While Wildcard weekend was one of the unexpected, as not only did every underdog cover, but three of the four went on to win their game outright; it was also one that met expectation, with the betting public going 3-1 ATS with the consensus sides. Those sides I identified as “sharp” went 1-2-1; with the Colts being the lone winner, the Ravens and the Bears both losing as favorites, and the Cowboys pushing at the recommended two.
It is important to note, as we progress further into the NFL postseason, that while some sides may be “sharper” than others, there is certainly no guarantee that there will be professional action on these games. Professionals realize that with the NFL card being so small, garnering so much attention from oddsmakers and public bettors, who have a full season of data from which to derive lines, finding value in these games is often a lost cause. Therefore, the lines are extremely tight, the moves minimal, and the sharp action doesn’t always show itself.
What the market will tell us, at the very least, is on which side the bigger money is coming in; and while the big money may not always be the sharpest of action, being on the side of the money gives one the greatest chance of being aligned with the sharp action, if there is any. Knowing where the public is siding can also be quite beneficial in the postseason, because it is the time of the year within the NFL season when the public will have their say in terms of influencing the market, so there is always potential for value to be found in capitalizing on recreational over-valuation in the marketplace.
In moving on to the Divisional Round and determining which sides are attracting the biggest and perhaps sharpest bets, it would appear, like last week, that the underdogs are trendy again. In fact, according to Betlabs, this is the first time in history, that all underdogs are receiving a majority of spread bets in the Divisional Round. While surprising given the public’s affinity for favorites, it’s understandable given the success of underdogs last weekend. Will the underdogs be howling again? Or will the well-rested favorites remind the betting world why they earned byes in the first place, as Joe Public falls victim to the perils of Recency Bias? This and more remains to be seen, as we look forward to another weekend of Playoff football in this week’s edition of NFL MarketWatch.
Indianapolis Colts @ Kansas City Chiefs
Off-shore opening line: KC – 4 -110
Consensus current line: KC -5.5 -110
Off-shore Betting Consensus: 58% IND
The Indianapolis Colts have the appearance of one of those teams that have gotten hot at the right time, now winners of five straight, making it look all too easy with a dominant defensive performance last week in Houston. And while the Chiefs were perhaps the hottest team in football midseason, they have sputtered down the stretch, going 1-4 ATS in their last five.
In what will be Patrick Mahomes’ first career Playoff start, where Quarterbacks have gone 11-31-1 ATS since 2002, the majority of bets are backing Luck and the Colts, but the market shows sharp lean to KC.
Opening Kansas City -4 at Bookmaker, this four lasted all but about four minutes on Saturday, as money was quick to hit the board and lay it with the Chiefs. The number oscillated back and forth from four to 4.5 for a bit on Saturday, before being bet all the way up to 6 -110 by Sunday. The sixes hung around as a consensus in the off-shore market for much of Sunday, but by Monday, they were gone for good, and all major off-shores have hung around at a consensus of five or 5.5, in the dead zone between six and four.
In looking at line histories at the sharpest books, Pinnacle and Matchbook, neither dipped below five at any point in the week, while soft sixes did show for some time at both. Therefore, given this history and the fact that the consensus has been in favor of the Colts for the entirety of the week, I’m comfortable calling the Chiefs the sharper of the two sides. However, it looks to be a situation in which big money is going to back the Colts at six or lay the four with KC, thus in the dead-zone we sit between these two numbers.
In this dead-zone, fives and 5.5’s are both to be found, but the minor sharp lean in the market to KC can definitely be seen, as Bovada and MyBookie are the at the low end, juicing the Colts at 5 -115, while Pinnacle and Matchbook are at the high end, at -5 -111 and -5.5 +100, respectively.
In considering the insignificance of current available numbers, it might be worth waiting this number out and seeing if one the previously available secondary keys show themselves again. If sixes show, you’ll know that sharp money has been waiting in wings for higher limits on the Chiefs. If fours come about, then some big money is likely with the public, but given the influence of public money in the Playoffs, this could still happen without sharp involvement. Therefore, waiting for the best number on Chiefs may be the optimal strategy here.
Dallas Cowboys @ Los Angeles Rams
Off-shore opening line: LA – 7 -105
Consensus current line: LA – 7 -119
Off-shore Betting Consensus: DAL 58%
Another game with teams that finished the season going in different directions, as the Cowboys went 7-1 in November and December, losing once in an essentially meaningless game to the Colts, while the Rams went 3-2 in December after starting the season 10-1. Last week, Dallas came away with their first Playoff win since 2015, and as they now head out on the road to face a Rams team that is now healthy and rested, the public thinks the seven is too much to be laying here; I’m not sure if the sharper money agrees with that sentiment.
With nearly 60% of the action coming in the dog, the market is showing some movement in the other direction, a sure sign of a sharp lean towards the Rams.
Opening Rams -7 with reduced juice, you are now going to have to look very hard to find a seven that isn’t taxed higher than the standard -110, save for the one at Bovada, which looks currently to be a sound investment given the rest of the market. There is also one 6.5 available at MyBookie, further evidence of the sharp lean in the market, and also another opportunity for relative value to the sharpest positions in the off-shore market. Pinnacle is leading the way on the opposite side of the spectrum, being the lone book to have gone to 7.5, but with that 7.5 being offered at better than even money to lay it, this isn’t quite a full move from 7 to 7.5.
I’d call any number better than the 7 -112 offered at Matchbook worthy of a look now, though finding one of these may require a lot of outs. Therefore, waiting this one out until Saturday night may be the smartest way to approach it, as late recreational money may drive this consensus into an even more lopsided circumstance, given that the Cowboys are indeed “America’s team.”
Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots
Off-shore opening line: NE – 5 -105
Consensus current line: NE – 4 -110
Off-shore Betting Consensus: LAC 60%
As in the Wildcard round, the Los Angeles Chargers are the most popular side of the weekend and have become the trendy public darling of this year’s Playoffs; so much so, that the Tom Brady led New England Patriots are the least popular side of the Divisional Round, at home. And so far, as much as I can tell, there is nothing in history of this line to say that sharp money has shown any resistance to the Charger love.
If anything, the market-wide move down onto the secondary key of four is evidence that the cash counts have been high enough on LA to justify a fairly significant move, considering how tight these lines are in January. At four, I’d call the consensus -110, but the reduced numbers at Pinnacle, 5Dimes, and Matchbook show a sharper market that is comfortable taking bets on either side of this game and one that is taking no position or showing a sharp lean in either direction.
I think this is a situation in which four is really the “right” number, and at 3.5 you’d likely see some sharp action on the Patriots and at 4.5 we may have already seen a sharp nibble on the Chargers. Therefore, I can only call the Chargers the sharper of two sides, given that we’ve seen a move onto secondary key already, but considering the consensus, the lean in the market is ever so slight.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
Off-shore opening line: NO – 7.5 -110
Consensus current line: NO – 8 -110
Off-shore Betting Consensus: PHI 55%
The betting public is all-aboard the Nick Foles hype train, and understandably so, as all we’ve seen from the Eagles since the 2018 Playoffs got underway are wins. Combine the Nick Foles effect with perception of a Saints team that has gone 1-4 ATS to finish the season – with two recent underwhelming offensive performances in prime-time – and it’s no wonder that Philly is object of recreational affections. As far evidence of sharp support in the position; I’m not sure there is any: and in fact, there may be some indications of bigger action on the other side.
Opening initially Sunday night, with the Saints laying eight, the initial inclination was to bet the Saints, as early action drove this number all the way up to a soft 10 from eight at Pinnacle. At other shops, such as Bookmaker, their initial 7.5 posting was bet up to eight immediately and was a soft nine by Monday morning. Eventually, Philly money began to hit the board and the number settled to its current consensus of eight across the off-shore market.
The majority of bets have continued to come in on the Eagles, but the line has held steady, with 8 -110 the most common number off-shore, but with a 7.5 -110 available at MyBookie and a reduced numbers on both sides available at Matchbook and Pinnacle. The reduced numbers at the sharpest books tell me that they are OK with taking bets on this game at eight, but both are charging a slightly higher price on the Saints bet, indication of slight sharp lean to the Saints.
All things considered, the sharper lean in the market has been to the Saints, but it isn’t anything drastic, given this number has remained in the dead-zone between seven and 10. I give more weight to the Saints movement considering the Philly consensus, and the reverse line movement is enough evidence for the Saints being the stronger position.