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Gronk cleared to play, but market still quiet

Jeff Fogle  
VSiN City newsletter

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Rob Gronkowski had his day in the spotlight with the announcement of his being cleared to play Sunday.
© USA Today Sports Images

Rob Gronkowski was cleared through concussion protocol Thursday afternoon…and NOTHING happened on the Super Bowl 52 side and total! What that means for the weekend plus our expanded stat preview and bonus basketball to close out another week in VSiN City.

Super Bowl Betting: Rob Gronkowski cleared to play for Patriots, but market still at -4 or -4.5, with a total of 48 or 48.5. 
Nevada (and global) sports books had been bracing all week for what might happen when Rob Gronkowski’s status was confirmed for Sunday’s Super Bowl 52 featuring the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles. The word finally came Thursday afternoon. Gronk will be in uniform and ready to go. If you were looking to bet the Patriots…there’s nothing stopping you now!

Yet, while there was some instant play on the favorite from Patriots fans who were specifically waiting on that news…there was far from a tidal wave of chalk. A few outliers in Las Vegas (Jerry’s Nugget in the North) and offshore did temporarily test Patriots -5. That was short-lived. Eagles money showed at plus 5, bringing most everyone back to where they started the day.

What does THIS mean for the market?

*It’s pretty clear evidence that there weren’t any sharp syndicates waiting to bet HUGE on the Patriots once Gronk was cleared. If quants were thinking the Patriots should be something like -7 at full strength, they would have jumped on -4 in particular (at the South Point and Westgate) or -4.5 elsewhere. And they would have kept hitting the Pats at -5 and -5.5 up to at least -6 (which was a common opener back on Championship Sunday). This did not happen. And it WOULD have happened if quants had gradings to the Pats because of the next issue.

*There’s still a chance that a flood of “public” money will hit the favorite as more tourists arrive in Las Vegas this weekend. Vinny Magliulo told Brent Musberger today on “My Guys in the Desert” that tourists generally fly in on Thursdays during Super Bowl week, or drive in from neighboring states on Friday. Once “everyone’s here,” combined betting interest in the Patriots could still drive the line higher. 

For now, we know that sharps as a composite don’t like the Patriots at -4 or -4.5, which suggests they’re waiting on public money to see if they can get the Eagles at plus 5 or better before kickoff. Remember that the big Eagles’ bets we’ve seen already weren’t coming from “market players” maneuvering for the best price…but from deep-pocketed individuals more interested in backing the Eagles to win than they were about pure line value. 

On the Over/Under, same story. We’re still seeing 48 or 48.5 across the board. Gronk’s clearance didn’t bring in quant money on the Over even though we have two productive offenses playing indoors in good scoring conditions. This suggests that sharps are looking to bet the Under if they can get 49 or better after the public bets the total. Generally speaking, public money comes in on Overs because spectators prefer rooting for points than rooting for defenses.

Now, the South Point’s braintrust of Chris Andrews and Jimmy Vaccaro did report active two-way betting on Gronkowski propositions (reception yardage, etc…). Some bettors are expecting a big performance. Others believe his numbers are too high for projected game flow. 

This is our last “Market Watch” report before kickoff here in VSiN City. Be sure you stay connected to our very special schedule of VSiN programming all weekend for the latest word direct from the sports betting capital of the world. 

Super Bowl Stat Preview: Is there any evidence New England can win comfortably?
As we discussed at length in a special article running in the Point Spread Weekly big game preview, any study of New England Patriots Super Bowl performances in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era drives home an obvious point. The Patriots haven’t won BIG. Their largest margin of victory in regulation was just four points. They did beat Atlanta by six last year thanks to overtime, after rallying from a 28-3 hole. 

As great as this dynasty has been…that greatness has expressed itself in GETTING to the Super Bowl rather than dominating once they get there. The Pats have had consistent trouble getting scoreboard distance from quality opponents on neutral fields. 

With that in mind, let’s see if there’s any evidence New England can do that this Sunday in Minnesota. 

Philadelphia (13-3) vs. New England (13-3) 
Las Vegas Line: New England by 4.5, total of 48
Records vs. the Point Spread: Philadelphia 10-6, New England 11-5  

We’ve been keeping all stat indicators at 16 games through the playoffs. Both teams are obviously 15-3 now if you want to throw in the postseason. Both are now 12-6 against the spread after a sweep by the Eagles (winning outright twice as an underdog), and a split for the Pats (crushing Tennessee but having to rally from behind to edge Jacksonville in a non-cover). Another reminder that you can make money betting on good teams. 

Yards-per-Play
Philadelphia: 5.5 on offense, 5.0 on defense (vs. the #21 ranked schedule)
New England: 5.9 on offense, 5.7 on defense (vs. the #25 ranked schedule)

The tricky thing for Philadelphia is obviously the fact that Nick Foles isn’t Carson Wentz. For a few games, he looked like he was many points worse. But, in the NFC Championship game vs. Minnesota, a passing line of 26-33-0-346 suggested that Foles was now comfortable in the offense, and dangerous in good scoring conditions (nice weather that day in Philadelphia). In this stat, the Eagles were better at the point of attack against a more demanding schedule. Let’s say you should dock them a little. You still can’t make the case that the Patriots should be a favorite of more than four based on yards-per-play differential. 

Key Passing Stats 
Philadelphia: 7.0 yards-per-pass attempt, 38 TD’s, 9 interceptions thrown
New England: 7.9 yards-per-pass attempt, 32 TD’s, 8 interceptions thrown

The Patriots get the best of it on yards-per-attempt, though Philadelphia had the better TD/INT ratio against a tougher schedule. Again, how much of an adjustment do you make for Foles, who was a star against a great defense two weeks ago? He definitely has a good shot to match 7.0 YPPA. You can’t call the category a wash just because Foles had a good home game against a defense that wasn’t respecting him enough. Edge to Brady, but debatable that it’s worth a touchdown in the betting line.

Pass Defense 
Philadelphia: 6.5 yppa allowed; 24 TD’s allowed, 19 interceptions 
New England: 7.3 yppa allowed; 24 TD’s allowed, 12 interceptions

Clear edge to Philadelphia here, both in YPPA allowed and interceptions. Yes, the Patriots did hurt their numbers with a lousy September. The Eagles are still more dynamic in this facet of play. If, for any reason, Rob Gronkowski isn’t all the way back to 100%, or is now gun-shy about making a big play in traffic, the pass defense edge for the underdog gets bigger. 

Impact Defense 
Philadelphia: 32% third down pct-allowed, 31 takeaways, 38 sacks
New England: 39% third down pct-allowed, 18 takeaways, 42 sacks

Big advantages here, with a meaningful edge in getting third down stops AND impact plays. That’s a 69-60 count in takeaways plus sacks. Both offenses emphasize turnover avoidance, so it all may come out in the wash anyway. Tom Brady had a clean sheet vs. Tennessee (no giveaways, not sacked). Either both offenses play it so safe that risk/reward cancels out. Or, the Eagles defense has another edge that will help it cover. 

Raw Touchdown Counts
Philadelphia: 47 offensive TDs, 31 TD’s allowed, vs. the #21 ranked schedule
New England: 48 offensive TDs, 30 TD’s allowed, vs. the #25 ranked schedule

Wow…as close as it gets. Philadelphia had become “the Patriots of the NFC” with Wentz at the helm. Then, Foles led them to a combined scoreboard win of 53-17 over the Falcons and Vikings. In the playoffs, New England has an 8-4 split vs. the Titans and Jags, Philadelphia a 5-2 split vs. a tougher schedule based on market Power Ratings. 

Red Zone Touchdown Rankings
Philadelphia: #1 on offense, #20 on defense
New England: #6 on offense, #4 on defense

This has been a very helpful category since we first included it in these stat previews. Finally, SOMETHING that gives the Patriots a shot to win by more than the current point spread. Philadelphia did show some vulnerability in the red zone defensively during the regular season (though, not in its two playoff games). If Brady can get into scoring position to score touchdowns, while Foles can only do so to settle for field goals…the Patriots do have a path to gradually pulling away through the course of the evening. 

Summing it all up. New England has established a history of not pulling away from quality opponents in Super Bowls. There’s little here to suggest that would change now unless Nick Foles folds under the pressure and makes a lot of mistakes. That certainly could happen in a “regression to the mean” spot off a peak outing…playing away from home rather than in front of a friendly crowd. If you’re betting New England to win big, you virtually NEED Foles to turn into a pumpkin. 

Our raw stats, adjusted downward for the absence of Wentz, suggest the pointspread is fair or a touch high. And, if Foles can distribute the ball as effectively Sunday as he did two weeks ago, there may not be a need to adjust anything downward. The version of Philadelphia that crushed Minnesota could certainly win the game outright. Likely another close, entertaining Super Bowl. Point spread value on the dog at plus 4 or more in that scenario. 

Thursday NBA: Blake Griffin debuts for possibly overpriced Detroit Pistons, Rockets elite when healthy
Blake Griffin is going to be an impact player for the Detroit Pistons. Betting markets may be overrating that potential impact based on Thursday night’s 104-102 win as an 8.5-point favorite over the shorthanded Memphis Grizzlies.

Detroit (-8) 104, Memphis 102 
Two-point Pct: Memphis 49%, Detroit 55%
Three Pointers: Memphis 8/31, Detroit 7/25
Free Throws: Memphis 14/14, Detroit 27/37
Rebounds: Memphis 49, Detroit 41
Turnovers: Memphis 9, Detroit 7

Griffin led the Pistons with 24 points (keyed by 11 of 13 from the free throw line), 5 assists, and 2 blocked shots. He also had 10 rebounds, second on the team to Andre Drummond. Yet, with all of that, the Pistons could barely get past the Grizzlies who were sitting Tyreke Evans in advance of a likely trade. Even with Griffin and Drummond, the Pistons were outrebounded badly. Free throws were the tie-breaker…well, a free throw “blowout” only caused a nail biter win. Pistons fans celebrated the victory. Bettors must notice that the Pistons performed well below market expectations. 

We’ll try to update NBA “market” Power Ratings more than just once a week moving forward. We’ll break into East and West today. First, the East. Then, a look at the Rockets' win over the Spurs Thursday night followed by the West. 

NBA Eastern Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Toronto 84, Boston 82, Cleveland 81, Philadelphia 81, Miami 80, Milwaukee 80, Detroit 79, Indiana 78, Charlotte 78, Washington 77, New York 77, Chicago 75, Brooklyn 73, Orlando 73, Atlanta 73.

Houston (-2.5) 102, San Antonio 91 
Two-point Pct: Houston 56%, San Antonio 49%
Three Pointers: Houston 14/42, San Antonio 6/24
Free Throws: Houston 14/17, San Antonio 15/17
Rebounds: Houston 38, San Antonio 46
Turnovers: Houston 9, San Antonio 16

It’s going to be important for handicappers and bettors to play attention to the Rockets down the stretch. Daryl Morey has made it very clear in interviews that the franchise has devoted intense focus on what it takes to beat Golden State in a playoff matchup. The Rockets also realize they have to GET to the Western finals to make that happen. So, Houston at full strength…vs. other elite teams in the West…will provide a likely playoff tutorial. 

Here, you see a clean game led by a restrained night from James Harden. He had 28 points and 11 assists, but only three free throw attempts because he wasn’t charging the rim all night. The combination of Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela has been very effective this season when all three are simultaneously healthy. Surprisingly easy road win tonight, triggered by a 27-14 launch in the first quarter. 

NBA Western Conference estimated “market” Power Ratings: Golden State 89, Houston 87, Oklahoma City 83, Minnesota 82, San Antonio 81, Portland 81, Denver 80, New Orleans 79, Utah 79, Dallas 78, LA Clippers 76, LA Lakers 75, Memphis 74, Sacramento 72, Phoenix 71. 

Here are a couple of quick college basketball previews from Greg Peterson for Saturday games involving ranked teams before we call it a week. 

College Basketball: “Running the Floor” with Greg Peterson

Rhode Island at VCU (7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2)
Opening Line: Rhode Island -4
Offensive Efficiency: Rhode Island #52, VCU #105
Defensive Efficiency: Rhode Island #29, VCU #176
Rebound Rate: Rhode Island #170, VCU #84
Percent of Shots are 3s: Rhode Island #324, VCU #177
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Rhode Island #119, VCU #124
Pace: Rhode Island #216, VCU #91

VCU is a fascinating team. The Rams like to go up tempo and play a full-court pressing defense. They use that defense at times to help create offense with easy layups, but don’t necessarily get into the face of opponents the way other full court press teams like West Virginia do. VCU has some size in the post, and will need to utilize that advantage on the glass to have a chance to win and cover against Rhode Island.

Rhode Island has been one of the nation's top mid-majors despite senior guard E.C. Matthews missing much of the season due to injury. These ranked Rams feature one of the most efficient offensive and defensive units among non-power conference teams.

VCU should have its hands full with a steady Rhode Island team that is one of the best in the nation at not turning the ball over and does not rely on 3s. If Rhode Island can survive a hostile road environment and keep the pace moderate, it will be in good position. VCU must speed up pace and get easy baskets to hang around. 

Oklahoma At Texas (Saturday 6:15 p.m. ET on ESPN)
Greg's Projected Line: Oklahoma -2.5
Offensive Efficiency: Oklahoma #21, Texas #176
Defensive Efficiency: Oklahoma #192, Texas #18
Rebound Rate: Oklahoma #113, Texas #164
Percent of Shots are 3s: Oklahoma #83, Texas #150
Free Throw Shooting Percentage: Oklahoma #60, Texas #320
Pace: Oklahoma #3, Texas #185

This is a battle of the two most opposite teams in the Big XII. Oklahoma is the least efficient defensive team in the conference, Texas the least efficient offense.

Texas has a clear size advantage, as Oklahoma does not have a very good stable of big men. The length of Mohamed Bamba, should alter a lot of Oklahoma's shots in the paint. With his 7-foot-9 wingspan, he averages 4.5 blocks per game...which is more than 297 DI teams.

Bamba has been fantastic on defense all year, but is also picking it up on offense. He has made at least 50 percent of his shots from the floor in each of his past 10 games, averaging 15.5 points per. As an added bonus, he's even shooting 38.1 percent from 3-point range, giving a jolt to a team that as a whole is still one of the worst in the country from distance.

Can Texas slow down Oklahoma phenom Trae Young? He leads the nation in points and assists per game. Combining points and assists, he accounts for over 50 percent of the team's total offense. His mere presence creates open looks for the rest of his teammates as defenses focus on containing him.

With the strengths of each team, it's no surprise that Oklahoma plays the much faster tempo. The Sooners rank a blistering third in the country in pace.

Texas will look to slow things down on offense and emphasize inside play. Oklahoma will take a lot more 3s with guards who will also drive aggressively to the basket.

This is a battle of size versus speed. There may not be two teams in the country built around the production of two players quite like Texas and Oklahoma. If Texas can make Young and company uncomfortable and force them to take contested 3s, Texas has a good chance to cover. If the Longhorns (especially Bamba) get into foul trouble or cannot get back on defense quickly enough to contest OU’s fast breaks, that plays into the hands of the Sooners.

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Enjoy all the great up-to-the-second coverage throughout Super Bowl weekend on VSiN. We’ll see you again Monday with a complete stat recap of the big game. Good luck with your bets!

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