Experts in the know say Celine Dion’s performance at The Colosseum is the “show of shows” in Las Vegas, but I’m here to tell you the greatest show in Las Vegas this weekend will be at any sports book you may happen to walk into on Sunday while the two NFL conference championship games are going on.
If you want the purest example that embodies Las Vegas, and all the jam packed excitement this city has to offer, you need to spend a couple hours watching the game with a couple hundred of your closest new friends.
Now don’t get me wrong, Celine is magnificent, but you can still catch her show after the games. Sunday the best teams with the best records in each conference square off for the right to play in the Super Bowl. Best of all, admission is free.
In the matinee, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots meet Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (-5). It’s the 15th time these two talents have battled over their storied careers, with Brady holding a 10-4 edge, including 2-0 the last two seasons while Manning has donned the Orange.
Then we have the San Francisco 49ers, with an eight game winning streak, who will try to win their third straight road playoff game against their arch enemy, the Seattle Seahawks (-3½), a team that has lost only once at home the past two seasons. This epic battle has an extremely enticing subplot between head coaches where the 49ers’ Jim Harbaugh and Seahawks Pete Carroll have been battling for division supremacy since their days heading the programs at Stanford and USC.
Harbaugh led his 49ers to the Super Bowl last season with a road win at Atlanta in the NFC title game, and this will be his third straight year taking the 49ers this far. He has been beaten badly his last two games at Seattle, 29-13 in week 2 this season and 42-13 in week 16 last season.
Both these teams mirror each other’s stellar run games, mobile quarterbacks, and nasty defenses. Seattle’s defense allowed a league-low 13.9 points per game, while San Francisco allowed the third lowest at 16.7 ppg.
While defense figures to be the theme in the NFC game, which is why the total is so low at 40, over in the AFC we have two of the best gunslingers the game of football has ever seen. Brady has had to patch things together this season with duct tape due to so many unforeseen circumstances, but it could be argued he has turned in his finest season ever just because he had so little to work with and still got the job done.
Manning turned in the greatest offensive season any QB has ever had with an offense that averaged a record 37.9 ppg, which is why the total for this one is set so high at 55.
The odd thing though, is it’s the Patriots offense that has been revved up lately, going OVER the total in six of their last seven games while the Broncos have stayed UNDER in their last four. Denver’s offense has driven the totals so high each week they would be hard pressed to continually match or better the posted number. It is somewhat alarming that a San Diego team could hold the Broncos to their two lowest scoring outputs of the season.
The Broncos and Patriots met on a cold windy November night in Foxborough, with the Patriots overcoming a 24-0 halftime deficit to win, 34-31, in overtime. It was a brilliant performance by both teams, and in particular Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno, who ran for a career 224 yards.
I think I saw enough in that game to make me believe Denver can gain momentum and keep it at home. I’ve got the Broncos winning, 38-27.
Over in the NFC, even though Seattle is the toughest place in the league to win, I’ve got to take +3½ with the 49ers on the road. Great defenses and good running teams travel well, plus Seattle’s offense has been struggling. The 49ers are 8-1-1 ATS on the road. I’ll take San Francisco to win in a higher scoring game than expected, 27-23.
Books dinged in Divisionals
There’s always that one game during an NFL playoff weekend the sports books know they’re going to have to beat down in order to show a profit over the weekend. Everybody seemed to be dialed in on San Francisco laying less than a field goal at Carolina.
Part of the reason was because the spread was shortest among the four playoff games – the other three favorites were -7 or higher. Other reasons were because the 49ers rolled in with a seven game win streak and had been better on the road (7-1-1 ATS) than at home.
So when the sports books posted 49ers, 23-10, into their results screen, their computer systems nearly gagged with all the payout calculations, which is why so many smiled and cheered in every sports book across the Las Vegas valley with an endless wave of bettors waiting patiently in line to cash.
“The 49ers game absolutely destroyed us,” said LVH Super Book VP Jay Kornegay. “We had sharp money on the Panthers early, but the public parlay and teaser combinations were too much to overcome. The Niners were the common denominator to just about every parlay and teaser that we paid off on the weekend.”
Teasers became the big story again for the sports books, just like last week when the sides went 7-1 during the wild card round. Things started rough Saturday when the Saints and Seahawks became an all-way teaser win just because the total had been run down from 48½ to 43½ because of windy and rainy conditions.
When the final score came Seattle 23-15, the internal alert modes went off in every bookmakers’ head, not only for the small middle of a spread that fluctuated -7½ to -9, but also because of the teaser snowball that had started.
“The Saints game came 8, which hurt, but it wasn’t totally a disaster,” said South Point’s Jimmy Vaccaro. “We had taken a lot of Saints bets on the money line. However, the all-way teaser winner started some momentum that paid off on Sunday.”
Fortunately, there was some relief when the Patriots pounded the Colts, 43-22, which saw Indy money drive the number from -9 down to -7 by kickoff.
“Saturday turned out to be a good day for us, mostly due to the Patriots covering,” said Vaccaro. “We had a lot of Colts money on the spread, money line and teasers, so when the Patriots covered by such a large margin, it helped kill some of the carryover teaser liability, which still stung us on Sunday.”
Then the 49ers came in and the public hit the game in just about every way possible. The small win on Saturday was to be short lived as the excess from Patriots parlays and teasers went into the 49ers. If Broncos/OVER had come through, it would have been a blood bath for the house as three to eight team parlays were ready to cash.
“We were fortunate the Broncos didn’t cover and the game stayed UNDER,” said Kornegay of the Broncos 24-17 win. “Because if not, it might have turned out to have been one of our worst playoff Sunday’s (non Super Bowl) in recent memory. The Chargers getting that late field goal definitely helped us.”
But at the Mirage, MGM Resorts VP of race and sports Jay Rood still felt the sting of the Broncos win that others may not have.
“The Broncos game turned out to be bad for us just because I had a couple of big house players here who had the last of their big teasers and money line parlays tied to the Broncos.”
The typical house player at an MGM Resorts property is the kind who regularly bets six digits and lodges in one of the expansive villas.
“We were able to grind out a small win between the weekend games,” said Rood. “We won on Saturday, but lost on Sunday. Just like last week, the teasers hit almost every which way, and it all started with the first game.”
But Rood takes it in stride with the same demeanor and tone that never gives any indication whether his books won or lost.
“Overall, I think we can look at it from a positive standpoint; at least three of the games stayed UNDER the total over the weekend.”
It wasn’t too long ago when quite a few sports books in Las Vegas didn’t offer teasers on NFL playoff games, just because games figure to be tighter between quality teams in a do or die situation, which makes adding six points to an already proper price very advantageous to the bettor.
Sports books added additional juice along the years as a means to even out the scales (remember the days when a 6-point teaser was EVEN money?), but it still may not be enough for the house to maintain an edge like they do in all the other categories.
For the second consecutive week of playoff action, the books got crushed on teasers. Had there been no teasers, it would have been a resounding house win throughout the city.
I’m a huge fan of teasers as a bettor and have preached for years that the two-team NFL teaser is the best value in the entire casino. I’ve booked them and seen for myself in year-over-year ledgers that the two-team NFL teaser was the only category that consistently showed a break even or small loss.
Between the books selling the idea to themselves that raising the juice 10 to 20 cents was a way to bring back value, along with every casino being in a super competitive mode, the teasers have stuck around for every bettors’ benefit throughout the playoffs.
Just like parlays, the books makes more as the bettors get greedier by adding additional teams to increase their payout odds. Teasers from three teams up show a profit, but the two-team teaser – in the long run – is a stone cold house loser. And that gets severely worse in the playoffs as we’re seeing right now.
In the wild card round, the sides went 7-1. Last week in the divisional round, the sides were 6-2. That’s five games out of the eight playoffs played where the books can’t win on either side of a game‘s outcome. When a proposition is proposed that costs the bettor only -120 to lay, where the book has the possibility of losing both sides…well, you figure it out.
In the postseason, most teams play to their ability and tight games are to be expected. No book will make any changes on the fly this week or for the Super Bowl, but because of the losses from the past two weeks, expect some tinkering by a few books before the playoffs start next year. But until then, keep riding the gravy train.
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].