You may not have been watching live football the past few days, but I’ve been taking a lot of football bets!
Fresh on the heels of this past Monday night’s National Championship game in college football, the NFL playoffs begin Saturday with the expanded super wild-card weekend. Several franchises in the brackets have very strong betting contingents here in Las Vegas, not just the hometown Raiders. Teams from neighboring states like the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals are getting very strong support. The Cowboys have fans in every state. Playoff mainstays like Bill Belichick and Tom Brady always inspire passion -- for, or against.
All that plus two extra games will likely make this the most heavily bet wild-card weekend ever.
Before getting to the games, let me update our futures prices at the South Point. Below are money-line prices to win each conference and the Super Bowl. You’d bet $100 to win the amount listed (or anything in that ratio). I’ll start with the NFC.
Green Bay: + 140 to win NFC, + 325 to win SB
Tampa Bay: + 425 to win NFC, + 800 to win SB
Dallas: + 425 to win NFC, + 1000 to win SB
LA Rams: + 475 to win NFC, + 800 to win SB
San Francisco: + 1000 to win NFC, + 1800 to win SB
Arizona: + 1800 to win NFC, + 4000 to win SB
Philadelphia: + 4000 to win NFC, + 10000 to win SB
You can see it gets a bit messy with the Cowboys and Rams. For those two teams, I’ve taken more bets on Dallas to win the NFC, but more on Los Angeles to win the Super Bowl. My prices are strongly influenced by betting action and house risk. I don’t want to leave the South Point exposed to a bad result.
Interestingly, I’ve got a very market-friendly price on Tampa Bay. I want more people to bet on Tom Brady! Looks like many bettors don’t like asking teams to “repeat” as champs … that helped guide action to teams like the Cowboys and Rams.
Now, the AFC.
Kansas City: + 180 to win AFC, + 450 to win SB
Tennessee: + 300 to win AFC, + 900 to win SB
Buffalo: + 325 to win AFC, + 800 to win SB
Cincinnati: + 700 to win AFC, + 2200 to win SB
Las Vegas: + 1000 to win AFC, + 2000 to win SB
New England: + 1200 to win AFC, + 3000 to win SB
Pittsburgh: + 4000 to win AFC, + 10000 to win SB
Cincinnati’s numbers may have jumped out at you. I’ve taken a lot of Bengals bets to win the AFC, but hardly anyone’s asking them to run the table. We’re exposed to the Raiders because there’s so much local interest. That said, it would be great for the community for the Silver and Black to reach or win the Super Bowl. We survived the Golden Knights’ massive early success in the NHL. Anything that’s good for the city of Las Vegas is good for the South Point.
We do surprisingly well if Kansas City goes deep. The public no longer sees the Chiefs as an unstoppable force, though skepticism about Tennessee winning the Super Bowl remains high. That is a nice return for a No. 1 seed.
I always like to remind recreational bettors that you’ll typically earn better returns on your favorite team by backing them on the money-line each week than by rolling over the returns game-by-game. This won’t work for those of you who have to take long trips to bet, but if you have easy access and you strongly believe your team can go the distance, please consider that approach.
The Raiders would likely return much better than 10/1 to win the AFC (they’re + 200 this week, and might be near that in two additional conference playoff games), and much more than 20/1 to win the Super Bowl with that approach. Your initial stake is the same as a futures bet. So, you’re risking the same amount to win more.
Let’s see how sharps have been betting this weekend’s six-pack. Games are presented in kickoff order.
Saturday, Jan. 15
Las Vegas Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals (-5.5, 49)
NBC, 4:30 p.m. ET
Temperatures will be just below freezing throughout. Wind is expected to be around 10 mph, which is on the low end of the troublesome range. Sharps aren’t currently betting like weather will be a factor.
I opened the team side at Cincinnati -6.5, and wiseguys took the Raiders + 6.5 and + 6. I’m down to 5.5, and writing pretty even business at the new number. On the money line, I took a big early bet on Cincinnati -270. That was right after the Raiders had to go OT late Sunday night to make the playoffs. I think that bettor was anticipating a Cincinnati surge. Instead, sharps bet the Raiders at + 240, + 230, and + 220. Local Raiders fans kept betting the Raiders at + 210 and my current price of + 200. I’ve been taking good two-way play at my opening Over/Under of 49. I see some 48.5’s out there, but I’m actually a little high on the Over right now. I won’t adjust until action forces my hand.
New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills (-4.5, 44)
CBS, 8:15 p.m. ET
You’ve probably heard it will be very cold. Game time temperatures will be in the single digits, with a slight breeze in the 5-7 mph range dropping wind chill below zero.
Sharps bet New England at my opener of + 4.5. I had been writing mostly even business after dropping to + 4, but Buffalo money started coming in stronger early Friday afternoon. I’m back to -4.5. My opening money line of Bills -210/Pats + 180 initially fell (as low as -190/+ 170). I’m now up to Bills -220/Pats + 190 with that Friday Buffalo interest.
Even with brittle conditions, sharps aren’t betting Under yet. I’ve told you in the past that wiseguys focus more on wind than temperatures. My opening total of 43.5 was bet up to 44. I’ve been writing even business at 44. If an updated forecast suggests worse wind, that number will fall.
Sunday, Jan. 16
Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-8.5, 46)
FOX, 1 p.m. ET
Things could get very messy here. There’s about an 80 percent chance of rain, with winds potentially in the 20-25 mph range. I opened the game Tampa Bay -8.5 when most of the market was at -9. Early money did hit the Bucs, but sharps bet Philadelphia + 9 when I offered it. I’m back where I started at 8.5. My money line hasn’t moved off my opener of Bucs -400/Eagles + 330.
I got caught napping on the total. I opened 49 without realizing the weather would be so crazy. A well-respected sharp hit that so hard I dropped straight to 47. I’m down to 46 now.
There’s been a lot of talk about teasers with this game. Tampa Bay is an obvious choice for six-point teasers that would drop the line through the key numbers of 7 and 3 to -2.5. The problem for sharps is that there are currently no other logical legs to include in a two-teamer. No other team crosses both key numbers with a six-point move. Many public bettors are using seven-point teasers to pair Tampa Bay with underdog San Francisco. Be aware that sharps are not doing that.
San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys (-3, 51)
CBS, 4:30 p.m. ET
Fantastic betting game, but hardly anything to report! Tons of action both ways at my opening line of Dallas -3. I see that some other spots are getting Dallas money; I’m dead even on the game. Great two-way action on my money line of Cowboys -160/Niners + 140. My opening total of 50 was bet up to 50.5 and 51 from a mix of sharp and public money. I expect lines to stay solid through this high-handle attraction unless there’s a major personnel announcement between now and kickoff.
Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs (-12.5, 46.5)
NBC, 8:15 p.m. ET
Haven’t moved off my opener of Kansas City -12.5. The public is betting the Chiefs, which is no surprise. I think sharps are waiting to see + 13 before taking Pittsburgh. That happened at other stores testing the number. We may be at 13 closer to kickoff. I also haven’t moved my opening money line of Chiefs -750/Steelers + 525. Sharps are taking that return with Pittsburgh, but I have the Chiefs in a lot of money-line parlays to balance that out. Pretty decent two-way play on my opening total of 46.5. Weather should be cold, but not too windy.
Monday, Jan. 17
Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams (-4, 49.5)
ABC, ESPN, 8:15 p.m. ET
Monday night football is always a great betting attraction anyway. Now, we have a playoff game on a Monday night that matches two teams from states that neighbor Nevada. The South Point has satellite books in Mesquite that are just a few miles from the Arizona border. You regular readers know that Las Vegas might as well be a suburb of Los Angeles for big sporting events. Needless to say, we will have a monster handle on this game.
Sharps haven’t been very involved on the team side yet. I’m still at my opener of Rams -4. I have a slightly higher ticket count on the Rams, but slightly more money on the Cards. Some would interpret that as sharp sentiment on the ‘dog, but I know who my sharps are and they haven’t bet the spread. Wiseguys nibbled a bit on Arizona at + 175 on the money line. My opener of Rams -200/Cards + 175 is now Rams -190/Cards + 170. Sharps did bet Under my opening total of 51, then Under 50.5 and Under 50. I’m currently at 49.5.
Normally by Friday afternoon, I’d be able to tell you where our greatest risks of exposure are for a big football schedule. Teams have been so evenly bet thus far this week that there just aren’t any one-sided games. Plenty of time for that to change. For now, I think sports books all over the country will be busy writing tickets while letting the vigorish do its work.
Best of luck to you this weekend.
Chris Andrews is the Sportsbook Director at the South Point in Las Vegas, and has been a Nevada bookmaker for 30 years.