Welcome to Wild-Card Weekend. After starting out with 32 teams we are now down to 12. The NFL Playoffs and the quest for the Lombardi Trophy are officially upon us.
Betting on the NFL playoffs is much different than betting on the regular season. The teams are much better. The stakes are much higher. But most importantly for bettors, betting against the public increases because there are fewer games to bet on and each one is incredibly heavily bet. The market is flooded with recreational money, more so than any other time of year. As a result, savvy bettors willing to back unpopular teams see an increase in contrarian value due to public bias and shaded or inflated lines.
The betting public is biased toward favorites. Average Joes want to back the "better" team, especially this time of year. This provides more value to bet on underdogs. Since 2003, playoff underdogs have gone 95-76 ATS (55.6%) according to Bet Labs Sports. Regular season dogs are 50.5% ATS. So we see a 5.1% increase in the cover rate for playoff dogs versus regular season dogs.
Dogs that see line movement in their favor (think sharp action pushing a dog from plus 6 to plus 5.5) are even betting, going 36-12 ATS (75%) since 2003.
Experience also matters in the playoffs. Teams who made the playoffs the previous season have gone 99-85 ATS (53.8%) since 2003. If they are facing an inexperienced team who missed the playoffs the previous year they improve to 48-34 ATS (58.5%).
Also, unders have great value in the wild-card round. The public is biased toward overs, which creates more value to take advantage of inflated unders. wild-card unders have gone 40-24 (62.5%) since 2003.
For more gameday analysis and betting updates, be sure to join Michael Lombardi, Patrick Meagher and myself this morning from 9 a.m.-noon on The Lombardi Line. We'll be breaking down all the late sharp action leading up to kickoff.
Until then, let's discuss where the sharp money is flowing for today's games.
4:35 p.m. ET: Buffalo Bills (10-6, 5th seed) at Houston Texans (10-6, 4th seed)
Public bettors are having a hard time picking this game. Both teams have identical 10-6 records so how can you not take the team getting points? Buffalo is 6-2 on the road this season (including 6-1-1 ATS) and also enjoys a plus 55 point differential. Houston is 5-3 at home but just 2-6 ATS. The Texans are -7 in point differential. However, Average Joes also love backing favorites, home teams and star quarterbacks--especially when they're laying short spreads. Deshaun Watson and company fit the bill.
Spread bets are split down the middle with a slight lean to the Texans, yet we've seen this line fall from Texans -3 to -2.5. In a vacuum, a line shouldn't move at all aside from a slight juice adjustment if the tickets are even. This half-point drop signals sharp action on the Bills with wiseguys grabbing Buffalo at the key number of plus 3. The Bills went 9-6-1 ATS during the regular season while Houston was 7-8-1 ATS. The Bills have value as a playoff dog (55.6% ATS since 2003) and a playoff dog with a line move in their favor (75% ATS).
The total opened at 41.5-- the lowest of any Wild Card Weekend Game. Pro money has pounded the over, driving the line up to 43.5. Both teams have been profitable to the under this season (BUF 12-4, HOU 9-7) and Tony Corrente, the lead ref, has historically favored unders as well (56.5%). However, playoff overs in domes or closed roof stadiums have gone 29-13 (69%) since 2003.
8:15 p.m. ET: Tennessee Titans (9-7, 6th seed) at New England Patriots (12-4, 3rd seed)
This wild-card showdown kicks off in primetime Saturday night and features the love 'em or hate 'em Patriots, meaning it will be incredibly heavily bet. The Titans started the season 2-4 with Marcus Mariota, but then went 7-3 after making the switch to Ryan Tannehill. Tennessee played meaningful games down the stretch, defeating the Texans in Week 17 to secure the final playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Patriots looked very un-Patriot in the second half of the season. New England went 2-3 in their final five games, including a shocking loss to Miami in Week 17 as a 17-point favorite, which forced them to play on wild-card weekend instead of securing a first-round bye. Tom Brady finished with his worst QB rating (88.0) since 2013. Rumors are swirling that this could be Brady's last game with the Pats.
The Patriots opened as 5.5-point home favorites. Early sharp money pounced on the Titans getting the points, which dropped the line down to 4.5. But then we saw wiseguys buy low on New England at a deflated -4.5, driving the number back up to -5 where it rests now. The Titans have value as a playoff road dog with a line move in their favor. Also, Brady and Belichick are 27-10 straight up (73%) in the playoffs since 2003 but just 19-18 ATS (52.4%). However, the Patriots look vulnerable and the media narrative all week is pounding the idea that the dynasty is coming to an end. This is usually when New England is at it's best- when they're underestimated and counted out. This is also a revenge game for the Pats, who lost to the Titans 34-10 in Week 11 last season.
The total has ticked up slightly from 43.5 to 44.5. Weather could play a big role here. The forecast calls for mid-30s, rain, 10 MPH winds and possibly some snow. John Hussey, the head official, historically favors home teams (55.4% ATS) and unders (56%). The Pats went 9-7 to the under this season but Tennessee went 10-6 to the over. Wild Card Weekend unders are 40-24 (62%) since 2003.