Oddsmakers were confronted with interesting challenges once all four matchups for the NFL’s Wildcard Weekend were locked in. How would they price games when prevailing sentiment was on three of the four road teams to spring minor upsets?
Home-field advantage is generally worth three points in the NFL. If two competing teams are perceived as evenly matched, then the host will usually open at -3. Oddsmakers knew that Houston -3 over Indianapolis, Dallas -3 over Seattle, and Baltimore -3 over the Los Angeles Chargers would draw heavily one-sided action on the road underdogs. Andrew Luck of the Colts is having a great season. The Seahawks and Chargers are both seen as legitimate Super Bowl dark horses because of strong defenses and offenses that can move the ball.
Who would bet on the Texans, Cowboys, and Ravens if it took at least a FOUR-point win to cash tickets against those high-quality threats? Then, the natural follow-up, what price BELOW the field go would bring in interest on the favorites?
In this weekend’s finale, surging Chicago would definitely be more than a field goal favorite at home against Philadelphia. Early uncertainty about the health status of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles complicated matters. Let’s see how it all played out.
▪ Indianapolis (+) at Houston (ESPN, 3:35 p.m. Saturday)
Many sports books opened at Houston -2.5 to see if that would balance interest. There were few takers on the Texans, with Colts money still coming in from respected money even though a full field goal wasn’t available. This was a telling sign that the market thought Indy was a live dog. Stores were testing Houston -2 on New Year’s Day. Such “testing” may continue through the time you read this and all the way to Saturday’s kickoff. What number would encourage “enthusiastic” investments on Houston? Would it take as low as pick-em?
▪ Seattle (+) at Dallas (FOX, 7:15 p.m. Saturday)
Basically the same story here, with an opener of Dallas -2.5 moving away from the key number of three. Bettors wanted no part of the Cowboys even on home turf. This line dropped to Dallas -1.5 during the New Year’s betting bonanza (the public betting the NFL early because it was already at sports books betting college football). Does nobody from the state of Texas want to support its teams?
▪ LA Chargers (+) at Baltimore (CBS, 12:05 p.m. Sunday)
Par for the course in terms of an opener at Baltimore -2.5. Though, dog interest was less aggressive in early betting. Some stores testing Baltimore -2 did see interest on the Ravens. Old school sharps in particular love betting on defensive-minded teams in the playoffs. It could turn out that we hop between Baltimore -2 and the LA Chargers +2.5 as the prevailing sentiment all week. Given New England’s inconsistency down the stretch, many sharps believe that this winner will tell us who is the true “second-best” in the AFC behind Kansas City.
▪ Philadelphia (+) at Chicago (NBC, 3:40 p.m. Sunday)
This one opened anywhere between Chicago -4.5 and Chicago -6 depending on the store. It was clear from the outset that many bettors were looking to take the Bears at anything better than six. Enough Philadelphia money comes in on the six to help balance the scales. Important to note that we haven’t seen buy back yet toward 5.5. That might happen if Nick Foles appears fully recovered from a rib injury in late-week workouts.
Be sure you monitor line moves from now through kickoff (ideally at vsin.com!). If you have a preferred side already, do your best to find a favorable price. Dog lovers are extremely unlikely to get +3 with either the Colts, Seahawks, or Chargers. Patience might pay off for those of you thinking about their opposing favorites.
▪ Weather could be a factor in Baltimore and Chicago, but definitely won’t be in Houston and Dallas thanks to stadium structure. Early Over/Unders have settled at 47.5 in Houston, and 43 in Dallas. Those aren’t likely to move much barring injury news. We’re seeing 41.5 in Baltimore, 41 in Chicago. Either (or both) could drop if chances increase for negative influences like wind, cold, or precipitation.
▪ New Orleans has a bye this week, awaiting the worst surviving NFC seed in the Divisional Round. That means Philadelphia if the Eagles upset Chicago, or the winner of Seahawks/Cowboys. Global markets still have the Saints as favorites to win the NFC at +110, and to win the Super Bowl at +250. (For newcomers, a $100 bet on the Saints to win the NFC would earn $110 in profit, a $100 bet on Drew Brees and company to win the Super Bowl would yield $250 in profit.)