Eagles, public stumble; Bears, sharps win 

November, 29, 2010

Every Saturday and every Sunday during football season, I tweet the public and sharp betting trends for that day's games.

The morning of the games, I check websites such as Pregame.com, SportsInsights.com and VegasInsider.com to see where the largest percentage of bets are going, and that tells me which teams the public is betting on. The stats on these sites also show me which games have reverse line moves. That means one side is getting all the action but the line is going in the opposite direction. Inevitably, those are the games the sharps have liked. I shore up all this info by making calls to bookmakers and handicappers for any last-minute updates.

This past Sunday, when I sent out the NFL trends tweet, I noted that the public was on Philly and the sharps were on the Bears. I also added a comment that the Eagles being favored by three in Chicago was a "classic public perception line."

Then I got a lot of questions: "What do you mean?"

Let me tell you. The past four weeks of the NFL season, there has been no team with a higher profile than Michael Vick's Philadelphia Eagles. He and they are the story of the league. Six touchdowns on Monday night. A win over Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts. A win over the New York Giants when they were being crowned as the NFC's best. Vick is having the kind of redemptive performance that made a friend of mine, who is a huge Eagles fan, ask me this: "Do you think it's OK for me to buy my 4-year-old a Vick jersey yet?" His wife put the kibosh on that idea before I could answer. But the fact that I left open a window by thinking about it for a couple of seconds tells you what kind of impact Vick is having this year.

Jay CutlerDennis Wierzbicki/US PresswireWhen Jay Cutler isn't literally throwing games away, he can be brilliant -- as he was Sunday when he tossed a season-high four touchdowns in the win over the Eagles.

Meanwhile, take a look at the Chicago Bears. In the eyes of most fans, including people who sing "Bear Down Chicago Bears" to their kids when putting them to bed (guilty), the Monsters of the Midway are frauds. They should have lost that opening game to the Detroit Lions. They didn't beat the Green Bay Packers in Week 3 as much as the Packers beat themselves with 18 penalties. The win over the Dallas Cowboys looks less impressive in hindsight. Their O-line was exposed by the Giants for 10 sacks on national TV. And, against the Washington Redskins in Week 7, Jay Cutler did what he has proved he can do best in his career by tossing four picks, including a pick-six to DeAngelo Hall when the Bears were driving for touchdown.

The fact this team was 7-3 heading into the Eagles game was more indicative of how unpredictable this season has been than of any uniform dominance over opponents.

Ipso facto Latin-y gobbledygook, when this game opened across Vegas and at the island sports books last week, the Eagles were favored by a field goal in most places. Let's put this in perspective: On the road, against a quality team with a Pro Bowl quarterback and a Hall of Fame middle linebacker and a defense ranked fifth in the league, the Eagles were favored by three. Seriously? "The main factor was support on the Eagles in prior games," the Hilton's Jeff Sherman told me Sunday night. "They have become so popular amongst both the public and sharps."

The public angle was certainly true this weekend. According to Pregame.com and SportsInsights.com, the top three choices for bettors on Sunday were, in order, the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Oakland Raiders and the Eagles. Taking a look at VegasInsider.com's trends, which are powered by data from Sportsbook.com, picking the Eagles and the spread was the second most popular bet of the day.

And that's why the sharps were all playing the Bears. I wrote earlier this year about being able to identify that moment when public perception has tipped the scales and a team, at least for a week, loses its value. This was that game for the Eagles. And that's what I meant by a public perception line.

If you missed it, don't worry. Now that the Eagles have lost, there will be a new batch of teams ready to be perceived one way by the public. And bookmakers are standing by to take advantage by posting inflated numbers. Take a look at the 9-2 Atlanta Falcons, fresh off a win over the Packers and favored by three over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road. You might recall that the Bucs have covered for five straight weeks, including the last time these two teams played, in Atlanta.

But bookmakers are pretty sure which way you're going to bet. Perception is a hard thing to shake.



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