No Locks in Sports Betting, Patriots Included
by Robert Ferringo - 08/02/2007
In my business, professional handicappers and sharp bettors know what the word "lock" means. Generally, it usually means that the exact opposite of a "sure winner" and it normally leaves an angry, stoned, confused mass in its wake. It's the Kiss of Death, and it's the nomenclature of touts and fools.
There are no locks in life. Even death and taxes can be occasionally cheated. There are just odds and probabilities. So when I scan the National Football League landscape and see that the same name keeps popping up as the Unstoppable Lock For The Lombardi Trophy, you would expect that my natural skepticism would go on high alert.
That's right: if you believe all the touts, bobbleheads, magazines and hobos, then the New England Patriots are a virtual certainty to either win the Super Bowl or at least play for the crown this season. Everyone - including myself, I might add - have anointed the seeming unbeatable Pats as the preseason favorite to bathe in the blood of some unworthy NFC foe on Super Sunday and carry away the coveted crown of Greatest Football Team On Earth. With the best coach, best clutch quarterback, one of the best defenses, and a host of big name offensive playmakers, the boys from New England seem ready to extend the legacy of their Dynasty. It's a lock.
Vegas apparently agrees. Either that, or they have simply adjusted to an overwhelming public crush on the Pats. New England is currently listed at 5-to-2 to win the AFC Championship and 5-to-1 to win the Super Bowl. Done deal. When the lines were originally posted, the Patriots were the No. 3 team (behind Indianapolis and San Diego) in line for the AFC crown at 9-to-2 and No. 4 to claim the championship (behind Indy, Sandy, and Chicago) at 9-to-1.
And yes, back in June when we were preparing Doc's Sports Journal, yours truly selected the Patriots as his preseason Super Bowl pick. How could you not? And most of my colleagues agreed. And then the stat rags all seemed in unison. And then any football commentator I've heard on television or radio fell in lockstep. In fact, I haven't heard a credible source cast a dissenting voice against New England since they picked up Randy Moss on draft day.
Again, this sends up the red flags. The team that's supposed to win it all very rarely actually does. Ask the Carolina Panthers.
So I'm here as a dissident. I'm here to shake the foundation of the Patriots Championship Myth. And I've come up with five very real threats to Bill Belichick's goal of Total World Domination:
1) The One-Man Running Game
The Patriots bid farewell to injury-riddled Corey Dillon in the offseason after three years of strong service. That now leaves the Pats with just one threat at running back, Laurence Maroney. The problem is that Maroney has never been the feature back - in college or the pros; he's always had someone else in the backfield to split carries and help ease the burden. Yet, now he's really the only legit option at halfback for the Pats. And if you're trying to sell me Sammy Morris you better lay off the Sammy Adams.
So here's the rub: what happens if Maroney gets hurt? And that's not just some pie in the sky long shot. He was nicked up last year and doesn't strike me as the type of runner that's built to log 300 carries. New England is at its best when it can get a lead and then just slowly put the boa constrictor-like squeeze on an opponent. Maroney is more of a breakaway runner. Is he willing to stay in bounds, absorb the hits, and grind out first downs between the tackles? I say no. And if he does accept that role, how long will he last?
If Maroney were to get hurt the Patriots would become a one-dimensional, pass-happy team. Now, given who's throwing the ball and whom he's throwing to, I'm sure the normal response is, "What's wrong with that?" Well, it's incredibly difficult - if not nearly impossible - to win the Super Bowl with a one-note attack. Even the Colts last season averaged 151 yards on the ground during the postseason. If Maroney goes down the Pats are in a situation where they have nearly zero options behind him.
2) Defense Drowning In Shallow Water
New England's three down linemen in their amoeba 3-4 defense are as good as any trio in the game. Their linebackers are stellar in every aspect. Combined, the New England front seven is smart, athletic, skilled, experienced and ruthless. They are restaurant quality and are exceptional enough to carry a Super Bowl trophy.
But here's the problem: New England has virtually no depth behind their magnificent seven. They have Jarvis Green, a combo lineman, behind their starting front three. But that's it. Richard Seymour has battled injuries throughout the past three years and Vince Wilfork missed three games last season as well. With the linebackers, Tedy Bruschi is a charter member of the Dan Morgan Concussion Club and it's just a matter of time before he turns into a Pet Rock. Mike Vrabel has 10 seasons of violent collisions under his belt. The newly acquired Adalius Thomas just turned 30 and has a bit of wear on those tires. Their best reserve linebackers are special teams standouts Larry Izzo or Eric Alexander.
As you can see, there are several guys on this team that are aging and/or have injury histories. The Patriots have a brutal schedule, facing eight playoff teams from last year, and in the loaded AFC home-field advantage is going to be crucial come January. That means no games off and not many opportunities to rest these key bodies. New England is one or two injuries away from having some serious problems on the defensive side of the ball, a la the New York Giants, circa. 2006, or last year's preordained champ, Carolina. And you can't win a championship with an outstanding defense.
3) Secondary Could Be A Primary Issue
I know that Henny Penny has been screaming about the Patriots secondary for years. And all they do is keep on winning with wide receivers, punters, and ball boys covering opponents out there. But if we're critically analyzing New England's odds at humping the Lombardi Trophy then we'd be remiss not to bring up the potential clusterf^#& that they could have in the last line of defense.
First, the Asante Samuel Situation is lingering and it looks like it could go the Lawyer Milloy-Deion Branch route. Samuel is truly one of the top corners in the game and the type of difference maker that any title team would need. If they do lose him, that's a huge blow.
Next, we have Chad Scott's injury at training camp. If Samuel decides to force a trade or sit out the entire year (unlikely, but possible at this point), then that leaves the Patriots with Ellis Hobbs, Tory James and Randall Gay as their corners. Not awful, but also probably not enough to slow down a team like the Bengals, Colts or Chargers come playoff time.
Finally, we have the inevitable Rodney Harrison injury. I'm sure he'll injure his shoulder, neck, knee or groin on some cheap shot hit on a defenseless cheerleader or opposing fan. When that happens, the Pats will be left with several second-rate retreads and one helmet-wielding psychopath rookie as their options at safety. Not good.
4) What Distractions? I Wasn't Paying Attention?
Again, it's doubtful that any squad ruled by the Gestapo tactics of a Bill Belichick staff would have to worry about distractions. He runs a program that's as efficient and effective as an electric chair. But there are still lingering issues surrounding this crew that could put just enough of a squeeze on this team that it derails their Super Bowl dreams.
Let's start with Tom Brady and his Baby Momma Drama. I'm not going to get into the details of the situation here, but let's just say that if juggling your first child and two bitter, salty supermodel girlfriends (one's an ex, but still), while single-handedly carrying the hopes and dreams of every obsessed, depraved Boston sports fan, and at the same time trying to be the cool front man for a Super Bowl favorite isn't tough to do then I don't know what is. Wow. I mean, I got winded just typing that. Brady has to live it. Can he really be his normal, clutch, expert, dreamy self under such pressure?
There's the Samuel Situation. There's the impending Randy Moss Meltdown. Then there's the Logan Mankins Sex Tape. I mean, there are powder kegs placed all over Foxboro right now just waiting for the right spark to set them off. It's tough enough dealing with the impossible standards and expectations that come with being the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite. But when you tag on some baggage, and factor in that this is all taking place among the fanatics in Boston and you could have some trouble.
5) Boils, And Hail Mixed With Fire
The sixth plague of Egypt was a flesh-eating skin disease. The seventh was flaming hail. Everyone always goes to locusts when trying to make a point that it would take an Act of God for something to happen, but I think that a flesh-eating disease or fireballs from the sky would be much worse to deal with than a flock of insects.
Anyway, I say Boils and Fire-Hail because all of the other theories that I posited as to why the Patriots won't win the Super Bowl are all based on wild speculation and unsubstantiated projections. Any team can be derailed by injuries. Any team can have an off-field distraction haunt its on-field production. But right now the Patriots are the Best Team In Football and they deserve to be the championship favorites. They're awesome, and have fewer questions than about 100 percent of the other teams in the league. I mean, Bobby Petrino would love to have Belichick's problems. I'm simply playing devil's advocate here and trying to open your eyes to the idea that just because everyone expects someone to win or expects something to happen that doesn't mean that it's a shoo-in.
In general, this is how sharp bettors make their living - by going against what's expected by the general public. Am I ready to change my Super Bowl pick if my life depended on it? No. But that's not reality. And when it comes to the 2007-08 New England Patriots I would suggest keeping a skeptical eye on them. I'm not saying that you should fade the Patriots. Especially since they've been such a consistent moneymaker over the past seven years. But I am saying that their lines will be inflated, you're going to get pinned against the public while wagering on them, and that there are some loose screws on the wheels of this Machine of Destruction.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.