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The Bettor's Edge

You can’t chalk it up to the favorites

By Ed Ryan
Globe Staff / January 6, 2012
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I have a friend who bets a lot, and only bets favorites. One exception is he takes the Patriots every week, but New England is rarely an underdog (just once this season, at the Jets in November), so he doesn’t have to stray from his principles very often.

I was thinking about him this week because there are no recent trends to support exclusively taking chalk during the NFL’s opening playoff weekend. In the last five years of wild-card play, favorites are just 9-11 against the number, and this weekend we have a favorite who is consistently untrustworthy (the Giants), a favorite that has lost three straight and is led by a sore third-string rookie quarterback (Houston), and a favorite - on the road - led by a quarterback with a bad ankle (Pittsburgh). And then there’s New Orleans.

What ultimately matters is that if you select the correct favorite, or the correct underdog, you’ve picked a winner. One month of games remain, and we need as many of those as possible.

This week’s picks (home team in caps):

HOUSTON (-3) over Cincinnati: Each team has a rookie quarterback, each team can run the ball, and each team has a stout defense. But the edge goes to Houston, which is at home, has a better defense, and has worked receiver Andre Johnson back into the lineup. At first glance, the Texans appear risky because they finished with three straight losses. But against Tennessee they were locked into the No. 3 seed and played only to survive. Houston’s long-term prospects may be shaky, but the Bengals are not ready to be anything more than a distant memory one week from now. Risking $165 to win $150.

DENVER (+8 1/2) over Pittsburgh: Now that the nationwide parade for Tim Tebow is complete (three straight losses have mercifully removed the Broncos as a top story), Denver has justifiably been installed as a heavy home underdog against the Steelers. But Pittsburgh is banged up in key areas and hasn’t figured itself out, according to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who said this after last Sunday’s win over the Browns: “We’d like to get it together . . . we have not been able to put it all together yet this year.’’ Does this sound like a team headed for a deep playoff run? Risking $165 to win $150.

Atlanta (+3) over NEW YORK GIANTS: I don’t believe in either team’s championship aspirations, but I do believe the Falcons can protect Matt Ryan and take advantage of the points they are getting. Risking $110 to win $100.

Last week: 1-4, minus $450. Season: 29-34-3, minus $1,015.

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