This has been a player's year thus far in the annual football contest between the bettors and the bookmakers.
"Every fifth year, the players seem to do good, and through mid-November they really were haveing an enjoyable season," declared Ray Lenzi, manager of the Stardust Ballroom. "A week ago (the weekend of Nov. 23), we buried the players, but up until that time the popular college and pro teams had been holding up real good. The professional (tout) services also were having a good season."
The Castaways contest here supported Lenzi's observation. There were many more winners than losers, with a suprisingly large number of the handicappers posting exceptionally high percentages.
Not that anyone should feel sorry for Lenzi and the house men. They will survive. They can't lose, over the long run, while only a handful of the players will continue to thrive.
Mixing with the players here always is fun, and often can prove to be educational. But watching them watch an NFL game is no different than a typical Sunday afternoon or Monday night crowd scene across the country. What's important is to realize that the bettors view a game quite differently than the nonbetting fans.
Take two games from last weekend as examples. San Diego, favored by 3 1/2, led Philadelphia, 19-0, at the half. The Eagles made it 19-7 in the third quarter, but a person betting on the Chargers didn't start to worry until early in the fourth quarter, when Rolf Benirschke kicked a 45-yard field goal, for 22-7.
Suddenly, covering the spread with San Diego was in danger. Philadelphia now could (and did) score two touchdowns without the Charges blowing their lead. Anyone betting on San Diego would have preferred to have them in front, 19-14, with three minutes to go instead of 22-14.
There are times, in other words, when a bettor doesn't want his team to score. He knows his defense will play with more intensity to protect a smaller lead and practically will be less likely to go into a "prevent" defense that trades time for points.
Monday night, Oaklan struggled to beat Denver, 9-3, giving four points. The worst thing that could have happened to a person betting on the Raiders would have been for Chris Bahr to kick a field goal for a 12-3 lead in the fourth quarter. He missed twice, and Oakland's defense never relaxed its pressure on Craig Morton.
This represents, obviously, a distorted way to watch a game. But the bettors' preoccupation is with covering. If their team wins, and fails to beat the number, it's the same as losing. Conversely, if their team loses but makes the final score closer than the line figured it would be, they win.
I can't win for losing lately, which is to say many of the teams I select emerge with victory without covering. The four prime picks last week were Chicago, Houston, San Diego and Oakland. Only Chicago was a mistake, and the Bears won. Luckily, in overtime. Houston outplayed the Browns but lost.
This week, I'll string along with Philadelphia for an imaginary $1,000, giving six at home to Atlanta; Chicago, $750, giving six at home to Green Bay; Dallas, $500, even at Oakland; St. Louis, $500, giving two at home to Detroit; Cincinnati, $100, getting 2 1/2 at home against Baltimore; Houston, $250, giving three at home to Pittsburgh (Thursday); San Diego, $100, giving 6 1/2 at Washington, and New England, $250, giving three at Miami (Monday).
Atlanta's last two victories, against Chicago and Washington, were less than impressive. The Eagles can't afford a letdown now that they're only one game ahead of the Cowboys and have a Dec. 21 date in Dallas. The Bears are the best in the NFC Central. The Raiders have everything but a quarterback; Jim Plunkett is pathetic. The quick-striking Cardinal offense can beat the Detroit defense. In the Astrodome matchup, the heart says Pittsburgh but the head dictates Houston.
The Vegas line on other games lists Denver at Kansas City even, Los Angeles at Buffalo even, Tampa Bay two over Minnesota, San Francisco seven over New Orleans, Seattle seven over the New York Giants and Cleveland 10 over the New York Jets.