Discussion on the AFC Championship Game

1387749303000-manning-thumbs-upThe AFC Championship game with the New England Patriots at the Denver Broncos is lining up to be a textbook example of my main handicapping philosophy. My analysis on any game starts with the gambling market. I try to determine which side the smart money is on and piggy-back them. Similarly I like being on the same side with the sportsbooks and like going against (fading) the public or “squares”. The two key factors are the movement in the point spread and the percentage of the number of bets being placed on the two teams. The wagering information I get from www.sportsinsights.com’s Sportsbook Spy. What I am looking for is divergence between these two factors. I want to see the line moving in the opposite direction of which way the bets are coming or the line not move in the face of overwhelming public action. Significant divergence is the best case, but when you have around 80% on one side and the spread isn’t moving at all that is probably the 2nd best. That is what we almost have here with the New England Patriots receiving 79% of spread bets. The spread has been 3-points all week though many books are now requiring a little more juice if you take the Pats and are offering the Denver Broncos and +3 with half or no “vig”. From Sports Insights BetLabs teams receiving just 20% or less of the spread wagers are 107-85 against the spread (55.7%) in the regular season. That system would produce at 8.7% ROI and earns a grade of A- from Bet Labs. There has never been a game in the postseason hit that mark and I would think by game time the bets won’t be so lopsided, but it still illustrates a point.

I could do this basic market analysis on any sport in the world if I have those two key factors, the line/spread/odds and the percentage of wagers. Where my knowledge in the NFL helps is that I can make my own point spread that I think would balance the action. I thought this line would be 3.5 or 4. When it came out at just 3-points I knew that the Pats would be getting the vast majority of the wagers. I really didn’t need to Sports Insights on this one. I would consider just a field goal line here “fishy”. The theory there being is that the smart money in the market knows or sees something the vast majority of the other participants don’t. I got a pair of texts last night less than an hour apart both from Australia friends living here in New York. The first was from “Neil” and it read “New England line looks low…am I missing something?” The second was from “Bob” asking “Thoughts on the Pats line -3 this weekend in Denver?” I responded with my usual, “I like the Broncos, fishy line, hasn’t moved in the face of nearly 80% of the bets”, etc… “Bob” then asked what the “sharps” were doing. I said they have to be on the Broncos because if both the public and the sharps are on the Pats the line would have to move out. He understood all of that, but “Bob” gave solid reasons why the Pats at -3 are great bet, most importantly is that their offense is healthy. He put a third Aussie friend on that text who we will call “Tug” who added “I love Pats at line”. Aside from the market I obviously have a hard time arguing with them and justifying a pick of the Broncos at +3.

There are a couple of trends that do favor the Broncos. Tom Brady is 2-5 in his career both straight up and against the spread in Denver. The Patriots are just 3-11 ATS in their last 14 games on grass. There is also the excellent Denver defense which like the Pats offense wasn’t fully healthy when these two teams matched up back in week 12. The Broncos ran for 179 yards on 32 yards in that game and will have to put up a similar number on Sunday. The Broncos’ plan will be to run the ball, milk the clock and keep the ball out of the hands of Tom Brady. The home field advantage is big as the crowd will be rocking making it hard for Brady at the line of scrimmage. It also is never easy playing a mile above sea level. That should allow for the Broncos top pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to cause problems. Denver has two lockdown corners, Chris Harris Jr. and former Patriot Aqib Talib. There is one other factor that actually as of right now is the lead story on the tabloid New York Post’s website with the headline “NFL Conspiracy Theory Freaking Out Patriots Fans”. This is due to the fact that Ed Hochuli will be the referee on Sunday. From the Boston Herald the Broncos have never lost a game with Hochuli as the ref (7-0 straight up). The Pats are 3-4 outright in Hochuli games since 2010 (72-17 in all other games). I would think the NFL would want Denver considering they just punished the Patriots for the “Deflategate” scandal this past season. The Super Bowl would be huge with either of them, but considering there is a good chance Peyton Manning would retire after the game ratings probably would be bigger with the Broncos.

There is one factor that might not be in the market just yet that could level the bet percentage and help balance the books. This would also make the Broncos a less attractive selection. That factor is sentimentality. These Championship games get a lot of gamblers out of the woodwork and I think many of those bettors will back who they want to root for in the game. In what most likely will be the last Manning-Brady Bowl I think the majority will be rooting for Manning. Those gamblers will be placing bets later in the week so they haven’t hit the market yet. I also think a lot of sharps who want to play Denver haven’t made their bets yet and some may even have the Pats at -3 in hopes of it moving and being able to take the Broncos at +3.5 or 4 and having the potential to hit one side while just pushing the other. It could be a low risk/high return play if the line were to move. The books seem to be holding firm and don’t want to move the line and are willing to be imbalanced expecting late Broncos money.

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