It’s amazing how much has changed in the sports world and the Tuley’s Takes home office since the last time we all met here in Point Spread Weekly. The NBA and NHL playoffs have moved to the conference finals and conference semifinals, respectively; the NFL released its schedule and the Circa Sports Million and Circa Survivor contests are open; the MLB and USFL seasons are plugging along with Overs taking over where Unders used to be dominating; the PGA Championship is this weekend; and the Kentucky Derby long-shot winner Rich Strike is skipping this week’s Preakness.
Let’s clean out my reporter’s notebook and give my takes across the sports betting landscape.
Tuley’s Takes on the NFL
It’s amazing how the NFL is able to continually dominate the news during its “offseason,” and that was especially true last Thursday with its schedule release, which included leaks throughout the day and sportsbooks jumping right in with their opening lines. For those who missed my “Tuley’s Takes Today” column last Friday, in which I basically reminisced about the good ol’ days when I was about the only sports betting writer out there handicapping the Week 1 lines and making picks months in advance. Now, it seems like everyone’s doing it, but most miss the point. Yes, you want to pick winners when all is said and done, but the only reason anyone should be betting these games four months in advance is if you’re locking in a line now that is better than what you can get in early September.
I’ve had a lot of success with these early bets (and even hit some middles over the years), but this season the lines are the tightest I’ve seen, and I only recommended three early lines if you could get them: Dolphins -2.5 vs. the Patriots, Jaguars + 4.5 at the Commanders and Cowboys + 3 at the Buccaneers on “Sunday Night Football.”
And, yes, those are all gone, but we’ll keep track of all the advance lines throughout the spring and summer.
Tuley’s Takes on the Circa contests
Once the schedule was released, Circa Sports was able to finalize its rules for the Circa Sports Million IV and Circa Survivor III. The bullet points are that Derek Stevens increased the overall guarantee from $10 million to $12 million with the Circa Sports Million (named for the guaranteed $1 million first-place prize) increasing from $4 million to $6 million this year while the Circa Survivor guarantee remains $6 million after Stevens had to pay the $1.9 million overlay last season.
Circa Sports Million will pay the Top 100 now after only paying the Top 50 before, also now pays top 2 “Booby Prizes” of $100,000 and $50,000 for worst record and increases quarterly prizes to $1.2 million. At least $150,000 to each quarterly champ and increases from paying top 3 to top 5 each quarter, plus $25,000 for the quarterly “Booby Prize.”
Circa Survivor last year had five winners take home $1.2 million each with three of those winning $333,333 from the $1 million bonus by using either of the previous year’s Super Bowl participants, Buccaneers or Chiefs, in the final week of the contest. This year, the $1 million bonus will be split by anyone going 20-0 and not using last season’s Super Bowl participants, Rams and Bengals, in any week. For those who don’t know, you pick one team a week to win straight up (a tie counts as a loss) and can’t use any team more than once. To get to 20 weeks in an 18-week NFL schedule, Circa uses Thanksgiving and Christmas (plus the “Monday Night Football” game the day after) as bonus “weeks.”
At the proxy appreciation lunch, Circa asks proxies, who put in plays for contestants from out of state, for our input on contest rules and procedures. For instance, the submission deadline for weekly picks was moved back from 3 p.m. PT to 4 p.m. PT this season. I asked Stevens what they were going to do with Christmas falling on a Sunday this year. He said, “We might have some tricks up our sleeve,” but after seeing how the NFL moved the bulk of the Week 16 schedule to Christmas Eve, leaving three games on Christmas Day and the regular Monday night game, I now know his sly smile meant that he had already been tipped off and had a tailor-made way to split up that weekend. It will be a quick turnaround for Survivor players and their proxies if they’re alive heading into Sunday, Dec. 25, but the field will likely be under 100 at that point.
You can find all the details on both contests at CircaSports.com.
Tuley’s Takes on other spring sports
Preakness: It’s a letdown that Rich Strike isn’t running in Saturday’s Preakness, especially as I was hoping to get a decent price on him to show his Derby win wasn’t a total fluke. But I understand and appreciate the connections doing right by the horse. His absence leaves us with a wide-open Preakness, though the bandwagon is filling up on Epicenter as many feel the defeated Derby favorite was the best horse at Churchill Downs. In addition to some 3-year-old colts joining the Triple Crown series, Epicenter also has to take on the filly Secret Oath, who I thought was an overlay in the Kentucky Oaks (gave her out at 6-1, she went off and won at 4-1) as she had been taking on the boys and was once considered for the Derby. With Secret Oath in the Preakness, that makes Friday’s Black-Eyed Susan even more wide open, so we’ll be posting our “Team Tuley’s Thoroughbred Takes” on Friday for races on both days of Preakness Weekend at Pimlico. So please check that out at VSiN.com and VSiN.com/horses.
NBA: I already laid out my plans for betting the conference finals on VSiN’s “The Lookahead” show on Sunday night (my regular spot is at 10:15 p.m. ET/7:15 pm. PT) as I’m planning to take the underdog just about every game in the Celtics-Heat series as these are two evenly matched teams in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference finals, which start Wednesday, I’m on the Mavericks + 5.5 at the Warriors in Game 1 and expect to be on the Mavs most games, even when they’re closer to pick-’em at home. For those interested, home teams dominated in the conference semifinals at 19-7 SU and 18-8 ATS, so we saw home-court advantage meaning a little more in that round, though only 36-33 ATS overall in playoffs. Unders continued to dominate by going 16-10 in that round and improving to 43-26 (62.3%) overall. The much-maligned “zig-zag theory,” aka “loser of the last” as you bet the team that lost the previous game, went 14-8 ATS in the conference semifinals to take a 30-27 ATS overall lead in the playoffs. The funny thing is I hear a lot of people pooh-poohing the zig-zag, but then they give their handicaps of games and it sure sounds like they’re making a case for it. Anyway, as I’ve tried to make clear, we’re not betting it blindly as it is just another thing to consider in your handicapping. That being said, I can see it being successful again with these matchups.
NHL: The zig-zag is actually faring better in the Stanley Cup playoffs. It went 24-19 in the first round, and that’s straight up, not just ATS like in the NBA. It certainly helps when you have five of the eight series going to a Game 7. We’ll see if the dogs are barking in this round as a case can be made for all four dogs — the defending champion Lightning, Rangers, Blues and Oilers — to pull upsets in their series. Will Overs continue to dominate, or will “playoff hockey” finally emerge and lead to more Unders? Overs went 31-18-2 (63.3%) in the first round, going 23-10-2 after an 8-8 start.
MLB: We’ve also seen Unders cool off big time in baseball. After we wrote about Unders hitting at a 60% clip just three weeks ago, Overs have taken over as Unders are down to 269-233-27 (53.6%) heading into Tuesday’s games. Favorites are still performing better than usual as they were 316-202 SU (61%) after Monday’s games while they historically win around 59% of MLB games. Home-field advantage is again down as hosts were just 271-258 (51.2%) after Monday’s games while they’re usually closer to 54%. We haven’t been seeing as many teams streaking lately, especially since the Reds can shorten their losing streaks by playing the Pirates. The biggest winning streak heading into Tuesday’s action was the Tigers at four games with the Cubs at three. It’s no small coincidence that the Tigers played the Orioles over the weekend and the Cubs played the Pirates. The longest losing streak is by the Orioles at four, with the A’s and Diamondbacks dropping three straight.
USFL: We were happy to win our lone USFL pick given out in this column last week on the Generals + 3.5 vs. the Breakers in a 27-17 upset, though we did add a loser on the Panthers + 2.5 vs the Bandits. But again the bigger betting news was in totals wagering as Overs went 4-0 in Week 5 and now lead 11-9 for the season. After we were all over Unders as they started 8-4 through the first three weeks of the season, we were proud that we advised readers that the value on Unders was gone as oddsmakers had adjusted. We wish we had flipped to betting all Overs as they’ve gone 7-1 since then, but I’ve heard from several readers who did do it, so we’re glad to help lead followers to more winners, and we did OK as we went 2-0 with the two Overs on Sunday. It doesn’t look like the books have adjusted much for this week’s games as none of the early totals are higher than 40 points, so we might be on the Overs again. Check out our official plays each morning in “Tuley’s Takes Today.”