Sports gambling column: Week 16

Happy 2019! I’ve taken two weeks off from writing this column, partly because I didn’t feel confident about betting on games where players could be resting in the final two weeks of the NFL regular season, and partly because I deserve a break as we all do. Before we get into the NFL WildCard matchups, I want to talk about something that might be even more interesting.

Over the break, I visited Spain (Bovada didn’t work there) and went to a real-life casino. Since the legal gambling age in Spain is 18, my dad and I were able to get into the casino by showing our passports and paying a small cover fee. When we walked in, it was more or less what I expected, although a little smaller and a lot more depressing. I got the sense that most of the people there (especially those playing slots) were gambling just to gamble, and this was heightened by the fact that Spain has had a large number of people become addicted to gambling. My dad and I explored all three floors, seeing roulette, slots, craps, poker and blackjack games. We had 50 Euros (about $57) between us, and all we had to do was decide where to bet (and eventually lose) our money. I was thinking about poker, but since my dad knows virtually no Spanish and I’m still far from fluent, we thought that the language barrier might hamper our chances at winning. So, we waited a few minutes until two seats opened up at one of the blackjack tables and put in 20 Euros each. My dad was able to win a few hands early and even got up to 31 Euros while betting the minimum 2 Euros every time. He probably should have cashed out then and set the 11 Euro aside, but as he explained to me later, that is something that all people entering a casino tell themselves they’ll do, but they end up betting it all away. I didn’t have nearly the same luck as he did to start, as I found myself with a partly 1 Euro left after 25 hands or so. My disappointment was made worse when the guy sitting next to me won 100 Euro on one of his first few hands. Once my dad and I had both run out of our initial 20 Euro, he gave me 10 more and I was able to keep going. My luck and strategy improved, and I was able to leave the casino with 16 Euro, meaning that I only lost 14 Euro that night. While that’s not a profit, it’s decent for a first casino trip. I was also somewhat satisfied with winning 18 out of 37 hands.

All in all, the main takeaway I had from the casino was that time seemed to move slower in there. What felt like 20 minutes inside the casino was closer to two hours. I had a good time, and I would definitely do it again in the states when I’m old enough.

Now, on to one of my favorite sports weekends of the year (second only to the NFL Divisional round), NFL WildCard weekend. If you refer back to my Week 14 column, you’ll see that I predicted seven out of the eight WildCard teams correctly, and three out of the four matchups correctly. I would have been right about the Vikings too, but the Bears stupidly decided to play most of their starters instead of letting the Vikings win last week so the Bears could play them again this weekend. Anyway, let’s get into the four matchups (in order of the schedule).

1: Colts-Texans

Just like I said it would be, this ends up being the first game on the schedule, broadcast on ABC/ESPN. The Texans are at home but are only favored by one point, meaning that the oddsmakers actually think that the Colts are the better team. I disagree. I’ve been skeptical about the Texans all year, but I do think they’ll beat the Colts on Saturday. Despite the Colts offensive line likely being able to neutralize the Texans pass rush, I don’t think there’s a chance that the Colts will be able to stop Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has been good this year, but I think the Texans defense will make some plays on defense and that, along with the help of the Texans crowd, will lead to a close Texans win. I have a feeling there’ll be a late turnover in this game that will help decide the outcome. However, I wouldn’t advise betting on this game, as this was the hardest matchup to predict.

2: Seahawks-Cowboys

I think we all expected this game to be the last Sunday game of the weekend, but I’ll take an exciting Saturday night game over what could be a blowout between the Bears and Eagles, the two teams that many expected would be playing in this time slot. Neither of these two teams finished the last three weeks of the regular season particularly strong. The Cowboys got shutout by the Colts before beating a horrible Buccaneers team by only seven at home and then finished the season by winning a nail-biter against the Giants, who were playing without superstar receiver Odell Beckham Jr. The Seahawks didn’t look great either, losing a close one to the 49ers and barely beating the Cardinals, which pretty much negated their big win over the Chiefs that came in between. Both of these teams love to control the clock and lean on their run game, and both have good linebacking personnel to stop the other team’s running game. The key matchups to watch in this one will be Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott against Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson against the Cowboys’ great front seven, and Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett against coaching competency. I think this will be a close, exciting game, with a late defensive stand by the Seahawks deciding it. The Cowboys have exceeded my expectations this year, but I can’t trust Garrett to win in this spot, especially when he’s playing an experienced quarterback in Wilson and an experienced head coach in the Seahawks’ Pete Carroll. I’m taking the Seahawks money line here, which is even money as of now.

3: Chargers-Ravens

We just saw this game a few weeks ago, and the Ravens were able to dominate the Chargers to the tune of a 22-10 win. Honestly, given the state of Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, I don’t see much changing in this one other than that I think it will be a closer game. The Ravens’ running game is really hard for any team to stop, and the Chargers defense is built to stop modern offenses like the one the Chiefs have, not an old-school one like the Ravens’. The Ravens’ excellent defense, along with said running game, have pegged them as my dark horse in the playoffs this year. Their path to the AFC Championship game could be pretty easy if they end up getting to play the Patriots after this game, who have a defense that couldn’t stop my grandma from running the ball down their throats. It’ll be too cold in Baltimore for the Chargers, and the Ravens will keep the ball away from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to just enough to win the game with the clock on their side. Even though I feel somewhat confident the Ravens will win, I’m staying away.

4: Eagles-Bears

If the Vikings were playing the Bears instead of the Eagles, it would be a much less exciting game. Luckily, we get to see Eagles quarterback Nick Foles (a Westlake alumnus) face what might be his toughest challenge yet: the Bears’ defense at ice-cold Soldier Field. This defense simply doesn’t crack, and a banged-up Foles won’t be able to make the magical throws he made during the Eagles’ championship run that began at this time last year. I could see the Bears dominating this game and blowing out the Eagles, meaning that I’ll gladly take the Bears money line, even if it does sit at -235.

I’m going to take a risk and parlay both of those bets together and throw $10 on it, meaning I can win $18.51 if I hit on both games. In other news, the Chiefs won a tight AFC West race, meaning that I am $44 richer after betting $20 on the +120 odds at the beginning of the season. I’m one step closer to being in the black. Enjoy the WildCard games, and I’ll see you next week.

Money spent to date: $130

Winnings to date: $89.59