Sportsbooks have opened the window on the Wildcard round and with NFL picks being made furiously at the betting floor level, betting lines have moved perceptibly.
Early Wildcard NFL Odds vs. Public Betting and Line Moves
Although NFL betting lines opened early for the Wildcard Week, they are going to take some adjusting as odds makers balance the action in response to the money pouring in either way from the public and updates on several key injuries from several camps as they filter through in the coming days. As it stands, there have been significant moves in both directions on the NFL odds board for each and every wildcard game.
Cardinals vs. Panthers -5.5
Opening Line: 4.5
The Cardinals opened as the 4.5-point road underdogs on this wildcard game but quickly jumped out to 5.5-points. Early indications of money coming down the wire seems to be on the Cardinals, despite a two-game losing streak going into the playoffs underscored by quarterback woes. As it stands, 52% of the public is invested in the Cards against the spread and, somewhat surprisingly, 70% is invested in the Cards to win SU on the road at +210 NFL odds. Does the public have it right?
Either Panthers' backers are slow to the trigger or this is a case of numbers not adding up. Cards are after all an 11-5 SU and an NFL-best 11-5 ATS team while the Panthers are just 7-8-1 SU and 8-8 ATS. The public appears to be putting a lot of stock in these stats. In their entirety, it's true that they do say take the Cards and the points all day long, whichever way you slice it. Looking at a much smaller cross-section, one dictated by form down the stretch, they don't say take the Cards and the points at all, and certainly not to take the Cards to win outright. If they do, it's rather a faint call to action that we simply don't hear.
Cards have lost four of their last six games, three of which were on the road. They've also gone just 3-3 ATS over that same stretch, not to mention Ryan Lindley is 0-2 SU while Drew Stanton (if fit) is 2-2 SU over that run. On the other hand, Panthers have won four in a row down the stretch, splitting those against the spread evenly. They are no longer the team that left much to be desired with a 3-8-1 record after 12 weeks but a team that is 4-0 SU and 2-2 ATS in the last four weeks. That has won them some backers – 48% is invested in the Panthers to cover and 30% in a straight up win – but not nearly enough.
So long as Ryan Lindley remains the likeliest starter for the Cards, only bold NFL bettors should wager a risk on Arizona. You could wait until the quarterback quandary is resolved in Arizona before laying your bets. For our money, we're taking Cam Newton and the Panthers to win SU and cover.
Free NFL Picks: Panthers -5.5 at the Greek
Ravens vs. Steelers -3.0
Opening Line: -3.5
This is the marquee billing on Saturday's NFL betting card and fittingly this NFL betting line has experienced the least movement, oscillating by just half-a-point. That said it opened in the safe 3-point zone at most sportsbooks, which looks to be a slight snub towards the Steelers, who have been frankly brilliant down the stretch compared to the stuttering Ravens that almost failed to take off against Cleveland Browns in week 17 NFL betting. This line probably should be higher but given Le'Veon Bells injury, bookies have erred on the side of caution.
Since opening at 3.5-points, the NFL line dipped to 3-points and it's quite likely it won't move below the 3-point mark either through the course of the week. If Le'Veon Bell is cleared to play on Saturday night however, NFL bettors should expect it to jump back up to 3.5-points according to NFL odds makers, if not more. Some books apparently would credit Bell with 1.5-points towards the spread.
Pittsburgh are 5-3 ATS at home with a 7.4-point margin of victory and 4-3 ATS as home favourites with a 6-point margin of victory. They won four in a row to close the season with the AFC North title and won against the spread in all those games as well, three times as the 2.5-to-3-point favourites and once as the 3-point road underdogs. Each win was by seven-points or more. In week 9, the Steelers beat the Ravens 43-23 as the 2.5-point home chalk. As things currently stand, the Steelers have 67% claim of public money against the spread and 60% of the money to win straight up, a bet that can be backed at tempting -165 NFL odds.
Free NFL Picks: Steelers -3.0
Lions vs. Cowboys -7.0
Opening Line: -6.5
True to their reputation as America's most popular team, Dallas Cowboys are attracting a lot of the money at early doors. Sportsbooks opened the Cowboys as 6.5-point home favourites but that NFL line quickly swelled up to 7-points and even 7.5 or 8-points at some offshore sportsbooks. Despite this lofty NFL betting line, the largest spread of the entire wildcard weekend, the Cowboys have the bulk of trading with 76% of market share against the spread and 69% of market share in the SU win, matched at -320 NFL odds or thereabouts depending on your sportsbook of choice. Of all the wildcard games, this game seems to have the most consensus bets.
On the season, the Cowboys are only 4-4 SU at home and 3-5 ATS with a 2.6-point margin of victory. As home favourites, they are just 2-4 ATS with a 1.8-point margin of victory. So not exactly a lot of joy backing the Cowboys at home, come to think of it. Still, NFL bettors are reacting to current trends, which have the Cowboys winning six of their last seven games, four on the trot down the stretch. NFL bettors have also been swayed by the manner in which the Cowboys won, serving notice to all and sundry with beat downs of the Bears, Eagles, Colts and Redskins.
It also doesn't hurt their cause that the Detroit Lions seem to have lost steam down the stretch in this lopsided NFL betting market. Those placing NFL Picks only recently saw the Lions struggle to put away the Bears and then lose their way at Lambeau to frit away the NFC North title and home advantage. What's more, the Lions are 2-3 ATS as road underdogs this season with a 6.2-point margin of defeat, right in the nook of this NFL betting spread. If NFL bettors were to take a page from the two games in which the Lions came up against an elite quarterback and a hot offense, matchups that resonate best with their wildcard date with the Cowboys, the prognosis isn't promising. Lions lost to Patriots 34-9 as the 7-point road underdogs and 30-20 to Packers as the 8.5-point road underdogs. It's also worth mentioning, they lost 24-7 to the Panthers as the 1-point road underdogs.
Free NFL Picks: Cowboys -7.0
Bengals vs. Colts -3.5
Opening Line: -7.0
Of all the games on the NFL odds board, this clash has experienced the most violent NFL line movement from opening at a whopping 7-points and dipping to a low of 3.5-points before climbing slightly to 4-points. It's hovering between 3.5-to-4-points at the moment from sportsbook to sportsbook.
At the opening spread of 7-points, the influx of money on the Bengals forced the line down. Clearly, the public felt the Colts were highly overestimated at the expense of the Bengals, even though the status of A.J. Green remains uncertain (he's going through concussion protocol). Since coming down to the reasonable region of a field-goal or thereabouts, the action seems better balanced. Colts nose ahead on 52% of market investment against the spread over the Bengals at 48% of market share. On the money line odds, the Colts have the edge with 66% of public money to Bengals at 34% of public money.
Fact is the Colts are one of the strongest performers against the spread this season with a 10-5-1 ATS mark and a 5.6-point margin of victory, which includes a 5-2-1 ATS mark at home and a 10.2-point margin of victory. NFL bettors will also recall the Colts hammered the Bengals 27-0 earlier this season all while matched as the 3.5-point home chalk. Bengals, by comparison, are just 4-4 ATS with a 0.1-point margin of victory. As road underdogs, they are 4-2 ATS with a 4.3-point margin of victory but those covers include wins over the Ravens (+1), Saints (+8.5), Texans (+2.5) and Browns (+3.5), none of which are comparable to the Colts and their fast click offense that can put up points in a hurry, even when the pressure is on. Let's not forget the Bengals have a reputation of choking in high stakes games.
Free NFL Picks: Colts -3.5