NFL Playoffs Betting Advice: Traps to Avoid in Conference Championships
by Trevor Whenham - 1/14/2014
When you sit down to handicap the NFL conference championships this weekend, the biggest key is to avoid falling into the traps that are lurking out there. The media coverage of these two games is very intense, and it can be very easy to get distracted by some heavily-covered storylines — storylines that aren’t nearly as important to the outcome of the game as they may seem.
Here are four of the biggest traps to be on the lookout for in my NFL Playoff betting advice:
Brady vs. Manning
These two are obviously the best two quarterbacks of their generation and among the best of any generation, so it is always going to be a big story when they meet up. Add in the number of epic games they have played against each other, and the surprising edge Brady has had over the years, and you have a recipe for the greatest rivalry we have in team sports right now.
While it is excellent drama, from a betting perspective it gets far too much credit. The rivalry between the players, and what has happened when they have played in the past, is all but irrelevant to the outcome of this game. What happened then has no direct bearing on what will happen now, and only a superstitious bettor would believe otherwise.
The two players may very well be the two most important handicapping factors in the game, but only because of what they bring to the game — current form, matchup against opposing defense and coaches, and so on.
Seattle at home
I’m really tired of the whole home-field angle for the Seahawks. Last week we heard that at one point the fans cheered so loud they supposedly caused an earthquake. The team has further fueled the mythology this week with the ridiculous step of refusing to sell tickets to people from California.
Playing at home is indeed an advantage for Seattle — or at least we can assume it is because they play so much better there than on the road. Since the beginning of the year, though, the team is 8-1 at home. That’s just marginally better than the 8-2 record that the 49ers have compiled on the road. Further, San Francisco has won five in a row on the road, including two playoff games, while Seattle has just a two-game home streak going.
I’m not suggesting that Seattle doesn’t gain an edge from playing at home or that the location shouldn’t be factored into handicapping. I’m just saying that it would be very easy to give the home-field advantage too much credit, and that if you spend any time this week reading what the media has to say and accepting it without question then you would be almost certain to do so.
New England’s shift to power running
The last two weeks the story for the Patriots has been their remarkable running game. A team that had been at best inconsistent on the ground for much of the season has suddenly decided to rely heavily on the run, and they have been remarkably successful doing so.
Time and again in the last couple of days I have seen analysis of whether Denver is going to be able to contain the New England run game. That’s missing the point. What has defined the New England offense since Belichick took over, and never more so than this year, is not their ability to run. Its strength is the ability to quickly and dramatically change the focus of their offense to match the weaknesses of their opponents and to keep those opponents guessing in their game preparation.
The question, then, should not be whether Denver can stop New England’s running game, but rather whether John Fox and his staff can correctly assess and anticipate what approach New England is likely to take offensively in this game. The one thing you can be certain of is that it won’t be the same offense we saw this past week — predictability is not what has gotten this team where it is.
Welker against his old team
In case you haven’t heard, before Wes Welker joined the Broncos he played for the Patriots -- for a long time. Of course, you have heard that because someone in the media has to mention it once every 1.6 seconds.
No factor is more overrated in this game. He’s just one receiver — and not even close to the first option in most Denver games. He’s the consummate pro, so it’s not like he is going to work harder to beat the Patriots than he does against anyone else. He knows the New England offense well, but the New England defense knows him well, too.
Do yourself a favor when handicapping this game, and just forget all about where Welker used to play. Instead, focus on what matters — where he plays now, and what he might be able to do to help that team win.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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