Patriots (PK) and first half under 24 One thing about Super Bowls is they don't tend to start with a bang.
NFC title game parlay leg
49ers (+3.5) at Seahawks
Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick have squared off three times since coming into the league, with each quarterback holding serve on his home turf. Wilson holds a 2-1 edge, as Alex Smith was still piloting the 49ers when the teams met for the first time in October 2012. Whereas Seattle has played the Niners tough on the road (losing 13-6 last year and 19-17 on Dec. 8), it’s been a different story at CenturyLink Field, which has been a personal house of horrors for Kaepernick. In the two games he’s started there, San Francisco has lost by scores of 42-13 and 29-3, with Kaepernick turning the ball over a combined five times.
Given that the lines set by oddsmakers at this point in the season are as strong as they come, dissecting the number itself can often help point to one side right off the bat. In the case of this NFC Championship Game, taking into account simply Kaepernick’s track record in Seattle over the last two years, it’s noteworthy that the number is so low. After all, the Seahawks were favored by 3 points in the first matchup and blew the doors off San Francisco. To illustrate the peculiarity in the lack of a significant line adjustment, look at the pair of Saints-Seahawks games this year. In the first, Seattle opened as 5-point favorites and proceeded to administer a 34-7 thrashing of the Saints that had echoes of the two Seahawks-Niners games at CenturyLink. When lines opened for the playoff rematch last weekend, Seattle was giving 8.5 to 9 points. That’s anywhere from a 3- to 4-point adjustment. And a justifiable one, results notwithstanding (more on that in a moment). Yet in what appears to be a similar circumstance, oddsmakers merely added a hook to the original 3-point line, seemingly inviting action on Seattle. The question is why?
In short, the books think the Niners are the better team. Whereas all lines typically have an automatic 3 points to the home team built into them, the Seahawks are a special case due to their unparalleled home-field advantage. Because of that, most oddsmakers add at least an additional point onto the 3. Thus some basic arithmetic would indicate that if the Seahawks are issued an immediate 4 points for being at home and are 3.5-point favorites, oddsmakers are essentially saying the 49ers are the slightly better team on a neutral field. Of course, CenturyLink is the furthest thing from a neutral field, but the fact that the books are almost begging bettors to lay the relatively puny number with the favorite should raise an immediate red flag.
So what is it that oddsmakers see that recreational bettors may not? On the surface, both the Niners and Seahawks are coming off divisional playoff victories in which they struggled more than their backers probably anticipated. San Francisco was a pair of goal-line stands away from facing a potential 14-6 halftime deficit in Carolina. And Seattle, after carrying a 16-0 lead into the fourth quarter vs. the Saints, dodged what may have been a devastating bullet when Marques Colston – apparently by design – attempted a forward lateral at the Seattle 38-yard line when he could have stepped out of bounds and given his team at least one more play with a chance to tie the game.
A closer look at each game, however, would suggest the Seahawks were far closer to peril than the Niners. In the latter case, San Francisco could have been in jeopardy had the Panthers punched the ball into the end zone on one of their seven chances from inside the Niners 7-yard line over those two successive drives. However, given that 1) the fourth-down stop pinned San Francisco inside their own 5-yard line and resulted in a three-and-out that gave way to a long punt return and immediate Cam Newton-to-Steve Smith touchdown; and 2) Carolina still got a field goal out of the second drive, the Panthers only left a maximum of four points on the board. The 49ers then steamrolled them in the second half, scoring on both of their important drives while sacking Newton four times and intercepting him to essentially seal the game. Carolina had their chances, but the outcome was a case of a better and more experienced team making the necessary adjustments to prevail. More often than not, that’s what success in the playoffs is about.
The Seahawks, on the other hand, couldn’t have walked into more favorable circumstances vs. the Saints. Soaking rain pounded CenturyLink Field leading up to and through kickoff, and 30-40 mph wind gusts persisted during the game. The Saints’ first three drives ended thusly: shanked punt to the New Orleans 40; hooked 45-yard field goal due in part to a bad hold; Mark Ingram fumble at the New Orleans 24. While the resulting 13-0 deficit certainly could have been worse, the Saints were once again playing from substantially behind in the most hostile of environments. From that point on, though, the Saints were undoubtedly the superior team. They consistently moved the ball in horrible conditions, harassed Russell Wilson and generally controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. Bookending a disastrous start with a terrible finish simply proved too much for New Orleans to overcome.
Spinning things forward to the NFC title game, there is one factor above all that resulted in Seattle’s two lopsided victories over San Francisco the last two years: the play of the respective quarterbacks. Kaepernick’s performance obviously begins and ends with his 1/4 touchdown/interception ratio and the five overall turnovers. Wilson, for his part, submitted one sensational showing (15-for-21, 171 yards, four touchdowns, one interception in 2012) and one passable effort (8-for-19, 142 yards, one touchdown, one interception earlier this season). While the signal-callers played to a virtual stalemate in December, the two – and their respective offenses as a whole – have trended in opposite directions since that Week 14 contest.
Kaepernick has completed 59.2 percent of his passes, averaged 13.4 yards per completion and thrown seven touchdowns against just one interception while leading San Francisco to five wins in as many tries – including back-to-back road playoff victories – in that stretch. He’s been sacked a total of 11 times and the Niners have put up 27.2 points per game, scoring at least 23 in each. Wilson has completed 55.7 percent of his passes and averaged 11.1 yards per completion with a 3/2 touchdown/interception ratio. He’s been sacked a total of 15 times in just four games and Seattle has scored an average of 20.8 points per contest, which included their first home loss of the Wilson era, a 17-10 setback to Arizona in Week 16.
With both teams boasting balanced defenses and efficient rushing attacks, the NFC Championship Game will come down to the quarterbacks. The Seahawks may have the crowd, but the Niners have the hotter hand. Kaepernick is returning to his house of horrors a different player. That’s why the line in this game is so tantalizingly low. And that’s why San Francisco is the side to ride for bettors making NFL parlays on Championship Weekend.
Playoff picks: 8-1
Playoff parlays: 3-1
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