No football coach is above criticism, and many in the NFL beg to be second-guessed for game-management and personnel decisions only a buffoon would think reasonable. But Bill Belichick is a little different.
Belichick has made a few mistakes, yet the key is he has committed far fewer blunders than his colleagues. In his league, he’s the smartest guy in the room, and that’s why the New England Patriots are surviving.
The Patriots are in the transition phase of rebuilding to contend for the Super Bowl and still winning and fielding a playoff-type team at the same time. It’s a difficult balancing act.
It obviously helps when Tom Brady is the quarterback.
It also helped to trade Randy Moss, still one of the league’s most valuable wide receivers, to the Minnesota Vikings this week. While most reacted in shock, it was Belichick thinking outside the box.
"Belichick is either building for a couple years down the road or he feels Moss was not producing enough to put up with the distractions he creates," former Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Kenny White said. "When you have Brady and Belichick together, they still have a decent shot. I still think the Patriots are a little better than the New York Jets in the long run."
The truth is Belichick was tired of Moss’ distractions and inconsistent efforts. Moss, like too many receivers, is a drama queen. He wanted more money and more attention, so he became expendable.
At halftime of New England’s game at Miami on Monday, Moss argued with the Patriots’ offensive coordinator because he was not being thrown to enough. The Patriots trailed 7-6, rallied to win 41-14, and still Moss was upset. According to reports from Boston newspapers, Belichick approached Moss to talk on the flight home. Moss declined.
"I think in the short term, the Vikings won big time, and long term it’s the Patriots," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books. "Even though the Patriots are winning, there’s something about them I don’t like. The Patriots are stockpiling draft choices, and they have a thousand of them."
With the NFL seemingly a wide-open race, Vaccaro said money continues to pour in on Super Bowl futures wagers because the odds appear attractive on so many teams. The Patriots are in the neighborhood of 15-1, but that’s a sucker bet.
The best bet is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 3-1 heading into a Week 5 bye. The Pittsburgh defense seems to field 12 players, because safety Troy Polamalu is worth two men, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is back after a four-game suspension. Three weeks ago, Vaccaro posted the Steelers at 22-1 odds; the current odds are 8-1.
"I moved Pittsburgh way up, and I was a guy a month ago who said they could be 0-4," Vaccaro said.
White, who recently established MVP Elite, produces a weekly NFL Power Poll with input from three oddsmakers. His poll rates the Steelers, with Roethlisberger, at 143.3, which is No. 1 and ahead of San Diego (142.9), Minnesota and Green Bay (142.3), Indianapolis (141.9), Dallas and the Jets (141.7) and Baltimore (141).
"Roethlisberger is going to be rusty. He will be going school-zone speed on the freeway. It’s going to take him a couple games, and maybe four or five games, to get in midseason form," White said. "But I still think the Steelers will be the best team with him in the lineup.
"Right now, I don’t know if there is a team in the league that would be favored over the Chargers on a neutral field."
White is higher on the Vikings’ prospects with Moss catching passes from Brett Favre, and so is Vaccaro. The trade puts Minnesota, at about 12-1 odds, back in the title discussion.
"I think the kid (Moss) really helps them," Vaccaro said. "The Vikings are playing Hold ’em and they’re all-in on a draw, so we’ll see what happens."
White (MVPelite.com) still ranks New England (3-1) in the top 10. But the Patriots, too young on defense and probably less effective offensively without Moss to stretch the field, are not a bet-on team this season. Expect erratic results.
The Patriots’ bigger picture looks promising. Last year, Belichick traded defensive tackle Richard Seymour for the Oakland Raiders’ first-round pick in 2011 — a steal of a deal — so now New England has two picks in each of the first four rounds in the next draft.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — College football handicapping is becoming a Chinese crossword puzzle. I went 4-6 last week to go 16-17-1 for the season, and here are seven plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
Michigan State (+4½) over MICHIGAN; NORTH CAROLINA STATE (-9½) over Boston College; FLORIDA (-6½) over Louisiana State; NOTRE DAME (-6) over Pittsburgh; Baylor (+2) over Texas Tech; Oregon State (+8) over ARIZONA; STANFORD (-9½) over Southern California.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He also co-hosts the "Las Vegas Sportsline" weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and kdwn.com.