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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 11, 2014 at 1:00 PM

As we go to press, the San Francisco 49ers are 1-point favorites Sunday on the road against the Carolina Panthers in Divisional Round action of the NFL Playoffs. That’s surprised many in the media and the major betting markets because:

*Carolina has home field advantage

*Carolina has the benefit of a bye week to rest up and prepare

*Green Bay had to play last week in brutal weather conditions

*Carolina beat San Francisco 10-9 this season…in San Francisco!

*Carolina won total yardage in that game 250-151

So, we have a scenario where a rested home favorite showed clear matchup superiority in a regular season meeting, yet isn’t even expected to win the rematch? What is the market seeing that trumps all of that? Maybe our standard big game indicators will shed some light on the issue.


Won-Lost Records (strength of schedule)

San Francisco: 12-4 (#7 schedule in USA Today)

Carolina: 12-4 (#10 schedule in USA Today)

Nothing there would suggest that San Francisco is the better team. They both had the same record, and played very comparable schedules. And, again…Carolina won their heads-up meeting on the road. Sure, it was a one-point coin flip that could have gone either way. But, the difference in home field advantage would suggest a six-point turnaround. No clues here as to what the market is seeing.


Yards-Per Play

San Francisco: 5.4 on offense, 5.0 on defense

Carolina: 5.1 on offense, 4.9 on defense

This is also very tight. San Francisco has a slight advantage in differential at +0.4 to +0.2. But, it’s not an edge that could manifest itself when they met head-to-head. In fact, San Francisco couldn’t even gain 3.0 yards-per-play on this tough Carolina defense! Is the market assuming that great defenses like this will rule the day so much that home field advantage doesn’t matter? That might be part of what’s at play here. Carolina erased SF’s home field edge at Candlestick. The Niners could do the same thing here.


Turnover Differential

San Francisco: +12

Carolina: +11

Well, the oft-overlooked kicker that often comes through for us doesn’t show anything either! Both teams were identical in the risk/reward ratio this season. In fact, they were almost identical. Both defenses had 30 takeaways. Carolina lost the ball on offense 19 times, San Francisco 18. All of our most trusted numbers suggest these two teams are as even as it gets.  You would be hardpressed to find more similar teams particularly with that strength of schedule angle added in.


Market Performance

San Francisco: 11-5 ATS

Carolina: 9-6-1 ATS

Not surprisingly, the market underestimated both to roughly equal degrees. Both teams covered at least 60% of their spreads…even though it was recognized early on that both would be serious playoff contenders. As the season progressed, it was clear both would be on the short list for championship discussion. Yet, Vegas couldn’t price the lines high enough to match reality.


Current Line: San Francisco by 1, total 41


What we’re left with is an assessment that home field (and the bye) isn’t going to matter in the matchup, meaning that San Francisco’s fractional stat edges are worth one point in what’s being treated like a neutral field game. Or, there’s also the possibility that sharps are giving a coaching advantage to Jim Harbaugh over Ron Rivera in a big-game scenario. The combination of Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick proved very difficult for opponents to handle once the young QB was given free reign to run when needed. That’s arguably the only other explanation for SF getting this level of respect in the line.

JIM HURLEY wasn’t scratching his head when this line went up on the board. He knew exactly what was happening, and exactly what to do about it! The great thing about a pointspread like this is that you only have to pick the winner. If Carolina is going to benefit from home field and the bye, then a pick is simple. If Kaepernick and Harbaugh are better at “knowing how to win” in a playoff scenario, it’s just as simple in the other direction.

You can get the final word for Sunday (this game plus San Diego/Denver) right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions call our handicapping office before kickoff at 1-888-777-4155. Be sure to check on basketball when you call. The college hoops schedule is really picking up…and the first “Big Monday” of the season is now just hours away!

If you’re having trouble handicapping the NFL Divisional Round, the exclusive TEAM HANDICAPPING approach of JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK is the solution! We study the game from all angles. We know what matters and what doesn’t. More than 25 years of PROVEN SUCCESS help us confront any market challenge. BIG JUICY WINNERS ARE ALWAYS JUST A FEW CLICKS AWAY!

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