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The AFC Championship game this year will take place in Denver in the matchup most hoped would materialize as Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos host Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Currently the Broncos are -4.5 point favorites with a total of 55 at 5 dimes sportsbook.
The betting trends early in the week as this is being written on Tuesday, favor the Patriots in a big way as 74% of the wagers taken at sportsbook.com have come in on Brady and the Patriots. Bettors also feel that the total of 55 is too low as 79% of the action on the total has come in on the over.
As a bettor, generally speaking, I'm prepared with my own numbers BEFORE any sportsbooks in Vegas or offshore post opening lines on the sports I'm actively involved with, which would be football and college basketball. If a number is posted that, according to my numbers, is off, I'm ready to act. In this case, I was too caught up in the games on the field last Sunday, and got caught off guard when the openers were posted, which is rare.
However, I did have my odds screen up and did see the opening number of Broncos -7 posted and immediately felt the number was too high. I missed the +7 -110 as it was only available for one minute, but did manage to grab some +7 -130, which was available for just 5 minutes. Within roughly an hour, the number settled in at -4.5 across the board at most sportsbooks. I bring this up to illustrate the real world of sportsbetting. You'll hear -4.5 quoted by media sources and the public in general when referring to this game and the line. When in reality, the real line has been -7, -6.5, -6, -5.5, -5, -4.5 and in some spots -4 and we may see it drop even further.
Now, if the Broncos win this game by 5 points, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, you can be sure that there will be sharp bettors that won with the Pats +7, +6.5, +6 and +5.5 as well as sharp bettors who won with Denver -4 and Denver -4.5 (though most of the sharps on the Pats side would have +7, +6.5 and +6). There can be more than one right answer to the question of, which is the right side, on many games. Now, for the sake of writing this game up and making a recommendation, we're using -4.5 as the line, and proceeding from there. Now, on to the game.
Certainly Brady and Manning are the big stories here. Obviously both are future hall of famers and should be classified as "great" players. Brady has the greater accomplishments by way of owning more Super Bowl rings but I'm not sure that there's ever been a player like Peyton Manning when you consider the impact he single handedly has on a team. When you took Manning away from the Colts, the Colts became a winless laughing stock. Place Manning on the Broncos, and they become instant Super Bowl contenders and that was backed up by his play on the field the past two seasons.
So when you look at this game and try to figure out who the better team is, based on the way the Patriots have been running the ball and some of the big defensive plays we've seen, my vote would be the Patriots because I think you can take Brady out of the equation and still have a formidable team whereas I think if you took Manning out of the equation for Denver, it would be game over. For the Broncos, this game lies squarely on the shoulders of Peyton Manning. Brady on the other hand, has more of a supporting cast based on recent play.
There are so many storylines in this game, far too many to go into in detail, highlighted by Manning vs. Brady, Wes Welker vs. Bill Belichick (wouldn't Welker love to catch the winning TD pass and then glance towards his former coach) and you have Belichick vs. Fox.
Usually when I do a write up on a game I like, I like to throw out some stats to show a potential edge one way or another. I especially like to use the yards per point stat. Using that stat, if there's an edge to be had, it lies with the Pats. When using full season ypp numbers to make a line, the Patriots would be a -2 point favorite on a neutral field. Using Pats road numbers and Broncos home numbers, the Broncos would be -3 or -4 point favorites, depending on how many points you feel the Broncos home field is worth.
Using our NFL model, the score predictions don't really help clear up the equation. Using full season stats, the model says it's 36-31 Broncos. Using the last 7 games, it's 39-30 broncos and using the last 4 games it's 26-25 Pats.
Using some simple, basic power ratings that I keep, it comes up as Broncos -5. So, as you can see, all of the various methods of coming up with a line on this game pretty much fall within the pick em to Broncos -5 range with the exception of our model using the last 7 games worth of data, which has the Broncos by 9.
Based on that, it looks like my gut call to take +7 -130 was a correct assumption that the -7 was too high. But at the current line of -4.5, there doesn't seem to be as strong of a play, but it looks as though, based on those numbers, the side would still have to be the Patriots.
To sum up, I'll discard those numbers and simply give my opinion based on the way I see this game playing out, from simply watching these two teams this year. The feeling here is that I think the Pats may very well be more of a complete team than the Broncos. The way they have been able to run the ball, and when you consider that they scored 6 TD's ON THE GROUND last week, it's going to make it extremely difficult for the Broncos to prepare and to defend against this Pats offense. Remember, the Broncos defense is mediocre at best.
If the Broncos commit to stopping the run, that leaves Brady with more open targets and this is magnified even more with the Broncos missing their best pass rusher, Von Miller. If they don't commit to the run, and the Patriots are able to get that running game going like last week, it could make for a long day for Mr. Manning, much of it spent on the sidelines waiting to get the ball back.
Remember a previous playoff write up where we quoted the low winning percentage of playoff teams with a negative turnover differential? I believe the positive team won something like 80% of the time in a 5 year span, including the game we wrote up which was the Seahawks/Saints last week. Well, the Broncos enter this game -2 in turnover differential and the Patriots are +13.
I think the Pats defense is better than the Broncos defense and when combined with an offense that can beat you in more than one way, and a coaching staff that can game plan like no other, the ground starts to slant in the Patriots favor. I think the Broncos have Peyton Manning, while the Pats have Tom Brady, a more balanced team and a better coaching staff. When you add it all up, I think the Pats are still the side even at +4.5 because let's face it, a very good case can be made for the Pats winning this game straight up and when that can be done, AND you're getting points to boot, it's almost a no brainer.
I don't like to be on the same side as the majority of the public and this is a game where there is big time public action on the Pats. But at the same time, I like to point out that the public is right close to 50% of the time, so to back off a game just for that reason would be foolish. Also keep in mind that the "public" has a better track record in big games and while I realize this isn't the Super Bowl, the public actually has a winning record in the big game. Patriots +4.5
*** Note - the line shot back up to -6 on Wednesday as Tom Brady missed practice due to an "illness". He had a cold last week and was likely just given a day of extra rest. From where we sit, all this does is create some more value on the Pats side. He's missed practices before prior to big games, even AFC title games. Patriots +6
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