Thanksgiving Day Bettor’s Guide: No easy picks this holiday

From the best NFL games to bet, to the ones you should steer clear of, check out our guide to get you through the week a winner. Then check out how the rest of our crew of pigskin experts see this weekend’s action as they pick against the spread.

VIKINGS AT LIONS

12:30 p.m. Thursday, Lions by 2.5, 43

WALDER’S WISDOM: There’s an old piece of family wisdom I’ve heard since I was a child: always bet the Lions on Thanksgiving.

It’s notable for two reasons: first, in retrospect it might be odd that as a young kid I was already wagering on football and second, because it’s probably not great advice. I took a look at the data and it turns out, since 1978, the Lions are 20-18 against the spread on Thanksgiving.

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Matthew Stafford's Detroit Lions are red hot.

Matthew Stafford’s Detroit Lions are red hot.

(Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Sure, that’s over .500, but at that sample size there’s nothing to read into a margin that small. I definitely wonder if other people potentially feel like the Lions get up for this game more and want to bet on them. Maybe that drives a few extra dollars in their direction?

Anyway, I’m going to ignore my family’s adage. Even though the Vikings are coming off of a win, I bet many still see them as a sinking team while the Lions are red hot. This isn’t a perfect spot since Minnesota is getting some respect from Vegas only making this game a 2.5-point spread in Detroit, but they’re still the right play.

IF I WERE A BETTING MAN: Vikings and the under.

WASHINGTON AT COWBOYS

4:30 p.m. Thursday, Cowboys by 7, 51

Tom Brady doesn’t practice Wednesday but likely to start vs. Jets

WALDER’S WISDOM: This is not an ideal betting spot. Both of these teams are hot, with the Cowboys having rattled off nine straight wins and Washington fresh off of back-to-back wins over the NFC North.

But you know how you really know that things are going well for Kirk Cousins and Washington? Because after beating the Packers in prime time, Cousins screamed in GM Scot McCloughan’s ear, “How you like me now?!” and then followed it up promptly by rustling his boss’ hair.

That is not something you can get away with on most days. It’s only the kind of thing in any profession that works if you are truly on top of your game. Cousins was last week. That’s not why I’m going to bet on Cousins and Washington, though.

With both these teams trending up, this turns essentially turns into a default underdog pick, with a little extra feeling that Washington is worth taking the points with because it’s a short week and I assume that increases the variance. I’ll be honest though: don’t feel great about this one.

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IF I WERE A BETTING MAN: Washington and the under.

STEELERS AT COLTS

8:30 p.m. Thursday, Steelers by 9, 47.5

WALDER’S WISDOM: This game started at Steelers -3. Then it came out that Andrew Luck has a concussion. And that made me ponder how many points Luck is exactly worth. It’s a difficult problem to quantify, because all I can really rely upon are other instances in my mind of when a good quarterback goes down. I settled on six points, which I still think is reasonable.

Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers get to avoid Andrew Luck on Thursday night.

Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers get to avoid Andrew Luck on Thursday night.

(Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

Honestly, I wish I’d guessed anything different. Because unfortunately, Vegas and I agreed on that six-point total. Which did not make this pick a slam dunk. But since I roughly agreed on the line, I’m going to fall back on some normal logic: often, in a situation like this people will rush to bet against someone like Scott Tolzien (Luck’s backup), at any price.

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And that can inflate the price, just a tad. So with that in mind, and combined with the fact that the Colts have now turned into a long road dog on a short week, I’m going with Indy.

IF I WERE A BETTING MAN: Colts and the under.

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