Every week, there are games in which the sharps (professional bettors, aka wiseguys) and squares (the unwashed masses) are clearly on opposite sides.
A prime example is today’s Pittsburgh-Arizona game. The Steelers have looked impressive with three blowout victories this season, winning by an average score of about 32-9. The Cardinals are, well, the Cardinals, showing promise but going 1-2 in the standings.
So, when the Las Vegas Hilton and the Stratosphere opened the Steelers at minus-3 last Sunday afternoon, it didn’t take a genius to know the money would flood in on the short favorite, and it did. By Monday morning, when every book in town has lines posted, the Steelers were either minus-5 or 51/2, and the line continued to steam to 6 by Thursday.
In the meantime, Hilton SuperContest contestants must submit plays by 1 p.m. Friday. Usually, because the contest includes a lot of sharp bettors going against a fixed contest number released Tuesday, there’s a strong correlation between the number of players taking a side and where the betting line has moved.
The Steelers were favored by 51/2 on the SuperContest card, so it would seem more players would lay the points with them, right? Nope.
The Cardinals were the most-chosen team at the Hilton with 103 of the 342 contestants (30 percent) taking the underdog, with just 61 taking the Steelers. And a lot of professional bettors and touts I’ve talked with also have sided with the Cardinals.
This isn’t to say the squares can’t win this one. In fact, many times the past few years, the unwashed masses have taken the wiseguys and the sports books to the cleaners. But I’ll take my chances with the Cardinals plus-6 — or higher if you can get it.
While the Steelers have rolled, those wins were against the Browns, Bills and 49ers, so they’ve yet to be tested. It’s debatable if the Cardinals are any better than those three, but they have been 3-0 against the spread.
There’s also the intangible of Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt being the Steelers’ ex-offensive coordinator and knowing their personnel. He says he has no extra incentive to beat his former team, but we don’t believe it.
Here are my other plays (home team in CAPS):
• BROWNS (+41/2) over Ravens — After getting blown out by the Steelers in Week 1, the Browns have played better. The Ravens are 2-1 but 0-3 against the spread as their once-feared defense has let teams in the back door. The confident Browns can win.
• Rams (+131/2) over COWBOYS — The Cowboys have looked like one of the league’s best and the Rams one of the worst, but this line is too high. Steven Jackson is out for the Rams, but rookie Brian Leonard will fit in with the passing offense. This is a letdown spot for Dallas after its big win over the Bears.
• PANTHERS (-3) over Buccaneers — Even if Jake Delhomme doesn’t start, I’ve always felt David Carr was mistreated in Houston — mostly by pass rushers who never seemed to be blocked. The Bucs have won two straight, but those were at home over the overrated Saints and the Rams, and they should revert to the form seen in their loss at Seattle.
• BENGALS (+71/2) over Patriots — The Patriots have been dominant, but this is a statement game for the Bengals. The Patriots have a history of doing just enough to win, so while this should be a shootout, the Bengals should be able to stay within a touchdown.
Last week — 2-3 against the spread
Season — 8-7
Las Vegas-based handicapper Dave Tuley also writes for the Daily Racing Form and ViewFromVegas.com.