Monday, December 24
LAS VEGAS – The last week of the NFL season has always been a little hard to handicap.
You always have some teams that have to win to get into the playoffs (and the oddsmakers make bettors pay a premium to back those teams) and other teams that are trying to get first-round byes or better playoff seedings (ditto) and then there are a number of teams that a lot of people believe have packed it in or might even be tanking in order to get a better draft pick (and oddsmakers adjust for that, too, whether they believe it or not because that’s the way bets are going to come in).
The NFL has done its best to make Week 17 more competitive and minimize the number of “meaningless” games. Since the 2010-11 season, all Week 17 games have been divisional games to increase the chance of having playoff implications. And another thing . . .
(Writer’s note: I want to interrupt here to mention something that might only be cool to anal-retentive geeks like me. Don Best Sports sets the betting rotation that determines the betting numbers and the order in which games are listed on betting boards here in Vegas or on gambling websites everywhere. I noticed that they listed all the games in groups of two starting with the AFC first and then going from the Eastern time zone to the Pacific. It starts with the two games in the AFC East, followed by the AFC North and AFC South. Then they list the NFC East, NFC North, NFC South before finishing with the AFC West and NFC West. The first 12 games were originally listed with 1 p.m. EST kickoffs and the four West divisional games at 4:25 p.m. EST. Nice and orderly, if I do say so myself.)
And another thing ... the NFL also tinkers with the starting times of games so there’s less of a chance for teams to see how the teams they’re battling for playoff spots fare in earlier games. The NFL originally had all Eastern and Central time zone games starting at 1 p.m. EST, but they moved the Cowboys-Redskins game for the NFC East title to NBC’s Sunday Night Football and also moved the Dolphins-Patriots and the Packers-Vikings games to 4:25 p.m. due to the race for the first-round byes in the AFC for the former and the NFC’s No. 2 seed and the wild-card race in the latter.
This isn’t necessarily good for sharp bettors. In the past, you could have found significantly more correlated parlays. For instance, if the starting times hadn’t been changed and you thought the Dolphins could upset the Patriots, you could have taken the Dolphins money line (probably at least +350) and play it with the Chiefs +16.5 or even on the ML and had a pretty good idea that if the Pats lost and the Broncos had a first-round bye wrapped up that they might sit some starters or at least pull them early. Now, you could still make that bet but with them playing at the same time, the Broncos are going to have to keep their starters in as long as the Patriots are within striking distance.
The time changes also ensure that the Giants and Bears give their top effort in the early games because they won’t be able to be scoreboard watching on the Packers-Vikings game to know if they have a shot at an NFC wild-card.
With all these adjustments, we’ve seen fewer line changes then we’ve come accustomed to seeing in Week 17. Also, the LVH SuperBook (which puts out an advance line each week on the games being played 12 days later) has mostly been able to anticipate how the playoff scenarios were going to play out, so most of the Week 17 advance lines were pretty solid. But there are a couple changes:
Texans at Colts: The LVH had the Colts as a 3-point favorite last week when it was looking more likely that the Texans would have home-field advantage wrapped up in the AFC and the Colts would need the game more (or that they would both be resting starters). However, with the Texans’ loss to the Vikings, the line has actually flipped with the Texans now favored by 4 points since they need to win to keep the No. 1 seed or risk losing it to the Broncos if they win or the Patriots if the Broncos also lose. In fact, if the Texans lose and they both win, the Texans could slip to the No. 3 seed and lose the first-round bye.
Packers-Vikings: This line move isn’t as big, but the Packers were -4.5 in this game last week as it was assumed they would have more to play for, but with the Vikings upsetting the Texans and putting themselves into a position of where they’re in if they win, the line is down to 3.5 and even 3 at some books.
In year’s past, that list would have been a lot longer.
Happy holidays to you and your family. I’ll be back with the “Vegas Beat” on New Year’s Eve as we look at the wild-card openers and the updated odds to win the Super Bowl and conference championship.
Dave Tuley is an award-winning journalist who has covered the Las Vegas race & sports beat since 1998, first for the GamingToday newspaper in Vegas and has written for Daily Racing Form since 2000. Tuley started his own website, ViewFromVegas.com, in 2007 and has written for other websites, including ESPN.com. In 2006, he won "Best News Story" by the Professional Football Writers of America, the only time a gambling story has won a PFWA award. Tuley, 45, grew up in the Chicago suburbs and is married with children in Vegas. His roots can be seen in the names of his three children: daughters Jordyn and Peyton (named for Walter Payton, not Peyton Manning) and son Maddux. Dave can be followed on Twitter @ViewFromVegas.