Friday, January 7, 2011

NFL Wild Card Weekend Betting Moves at Las Vegas Sports Books

By Micah Roberts

Twenty NFL teams are finished for the year, four are waiting for an opponent while on a bye week and eight slug it out to advance this weekend. It’s Wild Card week of the playoffs, a portion of the playoffs that is much unlike the divisional and championship rounds because the short underdogs have major value.

Upon the Las Vegas sportsbooks opening the lines, the Sharps sided with all of the underdogs with three of the four all getting three points. Much of the attraction has to do strictly with the value of “3” this season, a margin of victory that has landed 47 times this season totaling 18.5% of all games. It’s the highest total seen in the league for some time. Consider that just two years ago, only 28 games (10.5%) landed on this short margin.

The other factor is just how well short ‘dogs have done in this round. Since 1978, teams getting 1 to 3 points in the Wild Card round have gone 26-16-2 against the spread. And, home underdogs have gone a combined 11-3 in all Wild Card contests. The low spreads success rate may indicate that maybe too much respect is being given to the home team where the value is generally worth 3 to 3 ½ points in the rating.

Last year, the books had all four games hovering from minus-1 to minus-4 with all the home teams favored. One of the games, the Packers at Arizona, moved six points by kickoff with the Packers ending up being favored by 3-points. Three of the underdogs won outright, including Arizona, with only Dallas covering as a favorite.

This season we have a monster favorite like never seen before from a road team in the Wild Card. The Saints opened as 10-point favorites over Seattle and were quickly bet up to minus-10 ½, but it’s been two-way action since with the line hopping back and forth between the two numbers over at the Las Vegas Hilton Super Book.

This game against the 7-9 Seahawks fits the Saints profile perfect as they have beaten only two teams this season that had winning records. They beat the Seahawks in Week 11 as an 11-point favorite 34-19 at home, but along the way have fell into lapses like losing to Cleveland, Arizona and nearly losing to the Panthers.

Seattle meanwhile comes in with a solid conservative effort in a must-win game against the Rams with backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst leading the way for only their second win in their last seven played. The team they beat over that span was the Panthers. This week, however, Seattle will be going back with Matt Hasselbeck, who engineered many of those losses despite Whitehurst being a bit more mobile.

The first two large bets in the Jets-Colts games were on the Jets getting plus-3 and then plus-3 (-125) before settling at Colts minus-2 ½. The Jets were in the same position last season in this round at Cincinnati and won outright. They then won at San Diego as large 7-point underdogs before losing 30-17 at Indianapolis in the AFC Championship game as 7 ½-point underdogs.

During the second half of the season, Peyton Manning just hasn’t looked like himself throwing 15 of his 17 interceptions from Week 9 on. Part of that has been getting used to life without targets Dallas Clark and Austin Collie. The other part has been an injury riddled running back corps. Running back Joseph Addai and the gang are back and probably healthier than ever right now, but Collie and Clark remain out.

Who would have ever thought there would be a time when Manning was quarterbacking at home during the playoffs where we could lay a field goal or perhaps less at kickoff?

There were some early plays on the Chiefs as Sharps were playing the value of the number and home underdog trends, but after going to Ravens minus-2 ½, money came in on the Ravens pushing the number back to minus-3. It’s been teetering back and forth ever since going from even money to flat with more Chiefs money.

These are two teams that are playing well at the moment with the Chiefs winning five of their last seven while the Ravens have won six of their last seven. The Ravens are riding high right now and have been one of the better road playoff teams in recent playoff history. The Chiefs come limping in after getting destroyed by the Raiders in Week 17. True, it was a meaningless game, but come on, it was the hated Raiders. The timing of Charlie Weiss announcing he was going to make a lateral move as offensive coordinator for Florida sure sounds like a correlation for their flat play last week.

The game of the week, or at least sexiest, is Green Bay visiting Philadelphia for a Week 1 rematch where the whole Michael Vick re-birth began after linebacker Clay Matthews knocked then starting QB Kevin Kolb out of the game. The Packers won 27-20, but not before Vick gave us glimpse of what was about to do this season. Vick had the Packers defense off balance in the second half.

The Eagles opened minus-3 (EVEN) and Packers money came in dropping the line to minus- 2 ½ (-120). Most of the Las Vegas sportsbooks have the game at either 2 ½ flat or money tied to it, but the Hilton and Mirage both have the Eagles at minus-3 (EVEN).

I still haven’t decided who I’m going to take in these games as a case can be made for all, but I have to have at least some kind of action on them. You can’t just watch a football game with nothing riding on it. Fantasy football is over, so I can’t even resort to that. My first instinct is to take the Ravens who are basically the road warriors in the playoffs. However, the home underdog stat has me doubting the pick. My other instincts say take the Saints, Packers and Jets, but I could probably be talked out of each game.

As for the public and early ticket counts, it’s all on the Ravens, Packers, Saints and Colts, in that order. The early week plays are usually a good indicator of what the overall public consensus is. However, about 95% of the action for these games will come Friday night through Sunday. The Packers late game Sunday will be a tough spot for the sportsbooks, who will have all that weighted play parlayed into the final game, even if two of the other three games turn out well for them.

Super Bowl Futures
For those looking to play futures to win the Super Bowl or Conferences, my advice is to just bet the money line on the team all the way, rolling the money over weekly. In some cases, it’s not as easy for people to get bets down weekly which is why they take the set future odds as a matter of convenience. But for those looking to get maximum value on your team, taking the set price almost never equals out to what a certain team would pay if just rolling the money over weekly. Do the math on potential matchups in each conference and you’ll see that rolling the money over is the best way to increase your bankroll and value.

Should the set price then be greater than what the math shows, then that should be the only time to bet a Super Bowl future. But that rarely happens because most sports books build in a 20% or higher theoretical hold for this round of 12 teams that always gives the edge to the house. There are some instances where books will inflate certain teams to attract action due to liability from the course of the season, but it still rarely goes beyond the true odds.

The fairest future odds in Las Vegas for all sports with low hold percentages are always at the Hilton, M Resort & Spa and Lucky’s.

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