The Play That Pays

We admit to struggling to stay profitable in the regular NFL season. Over the past two years, average and mediocre teams wreaked havoc on the LazyLine. However, a strong betting pattern emerged in that span. And a game fitting that pattern surfaces this weekend.

When the LazyLine varies significantly from the official pointspread, we strike gold. We are 7-2 when betting our maximum 4 units on games featuring these large discrepancies. Our best performance comes on our largest bets! And almost always these scenarios involve two playoff-level teams.

Last year, we jumped into the profit zone in the conference championships and increased our return with a bold Super Bowl prediction of a Seahawks blowout over the favored Broncos.

Here are the LazyLines for this playoff round, a few insights you won’t read anywhere else and one prime play.

Ravens at Patriots
Official Line: Patriots –6
Lazy Line: Patriots –4. No play.

Put aside any notion of rating the Brady/Belichick duo as superior to Harbaugh/Flacco. The Harbaugh-led Ravens boast a 3-0 record against the spread in road playoff tilts vs. the Patriots. In terms of betting value, Harbaugh/Flacco offer more. But is it enough to warrant a wager this year?

As we add and subtract each team’s advantages and disadvantages, we keep coming back to the 4-point home edge of the Patriots as the appropriate line. So we see slight value in betting on the Ravens, but not enough to warrant a wager from us. (But we’d love to find an over/under side wager on how many times Patriots’ cornerback Brandon Browner gets penalized for interference while trying to defend deep routes by Ravens receivers.)

Panthers at Seahawks
Official Line: Seahawks –11
Lazy Line: Seahawks –14. No play.

This year’s Panthers strongly resemble last year’s Panthers. Not only do they field the same players behind center and the same coaching staff, the Panthers also feature a secondary full of overachieving but highly inexperienced replacements just like last year. That assemblage of talent got blown out at home in the 2nd round of playoffs a year ago. A similar (or, likely, worse) fate awaits them on the road this year.

Pete Carroll and the Seahawks front office have assembled a new NFL dynasty through superb drafting and management of the salary cap. The Panthers, conversely, continue to dance through a minefield of mismanaged salaries, poor drafts and frequent injuries. Three cheers for coach Ron Rivera for driving this jalopy into the playoffs once again, but the brick wall is fast approaching.

We think a case can be made for Seattle being favored by 17. If the pointspread falls back down to 10, we just might wager heavily on the Seahawks. For now, we’ll go with the more conservative Lazy Line of -14 and simply enjoy watching football at its finest on at least one side of the ball.

Cowboys at Packers
Official Line: Packers –6
Lazy Line: Packers –10. No play.

The most talked-about MVP candidates of 2014 battle it out on the frozen tundra of Wisconsin on Sunday. The new, cooler, more reliable Romo vs. the always cool and reliable Aaron Rodgers. Which QB should you risk money on?

Consider these QB stats:

Aaron Rodgers……38 TDs, 0 INTs in past 16 home games
Tony Romo………..20 TDs, 2 INTs in past 8 road games

Clearly, both QBs carry strong credentials for this playoff scenario. However, we find it difficult to digest the “Romo is reborn” narrative, much less the “It’s a different Cowboys team this year” story line.

The mainstream media’s “Tale of Super Tony” tells us Romo is making better decisions, and that he has cut down on the mistakes that plagued him in the past. Here’s what the numbers tell us about his best years in the past and his allegedly superb 2014 season:

2009…550 passes, 26 TDs, 9 INTs, 4 fumbles
2011….522 passes, 31 TDs, 10 INTs, 5 fumbles
2013…535 passes, 31 TDs, 10 INTs, 2 fumbles
2014…435 passes, 34 TDs, 9 INTs, 3 fumbles

Romo threw TDs on 7.8% of his pass attempts this season, topping his percentage of 5.4% in the other 3 years listed. Quite a stunning improvement!

Before you jump on this crowded bandwagon, though, we suggest you look at things from a different angle.

Because Romo is 2-4 in playoff games where Dallas loses the turnover battle, let’s see whether you can rely on the new Romo to turn the ball over less than the old Romo:

2009…550 passes, 35 runs, 9 INTs, 1 lost fumble
2011….522 passes, 22 runs, 10 INTs, 0 lost fumbles
2013…535 passes, 20 runs, 10 INTs, 0 lost fumbles
2014…435 passes, 26 runs, 9 INTs, 1 lost fumble

Romo ran or passed on 461 plays this season. He turned the ball over 10 times, or 2.1% of the time he took charge of the rock. That’s higher than the 1.7 % average for his other 3 top years. So, contrary to the narrative that Romo evolved into a much safer or smarter QB this year, the stats point to a regression.

That one stat becomes more disturbing when you consider that Romo has more and better weapons than ever before. And this year he played behind the best offensive line he has ever had!

Keep in mind also that the Cowboys’ star running back DeMarco Murray fumbled 5 times in the first 8 games of the season. Although he hasn’t fumbled since, Murray surpassed the 400-carry mark in a hard-hitting game vs. the Lions last week. At some point fatigue leads to fumbles. Subfreezing temps might establish Lambeau Field as that point.

Given that the Packers are undefeated at home, produce more points at home, are less likely to turn the ball over, field the better QB, employ a coaching staff much more successful in playoff games and figure to adjust better to any extremes in temperature, we see all the popular story lines about the Cowboys’ return to glory turning quickly into sad fictions.

Colts at Broncos
Official Line: Broncos –7
Lazy Line: Broncos –14. The Broncos are a 4-unit play.

A decade ago Broncos head coach John Fox used a run-heavy offense to carry the Carolina Panthers to the Super Bowl. Several weeks ago, he switched to that strategy to reignite a waning Broncos offense. We think he’ll stick with that approach despite the presence of Peyton Manning behind center. The Colts, on the other hand, are stuck with Luck.

In the final weeks of the season, the Colts used a safe advantage in the divisional standings to experiment with establishing a running game. They failed miserably. This week they enter the second round of the playoffs with no running game and no run defense. Worse than that, their smallish defense confronts an offense now committed to running, while Luck must throw repeatedly at perhaps the best secondary in the NFL and dodge one of the league’s best pass rushes.

With 16 INTs and 4 lost fumbles this year, Luck gifted opponents with 20 premature changes of possession. To put that in context, he handled the ball 680 times (616 passes and 64 runs) and gave it away 20 times, making him more accident prone (turning the ball over 2.9% of the time) than Tony Romo. (See Romo’s stats above.)

We see the Broncos pounding the Colts into the dust or ice or whatever surface this game gets played on. That makes the Broncos our one and only play this week. We’re onboard for 4 units!

LazyLine results for the year: 14 wins and 18 losses against the spread, with 33 winning units vs. 32 losing units. Using $100 units, that’s $3,300 in wins and $3,520 in losses.