12/26/2013 2:45PM

Dave Tuley: NFL playoff scenarios alter betting lines


LAS VEGAS – Week 17 is always crazy in the NFL and, by extension, in the sports books here. Teams are trying to clinch postseason berths or wrap up first-round byes or home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and then you have teams that the public is assuming are just playing out the string.

So, oddsmakers have to weigh all these factors into the regular handicapping of the games and anticipate which way bettors will go. This leads to some crazy-looking, inflated spreads. It also creates value for bettors willing to fade the public, and for those who feel like the oddsmakers have overadjusted.

Here’s a look at some of Sunday’s games and their LVH advance lines from Dec. 17, compared with what the lines were as of Thursday morning:

Advance line  Current line
Steelers -4 vs. Browns  Steelers -7
Bengals -3.5 vs. Ravens  Ravens -6
Colts -5 vs. Jaguars  Colts -11.5
Cowboys -2.5 vs. Eagles  Eagles -6.5
Saints -7 vs. Buccaneers  Saints -12.5
Chargers PK vs. Chiefs  Chargers -9.5
Seahawks -6.5 vs. Rams  Seahawks -10.5

If playing the “one of these things is not like the other” game from Sesame Street, the Cowboys-Eagles game stands out because that move is due more to the news that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is expected to be out (though the team was noncommittal as of Thursday), and the game was being bet toward the Eagles being a three-point favorite even before the Romo news broke. The LVH went to Eagles -7.5 before it was bet back down.

The other huge move is the Chargers going from pick ‘em to -9.5, which doesn’t appear to make sense with the Chiefs at 11-4 and the Chargers at 8-7, but the Chargers are battling for an AFC wild-card spot, while the Chiefs are locked into the AFC No. 5 seed and have no incentive to risk injury with their starters.

Not too long ago, Week 17 was a great time to bet correlated parlays as games played earlier in the day could impact whether teams in later games would try hard or rest their starters for the playoffs, or even in concurrent games if a team could be expected to throw in the towel.

However, the NFL has made scheduling changes that minimize those chances by moving more games to the 4:25 p.m. Eastern slot. It’s not done to make it harder for bettors, but it has the same effect.

For instance, the Patriots-Bills game (originally scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern) determines whether the Bengals and Colts have a shot at a first-round bye, so if the two games were played at the same time and the Patriots got out to a big lead, you could reasonably expect the Bengals and Colts to pull their starters and begin preparing for next weekend. But with the Patriots-Bills game moved to 4:25 p.m., the Bengals and Colts have to play it straight.

The Saints-Buccaneers game has also been moved later so the NFC playoff picture is more in doubt for the teams playing later.

There are still some correlated parlays you can tinker with, but they’re not as advantageous as they once were. For instance, you could parlay the Bengals -6 with the Jaguars +11.5, as there could be a scenario where the Bengals get out to a big lead and the Colts sit starters since they wouldn’t jump the Bengals for a first-round bye even if the Patriots lose.

Also, the 49ers’ line is down to pick ‘em against the Cardinals, mainly because the game appears to mean more to the Cardinals. However, the longer the Rams stick around against the Seahawks, the more value that depressed line on the 49ers appears to have.

Good luck finding your own Week 17 scenarios.

Back to the betting board

Last week, I went 1-2 in the NFL. I had the Saints +3 against the Panthers (they were leading 13-10 before the Panthers scored the winning touchdown with 23 seconds left) and the Texans +105 against the Broncos (they were losing only 16-13 heading to the fourth quarter but got run over late). But at least I finished the week with the Falcons +12.5 vs. the 49ers on Monday night (they lost 34-24 but were never losing by more than the spread). I’ll try to close the regular season strong here.

Rams +10.5 vs. Seahawks

I’ll take the Rams, as we all remember them covering on Monday night in a 14-9 loss in the first meeting between the two teams. They’ve continued to play well, while the Seahawks’ home dominance took a hit last week in their 17-10 loss to the Cardinals. The Seahawks have also failed to cover double-digit spreads against the Titans and Buccaneers.

PLAY: Rams for 1 unit.

Redskins +3.5 vs. Giants

The Giants ended the Lions’ playoff hopes, but the Redskins have been playing better of late, even though they’ve lost their last two games. They certainly haven’t thrown in the towel, and getting more than a field goal looks like value (how about a third straight one-point loss?).

PLAY: Redskins for 1 unit.

NCAA record: 7-7 for net loss of 0.7 units (based on risking 1.1 to win 1). NFL record: 12-15 for a net loss of 4.5 units.