Most Las Vegas sports books opened the San Francisco 49ers a 5-point favorite over Baltimore minutes after the Ravens upset the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Within a half-hour, every book was 4’s across the board. Excited Ravens money pushed the game down.
Up north in Reno, it’s a completely different story just because of their clientele and proximity to one of the participating Super Bowl teams. Northern Nevada is Niners country, which is why they opened the 49ers -6½. Even the truest of fans up there saw value with the Ravens and bet them down to 5½.
Where the line goes from here in the next two weeks is anyone’s guess, but it’s a great number for the sport books to deal. They don’t have to bother with key numbers like 3 or 7, and there’s some room to maneuver without fear of consequences.
If action comes hard one way on the Ravens, they can robotically move the number to -3½. If it’s nonstop 49ers action, they have all kinds of room to play with at -4½ and the dead numbers of 5 or 5½.
Bettors love to bet with what they saw last and the Ravens performance over the Patriots was much more impressive than the 49ers win at Atlanta. The public was all over the 49ers while split on the Ravens game last week. Most of the bettors pushed with the 49ers.
Bettors who had the Ravens are likely to keep their roll going with a wager to win the Super Bowl. Those who pushed with the 49ers have to be wondering how they didn’t get paid.
The Falcons were thought of by bettors in a lowly light to begin with and their key turnovers when the game mattered most was expected. In the back of their minds they have to be wondering how the 49ers vaunted defense got shredded so badly by a quarterback who has forever struggled in the playoffs. They also have to be wondering why the 49ers have started so sluggishly the last two weeks.
Bettors who lost with the Patriots last week have to be impressed by the Ravens as well. When you look at the body of work the last five seasons (8-4 in the playoffs) it’s kind of surprising that this will be Baltimore’s first Super Bowl under John Harbaugh, who has won a playoff game in each of his first five seasons with Joe Flacco at quarterback.
If 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick would have had one those games on Sunday like he did against Green Bay two weeks ago, that might have pushed the public to a strong lean on the 49ers, but he didn’t. He was good and efficient, like Alex Smith, but not spectacular like in the Green Bay game.
If we look at some recent Super Bowl history, it has proved profitable to just side with the underdog no matter what storyline is hot coming into the game. The underdog has covered four of the last five Super Bowls and 8 of 11 – a far cry from how things used to be in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
Remember the 49ers, Redskins and Cowboys matching up against a sacrificial lamb on the big day, covering large numbers? Those days are gone.
It all started when the Broncos beat the Packers as 12-point underdogs, where people were finally rewarded for betting against the juggernaut. From there we saw the Patriots take down the Rams as 14-underdogs and the dogs have covered eight of 11 since Tom Brady shocked the football nation.
The thing that makes the Ravens so attractive is the play of their defense. It helps that Joe Flacco has made good throws in key moments, but the Ravens are playing strong defense. It’s a facet not seen from them all season, mostly because this group we have seen the last three weeks never played together in the regular season.
Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed, the heart of the Ravens defense for years, have played only three games together this season and they came in the playoffs. Say what you will about the speed of Lewis, but 44 tackles in three games is pretty good stuff.
Perhaps more than his actual play, the leadership of him simply being on the field and pumping up his crew in tough spots makes him arguably the most valuable player on the Ravens.
And now we have a storyline for Lewis, a Swan Song. This is it for him. His last game and it’s for the Super Bowl trophy along with a chance to go out on top, kind of like John Elway. Like Elway, Lewis could probably scratch and claw his way for another year of two, but the body says it time.
People love that kind of stuff and several will dance to the betting window with a Ravens bet using the Lewis angle alone.
We also have another great story with the Harbaugh brothers coaching against each other in the Super Bowl, a first for siblings. John’s Ravens beat the 49ers 16-6 on Thanksgiving 2011, as 3½-point favorites in their only meeting.
My initial lean is on the Ravens to win, but that could change as the two weeks of trends and angles has had me over think my way out of several past Super Bowl wins. However, I do feel very comfortable with the game going OVER. The LVH opened 49 Sunday night and as of Monday morning it had been bet down to 47½.
The 49ers used to be an UNDER team with Alex Smith at QB. The UNDER was 5-2-1 in the first eight games. With Kaepernick playing, the OVER is 9-1 including the last six in a row. Kaepernick won’t be shut down in this game and the Ravens will have to keep pace.
Even though Baltimore has gone UNDER the total in four of their last five games, I see a flow similar to what they were forced into at Denver in a 38-35 win.
Lets say Ravens 37-34, at least for now.
Championship Sunday could have been a disaster for Las Vegas sports books, but they were fortunate that the 49ers (-4) landed on the number. Sometimes it can be a difficult time for the house when a game pushes because it keeps all the parlays alive from both sides heading into the finale. In this case it worked out.
Had the 49ers won by 5 with either the Ravens or Patriots covering, it would have been a horrific day. San Francisco action was pretty one-sided and the public was split between the Ravens and Patriots. However, instead of paying 13-to-5 on two-team parlays, they paid only 10-to-11 with a push to a win.
The Ravens game staying UNDER the total also helped the books, but perhaps the biggest push came when the Patriots and OVER didn’t cover on the teasers.
The 49ers-Falcons game had an all-way teaser win and Patriots covering 1½ was the most popular teaser bet of the day. The books also cleaned up on first half betting on both games, as well as incremental money from In-game wagering where the Patriots had some odds bettors attracted to them while trailing in the second half.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Contact Micah at [email protected].