Betting on the NFL conference championship weekend comes with favorites riding high expectations.
When the Tennessee Titans visit the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Green Bay Packers invade the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, the lines project blowouts.
At midweek, William Hill was still clinging to Kansas City -7. That extra half point will be significant to big-money gamblers.
The public sentiment is divided.
FanDuel reports 54% of the spread wagering tickets and 61% of the handle on Kansas City.
Tennessee captured 80% of the moneyline bet, which is not shocking because the spread is so large; the moneyline would not appeal to Kansas City bettors, except in parlay form.
Green Bay and San Francisco are practically split on wagering. The Packers are getting 7.5 points despite a 14-3 record.
New England Patriots‘ quarterback and four-time Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, who has spent two decades winning key playoff games, offers a significant vantage point that goes deeper than numbers.
Before the playoffs began last season, Brady said:
“At this time of the year, it doesn’t matter where you play. It also doesn’t matter who you play. It matters how you play.”
Well, he was right.
Both visiting teams went on to win the conference championship matchups, staying close enough to win their games with the help of a controversial play.
The Los Angeles Rams parlayed a blown officiating non-call on pass interference to defeat the New Orleans Saints in overtime. The result sparked an outcry in New Orleans and even an unsuccessful lawsuit to overturn the game result.
The Patriots later defeated the Chiefs after Kansas City jumped offside on the interception that would have sealed the game.
This weekend’s matchups are interesting because favorites have only hit a third of the covers since 2002 when the line has been above a touchdown in the conference championships.
The reason is the teams, at this point of the year, are typically not a touchdown apart in terms of talent.
But that’s why they play the games. You can crunch numbers all you like, but data can’t predict execution.
What can be looked at is the teams’ matchups now versus the previous time they met, but even that doesn’t reveal everything.
The keyword in the playoffs: Momentum.
Not feeling like dogs
Don’t tell the Titans that they are the 7.5-point underdogs to a team they defeated earlier this season, albeit on their own field.
And don’t tell them they are a touchdown or more underdog when their postseason run oozes “Big Mo.”
Tennessee has unfurled a sizzling brand of smashmouth football, succeeding behind outstanding offensive line blocking, hard running by Derrick Henry and rejuvenated quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
The Titans are riding a hot hand and trying to become just the fifth NFL team to reach the Super Bowl by winning three straight road games.
They have also covered six of the last eight and resemble a train reaching faster speeds.
The Titans were 5-point underdogs across the NJ sportsbook spectrum two weeks ago when they defeated the Patriots 20-13.
That ballooned to a 9.5-10 point spread last weekend in Baltimore when the Titans bounced the AFC’ s top-seeded Ravens 28-12. Tennessee dumped a 12-win team and 14-win team in back-to-back weeks.
The Titans have mojo. Henry even threw a jump-pass touchdown last week. This team is doing it all.
As Brady said, it’s how you play.
Tennessee held New England scoreless in the second half and kept the Ravens, a team averaging 33 points, to 12. Any number like that would propel the Titans to outright victory against Kansas City.
Two hot teams clash
What’s intriguing about the Tennessee-Kansas City matchup concerns another momentum factor. Did Kansas City get over a hump by withstanding a pressure crisis last week?
Down 24 -0 in the second quarter, the Chiefs became the first NFL playoff team to trail by 24 and win by 20 in the same game. They scored 51 points in three quarters, an exhilarating comeback.
The way the Chiefs were dropping passes, fumbling punts and making mental mistakes, was upholding the notion that coach Andy Reid can’t win the big one.
Then they erupted. The potential carryover from that rally isn’t measurable in the betting lines.
Will Kansas City reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years?
Can the much-maligned Reid, an excellent regular-season coach who stalls in the playoffs, finally silence his postseason critics?
The lines and analysis would point to Kanas City winning a high-scoring game and Tennessee prevailing in a defensive battle. But all that could change.
Tennessee won a shootout with Kansas City earlier in the year, 35-32. It was the game that brought the Titans to life and they have gone 6-2 since then.
What would NJ sports betting be without a proper bankroll?
SugarHouse Sportsbook has an exciting prop for a Titans’ hunch player.
Tennessee would return +280 on the moneyline, and the over/under bet is -110 either way.
Separately hitting those wagers would be worth roughly +370. But combine them on a parlay, and it is worth +460.
Other fun wagers come from William Hill.
The sportsbook offers numerous props on first scorers, anytime scorers, and the double play of an individual scoring and his team winning.
Sometimes you have to go away from the big names to nail this bet.
Houston receiver Kenny Stills — not DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller — recorded the first score of the Houston-Kansas City game last week because his fellow receivers were double-covered.
Kendrick Bourne was the first to tally in the 49ers’ 27-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings.
Jonnu Smith, not a big name like Henry, scored first in Tennessee’s win.
So, expect the unexpected.
FanDuel has an appetizing player-prop section if one wants to venture beyond the moneyline, spread and over/under of 52.5. One of them involves a player being able to score two touchdowns.
Damien Williams got three last week for Kansas City and Tyreek Hill had none. So, is Hill due? Or is the Tennessee defense going to double both, him and super-tight end Travis Kelce?
Last week provided TDs as the first score of every game. We could be due for a field goal, roughly 5-1, if the right team is selected to be the first score.
At NJ sportsbooks, timing is everything: Act 1
Utter craziness reigned in the sportsbooks last week surrounding the Kansas City-Houston shootout.
Houston jumped to a 24-0, second-quarter lead and was up 33.5 points on the spread for a game.
The books had at least a couple of million dollars played. Talk about fluctuating funds. This shifted back to Chiefs’ bettors as Kansas City won 51-31.
What’s difficult to track, but what undoubtedly occurred, was Houston bettors making additional wagers either on props or other games when they thought this bet was already in their pocket. But then it wasn’t.
One fascinating angle was the in-game journey of the moneyline bet.
At DraftKings, Kansas City opened at -476. The Chiefs were still favored at -127, even after falling behind 14-0.
Only after Houston went up 24-0 did the odds change to Kansas City being an approximate 3-1 dog. That shifted immediately when the Chiefs got their first score. Even at 24-7, down 17 midway through the second quarter, they were only +140.
When it became 24-21, the Chiefs trailed in the game but had become prohibitive betting favorites.
PointsBet had similar numbers and one bettor, who was initially disgruntled, happy he’d been stubborn.
“I kept betting more on the moneyline every time Houston scored,” he said.
“At 14-0, I went in heavy because I thought Kansas City would come back. At 24-0, I was so ticked off and disgusted, I just threw everything in.”
And he was rewarded at a 3-1 price. However, he knew he was lucky.
This strategy has connections to other forms of gambling. Keep doubling down when losing and, if the bankroll is big enough, one victory will get you even. But at some point, one’s mettle is tested.
It’s a leap of faith to bet heavily, down 24-0 in a playoff game to a team that won the first matchup of these clubs. The call was risky, but that’s the definition of gambling in the first place.
“I was reckless,” the bettor said, “but I’m happy now.”
Timing is everything: Act 2
Another leap of faith was, we suspect, was made in DraftKings’ playoff section.
We outlined the prop last week that if Kansas City somehow faced San Francisco in the Super Bowl, a guaranteed payout of 4-1 was possible because both teams paid 8-1 to beat the other in that game.
The idea was to take both sides of that bet almost a month before the Super Bowl. Then win the wager automatically if those teams got in. Bettors could also play one of the teams a little heavier.
Regardless, one would not even have to sweat out the game result if San Francisco opposes Kansas City in the Super Bowl.
The major gamble was believing that the top-seeded, invincible-looking Ravens could lose and that both the Chiefs and Niners could win two games. That was a lot to ask, but that’s why the prop pays well.
So far, so good. The Ravens did lose to the Titans last week. And, Kansas City rallied back from 24-0 to beat Houston.
The wager is still in play.
But the payoffs are 2-1 and would be close to even money during Super Bowl week. The time to make money was last week when the risk was highest.
The Niners and Chiefs still have work to do but are favored by a touchdown or better. They could end up in the Super Bowl.
This prop bet didn’t appeal to everyone because it involved thinking three weeks ahead and putting one’s money on a game that might not happen. That’s difficult to do when most players want to focus on the upcoming week.
But for those who made the wager that depended upon an unlikely Ravens’ loss, it’s a great call, even if it doesn’t hit.
Odds for the NFL conference championship
Keys to betting on the NFL conference championship games
Chiefs-Titans look to shut down big names
Kansas City will try to shut off Henry’s running lanes by bringing pressure from linebackers.
Tannehill will have the middle of the field open and take some deep shots. Kansas City has an average defense.
Tennessee has too many Kansas City weapons to account for and must guess right about who it double-teams. Will it be Hill and Kelce?
Quarterback Pat Mahomes brings an added variable as a runner and is showing less reluctance to take off and run since his injuries have healed.
Kansas City is a pass-first offense, a pleasing contrast to Tennessee’s ground-and-pound demeanor.
Packers seek redemption
Who could have predicted, when San Francisco ambushed Green Bay 37-8 in November, that these teams would meet for the NFC Championship?
Green Bay is healthier now than at that time, but quarterback Aaron Rodgers has suffered some bad playoff games when under pressure.
For San Francisco, this game plan concerns the secondary being able to cover receivers for a little longer than usual because the Niners are going to rush Rodgers.
They are going to flush him out of the pocket but try to keep enough players close to the line of scrimmage to minimize his running.
That leaves the battle of Packers receivers and 49ers coverage units in the big matchup when Green Bay is on offense.
San Francisco features a run-first offense with a deep backfield.
George Kittle is an impact tight end and the most dependable receiver San Francisco. Because the Niners have not faced too many third-and-longs, they can keep teams off balance and set up some big plays by their receivers.