The NFL playoffs are shaping up to deliver exactly what the NFL has always preached: Parity. With six of the remaining teams priced between +310 and +850 championship odds, it seemingly paints a picture of a fairly open race.
"Outside of the Jaguars and Giants, you can make a case for six teams to win the Super Bowl and you usually can't do that at this stage," longtime Las Vegan and SuperBook head NFL oddsmaker Ed Salmons told ESPN. In my eyes, the main contenders are pretty dynamic but they each have notable flaws. And that's what makes this all so compelling.
The San Francisco 49ers have won 11 straight games but they also have a third-string rookie quarterback. Yet, they could still be road favorites in the NFC Championship Game because of the questionable health of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and former MVP frontrunner Jalen Hurts, not to mention right tackle Lane Johnson. The Cincinnati Bengals have won nine straight but lost starting left tackle Jonah Williams last week against the Ravens.
"The one thing we've learned is there is nothing more valuable outside of the quarterbacks than tackles. Cincinnati has lost its starting tackle, a guard and another tackle in Week 14," Salmons said, referencing the early professional money this week backing the Buffalo Bills that drove the point spread from 3.5 to 5.5. "Next to quarterbacks, offensive line injuries is the biggest thing that the sharps bet."
The Bills and top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs remain the AFC's teams to beat and could meet next week at a neutral site, which clearly adds another layer to this intriguing bracket. And these two behemoths also have the two worst cover marks of the remaining playoff teams (combined 14-18-2 ATS), so proceed cautiously laying the Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen point-spread taxes.
Line Move of the Week
Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills (-5.5, 49)
Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, Highmark Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
As I mentioned earlier, this point spread has already moved a full two points from 3.5 to 5.5, in response to respected wagers on Buffalo early in the week. Depending who you ask, it stems from an oddsmaking error and miscalculation of power ratings for the opener or it's simply a reaction to recent Cinci injuries. Or perhaps it's a combination of the two.
One oddsmaker implored me to recognize the poorly-priced opening line of 3.5, while referencing their Week 17 matchup. Buffalo was a 2.5-point road favorite in Cincinnati, so if you remove the home field from the Bengals and apply it to Buffalo, the line of 5.5 feels right. "The (3.5-point) line was wrong. The market was wrong," Caesars Sportsbook vice president of trading Craig Mucklow told ESPN.
Plus, it's important to understand how relatively insignificant the numbers of four and five are in NFL betting. Since the extra point moved back to its current distance in 2015, only 4.2% of games have landed exactly five points and 4.4% have landed four, including the playoffs. So what that means is a couple sharp wagers could be all it takes to move the entire market through those two numbers.
I am extremely curious how high this line can go and ultimately ends up. My guess is 5.5 is the ceiling but some really sharp guys predicted 6.5 to me. That would be something. In the meantime, I prefer to fade the Bengals offense and play under 21.5 points on the team total and avoid relying on the Bills to cover.
Many bettors enjoy teasers but often for the wrong reason. It invokes a euphoria that is akin to shopping during a sale. Yeah, it's nice to score a perceived discount, but you're still spending money and rarely getting any value in return.
Let's start with some basics. As I alluded to earlier, the common margins of victory impact the point spreads. Three points is the most common since 2015 (14.8%). Seven is the second-most (8.9%) and six is third-most (7.2%). Consequently, those are the three most key numbers in NFL betting. Also, if you attempt to buy a half-point off of those numbers, you must pay hefty juice, which only reinforces the high value of those numbers.
Now let's apply that rationale to teasers. A standard six-point teaser has a price of -120 regardless of what game you choose. So with a fixed price, it makes the most sense to apply the six-point adjustment in a way that offers the most value. So that is why it makes the most sense to tease a point spread through the numbers of three, six and seven, given how valuable they are. You're actually getting bang for your buck in this "sale".
With the Chiefs now a nine-point favorite, we can apply a 6.5-point teaser (-130) to Kansas City and Philadelphia. The Chiefs would be -2.5 (from 9) and the Eagles would be -1 (from 7.5). This almost makes too much sense...which means it will likely lose. Nonetheless, I am still playing it.
Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (-4, 46.5)
Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET, Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.
As some point, Purdy will play like a rookie. He actually did last week for most of the first half but many choose to ignore it because the Niners won a blowout. He will likely need to be sharper, but I also trust Kyle Shanahan to continue to put him in advantageous positions that allow the true playmakers to shine. Short throws to wide-open guys is the key, and Purdy's mobility is undoubtedly a difference-maker by extending plays.
The Cowboys have been the definition of inconsistency. Yes, they looked amazing last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Congratulations. You beat a team with a losing record from a horrendous division that finished with the league's worst cover record. The Bucs defined disappointment, especially considering they promptly fired nine assistant coaches this week.
Now that Dallas got over the hump and finally won a playoff game, there is a chance the Cowboys play loose and that could prove to be the difference. Instead, I prefer to back the home team that has an elite defense, has a much better coach and is playing with two more days of rest.
Pick: 49ers -4