Patriots Enter Bull Market
by Robert Ferringo - 09/09/2008
In football, Speed Kills.
But Karma can be a crippler.
The New England Patriots have done everything they could in the last decade to spit in the face of Fair Play and Common Decency. Alas, football is a sport of brutality. So we can overlook some minor acts born of the Survival Instinct. However, the Patriots have forced the football and gambling communities into the darkest regions of our sporting souls. For good or ill, they have won, and they have beaten spreads in the process. But now the pendulum is swinging back toward the center and the Patriots have become a Karmic Calamity.
What do I mean by Bad Karma for the Patriots, the supposed model franchise in the nation's most popular sport? Well, let's see: there is SpyGate, there is general cheating and dirty play (guys like Tedy Bruschi and Rodney Harrison are two of the dirtiest players I've ever watched), there is running up the score, there is manipulation and deceit on the injury report (a venial sin in the eyes of gamblers the world over), there is selling their soul for the Randy Moss Experience, there is Tom Brady: dead beat dad, and there is Bill Belichick - King Prick. Is that enough of a list?
The Gambling Gods and the Football Gods are cousins. They get drunk together and watch the games each weekend. They are also a very fickle bunch and are easily offended. Just seven short months ago this organization was a miniscule minute away from Perfection. But it was not to be, and New England lost its golden opportunity at the hands of a Manning. And not just any Manning, but the less talented and less ballyhooed quarterback from a clan that they have waged war against for the better part of a decade. Now, on top of that crushing defeat, they lost their All-World Quarterback Legend Tom Brady for the entire season to a knee injury, they are in the midst of being Punished for their sins.
Since 2001 the Patriots have had just two non-profitable seasons while going an amazing 76-49-4 against the spread. That is an incredible 60.8-percent rate of success that is made all the more astounding by the fact that during that period the Patriots have won three Super Bowls and become one of the most scrutinized and most successful organizations in all of sports. Now, at some point they will have to pay the piper and the natural sports gambling regression will occur. Their 0-6 ATS run to end the 2007 season was, in my opinion, the first crack in the dam. But now the injury to their franchise quarterback could create a situation where that fissure becomes a waterfall.
From a handicapping perspective, the Brady Situation makes for a unique challenge. Published reports have stated that Las Vegas oddsmakers believe the Brady is worth 10 points on the spread of a Patriots game. That means that with Brady this weekend they would have been seven-point favorites at New York, but they are now three-point underdogs. So what does his absence do to New England from a value perspective? The snap answer would be that the Pats have much less value without the best quarterback in the sport (sorry Peyton) under center. But that is a knee-jerk reaction and it may not be 100 percent correct.
The Patriots will not be a better team with out Tom Brady. That much is obvious. But this is still a very good football team with, perhaps most importantly, a candy cane schedule. Bill Belichick can, and will, win games without Brady. The Patriots are no longer a Super Bowl threat with Matt Cassel. But they can still be a playoff team and they will still cover some spreads. Are you telling me that you couldn't see the Pats becoming a power running team that can hold people down with a veteran defense? I certainly can. And Randy Moss and Wes Welker can make me a 3,000-yard quarterback, so as long as Cassel can keep it in his pants (that is, as long as he doesn't turn the ball over like he's Kurt Warner with a concussion) then there is no doubt that the Patriots will put up some points. This is a team that has won 20 consecutive regular season games and are the most successful franchise of the last seven or eight years. They can play some ball.
With Brady in the lineup, the Patriots would have been subject to the same NASDAQ lines that they were shackled with last year. Now, that would be a benefit to us as gamblers because I think we would find a ton of value fading them and taking the weekly cornucopia of points. But that is gone. And, in fact, they are underdogs this week for the first time since 2006. So as a result the value shifts from fading the defending AFC Champions because they are laying too many point to now looking to back the Patriots in select spots.
For example, the Patriots are 6-2 against the spread in their last eight meetings with the Jets and the last time they didn't cover a spread in the Meadowlands against their divisional rivals was back in 1998. Now, do I think they win this weekend against the Jets? I'm not sure. It will be awfully tough as the Reality of the Brady Situation sets in. But would I be stunned if Belichick was able to construct a game plan that exploits Brett Favre's turnover fetish? Not at all. And do I think that a money line play at +135 on a team that's 34-5 in the regular season dating back to 2005 is a good wager? Hell yes. These are the types of situations that we'll have to sift through and make determinations on throughout the year.
Finally, the area where I believe we may find the most value now on the Brady-less Patriots is in the arena of totals. In 2007, 16 of New England's 19 games saw a posted total of 45 or above and they did not see a total higher than 41. That is astronomical. They averaged 36.8 points per game last year on offense and allowed 17.1 points per game on defense, and they started 10-2 against the total before finishing the season 1-6 against the number.
Now, without Brady, the expectation is that they will be a much lower-scoring team. That's probably true. But even if they are scoring 13 points less per game - that's nearly two TDs less - they would still be in the Top 10 in the league in scoring. Further, even if they were to score about 17 points less per game on offense you would have to expect that the defense will be allowing around 3-6 points more per game. With a Brady-less offense not moving the ball as consistently as last year's unit that means that the Patriots defense - an aging unit that was believed to be their Achilles Heel - could be exposed and I expect to see their points per game allowed raised. Not moving the ball as effectively will cost the Pats field position and time of possession, which could lead to more scoring.
Of course, that's some conjecture on my part. We don't know how Bill Belichick will handle the offense without Brady. Everyone expects that the Patriots will come out next Sunday with a conservative game plan, running the ball, trying to control the clock, and trying to win the game with defense and grit. But would you be that shocked if Belichick said, "Screw that" and had Cassel come out firing 40 times against the Jets on Sunday? I know I wouldn't.
The bottom line is that the books and sports bettors are going to overreact to the Tom Brady injury. I know that doesn't seem possible, but I believe that will be the case. I think that totals will drop too low and that after a 1-7 'under' run we could see the Patriots go back to being a solid 'over' bet. I also think that - while maybe not this weekend - the Patriots have actually gained some value on their sides as well. The won't be faced with the inflated lines that basically made them a "stay away" team last year, yet they will still be facing one of the weakest schedules in the league.
And whether you've been winning or losing with or against Belichick's Boys, I beseech you not to overlook the cosmic implications of this organization and all that it touches.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.