Market Watch: Who Are the Sharps Betting? NFL Conference Championship Weekend

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With last week’s Divisional Round being the first in history that had the public, at one point, backing every single underdog (Saints would go on to close consensus side), the foreshadowing was ominous, for what would be a week of domination by favorites and a tough week for the majority of spread bettors. All four home favorites would go on to win their respective games, with three of the four covering (two in blowouts), and the Saints being the one team not to cover at home – ironically the one favorite the public would end up backing.

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The sides I identified as the sharper ones went 2-2: with the Chiefs and the Rams covering comfortably, the Saints two points and one late missed field goal short of a cover, and the Chargers getting blown out as the obvious wrong side. As a result, road teams and underdogs are now 5-3 ATS in the 2019 Playoffs. The under is also 5-3 in these Playoffs, which I mention because with only two games this week, I will consider totals in addition to sides in my market analysis.

As the weekend slate shrinks, and we progress further on into the postseason, the Conference Championships will be some of the sharpest numbers we will see all year. And while the openers will reach their utmost efficiency, public money will still have its say; and if we are looking to capitalize on any over-reaction to what has taken place thus far, perhaps it will be in looking for value in overs and home favorites, where there lies the potential for Recency Bias to create some edges.

A few rather significant line moves have already hit the board early on in the week, and the Conference Championship round – though consisting of only two games drawing heavy attention – may be piquing the interest of some sharper bettors. And the value in having public money often times over-shadowing the sharp in such high-profile games is that we may have a chance to fully join in on these positions; while in a normal week, the best numbers are gone for good when played. Therefore, let us see if we can capitalize on these unique opportunities presented to us by Conference Championship Week in this edition of NFL MarketWatch.

Los Angeles Rams @ New Orleans Saints

Off-shore Opening Line: NO – 3.5 -135
Consensus Current Line: NO – 3.5 +100
Off-shore Betting Consensus: LA 54%

Opening Total: 56.5 -115/-105
Consensus Current Total: 56.5 -110
Betting Consensus: 55% Over

While failing to cover as eight-point chalk in the Divisional Round, and getting down 0-14, with a sluggish start, the Saints actually dominated the stats against Eagles: outgaining Philly 420-250, winning YPP by 0.6, getting 25 first downs to 15, and controlling time of possession 37:50 to 22:10 in running 71 total plays to 47. Couple this performance over the red-hot defending Super Bowl Champions with the fact that the Saints already beat the Rams by double digits as a two-point underdog earlier in the season, and it’s surprising that LA is the team receiving the majority of spread bets early on in the week.

The Rams were dominant themselves in the Divisional Round, as a seven-point favorite over the Cowboys: outgaining Dallas 459 to 308, moving the sticks 30 times to 19, controlling time of possession 36:13 to 23:47, and running for 273 yards to Dallas’ 50. Was it a dominant enough of performance to make the Rams the trendy road dog that they are this week? Or, is it simply the eye test that has the Rams a trendy Divisional Round Dog? Or perhaps, the difficulty of winning a rematch within an NFL season? Whatever the contributing narrative, The Rams are the rare public dog of the Conference Championship Round, and from what the market is telling us up to this point, I’m not sure the sharper money agrees.

With a consensus that has steadily favored LA since opening and has gone to as high as 60/40 in favor of the Rams, the market, for most part, has barely budged. Some of the sharpest books, such as Pinnacle and Matchbook, have even trended a bit in the opposite direction, moving off the heavily juiced three and up to as high as Saints – 3 -108 (at Pinnacle), but settling at plus money on the Saints laying the hook. A few of the major off-shores, such as BetCris and Bookmaker have moved with the consensus, testing the waters with numbers as cheap as 3 -110 on the Saints, but these only lasted minutes, before the juice was elevated on the favorite.

Currently, the market isn’t quite settled at a consensus price: with 3 -115 being the cheapest price on the Saints, at 5Dimes and BetCris, NO – 3 -118 available at BetOnline, NO – 3 -120 the price at MyBookie, and NO – 3.5 plus money the price at Pinnacle, Matchbook, and the Greek. All this points to the Saints being the sharper lean in the market, and with the highest limit books having moved up to soft 3.5, laying three at any price is relatively valuable, considering it has already been laid up at prices as high as 3 -138 (Matchbook) at the sharpest off-shores.

As for the total, it has trended downward a tad, against a consensus that has favored the over at a 55% rate. With your most recreationally-driven shops such as Bovada and MyBookie at 57 -110, and your higher limit books having made the move down to 56.5, the sharp lean in the market is clear. The bigger money is taking the under here, and any number higher than 56.5 is worth a look, especially at -110, where you’re getting a price that is already gone at the sharpest off-shores.

New England Patriots @ Kansas City Chiefs

Off-shore Opening Line: KC – 3 -104
Consensus Current Line: KC – 3 -115
Off-shore Betting Consensus: KC 55%

Opening Total: 57 – 105/-115
Consensus Current Total: 55.5 -115/105
Betting Consensus: 52 % Under

As seems to be the case every time the betting world finally begins to ascertain the demise of the Patriots dynasty, New England finds a way to leave the doubters with thinner wallets and deflated egos. The Divisional Round performance from the Pats was a pure example of this phenomenon; in receiving the minority of bets and getting bet down to as low as a 3.5-point favorite from the NE – 4.5 opening number, they made easy work out of the Chargers. One would think that maybe the betting public would learn its lesson and be all over the Patriots in an extremely rare underdog role the following week, but that is simply not the case in this Divisional Round matchup in Kansas City.

The Chiefs were another team doubted by public bettors in the Divisional Round, drawing only 41% of the bets as a five-point favorite and blowing out the Colts, 31-12. In another rematch from the regular season, which had the Patriots win by three in a shootout in Foxborough, the Chiefs laying a field goal at home seems the logical line. Is the betting public underestimating the home/road dichotomies of these two teams, and failing to realize that laying just a field goal isn’t quite enough for the offensive juggernaut that is the Mahomes-led Kansas City Chiefs? Or have we all failed to fully appreciate the greatness of the Patriots when it matters most, in which case, catching a field goal in this situation is a rare gift? As subtle as the lean is, I’d say that the sharper money prefers the former.

Since opening off-shore with Kansas City as a soft three-point favorite, the market has very slowly, but steadily trended in the Kansas City direction. This could be expected with 55% of the action coming in on the favorite, so the movement in juice isn’t very predictive of a sharp lean in the market to either side.

Where the slightest of leans in the can be found, however, is in the wide range of prices in juice to be found abroad, from the -3 -109, +3 +105 available at Matchbook to the – 3 -125 +3 +105 available at BetCris. Matchbook, in being at the cheap end of the spectrum of the Kansas City side would usually point to the sharp lean being in the other direction, but it’s also important to note that they are offering the cheapest price on New England as well at +3 +105.

Pinnacle is nestled right in the middle of the market at – 3 -115/ +3 +103, and while this does make the Chiefs 10% more attractive compared to the -3 -125/+ 3 +105 at BetCris, and the 3 -125/+3 +105 at Bookmaker, it also makes the Patriots slightly more attractive as well at these shops, just not as relatively valuable. Then if you compare Pinnacle to a recreationally-driven shop such as Bovada’s standard 3 -110/+3 -110, laying the 3 with the Chiefs is 5% cheaper, while taking the Pats is 15% cheaper. Therefore, the biggest disparity you’ll find in the off-shore market, is the difference in price between the plus money on the Patriots at the highest limit shops, and the +3 -110’s that can be found at some of the lower limit books such as Bovada. Laying 3 -110 gives you five cents of value compared to Pinnacle and 10 cents compared to BetCris, while finding a better price than the +105 offered at the sharpest books is impossible. Therefore, will ever so slight, a sharp lean can be found in the market favoring the Chiefs.

In considering the total, action has favored the under, and this is likely in response to the weather reports which have called for extreme temperatures; though, as the week has gone on, forecasts have increasingly trended in the direction of milder conditions.

While the market has ticked down a notch, this could be expected given the consensus favoring the under. We aren’t around any real significant number here either, so the move isn’t necessarily indicative of anything other than a response to consensus. With Pinnacle and Matchbook remaining at 56, while some of the more recreational shops have gone down to 55.5, I’d say the value is in going over any number south of 56. Over-reactions are common to cold weather conditions, and any value in the total is likely to be found in playing against this over-reaction and looking to go over the total as the slight lean in the marketplace demonstrates.

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