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Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer shares his worst bet for Super Bowl LIV

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LAS VEGAS — James Holzhauer never was noticed, even in his adopted town of Vegas, till his magical two-month run on “Jeopardy,” when he won $2.46 million in 33 episodes. He started getting recognized in Prague, Barcelona and Lisbon because of his hot streak on the game show that’s been alive since before man walked on the moon. (True story: “Are you the Jeopardy guy?” he got asked on his European vacation in June. Several times.)

There’s a football element to Holzhauer, which is mostly why he’s in this space. He’s a big football bettor, and he’s so good at it that he’s got limits of how much he can put down on his bets at most Vegas sports books. So we talked “Jeopardy,” but we talked a lot of NFL too.

“If I had to pick a team or two to make it to the Super Bowl, win the Super Bowl, the boring answer is the Patriots and the Rams,” he told me, sitting a table away from an octogenarian couple. They were nibbling at chicken sandwiches before noon Sunday. “Everyone knows these guys are the best teams out there. But if you’re looking to invest in a futures ticket, I would say that the big thing to avoid is look away from the teams that have all the hype surrounding them. I can’t believe we live in a world where the Cleveland Browns are the most hyped team in the preseason. But I would say they’re probably the single worst bet to win the Super Bowl right now.”

Whoa.

On the show, I thought it was interesting to watch Holzhauer play the board from the bottom, making the big bets first instead of working up from easy to hard. It was cool to watch him bet absurd amounts all the time. “It’s a lot easier when it’s me doing the work than when I’m watching a player fumble away my bet at the last second,” he said. “You get the idea that money comes and goes especially in this line of work I’m in. I’m a pro sports gambler. You have winning days and you have losing days. But you know if you’ve got the right strategy, you’re going to get it in the end.

“I started taking the online tests to get on the show about 13 years ago. If they had called me that first year, honestly, I probably would’ve just been another forgettable contestant. As time went on, it kind of felt like, ‘Hey wait a minute. I only got one shot at this, maybe I need to really maximize that one shot.’ Do everything I can right. Take a little time, do my studying, know what I need to know and develop a really good game plan going in and just think, How would a gambler approach Jeopardy to maximize his winnings? That was basically how I was playing up there.”

One of the bets Holzhauer likes this year, and every recent year, is a futures bet on the two teams with the playoff byes. “If you dig deep into the numbers,” he said, “you can get an idea of which teams have the inside track at the bye weeks and the tiebreakers come into play. There are times where there’s a decent chance that two teams will end up tied for the second and third spot, but one team has the tiebreaker locked up and you don’t always see that reflected in the odds … The one seed, just by virtue of having to play only two home games, would win the conference about 35 percent of the time and make it to the Super Bowl. The two team makes it about 29 percent, and the three seed makes it like 11 percent. That’s just an enormous gap between the two and the three. At least the past five or six years, something like that, you keep seeing the one and two seeds advancing to the Super Bowl.”

One other thing: Bet on Sunday nights for the week ahead. “If they put the odds up for next week’s football games on a Sunday night, there’s not a lot of thought that goes into that,” he said. “But you give people a week to bet on this, the odds are going to be a lot more efficient.” Oh, and one other thing after that: Bet on college football. There’s not as much attention paid to those games.

Holzhauer told me about the time in his life when he was told he couldn’t do something. And damn if he didn’t sound like a undrafted rookie who’d been doubted, and then rushed for 1,000 yards or caught 80 balls. Seriously: This line coming up made Holzhauer sound like Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, ignored in the draft and then rushing for 1,037 yards as a rookie, ninth in the league last year.

“This is kind of a thing throughout my life,” Holzhauer said. “When I was 10, I got the, You’re wasting your time studying sports statistics. When I was 20, it was, You’re wasting your time gambling, playing poker.’ When I was 24, it was, You’re wasting your time gambling on sports. Then when I was 30, it’s, You’re wasting your time studying for Jeopardy. I hope I’ve proven all these things wrong.”

Read more from Football Morning in America here

NFL experts reveal one thing they’d like to change about the sport

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The idea: ask smart people, 25 of them, in and around football, what they’d do if they could change one thing about the sport of professional football.

Below is a handful of the responses I received. 

Read all 25, as well as the rest of this week’s Football Morning in America, here

Ron Wolf: Cut Down On Flags

Pro Football Hall of Fame general manager

I spent 38 active years in professional football. I came in not knowing anything at all about pass interference, and guess what? After those 38 years, I left without knowing what pass interference is. I think that the officials have responsibility in too many areas nowadays. The rule that drives me batty is “players in a defenseless posture.” The thing I fail to understand is throughout the ages when hasn’t a receiver been in a defenseless position? Interestingly, football has always been a game of blocking, tackling and kicking. It is supposed to be a spartan game and necessary roughness was a huge part of its attraction and still is. It’s my firm belief that the game should go back to the coaches and players to determine the outcome of a contest. There are way too many flags flying in today’s game. It takes away from the spectacular aspect of the sport. People love the toughness, the dedication, the overall athletic skill of the performers on the field, and they should be the ones that determine the final outcome of any contest—not the officials.

Dean Blandino: Make Every Play Replay-Reviewable

FOX officiating analyst, former NFL vice president of officiating

Two thoughts:

• I have come full circle on this since I worked in the league, but I now think coaches should be able to challenge anything they want. Don’t increase the number of challenges. Put the onus on the coach to save his challenges. This would simplify the rule because you wouldn’t have to wonder what’s reviewable and what isn’t. Now that the leaguer has added pass-interference to reviewable calls, we’re going to see the creep begin. Next year, they’ll add something else. By not opening it up to all things being reviewable, all we are doing is delaying the inevitable.

• The league needs to put real resources behind officiating. Nothing the league does impacts the game more than officiating, and I believe it’s probably the area least valued by the league. I don’t want this to come across as sour grapes, because the NFL treated me great. But officiating in the NFL is treated almost as a necessary evil. You see on-field officials, good ones, moving to network jobs before the end of their careers. The NFL needs to be competitive and compensate the officials better, and also give them better resources in training.

Pete Carroll: Kill Instant Replay

Head coach, Seattle Seahawks

Get rid of—or at least decrease the use of—instant replay. I get all the reasons why we have instant replay, and technology has opened up a new world for us to get to this point. But I miss the human element of trusting the officials to make the calls in the moment and then the rest of us having to live with what they called. It was both fun and frustrating, but I really liked the game better when the officials were just as much a part of the game as the players.

Hunter Henry: Ensure That Each Team Gets a Possession in Overtime

Tight end, Los Angeles Chargers

I think both teams should have a chance to touch the ball in overtime, especially in the playoffs. The league should allow both sides of the ball to have a chance to be successful. Take Kansas City last year. I think it would have been cool to at least see them touch the ball in overtime after the Patriots went down the field and scored. Obviously, I think the Patriots earned it and that’s the rule, but it would be cool for the Patriots defense to go out and say, ‘Now, we have to stop these guys.’ Then, if they stopped them, the game is over. If not, the game continues.

Calais Campbell: Make Every Healthy Player Active on Game Day

Defensive end, Jacksonville Jaguars

One rule change I’d like to propose is eliminating inactives on game day. If teams can dress and play all 53 guys on Sundays, it would help decrease injuries incurred during competition because it would allow more rest and substitutions. If players are aware that there are more guys on the team that can substitute in for a play or two, guys will be less inclined to remain in the game with an injury that could worsen with more time on the field. Overall, more players on the active roster would lead to better health for all players.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Can Raiders actually trust Josh Jacobs to be a featured RB?

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Josh Jacobs, the first-round pick of the Raiders and the first running back picked in the 2019 draft, takes a truly bizarre college résumé into his NFL career.

• Jacobs played 40 games at Alabama. He ran for 100 yards against Kentucky in his fourth college outing, and then, in his final 36 games, never ran for 100 yards in a game.

• His highest 10 rushing games as a collegian, in yards gained: 100, 98, 97, 97, 89, 83, 68, 57, 52, 51.

• His biggest workloads as a collegian, in numbers of rushes in a game: 20, 16, 15, 12, 11, 11, 10, 9, 9, 8.

• In one of 40 college games, including receptions, Jacobs touched the ball 20 times.

Not to sound an alarm bell or anything, but the Raiders want Jacobs to be a bellcow back, the kind who regularly will have 20 touches or more in a game. It’s entirely possible that he’ll be great at that role. But if he is, it’ll be the first time doing it since high school in Oklahoma. In three years at Alabama, Jacobs was part of Nick Saban’s running back-by-committee system. This is going to be a very interesting test for Jacobs starting in September.

Read more from Football Morning in America here