Though the New Orleans Saints were hoping to enjoy a bye through wild-card weekend, they’re still being treated like a serious Super Bowl threat in global betting markets as the No. 3 seed in the NFC.
Here’s a look at odds for all playoff teams, according to a composite of global sportsbooks:
— Ravens 9/4, 49ers 4/1, Chiefs 9/2, Saints 6/1, Packers 8/1, Patriots 12/1, Seahawks 25/1, Eagles 33/1, Texans 33/1, Bills 50/1, Titans 50/1, Vikings 50/1.
New Orleans ranks second among NFC teams behind only San Francisco. That’s even though the Saints have to host Minnesota on Sunday (1:05 p.m., FOX) and then would play on the road at rested Green Bay. This tells us New Orleans would likely be a road favorite next week at Lambeau Field. For now, the futures market is assuming New Orleans will visit San Francisco for the conference crown this month.
The Saints will likely close as at least 7.5- or 8-point favorites over the Vikings. It’s unlikely the line would drop to the key number of seven. Recreational bettors love taking home favorites with explosive offenses in the playoffs. Sportsbooks don’t want to give them a friendly line. Sharps have already taken the Vikings plus-8 when available.
There are no sure things in the NFL playoffs, as Saints fans are painfully aware. But key indicator stats do smile on the Saints against the Vikings:
— Better on offense. The Saints ranked No. 9 this season in total offense (yards gained per game) despite Drew Brees missing significant time with an injury. Minnesota ranked only No. 16 and stumbled badly in a huge recent tester against Green Bay.
— Better on defense. The Saints ranked No. 11 in yards allowed per game, better than the Vikings at No. 14. The Saints’ defense deserves more credit than it has been getting from the media.
— Tougher schedule. According to Jeff Sagarin’s market-respected rankings at USA Today, the Saints played the No. 13-ranked schedule. Minnesota was down at No. 24. That magnifies the importance of the stat rankings because the Saints earned their edges against a more demanding slate. It also means they’re more battle-tested.
— Turnover differential. The Saints were second at plus-15, trailing only the super-safe approach of the New England Patriots. Minnesota had a great year, too, ranking fifth at plus-11.
You can see why the line is larger than a touchdown. New Orleans enjoys the edges that matter most. Do those advantages suggest a blowout? That’s what Saints backers will have to decide. It’s harder to win big without a significant turnover edge. Minnesota is more likely to punt and defend than give away cheap points with turnovers.
A look at the rest of wild-card weekend from a market perspective:
— Buffalo at Houston (4:35 p.m. Saturday, ESPN/ABC): Sharps have been betting Buffalo whenever plus-3 has been available. An opener of Houston -3 is down to 2.5. Market observers are wondering if the public will lay the short number between now and kickoff. Sharps respect defensive dogs in big games. Buffalo ranked No. 3 in total defense in the NFL this season, Houston a disappointing No. 28, though the return of J.J. Watt should help.
— Tennessee at New England (8:15 p.m. Saturday, CBS): An opener of New England -5.5 was initially bet down to five. It’s telling that sharps didn’t wait to see if the public would drive the line up to six. New England has been in very shaky form of late. The Titans have been rejuvenated under new starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. We may see a further line drop by kickoff if the public has given up on Tom Brady’s offense.
— Seattle at Philadelphia (4:40 p.m. Sunday, NBC): The visiting Seahawks received the bulk of early betting interest. An opener of Seattle -1 rose to -1.5 with one-sided exposure for sportsbooks. Nobody was nibbling on Philadelphia yet. It might take the key number of three to bring in dog lovers.
Longtime readers will have noticed that three of the four point spreads have a chance to close inside the “basic strategy” teaser window. Teasers are bets in which you get to move the line six points in your favor on multiple games — but then you have to win all your choices to cash the ticket.
Sharps put percentages in their favor by focusing on games that cross both key numbers of 3 and 7 in one fell swoop. That means favorites of -7.5 to -8.5 coming down to -1.5 to -2.5 or underdogs of plus-1.5 to plus-2.5 rising to plus-7.5 to plus-8.5. Over wild-card weekend, sharp teaser players will be focusing on combinations of Buffalo plus-8.5, New Orleans -1.5 and Philadelphia plus-7.5.