Some underdogs play dead and are riddled with fleas, and the NFL has seen more than a few of those this season. But the Green Bay Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers qualify as bloodhounds going into a wide-open playoff race.
Handicapping this postseason is a task more treacherous than online dating. Some of the pictures and profiles are misleading. Every team has flaws, and there is no obvious favorite.
Indianapolis and New Orleans, the top seeds in the AFC and NFC, respectively, just stumbled through a combined five consecutive losses. So the recent form of the Colts and Saints — despite the fact each team rested starters down the stretch — suggests it’s time to hunt for a live ‘dog.
“In the NFC, you’ve certainly got to like what Green Bay is doing,” said professional gambler Steve Fezzik.
The Packers have won seven of their past eight games. But the hottest team in the league resides in the AFC, where the second-seeded San Diego Chargers are riding an 11-game winning streak.
Four months ago, Fezzik sniffed out Green Bay and San Diego as teams with the most value in relation to their Super Bowl futures odds. “I’ll stick with them,” he said Sunday night.
Both the Packers and Chargers face tricky roads in the playoffs, and the odds are against them, with Green Bay more of a long shot. But I like Fezzik’s picks. How can you not?
After a snowstorm in Buffalo and a late touchdown in Seattle, Fezzik emerged from Week 17 as the winner of the 21st annual Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, the most prestigious NFL handicapping contest. Fezzik has won the SuperContest outright in back-to-back years, a feat never before achieved. He topped a field of 328 contestants in 2009 and 350 in 2008.
“That’s unbelievable, isn’t it? That’s a big-time accomplishment,” Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said.
To put it in perspective, when Johnny Chan won the World Series of Poker main event in 1987 and 1988, he beat a field of 152 other players the first year and 167 the following year.
Fezzik (LVAsports.com) said he was “very, very lucky” to win, but there’s definitely some NFL handicapping acumen required to post a record of 53-29-3 against the spread.
“You’ve got to play well and you’ve got to get lucky,” he said. “What’s interesting is how everyone says I’m only a ‘dog player, and that’s all I can do is play ‘dogs. Down the stretch, I was pounding favorites I thought had value. Early in the season, I was playing several favorites.”
Fezzik won by a half-game. His winners Sunday included Buffalo, Carolina and New England. The Bills, 8-point favorites, buried the Colts in the snow, 30-7. The Panthers closed as 10-point favorites in a 23-10 victory over the Drew Brees-less Saints. The Patriots, 81/2-point underdogs, covered in a 34-27 loss at Houston.
Tom Brady was in and out of the game for New England, which lost receiver Wes Welker to a knee injury, reportedly for the entire postseason.
“That’s the argument for resting players,” said Brian Blessing of Las Vegas Sports Consultants. “But the Colts’ situation is different because I think that is going to have a lingering effect on them.”
Inexplicably, the Colts played Peyton Manning for three series, a week after sitting him in the third quarter of a loss to the Jets. If an injury to Manning was the fear, it’s a mystery why he played at all against the Bills. He should have been resting on a recliner, not flinging passes in inclement weather.
“I don’t understand why Manning would want to go out there for (three) series,” Kornegay said. “What’s the point?”
As for dead ‘dogs, the Giants failed to show up in a 44-7 loss at Minnesota. The betting public was on the Vikings, but so-called sharp money on the Giants held the line at 71/2.
“You could tell right away the Giants were visiting their in-laws or something,” Kornegay said. “They had no desire to be there.”
The Philadelphia Eagles, 3-point underdogs, were flattened 24-0 at Dallas. The Cincinnati Bengals, 10-point ‘dogs, were embarrassingly bad in a 37-0 loss to the Jets. The Arizona Cardinals, 3-point favorites, rested some key starters and took a 33-7 pounding by the Packers.
All three of those games will be replayed in the wild-card round, a truly bizarre occurrence.
The regular season took many incredible twists and turns. Who would have thought the Cleveland Browns would cover seven straight games at the end, or that the Pittsburgh Steelers would miss the playoffs?
Fezzik, handicapping the postseason race, called the Packers a “good dark horse.” In terms of ‘dogs, the Packers are in the hunt.
Contact sports betting reporter and columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907.R-J’S SPORTS EDITOR HAWK WINS NFL CONTEST
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports editor Joe Hawk won the R-J NFL Challenge with a 49-34-2 record against the spread. Hawk had a 20-9-1 mark over the last six weeks to claim his first title in the 10-man handicapping contest, which was published each Sunday.
Doug Fitz of Systemplays.com was second at 47-36-2, followed by Dave Tuley of Viewfromvegas.com at 47-37-1.
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL