Welcome to "Beauty vs. the Beast," a handicapping feature designed to track how the teams that are bet the most and the least at a given sportsbook in a given week fare. Each week, I'll put down a mythical 100 units on each of the games and see what happens.
Every NFL card can be challenging to handicap.
Then there's Week 17.
"It's such a funny week," said Chris Andrews, the assistant sportsbook director at Club Cal Neva in Nevada. "The numbers are so nuts."
The primary question handicappers must ponder in Week 17 is straightforward: What does this team have to play for?
In the case of Sunday night's Cowboys-Giants game, the answer is cut-and-dried: the NFC East title. To the winner goes a playoff berth; to the loser goes all the scrutiny and lamenting that accompanies big-game losses for either of these high-profile clubs.
At Club Cal Neva, which has locations throughout Nevada, bettors have taken a clear position on this NFC East showdown. They prefer the Giants, who are three-point home favorites vs. Dallas and our "beauty" pick for Week 17, The sportsbook has taken three times as many bets (in terms of tickets) on the Giants as compared to the Cowboys, Andrews said.
Our Week 17 "beast" is a familiar subject in this column: the Buccaneers, who are double-digit underdogs at Atlanta. The Bucs have failed to cover in their previous two appearances, but could they finally get on the positive side of the ledger for us this time?
This could come down to the Falcons' motivation, frankly. The Lions, who play the Packers at 1 p.m. ET, can clinch the No. 5 seed in the NFC with a victory at Green Bay. The Packers have the No. 1 seed in the NFC locked up and are reportedly expected to give reserve QB Matt Flynn quite a bit of work.
By the time the Buccaneers-Falcons game kicks off at 4:15 p.m. ET, Atlanta could be locked into the No. 6 seed. What, then, would the Falcons have to play for?
"Couldn't agree more," Andrews said of this theory.
He added, "But nobody thinks that way."
Of course, the Lions could lose the early game, and the Falcons could have an opportunity to win that No. 5 seed— which would mean the prospect of avoiding New Orleans or San Francisco in Round One.
In that case, Buccaneers backers would be left to pull for a Tampa Bay club that has lost nine straight games, with their last four defeats by 16 points or more.
With all the uncertainty surrounding Buccaneers-Falcons, the game isn't drawing much action, Andrews said.
And bettors especially don't want any part of the Bucs.
"They just don't want to play them at all," he said.
Beauty: Giants (-3) vs. Cowboys
Beast: Buccaneers (+12) at Falcons
Lines at Club Cal Neva, per VegasInsider.com, as of Friday.
Beauty: -827.27 (3-11-1 ATS)
Beast: -171.21 (7-8 ATS)
Profit / Loss: -998.48 (10-19-1 ATS)
"Wagers" to date
Beauty: Week Three (Lions -3) — PUSH; Week Four (Bills -3) — LOSS; Week Five (Lions -5½) — WIN, Week Six (Patriots -6½) — LOSS; Week Seven (Packers -9) — LOSS; Week Eight (Patriots -3) — LOSS; Week Nine (Bills -2½) — LOSS; Week Nine (Packers -5½) — WIN; Week 10 (Ravens -6½) — LOSS; Week 11 (Cowboys -7) — LOSS; Week 12 (Cowboys -7) — LOSS; Week 13 (Packers -6) — LOSS; Week 14 (Broncos -3½) — LOSS; Week 15 (Patriots -7½) — WIN; Week 16 (49ers -2½) — LOSS.
Beast: Week Three (Chiefs +14½) — WIN; Week Four (Seahawks +4½) — WIN; Week Five (Jaguars -1½) — LOSS; Week Six (Dolphins +7) — LOSS; Week Seven (Dolphins -2) — LOSS; Week Eight (Rams +14) — WIN; Week Nine (Dolphins +4) — WIN; Week Nine (Colts +7) — LOSS; Week 10 (Buccaneers +3) — LOSS; Week 11 (Buccaneers +14) — WIN; Week 12 (Lions +6) — LOSS; Week 13 (Rams +13½) — LOSS; Week 14 (Cardinals +4) — WIN; Week 15 (Browns +7 / -120) — WIN; Week 16 (Rams +14) — LOSS.