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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 20, 2012 at 1:53 PM

Time once again to review what the sharps (professional wagerers) are thinking in this week’s NFL action. We only have two games this week…with Baltimore visiting New England in the AFC Championship game, and the NY Giants heading West to face San Francisco in the NFC Championship game. That will give us time to talk more in depth about each matchup.

As always, we take the games in schedule order…starting with the AFC Title Tilt.

BALTIMORE AT NEW ENGLAND: The opener of New England -6.5 was quickly bet up to the critical number of -7. That may have been partly support for the Patriots, and partly position-taking on the assumption that the public was going to bet the Patriots because of last week’s on-field performances. New England was dominant against Denver. Baltimore played poorly in a non-cover victory against Houston. The number has been sitting on that seven all week as we go to press. There could be some fireworks this weekend though on or around that key number.

Our understanding is that there is some Baltimore interest that would come in very strong at +7.5 were the public to drive the line higher. Baltimore does have the much superior defense. And, smart money has had some decent success in recent years with defensive dogs in these kinds of games. They haven’t stepped in yet at +7 because they want to see if they can get something better. They’ll settle for +7 on game day if that’s the best it’s going to be.

Will the public hit New England hard this weekend? In past years, we may have said yes. But, the public didn’t win last week with the offensive styles of New Orleans and Green Bay, even if they did win backing Tom Brady over Tim Tebow. And, they all remember losing with New England to the Jets in the first round last year. We’re interested to see how the public ultimately bets this game.

The total opened at 48, and was bet aggressively up to 50, even 50.5. Weather is not expected to be an issue, with temperatures in the low 30’s and little wind. New England tends to play higher scoring games because they have a great offense and an inconsistent defense. Since Baltimore has big play potential against an inconsistent defense, both teams could put plenty of points on the board. Sharps LOVED the Over at 48 and 49. It’s telling that Under money didn’t really present itself even when the psychological barrier of 50 was crossed.

In sum…sharps are unanimous on the early Over. The New England money hit fast, while the Baltimore money is waiting to see what it can get. Our behind-the-scenes discussions suggest there’s more sharp interest in Baltimore than in New England at +7. That interest is biding it’s time.

NY GIANTS AT SAN FRANCISCO: An opener of San Francisco -2 was bet up to -2.5, but no further. That’s not a common occurrence…because passion for an opener below a critical number will often move the line to that critical number. In this case, our read is that the sharps will LOVE the NY Giants if they see a +3, and are waiting to see if the public bets the favorite this weekend.

In other words, the small percentage of the market (relatively speaking) that likes the Niners in this spot bet right away below the critical number. The larger percentage that likes the Giants hasn’t bet yet. So, only part of the money has hit the board. Oddsmakers are aware of what’s in play, and are leery of moving the line all the way to three just to get flooded with Giant money.

We’ve told you in the past that seeing a line settle at +2.5 for a long period is defacto support for the dog. If the market loved the favorite, they’d have pounded that line up to the key number. So, the big story this weekend will be whether or not the public decides to take a cheap home favorite that has a bit of a rest advantage thanks to a bye two weeks ago…or if the majority of the public and the sharps prefer the Giants and the line scoots down closer to pick-em.

The total opened at 44, but has been bet down to 42. There’s potential for weather here, with a good chance of rain and troublesome winds forecast two days in advance. Be sure you monitor that story as it develops. San Francisco has a great defense that’s hard to score against in the best of conditions. The Giants defense has really come on strong in recent weeks, and will be facing a vanilla offense. Definite poor weather will bring in more Under money from sharps. Should things clear up and conditions be ideal, you may see some buy back toward the opener for middles.

That wraps up this week’s look at what sharps are thinking for Championship Weekend. Best of luck to you with your own individual picks. Back with you in two weeks to look at the Super Bowl.

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