Friday, September 5, 2008

Vox in the Box (20)


Football Preview 2008

"You're a lemon. Like a bad car. There is something...there is something inherently defective in you, and you, and you, and me, and all of us. We're all lemons. We look like everyone else, but what makes us different is our defect. See, most gamblers, when they go to gamble, they go to win. When we go to gamble, we go to lose. Subconsciously. Me, I never feel better than when they're raking the chips away; not bringing them in. And everyone here knows what I'm talking about. Hell, even when we win it's just a matter of time before we give it all back. But when we lose, that's another story. When we lose, and I'm talking about the kind of loss that makes your asshole pucker to the size of a decimal point - you know what I mean - You've just recreated the worst possible nightmare this side of malignant cancer, for the twentieth goddamn time; and you're standing there and you suddenly realize, Hey, I'm still... here. I'm still breathing. I'm still alive. Us lemons, we fuck shit up all the time on purpose. Because we constantly need to remind ourselves we're alive. Gambling's not your problem. It's this fucked up need to feel something. To convince yourself you exist. That's the problem."-- Walter Abrams

Every time I make a bet, I try and remember that speech. I make sure to remind myself that I'm the sourest of lemons. That I know nothing. That picking winners is a losing proposition, especially when the bettor always lays 11-10. A gambler has to pick 52.4% winners just to break even. Statistics prove over and over that you cannot beat a bookmaker in the long term. I tell myself, before every wager, "you have lost thousands in a lifetime of bad bets; why keep torturing yourself and your wallet?" And after I have successfully convinced myself that the task at hand is largely insurmountable, I am finally at a clear place in my head where I can make my best picks. Unlike the ESPN analysts and the fantasy gurus and sports junkies at your office that really seem to understand football, I know that it is impossible to know anything about the NFL. The second you think you do, the league will inadvertently humble you. There's only one thing I know for sure: beating the spread is an art, not a science.

With great humility, I must admit that my approach has worked 3 of the last 4 years. I have beaten my book in '04, '06. and last season, highlighted by an astonishing 20-12-2 mark with my NFL picks of the week. I had some help, thanks to the blowhard national media that ignorantly tabbed the Patriots as the greatest NFL team ever. While the NE offense was incredibly dynamic and unstoppable when Brady found a rhythm, their defense was average and aging fast. All you had to do was watch the Pats a few times to surmise they could never compete with the all-time great teams (i.e., the '85 Bears) and would eventually slip up against a good offense that slowed the game down and exposed Belicheat's struggling secondary. I was all over the Patriots the second half of the season. In their last eleven games, including the playoffs, mighty New England went a ridiculous 1-10 against the spread, covering only against Pittspuke. The problem wasn't the Patriots, it was the weekend bettors and studio analysts that made the Pats a double-digit favorite almost every single week, like they were some dominant college team playing an inferior conference. The NFL thrives because the difference between winning and losing is so minute, a botched field goal, a crazy penalty, an injury or wasted timeout. When you see a double-digit spread in a league now famous for parity, there's an excellent chance it's an oddsmaker error. For years, the NFL stood for NoFaultyLines but thanks to the country's hard-on for the fraudulent Patriots, handicappers made a fortune from midseason to the SuperBowl, even pouncing on the +375 Giants money line.

Of course, it's a new season now and, like David Coverdale, here I go again in my quest to exploit defective point spreads. So which team will sport the bad lines in 2008? It pains me to say it, but it may be our beloved Brownies. The preseason probably saved Vegas from making the Browns v Cowboys a coin-flip (Browns are now +5), but it's too late for the NFL to change their TV schedule. I'd like to meet the chump in the league office that feels Cleveland is a quality football club. The Browns may have been the worst 10-6 team in league history. I am not trying to be controversial or obtuse; only realistic. Wins against the Jets, Bills, Dolphins, Rams, Niners, Bengals, Texans, and Ravens twice. We beat the worst teams in the NFL. We also lost to the worst teams in the NFL-- the Raiders, Cardinals and Bengals. We defeated only ONE team with a winning record-- the Seahawks...and we needed a couple of breaks and overtime to do it. The pass coverage was non-existent, and we dealt our most opportunistic defender to Detroit. What does it say about our defense when Leigh Bodden may not even start for the Lions? The Browns are in trouble, and that may include the offense. DA was miserable in the second half of last year. It seemed like he got contract bonuses for missing open receivers and making dumb decisions. In the Pro Bowl, where defensive pressure is an afterthought, he was the only AFC QB who couldn't produce a scoring drive. Don't forget about our clown coach. Not only will the Browns come out flat in the beginning of both halves, Romeo will also mismanage the clock without fail and make sure he conveys a buffoonish thought or two in each post-game press conference. It's going to be an ugly 16 games. 6-10.

I treat NFL handicapping as a money-making venture. It is a hobby, yes, but one that I take very seriously. Picking winners will become a second job for me the next six months. But I cannot bring myself to bet against the Browns, just as I could not bet against my own children. So even though I love the Cowboys laying five on Sunday and will formally release it to my customers as one of my plays of the week, I will not place my own wager. Speaking of Dallas, they seem to be the consensus preseason SuperBowl favorite-- and I'm in complete agreement. If last season of Hard Knocks will be remembered for the unintentional comedy of Coach Herm Edwards and the delusional Chiefs, then this year's no-frills Cowboy camp has the opposite theme-- a well organized and sharply focused team with no weaknesses. With Romo, TO and Witten, their passing game, paired with a pro bowl RB, is second only to New England. They're solid against the run with LBs Greg Ellis, the Comeback Player of the Year in '07, and Bobby Carpenter. Pacman reinstated, opposite the very underrated Anthony Henry, might comprise the best secondary in football.

But you have ESPN.com, theclevelandfan.com and a zillion other sources for all this standard bullshit. The day Vox reads like a typical sports column is the day I chuck my laptop. And that last paragraph was dangerously fucking close. I have to remind myself that Vox exists to serve the alternative, to uninspire the inspired, to have sex with all those unrepresented subjects that don't have a mainstream voice. These words carry no paycheck for me, so Vox is pro-bono in more ways than just the obvious. Which brings us to the meat of Vox 20-- a partial release of the Vox gambling manifesto. I read two books on handicapping this summer. MJ always developed a new part of his game in the offseason to make himself even more lethal, and I'll continue to borrow and learn from the legends of handicapping as the offshore sportsbooks strive to set a new bookmaking precedent by setting tighter lines than Vegas. What I took away from my reading was the illumination of what I already knew: you don't have to know a damn thing about American professional football to beat the spread. You don't need to know the difference between a nickel and dime; you don't even need to know who plays QB for the Indianapolis Colts. You only have to understand the market, find the book that offers the best pricing, know why and when the line moves (was it the sharp bettors moving hard on one side or the dumbass general public betting into it?), and most importantly: know where the smart money lays. The "smart money" represents the .00001% of the population that makes a living betting sports. It's a small syndicate that single-handedly shakes up a point spread with an enormous wager, and scares the oddsmakers shitless. Bookies won't even take bets from gamblers consistently playing the "sharp" side, unless they need the action to even out. And that's rarely the case, as smart money sums are bet by wealthy wiseguys and their dollar amounts always dwarf the other, weaker side. For three years, I've been studying how to identify the smart money. But fuck it, this season...I am the smart money. And you can piggyback the Vox on this blog as I release my weekly plays under Vox Pix, clevelandsportstorture's newest feature.

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We can't escape high school football in this area, much to my dismay. The local news puts a creepy emphasis on this unwatchable and awkward game. For me, high school football revolves around only one out-of-state team, the Permean I mean Dylan Panthers.


After one of the best debut seasons in network television history, Friday Night Lights became borderline-unbearable. I say 'borderline' because Lyla Garrity, Tyra Collete, Coach's daughter and Coach's wife are so ridiculously hot, they transform the show from Dawson's Creek in Texas to a slightly above-average night-time soap opera. Here's all you need to know about the misguided second season: NBC execs told the writers to cool it with the football scenes, so instead...we got a murder by the town geek (which was actually more believable than said town geek somehow walking on to a state championship football team and bagging the hottest chick in school), Mrs. Taylor becoming the varsity volleyball coach just a week after she couldn't handle working full time and taking care of her newborn, a tornado that merged two high schools which resulted in a coach running onto the field to make a game-saving tackle, Tim Riggins stealing from a drug dealer, ditching practice whenever he felt like it, getting hammered and hanging out in strip clubs (wait, that was actually pretty cool), and my favorite character, Buddy Garrity, finding time to mentor a delinquent hispanic kid that was so clumsy he couldn't tie his own shoes but was reincarnated into a young Michael Strahan after a few tough practices. And I haven't even mentioned Saracen, who finds time to study, work at Dairy Queen, take care of his Grandma, bang the hired help, and be QB-1. Blogger-hater Buzz Bissinger is no doubt wondering what they mean in the credits when they say FNL is based on his book. NBC took a great show with no audience and turned into a crappy show with no audience. Then they cancelled it midway thru the season, so we'll never know the fate of Jason Street's unborn child. Now, they're suddenly bringing it back for a third season, but only if you have DirecTV. I can't get my favorite non-HBO show or the NFL network from my cable provider. This is fucking unconstitutional.

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Other than the game of the year one week from tomorrow and that ritual the Saturday before Thanksgiving, I also have very little time for college football...although I will be highlighting certain NCAA wagering opportunities, as I did with my first play of the season-- Missouri -9 over Illinois. Pucky asked for the Vox Top 10 Football Buckeyes, and I'm happy to oblige Random Top 10 requests. Apologies to Greg Frey, Tom Tupa, Chris Gamble, Nate Clements and my man, Stanley Jackson. (No apologies to my most hated Buckeye ever, Mike Vrabel.)

1. Chris Spielman, LB, 1984-87
In my eyes, he's the definitive Buckeye. I remember visiting Columbus in 1986, and being fascinated with how an entire city worshipped him. I hadn't seen anything like this in Cleveland. Keep in my mind, Kosar hadn't achieved superstardom just yet, so the biggest local athlete in my 11 years was either Brian Sipe, Andy Thorton or Super Joe Charboneau, for one summer anyway. But Chris Spielman was Jesus Christ in the campus area. In 1985, he had two picks in one of the biggest games in Buckeye history, when we knocked off the undefeated and eventual conference champs, Iowa.

My first Buckeye Football game was the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida, December 28, 1985. OSU toppled BYU, 10-7. My mom, MJVox, and her cousin and I sat in the alumni section. I don't recall anything about the game other than this old guy sitting next to me who was Class of '35. I told him I was headed to OSU one day and he shared a bag of unsalted pretzels with me that he had smuggled into the stadium. To this day, those were the greatest pretzels I've ever tasted for some reason. He loved when Spielman put a hat on somebody.

2. Mike Tomczak, QB, 1982-84
in 1984, he led OSU to its first Rose Bowl appearance in what seemed to be an eternity. After we beat Michigan to clinch it, I remember my family exploding with happiness but I couldn't appreciate it as much being a new Buckeye fan. Eighteen years later a drunk Mike Tomczak, toasted after a Buckeye win, walked into a C-bus bar where my brother was bussing tables and put his press pass around Ronnie's neck. Little did Mike know that Ronnie didn't have a clue. He called me up the next night and said "Sammy, who is Mike Tomcat?"

3. Keith Byars, TB, 1982-85
The 1984 Heisman Trophy ceremony had to be the most memorable in NCAA history. Three finalists: Byars, Bernie the J Kosar and the winner, Doug Flutie.

4. Tito Paul, CB, 1992-94
Eddie George carry. Fire up the troops, Coop. Theresa, go down and get me a Coke. Tito, running around the 'Shoe in those tight pants, making up for Marlon "Toast" Kerner's blown coverage once again. Images from a fall Saturday in Columbus, mid 1990s.

5. David Boston, WR, 1996-98
Arguably the best talent to come out of Wide Receiver U, Boston's catch to clinch the 1997 Rose Bowl is in my Top 3 plays in OSU Football History The other two? Clarret's strip after Krenzel's INT against Miami and Will Allen picking off Navarre in '02 to send us to the National Championship.

6. Robert Smith, RB, 1990, 1992
When Robert Smith made his highly anticipated decision to attend the Ohio State University, nobody in that press conference could have fully comprehended that Robert Smith really was going to attend the Ohio State University. And after he almost brought the entire program down in a public allegiance to academics, he left early. Oh Robert, we hardly knew you. Until you gave me your camera at Bar Cleveland and asked me to snap a photo of you and your friend.

7. Donnie Nickey, S, 2000-03
Was it just me or was Donnie Nickey always in the right place at the right time? Donnie Nickey, national champion. I like the sound of that. And it ruled when he got in a fist fight with Vince Young.

8. The Brothers Bellisari, LB, 1997-98, QB & DB 1998-01
Steve was one of the most disrespected Buckeyes ever. He played his ass off on special teams for the '98 Bucks, maybe the greatest college football team ever. Coach Cooper made him QB by default because Bellisari, with his super versatility and athleticism, accidently beat out the guys Cooper actually recruited to play the position. As for his brother-- you're in a lotta trouble, Greg!

9. Troy Smith, QB, 2004-06
All right, I lied. Troy Smith is on my list. I was reduced to a babbling, blushing school girl after he stole victory from the jaws of defeat in Ann Arbor in 2005. Won't be long until he does the same at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Actually, November 2nd.

10. Malcolm Jenkins, CB, 2006-08
When it's all said and done, the fastest man in college football will have played in three straight national title games and won the last by returning two interceptions for scores. He will be drafted #6 in the 2008 NFL draft by your Cleveland Browns.

CLEAR HEADS. FULL HEARTS. CAN'T LOSE.

I am Go Mojo in the box.
Parting is...inevitable.