01/21/2014 05:59 PM
The Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks have been on a collision course all season and will now meet in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Broncos are a slight favorite, a consensus minus-1.5, but they didn't start out that way. Let's recap how we got here before discussing where the line could go.
In the AFC title game, the Broncos closed as a consensus 5-point home favorite over the New England Patriots and the total got bet up to 57.5 with unseasonably nice weather (63 degrees at kickoff) in Denver. However, the shootout never materialized as the Broncos dominated early to build a 13-3 halftime lead (covering the 3-point first-half spread) and extended it to 23-3 early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots cut the final margin to 26-16 to make it interesting, but they failed on a two-point conversion after their TD with 3:07 remaining that could have cut the lead down to 8 and made it a one-score game. The Broncos then recovered the ensuing onside kick and ran out the clock.
In the NFC title game, the Seahawks closed as a consensus 3.5-point home favorite, but it was the San Francisco 49ers who looked like they were primed to win their third straight road game of these playoffs as Aldon Smith stripped Russell Wilson and recovered the fumble on the first play from scrimmage to set the early tone. However, the 49ers were limited to a field goal and despite their early dominance only led 10-3 at halftime. The Seahawks rallied in the second half to tie the game 10-10 on Marshawn Lynch's 40-yard TD run. After the 49ers answered to go back up 17-10 on Colin Kaepernick's laser-like 26-yard TD pass to Anquan Boldin, the Seahawks cut it to 17-13 on a Steven Hauschka 47-yard field goal and then took a 20-17 lead when coach Pete Carroll called back the FG unit on a fourth-and-7 and Wilson connected with Jermaine Kearse on a 35-yard TD pass. Hauschka added a 40-yard field goal (after a wild sequence in which the 49ers had a goal-line stand -- and had to overcome a blown fumble call by the refs -- to keep the Seahawks from going up by 10) to make the final score 23-17 and give Seattle and its backers the point-spread cover.
But that game had more drama as the 49ers mounted a last drive that could have flipped everything (the ATS result, the outright money line result and the over/under as it closed a consensus 41). Kaepernick drove the 49ers from their own 22-yard line to the Seahawks' 18 before trying to hit Michael Crabtree in the back of the end zone, but Seattle CB Richard Sherman deflected the pass and it was intercepted by LB Malcolm Smith to send the Seahawks to the Super Bowl.
So after underdogs had dominated these playoffs with a 5-2-1 ATS record through the first two rounds, both home favorites covered Sunday in the conference championship games to cut the dogs' lead to 5-4-1 ATS heading to the Super Bowl. In totals wagering, the under hit in both games Sunday (though some bettors who got over 39 or 39.5 for the 49ers-Seahawks game earlier in the week would disagree) and improved to 8-2 in the playoffs.
Here is what I learned this weekend, along with an analysis of the early Super Bowl XLVIII line:
Tuley's Takeaways from Conference Championship Games
1. When Peyton Manning is in a rhythm, the Broncos are nearly unstoppable, but ...
Manning put on a clinic Sunday, passing for 400 yards and leading six straight scoring drives between their opening possession, which ended with a punt, and their final one, in which they ran out the clock. The Broncos have been a quick-strike offense all season, but Sunday they had two seven-minute drives to keep Tom Brady & Co. off the field and take control of the game. However, the Seahawks' defense is much stronger than the Patriots', and it remains to be seen if Manning can be as effective if the weather isn't ideal in two weeks at the Meadowlands.
2. The Seahawks keep pounding away despite all obstacles, but ...
The resiliency shown by the Seahawks on Sunday was impressive. They held the 49ers to a field goal after Wilson's fumble on the very first play gave San Francisco a short field, and even though the 49ers appeared they were in control, the Seahawks stayed in the game. Even after tying the game at 10 and falling behind 17-10, they chipped away with a field goal and then the big fourth-down play from Russell to Kearse. And of course, the defense came up with the stop at the end to secure the victory. Now, the question is if they can do it against the Broncos and away from home. They routed the Giants 23-0 at the Meadowlands in the dress rehearsal five weeks ago, though not many people mistook the Giants for the Broncos this season.
3. Check the betting stats of the remaining teams for clues
As those who follow this column every week know, the Seahawks tied the 49ers during the regular season with the league's best ATS record at 11-5. The Broncos were a game behind at 10-6. They both fell short against the closing line in their divisional playoff wins, but they covered on Sunday to stand at 12-6 and 11-7, respectively. No major edge there. But while the last section of the column will focus on how the point spread got bet into shape, let's take a look at the over/under as it's interesting to note that even though the Broncos were an over team most of the season (sitting at 11-2 with the over after their 13 games), they've now stayed under the total in five straight games. The Seahawks have stayed under in their past seven games and are 12-6 with the under.
Super Bowls are often high-scoring affairs with their long commercial breaks aiding the offenses in usually ideal conditions, but this year the over/under has been set lower with possible inclement weather in the Meadowlands, and while some offshore books went as high as 50, the LVH opened at only 47 with most books falling in between. As of early Monday morning, it appears the over/under is settling at 48, but even though the public might try to bet the number higher (though that could change if we get bad weather forecasts), keep in mind how comfortable these teams have been in playing relatively low-scoring games.
2013 NFL ATS Standings
Team ATS Streak O/U Streak
Courtesy ViewFromVegas.com. All records based on VFV consensus closing lines; teams listed by ATS winning percentage, with first tiebreaker being straight-up record, then ATS streak; O=over, U=under, P=push
Seattle Seahawks (15-3) 12-6 W1 6-12 U7
Denver Broncos (15-3) 11-7 W1 11-7 U5
Early line moves
Here is a look at the opening line for Super Bowl XLVIII. We've used the LVH SuperBook as our "book of record" here in Las Vegas since the Stardust closed in 2006, but the opening line varied from Seahawks minus-2 there to Broncos minus-1 at the CRIS offshore book. Let's take a look at how the opener got bet into shape and where it could go over in the nearly two weeks until the big game.
Super Bowl XLVIII LVH Opener
(Home team on bottom)
Broncos o/u 47
Opening line: Seahawks -2 versus Broncos (at the Meadowlands): As stated in my Sunday night piece, the advance lines for this matchup were mostly Seahawks minus-2.5 or minus-3 at not just the LVH but other books here in Vegas. After the Broncos' impressive win over the Patriots, there was sentiment among bookmakers I talked with and on Twitter that the Broncos might end up being the favorite or at least be around pick 'em. At the two-minute warning of the 49ers-Seahawks game (6:44 p.m. PT by my watch), the Don Best screen was silent as a mouse on Christmas Eve. But when Malcolm Smith intercepted Kaepernick's pass in the end zone, it lit up like a Christmas tree as sports books here and offshore raced to take action even before the clock ran out.
A few offshore books went with pick 'em while CRIS opened for Broncos minus-1, but the LVH stuck with its numbers and opened the Seahawks minus-2 at 6:50 p.m. PT. That was the highest opener posted Sunday night, but they weren't alone in making Seattle the favorite. The MGM and South Point went with Seahawks minus-1.5 while the Wynn, William Hill and Treasure Island went with minus-1. The Caesars group on the Strip went with pick 'em as did Cantor Gaming, Station Casinos and Boyd Gaming. (Note: All lines and times either witnessed live on the Don Best screen and/or verified in their archives.)
The vast majority of early bets came in on the Broncos, and by 7:16 p.m. PT, the Broncos were favored at all the offshore books. It took only 11 more minutes (7:27 p.m. PT) for the LVH to be the last Vegas book to make the switch complete.
In the meantime, Station Casinos had led the way for the Vegas books by going to Broncos minus-1 at 7:02 p.m. PT, then to minus-1.5 at 7:07 p.m. PT, then to minus-2 at 7:16 p.m. PT, then to minus-2.5 at 7:22 p.m. and then minus-3 at 7:24 p.m. PT. That lasted less than 4 minutes until the Seattle money finally showed up to knock it back down to 2.5, and that's where Stations sat the rest of the night. By 8:30 p.m. PT when I filed my Sunday night report, the consensus was Broncos minus-1.5 with several books still as low as minus-1, including the LVH, MGM, Caesars and Aliante, with Boyd Gaming joining Stations at 2.5.
We'll see where the lines go from here, but it appears that Broncos minus-3/Seahawks plus-3 was the tipping point and it's likely that's where the buyback on the Seahawks will come quickly if it gets bet that high again at any book. There's also a lot of people with the opinion that the Seahawks are more suited for bad weather, so if there are inclement weather reports (which will be followed by everyone talking about Manning's poor record in poor weather, such as SportsInsights.com having him 1-5 ATS since 2003 in games with a kickoff temperature at