01/16/2014 2:49PM

Dave Tuley: Patriots, Brady look like the play with 5.5 points

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LAS VEGAS – Last week’s NFL divisional playoff games were once again proof that sports is the best reality show on television.

And the NFL playoffs are just like March Madness in that we love our underdog stories along the way, but it’s usually the top teams duking it out. And even though underdogs are 5-2-1 against the spread so far in this year’s NFL playoffs (which I love to see), we end up having Sunday’s conference championship games featuring the four best teams the league has to offer as they all won as favorites last week, even if the Seahawks and Broncos failed to cover the spread.

The sports books here in Vegas, as well as offshore and everywhere else, were quick to post lines last Sunday as the matchups became apparent. The Denver Broncos opened as a 6.5-point favorite over the New England Patriots, and the line was pounded down to 4.5 before rebounding in the middle of the week and sitting at a consensus 5.5 as of this writing Thursday morning. The Seattle Seahawks vs. San Francisco 49ers line has been a lot more stable, though it’s mostly wavered between Seahawks –3 and –3.5 with books charging additional juice on the side that bettors are looking to take (Seahawks –3 in the case of the favorite so they get the added insurance if it lands on the number for a push; or 49ers +3.5 so they get the “hook” and a win if it lands on Seahawks by exactly a field goal).

But before we get back to those games, it’s also important to note that the bookmakers are already looking forward to the Super Bowl – which they expect to break last year’s record handle of $98 million here in Nevada – and William Hill has posted lines for the four potential matchups with the official openers going up Sunday night once the winner of the Seahawks-49ers game is determined. Note: Wagers will be graded as no-action and refunded for the three matchups that don’t happen.

In the most likely matchup (at least according to the odds in the championship games), William Hill opened the Broncos as a 1-point favorite over the Seahawks. By Wednesday, they had received enough action on Seattle to cause a change in favorite, with the Seahawks moved to a 1-point choice. William Hill made the Seahawks a 1.5-point favorite over the Patriots and that also drew action as they were moved all the way to a 3-point favorite.

If the 49ers were to win, William Hill opened them pick-em against the Broncos, but the money again came in on the NFC team and the 49ers were moved to a 1-point favorite. The 49ers opened as a 2-point favorite over the Patriots and that was bet up to –3.

William Hill also offers a generic NFC/AFC line. That was NFC –2 on Monday and also bet up to –3. Meanwhile, the LVH also had a generic line that has the NFC –2.5.

Back to the betting board

I went 1-1 last week with a loss on the Colts +7.5 as they looked like they were going to hang in there to cover the spread versus the Patriots, but got run over late in a 43-22 loss, while I won with the Chargers +9.5 as they looked totally out of it but got in the back door to cover in their 24-17 loss. Sunday’s conference championship games feature teams that are very familiar with each other. I really like one underdog better than the other, while taking a look at the over/under in the nightcap.

Patriots +5.5 vs. Broncos

Peyton Manning’s playoff woes (10-11 SU and ATS) are well documented as well as his record against Tom Brady, who holds a 10-4 SU and 8-5-1 ATS lead. But that’s only part of the reason I like the underdog here. The Broncos’ point-spread loss last week was due in large part to losing cornerback Chris Harris to a torn ACL, the same injury that has sidelined linebacker Von Miller. Granted, the Patriots have had injuries on the defensive side, too (Vince Wilfork, Jared Mayo, Brandon Spikes), but Bill Belichick and his staff have shown more of an ability to plug the holes. The Patriots could choose to take advantage of the Broncos being without their best pass rusher and their best cover corner, or they can stick with the running game they’ve rediscovered down the stretch, which should also help set up the pass.

PLAY: Patriots for 2 units.

49ers at Seahawks, over/under 39

I can’t make a call on the point spread in this game. The 49ers are tempting with the way they’ve been playing, especially going on the road for two wins, but it’s hard to fade the Seahawks at home. Instead, I’m looking at the total that was bet down from 41.5 to a consensus 39 as of Thursday morning, and it might keep dropping, especially as handicappers note that 32 and 36 points were scored in the two previous meetings. However, I think there’s value on the over now. These teams know each other, so I think the offenses will be able to make adjustments and have more success than most teams have against these defenses. In today’s NFL, it doesn’t take much to get to this total, and if the defenses come through with a score or turnovers to create a short field, that can help the over, too.

PLAY: Over 39 points for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-1 for a net loss of 0.1 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL playoffs: 2-1-1 for net profit of 0.9 units. Regular-season record: 12-17 for a net loss of 6.7 units.