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The Vegas Look at 2004
Fritz Schlottman
July 6, 2004

If anyone knows the ins and outs of football, it’s the sportsbook managers and the oddsmakers that put the casino on the line every Sunday. Each game is a high-stakes battle of wits between the casinos and their consultants who look to make a profit for their shareholders and the handicappers who wager for a living. Put out a bad line on a game, and the property can lose millions.

I recently talked to a leader in the sports gaming community to get his thoughts on the upcoming season.

Q: How healthy is the NFL?

A: Interesting question. In terms of fan support, professional football has never been more popular. The amount of NFL revenue generated by advertising, licensing, gaming, etc., increases year after year. For a casino, football isn’t just the biggest sport, it dwarfs all the others.

The NFL is very aware of that revenue stream and is making changes to the game to keep that money coming in. The recent changes in pass defense aren’t so much about getting a better football product on the field; it has more to do with keeping all that money. Defenses have been getting the upper hand in recent years and the NFL wants more excitement. Look at the last few Super Bowl games (teams), the Ravens, the Patriots twice, and the Buc’s, all teams that used smothering defense to win. Teams aren’t stupid, if the NFL lets defenders get away with grabbing wide receivers like it’s playoff hockey then they’d be dumb not to follow along. Now, every team is hiring defensive coordinators (Mora, Smith, etc.) for their next head coach. Defense may win championships, but its bad for business. The NBA was never more fun then when the “Showtime” Lakers were in their prime and now NBA playoff games are painful to watch. Too much defense will kill a sport.

The NFL needs more balance-you’ve got to have more than one way to win a championship. There have to be good guys and bad guys to root for and against every week. Football needs the Rams, Colts, Chiefs, Vikings, and Packers to be the unstoppable forces against the immovable objects. They’re not dumb; they’ll get it sorted out.

Q: What did you think of this year’s draft?

A: Not much. I don’t understand why all these bad football teams go out and draft a wide receiver. I’m waiting for the day when someone from the Detroit Lions or the Arizona Cardinals can come out and tell the world how drafting a 21-year old kid who’s going to touch the ball four times a game is going to turn around their franchise. Remember what I said about teams not being stupid and learning to play defense? Forget all that. Some of these teams are never going to get it. You’re talking about two franchises ( Detroit and Arizona) that couldn’t win on the road if their lives depended on it. And you know why they don’t win, because they can’t run the ball and they can’t stop anyone from running the ball against them.

Q: So if you were a NFL general manager, you’d never draft a receiver with your first pick?

No, I’d draft one if I was ready to make a run at a championship, and even then I’d think about it. The Ravens need a wide receiver. The Dolphins need a wide receiver. The Bills need a wide receiver. The Lions and the Cardinals need a whole different defense before they get another wide receiver. If I were running a franchise, I’d fix my defense, my offensive line, and my running back position before I drafted another wide receiver.

Q: So who’s draft did you like?

I thought Chicago did a nice job. They got two big bodies to plug the center of their defensive line. It would have been better had they remembered to get a running back… New England reloaded that defense with a few more bodies. They have to give opposing coaches nightmares.

Q: Who had poor drafts?

A: Cleveland. Why would any team trade up one spot to take a tight end? I’d take a wide receiver before I’d take a tight end. What’s this guy going to make $20,000 per catch? The Browns needed to get a left tackle and they screwed up.

The Giants didn’t do themselves any favors either. They gave up a lot of picks to get the wrong quarterback. Their ( New York) offensive line is a disaster. It’s going to be David Carr all over again. He’s going to get sacked six times a game and throw three interceptions. He should have gone to San Diego and been happy to play there.

Anyway, you won’t know who had good draft or bad draft for a few years. Teams have needs, if you got a player that fills a need, you win. If he doesn’t, you’re screwed.

Q: So what teams do you like this season?

A: This is going to be interesting. You’ve now have East Coast football against West Coast Football. All the teams on the East Coast: Washington, Philadelphia, Miami, Carolina, Tampa, Buffalo, Baltimore etc. are all gearing up to play smash-mouth football and all the teams west of Pennsylvania: Denver, Seattle, Oakland, St. Louis, Kansas City want to outscore you. The AFC East and the NFC East have hired old-school coaches and they’re going to play old-school football because they think that’s the way to go. The west has a tradition of a more open style of football and they’re not going to change. Look at the heat the guy in San Diego takes for running the football. Only Parcells gets a pass, and only because he coaches in Dallas.

Q: Why do teams on the East Coast play that way, is it the weather?

A: No, if you can throw the ball in Green Bay in January you can throw it anywhere, any time. Washington tried to play wide-open offense and it blew up in their faces. The East Coast fans aren’t happy unless there’s a rugby scrum on the field every Sunday. They like defense and they like winning.

Q: So who do you like this year from the AFC?

A: Whoever wins the AFC East. New England, Buffalo, Miami are all good defensive teams. The Patriots are the champs and know how to win. The Dolphins don’t have to play up north in December and if Boston works out they’ll be really dangerous. Buffalo needs to fix their offensive line to have a chance. Kansas City and Indianapolis are good teams but don’t have enough defense to win. The Ravens should be in the playoff mix as well.

Q: How about the NFC?

A: The Eagles and the Seahawks- after that it’s pretty wide open. The Eagles needed an elite wide receiver and they got one if he can keep his head screwed on straight. If they can fix their run defense, they’re big favorites to be in the Super Bowl. Seattle got a lot of help on defense, now they need to stay healthy. Green Bay, St. Louis, even Minnesota, if they ever get control over that team, can get there (Super Bowl) if the Eagles or Seahawks self-destruct. Carolina plays East Coast football and they’ve now been there. Dallas and Washington are still a ways away but they play defense, they can get there.

Q: Any dark horses?

Atlanta if Michael Vick stays healthy. The Falcons were 3-1 with him in the line-up last year including a victory over Carolina. If he plays a whole season, they improve on defense and they can find someone to catch the ball they could be a very explosive team.

I’d say Baltimore is a dark horse, but you probably know about them so that probably doesn’t count in your world. Houston and Jacksonville are going to surprise some teams. The Raiders are going to win a few ball games as well.

Q: Any teams headed for a fall?

A: 49ers. This isn’t a very good football team. New quarterback (Rattay) and I have no idea who he’s going to throw the ball to or who’s going to block for him. Old powerhouses like Tennessee, Pittsburgh, and Denver are going to be rebuilding for a while. The Giants may finish below the Cardinals again this season. Who knows with Tampa Bay, no one’s left from their championship team. The Chargers are the worst of the bunch.

Q: Who’s the best player in the league?

A: Ray Lewis, hands down.

Q: Who’s the most overrated player:

A: Brian Urlacher, Chris Hovan, pick one.

Q: Any players that you think may breakout this year?

A: The kid that plays running back (Rudi Johnson) for the Bengals. He’s something like 250 (pounds) and runs hard between the tackles. Denver always seems to have another running back stashed somewhere. Someone has to get the ball in Detroit and Tennessee.