by Chris Corbellini


Week 9 Picks: Gambling Nation has arrived

“Man, forget fantasy and forget Vegas. We got the win, so that’s all that matters.” –NFL MVP candidate Todd Gurley

SportsCenter leads with stories of bad beats, Todd Gurley blows up Twitter after massacring gamblers by not scoring a late TD, and seemingly every headline in Sports Business Journal is somehow connected to a league and a new betting partnership. It’s not just sly Al Michaels references anymore at the two-minute warning. We’re past trending and on our way to full-blown craze when it comes to sports gambling. It all happened so fast.

But will it truly hit the mainstream?

Yeah, I say f-ck yes.

I mean, have you ever sat at a hot blackjack table on a Friday night? Or craps? It doesn’t happen every time you sit down, but when it does the room crackles with energy. It’s like the table is sharing the same three-drink buzz.

The moment a sports book figures out how to weed out the Off-Track Betting crowd, and make it more like a day-clubbing space in Vegas or a cheery spot to wear sundresses and fancy hats … not a back-room smoking section for pasty, down-on-their-lucks grinding away at $5 poker … then we’re at next-level tourism and commerce and acceptance. That’ll provide the sports betting blueprint for every book and casino, nationwide. And once someone figures out how to make prop bets and in-game stuff feel as sociable and trash-talky as season-long fantasy (we’re getting very close), then sports gambling gift certificate cards could be as popular as iTunes ones in your Christmas stocking.

But it’s more than consumer habits. As soon as monthly recurring revenue and royalty fees became factors and the New Jersey Supreme Court ruling went through, it was only a matter of time before the Big Four cannonballed into the gambling hot tub. The NHL recently signed a betting partnership and has a team in Las Vegas, the NBA made MGM Resorts its first official gambling partner, MLB has a partnership with DraftKings, and the NFL, I’m sure, is probably taking meetings with books and casinos on both coasts, with the renegade Raiders bound for Sin City as well. The projections are in the billions. With a B.

As long as pro athletes like Gurley continue to shrug when asked about the economics and stakes of betting on sports, the industry is in a good place. The social cost of the business is for another post, perhaps after the NFL season is over and all the Super Bowl action is over. Until then, here are the updated Super Bowl LII odds, which is a good a place to start when mulling over my picks:

Los Angeles Rams: 8-5
Kansas City Chiefs: 9-2

New England Patriots: 6-1

New Orleans Saints: 7-1

Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-1

Interestingly, two of these favs are scheduled to be the main event for Week 9: Rams at Saints, with the highest Vegas O/U of the slate (57.5). So I’ll start there.

As always, home team in CAPS, with William Hill odds.

Rams (+1.5) over Saints

I was genuinely moved by that you-couldn’t-have-scripted-this-better scene of
Drew Brees huddled with his kids after he broke the NFL’s all-time touchdown pass record last month. Brees told them, with the New Orleans crowd still at full-throat and losing it: “Hey, I love you guys so much. Hey, you can accomplish anything in life if you’re willing to work for it, right? I love you boys, I love you!” The quote puts a smile on your face just reading it. The moment belongs in a Disney movie … so cheesy it works for kids and adults alike. And with Papa Drew slinging it, this team is a Super Bowl contender, right? Fade to black. Credits roll.

But when you look at the Saints defense, that smile becomes a serious stare, and then your eyes glaze over. Holy hell, they are bad. The Saints are 32nd in the league against an opponent’s top receiver and No. 2 receiver, 30th against a running back in the passing game, and oh yeah, dead f-cking last overall against the pass. Otherwise, not bad — if that opponent decides not to throw the ball.

Starting this week the unbeaten Rams may start to feel the heat of competing against their own high standards … maybe that’s what this line is trying to tell us.  OK, maybe. I heard a great line this week from an actual working screenwriter, “It’s like diamonds on the floor,” and that’s a good way to describe all the big plays that are about to happen on both sides. But I believe LA will do a little more to get to 9-0.

Bears (-10) over BILLS
I don’t care about the -10 on the road. Nathan Peterman’s Pro Football Focus grade is in the goddamn 20s. I also entered the PFF grades of the starting lineups from this game into Excel, and the grading differential between Buffalo’s offense and Chicago’s defense is -19.1818, nearly two points per player. So many thanks mighty Excel, for crushing the dreams of Bills Nation. Let’s move on, shall we?

Packers (+5.5) over PATRIOTS

The “Aaron Is Pissed Off Game.” Rodgers was robbed in Los Angeles last week, the Packers traded away running back Ty Montgomery because of it, and now, at 3-3-1, you begin to wonder if head coach Mike McCarthy is next to go. But I just don’t see that happening. I just don’t see Aaron going quietly this season.

A win on Sunday night, in front of the quarterback Rodgers is most compared to in Tom Brady, could easily snowball into a six-game winning streak (the next five: at home vs. Miami, at Seattle, at Minnesota, home vs. Arizona and Atlanta). Plus, the Pats can’t seem to cover an opponent’s top receiver – they are ranked 25th in that category. A Bill Belichick defense is never caught unprepared, yes, but Rodgers is throwing missiles into the tightest of spaces, and Davante Adams is becoming that No. 1 who can beat any scheme. Taking a 30,ooo-foot view here (ooh, a workplace cliché!), this primetime bout is the season for Green Bay, while New England could lose until Thanksgiving and still win the AFC East with ease.

 Chiefs (-8) over BROWNS

Whatever. Cleveland’s defense may be friskier than usual under interim head coach Gregg Williams, and might get a few good body blows in early, but Kansas City has this one by 10. Too much speed. Too much everything.

Last week: 4-0

Overall: 12-17

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