NFL Handicapping: Don't Worry About Spread in Championship Games
by Robert Ferringo - 01/16/2009
I'm sure this week you've heard a lot of statistics concerning both the NFC and AFC Championship Games. You've heard bobbleheads on television and radio talking defensive statistics, scoring stats, turnovers, postseason passer ratings, numbers from previous meetings this year, and maybe even a special teams dime or two. But it's all nonsense. If you want to know who is going to cover the spread this weekend it all comes down to just one thing: who's going to win.
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Whoever wins the game this weekend is likely going to cover the spread. At least, that's been the case in 17 of the past 20 conference title games over the past decade. That's an 85 percent success rate if you can merely deduce which team is going to win the game and it renders any kind of obsession over spreads and line movements moot.
Now, certainly statistics will help you decide which team is going to claim victory this weekend. That's obvious. But if you have to try to talk yourself into taking the points on either of the underdogs this weekend because you think they can "keep it close" then you are off the mark. Either you like the underdogs to win, and in that case the points are a steal and the money line should be screaming your name, or you are thinking chalk all the way.
The fun gets underway this weekend at 3 p.m. on Sunday when Philadelphia travels to Arizona as a four-point favorite. The total is at 47.5. The nightcap will feature Baltimore traveling to Pittsburgh as a six-point underdog and the total in that game rests at 34.0.
The first thing that jumps out to gamblers when they look at the spread for the NFC Championship Game is that Arizona is a rare home underdog in the playoffs. This is just the fourth time in the last 11 years that this situation has presented itself. But bad news Cardinals backers: home dogs are just 1-2 ATS in conference title games. The one win was the Giants back in 2000 when they took down Minnesota. But the thing about that game is that we had a pass-happy dome team coming out into the elements to face a grinder. We have no such edge in this game.
Further, home underdogs have been a terrible wager in the NFL this season, sporting a feeble 32-45-2 ATS mark this year during the regular season. You can throw in a 2-2 mark in the playoffs and that still only yields a 41.9 success rate for what is considered one of the most profitable positions in gambling - the home pup. Philadelphia already owned the Cardinals, 48-20, over Thanksgiving and the Cards are just 3-5 ATS as an underdog this year, with their average loss by a whopping 21 points. Even if you throw out the 40-point meltdown in Foxboro, Arizona still lost by an average of 16 points, so when things went bad they went really bad for the Cards.
Despite this rare situation in The Desert, the concepts of "favorite" and "underdog" really doesn't hold much weight in conference championship games. And, comparatively, neither does "home field advantage". Overall, favorites are just 9-11 ATS in title games while the home teams are only 10-10 against the number. Both of those numbers were aided by two road underdogs covering the spread last year.
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Finally, there is one final reoccurring theme in this year's conference championship weekend that we've seen time and time again over the last decade, and that's the Steelers and the Eagles. This is both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh's fifth NFC title game in the last 11 years. And the bad news for their backers is that both organizations have come up small in their previous four. Each team has gone 1-3 SU in their four title games. Pittsburgh has been particularly disappointing, losing all three of their games at home. The Eagles have gone just 1-2 SU and ATS at home during the past decade, and they managed to cover the spread while losing at St. Louis in the 2001-02 NFC Championship Game.
Carpe diem, my friend. And good luck.
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