Bettor’s Playbook: The Road To The NFL Conference Championships
What a potpourri.NFL playoff Week 1 rewarded the under prop bettors of the defensive-minded San Francisco 49ers, and the underdog hunches of the Tennessee Titans
It was an over betting paradise via the Kansas City Chiefs-Houston Texans and a nail-biting finish in Green Bay with the spread line marking the game’s finish.
Now we are down to four teams on Jan. 19 vying for their place in Super Bowl LIV.
William Hill Sportsbook posted the first line of the championship weekend. Kansas City -7.5 as it hosts the Titans in the AFC Championship game.
The Packers will visit the 49ers in a rematch of their late November game when they were posted 37-8. The Niners are favored by seven at DraftKings Sportsbook.
Before looking at the matchups, let’s examine some key betting highlights from a wild playoff round that produced a 3-1 performance from favorites to a 2-2 split on the over/under.
And, another monumental upset from the same source as the week before.
Overdue breakout in Kansas City
Betting on the NFL has certainly been exciting during the playoffs. The under had gone 6-0 in the postseason until the Sunday afternoon game. Then it was an over bettors’ Hall of Fame game.
The over total of 50.5-51 was across the spectrum.
DraftKings, William Hill, FanDuel and SugarHouse sportsbooks were in the bank by halftime. It was the highest-scoring NFL playoff first half ever.
The gamblers danced in the aisles when touchdowns erupted like July Fourth fireworks.
Bettors could not believe their good fortune. A busted coverage moment into the game led to a touchdown the first time Houston had the ball. This was the first time in Houston’s postseason history when it scored a TD during opening possession.
Then came a blocked punt for a score after Kansas City dropped a third-down pass.
Then there was panic by Kansas City coach Andy Reid when he put receiver Tyreek Hill back to grab a punt. Hill should have called a fair catch; however, he took it in at the five and fumbled. The Texans got it and scored.
Boom, it’s 21-0 and off to the races. It was the first time in their 298-game history that the Texans scored 21 points in the first quarter — what a time to have the over.
They were the B-side of the over/under ticket.
Remember one week earlier? They had been shut out in the first half by the Buffalo Bills. Now they went up 24-0 early in the second quarter and that +400 moneyline return at DraftKings looked imminent.
Given the 9.5 points across the sportsbooks, Houston also led by 33.5 points in the spread world.
But Kansas City caught fire, as you knew it would.
Then It was Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s turn to panic, launching a fake punt inside its territory when up 24-7. It was squashed.
Kansas City had a short field and, before one could blink, the Chiefs had two more touchdowns. They got one more before the half, making the 28-24 score the highest halftime total ever for an NFL playoff game.
It’s a musical stat for the over bettors. How do you get to 82 points? Big plays.
Houston got two scores from the blocked punt and muffed punt return.
Kansas City turned the ill-advised fake punt into a touchdown and then Houston fumbled the kickoff, setting up another score.
Over bettors will relish it as a near-perfect game. The Chiefs set an NFL playoff record with seven straight drives resulting in touchdowns.
Kansas City backers were happy to know the Chiefs became the first NFL team to trail by more than 20 and then win by 20 in a postseason game.
In-game action tricky
Gamblers who took Kansas City in-game at William Hill could get them as an underdog on the moneyline when they trailed 24-0.
They could even take them getting a touchdown. But by the time the Chiefs closed within 24-21, they were already -550, despite trailing in the game.
Taking the in-game when a team trails behind is a good idea provided the instinct unfolds when they are trailing.
College football bettors routinely pull the trigger if the favorite falls behind a couple of touchdowns. The reasoning being that they will rally.
But an elite NFL team holds its value with line makers, and a substantial deficit doesn’t always translate into a buying opportunity. Earlier this year, San Francisco trailed Arizona by 16 points in a game it would win. But when down 16, the 49ers were still -145 at William Hill.
Baltimore bombs out
The largest weekend favorites at 9.5 points, the Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens looked tight and not ready to play after resting via the bye week>.
Kansas City rallied from its predicament. Baltimore did not.
After being off for two weeks, you could feel that the Ravens were rusty.
Imminent league MVP Lamar Jackson threw passes behind receivers and the Tennessee defense did what was projected here last week, forcing Jackson to go wide by cutting off the gaps.
Baltimore did not resemble the 14-2 team, who played the regular season with ease. The Ravens scored 59 points in Week 1, and stringed together three straight games of 40 or more points and winning by an average of 15 points.
The Ravens had won 12 straight games. This was the first time the Ravens ever held the AFC No. 1 seed, and the pressure was too much.
Baltimore not only looked sluggish but failed to convert on two fourth-and-inches offensive plays, which turned into two quick touchdowns for the Titans in their 28-12 win.
When it all went south
With all their troubles, the Ravens only trailed 14-6 in the third quarter, and they had a makeable fourth-and-inches in Tennessee territory. One breakthrough might have altered their course.
This was when all the air left the balloon. All Jackson had to do was lean forward, and his momentum would have provided the yardage. But he started the playoff tackle and.
Three plays later, AFC rushing champion Derrick Henry provided a back-breaking run of 66 yards>.
Three plays after that, he tossed a jump pass touchdown from the Wildcat formation. It was an artistic beatdown, the final nail in the coffin. Jackson then committed a turnover, and Tennessee scored off of that.
The game went from 14-6 and Baltimore driving to 28-6 Tennessee in a couple of minutes.
Remember these Titans
Tennessee has a punishing ground attack behind Henry and an excellent offensive line.
They play power, ball-control football but can also strike. In two playoff games, the Titans held New England to 13 points and Baltimore to 12 (less than what Houston yielded to Kansas City on one quarter on Sunday).
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is 9-3 as its starter, and this team is playing with attitude.
Pack covers with the sack
A stopped 2-point conversion decided the Packers-Seattle Seahawks line of -4.5 at FanDuel after Seattle roared back from 21-3 and 28-10 deficits to make it 28-23.
A conversion by Seattle would have created a 3-point margin and a cover for its bettors. But Green Bay obtained a sack on the 2-point attempt.
Between that and an earlier missed field goal, Seattle could have triumphed outright.
The offenses became pinball machines in the second half, with touchdowns on three straight possessions and four out of five. That took the over 45.5 bet over the top.
At one point in the second half, Seattle ran 36 plays to Green Bay’s 10 and the Packer defense was gassed.
Only two clutch throws by Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers closed out the clock.
The game-clinching first down was obtained by inches. One sensed if Seattle held it there, a game-winning drive was likely.
Niners deliver for favorites, and under
Dominant defenses were a theme for the Saturday round.
The 49ers were able to harass Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins. He lacked the timing for deep routes and to cover the 7-point line at SugarHouse Sportsbook. They also secured the under 44.5 total.
A couple of factors were significant. The ailing ankle and foot of Adam Thielen denied him the speed for deep routes.
San Francisco also bottled up running back Dalvin Cook, who had gashed New Orleans the week before, holding him to 21 yards.
So dominant was this defense that the Vikings tied an all-time record of fewest first downs in a playoff game (six). They ended with seven.
Minnesota obtained 79 yards on its second possession of the game and only 68 yards for the rest of the game.
San Francisco’s ball control offense played smartly, taking pressure off quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
Down to four
All four finalists played each other during the regular season.
Green Bay was blown out by San Francisco, 37-8, on Nov. 24. The Niners took away the deep ball from Rodgers, holding him to 104 yards. The Packers were sleep-walking that night, so they should show improvement, but by how much.
San Francisco has many interchangeable weapons. Garoppolo has proven to be a good game manager in this run-first offense.
Tennessee gained an emotional victory over Kansas City at home on Nov. 10, jump-starting its season. The Titans scored in the final minute to take the lead and blocked a field goal to preserve it. That is the game that indicated their season might be respectable.
Now, they can make it memorable.
From a betting perspective, at this level of competition, teams don’t usually beat themselves. They avoid bad penalties and don’t turn the ball over.
The games usually boil down to which team is more skilled.
Current Conference Championship odds at NJ Sportsbooks