Coming out of the gate with six win total bets worth making

DEL MAR, Calif.

Instant gratification is a big part of horse racing’s appeal. A bet is decided in less than two minutes, and win or lose, the next race is another opportunity.

The lure of a long-shot payoff is another attraction of the racetrack.

A 23-1 shot hit in the second race Thursday at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, a gambler’s paradise sitting across the street from the beach and blanketed by blue skies. This is the coolest spot in the country for horse racing and a great spot to escape the heat of Las Vegas.

It’s where I always choose to spend the final days before the five-month marathon that is the football season.

At the track, the fine line between winning and losing is the finish line, to steal a line from the movie “Let It Ride.” The NFL is at the starting gate, two days away from the preseason opener.

Horse racing and football are thrill rides of different kinds. A wager on a football game is often a three-hour grind, and a regular-season win total bet is a long-term investment.

I don’t claim to be a good horse handicapper. But I did get great results from my NFL win-total plays posted in this column, and written from the press box at this track, one year ago. So I’m sticking with what worked last year.

Seven winners and one loser. The winners: Chicago (Over 9, 10-6), Denver (Over 8½, 13-3), Detroit (Under 9, 4-12), Miami (Under 7½, 7-9), New Orleans (Under 9½, 7-9), New York Jets (Under 9, 6-10), Oakland (Under 7, 4-12). The loser: Buffalo (Over 8, 6-10).

Expecting a bad team, the Bills, to do something good was a foolish mistake I won’t make again.

This is not an exercise in instant gratification. But here are six win-total picks — using lines available at various Las Vegas sports books — that should cash after several months of sweat:

■ Baltimore Ravens (Over 8½, minus-125) — Even if the Super Bowl champions are headed for a hangover, a 9-7 season is realistic in the mediocre AFC North. A team reflects the personality of its coach and quarterback, and John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco exude confidence. The Ravens won’t crash and burn.

The personnel losses on defense are significant, but general manager Ozzie Newsome signed linebacker Elvis Dumervil from Denver and made the right moves in the draft to help replace Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

The Ravens’ total is 9 at some books, yet their schedule looks tricky, so banking on 10 wins seems to be stretching it.

■ Chicago Bears (Over 8½, minus-120) — Jay Cutler is playing with something to prove this season, a factor that could be good or bad. But the quarterback will be helped by new coach Marc Trestman’s West Coast offense and a rebuilt line. Cutler will be throwing to big receivers and getting support from running backs Matt Forte and Michael Bush. There is a lot to like about the potential of the offense.

Brian Urlacher’s absence in the middle of the defense is not a big deal. It’s still a defense led by Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman. I’m not optimistic about Detroit and Minnesota, and Chicago has a legitimate chance to win the NFC North, if Cutler doesn’t implode.

■ Dallas Cowboys (Over 8½, plus-135) — After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, Dallas is due to take a step up. Injuries were a major problem last season. With so much talent surrounding quarterback Tony Romo, he’s out of excuses. If coach Jason Garrett is not calling plays, that’s a positive.

A 4-3 defense installed by new coordinator Monte Kiffin should put DeMarcus Ware in position to make more plays from the end. It’s tough to sort out the NFC East, but Dallas is capable of winning 10 games.

■ Jacksonville Jaguars (Under 5, plus-110) — Seven teams finished with five or fewer wins last season, and the Jaguars (2-14) were arguably the worst team in the league. The return of running back Maurice Jones-Drew from a foot injury is Jacksonville’s only reason for optimism.

The quarterback battle between Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne is a nightmare for new coach Gus Bradley. The Jaguars will be lucky to win more than one game on the road and they have only seven home games, with their eighth being in London against San Francisco.

■ New Orleans Saints (Over 9, minus-150) — Predicting the Saints’ demise last season was an easy call. The suspension of Sean Payton, one of the brightest coaches in the league, left the team in disarray. There were too many distractions with the bounty scandal, and the defense disintegrated into a disaster. But it’s a much different picture now.

Payton’s return will greatly benefit quarterback Drew Brees, who was forced to do too much to carry the team.

■ Oakland Raiders (Under 5½, minus-125) — The key factor for the Raiders will be the health of running back Darren McFadden, who never stays healthy. Is Matt Flynn the answer at quarterback? Probably not.

The Raiders won four games last season, two against Kansas City. The Chiefs will be better. As for Oakland, a two-win improvement is a long shot.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.