Now just one game away from the Super Bowl, the New Orleans Saints will likely close as favorites of -3 or -3.5. vs. the Los Angeles Rams Sunday in the NFC Championship game (FOX, 2:05 p.m.).
The Saints take the majority of global betting money when the line is -3. The Rams take the majority at +3.5. Many stores were experimenting with varying levels of vigorish late in the week to manage their risk. Rather than using 11/10, or -110 in money line terms, shops have posted Saints -3 (-115), Saints -3 (-120), or even Saints -3 (-125). Stores with the hook (Vegas slang for a half-point) have Rams +3.5 (-115), Rams +3.5 (-120), or Rams +3.5 (-125).
That’s likely to continue to kickoff because three is such an important number in pro football. A meaningful percentage of evenly matched playoff battles will land exactly on that number. An exact result of Saints by three would be a disaster for books who hopped between -3 and -3.5. A game landing exactly on the three would mean bets on the Saints at -3 would push (money refunded), while bets on the Rams at +3.5 would cash.
Football fans with great memories will recall that the visiting Rams closed -2 in the Superdome for the regular season meeting between these teams back in Week Nine. That’s a HUGE adjustment over such a short period in this sport if major injuries aren’t involved. The composite sum of respected factors then believed the Rams were FIVE points better on a neutral field. Now, the Saints are seen as slightly superior because they get support at -3, the standard value for home field advantage.
That 45-35 victory for New Orleans is part of the reason why perceptions changed. Though the game was tied late … and yardage stats were almost even (Saints won 487-483) … Drew Brees and company fared better in stat categories that often swing big games.
November 4, 2018: Saints (+2) 45, Rams 35
Rushing yards: Saints 141, Rams 92
Third Down Conversions: Saints 58%, Rams 38%
Red Zone TD Pct: Saints 100% (5/5), Rams 60% (3/5)
Sunday, the talent and experience of Brees should still allow the Saints to move the chains more consistently, and to finish drives more often with touchdowns rather than field goals. Jared Goff and the Rams must try to counteract that with big plays or clutch passing in the red zone.
Saints’ skeptics will point out that New Orleans isn’t playing as well recently as it was at midseason. With last week’s non-cover vs. Philadelphia (winning only by six against a point spread of -8), the Saints have failed to cover four in a row, and are 1-5 ATS their last six. It would be 1-6 ATS their last seven if the Atlanta Falcons hadn’t imploded with turnovers on Thanksgiving night.
▪ Sunday’s Saints/Rams showdown will be followed by the AFC Championship game, New England at Kansas City (CBS, 5:40 p.m.). The Chiefs will likely close near a three-point favorite in what are expected to be very frigid conditions. These teams also met during the regular season. New England (-3.5) beat Kansas City 43-40 in Foxboro on October 15.
▪ Many sports books are already taking provisional bets for the Super Bowl (refunds for matchups that don’t happen). New Orleans is favored by 1.5 points over either AFC entry (though some believe that will rise because the Saints are well-suited to thrive in Atlanta). The Rams are pick-em vs. either the Chiefs or Patriots.
That information allows Jonathan Von Tobel and I to update VSiN’s estimate of “market” Power Ratings. Just a minor tweak from last week. We have it: New Orleans 87, LA Rams 86, Kansas City 86, New England 86. Be sure to watch Jonathan and NFL insider Michael Lombardi Saturday and Sunday morning on “Betting Across America.”
▪ The tightness of those ratings are reflected in composite futures prices to win the Super Bowl. Percentage equivalents are in parenthesis: New Orleans 7/4 (36%), Kansas City 5/2 (29%), LA Rams 7/2 (22%), New England 7/2 (22%). Those percentages add up to more than 100% because sports books build universes larger than 100% to create a house edge.
Should you avid Saints fans bet New Orleans on the futures board? It depends on the price you’re seeing at your local shop. Normally, VSiN recommends creating a rolling parlay at game-by-game money line odds rather than betting futures. But, in this case, there’s a chance New Orleans will become more expensive from a bandwagon effect caused by virtually “hosting” a Super Bowl in Atlanta (a site the Saints are familiar with from divisional action). Taking the Saints at +175 now (the money line equivalent of 7/4) might actually be better than waiting if you’re already certain you want to back the Saints to go all the way.