No respect: Chiefs, Titans slight favorites in divisional-round games
An unfriendly season for NFL bettors is reflected in the newest point spreads for three of the four divisional-round playoff games, particularly in the tough-to-call AFC contests.
“Out of the whole remaining field, any of these teams can make it to the Super Bowl,” said Jeff Stoneback, BetMGM’s director of trading. “We know it’s been a tough season for the bettors and you’re seeing why.”
In matchups set by Sunday’s finals, the two-time defending AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs are a slight 2.5-point favorite over the impressive AFC East-champion Buffalo Bills and the AFC top-seeded Tennessee Titans are granted just a 3.5-point favorite’s margin over the increasingly confident Cincinnati Bengals.
Tipico Sportsbook also places the top-seeded NFC North-champion Green Bay Packers a not-so-comfortable -5.5 favorite over the San Francisco 49ers, who went to Dallas as an underdog Sunday and defeated the Cowboys, 23-17 behind a staunch defense and 100+ offensive yards from Deebo Samuel.
Defending champion Tampa Bay, after routing the Philadelphia Eagles, awaits the winner of Monday night’s wild-card meeting between the Los Angeles Rams (-3.5) and Arizona Cardinals.
Recreational bettors tend to wager on favorites and "over" totals. This season has been a bet-sabotaging campaign dominated by road-team success and low-scoring games producing more "under" outcomes.
Bookmakers predict this round of the playoffs will experience something of a re-calibrated strategy, driving wagers against the prevailing logic of backing a rested team at home, like Tennessee.
“I think we’ll see Cincinnati money (because the) public has been cool to the Titans most of the year,” said Jay Rood, the senior vice president of risk and trading at Bally’s Interactive.
The Titans are expecting to regain power running back Derrick Henry (fractured foot) after he was in the MVP conversation pre-injury. Stoneback said when BetMGM first set the game’s line Sunday night, sharp bettors quickly moved to support Tennessee, a team backed by physical lines led by coach-of-the-year frontrunner Mike Vrabel.
But with Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, the 2020 No. 1 draft pick, leading his team to the AFC North title and its first playoff victory since 1991 Saturday over the Las Vegas Raiders, Cincinnati possesses a formidable reputation built on running back Joe Mixon, receiver Ja’Marr Chase and a substantial defense.
“Cincinnati has gained the bettors’ respect and with the parity we’ve seen in the AFC, this (spread) is a reflection of that,” Stoneback said.
Tipico has the Bengals-Titans' total at 47.5 points. Following that Saturday opener at 4:30 p.m. ET, the 49ers venture to Green Bay for an 8:35 p.m. ET kickoff on a day the low temperature is expected to be 9 degrees.
Still the over-under in that game is placed at 47.5.
The Bills-Chiefs game at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday has a 54.5-point total.
“I’m a little surprised that game is less than a field goal, but while Buffalo (with five consecutive victories) has become a favorite of the public, Kansas City has lost some of that support after its slow start and not covering for so long,” Stoneback said. “Even against Pittsburgh, the number moved down a point,” before the Chiefs cruised to a 42-21 Sunday triumph at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Bills waxed the Chiefs 38-20 Oct. 10 at Arrowhead. Buffalo’s defense is expected to pressure Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes more severely than the Steelers did after the first quarter, and Bills quarterback Josh Allen can pose many of the same problems Mahomes does against Kansas City's lesser defensive unit.
“These AFC games are essentially pick-ems,” Stoneback said.
As for the latest chapter of Aaron Rodgers seeking to avenge his hometown team for passing him over in the NFL draft, the books saw their opening point spread of Packers -5.5 quickly shaved to -4.5 before it returned to its starting point.
“While the Packers are a big public team, San Francisco is too, especially during this second half, where they scratched and clawed to get into the playoffs with (quarterback) Jimmy Garappolo proving everyone wrong for counting him out,” Stoneback said.
Rallying to defeat the Los Angeles Rams in overtime during the regular-season finale, then toppling NFC East-champion Dallas Sunday as a field-goal 'dog proved the 49ers are a strong-hearted group.
Coaches Kyle Shanahan of San Francisco and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur coached at three stops together before renewing acquaintances in the postseason.
In their September meeting, Garoppolo threw a go-ahead touchdown with 37 seconds remaining, only to see Rodgers complete two long passes and rally the Packers to a 30-28 triumph on Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired.
Consider that information and now predict who’s going to win this weekend's games?
The sportsbooks will be waiting.
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