In theory, when it comes to wagering, the NFL Playoffs should be one of the prime handicapping junctures on the wagering calendar.
Think about it -- there is no need to factor in the week to week motivational differences, letdown possibilities, and (at least for the first weekend of the playoffs) bye week effects. Quite simply, teams are trying to survive and advance, with no regard for resting players or leaving any page of the playbook unturned. Pure evaluation of matchups and handicapping nuance, that's it.
Considering that I had another horrific 2-4 weekend last weekend, capping off a 2013 regular season that never did make it over the newly concocted Pendergast Line, I need the simplicity of playoff handicapping.
There will be a time to go game by game (like this Friday), but for now, let's take a quick look at the Super Bowl futures odds and see if we can find any value in pinpointing a team, maybe even a dark horse or two, to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
We will put them in categories and assess the value of each. As usual, the odds are courtesy of bovada.lv:
Odds to win the 2014 Super Bowl XLVIII
The Favorites DENVER BRONCOS +275 SEATTLE SEAHAWKS +275 VALUE: Inherently, there is very rarely great value in the one seeds come playoff time, especially two that are perceived to be dominant in their own ways -- Denver having broken the single season scoring record behind Peyton Manning's own record breaking individual season, and Seattle with one of the best home field advantages in all of professional team sports. Now, the fly in the ointment for each one -- for Denver, Peyton Manning's history in the postseason (not great, 9-11 overall) and, for Seattle, a stacked NFC where all of the other contenders are playing great football or (in the case of Green Bay, with Aaron Rodgers' return) are positioned to play great football. I wouldn't play either one seed on futures bets.
The Strong Leans SAN FRANCISCO 49ers +700 NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS +900 CAROLINA PANTHERS +1000 VALUE: Rare that the third rated bet on the board is a five sees, but such is life in the NFC West, with three double digit win teams, including the +700 49ers. Fact is that since the 2005 season, in all but one season (2009, Colts-Saints) the Super Bowl has included at least one team that played in the wild card round, and in six of those eight seasons, a wild card round winner won the whole thing. So the lack of a bye week shouldn't scare you away from a team playing this weekend, I just don't think that at +700 San Francisco is that team. Best value of these three is New England based solely on having Tom Brady. Carolina having to go through Seattle at this stage in Cam Newton's career is a bit dicey. Live Division Winners GREEN BAY PACKERS +1400 CINCINNATI BENGALS +1600 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES +1600 VALUE: Now we're talking. With Aaron Rodgers back (Packers are 6-2 in games he starts and finishes), the Pack would seem to be of value, however, according to Kevin Bradley, Sports Book Manager of bovada.lv, he says "Not so fast, my friend...":
"It seems that every year the last few weeks leading up to the playoffs, we see an influx of money on a trendy team, a team that is usually coming in hot, and we saw that with the Packers who a few weeks ago were at 50-1 and are now all the way down to 14-1. The Packers are right now a big liability for the book and after taking a beating the last two years on Super Bowl Future odds with the Giants and Ravens, I am hoping the third time is not a charm. Aside from Green Bay, Philadelphia has seen some money at 16-1 while a team like New Orleans at an interesting 22-1 are not being touched."
If you can bring yourself to trust Andy Dalton (not easy, I know), Cincy at +1600 is not a bad value. They should roll San Diego, already have a win over New England this season, and won't be scared of whoever comes out of the Denver/Indy/KC troika. The Eagles at +1600 are good value as well, having gone 6-1 down the stretch and playing with a much improved defense the second half of the season.
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The Flawed NEW ORLEANS SAINTS +2200 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS +2500 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS +2800 VALUE: The Saints are a mediocre team outside of the Superdome. Zero chance they win three road games to go to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs have a stellar running game, but the defense has fallen off greatly in the second half of the season, and do you really trust Alex Smith? And the Colts don't have two road wins in them, I don't think.
The Long Shot SAN DIEGO CHARGERS +4000 VALUE: None. Not only do they go on the road to play in the cold in Cincinnati, where the Bengals haven't lost all year, but they made the playoffs thanks to a missed field goal from a Kansas City kicker on a play where the Chargers had an illegal formation. Then in overtime, the Chargers ran a fake punt in their own territory that was stripped and should have been a game winning return for the Chiefs but the play was blown dead, even though Eric Weddle was still moving forward. I believe more in homeostasis and regression to mean than I do teams of destiny. Chargers get worked knocked out early.
Decent bet that I kind of like.... SUPER BOWL XLVIII - Early Line AFC +2½ NFC -2½ Basically, with a spread under a field goal, this is basically a toss up game. In general, I just feel better about most of the NFC. Other than New Orleans (who even if they made it to NYC would still have to play an outdoor, cold weather Super Bowl), all five of the other NFC teams can easily have a case made for winning the Super Bowl. Conversely, I think you can find fairly glaring flaws with each of the AFC teams, even Denver whose defense was suspect even before losing Von Miller to an ACL tear. Other glaring flaws in the AFC -- New England's lack of big play weapons for Brady, Andy Dalton's inconsistency, the Colts overall inconsistency, Kansas City's reliance on Alex Smith, and San Diego's being San Diego.
Starting January 3, 2014, listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.