49ers, Ravens Taking Heavy Early Action On Championship Weekend
Home teams are 6-2 so far in these NFL Playoffs, but early action on Conference Championship weekend has bettors leaning heavily on the two road teams Sunday: the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens.
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Three road teams have covered thus far: Seattle at -3 in a 24-14 win at Washington in the wild card round; Seattle again at +2.5 in last Sunday's 30-28 divisional game loss at Atlanta; and Baltimore at +9.5 in a 38-35 double-overtime win at Denver last Saturday.
The second-seeded Niners opened as 3.5-point favorites at top-seeded Atlanta for the NFC Championship game this Sunday, but heavy San Francisco action has moved that number to 49ers -5.
"I am not too shocked that the public is pounding the 49ers after their performance last week (against Green Bay); hence the early line move going from 3.5-point to five-point favorites already, and it's not really making a difference as 75% of the money is still coming in on the 49ers," said Kevin Bradley, the sportsbook manager at Bovada.
The story is much the same for the AFC Championship game between the fourth-seeded Ravens and No. 2 New England Patriots in Foxboro, although the spread hasn't changed as of this writing.
"Last week the bettors had no problem taking New England -10 over Houston, costing the book a pretty penny on Sunday, but this week is a little different as 70% of the money is on Baltimore getting 10 points, and it's one of those rare weeks where as a bookmaker I get to root for the Patriots," Bradley said.
Two road teams have been favorites in the past four NFC title games: Green Bay at Chicago two seasons ago and Philadelphia at Arizona two seasons prior to that. The Packers did win and cover and they are the only NFC favorite to cover in the past four championship games. San Francisco was -2 at home against the New York Giants in last year's game and lost 20-17 in overtime.
It's the exact opposite on the AFC side as the favorite has covered in three of the past four title games. The lone underdog to do so was Baltimore at +7 last year in its 23-20 loss at New England, a game most would agree that the Ravens deserved to win. The home team has been the favorite in the past seven AFC Championship games and has gone 4-3 ATS. The Patriots have favorites in four of their previous six AFC title trips this century. New England is 5-1 overall and it covered in the first three, but has failed to in the past three.
New England has taken Denver's place as the Bovada Super Bowl favorite at 11/10, followed by San Francisco (9/5), Atlanta (6/1) and Baltimore (15/2). A Pats-49ers Super Bowl is also the 5/6 favorite. New England beating San Francisco as the exact result is the 11/5 favorite, followed by 49ers over Patriots at 3/1. The longest exact result shot is Baltimore over Atlanta at 18/1.
The Falcons could have a minor advantage should they reach New Orleans because they play in the Superdome every season against their NFC South Division rival Saints, and Atlanta is a dome team itself. The Falcons are 8-1 in their Georgia Dome this year, losing only a meaningless regular-season finale against Tampa Bay. The Falcons lost 31-27 at the Superdome to New Orleans in Week 10 for Atlanta's first loss of the season after an 8-0 start. Four of the past NFL teams to start 8-0 reached the Super Bowl, although last year's Packers did not.
Expect a close game between the Niners and Falcons. The past five NFC Championship games have been decided by seven points or fewer. Atlanta had a whopping 10 games decided by a touchdown or less this season, including last week's escape versus the Seahawks, while the 49ers had four. Only two of the past five AFC Championship games have been decided by a touchdown or less, but it has been the past two.
New England traveled to Baltimore in Week 3 and lost 31-30 on a Justin Tucker 27-yard field goal as time expired. That could be a good sign for the Ravens. Since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, a club that won a regular-season game against an opponent it then faced in the AFC Championship game is 10-5 in the rematch. However, the past two regular-season winners have lost in the title game rematch and both were the Jets, in the 2009 and '10 seasons.
The Patriots can take solace in that this is the fourth AFC title game rematch in consecutive seasons in the Super Bowl era. The winner of the first matchup won again the second year in three of those occurrences. It last happened in the 1986 and '87 seasons when Denver beat Cleveland by less than a touchdown in both title games.
New England would be a favorite over either NFC team in the Super Bowl, while Baltimore would be a dog in both matchups.
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