Come NFL playoff time, decent, god-fearing folk start looking towards Vegas, laying millions on home teams and long shots left and right. Passionate but uninterested in point spread subtleties, these gambling neophytes move odds with their hearts, which gives vulpine bettors a chance to feast on lines fattened by the uninitiated. There are no excuses for dumb betting. It’s the end of a long season, and there’s an embarrassment of data available on every team, scenario, and match-up. So let’s look at this weekend’s Wild Card games.
What matters: 300 lbs men, your opinion, and the line
The playoffs are the harvest season of gambling, when casual fans start laying wagers, culminating in the Super Bowl, an amateur night rivaling New Year’s Eve.
To take advantage of this phenomenon, watch the lines. But first, you need to have your own ideas about the teams. Look for places where your opinion might vary from the masses, and especially for places where the line might move in your favor. For example, perhaps you think Chicago is an over-rated team. They’ve got a great record, but a lot of those wins were ugly and over teams with losing records. Chicago is a large market team, and has fans around the country. A lot of money is going to flow onto the Chicago side of the bet, and the line may move in favor of their NFC challenger over the week. In this case, wait until the last minute to take advantage of a contrary bet. If you like Chicago, bet early to get the most favorable line.
The strength of most teams can be found in their offensive and defensive lines, especially in the playoffs. For all the glamour of a star running back or miracle QB, there’s usually a tight group of 300-lbs.-plus men that open running holes or provide that extra second for a pass. To me, the most important stat for evaluating an offensive line is the yards per attempt. It tells you something about the time that a line is giving their QB. Conversely, total sacks allowed don’t mean as much – that can reflect the style of the QB rather than the line’s inefficiencies.
What doesn’t matter: Cold balls, home fields, and experts
You’d think that playing at home would be a real advantage, with the normal edge amplified by rabid playoff fans. In fact, it makes almost no difference, with home teams holding a slim 16-14 margin over the last three postseasons.
Weather could fall into either category, but I’ve assigned it to the ‘doesn’t matter’ section because more times than not, betting the weather blows up in my face. The one case where it has served me well is betting a ‘wet under.’ Enough water makes everything more difficult, and results in a lot of short yardage running that eats up time. I’ve come to consider cold days as meaningless. Unless it’s 10 below, pro players will get used to the hard ball and biting air. You might get dropped passes that help your under or fumbles that assist your over. In other words, bet a cold game like you would any other.
Domes are an interesting case. They seem to matter to some teams much more than others. Generally, I bet the teams and leave the dome out of it, but some players are especially good or bad in dome games, and that’s worth noting. For example, Tom Brady is 10 – 0 in domes (with two of those being Super Bowls), so a road trip to Indy may not be the nightmare one would think.
Finally, what about the experts? Ex-players and coaches who provide their opinions to sites like ESPN don’t have any better record betting than the next guy. Worse, they often do straight picks without consideration of the line. The only thing their articles are good for is to provide a tidbit here or there that contributes to your overall knowledge. Knowing that Dwight Freeney routinely schools Jonathan Ogden when the Colts play the Ravens is valuable. Knowing that Joe Theismann likes New England to win isn’t.
Chiefs at Colts
The line is currently favoring the Colts by 7, with a total around 51. Indy’s porous run defense versus KC’s running attack will make people question the Colts all week, but I think you’ll see a repeat of the Cincinnati game, with Indy’s motivated defense flying around. They’re also getting Bob Sanders back at safety, and he’s their best run stopper.
KC will be trying to slow the game down with the run, keeping Peyton Manning off the field. If that works, even for a couple of quarters, it might be tough to get to the over.
As for me, I like Indy straight up and will stay clear of the total.
Cowboys and Seahawks
I think this is a good game to stay away from, but if I had to bet, I like Dallas, weirdly. Seattle has suffered too many injuries to be effective, and Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander haven’t found the form they enjoyed last year. Although they were outplayed by Detroit, Dallas was able to score Sunday, and I think they’ll do that against Seattle. Vegas doesn’t seem to have much faith in the Hawks either, as the line opened with them favored by 3, pretty much the minimum for a home playoff team. Essentially I’m taking the ‘they couldn’t play that badly again, could they?!’ line of reasoning towards Dallas. But any seasoned gambler will tell you, ‘yes, they most certainly can.’
The O/U is pegged at 46.5, and it might get there. A ‘safe’ bet might be Seattle and the Over. The thinking is that Seattle wins a low scoring game, and Dallas wins a shoot-out, but you might just get both. A tease of Dallas and the over gives Dallas 9, and brings the total down to 41.5. But remember, teasers always look great on paper, but are thought of as suckers’ bets by many gamblers. If you feel good about one side of the tease, just go with that instead of working both sides.
Jets at Patriots
I’m too personally invested in the Patriots to be accurate on this one, but for what it’s worth, I think the Pats are the better all-around team, and that Brady has looked much more like himself towards the end of the season. He’ll have to, because the Jets will be coming hard, stacking the box and blitzing regularly. With Ben Watson and Vince Wilfork probably back, the Pats are as close to full strength as they’re going to get. While I don’t see another miracle year for New England, I do see them beating the Jets.
This might end up being one of the gems of the playoffs that gets decided by a last second field goal, so I’d stay away from the Pats straight up. They’re currently favored by 8.5 to 9, which is too rich for my blood. For those without an undying affection for the Pats, I suppose the Jets are the play.
The total is around 38, with respect for the Patriots defense. A teaser of the Jets and the Over would give the Jets 14 and bring the total down to 32. If the weather looks wet instead of just cold, that tease with the Under looks good.
Giants at Eagles
Strangely, the Eagles are one of the most consistent teams heading into the playoffs. They’ve looked like the same team for five weeks straight, something that can’t be said for the Bears or Saints. The Eagles defense, absent for the middle of the season, has returned with a vengeance, holding opponents to 17.8 points per game, and solidifying against the run. With Jeff Garcia’s ferocious pursuit of respect and a final contract, the offense has also found weapons beyond Brian Westbrook.
The Eagles are favored by 7 as of this writing, and I don’t expect much movement. Tiki Barber’s incredible day against Washington’s mediocre rushing defense will cause enough doubt to keep the line from shifting much. I think it’s a lot to ask of him to do it again. The Eagles will stack the box, and watch for those draw plays that killed DC.
The O/U is posted at 46.5, which may seem high, but it could get there, especially if the Giants make a game of it. I like taking Philly and the Over, thinking that if Philly doesn’t cover, it means that the Giants scored some points, making an Over more likely.
wow! thanks for all the tips! I just sold my son’s toys and clothes and bet all the proceeds on dallas.
and I love that you found a way to use the ‘FLYING AROUND’ line. it wouldn’t be NFL commentary without it!
— Tyson Jan 4, 06:44 PM #
I have one thing to say: GO birds!
— Austin Jan 5, 05:06 PM #