NFL Conference Championship Odds and Line Movement
by Trevor Whenham - 1/17/2014
There are just two games for the betting public to focus on in the NFL this weekend, and both are wildly-attractive and intriguing. That means heavy action. Any time a lot of money is thrown at a game there is a lot for bettors to learn from looking where that money lands and how the lines are affected by it. Both of the games this weekend offer some surprises on that front:
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos (Sunday, Jan. 19, 3 p.m. ET)
This game opened with the Broncos favored by 6.5 points. That quickly adjusted to six points and has since fallen another half to 5.5. There are, as I write, hints that it could fall another half point. The Patriots have attracted just short of three-quarters of the bets in this one, so the line is moving as expected — though perhaps a little slowly given the lopsided action.
Given that Peyton Manning is as popular as it gets and is playing at home, it is striking that the Patriots are drawing so much of the support. There could be several factors influencing that. For one, the Patriots are an extremely public team, and that clearly eclipses the support for the Broncos. These two teams are viewed as closely-matched — especially given the New ENgland win this year and the perceived ownership of Manning by Brady, so the line could seem too generous. There are doubts by the public about Manning in the playoffs, and stories about needing a win to secure his legacy have been prominent this week. The public has also been seduced by stories of the adaptability of the Pats team and their ability to change to keep opponents off guard.
The coaches are also sure to be a factor in the public handicapping of this game. John Fox is no slouch with a career 7-5 record in the playoffs. Bill Belichick will be going for his 20th career win here, though — a mark that would tie Tom Landry for the most in league history. The public flocks to Belichick in the postseason.
When a game is played in January, it’s natural to assume that the weather would be a factor — something that would be a strike against Manning in the eyes of many here. For this one, though, forecasts indicate that that won’t be a concern. In fact, if the meteorologists are right, it could be more like this game was in San Diego — Sunday’s high is forecast to be 58 degrees and sunny.
San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks (Sunday, Jan. 19, 6:30 p.m. ET)
The general trend is that the public likes the favorite and the “over”. That sure isn’t the case this weekend. They are strongly backing the underdog in Denver, and they are on both the underdog and the “under” here. So much for stereotypes.
The Niners are drawing strong support, with almost 70 percent of bets coming in on the road team. That would be striking under any circumstance, but is especially so given the strong narratives this week about the home-field advantage in Seattle and the relatively small spread. What’s really striking, though, is how the line is responding to the heavy action. When something is unbalanced like this we should see movement to make the more popular team less attractive. In this case, though, the line opened at the key number of three and is now widely available at 3.5. As we see during the regular season in the Public Action Report, that’s either an indicator that sharp money is on the Seahawks or that for some reason the books don’t fear San Francisco money. Either way, it’s an indication that Seattle is worth a look.
One interesting factor is that the public action is a clear indicator that most people are discounting what happened the last time these teams met in Seattle. It was a massacre, with the 29-3 score for Seattle really flattering the Niners. That was back in September, though, and a lot has changed for both teams since — and the Niners subsequently beat Seattle at home. It shouldn’t be a major consideration, but it seemed possible that the public would latch on to it enthusiastically nonetheless.
The public is certainly expecting a defensive battle. The total opened very low at 40 points — more than two touchdowns less than the AFC Championship opened at. That wasn’t low enough, though, as it can widely be found as low as 38.5.
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