When sports handicappers claim to win anything higher than 65 percent of their selections over an entire season, they are most likely full of more hot air than one of those balloon rides.
However, through the first seven weeks of this year’s Hilton SuperContest, that is exactly what’s happening.
Mark Franco, a handicapper on the Vegas Insider Web site for the past two years, is setting a blistering pace with a 26-9 record (74 percent). The Las Vegas resident is using TheSportsPage.com as his contest name
"The Sports Page was nice enough to put up the $1,500 entry fee so it was the least I could do," joked Franco.
The New Haven, Connecticut native captured the contest lead in Week 4 after a perfect 5-0 mark.
"I got off to a quick start by going 4-1 in the first three weeks before that 5-0 mark in Week 4," explained Franco.
Franco then went 3-2 in Week 5 and 4-1 in Week 6 before suffering his first losing week this past Sunday with a 2-3 record. Two of the three losses occurred with just over one minute remaining in the game.
"I took the New York Giants minus 2Â½ (points) against Philadelphia and was winning 10-7 with just over one minute remaining," said Franco. "Unfortunately, the Eagles scored on an 84-yard punt return with 1:16 remaining to be beat me.
"I also had Houston plus three against the Jets but lost when New York scored a touchdown with 1:21 remaining in the game," he continued. "I still had a chance to win when the Texans returned the ensuing kickoff 62 yards to the Jets 27. But Houston ran out of time with the ball on the eight-yard line."
Franco also had Miami against New England, but lost in overtime.
While his streak entering Week 7 was impressive, he really wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary to stay ahead of the field.
"I make my opening numbers every Sunday and then compare it with the opening line provided by oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants and the Stardust. I basically look for a three-point difference between my line and the opening line," Franco explained.
The largest differential in comparing those lines occurred this past week when Franco made the Houston Texans a three-point home favorite against the New York Jets. However, when the opening line was released, the Jets were installed as three-point road favorites.
One of Franco’s favorite targets this year has been the Minnesota Vikings, a team he has gone 5-0 with so far this season.
"Minnesota came through for me again last week by beating Denver as a 3Â½-point favorite, 28-20," remarked Franco. "I knew Minnesota’s offense would be there, but I have seen big improvements with the defense."
Franco keeps detailed reports on teams throughout the season in a binder filled with injury reports, odds, his lines and various notes he takes during games.
"I don’t over-analyze trends or numbers," Franco said. "I try to watch as many games as I can each week by sitting in the sports book at Barley’s. Taking notes while I’m watching four or five games at one time is not the easiest thing to do.
"The more games I watch the better grip I get on handicapping. There are plenty of games each week where the numbers don’t tell the entire story."
If Franco can hold on to his lead for the remainder of the season, he will take home a whopping $207,600. If any contestant manages to finish the contest with a winning mark above 67 percent, a $10,000 bonus is added to the prize money.
"This is the 17th year the SuperContest has been held and Franco is on a record-setting pace," reported Las Vegas Hilton Sports Book Manager Cyril Burger.
"We had a record-breaking 346 entrants this year. Since that’s quite a bit above our previous high of 282, we are very proud to offer the first-place winner the grand prize of $207,600. The runner-up will take home $83,040.
"Phil Byrne set our record during the 2000 NFL campaign with an amazing 68.2 winning percentage, but he hasn’t come close to that mark since."
Bettors who want to follow Franco’s and the other contestants’ selections, can check them out at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Supers Book, which posts a chart of all the handicapper’s picks.