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Officiating can be a factor that makes handicapping games that much more difficult and last weekend witnessed some of the most questionable NFL officiating ever seen. No matter how much time you spend analyzing a match-up, a judgment call can be the ultimate decider of who wins and who loses. Losing bettors and fans remember these calls for a very long time.
The officiating last weekend was so bad that the NFL admitted making a mistake when Troy Polamalu's diving interception in the fourth quarter was overturned. Fortunately, that mistake had no effect on the overall outcome of the game. However, for those players that bet on the second half, it was a different story.
Pittsburgh backers took the Steelers +7.5 for the second half. After the interception reversal, the Colts scored a TD followed by a 2-point conversion on the drive. Without that score, Indianapolis -7.5 would not have covered and Steelers bettors would have won the money.
Earlier in the same game, the Steelers were facing fourth and inches when two Colts charged across the line of scrimmage and pointed at a Steeler lineman. Play was halted and no penalty called although there should have been a call for either a false-start or off-sides.
The New England-Denver game also had a number of questionable calls appearing to favor the home team. In the first quarter, Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel was called for pass interference, advancing the Broncos 39 yards to the 1-yard line for an eventual score. Replay showed that Samuel had position and made very little contact with Denver receiver Ashley Lelie on the play.
Later in the game, Denver's Champ Bailey intercepted a pass in the end-zone and nearly returned it for a touchdown before he was hit and fumbled out of bounds. The officials ruled it remained Denver's ball although it appeared that the ball went out of bounds in the end-zone, and New England should have regained possession at their own 20 yard-line via a touchback.
Let's hope things are better this weekend as there are now just three more competitive games before the curtain comes down on the NFL this season. Although these are clearly the biggest games of the year, it's wise to stay focused on your money management. There's always a temptation to bet more, but these games should be treated no differently than any other from a handicapper's perspective.
Resist the temptation to bet more on a side or total simply because the season is coming to an end. It's all about winning and you could potentially find more value to justify a stronger play on Sunday's Niagara-St. Peter's NCAA match-up for instance, than betting the house on the AFC Championship game.
If you find props or other bets you like, spread your money out as you normally would, but don't throw it all on one side bet. Too many factors (or even referee calls) can go wrong in one game to justify overextending yourself.
Before making your plays this weekend, remember that there's a limited time between the AFC and NFC Championship games to get your bets in - typically, just 15 minutes or less. With all the viewers of the AFC title game running to their computers to get action on the Panthers-Seahawks game, there is an annual 15-minute period that's traditionally the most intense time of the year for online sports books.
From past experience, many sports books will unfortunately not be able to handle the stress this puts on their Web servers and database. Websites may be slow or worse still, they might be down altogether as their servers buckle under the load. If you want to get action on the NFC title game at a sports book other than Pinnacle Sports, consider making your plays well before the Pittsburgh-Denver game ends.
If you fail to get your bets in before the game kicks off in Seattle, you still have another option - live betting at Pinnacle Sports. The Pinnacle Sports book is known for outstanding value on sides and totals, and our live lines are no different. For in-running betting throughout the game, we use a -108 style pricing model, which still offers better value than the normal price offered by other sportsbooks before the game kicks off.
If you like to get your plays in early, you can benefit even more from Pinnacle Sportsbook's reduced margin wagering, which uses a -104 pricing model that gives bettors up to 60% better value on NFL sides than other bookmakers. If you haven't placed your wagers yet, you might want to consider who the sharps and public like this weekend:
Pittsburgh (+3 +106) at Denver O/U 41
The Steelers have impressed, winning two straight playoff road games over the Bengals and the Colts. Pittsburgh has made it this far by utilizing a strategy similar to Denver's - running the ball and defending the run first.
Denver and Pittsburgh had the second and fifth-ranked rushing attacks respectively in the NFL and on run-defense, they ranked #2 and #3. Featuring the run has helped both teams reduce turnovers as sacks and turnovers happen with far more frequency when teams are forced to pass. By focusing on the run and rush defense, both teams have avoided interceptions and get more opportunities to pressure opposing teams' quarterbacks.
We've seen heavy volume on this game after opening the spread with the Steelers at +3 (-116). The public clearly favors the Steelers, placing five bets on Pittsburgh for every two on the Broncos. The sharps are betting this game also, but they're split on the game.
After opening the total at 42.5 we have seen a classic, sharp versus public duel. The sharps are mostly on the under, while a majority of the bets placed have been on the over. As is often the case, the wise guys have been placing bigger wagers and despite the larger bet count on the over from the public, sharp action has forced the total down to 41.
Carolina (+3.5 -102) at Seattle O/U 43.5
Carolina and Pittsburgh are both attempting to become the first team to win three consecutive road playoff games since the playoff format changed in 1990. Only two wildcard teams have even won 2 consecutive games previously - Indy in 1995-96 and Jacksonville in 1996-97. If the lines are any indication though, Sunday might be the "day of the dog" - as 3 and 3.5 point underdogs, the market strongly suggests that one of these teams could win outright.
We initially opened the Panthers as 6-point dogs in the NFC title game. The early money quickly pushed this down to +3.5 and we're still taking more bets on Carolina by a ratio of 2:1. Some of our sharps took the Panthers at +6 but there's no clear consensus between the wise guys at +3.5.
We opened the total at 43 and the public and sharps are again fighting over the number. At 43 we took twice as many bets on the over as on the under. The market as a whole has crept up, even though the sharps were mainly taking the under. On high profile games like this the public tends to line up on the over and the sharps will often take a contrarian position.