What Sharps are Thinking in the NFL Playoffs - Coaching Matchups
Market Report: What Sharps are Thinking in the NFL Playoffs
Time once again to review what the sharps (professional wagerers) are thinking in this week's NFL action. Early smart money did very well last week in the Wildcard games, with the exception of Pittsburgh-Denver. Early reads on the sides and totals came through in the other games. We've had some very clear line moves already in this week's action. So, let's jump right in. As always, games are presented in rotation order...
NEW ORLEANS AT SAN FRANCISCO: Very clear support for New Orleans, who opened at -3 on the road despite visiting a rested bye team...and immediately got bet up to -3.5 and -4. We've told you in the past it takes a lot of money to move off the three in NFL betting. And, when a game moves off the three and STAYS there...you're talking about very strong support. The sharps absolutely loved New Orleans at -3, and the money kept coming in at -3.5.
Not much interest in the total yet, as an opener of 47 hasn't budged much. Maybe game day weather will change that. Any weather that favors the host will likely inspire Under money to come in. Should conditions be ideal, then sharps have already put their money on the team best suited to perfect weather.
DENVER AT NEW ENGLAND: New England opened at -13, and was bet up to -13.5. Some of that could have been position-taking rather than support though given New England's blowout win at Denver just a few weeks ago. Sharps figured the public would come in over the weekend at any number below -14. They wanted to be in position to exploit that knowledge with split action at key numbers. Given the lack of movement up to the full 14, you get the impression that sharp Denver money would come in at that line.
The total is up a point from 49.5 to 50.5. Over bets last week did well, with early support for a high scoring game in New Orleans coming through, as well as the early Over money in Houston. A one-point move isn't exactly a flood of money. But, given the general tendency for sharps to prefer Unders in playoff-style football, it is telling that this game moved up and didn't come back down.
HOUSTON AT BALTIMORE: Baltimore opened at -7, and got bet up to -7.5. The seven isn't quite as big as the three in terms of what it takes to move off the number. But, it is the second most important line...and we did see strong support for Baltimore at -7 that wasn't counteracted when the line moved up. It's going to take at least +8 to get Houston money involved, with tells you that sharps liked Baltimore a lot at the opener of -7.
Big move on the total, as an opener of 38 fell to 36. There was market support for Houston's offense last week in the betting, and that unit did put some points on the board. We have the exact opposite here, with smart money on the opponent and Under. That tells us the sharps don't believe Houston's offense is well-suited to thrive on the road against a top defense. If weather is an issue, that only hurts Houston's productivity potential more.
NY GIANTS AT GREEN BAY: Our only move to the underdog this week was in the last game on the schedule. The NY Giants opened at +9, but were bet down to +7.5. This puts Vegas sportsbooks in an awkward position. If they move the line all the way down to -7, surely the public will come in hard on Green Bay at that key number. But, a line of Green Bay -7.5 already invites a lot of two-team teaser play that would move the Packers down to -1.5 and cross both the 3 and the 7. And, with Baltimore also sitting at -7.5 as we go to press, the whole world could be on that basic strategy teaser of Baltimore and Green Bay on Sunday. Rested home favorites at very cheap prices!
We can tell you that sharps were happy to get dangerous New York at +9 against the vulnerable Green Bay defense, and they liked +8.5 and +8 as well. They will also be happy to get Green Bay should it drop to -7 to shoot some middles...and will very likely be involved in basic strategy teasers.
The total is up two points from 51 to 53. That's possibly an early bird alert that weather isn't going to be a problem. Sharps tend NOT to bet Overs on games in the 50's...yet they really loaded up here...just as they did in Detroit/New Orleans at a higher total last week. Sharps are expecting shootouts in the games involving similar sides New England and Green Bay (great offenses, vulnerable defenses).
That wraps up this week's look at what sharps are thinking in the NFL Divisional Round. Back with you next week to look at Championship Sunday in both the AFC and NFC.
Coach Ron Meyer: NFL Coaching Matchups
As promised, I'm back to look at the coaching matchups in this week's Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. I'm always encouraging you to handicap football games from a coaching perspective. Today, we'll run through all four games to see if there's a coaching edge that may be ripe for attack.
I think we saw coaching edges loom large last week in the Wildcard games. Sean Payton and Tom Coughlin used their postseason experience to embarrass Jim Schwartz and Mike Smith. Wily John Fox came up with a few wrinkles that allowed him to pull an upset over injured Pittsburgh.
Here are this week's coaching matchups...
NEW ORLEANS AT SAN FRANCISCO
Sean Payton vs. Jim Harbaugh
Harbaugh is certainly an up-and-comer in the NFL, and may already be ready for the big time. That being said, he's definitely taking the worst of it in terms of playoff experience. Even if he's a very well-respected rookie, he's still a rookie. Payton won a Super Bowl two years ago, and is one of the top coaches in the game right now. Of course, the Vegas markets have incorporated this into their thinking, which is why New Orleans is a 4-point road favorite even though San Francisco is coming off a bye week and playing at home. Handicappers must determine if the price fairly captures the coaching difference.
Personally, I think very highly of both guys. I could see my service picking either man several times down the road in future playoff games. I'm really looking forward to this game. I can't get very specific because I have to protect my picks for my clients. I do believe I've found the X's and O's edge that will determine the pointspread winner in this chess match.
DENVER AT NEW ENGLAND
John Fox vs. Bill Belichick
These two squared off in a Super Bowl many years back. Belichick is much more of a playoff regular than Fox these days. But, Belichick has lost his last two home playoff games straight up, while Fox engineered a big dog upset last week. I don't think anyone would complain about giving an edge to Belichick in a coaching matchup vs. just about anyone. But, should he be THIS big a favorite over a smart underdog coach?
We talked about this last week with Denver-Pittsburgh. Tomlin had the better recent playoff history. Yet, he was laying a very high number to a sharp coach. Both Belichick and Fox have had some time to make adjustments since the Pats and Broncos met a few weeks ago in a game won easily by New England.
HOUSTON AT BALTIMORE
Gary Kubiak vs. John Harbaugh
This Harbaugh is 4-3 lifetime in the NFL playoffs. He has had a good history in terms of grinding out wins vs. vulnerable opposition. But, he hasn't been able to break through yet and reach a Super Bowl. Is this the year that happens? Or, is Harbaugh just not ready yet to take that final big step to greatness?
I've mentioned a few times that Kubiak has been establishing himself this year as more than just an offensive coordinator. He's done a good job gathering assistants. He's focusing on defense and the running game rather than trying to throw all the time. I like what I'm seeing this year from Kubiak, and I was sure impressed last week when the Texans dominated the Bengals.
Can Kubiak figure out a way to get production from a rookie quarterback on the road vs. a top defense? That's the key to me. In general, I'd like Kubiak at this price in a coaching matchup with just about anyone. But, the price is this high because Kubiak has to coach, in essence, with one hand tied behind his back.
NY GIANTS AT GREEN BAY
Tom Coughlin vs. Mike McCarthy
Two recent Super Bowl winners...with Coughlin being a known quantity after a long career, while McCarthy may still be improving as he continues to make his mark in this league. It's tempting to say you can't go wrong with either guy. But, in fact, each guy has a tendency to leave their fans scratching their heads after some decisions! You can't argue with the recent success of either. Coughlin clearly outcoached Mike Smith last week in the smackdown of Atlanta. McCarthy's Packers have been absolutely on fire since they got healthy late last season.
The key to me will be how whether or not Green Bay's defense can pressure Giants quarterback Eli Manning into mistakes. The battle of the brains may ultimately come down to that single factor.
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