Top-10 NFL playoff betting tidbits

25 January 2010

The Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints aren't the only ones that will be resting up during the next 13 days. So too will the millions of football bettors across the country.

For the first time since late August, the football betting card will be blank this upcoming weekend (unless you count the meaningless Pro Bowl). And that means it's a perfect time for us to reflect on how the playoff field went from 12 teams to two, and peek ahead at what to expect in Miami on Feb. 7 when Super Bowl XLIV kicks off. And who better to do it with than legendary bookmaker Jimmy Vaccaro?

The Director of Sports Operations and Public Relations for Lucky's Race and Sports Book in Las Vegas has been around the industry for more than three decades. "Jimmy V" has been called the one of "the most influential bookmakers" in the entire country and when we caught up with him on Monday morning, he was already raring to go.

"It's an exciting time of the year," he told us emphatically. "We've already got some play on the Super Bowl and we're going to hit it hard today and start to come up with some prop bets."


Like most bookmakers, Jimmy Vaccaro was happy to see the NY Jets get bounced from the NFL playoffs .

But before we discuss the Super Bowl and where the line may be going, we'll begin by reviewing what transpired during the last three weeks from a betting perspective. Be sure to check back next week when we'll take a look at the hundreds of popular proposition bets that Jimmy V was talking about and give you our opinion on who will win – or, more importantly, cover the spread and bring home the cash – on Super Bowl Sunday.

10. The team that won outright covered 9 out of 10 games
This is a constant trend when betting the NFL and it's something we pointed out earlier this season in one of our betting columns.

It may sound crazy, but when picking pointspread winners in the NFL, the way to handle things is to eliminate the line from your thinking and just pick the team you think will win outright. The only playoff game this year that saw the outright winner fail to cover was the last one played when New Orleans – which was a 3.5 to 4-point favorite – won by just three in overtime against the Vikings.

9. So much for the struggles of dome teams
It has long been assumed that dome teams do not fare well in the NFL playoffs. The thinking stems from the fact that only two teams that played its home games indoors (Indianapolis in 2007, St. Louis in 2000) have won it all and only one of them – the Colts – prevailed in a Super Bowl that was played at an outdoor venue.

But a closer look at the numbers shows that dome teams aren't so bad in the postseason – particularly this year. According to, coming into this year's postseason dome teams had a 25-15 record – or won at a 63% clip – in the playoffs since the merger in 1970. But that winning percentage has gone up even more this year thanks to five dome teams making the playoffs and going a combined 7-3.

And with the Colts and Saints set to square off in Miami, we are guaranteed to have a third dome team win the Super Bowl.

8. The favorites hung tough
The typical bettor loves to bet the favorites and after the first week of the NFL playoffs this year, the dogs were barking at 3-1 when the Jets, Ravens and Cardinals all won outright while getting points. But the chalk players rallied in the last two weeks to go 4-2, meaning the favorites and dogs are dead even at 5-5.

"People like to bet favorites; it's been like that for years," Vaccaro pointed out. "But we did have a lot of play on the Jets on the money line the last few weeks and those players did pretty well for themselves."

7. 'Over' players are happy
Other than betting the favorites, the second-most popular option for the public football bettor is playing the over. And in the 10 playoff games this season, the over has come in seven out of 10 times.

"I think when it comes to totals the public has been smarter than the bookmaker over the last few years," says Jimmy V. "The NFL has become all about scoring and we've had an influx of people banging away at the overs. We've been slow to adjust."

Case in point was Sunday's NFC Championship game between the high-scoring Vikings and Saints, two teams who combined for 79 points the week before and ended up scoring 59 on Sunday.

"We opened [the total] at 53 and we had to keep raising it all the way to where it closed at 56," Vaccaro added. "We just couldn't get it high enough."

6. Teaser players from Sunday are even happier
Teasers – a betting option where two teams (or more) are combined and the player can add or subtract from the line – aren't as popular in the playoffs as they are in the regular season for football bettors, according to Vaccaro. But anyone who decided to play a teaser on Sunday walked home a winner no matter who they bet since both games were so close to the final pointspread.

Indianapolis was an 8-point favorite against the Jets, meaning teaser players got the Colts at -2 and the Jets at +14. The Colts won 30-17, meaning both bets won. Same thing in the NFC where New Orleans won 31-28, and in teasers the Saints were +2 and the Vikings were catching 10 points.

But before you start plotting your plan to go "teaser wild" in next year's playoffs, we should point out that Sunday's games were the only two out of the 10 playoff games where both sides would have won in teasers. In the other eight games, the team that covered the actual pointspread was also the only team to cover a teaser.

5. The lines were low and the margin of victory was high
One unusual aspect of this year's playoffs is that there was never as double-digit favorite. In fact, in the 10 games the average pointspread was 4.85, but the average margin of victory was 15.3 points per game.

Also, the only visiting favorite during the entire 2009-2010 playoff run was in the first round when Green Bay closed as a 2.5-favorite over the Cardinals in Arizona.

4. The bookmakers are glad the Jets are going home
While the public money was on the Colts (-8) over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game, the bookies certainly weren't disappointed with Indianapolis winning the game. Why, you ask? Because a future play on the Jets winning the Super Bowl got more and more popular as the season went along and if Gang Green was going to Miami the bookies would be looking at a potential disaster.

According to Vaccaro, the Jets opened the season anywhere from 100 to 75-to-1 to win the Super Bowl.

"I had'em at 75-to-1, because I thought the Patriots would be a little down and the Jets would have a chance to win the [AFC East]," he said.

The combination of a hot start to the season by the Jets and the fact that New York teams are typically backed pretty strong by the public, drove that number down to around 30-to-1 by midseason. Before the playoffs, the Jets were sitting at around 25-to-1 and the money continued to pour in on them.

"I can't say I could blame people for jumping on the Jets, because they were a live team, for sure," Vaccaro added.

The fact that two of the prevailing favorites are in the Super Bowl is a good thing for the bookies. Before the playoffs, the Colts were 8-to-5 to win in Miami and the Saints were 5-to-2.

"We don't have any liability now that the Jets are gone," Vaccaro said. "Trust me. We did not want the Jets in the Super Bowl."

3. The late games on Sundays have saved the bookies
Vaccaro said that overall the bookmakers have done pretty well in the playoffs, despite the fact that overs have been coming in and a few of the public teams cashed at a decent rate -- namely the Colts, who covered both of their playoff games. But things could have been catastrophic for the guys on the "other side of the counter" if not for the results of the late game on Sunday the last three weeks.

On Championship Sunday, for example, Vaccaro said that 75% of the two-team parlays Lucky's booked were on the Colts and Saints. Once the Colts cashed in the early game, there were a ton of tickets out there waiting to pay off at 13-to-5 (the price for a two-team parlay) if the Saints covered the 3.5 to 4-point spread.

"If Drew Brees connects on a long TD pass instead of settling for a field goal in overtime, we're paying out all of those parlay players," Vaccaro added.

The same thing happened the week before when the Chargers went from a 7-point favorite on Sunday morning in their divisional playoff game against the Jets all the way to a 9-point chalk by kickoff on Sunday afternoon. But the Bolts not only failed to cover, but lost the game outright.

The playoff game with the most dramatic line move this year came on Sunday, Jan. 10 in the Wild Card round and was again the last game on the card. The Packers opened as a 2.5 underdog at Arizona and got bet all the way to a 2.5 favorite before losing by six in overtime.

"Even us bookmakers sometimes need one team to win to bail us out," Vaccaro explains. "Winning those three games put us a little ahead instead of way behind."

2. The Super Bowl total is the highest in history
As mentioned above, bettors love to hit the over, so it's more than likely that the total for the Colts-Saints will rise, even though right now at 56 it is already the highest for any Super Bowl in history.

"Bookmakers will be praying for rain on Super Bowl Sunday," said Vaccaro with a hearty laugh, but he surely wasn't kidding. "I don't know how much more we can raise this number. At 56, that's already pretty high so it will be interesting to see if we get any significant money on the under."

Most books both offshore and in Las Vegas had the Super Bowl total at 56 on Monday morning, although The Mirage had it at 56.5. Only seven of the previous 43 Super Bowls have had a total higher than 50. The highest it went was in 2007 when the Patriots-Giants game settled at 55. That game. by the way, ended up going way under as the underdog G-Men prevailed, 17-14.

One fact we should point out is that despite the reputation both the Saints and Colts have as high-scoring teams, the "over" certainly hasn't been a sure-fire lock in their games this season. The two teams have combined to play 36 games this year and only 19 of them (53%) have gone over the posted total.

1. If you like the Colts in the Super Bowl, bet it now!
Last week, Vaccaro posted odds on all the potential Super Bowl match-ups and had the Colts as a 3-point favorite over the Saints. When Sunday's games ended, Vaccaro officially posted the Colts as a 4-point favorite and this morning it was already bet up to 4.5.

"I look around the landscape (on Monday morning) and I see the Colts as high as 5 and a half," Vaccaro said. "What will happen now is that the number will lay dormant for a week or so and then we'll see some movement in the days leading up to the game."

And which way does Jimmy V expect the line to move?

"I think it will go to six and then we'll get some Saints money that may drive it back down to 5 and a half," he predicted. "But your chance of getting the Colts at 3 or even 4 and a half is long gone."

Gary Trask

Articles by Gary serves as Casino City's Editor in Chief and has more than 25 years of experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

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