A new year brings new hope and new beginnings. Some will attempt to kick that unwanted nicotine habit while others will look to drop a few extra pounds in preparation for the upcoming spring and summer months.
Many of us will abandon these well-laid plans within two weeks.
As for myself, the goal in 2012 is simple: Be better. This is an awful resolution because it’s so vague, but a great resolution because it applies to so many different areas of my life, including sports betting.
My first football season in Las Vegas produced, by my standards, favorable results. In previous years I could always count on a miserable bowl season to serve as the cherry on my exorbitantly expensive gambling sundae. But after pouring in countless hours of research, talking to people in the know and, most importantly, learning how to get the best numbers, I came out ahead after the 2011 regular season came to a close.
Now, it’s time to get better.
The NFL playoffs have arrived with wild-card weekend offering us four sides and four totals to kickoff our new year. Let’s break it down and start the postseason on the right foot.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (9-7, 5-3 road) at HOUSTON TEXANS (10-6, 5-3 home)
Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Opening line: Houston -3/38.5
Current line: Houston -3/38.5
Current betting trends: 52% on Cincinnati, 69% on the OVER.
Cincinnati Bengals: 8-6-2 against the spread, OVER is 11-5
Houston Texans: 9-5-2 against the spread, UNDER is 10-6
Interesting trends: The Bengals are 9-2 ATS in their last 11 games as an underdog of 0.5-3.0, while the Texans are 16-5 ATS in their last 21 home games against teams with a winning road record.
Analysis: A rematch of a Week 14 showdown that saw the Texans battle back from a 16-3 deficit to defeat the Bengals in Cincinnati 20-19, our first playoff matchup of the new year offers us an enticing game that features two rookie quarterbacks making their postseason debut. However, following that thrilling come-from-behind victory at Cincinnati on December 11, the Texans finished out the regular season on a three-game losing streak.
No stranger to the back door, the Bengals qualified for postseason play on the strength of a 24-16 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Thankfully for Cincinnati fans, the Raiders, Jets and Broncos all lost in Week 17 to give the upstart Bengals a shot at postseason glory.
In a matchup that features two top-seven defenses and two grind-it-out offenses, don’t be surprised if this one turns into a low-scoring battle for field position.
“One of the more intriguing, yet less heralded games of the weekend, it’s hard to decide which team backed into the playoffs considering the Texans have lost three straight while the Bengals have limped into the postseason in the eyes of Vegas, going 1-5-2 ATS over their last eight games,” Caesars Senior Race & Sports Analyst Todd Fuhrman told Goal-Line Stand on Wednesday. “This game will boil down to which quarterback avoids the big mistake in their first-ever playoff game. Houston has the luxury of relying on a powerful ground game and the confidence of knowing they already beat the Bengals earlier this season.”
I picked up the phone and talked to a few pro sports bettors earlier this week who feel like the Texans are the right side in this one.
DETROIT LIONS (10-6, 5-3 road) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (13-3, 8-0 home)
Time: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: New Orleans -9.5/58
Current line: New Orleans -10.5/59
Current betting trends: 55% on New Orleans, 88% on the OVER.
Detroit Lions: 7-7-2 against the spread, OVER is 10-6
New Orleans Saints: 12-4 against the spread, OVER is 9-7
Interesting trends: The Lions are 0-3-1 ATS in their last four road games, while the Saints are 11-1 ATS in their last 12 home games.
Analysis: Expect a heavy influx of public money to come in on the boys from the Big Easy, especially with the image of backup Packers quarterback Matt Flynn shredding the Detroit Lions secondary in Week 17 still freshly imprinted in our minds.
For the Lions to have a shot at upsetting the red-hot Saints, they are going to need to play a flawless football game. That means protecting the ball, forcing some stops and, most importantly, cutting back on the 9.2 penalties per game Detroit is averaging this season.
Since laying an egg at St. Louis back on Oct. 30, the Saints have ripped off eight straight victories and appear to be peaking at just the right time. New Orleans is 8-0 straight up and against the spread at home this season and is also 11-1 ATS in their last 12 home games. Meanwhile, the Lions are just 0-3-1 ATS in their last four road games.
Vegas opened this game at NO -9.5, and that number was quickly bet up as high as NO -11 before settling in at NO -10.5. It’s not at all surprising to see the line this high for Saturday’s game when you take into account the fact that the Saints are beating their opponents at home this season by an average of 23.3 points per game.
Laying 10.5 points in a playoff game may be a difficult thing to do, but backing a shaky Lions secondary in a road contest at New Orleans may be even harder.
ATLANTA FALCONS (10-6, 4-4 road) at NEW YORK GIANTS (9-7, 4-4 home)
Time: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: New York -3/49
Current line: New York -3/47
Current betting trends: 60% on New York, 76% on the OVER.
Atlanta Falcons: 7-8-1 against the spread, UNDER is 9-7
New York Giants: 8-7-1 against the spread, OVER is 8-7-1
Interesting trends: The Falcons are 1-4 ATS in their last five playoff games, while the Giants are 5-1 ATS in their last six playoff games.
Analysis: On the heels of a 45-24 dismantling of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 17 coupled with a little help from Matt Flynn and the Green Bay Packers, the Atlanta Falcons avoided a dreaded return to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and instead travel to New York to take on the Giants.
The G-Men also enter this showdown on a roll, having taken out the New York Jets and Dallas Cowboys in back-to-back weeks to win the NFC East. However, keep in mind that the Giants haven’t won a home playoff game since they crushed the Minnesota Vikings 41-0 in the 2001 NFC Championship game.
“My true number has the New York Giants at -1.25, so the current line (-3) is inflated after a nationally televised thrashing of their NFC East rival, the Dallas Cowboys, in a win or go home situation,” Professional sports bettor David Payne from the website PayneInsider.com told Goal-Line Stand on Thursday. “One outfit I speak with has Atlanta circled, but there’s no rush to show their hand early with New York getting a majority of public money.”
“In addition, expect an influx of recreational bettors who like the Giants to line up at the windows hungry for playoff action this weekend. The recipe for the Falcons’ success is simple: feed the horse! When running back Michael Turner has 21-plus touches, Atlanta is 28-2. Keep in mind that the Giants have had issues stopping the run and are allowing 4.5 yards per attempt this season (23rd in NFL).”
Payne was also kind enough to share with us the following trend: “The road team has covered eight straight games in this series.”
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (12-4, 5-3 road) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-8, 3-5 home)
Time: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Opening line: Pittsburgh -8/35.5
Current line: Pittsburgh -8.5/34
Current betting trends: 66% on Pittsburgh, 77% on the UNDER.
Pittsburgh Steelers: 7-9 against the spread, UNDER is 10-6
Denver Broncos: 7-9 against the spread, OVER is 9-7
Interesting trends: The Steelers are 10-1 ATS in their last 11 January games, while the Broncos are 0-3-1 ATS in their last four January games.
Analysis: On its surface, this appears to be a lopsided matchup. The Broncos back-doored their way into the postseason on a three-game losing streak that featured a combined total of just 40 offensive points scored. On the other side of the football sits a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that surrendered the fewest amount of points in the NFL this season (14.2 pts/gm). So Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers should roll in this one, right?
“The Tebow-bashing continues after the former Heisman Trophy winner went just 6 for 22 for only 60 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs last week. After winning seven of his first eight starts this season, Tebow has dropped three in a row and the critics are now out in full force.”
“Remember, though, that New Orleans was in a similar situation last season when they laid 10 points against what appeared to be an over-classed Seattle Seahawks squad. We all remember what happened there. With NFL wildcard home dogs 14-7 straight up and 16-5 ATS and defending Super Bowl losers 5-8 straight up and 2-10-1 ATS in their first postseason game when playing off a win, look for the Steelers in a close game on Sunday.”