By Sean O'Neill
Cold, Hard Football Facts Vegas Insider (@sean_oneill)
Last year, almost $100 million in tickets were written on the Super Bowl throughout the state of Nevada, according to Jeff Stoneback, sports book manager at The Mirage, which broke the record.
On Championship Sunday, he estimates that roughly $25 million will be wagered on Patriots-Broncos and 49ers-Seahawks. The game for the Lombardi Trophy may get more than three times the action that the Halas and Hunt Trophy games do, but they're still the second and third biggest single games in Nevada for betting all year.
So here's a look at the AFC and NFC Championship Games with some info from the board rooms in Vegas. The records attached to each team is ATS and the line, as always, can change before kickoff.
New England Patriots (9-8) at Denver Broncos (10-7)
Line: Broncos -5, 56
The books had an atrocious divisional round. The only game that they won, according to Stoneback, was the Colts-Patriots game because "we had taken a lot of sharp money on the Colts."
What hurt the books in the Chargers-Broncos game wasn't because Denver covered, but because a few large bets placed by "casino players" on the Broncos money line, which means they just have to win the game.
A $10,000 bet on Denver on a money line of -360 -- which was the lowest line for the public -- would net a payout of just under $2800.
"Throw those out and the game wouldn't have been that bad of a loss for us," said Stoneback.
But when that ticket cashed, Brady-Manning XV was set. Denver was favored by a point at Gillette Stadium in Week 12 when the line closed. The Broncos were up 24-0 at half, before Tom Terrific stormed back and New England won 34-31 in overtime.
The victory took Brady's ATS record in the series to 8-5-1 (see chart below), which is 57 per cent.
Jeff Sherman, assistant manager at the Las Vegas Hotel Superbook, tweeted immediately after the Broncos beat the Chargers that they would be favored by 6.5 against New England.
The Mirage was one of the only other books in Nevada that opened the game that high, using its tried and tested formula when it comes to booking Denver games.
"Let's get a little bit high on Denver and take some dog money," said Stoneback, "even though it is New England, we opened a little higher on Denver on purpose."
Stoneback knew what was going to happen when the line opened as high as it did. The pros hovered like sharks and were more than happy to take 6.5 points with Belichick and Brady.
"So our first three pops were from the professionals at 6.5, 6 and 5.5. Then we went to 4.5. and now we're back to 5.5."
With the sharps so far only taking the Broncos at -4.5, Stoneback believes that all the action from the public will be in line with what the sharps thought when the game opened.
"Now, the smaller tickets, which would be the public, they're betting the Patriots," said Stoneback. "As far as the ticket count goes right now, we're 2-to-1, a little more than 2-to-1 on the Patriots. But the larger wagers are coming in on the Broncos.
"A few years ago when the Colts and Bears were in the Super Bowl, we went in on Sunday morning and we needed the Bears and by the time the kickoff came we needed the Colts, so it flipped on the day of the Super Bowl.
"We'll get some large, large wagers on these games, so who knows, with the casino guests come in and whatever side they like, it's gonna determine who we need in the game.
"As far as the sharps, I think they're out of the game until the line goes back to 6 because they got their 6.5 and 6. They will probably lay [the Broncos] if it gets down to -4, but it hasn't got down there. Probably all up to the public at this point. On a game like this, our casino guests got a real say into our win or lose."
This brings up something important at this time of season. Stoneback acknowledges that the lines are better at this time of the year because there is more data to base their decisions on and because their attention spans, at least when it comes to football, is focused on a couple of games as opposed to a full slate.
This makes moving the line a more dangerous proposition because the wise guys are also more prepared. With Stoneback believing the pros will stay out of the fray until game day, the joes will be the ones putting the money down until Sunday. So what will it take for the line to move off non-sharp action?
"Our [single bet] limit is $30,000 a game," said Stoneback. "We probably don't move a number with the public until we hit around $100,000. Obivously if it's a professional who comes in and bets 30,000, we're gonna move it. But the public, we'll just let them play. The thing is we won't have to move the game as quick because there will be so much handle on the game and the juice will factor in the game more than often."
And then Stoneback got a word from one of his co-workers.
"We just took half-a-limit play, 15,000, on the Patriots. It wasn't a sharp, it was a casino guest."
"Will you move the line because of his bet?"
Then when asked what the perfect scenario would be for the books, Stoneback said something that he would've never said at any point this season.
"The best case scenario for us, which doesn't happen at all during the season, is the Broncos and the over."
Yep, what was once called the nightmare scenario for the books, would be the dream ticket this weekend.
Year Game Result ATS Record
2001 IND @ NE +11.5 44-13 Patriots 1-0 Brady
2001 NE @ IND -10.5 38-17 Patriots 2-0 Brady
2003 IND @ NE -3.5 24-14 Patriots 4-0 Brady
2003 NE @ IND -3.5 38-34 Patriots 3-0 Brady
2004 IND @ NE -3 27-24 Patriots 4-0-1 Brady
2004 IND @ NE -1 20-3 Patriots 5-0-1 Brady
2005 IND @ NE +3 40-21 Colts 5-1-1 Brady
2006 IND @ NE -2.5 27-20 Colts 5-2-1 Brady
2006 NE @ IND -3 38-34 Colts 5-3-1 Brady
2007 NE @ IND +5 24-20 Patriots 5-4-1 Brady
2009 NE @ IND -1.5 35-34 Colts 6-4-1 Brady
2010 IND @ NE -4.5 31-28 Patriots 6-5-1 Brady
2012 DEN @ NE -6 31-21 Patriots 7-5-1 Brady
2013 DEN @ NE +1 34-31 Patriots 8-5-1 Brady
(All data courtesy of pro-football-reference.com)
San Francisco 49ers (12-4-1) at Seattle Seahawks (11-6)
Line: Seahawks -3.5, 39.5
The San Francisco-Seattle rivalry has replaced Baltimore-Pittsburgh as the best and most physical rivalry in the league.
But the bruises that will be left on the players after this game can't compare to those left on the books after both team's victories last week.
Early in the week, the sharps had taken shots on the Panthers as home dogs against the 49ers, "but the public just overwhelmed them in this game. It was nothing but one-sided San Francisco money".
The game was so bad for Stoneback that he "had to order some extra money when we cashed out on the game. Everybody had San Francisco".
While watching the Saints marching down the field past the two minute warning, Stoneback and his pals were sweating, hoping that New Orleans wouldn't score. Marques Colston did score with 32 seconds left and the crowd at the book erupted.
"When the room goes nuts, it's not good for us."
Something will have to give in this round. The Seahawks with Russell Wilson at the helm have covered all three games against the 49ers. Seattle has a 12-5 (71 per cent) regular season and playoff ATS record at CenturyLink Field in the two seasons that Wilson has been at the helm.
But on the other side of the ball, despite being 0-2 in Seattle, the 49ers are 10-4-1 (67 per cent) ATS on the road since Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith at quarterback midway through last season. This includes a current five-game winning streak through the last two weeks in the playoffs when San Francisco won as road faves in Green Bay and Charlotte.
While the Niners were taking control over Carolina on Sunday, Stoneback was deciding where the spread should open for the hypothetical NFC West rematch.
"I was thinking about this and we thought it would come out 2.5," said Stoneback. "I didn't think there would be any way there'd be a full field goal to San Francisco. And when the line was up at 3.5 and I see the LVH even put it up at -4. We were convinced San Francisco is the right side on this one and we hung it at 3, -20 and they laid the 20 and they laid the $1.25 and now we're at $1.30.
"Right now we're getting more money on San Francisco at +3, +1.10 than we were on Seattle at -3, -30."
So with The Mirage sticking to the field goal-line and moving the juice instead of moving it to 3.5 where most of The Strip is, it's surprising that the sharps would take a field goal at Stoneback's casino while there's an extra half point hook to take elsewhere. Despite being a Seattle native, Seahawk fan and father of a son named Seattle, Stoneback said "I think the 49ers are gonna beat them," and is convinced that shading to their side was the right thing to do.
"Just the way Seattle has been struggling. They haven't had much of an offense in the past weeks and San Francisco are the team on the roll," said Stoneback. "I think they're the better team right now.
"I got a bunch of friends obviously in Seattle and everything, and they're saying, 'oh, we outscored them by 50-something points, we're gonna win.' They're talking about a game that happened a year ago December and another game that happened in September. So they're caught up in the hype. Looking from the outside, the 49ers are the better team right now."
Despite the line is at 3.5 at other shops, he still "would be surprised if the Seahawks went up -- there's 3.5's out there -- I would be shocked if it went to -4. I'm thinking it's gonna end up at 3. I think it'll be all San Francisco money here."
So what's the result that would make both the bookie and the Hawk fan happy?
"The perfect result would be Seattle winning by one or two points. That would be a big win for us because we've taken some money on the 49ers money line."
Russell Wilson's Seahawks at home
Opponent Spread Result ATS Record
Dallas +3 27-7 Seahawks 1-0
Green Bay +3.5 14-12 Seahawks 2-0
New England +4 24-23 Seahawks 3-0
Minnesota -4 30-20 Seahawks 4-0
NY Jets -5.5 28-7 Seahawks 5-0
Arizona -10 58-0 Seahawks 6-0
San Francisco -2 42-13 Seahawks 7-0
St. Louis -12 20-13 Seahawks 7-1
San Francisco -2.5 29-3 Seahawks 8-1
Jacksonville -20 45-17 Seahawks 9-1
Tennessee -13 20-13 Seahawks 9-2
Tampa Bay -15 27-24 Seahawks 9-3
Minnesota -12.5 41-20 Seahawks 10-3
New Orleans -8 34-7 Seahawks 11-3
Arizona -10 17-10 Cardinals 11-4
St. Louis -11.5 27-9 Seahawks 12-4
New Orleans -8.5 23-15 Seahawks 12-5
Colin Kaepernick's 49ers on the road
Opponent Spread Result ATS Record
New Orleans -1.5 31-21 49ers 1-0
St. Louis -8 16-13 Rams 1-1
New England +5 41-34 49ers 2-1
Seattle +2 42-13 Seahawks 2-2
Atlanta -4.5 28-24 49ers 2-3
Seattle +2.5 29-3 Seahawks 2-4
St. Louis -4 35-11 49ers 3-4
Tennessee -3 31-17 49ers 4-4
Jacksonville -15 42-10 49ers 5-4
New Orleans +3 23-20 Saints 5-4-1
Washington -4.5 27-6 49ers 6-4-1
Tampa Bay -5 33-14 49ers 7-4-1
Arizona -1 23-20 49ers 8-4-1
Green Bay -2.5 23-20 49ers 9-4-1
Carolina -1.5 23-10 49ers 10-4-1
(Data for both charts also from pro-football-reference.com)