Line report: Championship Weekend

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Line report: Championship Weekend

The NFL’s final four is set, and not only are the matchups a dream scenario for the NFL and casual football fans, they are also exactly what the sportsbooks anticipated when establishing preseason odds and matchups. Back in July when OTAs were beginning, bettors would have found the Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos and Patriots – in some order – as the four odds-on Super Bowl favorites, no matter the book.

In an era that has seen a team with 10 wins or fewer at least make – if not win – the Super Bowl in five of the last six years, the fact that the teams competing on Championship Weekend each finished the regular season with at least 12 victories would appear to be out of the ordinary. That’s not the case. Oddsmakers are going to be accurate more often than not, and this season has essentially represented a return to the mean. The cream was bound to rise to the top once again after a handful of outlier years. In other words, what has happened in 2013 is far closer to the rule than the exception.

While the consensus top four teams are set to compete for spots in Super Bowl XLVIII, the routes they’ve taken to reach this juncture have little in common. Seattle was afforded the rare luxury of cruising to the No. 1 seed in the NFC, their status as top dogs barely challenged. Of course, that was a direct result of the 49ers’ slow start, attributable at least in part to Michael Crabtree’s recovery from a torn Achilles. The Broncos had to play catchup in their own division well into the second half of the season. And the Patriots, despite knocking off Denver and briefly controlling their own destiny for the No. 1 seed, were steamrolled by key injuries. Thus while the final four may be what pundits and oddsmakers predicted, everything that’s transpired to this point will have a major say in which team ultimately emerges.

One thing bettors can be assured of is that as the playoffs continue, the NFL betting lines established by oddsmakers only get stronger. Because of that, accurately predicting the moves of the betting market in advance of Championship Weekend is paramount to success.

In the case of the AFC Championship Game, the Broncos opened as anywhere from 5.5 to 7-point favorites over New England soon after finishing off the Chargers on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots almost immediately became a steam play, with wiseguys and the public alike taking the points. By Monday, the consensus line across Vegas and offshore was Denver -4.5. That’s a huge adjustment. However, considering 79 percent of tickets have already come in on the Patriots – coupled with Monday’s news that Denver cornerback Chris Harris has a torn ACL – it’s hard to see the market swinging back in Denver’s favor. Therefore, bettors who want to get down on New England should probably do so sooner than later. Conversely, assuming the betting market continues to favor Tom Brady’s side, bettors who like Denver should refrain from making a play on the game until later in the week, as that -4.5 could very well drop another half-point.

The NFC Championship Game is a bit of a different story, as the major Vegas books opened the Seahawks as 3.5-point favorites over San Fran. Because the key number of 3 is directly in play, oddsmakers will first adjust the juice on 3.5 in an effort to stay off of 3. However, where this game is similar to its AFC counterpart is in the early betting trends, as 70 percent of the tickets had come in on the 49ers by Monday evening. With San Francisco seeming to be the team peaking at the right time and playing its best football when it matters most, the betting market is likely going to continue to favor the Niners. Again, what that means is bettors who want a piece of San Francisco should put their money down now and get that +3.5, because if current trends hold, that hook is going to start to disappear as the week goes on. On the other hand, just like in the case of Denver, bettors who want a piece of Seattle should be patient, as all signs point to the number settling at 3 before all is said and done.

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