Las Vegas Sharps Report-NFL WildCard Weekend
We have four games to look at this weekend, so I can go a bit more in depth in the comments. Normally we're looking at anywhere from 14-16 games depending on byes, and the comments have to stay pretty brief.
As always, I'll take the games in rotation order. Here's what the sharps (professional wagerers in Las Vegas and Reno) think about this weekend's NFL action.
NY JETS AT CINCINNATI: There was very strong support for the NY Jets and the Under at the opening numbers. The Bengals opened up at -3½, and the line is all the way down to -1½ or -2 as I write this. This is a HUGE move because it crosses the magic number of three. And, it represents a big misread from oddsmakers with that opening number. They figured people would want to bet the favored Bengals, and charged them that extra half point for the honor. Instead, sharps pounded the Jets at +3½, at +3, and even some more at +2½ even though the field goal was out of the loop. Many sharps think the Jets are going to win this game.
Is that an overreaction to last week's win by the Jets? Sharps tend not to overreact to TV results. That's what squares do. I think the sharps have noted with a keen eye that Cincinnati has struggled to score points offensively for several weeks now. Carson Palmer has been awful (possibly hiding an injury?). If you can't score vs. an average assortment of opponents, you're going to have big trouble against the Jets.
That line of thinking has also led to Under bets by most sharps. We're now seeing 34 or 34½ in most places. That total could go down more if weather is going to be an issue. Note that both of these teams have good defenses, so a playoff game in tough weather will make scoring very difficult.
Clearly the combination of Jets and Under was the sharp combination when lines first went up, and after the initial moves. Sharps have stopped betting at the current numbers. Conceivably some might buy back on game day to shoot middles. I think the sharps are happy with their positions though pending any new developments.
I don't want to suggest that the sharps like the Jets to run roughshod through the playoffs. This is still a team with a shaky offense and a guy who hasn't been a head coach before. They do think the Jets offered underdog value in this particular spot though. Cincinnati just hasn't been playing very well.
PHILADELPHIA AT DALLAS: Another HUGE move here that crossed the magic number of three. Again, oddsmakers did a poor job of anticipating sharp action. Many sharps liked Philadelphia last week on the road at Dallas. Oddsmakers figured they'd knee jerk on the Eagles again figuring there's no way that Donovan McNabb and company would lose twice in a row on the same field. Well, the sharps did a 180 and pounded Dallas at the opener of -1½. They kept pounding at -2, and -2½, and -3, and now the line is all the way up to -4!
The sharps I've talked to are now believers in the Cowboys. They don't think the win at New Orleans was a fluke. They don't think last week was a fluke. They see a combination of offense and defense that will serve Dallas well in the playoffs. Frankly, I was a little surprised by the passion given the past history of Wade Phillips and Tony Romo. Guys suddenly LOVE Dallas!
I have to admit that sharps aren't that fond of Donovan McNabb in the playoffs. He has a shaky history at best, particularly when the team is expected to do well. That was true several years ago. Remember that Philly was a favorite in the NFC championship game last year but lost to Arizona.
The Cowboys are on a roll. They're at home. And, they're facing Donovan McNabb. That was enough to put many sharps on Dallas. I do expect some Philly money to hit this weekend. Not ALL sharps think that way. Many play mostly underdogs anyway. Many like quality underdogs getting more than a field goal. And, there is still a belief that it's hard for one good team to win two in a row over another one when both are trying...and that it's hard for one good team to beat another three straight times over the course of a season. There was no reason to bet Philly early given the flow of the line movements. Guys who like the Eagles will see what the public does on Saturday and will take what they can get pointswise.
The total has fallen from 48½ all the way down to 45 even though weather won't be an issue. I think that's a reflection of the quality defense the Cowboys have been playing. Philly struggled against them last week. New Orleans struggled most of the night in the loss that ended the Saints undefeated run. San Diego didn't light up the scoreboard in their road win on this field. If Dallas keeps playing defense like that, then 48½ was definitely way too high.
BALTIMORE AT NEW ENGLAND: As in the other AFC game, we have early money on the underdog and Under here as well. The passion wasn't as intense. Baltimore opened at +4 but has fallen down to +3. The opening total of 44 is down to 43 as I write this.
The support for Baltimore is based, from what I'm hearing, on their competitive play against good teams this year. They had troubles winning straight up on the road, but they were in every game...and easily could have posted a record like 11-5 or 12-4 with a few more breaks. You want a team like THAT getting more than a field goal in a playoff game!
There's also a belief that New England's one of those teams this year that runs up the score on weak opposition, but has trouble shaking quality. This just isn't your normal Patriots team this year. And, the injury to Wes Welker last week makes it even worse. There's also all the talk about Tom Brady being injured. The Patriots didn't cover a single playoff game two seasons ago when he got hurt during their run at history.
You'll note though that the line never moved past the magic number of three. The Jets flew through the three as an underdog play. Dallas demolished it as a favorite. Sharps were hitting Baltimore much harder at +4 and +3½ than they are at the current number.
Should weather be a factor on Sunday, this total could come down even further. Next week's games will be played in three domes and San Diego, so this is the week to pay close attention to the weather!
GREEN BAY AT ARIZONA: There are a lot of believers in Green Bay right now. They closed the season on fire, and appear to have all the pieces in place. We're talking about a great defense, and a quarterback who's come into his own. Sharps have been impressed, and weren't afraid here to ask a road team to win twice in a row at the same road site.
Green Bay opened +2½, which oddsmakers thought might dissuade Packers money because people don't normally like being on the short side of three. Sharps didn't mind at all. They hit Green Bay at +2½, +2 and +1½, expecting Green Bay to win the game.
Has everyone given up on Arizona? The Cards are still seen as a team that got a bit lucky last year rather than a true champion. Maybe it's better to say they got hot at the right time. It's not like they kept catching lucky breaks every game. They got hot and kept pulling shockers. Sharps believe that run is over for now, though they'll have to rethink it next week if Arizona wins here and advances.
The total has come down from 48½ to 47, which I believe is in deference to Green Bay's strong defense. That's all four Unders that have been hit. Sharps like Unders in playoff games historically. This week, they didn't even wait to let squares bet the Overs. They jumped right in at what they considered +EV lines.
In sum, we have all four Unders representing sharp totals at the early lines (though the money has stopped coming in at the current totals), and mostly and underdog slate with NYJ, Baltimore, and Green Bay. Dallas is the only favorite that got support, but they got a lot in early action. We may see some buyback on Philadelphia come Saturday.
it is what it is...