It’s Wild Card Weekend, and the early NFL odds look pretty tight – except for the AFC matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals. Everyone loves the Colts, including the sharps.
Jason’s record after Week 17: 40-52-1 ATS, 19-28-1 Totals
You may have noticed that the 2014 NFL regular season was a bit, shall we say, chaotic. Now that the playoffs are here, we should encounter less and less turbulence with each round, as more and more casual bettors enter the marketplace. Theirs is the money we want to take. We’ve already weighed in on which teams the public is likely to overbet this week; now that our early consensus reports are in, we can focus on which teams the sharps have been hammering for their football picks.
They’re not always on opposite sides. On one hand, you’ve got Sunday’s NFC Wild Card matchup (4:40 p.m. ET, FOX) between the Detroit Lions and the Dallas Cowboys. We expect Dallas to be the public darling in this case, while the sharps appear to be leaning toward Detroit as a 7-point road dog. On the other hand, it looks like the Indianapolis Colts are going to get plenty of action – early and late – as 4-point NFL odds home faves for Sunday’s AFC tilt (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS) with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Down the Memory Hole
The Lions-Cowboys contest is pretty straightforward. Our consensus reports show 55 percent of early bettors preferring Detroit at a spread of +8 (–135), which is a small premium of roughly five cents compared to +7 at the standard –110 juice. The Lions (11-5 SU, 7-9 ATS) have a lot of what the sharps are looking for from a value perspective. They’re big underdogs representing a regional fanbase, and they’ve got the No. 4-ranked defense in the league according to the Simple Rating System at Pro Football Reference.
Detroit has also faced stronger opposition on its journey to the postseason – most notably in Week 17 against the Green Bay Packers, who won 30-20 as 8.5-point home faves. At the same time, the Cowboys (12-4 SU, 10-6 ATS) were beating up on Washington (+6 at home) in a 44-17 final. The betting public will likely put too much emphasis on these late results, forgetting that the Lions beat Green Bay (+1 away) in Week 3, and that Dallas lost to Washington (+9 away) in Week 8.
It’s Not Easy Being Green
The Bengals-Colts matchup is similar in many ways. The Colts (11-5 SU, 10-5-1 ATS) are the popular home favorite coming off an easy Week 17 win over the tanking Tennessee Titans (+7.5 at home), while the Bengals (10-5-1 SU, 8-7-1 ATS) are the plucky Rust Belt team with the superior defense that got spanked 27-17 by the Pittsburgh Steelers (–3 at home) on Sunday. On the season, Cincinnati’s strength of schedule was a bit tougher than Indianapolis’, again according to Pro Football Reference.
But there’s one major difference with this contest: Indianapolis is only favored by four points at home. That gives the sharps a lot less incentive to bet the underdogs, and according to our early consensus reports, the Colts were pulling in 60 percent support at –4. We’ve also got a key injury situation developing with top Bengals wideout A.J. Green (69 catches, six TDs), who took a blow to the head on Sunday and might not clear the league’s concussion protocol in time for the Wild Card round.
Saturday’s Wild Card matchups, Baltimore-Pittsburgh (8:15 p.m. ET, NBC) and Arizona-Carolina (4:20 p.m. ET, ESPN), both showed a near 50-50 split in early action, so we can’t divine too much from their consensus numbers. Not surprising, since all four teams can be considered “regional” market representatives, with a nod to the Steelers as having some national appeal. But don’t forget to check out our expanded consensus reports as they become available, to see which teams are drawing the biggest bets. Those tend to be sharp NFL picks, as well.