Bettors backing 'dog Ravens


It's part of Bill Belichick's routine. Put on a hooded sweatshirt, mumble during news conferences, appear bored and humorless, and coach the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl. It's routine greatness.

Belichick is not sitting down for an emotional interview with Oprah, and it's a safe bet he does not have a fake online girlfriend.

He's not a social media guy. In fact, he once said, "I don't Twitter, I don't MyFace, I don't YearBook, I don't do any of those things."

That was one of his greatest quotes.

It's routine for the betting public to back the Patriots, mostly because Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady, on the brink of their sixth Super Bowl trip, are a tough pair to beat. But Belichick is 3-3 against the spread in AFC title games, so although he wins, covering has not been as routine.

I expect New England to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, but it won't be easy for Brady and Belichick to cover 8½ points. When these teams tangle, close games are routine. Five of the past six meetings were decided by six points or fewer, and bettors are paying attention to that trend.

"At this point, it looks like the sharps and the public will be on the Ravens," MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. "The sharp money is coming in on the Ravens, taking the 8½, and the public is taking a little Ravens money line."

Baltimore, at plus-320 on the money line, opened as a 9½-point underdog. It's tough to tell if the Ravens are lucky, good or just hot at the right time, and it's probably a combination of the three.

It is evident that Joe Flacco is a better quarterback in the playoffs than he is in the regular season, even if he was lucky to beat Denver on a night when Peyton Manning was cold and two Broncos defensive backs had brain freeze.

But Flacco, who has five career road wins in the postseason, is getting hot at the right time. The return of linebacker Ray Lewis has inspired a Ravens defense that has confidence it can handle Brady, who barely escaped in a 23-20 victory over Baltimore in last year's conference championship game.

As great as Belichick is, the Patriots have covered only two of their past 10 playoff games.

Maybe the Ravens defense is wearing thin, after being on the field for 87 plays in the double-overtime win at Denver, but Brady's fast-break passing attack is not quite as scary without injured tight end Rob Gronkowski.

"There's definitely not an intimidation factor. The only issue I see is the fatigue factor for the Ravens, and if the Patriots are able to exploit that in the third or fourth quarter with their hurry-up offense," Rood said. "My gut feeling is the Patriots will probably win. As far as covering that? I think it's going to be right around the number."

Dave Cokin, a Las Vegas handicapper and ESPN Radio host, said he made the line 7½. So there could be a little value left in the number, and at this point in the NFL season you're not going to find a lot of value in any number.

But there might be a bigger edge with San Francisco, a 4-point favorite at Atlanta in the NFC title game. Cokin made the 49ers line 6½, and most others seem to agree.

Rood said his books are "getting a ton" of money on the Niners, who steamrolled the Green Bay Packers, last week's most popular underdog. As incredible as Colin Kaepernick can be running and throwing, San Francisco's defense can be more impressive.

There is a sense that Matt Ryan and the Falcons are just happy to get over the hump with one playoff win.

SportsMemo.com handicapper Ted Sevransky said the numbers show Atlanta's bigger problem will be its bend-and-break defense, which allowed 5.9 yards per play against a much weaker schedule than San Francisco faced, and the 49ers defense allowed 4.7 yards per play (best in the NFC) in the regular season.

"I do not trust the Falcons to slow down the electric Kaepernick," said Sevransky, who is siding with the 49ers.

According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, since the NFL playoffs expanded to 10 teams in 1978, Atlanta is the biggest home underdog of any No. 1 seed in any round.

William Hill sports books has posted lines on the four possible Super Bowl matchups, with the Patriots favored by 2 over the 49ers and by 6 over the Falcons. San Francisco is a 4-point favorite over Baltimore. The other potential matchup - Ravens-Falcons, pick 'em - is the one no one wants to see.

"If we get Ravens-Falcons, I don't think it's disastrous," Rood said. "It doesn't matter much which teams get there, it's the Super Bowl."

And that's true, big betting on the Super Bowl is routine. But it will matter more if the Patriots and 49ers get there.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts "The Las Vegas Sportsline" weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

 

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