Game roster, make a lateral (maybe slightly upward) move at QB and add Sheldon Richardson to their already stacked defensive line. Simply put, there is nothing, I mean nothing, better than fading over-hyped teams in the NFL. Give me the Vikes to show up at home in week 1 (6-3 ATS at home last year) and take 49ers under 8.5 wins while you’re at it too.
Dallas Cowboys vs Carolina Panthers, 9/9 3:25pm CT
The Line: Panthers -3 (+100)
Betting Percentage Split: 72% of tickets on the Panthers
The play: Cowboys +3
This is an interesting spot for a lot reasons. Two talented teams with a lot of question marks coming into the season. From a betting perspective, we also see one of the most public teams in all of sports (Cowboys) getting only 28% percent of bets. Furthermore, we have seen this line move the opposite direction of the ticket count (you can get -2.5 in some places). In the betting world this is called ‘Reverse Line Movement’ and it usually is an indicator that professional bettors are targeting a particular side. I love siding with the pros here and taking the underdog Cowboys when the public has hopped off their bandwagon. The Panthers lost pro-bowl guard Andrew Norwell in the offseason and will be without Left Tackle Matt Kalil, and possibly Right Tackle Daryl Williams, in week 1, giving what was one of the best units in football last year a ton of questions heading into the season. I like the Panthers to regress this year and the Cowboys to take a few steps forward from their disappointing 2017 campaign. Give me the contrarian Cowboys (a phrase you will not hear often) in week 1 winning outright.
Tennessee Titans vs. Miami Dolphins , 9/9 3:25pm CT
The Line: Titans -2
Betting Percentage Split: 66% of tickets on the Titans
The play: Dolphins +2
The NFL is a strange league, especially when it comes to gambling. The Dolphins went 6-10 last year, got rid of two of their biggest stars in Ndamuking Suh and Jarvis Landry (and Jay Ajayi late last season as well), have injury concerns at QB and play a playoff team in week 1 with a QB who many people think is poised to make the proverbial leap this year. Well, I am not one of those people and I am not a believer in this Titans teams. While getting rid of talent like Suh, Landry and Ajayi may look bad on paper, not only do player acquisitions matter far less than the public perceives them to in the NFL, there was a method to Adam Gase’s madness. He has publicly stated that he got rid of these players, who were often polarizing personalities, to change the locker room culture and instill a level of stability. Will this translate to prolonged success in Miami? I’m not ready to make that leap, however I am ready to say it gives them enough of a spark in week 1 at home to beat an overvalued Titans team. Take the Dolphins and the points.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers , 9/9 7:20pm CT
The Line: Packers -7/-7.5
Betting Percentage Split: 53% of tickets on the Packers
The play: Packers – 7/7.5
Somehow, after being one of the most boring teams in the NFL for the past couple years, the Bears are a part one of the most exciting and anticipated games of the weekend. Between the Khalil Mack addition, Aaron Rodgers coming back from injury, Nagy coaching his first game and Trubisky finally getting some freedom, this game has some genuinely interesting storylines to follow. From a gambling perspective, this game was as high as Packers -8.5 at one point and since the Khalil Mack addition it has moved all the way to -7 in some places. With the betting ticket disparity being so even, it’s most likely not professional action moving the line, rather bookmakers knowing that the public will be willing to pay a steeper price for the Bears with added excitement. Khalil Mack is a phenomenal player, as a former offensive lineman, players like him give me nightmares, however, on Sunday, his role will be limited and not nearly worth the 1.5 points they are giving him. Take advantage of this Vegas overreaction and take the Packers at -7 if you can get ‘em.
Bonus College Game:
Duke vs. Northwestern, 9/8 11:00 am CT
The Line: Northwestern -3
Betting Percentage Split: 75% of tickets on Northwestern
The play: Northwestern -3
Full transparency here: I am going to take Northwestern every week. While I hate seeing the public all over the Cats, as we typically fair better in the underdog role, this line indicates that these teams would be a pick-em on neutral field. I do not believe this to be an accurate assessment of these two teams. The two biggest questions coming into the season for NU were the health of Clayton Thorson and who was going to replace the production of RB Justin Jackson. Well, in week 1, Clayton looked phenomenal in his limited role, which will only increase week to week, and Jeremy Larkin went for 143 yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries in his debut as the starting RB. The Cats had arguably one of the most impressive week 1 victories going on the road, in prime time, against an upstart conference foe in Purdue and I love them to carry their 9 game win streak into this game and keep rolling. In what was by far their most disappointing result of the season, Northwestern got rolled by Duke last year, give me the Cats, all day, at home, in this revenge spot.