Joe Fortenbaugh

joefortenbaugh

Recent Posts

INDIANAPOLIS — Between the side, total, and prop bets, we’ve got a lot to cover today, so I’m not going to waste any time with an in-depth introduction that would most likely put you to sleep before you get to the red meat of this article.

I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who read this column this year, and my sincerest hope is that you got something out of it. Whether it was a couple of winners or a better understanding of how professional sports bettors go about their business, hopefully you’ve come away with something that has made you a sharper sports bettor.

This is it. The final game of the year. Feel free to leave your predictions and favorite prop bets in the comments section below.

SUPER BOWL XLVI

NEW YORK GIANTS (12-7, 7-3 road) vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (15-3, 9-1 home)

Time: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET

Opening line: Patriots -3.5/55

Current line: Patriots -3 (even)/54 at LVH, Patriots -2.5 (-120)/54 at BetOnline.com

Current betting trends: 60% backing the Giants, 52% backing the UNDER

New York Giants: 11-7-1 against the spread, OVER is 9-9-1

New England Patriots: 11-7 against the spread, OVER is 12-6

Interesting trends: The Giants are 8-0 ATS in their last eight playoff games as an underdog, while the Patriots are 1-7 ATS in their last eight playoff games.

Analysis: Since when did it become so popular to bet against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick? I’m in Indianapolis this week for the game and can’t seem to find anyone in the media willing to pick the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

Yep, the Giants really are that hot.

The same trends are taking place in Las Vegas at the current moment. Wynn sportsbook director Johnny Avello told me on Wednesday that 85% of the action coming in to his shop is backing the Giants. Approximately 60% is on New York over at the Las Vegas Hotel and Casino (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) and Chuck Esposito—sportsbook director for Station Casinos in Las Vegas—told me his shops were taking more action on New York than New England to this point as well.

The thought process for the heavy action on Big Blue can be traced to three things: First, most in the public feel the Patriots “got lucky” against the Ravens in the AFC Championship game. Second, the Giants have covered five straight spreads and have been a betting darling since knocking off the defending Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. And finally—if you can believe it—many people feel the wrong team is favored in this game.

Put it like this: If Vegas had the wrong team favored, we would have seen the line move a hell of a lot more than one point over the last 11 days.

From what I’ve gathered talking to my contacts in Vegas, the sharps took a position on the Giants +4 and the Giants +3.5 when the line first opened.  Since that time however, the action has been more balanced. In fact, some shops have gotten resistance when they’ve tried moving the game to New England -2.5, as the money quickly comes in on the Pats, forcing a movement back to NE -3.

“Many of the sharps feel this game should have been posted at ‘pick,’ but the oddsmakers hedged to the Pats -3, feeling the betting public’s infatuation with Belichick and Brady in big games as well as New England’s revenge motive would justify making the Giants a 3-point dog,” professional handicapper Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com told me Wednesday. “But the books didn’t realize that New York would become a public dog. What the books don’t want is for the game to fall on 3, as have all four Belichick/Brady Super Bowls. If you like the Giants, you like the fact that they are 16-2 ATS as dogs against the AFC East. If you like the Patriots, you like the fact Belichick is 12-3 SU and 13-2 ATS in same season revenge games with New England.”

As for the total, the number sat at 55 for close to 10 days before we saw some aggressive betting force a movement to 54 on Wednesday.  Be advised that in the five combined playoff games played by these two teams this season, the total eclipsed 55 only one time (Giants 37, Packers 20). In addition, the Pats and Giants combined for just 44 total points in New York’s 24-20 win at Foxborough back on Nov. 6.

The pick: Call me a contrarian if you want to, but for as much as I’ve loved the Giants this postseason, it’s tough to back a team that a large percentage of the public is picking to win the Super Bowl. If it were that easy, places like Vegas wouldn’t exist. I’m going to wait for the line to get to NE -2.5 (-110) and then I’ll play the Patriots.  I’m also backing the under in this one as well.

SOME PROPS TO CONSIDER…

I reached out to some of the brightest minds in the business in an effort to find you guys an edge when it comes to Super Bowl prop betting. Here’s what we’re looking at:

Will there be more points scored in the FIRST half or SECOND half (+OT)?

Pick: Second half + OT

From: Warren Sharp, SharpFootballAnalysis.com

Twitter: @SharpFootball

“This line is at five dimes, though at CRIS I’ve seen -130,  while Pinnacle is at -119.  This is a play borne from a quote I read from Teddy Bruschi last week. He mentioned how the defense gets really gassed in a hot dome in the second half of a Super Bowl. There is a huge halftime show and the game has more frequent, longer commercial breaks. So I went back and looked at dome Super Bowls. Since 1977, 12 of 14 have seen more points scored in the second half, including all three Patriots Super Bowls from 2001-2007.”

Team to score first:  New England Patriots (+100) or New York Giants (-110)?

Pick:  New York Giants (-110)

From:  BeyondTheBets.com

Twitter: @BeyondTheBets

“This is one of those props that the general public will eat up because they think they’re getting a steal on the favored team at even odds. However, if the Patriots score first, it will in all likelihood be in the game’s second possession and not the first. That’s because the Giants are a near certainty to receive the ball first, something the sportsbooks are well aware of.

Since Sept. 7, 2008, the game Tom Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury, the Patriots have won the coin toss 28 times. All 28 times the Patriots chose to defer. The Giants, meanwhile, have won the toss nine times this year and elected to receive in seven of them. One of those games was against the Patriots in Week 9.

In two previous meetings — once in the 2007 regular season, and once in the Super Bowl later that year — the Giants won the toss and elected to receive. In the Super Bowl, the Giants took the ball and drove down the field before kicking a field goal to go up 3-0.

This year’s Super Bowl is expected to be a high-scoring affair with a total set at 54. If you think the team that gets ball first will score, then the Giants look like a strong play at reasonable odds, even though it might not seem like it.”

Will the first kickoff result in a touchback?

Pick: YES

From: Teddy Covers, Covers.com

Twitter: @Teddy_Covers

“This bet is still worth making at -200 or better and it’s an interesting handicap. The Patriots have a strong tendency to defer when they win the opening coin toss, while the Giants’ prevailing tendency is to get the ball first when they win the toss. As a result, the chances are pretty good that it’s going to be Stephen Gostkowski with the opening kickoff, not Lawrence Tynes.

Gostkowski is a ‘touchback’ type kicker with a big leg, and the adrenaline will surely be flowing for that opening kick. The Giants don’t attempt many kickoff returns from deep in their own end zone – without a strong return game, they are quite comfortable taking the ball at the 20-yard line. And the pristine conditions inside Lucas Oil Stadium have produced touchbacks on 76% of the kickoffs this season. Put it all together, and we’re getting a 3:1 favorite while laying 2:1 or less to do it.”

Three games.

For all the anticipation and excitement that championship weekend in the NFL brings to our living rooms, it’s always a bit depressing to know we have just three games left before the football season comes to an end.

Sure, us degenerates will probably bet the Senior Bowl and Pro Bowl, but for those of you who have the uncanny ability to exercise restraint when it comes to getting down on some action, these final three games offer up our last opportunities to make a score before next September.

Wait, what the hell am I talking about? There’s college and pro hoops and baseball season to fill the void! Ok, I’ve got my fix and suddenly don’t feel so depressed.

What do you say we close out this football season on a high note and then turn our attention to what lies ahead for the next few months?

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP

BALTIMORE RAVENS (13-4, 4-4 road) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (14-3, 8-1 home)

Time: Sunday, 3:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: New England -7/48
Current line: New England -7.5/50
Current betting trends: 66% backing New England, 53% backing the OVER

Baltimore Ravens: 8-8-1 against the spread, OVER is 10-7
New England Patriots: 10-7 against the spread, OVER is 12-5

Interesting trends: The home team is 4-1-1 ATS in the last six meetings between Baltimore and New England, while the Ravens are 1-3-2 ATS in their last six games at New England.

Analysis: Following the conclusion of the Ravens’ 20-13 win over the Houston Texans last Sunday afternoon, BetOnline.com opened the AFC Championship game at New England -6.5, while most shops in Vegas hung NE -7. It didn’t take more than 10 minutes for the early bettors to get down enough action on the Patriots to force bookmakers to adjust to NE -7.5, which is where the number currently stands.

Marquee showdowns such as this won’t feature a lot of movement on the side, but the total is a different story. New England’s defensive performance against the Broncos last Saturday isn’t fooling anyone, as early bettors came out firing on the over and quickly steamed the total from 48 to 50.

For a more thorough breakdown on this matchup, we turn the car keys over to professional sports bettor Marco D’Angelo from PreGame.com:

“To the casual fan watching last week’s playoff games, you would look at the New England win over Denver and say how impressive the Patriots looked winning 45-10. You would then look at Baltimore and say they were lucky to get by Houston and rookie quarterback T.J. Yates.

“However, if you dig deeper you’ll see that the Patriots were never tested on defense last week, as Tim Tebow never got anything going and posed little threat in the vertical passing game. Baltimore, on the other hand, was a team that was in a battle against a very good defensive ball club that had a very strong running game.

“When you’ve got a good defense and a strong rushing attack, you’re going to stay in ball games. New England hasn’t beaten a team this year with a winning record and this line is just too high. New England’s defense is still suspect and it will get tested severely this week by the Baltimore Ravens. I look for the Baltimore defense to put some pressure on Tom Brady. Brady doesn’t like pressure, as that’s when he starts turning the ball over. Expect a much closer game in New England this week and we’ll look at Baltimore plus the points.”

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP

NEW YORK GIANTS (11-7, 6-3 road) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (14-3, 8-1 home)

Time: Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
Opening line: San Francisco -1/45
Current line: San Francisco -2.5/42
Current betting trends: 64% backing New York, 70% backing the OVER

New York Giants: 10-7-1 against the spread, OVER is 9-8-1
San Francisco 49ers: 13-3-1 against the spread, UNDER is 9-8

Analysis: Two underdogs, two solid defenses, two upset victories. The 49ers shocked most of the public last Saturday afternoon with their 36-32 win over the high-powered New Orleans Saints, while the Giants went into Lambeau Field with an unmistakable swagger and knocked off the defending champion Green Bay Packers, 37-20.

So where would Vegas open this game at? Good question. The LVH SuperBook (formerly the Las Vegas Hilton) opened this game at a pick‘em, while the MGM and Wynn sportsbooks posted SF -1. The early action came pouring in on the home team, which forced bookmakers to adjust the line to SF -2.5.

As for the total, the early bettors steamed the under in a big way and drove the number from 45 all the way down to as low as 42. Remember, these two teams met in San Francisco back on Nov. 13, with the Niners pulling out a 27-20 victory in a hard-fought battle.

For our NFC Championship game insight, we turn to our friends from the terrific gambling analysis website Beyond the Bets (BeyondtheBets.com):

“The interesting thing about this matchup is that Super Bowl futures odds for the 49ers carry a slightly higher payout than futures odds for the Giants at most books, meaning oddsmakers must think the Giants are a slightly better team given they have a better chance of winning the Super Bowl, should they get past San Francisco this weekend.”

“Still, home-field advantage is enough to make the Niners a slight favorite in this spot. Two factors that normally work against teams actually seem to work in favor of the Giants: 1) They’re not afraid of playing on the road (haven’t had a losing ATS record away from home in any season since 2003, including a 6-3 ATS mark this year); and 2) they thrive as an away underdog (27-15 ATS since the beginning of the 2004 season).”

Former NFL agent Joe Fortenbaugh also writes for the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter.

New England beat Denver 41-23 in Week 15, but Joe Fortenbaugh is still uneasy about laying 13.5 points.

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.

Former NFL agent Joe Fortenbaugh also writes for the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter.

Insiders tell Joe Fortenbaugh to go with Andre Johnson and the Texans.

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?

Not so fast, says our friend and professional sports bettor Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com and Covers.com.

“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.”

Former NFL agent Joe Fortenbaugh also writes for the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter.

The Vegas Report: Week 17

I want to spend some time today talking about motivation.

We’d all love to believe that professional football players — who cash weekly checks that amount to more than most of us make in five years — will show up and play their guts out each and every week. After all, that’s what they’re being paid to do.

But sadly, this is not the world we live in. Professional athletes are human beings and like some of us, when the going gets tough, the tough occasionally mail it in and begin planning their offseason vacations.

We’re talking about motivation today because Week 17 offers up 16 football games that feature several teams with absolutely no reason to perform at their absolute best. With the No. 1 seed in the NFC locked up, why should the Packers put forth their best effort against the Lions? With a dreadful season ready to come to a close, why should the Buccaneers bother caring about Sunday’s game at Atlanta?

Motivation plays a massive role in college bowl games, as well. Before we get to this week’s analysis, here are two games I’m targeting before the calendar flips to 2012:

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS (+10.5) vs. Texas A&M Aggies: I’ve heard through the grapevine that Texas A&M has been practicing like crap ever since head coach Mike Sherman was shown the door after a disappointing 6-6 season. On the other side of the ball sits a Northwestern team that has never won a bowl game. I love the Wildcats in this one and wouldn’t be shocked if they won the game outright.

IOWA HAWKEYES (+14) vs. Oklahoma Sooners: No coach in college football has his team better prepared for college bowl season than Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. In fact, Ferentz’s Hawkeyes are 6-1 against the spread in their last seven bowl games as underdogs. Meanwhile, the Sooners couldn’t care less about playing in a December 30 bowl game after setting their sights on the National Championship back in August. Oh yeah, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops is just 2-6 against the spread in his last eight bowl games as a favorite.

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-13, 0-7 road) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-11, 3-4 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Jacksonville -5
Current line: Jacksonville -3.5
Current betting trends: 50% of the public is backing the Jaguars.

Indianapolis Colts: 6-9 against the spread in 15 games played this season.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-8-1 against the spread in 15 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Colts are 1-10 ATS in their last 11 games against teams with a losing record while the Jaguars are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games as a favorite.

Analysis: Did you know that Peyton Manning is 14-5 in his career against the Jacksonville Jaguars? Even if you weren’t aware of that little tidbit, you can bet the boys in Jacksonville are well versed in their decade-long shortcomings against one of the game’s all time greatest quarterbacks.

So with that in mind, why would Jacksonville want to beat the Colts this weekend? Doing so would not only worsen their draft position, but it would put Indianapolis in a spot where they could select Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck first overall in next April’s draft. I’m not saying Luck is the next Peyton Manning, but he’s got all the tools necessary to give the Jaguars hell for another 10 years.

The Colts have won each of their last two outings and have covered the number in four straight contests. Not only that, but reports have surfaced out of Indianapolis over the last few days that this team is actively trying to win Sunday’s finale at Jacksonville.

This game could very well come down to a battle of which team wants it less. If that’s the case, don’t be shocked if Indianapolis passes on an opportunity to land the top overall pick and opts instead to finish the 2011 season on a high note.

TENNESSEE TITANS (8-7, 3-4 road) at HOUSTON TEXANS (10-5, 5-2 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Tennessee -1.5
Current line: Tennessee -3
Current betting trends: 58% of the public is backing the Titans.

Tennessee Titans: 7-8 against the spread in 15 games played this season.
Houston Texans: 9-5-1 against the spread in 15 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Titans are 1-4 ATS in their last five games against teams from the AFC South while the Texans are 4-0-1 ATS in their last five games against teams from the AFC South.

Analysis: Tennessee is playing for a spot in the postseason. Houston is already locked into the No. 3 seed in the AFC and has absolutely nothing to gain by winning this football game.

Take a look at what the Texans have done since clinching their first postseason berth in franchise history. With an opportunity to lock down a first-round bye, Houston went out and laid an egg against the lowly Carolina Panthers and then followed that up with a stinker against the hapless Indianapolis Colts. With plenty to play for, Gary Kubiak’s team couldn’t have cared less. So why would they bother to show up for a meaningless Week 17 game against the Titans?

Meanwhile, Tennessee has an opportunity to make the playoffs if they can win at 1:00 ET and then get some help at 4:00 ET. No matter what shakes down later in the day, the Titans have to come out of Sunday’s matchup with a win if they want any chance of advancing to the postseason.

This line opened at Tennessee -1.5 and was quickly bet up to the key number of -3 for all of the reasons I just laid out.

In a game that pits a highly-motivated team against a squad with nothing left to play for, I’ll side with the guys who actually want to win.

CHICAGO BEARS (7-8, 2-5 road) at MINNESOTA VIKINGS (3-12, 1-6 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: O/U 39
Current line: O/U 41
Current betting trends: 68% of the public is backing the OVER.

Chicago Bears: The OVER is 9-6 in 15 games played this season.
Minnesota Vikings: The OVER is 10-5 in 15 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The OVER is 20-9 in the Bears’ last 29 games following an ATS loss and 4-0 in the Vikings’ last four home games.

Analysis: On its surface, this game appears to feature two teams with absolutely nothing left to play for.

However, keep in mind that both of the starting quarterbacks in this matchup do have something left to play for: jobs in 2012.

Since making the switch from the dreadful Caleb Hanie to journeyman Josh McCown, here’s how the Chicago offense has fared:

4 games with Hanie: 11.8 pts/gm, 3.0 turnovers/gm, 262.0 total yds/gm

1 game with McCown: 21 points, 2.0 turnovers, 441 total yards

The Bears offense has clearly seen an uptick in production since moving to McCown. Throw in the fact that this game will be played indoors and it comes as no surprise that the early bettors steamed this total from 39 to 41 soon after it was posted in Las Vegas.

The Vegas Report: Week 16

As an early holiday present to Goal-Line Stand Nation (and also as an introductory section to this column), I’ve decided to throw out my favorite teaser play of the week to jump-start those gambling juices heading into Week 16 in the NFL.

For those of you who may be new to this little slice of heaven we call sports betting, a teaser is a bet in which you pick two teams to win against the spread. It’s just like a parlay, except you get to move the line six points in each game. You’ve got to outright win both sides to cash your ticket and for the six-point swings, books usually charge bettors an extra 10 percent.

JOE FORTENBAUGH’S LOCK ‘EM UP TEASER OF THE WEEK

Houston Texans (moved from -6 to a pick) at Indianapolis Colts

AND

Carolina Panthers (moved from -7 to -1) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The logic? The Colts may have come up big and put one in the win column last Sunday against the Tennessee Titans, but this is where their little streak comes to an end. Not going 0-16 is enough success for this team because there is no chance in hell Indy wants to jeopardize losing the top pick in next April’s draft. Remember, the Vikings and the Rams are both 2-12 at the current moment, so the pressure is on Indy to get back to its losing ways if it wants to have a shot at Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.

As for the Panthers, the loser Buccaneers have absolutely quit on the season. Tampa Bay has dropped eight straight games and if the Bucs couldn’t get up for a primetime showdown at home against the Dallas Cowboys last Saturday, they ain’t getting up for a meaningless Week 16 road game against an always-competitive Carolina Panthers team.

Best of luck and happy holidays!

OAKLAND RAIDERS (7-7, 4-3 road) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (6-8, 3-4 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Opening line: Kansas City -1
Current line: Kansas City -2.5
Current betting trends: 52% of the public is backing the Chiefs.

Oakland: 8-5-1 against the spread in 14 games played this season.
Kansas City: 8-6 against the spread in 14 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Raiders are 7-21-3 ATS in their last 31 games as an underdog of 0.5-3.0, while the Chiefs are 4-1 ATS in their last five games played in the month of December.

Analysis: This game didn’t cross my radar and as a result, wasn’t scheduled to appear in this column until something very interesting happened Wednesday afternoon at approximately 4:15 p.m. ET.

I was staring at the NationalFootballPost.com NFL odds page when an assortment of colors flashed across the screen almost simultaneously. For those of you who are new to our odds page, when a side or total moves at one of the seven sports books we have listed, the game appears in color as to alert you to the change.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. In a matter of seconds, four different shops moved Kansas City from -1 to either -2 or -2.5. For the uninitiated, this was no coincidence. Sports books keep in touch with one another as they are, at times, united against a common enemy. In this particular example, somebody (or a group of people working together aka a “syndicate”) came out firing on the Chiefs. As a result, four books around Vegas and offshore moved the line in unison to account for the sharp action.

As it stands Thursday afternoon, all seven books listed on NFP have the Chiefs posted at either -2 or -2.5

So what does this all mean? For starters, don’t assume it was public (i.e. “square”) money that forced the line move. Sharp sports books aren’t scared of square money and in addition, it would be near impossible for enough public money to come flying in to alter this line 1-1.5 points all across town.

The reality of the situation is that somebody considered as one of the best in the business decided to come out hot on the Chiefs and as a result, Vegas bookmakers adjusted the number out of respect for where the bet was coming from.

Hey, I could feed you guys ATS trends, stats and data until the cows come home. But when something like this comes along, we’d be foolish to let the information go unnoticed.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (6-8, 4-3 road) at DALLAS COWBOYS (8-6, 5-2 home)

Time: 4:15 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Opening line: Dallas -3
Current line: Dallas -1.5
Current betting trends: 60% of the public is backing the Eagles.

Philadelphia: 6-8 against the spread in 14 games played this season.
Dallas: 5-8-1 against the spread in 14 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Eagles are 15-6 ATS in their last 21 road games against teams with a winning home record, while the Cowboys are 0-4 ATS in their last four games against NFC East opponents.

Analysis: If the Eagles had lived up to expectations at this point in the season and were 10-4, would Vegas have opened Dallas as a 3-point favorite for this matchup?

The answer is no. And the key to remember in this game is that while Philadelphia may be 6-8 on the season, they sure as hell haven’t been playing like a losing football team as of late after blowing out the Dolphins and Jets by a combined score of 71-29 over the last two weeks.

While it may be too little, too late, the Birds are peaking as we approach the home stretch. Since 2000, Andy Reid’s Eagles are 36-13 (.734) in the NFL’s most critical month of the season. The defense leads the NFL in sacks (46) and the offense currently ranks third in the league in total yards per game (400.7 yds/gm).

The Cowboys may have put together a solid performance last Saturday against the crumbling Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but this team is just 3-10 ATS in their last 13 games as a home favorite and 1-7 ATS in their last eight games following a straight up win.

Just be sure to keep an eye on the early games before throwing down some of that hard-earned cheese on the boys in green. If the Giants manage to beat the Jets during the 1:00 p.m. slate of games, Philadelphia’s hopes of qualifying for the postseason are over.

ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-7, 2-5 road) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (8-6, 3-3 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET (Saturday)
Opening line: Cincinnati -5.5
Current line: Cincinnati -4
Current betting trends: 72% of the public is backing the Bengals.

Arizona: 8-6 against the spread in 14 games played this season.
Cincinnati: 7-5-2 against the spread in 14 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Cardinals are 8-1 ATS in their last nine Saturday games while the Bengals are 0-4-2 ATS in their last six games overall.

Analysis: For those of you who have been reading this column for the last few weeks, you know what comes next. For those of you who haven’t, listen up.

This game smells like a trap.

Despite the fact that 72 percent of the action is coming in on the Bengals, this line has moved 1.5 points toward the Cardinals. That means the big money is coming in on the red-hot team from Arizona.

And rightfully so. If you haven’t noticed, Ken Whisenhunt’s squad has ripped off six wins over their last seven games and has covered the number in six of their last eight outings. In addition, the Cardinals are 5-1 ATS in their last six games as an underdog.

While the Bengals are still fighting for a spot in the postseason, keep in mind that this team is 1-6 ATS in their last seven games as a home favorite of 3.5-10.0 and 7-21-1 ATS in their last 29 games as a favorite.

Cincinnati has put together an impressive season, but they’ve only won two of their last six games and in those two wins, the Bengals have come out on top by a combined 10 points.

Even when they win, it’s almost always a barnburner. That’s why it may come in handy to have those four points in your pocket come Saturday afternoon.

Former NFL agent Joe Fortenbaugh also writes for the National Football Post. Follow him on Twitter.

The Vegas Report: Week 15

NFL Network offers up another spectacular Thursday night game, as the 4-9 Jacksonville Jaguars once again find themselves in a prime-time showdown, this week against the Atlanta Falcons.

Am I crazy to ask how Jacksonville landed three prime-time games in 2011?  Nobody is interested in watching this football team and I’d be willing to bet that the same thing could be said even if the Jags were 10-3.

After opening as a 10.5-point favorite, the home Falcons were bet up to -12 for Thursday night, as 62% of the early action has come in on Matty Ice and Atlanta.

The Jags came out of nowhere to blow out the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend, possibly as a tribute to former head coach Jack Del Rio, who was finally shown the door after a mediocre tenure in Jacksonville that most felt should have ended sooner.

The Jaguars are 1-5-1 in their last seven games as a road underdog, while the Falcons are fighting for a playoff spot and are 7-2 ATS in their last nine December games.

Throwing down some money on this one is just about the only way to make it interesting.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-3, 5-2 road) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-5, 3-3 home)

Time: 4:15 p.m. ET
Opening line: New England -4.5
Current line: New England -6.5
Current betting trends: 83% of the public is currently backing the Patriots.

New England: 7-6 against the spread in 13 games played this season.
Denver: 7-6 against the spread in 13 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Patriots are 27-13 ATS in their last 40 games as a favorite of 3.5-10.0, while the Broncos are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 games after allowing less than 15 points in the previous game.

Analysis: It’s hard to say that there’s anything more exciting in the NFL at the current moment than watching the fourth quarter of a Denver Broncos game. Tim Tebow and company have ripped off six straight wins and have covered the number in five of their last six outings. If you’ve been on the train, I’d imagine your bank account looks flush heading into Week 15.

But here’s where this situation starts to get a bit dicey. Denver’s last six wins have come against Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, Philip Rivers, Christian Ponder and Caleb Hanie. With the possible exception of Rivers (when he’s not turning the ball over five times a game), none of those guys would ever be mentioned in the same breath as future Hall of Famer Tom Brady. So can the Broncos hang with a high-flying offense like the Patriots?

The early money says no, as no NFL line has garnered more action and movement in Week 15 than this one. Bookmakers sent this game out at NE -4.5 and were immediately bet up to NE -6.5.

The Patriots are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 road games, 9-4 ATS in their last 13 matchups against AFC opponents and 27-13 ATS in their last 40 outings as a favorite of 3.5-10.0. In addition, New England is averaging 32.3 points per game on the road this year, having scored 31 or more in six of seven away contests.

Books will be hesitant to move this line anymore towards New England, as that would open up a middle opportunity for early bettors. It’s interesting to see how little love is coming in on a team that has won six straight games and has covered the number in five of their last six outings, but the thought process around Vegas is that Tim Tebow and the Broncos might be poised for a fall. Five of their last six wins have featured a grand total of 30 or fewer points between the two teams.

Meanwhile, New England has won five straight games, four of which have seen the total amount of points scored eclipse 52.

TENNESSEE TITANS (7-6, 3-3 road) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (0-13, 0-6 home)

Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Opening line: Tennessee -7
Current line: Tennessee -6.5
Current betting trends: 90% of the public is currently backing the Titans.

Tennessee: 7-6 against the spread in 13 games played this season.
Indianapolis: 4-9 against the spread in 13 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Titans are 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a road favorite, while the Colts are 14-5-2 ATS in their last 21 games against teams with a winning record.

Analysis: At 0-13, we all know how bad the Indianapolis Colts have been this season. Just make sure that you take into account the fact that after failing to cover the spread in seven straight games, the Colts benched quarterback Curtis Painter in favor of Dan Orlovsky (more likely due to the losing and not the spread covering). Since making that move, Indy has covered two straight games, against the Patriots and Ravens, respectively.

Also take note of the fact that despite a staggering 90% of the early action coming in on Tennessee, this line has moved a half point towards the Colts, indicating that some big-money early bettors believe Orlovsky has the ability to make it three covers in a row.

In addition to Orlovsky’s recent run of spread-covering success, another tidbit that could favor the Colts in this one comes by way of the injury report, as veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffered a calf sprain in Week 14 and was held out of Wednesday’s practice as a result. If Hass is unable to go, rookie first-round pick Jake Locker will make his first career NFL start.

The Titans are 1-4 ATS in their last five games as a road favorite and 7-19 ATS in their last 26 games after amassing 250 or more passing yards in their previous contest.

The total for this game opened at 40.5 and was bet up to 41, despite the fact that the under is 11-2 in the last 13 meetings between these two teams.

It’s hard to imagine the Colts finally putting a notch in the win column, but it wouldn’t come as a complete shock to see them keep this thing close enough to cover.

BALTIMORE RAVENS (10-3, 3-3 road) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (6-7, 4-3 home)

Time: 8:20 p.m. ET (Sunday night)
Opening line: Baltimore -1
Current line: Baltimore -2.5
Current betting trends: 80% of the public is currently backing the Ravens.

Baltimore: 7-5-1 against the spread in 13 games played this season.
San Diego: 4-9 against the spread in 13 games played this season.

Interesting trends: The Ravens are 1-4 ATS in their last five games against teams with a losing record, while the Chargers are 4-1 ATS in their last five games played in the month of December.

Analysis: In my opinion, this is the most interesting game that Vegas has to offer this weekend. When breaking down this matchup, ask yourself this:  If the Bolts were 9-4 right now, what would the books have opened this game at?

Yes, San Diego has once again failed to live up to expectations, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’ve caught fire as of late, having won and covered in two straight while outscoring their opponents 75-24.

Another reason for the Bolts’ recent run of success is quarterback Philip Rivers’ newfound ability to protect the football. After throwing two or more interceptions in four of five games, Rivers has been pick-free over his last three outings.

Baltimore is coming off an ATS loss against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 14 and is 1-4 ATS in their last five games against teams with a losing record. In their only other trip to the west coast in 2011, the Ravens laid an egg at Seattle and got beat 22-17. Be advised that the home team is 6-2 ATS in the last eight meetings between these two franchises.

The early action and initial line movement both favor Baltimore in this one, as the Ravens are 4-0 ATS in their last four games as a favorite of 0.5-3.0. Still, I can’t help but feel like betting Baltimore could be the rough equivalent of walking into a bear trap in the woods when the only reason why you were out there was to pound a couple of beers.

Remember, San Diego is 17-2 outright in the month of December since Norv Turner took over in 2007.