What you need to know about betting NFL playoffs

January 20, 2020 12:48 PM

After 17 weeks of regular-season play, the real NFL season is finally here. We started with 32 teams and are down to 12. The quest for the Lombardi Trophy has begun. 

Betting on the postseason is an entirely different animal from the regular season. The first major difference is the schedule itself. For four months we've grown accustomed to Thursday night and Monday night games plus a dozen or so games every Sunday. But now we are down to just a handful of games. As a result, each game will be incredibly heavily bet and flooded with recreational money. Many bettors who might not have placed a wager all season will get down on playoff games just to get in on the fun. This creates a heightened edge for brave contrarian bettors willing to go against the grain, back unpopular teams and bet against the public. 

The oddsmakers know that public action will grow exponentially until the Super Bowl. They also know that the vast majority of casual bettors will lean toward favorites, home teams and teams with better records and more star players. Average Joes will also gravitate toward Overs because they are psychologically biased toward rooting for points and wanting to watch exciting, high-scoring games. Simply put, it’s just not fun to sweat an Under. Oddsmakers will capitalize on this public bias and shade lines toward favorites and Overs, forcing public bettors to take overpriced numbers while providing inflated or underpriced numbers to contrarians. 

One of the easiest ways to go contrarian is to lean on underdogs. Since 2003, playoff underdogs have gone 95-76 ATS (55.6%), according to Bet Labs Sports. This might not seem like a very impressive record, but remember that to overcome standard -110 juice, bettors need to win 52.38% of their plays. So anything 52.39% or higher means you are turning a profit. To be considered a sharp bettor, you need to consistently win 55% to 60% of your bets. So a 55.6% cover rate for playoff dogs is quite impressive. 

Here is how dogs have performed during each round of the playoffs since 2003:

— Wild-card weekend: 32-29 ATS (52.5%)

— Divisional round: 38-24 ATS (61.3%)

— Conference championship: 15-17 ATS (46.9%)

— Super Bowl: 10-6 ATS (62.5%)

While going contrarian and betting on dogs is a smart postseason strategy, you also want to ensure that you’re on the sharp side of every play. This means being with the professional bettors who win at a high rate and have a long track record of success. Pro bettors, also known as sharps or wise guys, have decades of experience, bet large amounts on games and have the respect of the books. Sharps are the ones who move lines, not the public. Money from sharps is considered smart money. You always want to be with smart money, never against it. 

An easy way to spot sharp action is to look for situations in which the line is moving toward the unpopular underdog — also known as reverse-line movement. For example, this would mean a dog moved from plus-3 to plus-2.5 or plus-6 to plus-5. When the line moves at least a half-point toward a playoff dog, these teams have gone 36-12 ATS (75%) since 2003. 

While betting dogs on the spread has been profitable historically, so is taking a shot on dogs to win straight up on the moneyline. Since 2003, playoff dogs have gone 64-111. This is only a 36.6% win rate, but because of the plus money payouts, these teams have produced plus-19.61 units. This means a $100 bettor would have profited $1,961. 

Experience also matters in the playoffs. Teams that made the playoffs the previous season have gone 99-85 ATS (53.8%) since 2003. If they are facing an inexperienced team that missed the playoffs the previous year, they improve to 48-34 ATS (58.5%). 

When it comes to playoff totals, the Under has gone 87-85 (50.6%) since 2003, just about break-even. However, we see a huge discrepancy depending on the round. 

Unders have been a huge money-maker in the wild-card round, going 40-24 (62.5%) since 2003. 

However, Overs have been break-even or profitable during all other playoff rounds.

— Divisional round: 35-28 (55.6%)

— Conference championship: 18-11 (62.1%)

— Super Bowl: 8-8 (50%)

If you like betting Overs, focus on games played in a dome or closed-roof stadium. Playoff Overs indoors have gone 29-13 (69%) since 2003. This is due to the fast track and perfect conditions benefiting the offense, especially kickers. 

Lastly, another way to bet on the playoffs outside of individual games is by placing futures bets. Sportsbooks offer odds for each team to win its conference and the Super Bowl. The odds will change after each round as teams advance or get eliminated. If you see a team offering value, especially at a long-shot price, now is the time to take advantage of a big payout before the price shortens. 

Here are the latest odds from the South Point:

To win the AFC:

Ravens -110

Chiefs 150

Patriots 1000

Bills 1500

Titans 1800

Texans 2000

To win the NFC:

49ers 120

Saints 200

Packers 300

Seahawks 1200

Eagles 1200

Vikings 1800

To win the Super Bowl:

Ravens 200

49ers 300

Chiefs 320

Saints 500

Packers 1200

Seahawks 1500

Patriots 1800

Bills 3000

Eagles 5000

Titans 5000

Texans 5000

Vikings 5000

Did you know: Belichick and Brady are 27-10 (73%) straight up in the playoffs since 2003. However, they are only 19-18 ATS (52.4%). 

In the regular season, Belichick and Brady have gone 149-95 ATS (61.1%).

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