Normally, it’s better to avoid the popular public side, and the betting public is heavily on the New England Patriots’ side in the AFC Championship Game.
An executive with a large sports book in Las Vegas said Thursday he was seeing nine times as much money on the favored Patriots as compared to the Denver Broncos in Sunday’s game.
My first thought was I had to bet the Broncos. My second thought was that sharp money is waiting for the line to go to 3½ or higher on Denver. At that point, the percentage of money bet on each team will come closer to evening out.
After digging into the numbers and looking at the big picture, I can make a stronger case for the Patriots.
A case can be made for Denver, with the No. 1 defense in the NFL, to stifle the Tom Brady-led offense and to slow the game down and control the clock. But controlling the time of possession did not help Kansas City last week in its 27-20 loss at New England. The Chiefs had the ball 38 minutes to the Patriots’ 22, but they gained only 4.6 yards per play compared with New England’s 6.1.
Another point can be made that the Patriots can’t run the ball. Against Kansas City, which had the No. 7 defense in the league, New England gained 38 yards on the ground with a 2.7 yards-per-carry average. But you can’t ignore the fact that on 42 pass attempts against the No. 4-ranked pass rush defense, Brady was not sacked.
The Denver offense is bad. Against an average Pittsburgh defense, the Broncos picked up only 4.6 yards per play. Their defense allowed a hideous 6.7 yards per play to the Steelers, who were without two of their best offensive weapons.
That is just a look at last week’s results, but that was the healthiest the Patriots have been in a long time, and Peyton Manning was back at quarterback for the Broncos, so those factors give last week’s games added weight.
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman showed some rust last week by dropping some passes he normally would catch. He should be better in this game. New England is 10-0 with Edelman playing and 3-4 without him. It has been said that Denver star cornerback Chris Harris will be assigned to cover Edelman. Harris is listed as a game-time decision because of a shoulder injury, but it’s a safe assumption he will play.
If you look at drive statistics, New England has a commanding edge. The Patriots rank third in points scored per drive and the Broncos 24th. Defensively, Denver is first in points allowed per drive at 1.43, but New England is a solid ninth with a 1.59 mark.
In an interesting situation, Denver is close to the worst in the league in throwing interceptions on a per-drive basis by ranking No. 30. The New England defense ranks as the best in the league in picking off passes per drive.
Throw in Brady’s 36-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and my money is on the Patriots, even if that’s the popular public side.
Pick: Patriots -3 (-120)
— Jim Kruger is a professional handicapper for VegasSportsAuthority.com.