Opening Line Report – DP

Wild-card weekend featured an against-the-spread sweep by the four underdogs, a result partly attributable to inflated lines. While both 'dogs won Saturday’s games outright, the Bills covered as 8.5-point dogs in a 10-3 loss at Jacksonville on Sunday, and the Panthers cashed while catching 6.5 at New Orleans later that afternoon.

The underdogs may offer value in the divisional round as well. 

“As a [...], you want to open these things higher than you even think they are. Even if you write a bet or two on the dog it’s no big deal, because with all the teasers and money lines, straight bets and parlays, you’ll still need that side,” Ed Salmons, oddsmaker at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, said Sunday night. “That’s reflected in this week’s (divisional round) lines, too. You can see how these things are all really juiced up.”

With that, here are the early betting numbers for this week’s quartet of playoff games.  Point spreads and totals listed are the Vegas consensus as of Monday morning, and differences among sports books and early moves are also noted.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Atlanta Falcons (-2.5, 41.5) at Philadelphia Eagles - (NBC, 4:35 p.m. ET) 

For the first time since the expansion of the NFL playoff field to 12 teams in 1990, [...]s have installed a No. 1 seed as an underdog in the divisional round. The betting line for Saturday afternoon’s affair is an obvious reflection of the quarterback situation: It’s Matt Ryan, last season’s MVP and near-Super Bowl hero, vs. Nick Foles, who has not impressed in Carson Wentz’s stead.

“It’s based on perception, that’s how this game is made,” Salmons said of opening Atlanta -2.5. “The perception is the Eagles are no good with Nick Foles and Atlanta is the team that should have won the Super Bowl and just won their hardest game (of the season) against the Rams, and they’ll go in and roll the Eagles. I don’t think that’s going to happen, but I think that’s what (the public is) going to bet, and that’s why the line is where it is."

“We’ll need the Eagles, and there’s no reason to need the Eagles at pick ‘em because if people want to lay 2.5 or 3, let ‘em,” he added.

South Point sports book director Chris Andrews was surprised to see the Falcons as the team laying the points.

“I don’t agree with the number at all. I think it’s a huge overreaction,” Andrews said.

With a healthy Wentz, Philly would be about a 7.5-point favorite, Andrews estimated, “so you’re talking about a 10-point difference with Foles. Foles isn’t great, but he isn’t terrible.”

Foles’ performance over the last few games notwithstanding, bettors shouldn’t forget how good the Eagles have been this season.

“Philly is solid up and down that whole lineup, it’s not just at quarterback,” Andrews said. “I know Foles has not looked great, but he’s had a couple weeks now at starter, and I really like the coaching staff for Philly and I think Foles will play well. I was thinking pick ‘em, and that, ‘Boy, I would still play Philly at pick ‘em.’ And here we are at 2.5.”

The Wynn’s John Avello, though, believes the Falcons deserve to be favored in this spot.

“They’re certainly not the same team without their starting quarterback,” Avello said of the Eagles.

Early bettors agree.

“I opened at 2. I thought that was plenty high, but we went to 2.5, and they’re laying me the 2.5,” Andrews said. “I don’t know if I’m going to go to 3 or not, but right now it’s been all Atlanta money at my store.”

The line did bump to Atlanta -3 (even) during early wagering on some boards, and that’s getting real close to a number that will pique wiseguys’ interest in the dog.

“I think wiseguys will take Philadelphia +3 flat at any time, and I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point, they drive this line back toward Atlanta -1 or even a pick,” Salmons said.

The public laying the points and the sharps taking them is a good situation for books.

“As a [...], you never want the public and the wiseguys to be on the same side,” Salmons said. “That’s your worst nightmare because you have a huge decision, and that’s the last thing you want.”

Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-13.5, 47) - (CBS, 8:15 p.m. ET)

The Westgate’s in-house numbers had the Patriots as a 13.5-point favorite for Saturday’s primetime offering, but the [...]s decided to post New England -14 to test the market. The opening line drew close to $10,000 in bets on the Titans +14, prompting an adjustment to 13.5.  Those wagers on the 'dog were likely from bettors grabbing the biggest number they could find.

On the other hand, public bettors aren’t scared off by large spreads when it comes to the Patriots. And laying big numbers at home in the divisional round is a familiar role for New England.  Last season, also on a Saturday night, the Pats were 16-point favorites vs. Houston .

“They didn’t care, they laid it to death,” Salmons said of casual bettors.

They also cashed, as New England won the game, 34-16.

Avello gives the Titans a puncher’s chance in Foxboro next weekend, a better chance, in fact, than Jacksonville has at Pittsburgh on Sunday despite the shorter point spread.

“Their defense seems to play better when it gets to the postseason, but you can run the ball the on ‘em, you can throw the ball on ‘em,” Avello said of the Patriots, “I mean, they bend. That’s the only reason I give the Tennessee team a shot.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers (-7.5, 41) - (CBS, 1:05 p.m. ET)

The spread of Sunday’s AFC divisional game is identical to the line when these teams met at Pittsburgh in Week 5 of this year's regular season. The Jags, as 7.5-point dogs, rolled to a 30-9 win, thanks largely to one of the worst games of Ben Roethlisberger’s career (five INTs).

But isn’t Jacksonville perceived as a better team now than it was then?

Maybe not after an inept offensive showing at home Sunday vs. the Bills.

“I don’t think they’re any good now. Their offense today was terrible,” Avello said Sunday.

The true line of this game is Pitt -6.5, Salmons estimated, but again, the Westgate wanted to go higher and posted -7.5 as the opener.  Seeing Pitt -6 global, bettors wagered about $10,000 on Jacksonville +7.5 at the Westgate, prompting a move 7. 

The line is since back to 7.5, and it may not be done running.

“This game’s going off no less than 7.5, this thing may go to 9,”Avello said.  “This thing’s going up. There is nobody interested in betting Jacksonville after they saw them play (Sunday). They were home against a Buffalo Bills team that is in pro football’s middle of the pack and they had a rough time with them.”

Wiseguys, however, may be interested in the dog – if they have the stomach to watch their money ride on Blake Bortles.

“It feels like above 7 is a Jacksonville take in this game, but you get Blake Bortles,” Salmons said.

New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings (-4, 44.5) - (FOX, 4:40 p.m. ET)

The weekend’s best game on paper opened Minnesota -3.5 at the Westgate, but it didn’t take long for the line to settle at -4 market-wide. It may go higher before game time.

“The Vikings are very public. The Vikings have treated the bettors very well this year (11-5 ATS), and I don’t think they’ve forgotten that,” Salmons said. “I think the public will push this. I wouldn’t be surprised if this game closes 4.5 or even 5.”

And since this is the last game of the weekend, books will likely be facing plenty of teaser and money-line parlay risk tied to the favorite.

“The last game of a four-game NFL weekend, you’re always rooting for the underdog, so we definitely   want to stay on the high side of this game,” Salmons said.

Marcus DiNitto is a writer in Charlotte, N.C., who covers sports betting and all kinds of other stuff. Follow him on Twitter @MarcusDiNitto

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