The "respect" issue
Rodney Harrison is at it again, lamenting the lack of "respect" the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots seem to get around the country. After all, the crippled cliches the "pundits" try to pass off as analysis this week center around Indianapolis and its whirlwind offense. The defending Super Bowl champs, it seems sometimes, are treated like party crashers.
Harrison's same old song has the melodic appeal of an Ashley Simpson halftime performance. But here's the problem: He's right. And we have proof. We have the Cold, Hard Football Facts.
The American public's belief in the relative strength of two teams is measured each and every week by the point spread.
A team that is overrated by the public draws a large amount of betting dollars. A team that is underrated by the betting public attracts less cash. The wise guys in Vegas, who want even money on each team, must take these perceptions into consideration when setting a line.
They'll set the line high for an overrated favorite or narrow the spread for an overrated underdog. Follow? In either case, this makes it more difficult for an overrated team to cover. In other words, an overrated team will fare poorly against the spread (ATS).
When the public has little faith in a team – that is, when a team is disrespected – Vegas must lower the spread to attract even money on an underrated favorite, or widen the spread for an underrated underdog. You with us? In either case, this makes it easier for an underrated team to cover the spread. In other words, an underrated team will fare well ATS.
We turned to the Wayne Newton of gridiron lounge lizards, the Cold, Hard Football Facts, and found that New England was woefully underrated – i.e., was clearly disrespected – by the betting public in 2003. Despite the perception that New England eked out one close victory after another, the team posted a jaw-dropping 14-4-1 record ATS. In other words, the Patriots bested the Vegas line 14 times in 19 opportunities. That's a .737 winning percentage against a spread that's only purpose is to make each game a 50-50 proposition.
You would think a second Super Bowl championship in three years and a 14-4-1 record ATS would have convinced the betting public to gamble on the Patriots a little bit more in 2004. You would think setting an NFL record for consecutive victories and marching through a second straight regular-season campaign with a 14-2 record would be enough to convince the betting public. But that's not how the 2004 season went down.
Consider Week 13. The 10-1 defending champion Patriots – 25-1 in their previous 26 games and an unheard of 20-4-2 ATS over the same period – opened as mere 8-point favorites against a 3-8 Cleveland team that surrendered 58 points the week before to 5-6 Cincinnati. It was laughable when compared with other spreads around the league. The Vikings in Week 13, for example, were 7-4 at the time and 2-3 on the road. They were 7½ points at 4-7 Chicago. Minnesota lost, 24-14.
The spread on the New England-Cleveland game did open up quite dramatically over the course of the week, to 11½ points, as bettors poured money in on the Patriots – but only after already overmatched Cleveland fired its coach, announced that a third-string rookie quarterback would be making his first NFL start against New England and released an injury report longer than BALCO's list of major league baseball clients. The Patriots won, 42-15.
New England ended the 2004 season with another sterling record against the spread (11-4-1), a two-year mark ATS of 25-8-2 (a winning percentage of .714) and the endearing disrespect of betting public.
As Jim Lazar in the Boston Herald noted at the end of the regular season, "anyone who has consistently backed the Pats the past four seasons now owns beachfront property in Aruba."
Problem is, few people have had enough respect for the Patriots to wager on them consistently. The Cold, Hard Football Facts and a 25-8-2 record ATS do not lie. Nor does Rodney Harrison.
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