Opening Lines: NFL Week 9

Patriots Open as 5 1/2-Point Favorites Against Cleveland

The Patriots opened as 5 1/2-point favorites in Week 9 when they visit the Cleveland Browns, who are fresh off a bye. We all know the history between Bill Belichick and Browns head coach, Eric “If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Rat ‘Em Out” Mangini. Their history makes for an interesting backdrop when considering which team to back in Week 9. I, for one, will be more interested to see what happens between these two at midfield following the game. Given their history, I’m betting on a hearty handshake and a warm embrace followed by late-afternoon tea in the Dawg Pound (I’m still waiting to see if Vegas will offer odds on that one).

The general sports betting rule is to avoid betting against home underdogs. Since sportsbooks typically spot the home team 3 points, you have to have some pretty compelling evidence to bet against a home dog (the 5 1/2-point spread essentially means that the Patriots should be 8 1/2 points better on a neutral field). Couple that with the fact that the Browns are coming off of a bye week and their coach is all-too-familiar with the Pats, and I would expect the betting public to back the Browns in this one.

Last year, this line would’ve been a no-brainer. The Browns finished 2009 with a point differential of -140. Their defense ranked 28th against the run and 29th against the pass. They had the league’s worst passing offense and ranked 30th in terms of points scored. In other words, the rest of the league pretty much treated the Browns like Charlie Sheen treats a New York hotel room (or his liver, for that matter). This year is a different story. While the Browns are just 2-5, all of their losses have come to teams who are at least tied for the lead in their division. They are coming off a shocking upset of the Saints and a bye week to rest and prepare, and they have been competitive in every game this season despite playing against teams with an overall winning percentage of .640(!). All of the statistics and supporting evidence seem to add up to a close game where bettors should take the points and the home team …

… which is exactly why I’m picking the Patriots.

The Browns are a very one-dimensional team, and New England thrives on taking away a team’s best weapon. If they can take away Peyton Hillis and the ground game, you can’t expect Colt McCoy/Jake Delhomme/Seneca Wallace to carry the team to victory. The Browns also struggle to defend the pass, which is a weakness the Patriots are more than capable of exploiting. Also, it’s important to point out that there are three things that Bill Belichick enjoys. One, turning conventional logic on its head to make the media look stupid. Two, gray hoodies. Three, embarrassing the shit out of former assistant coaches who openly disrespect him. I will never bet against Belichick when he is given an opportunity to make the media look stupid and stick it to one of his unruly former assistants while wearing a gray hoodie. If it all comes together for him on Sunday, it will be like Bill’s Christmas. We might even see him smile.

I expect the Patriots to win and cover the spread.

Other lines I like in Week 9

GIANTS (-5) at SEAHAWKS

Remember that whole paragraph about needing compelling evidence to bet against a home dog? Here’s my compelling evidence — the Seahawks aren’t very good at football. Seattle can’t run the ball or pass protect (13 sacks in the last two games). Seattle’s four wins have come against teams that don’t scare anyone. They’ve been blown out twice against opponents from the AFC West. And they haven’t played a team nearly as good as the Giants all year. For my money, the Seahawks are the most overrated team in football. If I were putting money on this game, I’d put triple my usual bet on the Giants.

CHIEFS (+2) at RAIDERS

Both teams will want to run the ball, so I think the difference in this game will be run defense and passing efficiency. In terms of run defense, the Cheifs have one (3.8 ypc) and the Raiders don’t (4.7 ypc). Both teams have the same number of passing TDs, but the Chiefs have five fewer INTs. Matt Cassel has a QB rating of 90.4 so far this year, which is better than the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning and Matt Ryan. I wouldn’t say he’s better than any of those guys, but he’s been smart with the football. That’s half the battle.

UNDER (41) on CHIEFS at RAIDERS

When I see two divisional opponents who run the ball pretty well and consider the forward pass to be an afterthought, my first instinct is to take the under. When that over/under is in the 40s, I get my money in as fast as possible.

2010 record ATS (1-3)

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