Ravens get playoffs started off right for bookies

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It’s been a great New Year for Las Vegas sports books so far with underdogs ruling the bowl season. Things got even better on Saturday night when the Ravens knocked off the Steelers, 30-17, in the AFC Wild Card game.

“The public was completely fixated on the Steelers more so than any of the four Wild Card games,” said South Point sports book director Bert Osborne. ”It was kind of the root game for us with parlays where if Pittsburgh did win, we’d be fighting an uphill battle with carryover risk on both the Colts and Cowboys on Sunday.”

The Steelers were 3-point home favorites, and the number had the loss of All-Pro RB Le’Veon Bell built into it. In hindsight, Osborne said the loss of Bell was a bigger deal than most people thought.

“It was obvious the Steelers weren’t the same team we had seen rolling to an 8-2 record over the previous 10 weeks and had covered their last four. You can’t just lose a guy that represents 33 percent of the entire Steelers offense and expect them to simply replace him, but bettors didn’t seem to care. Sharps were on the Ravens, but the rest all had the Steelers working one way or another on their weekend strategy.”

The Panthers’ 27-16 victory over the Cardinals wasn’t a big winner or loser for the books in a matchup Osborne described as a “nothing game.” Carolina closed as 5.5-point home favorites and any leftover risk from the game was wiped out when the Steelers lost.

When Sunday’s games came around, it was like a fresh start and the goal was to beat out at least one of the favorites. If the books could have somehow gotten both underdogs to cover, they’d scoop almost all the chips.

“We had some sharp play on the Bengals taking +4 and +3.5 early on, but the masses all leaned toward the Colts with the parlays,” said Osborne.

Indianapolis would come away with a 26-10 win, so the books’ entire day and weekend rested with the Cowboys as 6-point home favorites against the Lions. It was a home-favorite situation Dallas hadn’t been too good in over their past 33 instances (9-24 ATS).

“The Lions jumping out to a 14-0 lead had us feeling pretty good, but for future business purposes, we were kind of torn because Dallas is a major draw any time they play. If they would have lost, Detroit advancing doesn’t have the same appeal in the next round as Dallas.”

The Cowboys would trail the entire game until Tony Romo hit Terrance Williams on an 8-yard touchdown pass with 2:32 remaining to make it 24-20. On the previous series, Dallas was called for defensive pass interference, which would have extended the Lions’ drive and put them in position to at least kick a field goal.

Instead, the referee picked up the flag and ruled no interference, which gave many the feeling there was some favoritism given to the Cowboys. Like Osborne said, the Cowboys advancing is good for business.

“I think the thing I was most surprised about over the weekend is that we didn’t have a lot of teaser action,” said Osborne. “It’s understandable to have two games around 3 not have much action, but it was shocking not see the two favorites close to 7 (Carolina and Dallas) not get played much, which I guess is good for us because that combination beat us.”

However, Osborne can go back to sweating the teasers in this week’s four divisional playoff games where the lowest spread has Green Bay -6.5 against the Cowboys.

“It’s going to be teaser-mania this week. I can already see it now with big action keyed to New England, Seattle, Green Bay and Denver,” Osborne said.

Just 1 bowl left

It’s been a great bowl season for the books with the popular favorites going 15-23 ATS with underdogs winning 20 of the games outright.

Osborne moved Oregon from -7 to -6.5 on Sunday morning and has seen the total rise from his opener of 72 to 75. The Ducks have been more popular with the smaller money and actual tickets written, but the South Point got a large wager on the Buckeyes at +7 to move the number.

South Point contest

For a $5 entry fee, bettors could enter the College Bowl Jackpot as many times as they like with a chance at winning $100,000. All they had to do was pick the winners of the final 15 bowl games with no pointspread. There are currently nine contestants sitting at 12-2 with six having Oregon and three Ohio State.

Only $51,000 in entry fees were taken in, so the South Point is throwing in the other $49,000, which amounts to a huge overlay.

Last season the prize was only $50,000, but South Point owner Michael Gaughan wanted to jack up the prize for his customers even more this year. It’s among the reasons he is one of a kind and a favorite of every Las Vegas local.

Cowboys futures

If you look around town, you’ll notice that odds to win the Super Bowl for Dallas are around 9-to-1, a number that has a lot to do with risk on Dallas, who started out at 40-1 odds when first posted in February.

If you do the math on who they will likely face in their next three games, you should be able to get 30-1 just by rolling the winnings over. This week they are getting +245 on the money line at Green Bay, and if they win they’ll be getting at least +270 at Seattle. If they make the Super Bowl, likely against Denver or New England, you can figure around +150.

Multiply all those numbers together and you get a 30-1 payout. If at all possible, don’t settle for 9-1, play the Cowboys the smart way and roll the winnings over.

Weekend predictions

Patriots, 30-20: We’ve seen the Ravens win in big playoff moments at New England before, but I’m not sold on them here. Patriots (-7) get the cover.

 

Seahawks, 20-10: The last three times they’ve met in the Cam Newton era – all in Carolina – all three stayed UNDER the total. I’m looking for it to happen again. UNDER 40.5.

Cowboys, 27-24: Something’s gotta give here with Green Bay undefeated at home and Dallas undefeated on the road. A good running game travels well and I think it will here as well. This will be the best game of the weekend. COWBOYS +6.5 and +245 moneyline.

Broncos, 31-23: Denver should get the win, but the better play might be to tease them with New England and Seattle, just like everyone else. I would like to say Denver is ripe for an upset, but the Colts have been terrible against good teams this season.

Ohio State, 48-45: This should be a shootout with neither team being able to stop each other which makes the OVER 75 seem very beatable. Oregon doesn’t have many teams taking them to the wire and I think they’ll be in unfamiliar territory. The Ducks have now covered nine straight, but I’m taking the Buckeyes. OHIO ST. +7/OVER.

Cubs year, finally

You have to feel for the plight of the Cubs fan, but certainly like their outlook for 2015. Could they make their first World Series appearance since 1945? Could they finally win their first World Series since 1908?

When looking at odds posted around town, you’d have to believe the bookmakers think they have a good chance. The Westgate has the Cubbies listed at 16-1 to win it all after opening at 25-1, but that’s more about risk than actually believing they can make a postseason run.

Every year, whether the Cubs’ prospects are good or bad, they offer the least value of any team. That’s because Cubs Nation comes strong to the bet windows, just hoping to be able to cash in and be part of the magical year when a championship finally goes to the North side of Chicago.

The 2015 version offers more promise than we’ve seen for some time and most of that stems from the leadership of president Theo Epstein, who brought Boston their first World Series title since 1918 in 2004. Between a ripe farm system ready to have a few breakout stars like RF Javier Soler and 2B Javier Baez mixed in with key free-agent acquisitions like SP Jon Lester and C Miguel Montero, there is plenty of reason for optimism in 2015.

Epstein also brought in former Rays manager Joe Maddon who took a ripe young team in Tampa Bay to four postseason appearances. One of Epstein’s early moves for the Cubs when first arriving at the end of 2011 was acquiring slugger Anthony Rizzo from San Diego, a player he drafted in 2007 with Boston, but had struggled in his brief stop in the majors.

Last season, Rizzo hit a team-leading 32 homers for the Cubs and showed why he was considered a top prospect for the Red Sox. With Lester anchoring a good starting rotation that has Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks, they should find themselves in plenty of close winnable games.

The major question mark is still their bullpen and closer Hector Rondon, but if things start out well, Epstein should be able to make a deal to get some relief before the trade deadline.

It’s crazy to think something could happen that hasn’t occurred in 107 years, and the NL Central with St. Louis and Pittsburgh will be a battle, but there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. Postseason play is a definite possibility this year.

Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].

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