When Jeff Stoneback drove to his office Sunday morning at Mandalay Bay, BetMGM’s headquarters, he still felt the euphoric tingle of Saturday’s two NFL divisional playoff games.
The previous week had presented the company’s director of trading with some curveballs, so the underdog 49ers winning in Green Bay and the underdog Bengals winning in Tennessee were big boosts, compelling drama for every viewer.
“I was still high,” he says. “I thought, ‘This is great.’ There was a bunch of rough stuff during the week, but [Saturday] made me forget about all that. I’m like, ‘This is why you’re in the business,’ days like that. Such a good feeling.”
He called that Saturday “phenomenal” for his property’s bottom line.
Then came Sunday’s excitement. It wasn’t as lucrative for BetMGM, but it was still profitable and the games did not disappoint, with the Rams beating Tampa Bay and Kansas City’s overtime thriller over Buffalo.
According to CBS Sports, the combined margin of victory of just 15 points was the smallest for the four divisional round playoff games since the 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL.
That margin was 18 points in 2006, 19 in 2003 and 26 in 1980.
“Every game ending with a score? The first three with kicks [field goals] that decided them, then the touchdown” from Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce, he says. “Those four games, the way they went. Those finishes.
“That was like a Hollywood movie. You can’t write anything like that. Saturday was a very good day for us. Sunday wasn’t that big of a day, but a good day.”
Stoneback has been beaming all week. He told a colleague, “That was the best weekend of football ever, as a fan and as a bookmaker.”
This Sunday’s conference-title games have plenty to live up to, but Cincinnati-Kansas City followed by San Francisco-Los Angeles Rams will attempt to keep Stoneback shining.
NFL · Sun (1/30) @ 3:02pm ET
|Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri|
(Each team’s records, overall and ATS, are in parenthesis.)
Cincinnati Bengals (12-7, 12-7) at Kansas City Chiefs (14-5, 10-9)
NFL – Sun (1/30) @ 3:05 p.m. ET
Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO
DraftKings Line: Chiefs -7.5, Total 54.5
BetMGM opened this at 7, and after minor adjustments settled at -7.5, at -120, on Tuesday morning. Early sharp action was all on the Bengals, but the -120 price staunched those buyers.
In addition, bettors expecting more fireworks, and points, have pumped this total a full point to its current figure.
“That is strategic,” says Stoneback of the spread and the premium on taking the points. “Everybody who’s coming to town this weekend will be betting the Chiefs. It will be tough to get some Bengals money, so we put it at 7.5.
“We’ve taken quite a bit of money from the sharp players, taking those points, and held it steady.”
It’s a specific move tailored to this time of the year.
“Usually during the regular season, you really don’t want to do that too much. But there will be so much action on this game, and we believe the public will be all over Kansas City.”
The only way it could shift back to a flat 7, at BetMGM, would be if the public somehow defies convention and follows the sharps in betting on the Bengals.
“But I don’t see that happening at all,” says Stoneback. “We moved it to -120, which has kind of stopped the sharps. They haven’t touched it since we moved it there.”
In Vegas, as of Wednesday night, every other shop was at a flat 7.
“But,” says Stoneback, “I won’t be surprised to see everyone in town at 7.5 come game day.”
That there has been an average of 60 points tallied in the past seven Kansas City games is reason enough why this total has increased to 54.5. Cincinnati has averaged fewer than 17 points in its past three away games.
“The Chiefs are one of those teams that it’s hard to bet the Under,” says Stoneback. “Even if they’re playing a bad team, because they could easily put up 50 themselves.
“I would imagine we’ll probably have a big decision needing the Bengals and that Under when it comes to kickoff.”
San Francisco 49ers (12-7, 11-8) at Los Angeles Rams (14-5, 10-9)
NFL – Sun (1/30) @ 6:40 p.m. ET
SoFi Stadium, Inglewood, CA
FanDuel Line: Rams -3.5, Total 45.5
As much as Sunday’s opener figures to be full of action, “the marquee game,” says Stoneback, featuring a probable duel between standout quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Mahomes, the second game might be its polar opposite.
Stout defenders Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh and Von Miller of the Rams on one side, an offense that relies on a power running game on the Niners’ side.
“Jimmy Garoppolo doesn’t throw for 400 yards,” says Stoneback of the 49ers’ quarterback. “Neither team is as flashy” as the two AFC teams in the early game. “They’re the more defense-oriented teams in the second game.
“That’s why you have the total in the first at 54.5, and the second one is [nearly] 10 points less.”
This total has nudged down everywhere, a full point from 46.5 at BetMGM.
Garoppolo has barely thrown for 300 yards combined in his past two games, playoff victories in Dallas and Green Bay—he rang up 172 against the Cowboys, 131 versus the Packers.
In fact, he last busted the 400-yard barrier 33 games ago, with 424, in a home victory over Arizona on Nov. 24, 2019.
The Niners have averaged 146 rushing yards in their past four games, though, and held three of their past five foes to fewer than 200 aerial yards.
From another angle, San Francisco is playing its fourth consecutive game on the road. The BetLabs database has determined that, since 2003, teams in that fourth away game have gone 0-5 straight up and 0-4-1 ATS.
These 49ers, however, defy odds. A month ago, at SoFi, they outscored the Rams 21-7 in the second half to force overtime, where a field goal propelled San Francisco into the playoffs.
They discarded Dallas and Green Bay to remain on the road and return to SoFi. Over their past three games, San Francisco’s defense ranks second in the league in yielding only 0.271 points per play.
BetMGM opened this spread Sunday at Rams -3.5 with an even price, which held for nearly 26 hours. It’s now -110 both ways. The tickets and money are even on both sides.
Moving that 3.5 a hair either way could matter, but Stoneback was perplexed about it Wednesday. He says, “I don’t have a read as to which way this game’s going to go.”
In two playoff games, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has gone 41-for-55 (74.6%) for 568 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.