With the possible exception of the Denver Broncos’ thrilling 29-23 upset win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday night, the NFL’s wild-card round played out as many expected. The home teams went 4-0 straight up and against the spread while the favorites went 3-1. In addition, the public was sure to turn a profit on the totals, as the overs cashed in three of four first-round games (ATL-NYG stayed under).
Now we enter the divisional round where the stakes are raised and the competition gets tougher. Will the extra week of rest have a positive effect on the top seeds in each conference or will the momentum from wild-card weekend propel the road teams to another victory?
Let’s take a look…
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (14-3, 5-3 road) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (13-3, 7-1 home)
Time: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Opening line: New Orleans -3/47.5
Current line: New Orleans -3.5/47.5
Current betting trends: 63% backing New Orleans, 66% backing the OVER
New Orleans Saints: 13-4 against the spread, OVER is 10-7
San Francisco 49ers: 12-3-1 against the spread, UNDER is 9-7
Interesting trends: The Saints are 4-10 ATS in their last 14 January games while the 49ers are 10-2-1 ATS in their last 13 games against NFC opponents.
Analysis: Our first divisional round matchup of 2012 features the only home dog of the weekend, as the San Francisco 49ers play host to the red-hot New Orleans Saints, winners of nine straight dating back to early November. What’s even more impressive is that the Saints covered the number in each of those nine victories.
This game opened offshore NO -3 at BetOnline.com just moments after the Saints put the finishing touches on a 45-28 thrashing of the Detroit Lions. Always looking to get the best of it, early bettors jumped on the Saints at the key number of 3 and quickly moved the line to NO -3.5, which is where it has held tight since late Saturday evening.
The key for the 49ers in this one is simple: Play within yourselves, manage the clock and keep Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints off the field as long as possible. Quarterback Alex Smith will need his best game as a professional to lead the 49ers into the championship round, as San Francisco is just 1-4 ATS in their last five playoff games as an underdog.
The thought process among Las Vegas professionals is that once again the public will come in heavy on the Saints, which could move this line as high as New Orleans -4.5 come kickoff. The Saints are 8-0 ATS in their last eight games as a favorite and 21-7-1 ATS in their last 29 games against teams with a winning record.
The bright spot for San Francisco backers is that this seemingly unstoppable Saints team isn’t nearly as explosive away from the Voodoo dome. In eight road games this season, New Orleans is averaging 27.3 points per game with 12 turnovers as opposed to 41.1 points per game with only seven turnovers in eight home games.
DENVER BRONCOS (9-8, 5-3 road) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (13-3, 7-1 home)
Time: Saturday, 8:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: New England -14/51
Current line: New England -13.5/50
Current betting trends: 65% backing Denver, 63% backing the OVER
Denver Broncos: 8-9 against the spread, OVER is 10-7
New England Patriots: 9-7 against the spread, OVER is 11-5
Interesting trends: The Broncos are 6-15 ATS in their last 21 road games against teams with a winning home record while the Patriots are 11-5 ATS in their last 16 games against AFC opponents.
Analysis: Saturday night’s showdown between Tim Tebow and Tom Brady is likely to set the record for most television viewers in divisional round history. But the big question we are focusing on today is which of these two teams will cover the monstrous 13.5-point spread.
Let’s start with the Denver Broncos, who are just 1-4 ATS over their last five games despite a straight up and ATS shocker over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday night. The key to Denver’s success in this one will focus around two very important aspects of the game: running and protecting the football. The Broncos went 0-5 this season when committing three or more turnovers and the Patriots defense finished 2011 ranked third in the NFL in takeaways, with 34.
As for the Patriots, did you know that this team, despite all their success, hasn’t won a playoff game since January of 2008? New England is 0-6 ATS in their last six playoff games and 3-14 ATS in their last 17 games as a home favorite of 10.5 or greater.
This game opened NEP -13.5 offshore and went as high as -14 before coming back down to -13.5 a few minutes later. As of Thursday morning, 65% of the early action was coming in on Tebow and the Broncos, so we may not see much movement prior to kickoff, as books will be hesitant to adjust this game to the key number of NEP -14, should some late action come in on Brady and the Pats.
For as bad-ass as the Patriots looked over the final three quarters of their first meeting with the Broncos back in December, you can’t help but feel a bit queasy laying 13.5 points in a game that features a Tebow-led team that always seems to find a way to make things interesting.
HOUSTON TEXANS (11-6, 5-3 road) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (12-4, 8-0 home)
Time: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Baltimore -7/38
Current line: Baltimore -7.5/36
Current betting trends: 60% backing Houston, 78% backing the OVER
Houston Texans: 10-5-2 against the spread, UNDER is 10-7
Baltimore Ravens: 8-7-1 against the spread, OVER is 10-6
Interesting trends: The Texans are 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a road underdog of 3.5-10.0 while the Ravens are 4-1 ATS in their last five playoff games as a favorite.
Analysis: What a difference a week makes. Approximately seven days ago the Texans were riding a three-game losing streak into their first-ever postseason appearance that saw over 60% of the public backing their opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals.
One impressive victory later and the Texans now have 60% of the public backing them in a road contest with the Baltimore Ravens.
This rematch of a Week 6 showdown that saw Baltimore come out ahead 29-14 opened BAL -7 offshore last Saturday. Early bettors pounced on the Ravens and drove this price as high as BAL -9 at BetOnline.com before the market settled down and the line came to rest where it is as of Thursday, at BAL -7.5.
The Texans benefitted greatly from a jacked-up home crowd in their 31-10 win over rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the Cincinnati Bengals last Saturday, but this weekend offers a far different challenge. The Ravens are 4-1 ATS in their last five games against the Texans and are 5-0-1 ATS in their last six games against teams with a winning record. And don’t forget, the Texans haven’t won a road game since December 11.
Las Vegas and early bettors alike both expect a low-scoring affair, as the total for this one opened at 38 and was quickly bet down to 36, despite the fact that 78% of the public is backing the over.
That means the big money is coming in on the under.
NEW YORK GIANTS (10-7, 5-3 road) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (15-1, 8-0 home)
Time: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET
Opening line: Green Bay -9/51
Current line: Green Bay -8/53
Current betting trends: 70% backing New York, 81% backing the OVER
New York Giants: 9-7-1 against the spread, OVER is 8-8-1
Green Bay Packers: 11-5 against the spread, OVER is 11-5
Interesting trends: The Giants are 6-0 ATS in their last six playoff games while the Packers are 4-0 ATS in their last four playoff games.
Analysis: Something’s got to give when the red-hot New York Giants face-off against the 15-1 defending champion Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday night.
Offshore shops may have underestimated the G-Men, as the Packers opened as nine-point favorites at BetOnline.com. Early bettors pounced on Big Blue and drove the line down as low as GB -7.5, which is where it currently stands at the MGM sportsbook in Las Vegas.
For New York, the game plan is simple: Generate a ton of pressure, make Aaron Rodgers uncomfortable and establish the running game. When it comes to the Packers, expect Green Bay to attack the Giants’ secondary, which has proven to be their Achilles’ heel for most of the season.
Be sure to keep in mind that this situation is nothing new for the Giants. The G-Men know what it takes to win road playoff games against quality opponents, as their Super Bowl run from just a few years back featured road wins over Tampa Bay, Dallas and Green Bay. The Giants are 6-0 ATS in their last six playoff games as an underdog and 5-1 ATS in their last six games overall.
The sharp money will no doubt be backing New York, but at GB -7.5, keep in mind that you’ll be getting the worst of the number. If you like the Giants in this one, wait until Sunday when the betting public is likely to steam the Packers a bit, which should force the books to adjust the line to something more favorable for Big Blue backers.