Page 2 columnist
- "We've come too far to stop now. For Granny ... for Nate
... (long pause) ... for Caretaker ... let's do it."
-- Paul Crewe
That's right ... the NFL playoffs have arrived!Ten years ago, my buddy Geoff and I created The System, a series of playoff gambling rules carefully crafted over a two-year period of severe gambling losses in the early-1990s (when we were worried that somebody would pull a Kathy Bates on us, break our legs and turn us into James Caan from "Misery"). Fortunately for us, we nailed a few "makeup" bets and escaped relatively unscathed. My mother never even batted an eyelash when I asked her for an extra $500 during the second semester of my junior year because I wanted to "join a gym." Ah, those were the days ... Put it this way: You learn the most about yourself when your back is pressed against the wall -- or in this case, when somebody's holding you upside down by your legs over a seventh-floor hotel balcony. Yes, Geoff and I have been to hell and back in the NFL playoffs. There's no doubt about it. As Boomer Esiason once said, "The best adjective that describes these guys is ... is ... resiliency." It took a few years, but we finally worked out the kinks. Last January was our finest month ever, as we went 6-1 during the first three rounds, then nailed all three of our Super Bowl bets: The Ravens straight-up, a parlay (Ravens + the over), and even a random "Who will score the first TD?" bet (on "the field," thanks to Brandon Stokely). It capped off one of those rare months when everything went our way and we could finally understand how people end up in Gamblers Anonymous. Now we're ready to spread our good fortune to aspiring young bettors everywhere. Without further ado, here's our Playoff Manifesto (13 gambling rules for the NFL postseason): RULE NO. 1: Never, ever, EVER back a lousy QB on the road
This might be more important than the rest of the rules on this list combined. Lousy QBs always play worse in the playoffs, and for one reason: Anything shaky about them gets magnified against a quality defense, especially if that defense is being charged up by a rowdy playoff crowd.If you need further evidence, harken back to the archives for every one of Scott Mitchell's playoff performances in the mid-'90s, which will be released next month with deleted scenes and director's commentary from Mitchell, Wayne Fontes and Rusty Hilger. More recent examples from the past two seasons: Jay Fiedler in Oakland, '00; Jon Kitna against Miami, '99; Shawn King in Philly, '00. This year's playoffs crop includes ...
If the general public was dead-on picking games, bookies wouldn't be driving Lexuses around town with giant wreaths on them. One of our greatest gambling moments ("our" meaning "me and Geoff") happened during the '90 playoffs, when we were babes in the woods and grabbed the underdog Redskins in Philly. Everyone loved the Eagles to win it all that season (and if Randall Cunningham was as good in real life as he was in Tecmo Bowl, it would have happened). Undaunted, we jumped on the 'Skins ... and they cruised to a 20-6 upset. I still remember the score.Remember what happened nine years later (January '00), when Tennessee stunned the Colts, Tampa hung tough in St. Louis and nearly pulled off the upset, or Miami lost to Jacksonville by something like 50 points? Remember what happened last year in Round 1, when the Saints shocked St. Louis, Philly surprised Tampa and Miami outlasted Indy? In every one of those cases, the "consensus picks" ended up smoking the general public. Happens every year. RULE NO. 3: Before you select a team, make sure Marty Schottenheimer or Jim Mora isn't coaching them Neither of them are coaching a playoff team this season, but it never hurts to scan every roster, just to be safe. (Note: I ignored this rule last January and backed Indy against Miami in Round 1. My only wagering loss of the entire playoffs. And I deserved it.) RULE NO. 4: Don't bet heavily against Brett Favre under any circumstances
Think of it this way: Brett Favre is pure evil. Never, ever, ever load up against the Packers because of him. Just stay away. He's the one player who can singlehandedly turn the tables on any team, much like Barry Sanders, John Elway and Dan Marino in their primes. As Scatman Crothers said to Danny Torrance in "The Shining," "You stay away from Room 237 (and Brett Favre)! You hear me? Stay away!"RULE NO. 5: Ignore final records and concentrate on how the team finished the last five or six games of the season Three teams have red flags this season: Baltimore (looked terrible over the past few games, even in a must-win game at home against Spergeon "Would anyone like an INT?" Wynn and the Vikings on Monday night); Oakland (2-4 over the final six weeks, included three straight losses at home); and the Jets (stumbled down the stretch before winning a gift game in Oakland -- the Raiders could have put that thing away 27 different times in three hours). On the flip side, four teams finished the season especially strong: New England (6-0); Chicago (7-1); Green Bay (6-1); and St. Louis (won its final six games by a combined tally of 207-103). Why is this important? Because this isn't the NBA -- where you "turn it on" for the playoffs -- and how you perform in November and December usually determines your performance in January. Just last season, the Giants and Ravens were two of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs, and both of them ended up in the Super Bowl. This isn't rocket science. RULE NO. 6: When in doubt, check out the coaching matchups
Here's an easy rule of thumb: Before you make a selection, imagine you're watching the game after wagering on one of the two teams. For instance, three years ago, I took Miami over Buffalo simply because I didn't want to see a spilt-screen shot of both coaches and know that I gambled on the doofus (Wade Phillips) over the guy who looked like a real coach (Jimmy Johnson). Sounds stupid? It worked. Buffalo doubled Miami's yardage and dominated the time of possession ... yet they still blew the game with four turnovers. Go figure.This year's playoff crop doesn't feature anyone as shaky as Wade Phillips, although I have my doubts about three guys:
As for turnovers, the Jets (39 takeaways, just 18 giveaways), Bears, Eagles and Patriots had a knack for getting key fumbles, blocks and interceptions when they needed them; the Rams (a startling 41 giveaways in 2001), Dolphins and Ravens had the worst luck. You'd be amazed how many playoff games are decided by turnovers and special teams. Hell, the Pats made the Super Bowl in '85 solely because of those two things.RULE NO. 8: Beware of the Road Favorite Road favorites went 0-3 in Round 1 last season and 0-4 overall. The lesson, as always: If you're wagering on a Road Favorite in the playoffs, you better have a really good reason ... and I mean, a really good reason, like "The Rams are heading into Philly for Round 2, Donovan McNabb just came down with the ebola virus, and Koy Detmer is getting the start." (Hey, that reminds me ...)
|Bank on Bailey|
|He had a better winning percentage than more experienced NFL prognosticators, such as Bill Simmons, The Swami and Norman Chad, but Bailey The Sports Dog isn't one to gloat. He's just thrilled that his 39-27-2 record this season has earned him more Beggin Strips and Snausages.
Here are Bailey's predictions for the wild-card games.New York Jets plus 4½ points over Oakland: Raiders 24, Jets 20 (New York covers) Tampa Bay plus 3½ over Philadelphia:
Buccaneers 18, Eagles 16 Green Bay minus 3½ points over San Francisco: Packers 27, 49ers 21 Baltimore plus 2½ over Miami: Dolphins 21, Ravens 20 (Baltimore covers)
RULE NO. 11: Never bet against a playoff team that has a coach and an owner whose last names both end in a vowelA friend of a friend named Oaksie created this one three years ago, after San Fran pulled off two bizarre covers against Green Bay and Atlanta in the first two rounds (two games that smelled worse than Vlade Divac). Doesn't apply this season. RULE NO. 12: Never bet on or against your own team Especially in the playoffs. If they lose, it's doubly excruciating and the collective devastation almost feels like a quadruple loss -- like losing squared. And if they win, but you lost your bet because you bet against them, you end up feeling like Benedict Arnold. (Remember, gambling is supposed to be fun ... well, unless you're Art Schlichter.) RULE NO. 13: Before you make your decisions, take one last look at the quarterbacks again Imagine taking the Ravens on Sunday night: They're down by four points, there's 11 minutes left in the game, Baltimore's at its own 12-yard-line, the Miami fans are going crazy ... and Elvis Grbac is bending over the center. He's 9-for-26 on the day, for 121 yards and three INTs, including one that Brock Marion brought back for a TD. You're PRAYING for Elvis to hand off every down. And yet he's dropping back to pass again, and he's looking for Sharpe over the middle, but he has to rush the throw ... Does that sound like a nightmare or what?
|***** ***** *****|
The Bucs (3½-point underdogs) couldn't handle the Eagles in Philly last season, even though the Eagles were much less polished offensively (nobody got more mileage out of the delayed QB draw than the '00 Eagles). To beat Philly, the Bucs would have to jump out to an early lead, control the clock with their running game and keep McNabb in check. Seems like a stretch. You can run on the Bucs and you can force them into making mistakes, especially on the road and especially when they fall behind.Throw in a raucous Veterans Stadium crowd and the whole "Tampa never wins in cold weather" streak and Philly seems pretty sound. I worry about the Eagles' tendency to keep opponents hanging around, and they look like an obvious pick ... but there's no way I'm getting roped into Tampa. The Pick: Eagles 24, Tampa 10
New York Jets at Oakland Raiders Strange game. All kinds of rules being broken on both sides: Oakland (4½-point favorites) didn't finish the season well; New York has Vinny on the road; the Jets are much better in the turnovers/special teams department; Oakland has a significant coaching edge; the Jets can run the ball on Oakland; the Jets also had to fly cross-country twice in the past week; Oakland would have won last week if one of about 25 different things had unfolded in its favor. Know what that means? It's a toss-up. And whenever there's a toss-up, you take the points ... even when Vinny's involved. And since every opening round features at least one upset, this might as well be the one, right? Besides, doesn't "Jets at Patriots, AFC Championship" have a certain ring to it? (Good God ... I'm going with Vinny on the road ... somebody stop me ... I'm serious, stop me from typing the next paragraph ... zap me with a stun gun or something ... please ... I'm begging you ...) The Pick: Jets 27, Raiders 24
San Francisco 49ers at Green Bay Packers
I enjoyed everything that happened with San Fran (3½-point underdogs) this season, and Garcia-to-Owens is legitimately scary ... but the Niners just seem like the "Good Bad Team" in the NFC this season. Think about it. They beat every team they should have beaten (soundly, too). Every time they played a team better than them, they lost. Good defenses should shut them down since they only have one good wideout (the mercurial Terrell Owens, who has a tendency to disappear at the wrong time). They're a West Coast team playing in cold weather, always a red flag.And if that's not enough, Favre's involved. And Lambeau. This one will be easier than you think ... and no, I'm not scared of the haunting possibility of the Packers winning by three. The Pick: Packers 26, Niners 7
Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens The Ravens defense might have been tremendous during the 2000 season ... but that was last year. Times change. Remember, U2 followed up "The Joshua Tree" with "Rattle & Hum." It happens that fast. Not only has their defense has been above-average at best, their O-line can't block anybody and Elvis ain't nothin' but a hound dog. They just aren't a very good football team. Even last Monday night against a Vikings team that didn't even want to be there, Minnesota tossed two goal-line stands against them. That's inexcusable. Hey, maybe the Dolphins aren't very good, either, but they make two or three big plays per game, their defense gets frisky from time to time, they don't make very many mistakes, and they're playing at home. When Elvis Grbac is involved, that's enough for me. The Pick: Dolphins 16, Ravens 9 Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.