"I'm sweating this so hard."
"Same. We need Vegas to score a quick TD here."
"Yea need the TD then the Chargers are going to have to take some shots."
"Exactly. Raiders score here and we should be okay."
(The Raiders score a touchdown soon after.)
"Good start. Need the Chargers to score here and it's a wrap. They look like [blank] though."
"Yes and yes."
It was the last game of the 2021 NFL season, a national prime-time Sunday night matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders, with huge stakes on the line. A playoff berth for the winning team and, perhaps more importantly, at least in one household, $250 for my son if the over hit.
It was the fourth and final leg of a parlay that we had both taken, and the other three (under on New York Jets at Buffalo Bills, over on San Francisco 49ers at Los Angeles Rams and over on New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons) had all hit. Which meant, if the Chargers and Raiders could combine to score more than 48 points in this game, my son David and I would each have turned $20 into a couple of hundred bucks.
We had been texting about this parlay all day. Talking football just like we have every Thursday night, Sunday night and Monday night during the NFL season.
David is my oldest. Technically, he's my stepson, but whatever; that's genetics, not a relationship. He's my kid, and as longtime readers know, I came into his life when he was 10. Ten is a tough age for any kid, especially one who saw his parents get divorced when he was 7. And then the poor kid, after finally adjusting to that, had to deal with some new random dude dating his mom.
I had never been a dad before, so it was definitely an adjustment for all of us, especially David and I. Now, my wife and I have a great relationship with David's father and his wife, and they are very involved in David's life, so we are all very lucky in that regard, and that goes a long way; but specific to David and I, it definitely took us both some time to get used to our new normal.
David is 23 now and a college graduate, and he is all about sports betting -- so all about it, he decided to make it his career, working at FanDuel, a job he absolutely loves. His passion for sports betting is something we have in common. In fact, it's probably the thing we have the most in common.
I moved to Connecticut to work for ESPN in 2007, and while I have always used point spreads, game totals and other betting notes as part of my fantasy football analysis, this past season was the first time I could wager on sports on a regular basis, and I quickly found out that I LOVE it. Yes, all caps. Especially player props. Having already done the research all week long about what I believe players will or won't do in a fantasy football context, it's an easy leap to having a good and informed opinion on what a player will or won't do in a given game from a props perspective. And the best part is, every player is on the board.
Let's say that I think Nick Chubb is going to have a huge fantasy game one week. Great. But in fantasy football, I was already starting Chubb. He isn't available to be picked up in any league. There's nothing really to do about it. But with props, he has a rushing line. And a line on his rushing attempts. And odds on him to score a touchdown. And a ton of other options. Now I have something I can do with my prediction. Guy rubbing his hands while grinning GIF.
I will always love fantasy football, of course; but with sports betting, I can pick any player I want, and I can root for or against them. I can bet the under or the over. I can bet on any number of things related to that one player's performance. If I have a strong feeling on how a game plays out, I can parlay a few different correlated events in that same game: an over on rushing attempts and an under on passing attempts, for one easy example.
It gives me rooting interest in games or players I might not otherwise have as big an interest in, because I don't have players on my fantasy team (or my opponent's team) in that game. It allows me to hedge: If I think Nick Chubb is gonna really crush one specific week and I'm playing against him in fantasy, because of course I am, then I can bet Chubb's over. At least if he's gonna beat me in fantasy, he can win me some money while he's at it.
So I love that it gives me more ways and options to enjoy games I am going to be watching. I love that, just like fantasy football, it gives me action and a good old-fashioned sweat.
And I LOVE that it gives me another way to connect with my oldest son. Yes, all caps again.
He lives far away from us, on his own, so since college, maybe we'd talk once a week. Now? We talk all the time. Who do I like, who does he like, what are we betting, how are we looking, have you seen this promo, here's a parlay I really like, on and on and on. We are in this together, teaming up and trying to beat the books.
I've enjoyed every minute of it. It has brought us closer together, and I can't tell you how much that means to me.
But a 2-point conversion attempt fails, and it is now 26-14, Raiders; that's 40 points, eight short of what we need.
"Argh! That missed 2-point conversion might come back and [blank] us," I text David. "If LA scores they might not go for two. And LVR might just sit on the ball and run it out rest of way."
And just like that, Justin Herbert throws an interception.
"They really look like [blank]. Unreal."
Things are suddenly looking dicey for our parlay. We've sweated through three games and, now, with 12 or so minutes left, it's suddenly looking bleak.
The money is nice, of course, but really it's my ego and wanting my son to be happy that are driving this for me. I want to win this dumb parlay in the worst way. You have no idea.
I am watching the game, leaning forward and staring intently.
"52 yards. I don't know," my son texts.
"Nah, he's a great kicker. He's got this," I text back.
Sure enough, Carlson bangs it home, and Las Vegas goes up 29-14. 43 total points.
All we need is a touchdown.
Herbert and the Chargers take over and start a drive. It's fourth-and-6 with 5:01 left, and the Chargers go for it.
"Oh man. Gotta convert this."
"We're [blanked] if they stop 'em."
Herbert throws a pass to Mike Williams for 5 yards. He is called short of the line.
The Chargers challenge it. Replays show they got a case.
"This call is huge," David texts. "I thought he leaned forward and had it."
"Agreed. It'll be overturned I think."
I can't believe how much I am hanging on this dumb call. But there we are, miles apart but both staring at our screens like they might reveal the secret of life itself. Finally, the refs make the call.
First down, Bolts!
And David and I are still alive.
Our joy quickly turns back to concern as Herbert is sacked for an 11-yard loss on first down. The next two passes are incomplete. And now, Herbert, with his team's shot at the playoffs and our parlays in his hands, not necessarily in that order, faces a fourth-and-21 on the Raiders' 23 with 4:28 to play.
This is the ballgame.
And then, bless him and his feet and that cannon of an arm, Herbert scrambles around and finds Josh Palmer for a 23-yard score.
"Let's [Blanking] Go!!!!!!!!"
It's 29-20. The point after touchdown doesn't even matter now. The over hits for us, and the parlay cashes. You'd have thought we'd won the lottery. Maybe it was the all-day sweat, maybe it was intensity of the game, maybe it was the fact this was the last regular-season game, but, man, this dumb, small parlay was such a great moment, because I got to share it with my kid. We watched the rest of the game as the Chargers converted the 2-point try and scored again as time expired to send it to overtime. The teams then exchanged opening-drive field goals, before Carlson sent the Raiders to the playoffs kicking the final three of the 65 points that were scored in the game. And the whole game was great, but nothing was more thrilling than that 49th point. I might be biased, of course.
I've been predicting individual player performances for over three decades, but this is the first time I've ever done any real written betting content. There's not a lot of time to focus on it during the season, but this is the Super Bowl, and here we are.
Before we dive in, a few caveats.
First, it seems obvious, but please only bet what you can afford to lose. I bet for entertainment, and it's something I enjoy doing with my kid. But I only bet an amount that, even if I lost every single wager, still wouldn't affect my life at all. So have fun, but be conservative.
Finally, understand that lines and odds, especially with player props, change all the time. There's a very decent chance the lines and/or the juice listed below will fluctuate before kickoff, and the juice might move to a place where it's no longer a bet you'd like to make. Caesars Sportsbook is the official odds provider for ESPN, so the odds listed below (except where noted) are from it. Its numbers might differ slightly from the odds when I bet them at sportsbooks here in Connecticut. Do with that what you will. And make sure you shop for the best lines and odds; it's half the fun, and it's also an advantage, especially with so many companies offering odds boosts, promos and specials. If you're new to betting, I strongly encourage you to read this primer on how to manage your money.