When is “recency bias” not a bias?
Many bettors are pondering that in regard to the Dallas Cowboys, whom the Rams play on Sunday (1:25 p.m., Fox). The last two weeks, the Cowboys have played as if they’ve thrown in the towel on the Jason Garrett era:
— Dallas (-6.5) lost at home to Buffalo, 26-15, on Thanksgiving. This matchup had huge TV ratings, meaning the entire betting industry saw the Cowboys struggle badly in a must-win game.
— Dallas (-3) lost at Chicago, 31-24, the next Thursday night. The final score was misleading, as the Bears led 24-7 entering the fourth quarter. Dallas racked up meaningless points and stats in garbage time. It was mostly a poor effort in another must-win game that was also a bounce-back spot after a bad loss.
Given those two double-digit point-spread misses and the resulting body language on the sideline and in the owner’s box, it’s easy to see the Cowboys as a must-fade until the market adjusts to their level of play.
It’s especially true when the Cowboys are facing a contender. Entering Week 15, Dallas had played the 30th-ranked schedule of 32 teams, according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings at USA Today. It has a 6-7 record against an easy slate, and it had problems before its two Thursday debacles.
Against teams that currently have winning records, the Cowboys are 0-6 straight up, 1-5 against the spread. They covered a 13-9 loss at New England in brutal scoring conditions while failing against New Orleans, Green Bay, Minnesota, Buffalo and Chicago.
The Rams have a winning record at 8-5 straight up, 9-4 against the spread. If you’re wondering, that has come against Sagarin’s fourth-toughest schedule.
Dallas opened as a 3-point favorite against the Rams. Professional bettors and the public hit the Rams so hard that the favorite flipped. By midweek, the Rams were laying a point. It’s rare to see a line move that much that doesn’t involve an injury to a quarterback.
Bettors might be overreacting to recent Cowboys embarrassments. Dallas is still tied for the lead in its (bad) division and still needs to win. What is more likely is that the market finally has made a long-overdue adjustment. Recency bias existed in September after a 3-0 start featuring blowouts of bad teams. Now recency is just confirming that the Cowboys are outclassed by winners.
Other local items
— The Chargers will likely close as underdogs of +2.5 or +3 points Sunday at home against the Minnesota Vikings (1:05 p.m., CBS). Minnesota, in a must-win game, will appeal to casual fans at any price below a field goal. Pro gamblers know the value of that key number and that Phillip Rivers has a way of keeping the Chargers in any game they play.
Sportsbooks are really hoping the game doesn’t land exactly on 3. It would mean all Vikings -2.5 bets win and all Chargers +3 bets push and would have to be refunded.
— In the NBA, the Lakers and Clippers have been surprisingly great investments this season. At the 25-game mark, the Lakers were 22-3 straight up, 16-9 against the spread. The Clippers were 18-7 straight up, 14-11 against the spread.
Their combined 30-20 against the spread record (60%) is astounding, given the high game-by-game expectations both face. Sportsbooks have known both teams would be great yet have still been underpricing them.
— In the NHL, area teams are on the other end of the spectrum for bettors. Entering Thursday’s game between the Kings and Ducks, the Kings had dropped more than six units on the money line and just over 7.5 units on the puck line (adjusted prices with the favorite laying 1.5 goals). Meanwhile, the Ducks were down just under five units on the money line but up 2.5 units on the puck line.
It’s not supposed to be as easy as “bet on good teams, bet against bad ones.” Sometimes it is.
— In college basketball this weekend, UCLA will be a road underdog at Notre Dame (noon Saturday, ABC). UCLA will enter the game 7-3 straight up, 6-4 against the spread. Notre Dame is 7-3 and 3-6-1.
USC hosts Long Beach State on Sunday (3:30 p.m., Pac-12 Network). USC is 8-2 straight up and 5-5 against the spread. Long Beach State is 3-7 and 5-5.
Fogle writes for VSiN.com