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“Must Win” Games Are a Trap for Bettors, by Jimmy Vaccaro
Tuesday, December 16 2008

During the stretch drive of each NFL season, you can be sure your stocking will be filled with two worn-out clichés: “one game at a time” and “must win”.

The first one is the mantra from coaches and players about how they are approaching the remaining schedule. You can almost buy into what they are monotonously repeating.

But the designation of “must win” for late-season games comes from our side, and has been kicking around for a long time. Accompanying these words are little equalizers called pointspreads. You pay handily for sides that must win -- or conversely, you can benefit from the play such sides receive.

There are a lot of them this weekend, and as consumers you will at least have a choice on how to invest. Take two of these games and decide for yourself. The Dolphins, with two games left, are in a spot not a lot of pundits would have predicted. But by winning out and catching a break or two, the fins could be in the playoffs.

Miami opened -4 against a rag-tag outfit called the Chiefs, who have nothing to play for but still go out, put up a pretty good fight and play hard. Just ask the Chargers who played them last Sunday.

San Diego opened for that game at about the same number but by game time, if you wanted the must-win Chargers, you were laying six. We all know the favorite won but did not cover. So you must ask yourself, would you take six or lay four? It’s your call.

The Jets, courtesy of “brilliant” strategy by the Bills' coaching staff, were given a reprieve. Now they travel out west where they have failed miserably this year, but opened -5 against a team that has played well enough to win a few games in a year that was a complete failure.

This will be Holmgren's final home game and Seattle can be expected to make an effort to win. Although the Jets must win, just a few weeks ago they opened up 6 over the Raiders and closed 7 or higher. Even a sad-sack Seattle squad figures to be two points better than the Raiders.

So, I expect you see where I am coming from. Parlay cards will be loaded with these must-win teams but will be playing into optimum numbers no matter where you sit.

While I have never taken a close look at the eventual outcome of these type scenarios, I would venture a guess that if we go back and check the ATS record of such games it would be 50-50.

Of course, 30 years ago mainstream bettors were not nearly as involved as they are now. And I would guess that in the last 20 years the numbers have tilted away from recreational players because oddsmakers have made the journey harder with really overinflated favorites.

So remember, the only thing you “must do” is buy your other half something nice for Christmas.

Take Care,
Jimmy Vaccaro

The Finish Line for Football Approaches, by Jimmy Vaccaro
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Wild Card Weekend, 4 Road Favorites?, by Jimmy Vaccaro
Are You Ready for Some Innovation? , by Jimmy Vaccaro
“Must Win” Games Are a Trap for Bettors, by Jimmy Vaccaro
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