22 January 2013

San Francisco's Hook, Baltimore's Second Half Shutout, and Tom Brady's Donut

By Pauly
Los Angeles, CA

For most of the week, the sporting world was caught up with a guy with one testicle admitting to using drugs and another story about a guy with a fake girlfriend. And how about the NFL conference championships? They were just a formality because everyone was prepping for a San Francisco v. New England Super Bowl match-up. Only one of those two "sure things" went on to advance to the Super Bowl, while the other had a disappointing end to the season.

San Francisco 28, Atlanta 24
Opening Lines: -3 and 48 o/u
Closing Lines: -4 and 49 o/u

One fact overwhelmed the betting ether: the Atlanta Falcons were the biggest #1 seed home dog in over 35 years. This was at the mighty Georgia Dome and Matty Ice's house where they were impossible to beat, yet upon closer inspection most of those wins were close shaves. It wasn't like New England's victories in which they blew out other teams by double digits. Most of the bettors were all over the San Francisco Niners (3-1 in Vegas and one offshore book took over 70% of their action on the Niners).

Casual bettors are heavily influenced by short-term memory, so images of Colin Kaepernick's pistol tearing holes in Green Bay's defense were dancing inside their heads as they bet the Niners. Didn't matter where the number was because San Francisco money flooded the books from the moment the lines opened until it closed moments before at kickoff. I was in Vegas at the time and watched the opening line of -3 quickly jump -3.5 within minutes. By the time Monday morning rolled around, the bookies moved the line to -4, and it popped as high as -4.5 before it settled on -4.

This was one of those instances when the number was crucial. The bookies kept your money if you had SF -4.5. They gave it back if you had -4. And they paid you out if you had -3.5 or were one of the few lucky folks who had -3. Conversely, if you were on Atlanta, you needed that +4.5 to cash your ticket.

We had SF -3 and -3.5. I cannot stress how much betting opening lines (if you anticipate a swing the other way) and shopping for the best number is vital to long term profits.

Those half points matter. If you don't believe me, you've never been burned by the hook. I was in a good spot and had access to three different sports books within walking distance, not to mention offshore. The opportunity to shop for points is as crucial as betting an early line (provided you bet on the right side of the line move). In this instance, we got -3 and -3.5 and the line moved towards -4.5. Before the game even started, we locked in some value, and got a little extra cushion just in case the game was close.

Turns out... the game was much closer than we had hoped, especially after the Niners pissed away 10 points (on a Akers missed FG and Crabtree's fumble at the 1-yard line).

I feel like this whenever I get hosed by the zebras

The game progressed as expected. Atlanta got off to a smoking hot start, San Francisco's offense sputtered early on and it took a while to heat up. The Niners were a much better second half team, and by the time the 3Q began, both the offense and defense were firing on all cylinders. It was unfortunate for Atlanta that their defense went cold at the worst possible time and once again, their offense stalled after jumping out to a big lead. Atlanta relied on last-minute Matty Ice magic to bail them out against Seattle, but they couldn't conjure up the same heroics against San Francisco.

We were on the OVER and it wasn't much of a sweat in the first three quarters. The Niners have a premier defense, but they were facing Matty Ice and his high-flying receiving corps (Jones/White tore them up in the first half). And on the flip side, Atlanta's defense was among the worst still left in the playoffs. Even when San Francisco got off to a slow start, you almost knew it was a matter of time before they got on the board.

Baltimore 28, New England 13
Opening Lines: -9 and 51
Current Lines: -7.5 and 51.5

I learned about Baltimore the hard way. I bet against Baltimore (at home too) and backed Indy in the Wild Card. I bet against Baltimore again in the Divisional Playoffs and backed Peyton Manning and Denver. I was horribly wrong both times and it cost me a pretty penny. I vowed not to bet against them in a game against New England... unless I could lock up +10 or better. The closest I got was +9.5 and I cannot believe I was haggling over a half a point instead of pulling the trigger. Instead, I teased down New England with San Francisco... both teams that I was convinced were headed to the Super Bowl. The Niners prevailed, but New England fell short of the mark. Way short.

Joey Flacco's sizzling run in the playoffs continued. He did not throw an interception and has zero in three games this postseason. That's one of the main reasons why Baltimore is headed to the Super Bowl. The zero INTs is impressive considering that Flacco has been gambling it up by flinging the ball down field and letting Boldin/Smith do their thing. Both receivers have done amazing jobs getting separation against opposing cornerbacks. And kudos to Flacco for getting them the ball at the right moments. Baltimore needed to perfectly execute that part of their offense in order to win each game... and they got the job done.

In the first half, New England played well enough to have a 13-7 lead, even though a rare brain fart by Brady cost them four points. Shamus wrote about that incident in The Patriots Slide, Then Fall.

A halftime lead was New England's supreme comfort zone because New England never blew a halftime lead. Every opposing coach knows that you have to out-execute New England and get out to a lead in the first half otherwise Belichick's crack staff will tweak their game plan and shut everything down in the second half.

But following halftime, Baltimore outplayed New England on both sides of the field. Just like in their game against Denver, Baltimore's second half defense kept them in the game long enough to give Flacco and company a chance to bust it wide open with three TDs in the second half. It didn't help New England when they lost their best defender CB Aqib Talib to a leg injury.

Baltimore's defense shutdown Brady completely. Zero points in the third quarter, followed up by zero points in the fourth. New England failed to execute their running attack in the second half. They rushed for 77 yards in the first half and Baltimore struggled to stop them. Due to an head injury to Stevan Ridley (he got hit so hard that he fumbled the ball and Baltimore recovered), New England abandoned the running game and only rushed the ball six times in the second half. The offense had incurred several setbacks with Gronk sidelined, Woodhead banged up and Ridley's wooziness. Without having to worry about the run, Baltimore's offense keyed in on Brady and his favorite targets.

I expected New England to win by a touchdown 31-24 in a high scoring game; however, New England's offense put up a big fat donut in the second half as Baltimore prevailed 28-13

Bettors backed New England and the OVER in New England games heavily this year and the bookies got killed on those games. The bookies won some of that back because most of the tickets for Baltimore/New England were on the over. The wiseguys bet Baltimore heavily and helped balance out the money even though majority of the public was on New England.

* * *
Looking ahead to the Super Bowl lines... a couple of casino-based books (like the Wynn) in Vegas opened up San Francisco -5 and they got hammered with Baltimore money and quickly adjusted to -4.5. The opening line was -4.5 in mostly everywhere else in Vegas and -4 at offshore shops (although Pinnacle opened at -3.5). The line at Pinnacle jumped to -4.5 then -5.5 before coming back down to 4 or so. The consensus line (offshore + in Vegas) keeps wavering back and forth between -4 and -3.5.

The total opened at 50 in some Vegas books and it got pushed down significantly to -48.5. Off shore opened the line around -48.5 and it's been hovering at -47.5 ever since it bottomed out.

Currently... we have positions on UNDER 49 and San Francisco -3.5.

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