DIRECT FROM NEVADA
WITH NICK BOGDANOVICH
It's been a very interesting week for sharps as they ponder how to play this weekend's NFL playoff games.
There are key numbers involved in all four of the matchups, with one game stationed near a field goal and the other three at a touchdown. You regulars know that sharps generally like taking underdogs near key numbers. Some will play favorites in the postseason if they believe strongly in home field advantage for a side, or in the fatigue advantage. Obviously they want to take advantage of the key number on that end of the spectrum as well.
Let me run through all four games to show you what the sharps are thinking about this week's card. As always, we'll take the games in schedule order...
ARIZONA AT NEW ORLEANS: This line opened at New Orleans -6½, and moved fairly quickly to the seven. That may just be some early position-taking because sharps assumed the squares (the general public) would be on New Orleans in a home game, and they wanted to set up a middle involving the key number of seven.
I do think there are some sharps who like the Saints at less than a TD though. Remember that Arizona's defense allowed 45 points and 493 yards last week to Green Bay...and now they'll be facing the potent New Orleans attack that had a week to get ready (really more considering how they rested their starters late in the season). The surface at New Orleans is also faster than the one in Arizona too, which might help the Saints run up the score. Obviously sharps who like New Orleans will act early at the lowest possible line. Sharps who like the Cards will wait and see if they can get an even better line later in the week.
Will the squares come in on New Orleans? Squares are tired of losing to Kurt Warner! They were burned by him last year...and some were burned by him again last week. Remember how much that Green Bay line moved. A lot of that was square money that went down the tubes. Between the rate New Orleans was burning money late in the season, and the rate that Warner has burned square money as an underdog, we may not see the Saints get overriding game day support. I'm interested myself to see how that plays out.
The total opened at 56 and went to 57. A lot of sharps will automatically play Unders with numbers in the 50's. The long term history of the league shows that's actually a very sound strategy. Of course, if last week's Green Bay/Arizona game had been totaled at 50, it still would have gone Over by 46 points! The math guys who liked the Over bet early, figuring the public will naturally play the Over in an anticipated shootout. Systems guys who automatically play high Unders will wait to see if they can get a 58 or better on game day.
What's the sharp side? I think you'll see most sharps on the dog and Under (like normal). There are subsets of sharps who will make a case for rested New Orleans at home against tired Arizona on the team side, and the Over based on how last week's GB/Arizona game went. Not a sharp consensus here.
BALTIMORE AT INDIANAPOLIS: This line is probably destined to hop between Indy by 6½ and 7. Sharps will take Baltimore +7 in a heartbeat because they've got the better defense, and a quality team that is known to play close games vs. other top teams. Even if Baltimore loses, they'll probably keep it close is the theory. I know a lot of guys who like Baltimore to win because they're due to win some close games, and because Peyton Manning is due to lose one!
A line of -6½ will probably bring out square bettors on the Colts though. They love betting Peyton Manning at home. They like taking the bye teams in the playoffs historically. A number like 6½ just jumps out at them because a TD victory wins their bet for them. That will set up one-sided action at -6½ one way, and at +7 the other most likely. Sportsbooks will be in bad shape if the game lands on 7. Nobody will lose and half the people will win.
The total dropped from 46½ down to 44 early on. There's clear respect for the Baltimore defense, that's been playing much better lately than they were earlier this season. That unit dominated the win over New England, making Tom Brady look pretty helpless. Sharps who like Baltimore almost automatically like the Under because of game style. The fact that 45 is a key number helped bring that total down as well. The math guys didn't get an Over here...so only Under money came in early on. Squares will bet the Over on game day, particularly if the first game of the TV doubleheader goes Over.
The sharp plays are definitely Baltimore and Under in this one pending weekend developments with news or injuries.
DALLAS AT MINNESOTA: Once again we're seeing the dog and Under here. Dallas +3 was very appealing to sharps who believe that the Cowboys are the best team in the NFC right now. You saw the huge sharp action last week on Dallas when the line vs. Philly jumped from -1½ up to -4. Those guys obviously didn't fall out of love with the Cowboys after the 34-14 win! The only decision to make was whether to bet Dallas at +3 and show their hands...or to wait and see if the public's love of Brett Favre might provide a 3½ at some point.
The consensus midweek was that +3 might be as good as it was going to get from the Dallas perspective, so you might as well take it while it's there. I can tell you that many sharps really LOVE Dallas here at +3. Minnesota closed the season poorly, keyed by awful pass protection. Dallas hassled Donovan McNabb all last week. Sharps expect a reply. On game day, we may be seeing only 2½ or 2...and I'll have to decide what the value play is at the new number for my clients.
The total fell from 48 down to 46, and then to 45½. Similar story here to the Baltimore/Indy game. If you like the dog's defense, you're going to like an Under if you're seeing a number in the mid to high 40's. That's a pretty big move, suggesting very strong sentiment at key numbers like 48 and 47. Has it moved too far? Ask me on Sunday!
NY JETS AT SAN DIEGO: San Diego opened at -9. Sharps couldn't believe their eyes and immediately jumped on the Jets at +9, +8½, +8, and +7½. Sharps love defense in the playoffs, and the Jets have the best defense in the league. Sharps also like a strong running game, and New York should own the point of attack on that side of the ball as well. A line of SD -9 might stand up if you're only dealing with the public. They like laying points at home with the Chargers. This is a team that does win a lot of blowouts when things are going well. Sportsbooks aren't only dealing with the public though. They'll be hoping the public comes in over the weekend and takes the Chargers...then they'll be hoping the game doesn't land on 8!
A relatively low opening total of 42½ (low for a San Diego home game) hasn't budged much. Sharps usually combine dogs with Unders when they love a defense. This number was so low relative to the others that sharps decided to wait to see if they'd get help from the public. A high scoring weekend might trigger Over bets that shoot this number up to 43 or 44. Sharps are looking to play the Under. They just haven't acted yet.
Definitely a dogs and Under weekend for sharps...which is almost universally the case in sports betting anyway because the public shades toward favorites and Overs. This particular weekend, sharps are looking at the defenses of the NY Jets, Baltimore, and Dallas...which is an amazingly powerful group all things considered. In their minds, this isn't a "cross your fingers and hope the dogs play well" kind of weekend. They're very pleased with their positions and the defenses that will be battling to win their bets.
Will I be betting the party line all weekend? I usually DON'T because the sharp moves take the lines too far from center. I have as much respect for defenses as anybody. You have to if you study any sport for decades like I have. I also respect home field advantage in this round...and the fact that some top quality teams are designed for thriving at their home stadiums. I have a very interesting weekend ahead of me in terms of the sides and the totals. I'm confident right now that at least ONE play will be perhaps my strongest NFL release so far this season.
“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”