By Sean O'Neill
Cold, Hard Football Facts Vegas Insider (@sean_oneill)
The Week 17 slate gives bookies more headaches than a long New Year's Eve of overindulgence.
"It's almost like a preseason week, who's gonna play and how much and everything," said Jeff Stoneback, sports book manager at The Mirage in Las Vegas.
"Although this year, it's a little bit easier because there's still so many teams that are battling for home field or a playoff spot and everything. Usually by this time you got three or four teams that are locked up and resting their starters."
So to get the best value out of the Week 17 board, playing the mid-afternoon games before the early games start is where you may get a line that could have a totally different line and that will be dictated by action elsewhere in America.
As Mike Wilkening points out, the teams that need to win the game are overvalued ATS. But the mindset from an oddsmaking perspective on this is that they will take games off the board and readjust lines depending on on earlier results.
"What we'll do after the [1 p.m. ET]'s kick, anything that got playoff implications, we'll just take the line down and see what happens with the game," said Stoneback. "We'll have them all up until 10 o'clock [a.m. PT], and the games that are affected, we'll just take them off, take them off or take small limits if we keep them up."
How many points can one of the later games swing from when the line is taken off the board to when they're reopened before the 4 p.m. ET kickoffs?
"I'd say maybe three or four points, depending on the other results, just like we talked about in previous weeks, San Diego has things go their way, we may move the line up three points. If it doesn't go their way, we may go one or two points the other way."
But oddsmakers had a head start preparing for the final week of the season during the penultimate set of fixtures.
After the Cowboys beat the Redskins in the early set of games, and the Packers lost at home to the Steelers, the Bears and Eagles knew their specific fate in regards to the Sunday Night matchup. Chicago needed a win to clinch the NFC North; Philadelphia would clinch nothing with a win or lose, with everything riding on next week's matchup at Dallas.
Cantor Gaming took the Bears-Eagles game off the board during the day, but other books kept it on, despite the changing fortunes of each team's playoff hopes, and accepting lower limits on the game, which is what Stoneback did.
Either way, Philly played like their lives were on the line and Chicago performed as if they overdosed on deep dish pizza before the game started, as the Eagles won 54-11. The spread went from Eagles -3 to -2.5, but Stoneback said there wasn't much action on the game.
With the Eagles taking the field in the Cowboys' inevitable NFC East final game showdown, the line was surprisingly set at -2.5 for Philadelphia at JerryWorld. The reason for this is because "we felt Philadelphia would be taking the money based on the Sunday Night result and the last few games for the Cowboys, even though they did beat the Redskins," said Stoneback.
"We took a play on the Eagles at -- we opened at -3, -125 -- and we took a play at -3, -125, and went to -120," said Stoneback, but then the news broke from ESPN's Adam Schefter that Tony Romo would miss the game with a back injury and be replaced by Kyle Orton.
Despite head coach Jason Garrett denying that Romo has been ruled out, the bookies in Vegas took the game off the board right away.
Blowhard talking heads love to take shots at Romo, but the facts say that he's had a stellar season. He ranks seventh in the league in Real Quarterback Rating, while he hasn't been getting help from his defense, which ranks 30th in Total Team Yards Allowed.
When the game was eventually put back up on the board, the Eagles moved from -3 to -6.5 at The Mirage.
"Y'know it's funny, my brother-in-law is a Cowboys fan," said Stoneback, "and I know a bunch of them and all they do is cry about Romo, 'Oh, Romo, we need a new quarterback, we need a new quarterback.'
"I can't wait to see my brother-in-law when he comes over for (the holidays) and I'm gonna say, 'you got your wish!' I've been telling him, 'who you gonna get besides Romo?' I've been telling him that for a few years."
Big Bets on Totals
The public's most blatant play has been scorching hot since the calendar has turned to winter's first month, but the squares haven't been capitalizing.
In Week 14 and 15, the over went 21-11 (66 percent) in all games, well above the 53 percent clip that it is on for the entire season (126-110-4 over/under record according to VegasInsider.com)
While the books made an avalanche of money in Weeks 14 and 15 -- especially because Denver only hit the over once, despite Stoneback always inflating the total on Broncos games compared to the rest of the market -- in Week 16 the over went 5-11 as the scoring cooled off, the sharps have been going against the public's move.
"Actually, it's been strange, in the past few weeks, we've gotten a lot of professional play on the totals, they've been betting the totals more often than usual. And they've been betting the under," said Stoneback.
"Obviously, one week was the snow week a few weeks back and that turned out well for us. Early in the season, we were struggling with the totals we were getting beaten up but the last few weeks the wise guys have been betting the unders and they've been going over."
So why has the public got off it's play?
"On a total we have more percentage on the total from the sharps than on the games because a lot of people want to root for a team or something, as much as totals, they want a team to root for."
Carolina Better Super Bowl Play than Seattle?
As discussed in this space before, Stoneback is a Seattle native who loves the city so much he named his son after the Emerald City.
So when asked where he would put his money on to win the Super Bowl, Stoneback did not go homer.
"I don't know. I would probably have to go with Carolina," said Stoneback. "The way things have gone in the past few years -- obviously, I'll be rooting for Seattle -- like I told my friend in Seattle, he got a bunch of friends up there and he's very excited about the Seahawks and I said, 'don't get excited right now.'
"They seemed to have peaked and now they lose two of three and their offense has struggled a little bit. Carolina seems to be the hot team right now. It happened with the Giants a few years ago, happened with the Ravens."
Panthers are currently 8/1 to win the Lombardi Trophy.
Cash That Ticket!
Stoneback and the rest of his bookie pals were reeling on Sunday after San Diego defeated Oakland. This meant that one of the two biggest decisions of the year went against the books.
When asked how much the Raiders going under the 5.5 wins would cost the book, Stoneback replied "tens of thousands. I think it's gonna be quite a few of those tens of thousands and we're gonna be losers."
This week, 10 teams are left to clinch their win total from the start of the season and the other team that needs to go a certain direction is Cleveland. While the rest of the patrons will be watching games with direct playoff implications, Stoneback will be watching the Browns play the Steelers hoping Pittsburgh lays the wood to them, because he "desperately need Cleveland to stay under."
The other game that his eyes will be tuned to is Buffalo-New England. If the Patriots win the game, New England goes over 11 and Buffalo stays under 6.5.
"Patriots going over is a small winner for us and Buffalo goes under that's a medium-sized winner for us," said Stoneback.
Here's a look at the other seven teams that have yet clinched.
Baltimore Ravens, Push or Under 9: "That one is really not gonna matter, we're a small winner either way."
Chicago Bears, Over or Under 8.5: "We need them to lose because it'll be a mid-size loss if they go over."
Dallas Cowboys, Over or Under 8.5: "We need a loss by Dallas. If it goes over we are a significant loser.
Detroit Lions, Push or Under 8: "We'd like them to stay under, we'd be a decent winner if they go under eight."
Jacksonville Jaguars, Over or Under 4.5: "I like this team at the end of the year. We've got them at 4.5. They go under we're a semi-significant winner, over we're a small loser. I don't know why, but they're my second-favorite team this year. I just like the turnaround, when you see teams like that usually they quit and everything. And they got defensive coordinator from Seattle and I thought, 'aw, he wouldn't last.'
San Francisco 49ers, Over 11 or Push: "It's a small winner both ways."
Tennessee Titans, Over or Under 6.5: "We need them over the 6.5 for a win, small loser if it goes under."
Public winners: Arizona over, Carolina over, Cincinnati over, Denver over, Green Bay under, Indianapolis over, Kansas City over, Miami over, New Orleans over, NY Giants under, Pittsburgh under, Seattle over, Tampa Bay under
Public losers: Atlanta over, Houston over, Minnesota over, NY Jets over, Philadelphia over, Washington over