Anyone seriously interested in "Playing Football" must learn to shop around for the best prices. Point spreads may vary slightly, both locally and regionally.
A bookmaker, when inundated with money on one term, will adjust his line in an attempt to attract some action on the team it is playing. If, for example, Los Angeles opens as a 3 1/2 point favorite over Washington, and the immediate response is solid support for the Rams, the number may quickly go up to 4.
Often there is a built-in base of support for a home team. Saturday's game may be 3 1/2 in Washington, 4 in Las Vegas and 4 1/2 in L.A. A player has to know the marketplace, since a half-point can mean the difference between winning pushing (no one wins or lose) or losing.
The Miama-New England game last Sunday was a case in point. New England was favored by 3 1/2 or 4 points, depending on where and when the business was transacted. The Patriots won by 14 to 10. Need I say more?
Never ask the spread on just one game. Take the numbers for the entire card. Keep'em guessing as to which game or games you're interested in. And never, absolutely never, say to the bookie. "I'd like the Skins this week. What's the spread?" If you do, you're asking to have your pocket picked.
Compare the point spread with as many area bookmakers as possible. If at all possible, compare the spread in different regions of the country, then act in your own best interest. Gaining an edge is what this game is all about, and the little bargains to be obtained through comparison shopping are worth the effort.
An increasing number of newspapers now list professional lines on the professional games. They provide a good checkpoint for the beginner, although the Las Vegas line printed here last week on the Patriots and Dolphins was way offsides. I apologize for the incorrect information.
In many areas, betting early in the week is virtually impossible for the typical player. Bookmakers are gunshy until the opening line has had time to settle nationally. But betting early can be an important edge. Try to form such a relationship.
The final week of the regular NFL season, in particular, always makes the purveyors of the point spread a little nervous. They often have a difficult time distinguishing which teams are playing the season out and which teams are merely playing out the season. So do I.
It is apparent this week that the Head Linesman has tacked on a couple of points for the teams that obviously have the most as stake. Miami, Minnesota, Chicago, Cincinnati and Baltimore all are bigger favorites than they should be because they are playing teams to which the games are not nearly as important.Accordingly Washington would ordinarily be a bigger underdog than it is against Los Angeles.
I didn't like any particular game this week. So I intended to invoke the ultimate freedom of the press and go Christmas shopping instead of spending time shopping around for a half-point edge in the spread. That intention lasted but briefly, however, until one night's spree in the neighborhood mall proved to be much too exasperating and demanding - not to mention costly - than any encounter with the weekly NFL lottery.
I will, therefore, wrap up the regular season with San Diego giving two points at home against Pittsburgh for a mythical $250.
The Chargers have every reason to want to end their successful campaign on a strong note. The Steelers have no reason to care about this game, one way or the other. If Cincinati defeats Houston, Pittsburgh's season is over. And if Houston upsets Cincinati, automatically giving Pittsburgh the AFC's Central Division title, coach Chuck Noll undoubtedly will decide to rest many of his walking wounded for the playoffs.
In other games I'll string along with Los Angeles giving 3 1/2 over Washington, Buffalo getting 14 1/2 (up from 13 1/2) over Miami, Detroit getting 5 1/2 (up from 5) over Minnesota, the Giants getting 7 up from 6) over Chicago, Houston getting 3 over Cincinati, seattle giving 3 over Cleveland, Dallas giving 3 1/2 over Denver, Oakland giving 1 1/2 over Kansas City, New England getting 4 1/2 over Baltimore, Atlanta giving 7 over New Orleans, Philadelphia giving 6 over the Jets, Tampa Bay getting 7 (up from 6 1/2) over St. Louis and Green Bay giving 1 over San Francisco.