The Weekend Edition: On 'Layering' in FSU-Wake Forest and Bengals-Browns

David Malinsky

Friday, September 29, 2017 2:05 PM UTC

Friday, Sep. 29, 2017 2:05 PM UTC

There are layers to FSU-Wake Forest and Bengals-Browns that the markets may be missing. … When Leonard Cohen sings “Anthem” perhaps everyone should kneel for a moment. … MLB Final Weekend Motivations: On Money and Miley.

Point Blank – September 29, 2017

The various dynamics available to handicap football games are substantial; across the decades a library has been built, and as the busy weekend approaches I get to unfold one that has remained on a high shelf through, the notion of “layering.” In this instance, the particular applications are Florida State-Wake Forest and Bengals-Browns, which I will get to in a moment.

First, there is something important to process through, having kept quiet here on the whole National Anthem issue through the week, and I will use this to set up the Friday jukebox, to provide the appropriate background for another long read. From a handicapping standpoint, I have not had many takeaways because it is difficult to connect the dots – the Steelers are the only team that has talked openly about this impacting the way it played, but I have chosen to take that with a grain of salt. Yet there is something that can be addressed here that is not off topic because it is a genuine handicapping issue.

I have found many of the discussions over this past week to be a bit of a national embarrassment, the irony being that many folks were blind/deaf to what the original Colin Kaepernick moment was about. The fact that there is so much passion behind the difference of opinion in play gets to the very root of it all: We do need to have a general discussion and it was in how short-sighted many of the responses were that provided an inadvertent verification of that. So let’s look for a moment of calm and dignity from the jukebox, with some genuine insight, and for this one anyone feeling the need to take a knee, or perhaps both of them, when hearing this “Anthem” being played cannot be faulted. From one of the masters, Leonard Cohen, live from Florence in 2010:

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What is the handicapping point? In this case, I can tie it in to the broader general issue.

There is a human tendency to wish for security and to be a part of something that helps to create a sense of personal identity; hence how groups develop to fulfill those notions. Many find comfort in being a part of one, but those comforts can also bring a risk when there is conflict between groups. Us vs. Them is one hell of a dangerous battlefield, filled with far too much carnage from self-inflicted wounds.

Take this to heart: Choosing to reside on one side of a fence is a part of human nature, the comfort of being grouped with others a strong pull for many. But if you choose to do that, make damn certain that you place yourself on high enough ground to always be able to see over the fence. It is when you lose vision of all that is on the other side that you create the risk of also losing yourself; not realizing that a fence that separates you from others also creates a boundary inside of which you can become a prisoner, encircled by the self-imposed limitations of your own consciousness.

Be mindful of this when watching and charting football games, because the search for truth in the outcomes is the most important thing that a sports bettor can be doing. It is easy to rationalize losses as “bad beats” in order to soothe one’s own psyche, but that can become one of those self-inflicted wounds. Watch the games with a clarity, forgetting about rooting for your bet and instead attempting to learn as much as you can to better handicap each team for their future games, and your bankroll will grow.

Now let’s take that discipline to the fields and get to work …


On “Layering” and Florida State-Wake Forest

Sports betting markets often overreact in the early stages of a season, creating price points that deviate from a foundation. One of the ways to sort through this is a process I call layering, which is building a base off how teams have done against each other, those bases often offering more insight about the balance of power than the most recent results for the two teams against other opponents.

This week the board brings us a good example in Florida State-Wake Forest, the markets having to scurry for a balance point because of the unusual notion of the Seminoles being 0-2, and the Demon Deacons 4-0. How do we model this? In the college ranks, I focus on the career arcs of the fifth-year seniors and establish what the “neutral-field line” would have been for each of the meetings between the teams. In this instance, I will use a generic 3 points as the measure:

FSU vs. WF Neutral Line
2013 Florida St -37
2014 Florida St -34
2015 Florida St -22
2016 Florida St -21
2017 Florida St -10.5
2013-16 Scoreboard: FSU 143-28

There has been a recognition of how Dave Clawson has made strides at Wake Forest, but have things now gone too far? Consider this: Those 28 Deacon points came through one touchdown and seven field goals. Yes, it has only been one TD across 16 quarters of action, and you can stretch it back even further, with WF also getting shut out in the 2012 meeting.

Naturally there is a question raised: What if the Seminoles don’t bring the spark, that 0-2 opening derailing a lot of major plans? That is an important matter to sort through before submitting a ticket.


On the character of the Florida State program

Jimbo Fisher and his team were good for the pocket down the stretch in 2016, and readers from our previous platform will remember some of that, including the bowl opportunity vs. Michigan in being allowed to take a full +7 in what was essentially a pick’em game (on the field it turned out that FSU was indeed better).

Where did the surge come from? The betting markets wrote off the Seminoles after that gut-wrenching 37-34 loss to Clemson, their third defeat of the season and what seemed like a crushing blow to their psyche. Instead, Fisher came out the following week and talked about the pride of the program, and the Noles went on a 5-0 SU and 4-1 ATS run the remainder of the season, beating the spread by 41.5 points in the process.

This week, the reading between the lines went to two key areas: 1) Would the team bring those pride elements to the practice field again; and 2) Is James Blackman ready to step up at QB?

In terms of pride there was much to read across the board, almost all of it positive. We can go to guard Cole Minshew: “Obviously we’re trying to go there and make a statement. We’re trying to win. We’re trying to win by a lot if we can because we need to make that statement in order to show everyone we’re not some scrub team.” And LB Ro’Derrick Hoskins: “We know what it takes to pick it back up again and be that team that we want to be. We’ve still got a chance to be what we want to be. We’ve just got to take it one game at a time.”

As for Blackman, I’ll let the words of Fisher spell it out: “I’ve said this all along, this guy’s going to be one heck of a football player. There’s going to be a learning curve, but just the way he’s practiced the last two days. The way he’s come back. He’s learned. Very, very proud of the way he played in the game. Did a lot of great things.

“When you play quarterback, you’re going to take some shots. That’s part of it. And he doesn’t flinch. He stands in there, takes it, and gets back up. He wasn’t phased in any part of the game. He’s a tough competitive guy now.”

That is enough for me to put the handicapping philosophy in play with a ticket on #147 Florida State (Saturday, 3:30 Eastern), some low-juice -7.5 out there and a realistic prospect of finding a -7. I believe the Seminoles bring the same energy at 0-2 that they would at 2-0 because many of these players went through a similar cycle in 2016, and there is also that potential upstart issue impacting the Deacons, this game now bringing far more pressure than they are accustomed to -- and programs of this level often do not react well to that pressure.


You can layer in the NFL as well, though not as often

There is a similar setup on this week’s NFL board, a seemingly wounded Cincinnati team that the markets have lost favor with at 0-3, now laying -3 at fellow winless Cleveland. Let’s look at the meetings of the last two seasons in the order that they were played, using CAPS to designate the home team.

2015 BENGALS (-13) 31-10
2015 Bengals (-7.5) 37-3
2016 BENGALS (-11) 31-17
2016 Bengals (-4.5) 23-10

Ordinarily a team opening 0-3 would have had a major blow dealt to its season’s hopes, but the Bengals should be fully aware of the struggles of the Steelers and the Ravens. Win this week, return home and beat Buffalo, and Marvin Lewis and his team go into the bye at 2-3, and then they head to Pittsburgh for a game that can put them right back in the AFC Central race.

The key is that Cincinnati is not that far off, just a play away from beating the Texans and Packers, and now there is the return of Vontaze Burfict to the defense to add a spark when one is needed. I will have some #263 Cincinnati (Sunday, 1:00 Eastern) in pocket at -3, willing to go as high as -120, with the markets shrinking this one just a bit too much. The Browns are getting a little better, yet through three weeks still rate #31 on the Football Outsiders team efficiency charts, just having lost to the Indianapolis team that sits at #32.The Bengals don’t have to do anything special to win this game by four points, and that is the definition of value.


A Final Weekend MLB Primer

Football has commanded much of the space this week, but as the final MLB weekend approaches we can delve into a crash course in how “reading between the lines” can become so important. Does it look like just about everything is solved and there isn’t much to focus on? Think again.

I write often that baseball can be a tricky measure in terms of motivation, because while teams may be out of contention, every pitch thrown, or plate appearance, brings a direct measurement that can mean so much in terms of contracts. For those who choose to do the digging it can mean opportunity in these otherwise meaningless games in the standings, and in the Friday sorting there was just that sort of info made available with Wade Miley, making his last start of the season, and possibly his last ever, with the Orioles.

Miley has worked to a disappointing 8-14/5.52, so there is a decision to be made in the offseason; the Orioles can release him with a $500K buyout, or bring him back at the cost of $12 million for 2018. Just another random game at Tampa tonight? Not for Miley:

"I haven't talked to them (Orioles management). I know on the business side, I haven't done my job. We'll see what happens. I don't know. For whatever reason, I didn't perform at the level I wanted to perform at. I've got one more start. Hopefully, I can go out there and not even worrying about the option, just for my own good, be able to go into the offseason on a little bit stronger note. We'll see what happens."

I don’t expect to be involved in that one, Miley’s current form (0-3/13.94 over his last three starts) perhaps an indication that the pressure has been getting to him. But this is so important to file away – a pitcher like Miley might bring as much focus for a game like this as if he were trying to cement a playoff spot for his team or win a Cy Young. If you find some of those motivations that you can trust this weekend, it will provide you with some value you can take to the windows as the betting markets miss these subtle motivations.


For your listening pleasure …

This week’s edition of House of Yards is up, co-host Matt Landes and myself delving into tonight’s USC-Washington State showdown, plus the best of the NFL board. You can also listen to the details of the Beer of the Week, and if you read on just a bit more the Friday tasting notes are on the way.

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For your drinking pleasure …

Matt was literally in the right place at the right time last Saturday, being able to enjoy the postgame of USC’s win at Cal by taking a short trek afterwards for a tasting session that provides the Beer of the Week.

Brewery: The Rare Barrel
Beer: Garage Service
Style: American Wild Ale
ABV: 6.1%

Garage Service is a collaboration between The Rare Barrel in Berkeley and legendary San Francisco pub Toronado. It was brewed to celebrate Toronado's 30th anniversary and proves worthy of the occasion.

A nuanced blend of gold and red sour beers aged in oak barrels with plums and prickly pear, Garage Service imparts notes of candied plums and orange peel, followed by a dry finish that keeps you coming back for more. And that's exactly what you'll want to do, whether pairing it with some complementary sushi or dessert, or simply enjoying it by itself. 

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

To follow Matt's search for the finest in hops, you can go to just_here_for_the_beer. If you listen to the podcast you will note a discussion about pairing that kind of ale with a strong dark chocolate, a combination that I enjoy. For those who are interested the particular chocolates discussed can be found here: El Rey.

Once upon a time there was an episode in customs at George Bush International airport in Houston in which those chocolates got me into a bit of a bind, but that is a story for another day …

You can find the Point Blank archive here.

And if you want to know when PB is ready to go each day, as well as following along for some of the most important Sports Betting news as in unfolds, make @Vegaspointblank a part of your routine.


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