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NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

Championship Cheat Sheet
VegasInsider.com

NFC Championship - San Francisco (12-4-1 SU, 9-7 ATS) at Atlanta (14-3 SU, 9-7-1 ATS)

Quick Hitters

San Francisco advanced to the NFC Championship by dominating Green Bay 45-31 in the Divisional Playoffs. The 49ers

The 49ers went 5-3 both SU and ATS on the road this season. Two of the three losses came against playoff teams in Minnesota (13-24) and Seattle (13-42). The team scored exactly 13 points in all three of the setbacks.

San Francisco went 2-0 both SU and ATS when playing in the Eastern Time Zone, with victories coming against the N.Y. Jets (34-0) and New England (41-34).

Total players have watched the ‘over’ cash in six straight and nine of the last 10 games for San Francisco, which includes Saturday’s outcome against the Packers.

Atlanta earned its trip to the NFC Championship by stopping Seattle 30-28 from the Georgia Dome in the Divisional Playoffs. The victory improved the Falcons’ home record to 8-1 on the season. The only loss occurred in Week 17 against Tampa Bay (17-22), which was a meaningless game.

As underdogs this season, the Falcons have gone 2-0 both SU and ATS. The two wins came on the road against the Chargers (27-3) and Eagles (30-17).

Even though Sunday’s shootout with Seattle saw the ‘over’ cash, the ‘under’ owns a 7-2 record at home for Atlanta this season.

Opening Line Moves

Las Vegas:
The Las Vegas Hotel & Casino (LVH) opened San Francisco as a three-point road favorite and the number already moved up to 3½ points. William Hill, another major outfit in the desert, has San Francisco at 3 (-125). The LVH opened the ‘over/under’ at 48 and the number was quickly moved to 48½.

Offshore: Two of the major shops, Pinnacle and CRIS, both sent San Francisco out as a three-point road favorite. CRIS has held steady while Pinnacle has already tagged 20 cents (Bet $120 to win $100) on the 49ers at -3. Both of these betting outfits are holding a total of 47½ points.

NFC Championship Trends

San Francisco lost 20-17 to the N.Y. Giants in last year’s conference championship. Overall the franchise has played in 13 NFC title games and they’ve gone 5-8 with four of those wins coming in the Bay Area, which means they’ve gone 1-3 on the road.

Atlanta has played in two NFC Championships and it’s been an underdog in both. Michael Vick and the Falcons came up short to the Eagles (10-27) in 2004-05 but the “Dirty Birds” pulled off a big upset in the 1998-99 season by stopping Minnesota 30-27 on the road.

In the last 10 years, the road and home teams have gone 5-5. Against the spread, the underdog has gone 6-4. There were only two home ‘dogs during this span and they went 1-1. The ‘over/under’ is 5-5 in the previous 10 NFC title games.

AFC Championship - Baltimore (11-6 SU, 7-9-1 ATS) at New England (13-4 SU, 10-7 ATS)

Quick Hitters

Baltimore earned a spot in the AFC Championship by defeating Denver 38-35 in overtime as nine-point road underdogs in the Divisional Playoffs.

Including the win over the Broncos, the Ravens went 5-4 SU and 4-5-1 ATS on the road this season. The ‘under’ went 5-3-1 away from home.

For the second straight time this season, New England blasted Houston at home in the Divisional Playoffs en route to its AFC Championship bid.

The Patriots have gone 7-2 at home this season with both losses coming to NFC West squads in Arizona (18-20) and San Francisco (34-41).

New England’s four losses this season have come by a combined 11 points. One of those setbacks came in Week 3 at Baltimore. The Patriots were leading by nine points (30-21) late in the fourth quarter before the Ravens rallied with 10 unanswered points and the 31-30 home win. Baltimore closed as a 2 ½-point home favorite in that affair.

Including the shootout win over the Texans, the Patriots have seen the ‘over’ go 12-5 on the season and 7-2 at home.

Opening Line Moves

Las Vegas:
Even though the game wasn’t final, the LVH opened New England as a 10-point home favorite. William Hill opened the Patriots as 9½-point favorites. The two books both opened with an ‘over/under’ of 51.

Offshore: The Greek opened with 9½ (EVEN) while 5Dimes posted New England -10 (+110). The totals were similar as the Vegas outfits, but The Greek opened 50½ and has held steady.

AFC Championship Trends

New England stopped Baltimore 23-20 in last year’s AFC Championship from Foxborough but failed to cover as seven-point favorites.

Baltimore has played in three AFC Championships and produced a 1-2 record, including the aforementioned loss to the Patriots. All three of the games were played outside of Maryland and the only win came in the 2000-01 season when the Ravens beat Oakland, 16-3.

New England owns a 7-1 record in AFC Championships and it could be 8-0 if it didn’t blow a big lead to Peyton Manning and the Colts (34-38) in the 2006-07 title game at the RCA Dome.

The host has won six straight and eight of the last 10 AFC title games. The favorite has gone 9-1 SU and 7-3 ATS in the last 10 AFC Championships. The ‘over’ has produced a 7-3 mark during this span.

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Championship Angles
By Marc Lawrence
VegasInsider.com

NFL Championship Games... Caveat Emptor

And then there were four.

NFL’s version of the ‘Final Four’ kicks off this Sunday in the Championship Games where surprises aplenty have certainly been the buzzword.

That’s confirmed by the fact that underdogs have managed to pull off upsets in 14 of 44 title games since the 1990 season, the most recent being the NY Giants win at San Francisco last season en route to capturing Super Bowl XLIV.

Let’s take a quick look at what’s worked and what hasn’t in the Championship Games, because when it comes to handicapping games at this stage of the season we can use every edge imaginable.

Note: all results are ATS (Against The Spread) and are since the 1990 season, unless noted otherwise.

Gravity Alert

While high-scoring games are the norm in the NFL these days, teams arriving to the Championship Round off a high-scoring effort in their last game tend to come back to earth harder than a sky diver with faulty chute.

Consider: nearly half of the 17 teams in this round who put 38 or more points on the scoreboard in a Divisional Round victory fell short of the Super Bowl, going 9-8 straight-up.

Worse, these teams are just 9-8 SU and 4-13 ATS, including 1-12 ATS when facing a foe that tallied less than 34 points in their previous game.

With Baltimore and New England canceling one another out, that puts San Francisco on warning this Sunday.

Situational Circumstances

The linemakers have done a nice job overall during this round, with favorites checking in at 23-21 ATS, and home teams 20-24 ATS.

Home chalk of 9 or more or more points has struggled, though, posting a dismal 2-8 ATS mark.

In addition, teams who played in a Wild Card game are 11-13 SU and 14-10 ATS in title tilts, including 5-0 ATS when facing a foe who scored more than 35 points in the division round.

That’s music to the ears of Baltimore backers.

Over There

Points aplenty in this league of late have forced the linemakers to raise the Over/Under totals bar.

Its what happens when there have been 27 OVERS and 17 UNDERS in Championship Games.

Surprisingly, the higher the total the more OVERS there have been as games with a posted total set at 46 or more points going 9-3 OVER.

Been There Done That

Three of the four head coaches have had the luxury of coaching team in Championship Games – namely Bill Belichick and the Harbaugh brothers, Jim and John.

Jim’s Ravens are 0-2 SU and 1-1 ATS, while John’s 49ers fell as 2-point home favorites last year.

New England’s Belichick brings a lofty 5-1 SU and 3-3 ATS record with the Patriots in Championship Games into this week’s fray.  The Hoodie has been favored by 7 or more points in two of those contests, losing the money both times – including last year’s 23-20 win-no-cover over the Ravens.

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Las Vegas Wiseguy Report
By Teddy Covers
Sportsmemo.com

We’re down to the Final Four in the NFL Playoffs, with two compelling championship game matchups set for next Sunday.  I’ve spent all year writing about these teams using my own words.  This week, I thought it would make an interesting read to focus on the numerous quotes offered by various players and coaches.  Who’s saying what heading into the biggest games of the season?  Read on to find out.

Falcons

The Falcons finally got the monkey off their backs with their first playoff victory in the Mike Smith/Matt Ryan era.  And Atlanta has one advantage that the Packers didn’t have facing a mobile QB in Colin Kaepernick on Sunday – they’ve already faced Cam Newton (twice), Robert Griffin and Russell Wilson.  However, former 49ers head coach and current Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan saw his defense get picked apart in three of those four games (allowing 28+ points), and the one that they didn’t (against the Redskins) was a game where RGIII left early due to a concussion.

Head coach Mike Smith was pretty darn pumped following Atlanta’s last minute win over Seattle, after Matt Ryan threw a pair of strikes to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez to put the Falcons in field goal range for kicker Matt Bryant’s game winner from 49 yards.  “Our quarterback is a special player. They call him Matty Ice, but I feel like we've got two Matty Ices. There's Matty Ice Ryan and Matty Ice Bryant.”

Ryan: '”Nobody flinched (following Seattle’s comeback).  We just kept battling, kept doing what we do. That's been the makeup of our team all season….. The one thing I've learned during my five years in the league, and specifically in the postseason, is that it's hard…..But our goal is not to win one playoff game. Our goals are still in front of us. We still have two more games to go. That's the mind-set I have. That's the mind-set this team has.”

Matt Bryant: “When they scored their touchdown, I walked down (the sideline. I told the offensive line, I told Matt (Ryan), I told all the receivers, 'We've done this before’.

Future Hall of Fame tight end following the first postseason victory of his 16 year career: “I was on the ground crying, like a little baby.”

Cornerback Asante Samuel: “(Too many) busted coverages. Was I worried. Uh, yeah. It was a little stressful.”

49ers

Of the four teams still standing, no squad looked better than Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers in their second half rout of the Packers on Saturday Night.  I thought some Green Bay quotes following their defeat would be worthy of inclusion here.  Packers head coach Mike McCarthy: “The execution for the 49ers on the read option was excellent.  We did not do a very good job of keeping (Kaepernick) in the pocket.”

Packers cornerback Charles Woodson: “I didn't know how fast (Kaepernick) was. Coming in I really never paid attention to it. But he is fast…..We expected them to try to get him out on the perimeter. But we didn't expect to let him do what he did.  Give him a lot of credit. He played a great game. He made a lot of great plays out there today. It was hard to swallow.”

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers: “We just didn't get it done in the second half.  I knew we were going to have to score some points. We knew we were going to have to put up at least 38 points.”

Kaepernick:  “It feels good. We're one step closer to where we want to be. I feel like I had a lot to prove. A lot of people doubted my ability to lead this team….Our offensive line did an amazing job.  They shut everybody down inside. Our receivers, our tight ends, blocked great outside, and our running backs were running hard, so it made it easier on me.”

Jim Harbaugh, talking about how Kaepernick reacted to his early pick six that swung momentum in Green Bay’s favor: “He does a great job of responding.  He has done that any time there has been an interception he has thrown, a safety or a turnover, he's responded with a scoring drive. That's rare. I think that's a rare quality. So far he's shown that he's got that ability to come back.”

Patriots

All the Patriots quotes come straight out of ‘Coach Speak 101’ – New England is not a great team for publicizing what’s going on internally, and they certainly won’t say anything to give their opponent any sort of motivational edge.  That being said, there was legitimate concern on the roster following the season ending injury for their top red zone threat, tight end Rob Gronkowski.

Tom Brady following his NFL record 17th postseason victory: “I love playing, I love competing.  I love being a part of this organization.  I think I've just been fortunate to play on some great teams over the years. I never take it for granted….I think the two best teams are in the final. Baltimore certainly deserves to be here and so do we.”

Tight end Aaron Hernandez, talking about Gronkowski’s injury: “It’s hard to replace a player like him. He’s a freak of nature.”

Bill Belichick: “You don’t win a war by digging a foxhole and sitting in it. You’ve got to go out there and attack.”

Linebacker Brandon Spikes, talking about the Patriots sense of unity: “With us, we know it takes all of us to win. We all have to play well, all 11 guys on each side of the ball, special teams, everything. It’s a team-based game. You need an entire team to accomplish your goals.”

Ravens

Baltimore’s quotes, as a group, sound like they’re coming from a team that is physically and emotionally spent following their epic double overtime win over the Broncos.   And history certainly isn’t on Baltimore’s side next Sunday in a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship Game.  This is the sixth time since 1970 that the same teams are playing in the conference championship game in consecutive seasons. The teams that won the first meeting in the championship game have gone 5-0 in the rematch.

Ray Lewis: “I’ve never been a part of a game so crazy in my life… I think we are special just by what we've been through all year, injury-wise. For the first half last week, that was the first time me Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata actually played together because of the injuries we've dealt with. So as a team, what we've done is the reason why we're here now."

Head coach John Harbaugh: “Thanks for bearing witness to one of the greatest football games you're ever going to see.  That football game did football proud….This is, in its own right, incomparable. We've never been through anything quite like this, but that's how life is.”

Rookie kicker Justin Tucker, the anti-Billy Cundiff, following his game winning 47 yard field goal: ''I always feel good when I go out on the field.  Not many people get to do this. This is a heck of a lot of fun.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco: “We fought hard to get back to this point. We are definitely proud of being here, and we feel like it is going to take a lot for someone to come and kick us off that field come the AFC championship game. We are going to give it our all and we know what it felt like last year. We walked off that field without that win. We know what we've put in to get back to point. It's going to be a great game.”

Safety Bernard Pollard summed it up: “We just have to keep moving forward.  This is a blessing. We're just excited to be moving forward [but] it won't mean nothing if we don't win.”

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Re: NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

NFL Conference Championship Betting Cheat Sheet
By Covers.com

Check out our NFL poolies' cheat sheet for all your football wagering needs in condensed form. Quick-hitting betting notes on all of this weekend’s playoff action.

San Francisco 49ers at Atlanta Falcons (3.5, 48)

Versatile quarterbacks have given the Falcons nightmares this season. Carolina's Cam Newton threw for 502 yards with four TDs while rushing for 202 and two scores in two games against them in 2012. In last Sunday's 30-28 win over Seattle, Seahawks rookie signal-caller Russell Wilson passed for 385 yards with two TDs while running for 60 and a score on seven carries. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback playoff-record 181 yards last week with a pair of touchdowns and overcame an early interception returned for a TD by throwing for 263 with two scores. Atlanta defensive end John Abraham, who will be one of the keys to keeping Kaepernick in the pocket, tweaked his ankle against the Seahawks and is listed as questionable for this week, though the Falcons expect him to play. The Falcons are 0-5 ATS in their last five playoff games.

Baltimore Ravens at New England Patriots (-8.5, 51)

The AFC championship will feature the same teams from the year before for the first time in 25 years when the Patriots host the Ravens. The last three matchups have been decided by a total of seven points, including the Ravens' 31-30 victory in Baltimore in Week 3. Ravens QB Joe Flacco has been sensational in the two playoff victories, throwing for 613 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Flacco's the only QB in league history to reach the playoffs in each of his first five seasons and has torched the Patriots for 973 yards with seven TDs vs. two interceptions in the last three games. New England amassed a league-high 557 points during the regular season and had its sixth 40-point game last week. Tight end Rob Gronkowski re-injured his broken forearm early in last week's victory, depriving Brady of a target that has accounted for 38 touchdowns in his first 43 NFL games. The Patriots are 2-8 ATS in their last 10 playoff games and the underdog is 3-0-1 ATS in the last four meetings.

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Re: NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

Total Talk - Championships
By Chris David
VegasInsider.com

Divisional Playoff Recap

The Wild Card round offered up four clear-cut 'under' winners and last week's Divisional Playoffs produced four easy 'over' tickets. For the most part, all eight of the postseason outcomes were never in doubt except for the Seattle-Atlanta matchup last Sunday. Even though the Falcons led 20-0 at the break, the Seahawks left a handful of points off the board in the first-half. Total players chasing the 'over' saw a second-half number of 23 and that winning ticket cashed early in the fourth quarter.

Championship History

Even though both championship games went 'under' last year, the trend has been leaning to the 'over' in the conference title games. The AFC Championship has seen the 'over' go 7-3 the past 10 seasons, while the NFC Championship has produced a 6-4 mark to the 'over.'

AFC CHAMPIONSHIP OVER-UNDER HISTORY (2002-2012)
Year     Result     Total
2011-2012 New England 23 vs. Baltimore 20 49, UNDER
2010-2011 Pittsburgh 24 vs. N.Y. Jets 19 38, OVER
2009-2010 Indianapolis 30 vs. N.Y. Jets 17 40, OVER
2008-2009 Pittsburgh 23 vs. Baltimore 14 35, OVER
2007-2008 New England 21 vs. San Diego 12 48, UNDER
2006-2007 Indianapolis 38 vs. New England 34 47, OVER
2005-2006 Pittsburgh 34 @ Denver 17 41, OVER
2004-2005 New England 41 @ Pittsburgh 27 35, OVER
2003-2004 New England 24 vs. Indianapolis 14 43, UNDER
2002-2003 Oakland 41 vs. Tennessee 24 47, OVER

NFC CHAMPIONSHIP OVER-UNDER HISTORY (2002-2012)
Year     Result     Total
2011-2012 New York 20 @ San Francisco 17 42, UNDER
2010-2011 Green Bay 21 @ Chicago 14 42, UNDER
2009-2010 New Orleans 31 vs. Minnesota 28 54, OVER
2008-2009 Arizona 32 vs. Philadelphia 25 47, OVER
2007-2008 N.Y. Giants 23 @ Green Bay 20 41, OVER
2006-2007 Chicago 34 vs. New Orleans 14 42.5, OVER
2005-2006 Seattle 34 vs. Carolina 14 43.5, OVER
2004-2005 Philadelphia 27 vs. Atlanta 10 37.5, UNDER
2003-2004 Carolina 14 @ Philadelphia 3 36.5, UNDER
2002-2003 Tampa Bay 27 @ Philadelphia 10 34, OVER

NFC Championship – San Francisco at Atlanta

Oddsmakers at CRIS sent out an opener of 47 and it was quickly pushed to 48. Las Vegas outfits, LVH and William Hill, both opened at 48 and moved to 49.

Similar to last week’s total between San Francisco and Green Bay, something has to give. The 49ers have watched the ‘over’ cash in five straight and eight of their last nine games. Meanwhile, the Falcons have seen the ‘under’ go 7-2 at the Georgia Dome this season.

San Francisco’s offense has been on a serious roll behind quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Since the second-year product from Nevada took over the starting duties for the 49ers, the team has scored 27 or more points in six of his eight starts. A lot of people compare Kaepernick to Carolina’s signal caller Cam Newton, which is fair when you measure up their size and speed. Against the Falcons this season, Newton helped the Panthers offense rack up 404 and 475 yards, which translated into 28 and 30 points in their two encounters.

One thing you might want to note is Kaepernick’s hype has overshadowed the 49ers’ defense, which has been very suspect lately. They’ve allowed 520, 346 and 352 yards in three of their last four games, which were the three highest totals of the season. To no surprise, the defense only mustered up three sacks in those games and they allowed 34, 42 and 31 points. Unlike last season, it’s fair to say the 49ers offense is ahead of their defense.

If you believe both teams can get to 24 points, then the ‘over’ is the easy winner. Atlanta has averaged 25.1 points per game at home and the 49ers have scored 31 and 41 in their two road non-divisional games with Kaepernick. We mention the division angle because San Francisco was stifled to exactly 13 points on the road against the Rams and Seahawks.

Lastly, we should mention that both Atlanta’s head coach Mike Smith and quarterback Matt Ryan won their first playoff games last week. Ryan takes a lot of heat, deservingly too. However in the four playoff games under Smith, the Falcons have allowed 30, 48, 24 and 28 points. Something tells me a defensive coordinator will be let go if the 49ers light up the scoreboard on Sunday.

AFC Championship – Baltimore at New England

This number opened at 51 and has held steady all week long. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the total dip come Sunday based on the weather. The latest reports are expecting temperatures in the thirties and wind gusts between 15 to 25 miles per hour.

The Ravens have posted 24 and 38 points in their first two playoff games while giving up a combined 44 points, 35 coming to the Broncos last week. However, two of Denver’s scores came from its special teams unit.

Keeping New England close to that number won’t be easy considering its averaging 34.8 points per game. Outside of an 18-point anomaly to Arizona in Week 2, the Pats have posted 28-plus points at home and it’s busted the 30-point barrier six times in the other eight contests. In last week’s playoff win over Houston, the Patriots put up 41 against the Texans, which helped the ‘over’ improve to 12-5 on the season and 7-2 at home.

Baltimore has leaned to the ‘over’ (10-8) as well this season and if you take out its six divisional games, the ‘over’ has gone 8-4 (67%) for the Ravens.

These teams have met six times in the previous six seasons, which includes two playoff encounters, most recently last year’s AFC Championship. New England beat Baltimore 23-20 and that game stayed ‘under’ the closing number of 50 albeit very luckily. Five of the nine scores in that game were field goals and all five of the kicks were less than 40 yards. We also had dropped touchdowns and the potential of overtime with another missed field goal as well. For some unknown reason, the Ravens defense has been able to let QB Tom Brady and company move the ball at will but they concede field goals instead of touchdowns.

Earlier this season in Week 3, Baltimore avenged the loss in last year’s title game by beating New England 31-30 at home in a game that had back-and-forth action. The Patriots scored six times but had to settle for three field goals, two coming inside the 40-yard line. The 61 combined points was the most put up by both teams during the aforementioned six-game span.   

If you bet totals on a regular basis in football, you understand that the difference between winning and losing an ‘over’ or ‘under’ is the ratio of touchdowns to field goals. Last week, we saw 35 touchdowns and 10 field goals posted in the Divisional Playoffs. Are you surprised the ‘over’ went 4-0? Not at all. At the same time, you shouldn't be shocked that the ‘under’ went 4-0 in the Wild Card round when you realize there were 15 field goals and only 13 touchdowns?

Fearless Predictions

We split last week and dropped 10 cents ($10). On the season, we're ahead $580. Since we only have three games left in the season, let's go with one Best Bet and one Team Total wager. As always, Press, Pass or Fade but in the end - Good Luck!

Best Total: Over Atlanta-San Francisco 48.5

Best Team Total: Over 22 Atlanta

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Conference Title Games

Last six times #1 seed played #2 seed in NFC title game, #1 seed won, but dogs covered four of last five NFC title games overall. Over last five years, underdogs are 6-4 vs spread in this round. Atlanta is underdog at home despite 8-1 mark in Georgia Dome, with only loss in meaningless Week 17 game. Smith/Ryan combo got monkey off back with first playoff win last week; they have Falcons here for first time since 27-10 loss at Philly eight years ago. 49ers lost this game at home LY, but now have more mobile Kaepernick at QB he dominated game against Green Bay last week, running ball for 181 yards, passing for 263 after throwing an early pik-6. SF is 2-2 in domes this year, losing at Rams/Vikings, winning at Cardinals/Saints. Eight of last nine Niner games went over total, including last five in row; six of last eight Atlanta games stayed under.

Since 1990, #4 seeds are 6-1 in conference title games, with '08 Cardinals only team that was at home; #4 seeds are 4-0 SU at #2 seeds in this round. Patriots (+3) led 13-0 after first quarter, lost 31-30 to Ravens in Baltimore back in Week 3, in flagfest (24 accepted penalties/218 yards) where Baltimore gained total of 503 yards, with Flacco averaging 9.8 ypa less than 24 hours after WR Smith (6 catches, 127 yards) lost his brother in motorcycle accident. Game ended on FG by rookie PK Tucker, who replaced Cundiff after he missed tying FG at end of LY's AFC title game, won 23-20 by Patriots (-7). Ravens playing with emotion trying to get leader Lewis into Super Bowl in his last year playing. Last time same two teams played in same stadium in consecutive conference title games was in '78-'79, when Oilers lost twice in Pittsburgh. 12 of last 15 Patriot games went over.

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San Francisco at Atlanta
By Brian Edwards
VegasInsider.com

Fourteen years after these teams met in the NFC semifinals and nearly two decades after these clubs were division rivals in the NFC West, Atlanta and San Francisco will square off again Sunday in the NFC Championship Game at the Georgia Dome.

There’s plenty of history in this rivalry, although most of it has been enjoyed by the 49ers, who lead the all-time series 44-30-1. There was the day at the old Fulton-County Stadium when Jerry Rice torched Tim McKyer for five touchdown catches. And there were plenty of blowouts at Candlestick Park with Joe Montana and Steve Young sticking it to Atlanta.

But the Falcons have had their moments, too. In fact, they have won four in a row against San Francisco dating back to 2001. There was the game in January of 1999 that we’ll discuss below because of its crazy finish for our purposes.

There was the ‘Big Ben’ play in 1983 when Steve Bartkowski hit Billy ‘White Shoes’ Johnson for a touchdown on a Hail Mary pass as time expired. There was also the time, Nov. 3 of 1991 to be exact, when Billy Joe Tolliver gave the Falcons an improbable victory on a Hail Mary pass to Michael Haynes with no time left.

Of course, none of those things will matter Sunday. Ronnie Lott, who still insists Johnson was down before getting into the end zone, won’t be in uniform. Montana, Young, Rice and Dwight Clark won’t dress out, either. Instead, the cast of characters will include names like Kaepernick, Crabtree, Gore, Willis, Ryan, Jones, White and Rodgers.

As of early Friday morning, most books were listing San Francisco (12-4-1 straight up, 10-7 against the spread) as a four-point favorite with a total of 49. Gamblers can take the Falcons on the money line for a plus-170 payout (risk $100 to win $170).

Atlanta (14-3 SU, 9-7-1 ATS) advanced to the NFC Championship Game for only the third time in franchise history by beating Seattle 30-28 thanks to Matt Bryant’s 49-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining. However, the Falcons made fourth-quarter mistakes galore to cost their backers as 2½-point favorites after leading 27-7 going into the final stanza.

Seattle rookie quarterback Russell Wilson orchestrated a brilliant comeback by directing four touchdown drives in the second half. Wilson threw for a career-high 385 yards, rallying his team from a 20-0 halftime deficit.

Matt Ryan completed 24-of-35 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns, but he was intercepted twice. The second pick was costly, helping the Seahawks turn a 27-14 deficit into a one-possession game quickly.

Four plays after Ryan’s second interception, Wilson found Zach Miller for a three-yard scoring strike to make it 27-21. Both teams would trade punts before the Seahawks took over at their own 39 with three minutes left.

With Seattle facing a third-and-five situation at the Atlanta 27 with 44 ticks remaining, the Falcons came with the blitz and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon appeared to have Wilson dead to rights. But Wilson somehow avoided the sack and rolled to his left before finding Marshawn Lynch for a first down and more.

Lynch took the pass and went 23 yards to give Seattle a first and goal at the four yard line. Following an offsides infraction against Atlanta, Lynch plunged into the end zone from two yards out with 34 seconds left.

Trailing 28-27 at its own 28 with two timeouts left and 25 ticks on the clock, Atlanta took the field in hopes of getting into field-goal range. It wouldn’t take long.

Ryan found Harry Douglas for a 22-yard gainer to midfield. Next, the Boston College product connected with tight end Tony Gonzalez for 19 yards and just like that, the Falcons were in field-goal range. Bryant took care of things from there.

Jim Harbaugh’s team is back in the NFC title game for a second straight year after sending Green Bay into vacation last Saturday night with a 45-31 win as a 2½-point home favorite. Harbaugh’s decision to go to second-year signal caller Colin Kaepernick has proven to be a stroke of genius and we saw why against the Packers.

Kaepernick threw a pick-six on the opening possession but spent the rest of the night making amends. The University of Nevada product rushed 16 times for 181 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a 56-yard scamper to put his team ahead for good midway through the third quarter. Kapernick connected on 17-of-31 passes for 263 yards and two more scores.

Frank Gore rushed for 119 yards and one TD on 23 carries while also making two catches for 48 yards. Michael Crabtree had a team-high nine receptions for 119 yards and two TDs.

Kaepernick will be making his ninth career start on Sunday. In eight starts since taking over for Alex Smith, he has 12/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. For the season, Kaepernick has rushed for 596 yards and seven TDs on 79 attempts.

San Francisco has been a road favorite five times this year, going 3-2 ATS. On Harbaugh’s watch the last two seasons, the 49ers are 5-4 as road ‘chalk.’

During Mike Smith’s five-year tenure, Atlanta has gone 4-2 ATS with three outright victories in six games as a home underdog.

The ‘under’ is 11-6 overall for the Falcons, 7-2 in their home games. Meanwhile, the 49ers have watched the ‘over’ go 10-6-1 overall, 4-4 in their eight road assignments. The ‘over’ has been a winner in four consecutive San Francisco games and seven of its last eight.

Kickoff is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Eastern on FOX.

B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets

I was at the Ga. Dome 14 years ago when the building hosted its first playoff game. Atlanta raced out to a 20-0 lead in the first half and almost had more when Chuck Smith picked up a fumble for a scoop and score. However, Smith’s TD was called back due to a penalty and Steve Young rallied the 49ers in the second half. In the final minute, San Francisco scored to make it 20-16 as a three-point underdog. Bettors appeared to be looking at a push until there was a bad snap on the extra-point attempt. Young, the holder, rolled to his left after gathering the snap and threw for a two-point conversion and an unfathomable cover in a 20-18 loss. The Falcons lost to the Broncos in John Elway’s last career game two weeks later

Matt Ryan is 36-4 in 40 career home starts.

The ‘under’ is 5-2 in the last seven head-to-head meetings between the Falcons and 49ers dating back to 2000.

Updated NFL futures via 5Dimes: Patriots +100 (even money), 49ers +185, Falcons +610 and Ravens +880.

Lines for potential Super Bowl matchups per 5Dimes (30-cent line, -115 both ways): 49ers -3.5 vs. Ravens, Patriots -2 vs. 49ers, Falcons -1.5 vs. Ravens, Pats -6 vs. Falcons.

I’m not sure we can possibly overstate what an incredible football game we saw last Saturday night in the Mile High City. There were four guaranteed Hall of Famers on the field and three of them played poorly. Champ Bailey got abused all day and Ed Reed was way off of his game, missing a critical tackle at crunch time. Peyton Manning made plenty of good throws but there’s no way to look past his three turnovers, including a pick-six and an unfathomable interception that set the Ravens up for the winning score in an epic double-overtime classic. Ray Lewis, the other given Hall of Famer, played masterfully and inspired his team to victory in his ‘Last Ride.’ And what about Joe Flacco? The dude takes so much grief despite producing in January every season.

Stat of the Week: Flacco has seven career postseason wins, while Peyton Manning has a 9-11 straight-up record during his career in the playoffs.

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Re: NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

Baltimore at New England
By Kevin Rogers
VegasInsider.com

The Patriots needed a pair of plays to go their way in last January's AFC Championship against the Ravens. A dropped touchdown by Lee Evans and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff propelled New England to its fifth AFC title in 11 seasons, as the two teams meet once again for the conference championship at Gillette Stadium.

New England hasn't won a Super Bowl since January 2005 when the Patriots edged the Eagles in Jacksonville, as the Pats have lost each of their last two Super Bowls to the Giants. New York is long gone, but that fourth elusive title for Bill Belichick seems to be within reach again. The Pats overcame a slow 1-2 start to the season to win 11 of their final 13 games, as both losses came to playoff teams in San Francisco and Seattle.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens won a playoff game for the fifth straight season after claiming an AFC North title for the second consecutive year at 10-6. Baltimore took care of Indianapolis in the Wild Card round, 24-9 as 7½-point favorites, but the Ravens rallied past the Broncos in an epic divisional playoff showdown last Saturday.

The Ravens entered Denver as 9½-point road underdogs, but overcame a pair of kick returns for scores by Trindon Holliday to tie the Broncos at 28-28 after three quarters. Peyton Manning's 17-yard touchdown strike to Demaryius Thomas in the fourth quarter seemed like enough to push the Broncos into the AFC Championship, but Flacco proved to make the clutch plays. Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones on a 70-yard fling down the field to tie the game at 35-35, forcing overtime. Rookie kicker Justin Tucker sent the Ravens to the AFC Championship with a 47-yard field goal in the second overtime, a welcome sighting for Baltimore fans after the Cundiff miss prevented the Ravens from a Super Bowl appearance a year ago.

The Patriots used the bye week to their advantage with a comfortable 41-28 triumph over the Texans in the second AFC divisional playoff game. New England beat up Houston for the second time in a month, as the Pats cashed as 9½-point 'chalk.' The Pats' offense sliced up the Texans again, scoring a combined 83 points in the two wins over the AFC South champions, while Tom Brady tossed three touchdown passes and threw for 344 yards. New England's offense eclipsed the 'over' for the seventh time in nine home contests, as the Pats broke the 34-point mark for the ninth time this season.

Baltimore and New England met back in Week 3 at M&T Stadium in a Sunday night thriller, as the Ravens rallied late for a 31-30 victory. The Pats managed a cover as 2½-point underdogs, but New England squandered a 13-0 advantage and even led by nine points in the final quarter. The Ravens scored the final 10 points of the contest, including a disputed field goal at the gun by Tucker, as the replacement officials called the kick good even though replays indicated it may have gone wide of the right upright.

Last season's AFC Championship was a back-and-forth affair that ended with Baltimore failing to score in a 23-20 loss at New England. The Ravens managed a cover as seven-point 'dogs, as John Harbaugh's club held a four-point advantage heading into the final quarter. Brady's short touchdown run less than four minutes into the fourth quarter gave the Patriots the lead for good, as the game finished 'under' the total of 50.

New England has struggled to cover numbers in the AFC title game, posting an 0-3 ATS record the last three times in the conference championship ('06 vs. Colts, '07 vs. Chargers, '11 vs. Ravens). In Harbaugh's tenure in Baltimore, the Ravens have slightly profited as a road 'dog in the playoffs by putting together a 4-3 ATS ledger since 2008.

The last road team to win the AFC Championship was the '05 Steelers, who routed the Broncos, 34-17 in Denver. The home club has covered four of the last six conference title games, while the Ravens are playing in their fourth AFC title game in franchise history, all on the road.

The Patriots are listed as 7½-point favorites, as money has come in on the Ravens all week. The total is set at 51½, but the weather conditions will not be cozy as the temperature is expected to dip into the 30's. Kickoff is slated for 6:30 PM EST from Gillette Stadium as the game can be seen nationally on CBS.

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Re: NFL Championship Betting News and Notes

Vegas Money Moves
By Micah Roberts
VegasInsider.com

When the numbers opened up last Sunday for this weeks Conference Championship games, most of those in the know agreed that the favored teams spread were too high, but only one side was bet accordingly.

The LVH opened the Patriots as 10-point favorites over the Ravens and immediately got bet down to 9.5. This was considered a game that should be maybe only Patriots -7.5 considering all their recent history and the level of play the Ravens have come with the last two weeks where we saw Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Ed Reed all on the field for the first together this season.

Over in the NFC, the 49ers opened a very high three-point favorite, but rather than immediately take the value with the points, bettors quickly ran the game up to -4 on Sunday night and eventually -4.5 on Monday. It was a classic example of bettors believing more about what they saw last.

On Saturday night, they had just seen one of the most amazing QB performances in the playoffs by Colin Kaepernick, and his 49ers happened to destroy a respected Packers squad.

As for the Falcons, the entire betting world saw them almost blow a 20-0 halftime lead against the Seahawks on Sunday and hang on in dramatic fashion with a late field goal, 30-28. The 49ers looked sensational and the Falcons looked like the same team that never seemed to wow us all season.

So the sports book already knew what way the betting was going to go and figured it would be better to think high and come down. But when they posted Falcons -3, a number off by at least two points from their ratings, they had to be surprised to see the flood gates open with 49ers money. It was apparent, they just wanted the Super-Niners, regardless of the number.

The threshold for the madness in the 49ers number movement was apparently 4.5, because that's the point that attracted large Falcons money. The small 49ers money is still piling in but many sports books have been reluctant to move the number, despite a large risk.

The Patriots number has been dropping steadily all week, down to a new low of -7.5 on Friday. The large money has all been on the Ravens, but what has been surprising is that the small public money is also liking the Ravens.

The Patriots have been one of the most popular public teams this season, but now they're jumping ship. The regular Joe Public bettor always loves to take the favorite, but in this instance they're on the dog and with very same logic.

These two teams have a nice history together with several close games. The Patriots have won four of the past six meetings, but never won by more than six points in any of those games. The Ravens bet the Patriots in Week 3, 31-30, and have covered the last two playoffs games against the Patriots. Last seasons AFC Championship game went down to the wire with the seven-point underdog Ravens losing, 23-20.

The Super Bowl the public wants to see is the Patriots and 49ers hooking up, a Ravens-Falcons big game would be dreadful, but of course, would still be bet.

Here's a look at the opening Super Bowl numbers William Hill posted on the four possible matchups:

Patriots -2 vs. 49ers, total 49

Patriots -6 vs. Falcons, total 51½

Patriots -4 vs. Ravens, total: 46½

Falcons PK vs. Ravens, total 49½

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