This point of the NFL season can be especially tricky for books and bettors, with teams in pursuit of the playoffs either bursting with added motivation or crumbling under the postseason pressure.
There can be good value spotting a team going all out down the stretch, which is why oddsmakers aren’t ashamed to say their padding the lines for those must-win games.
“As we go into the final few weeks, we really want to hedge higher on those teams fighting for the playoffs,” says Peter Korner, founder of the Nevada-based odds service The Sports Club. “This is time of year we admit to adding a couple points to those teams that really need a win.”
There are plenty of games on the Week 15 schedule with postseason implications, including a AFC West war between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
Offshore books opened this line as low as Denver -10.5, but Korner says the Broncos need a win as much as any team right now. His oddsmakers sent out a suggested line of Denver -13, knowing the Broncos are motivated to clinch home-field advantage for the postseason – a key component to their Super Bowl plans.
“Both teams are fighting for playoff positioning but the Broncos poured it on against the Titans,” says Korner. “We sent out Denver -13 and saw that there were some 10’s out there – I don’t understand that line. There’s no need to be low on the highest-scoring team in the NFL. It’s going to be cold in Denver and San Diego isn’t going to like that. I don’t think we’re overpricing the Broncos. It’s just a better line.”
New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins (+2)
The Patriots will be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the remainder of the season after he shredded his knee in Sunday’s thrilling win over Cleveland. According to Korner, Gronkowski is worth as much as two points to New England’s spreads.
“He’s a big hit to take and we’ve seen that already this year, with how poorly the Patriots played without him,” Korner says of Gronkowski. “He’s a point in a half, maybe even a two full point bump right off the bat. We’ve seen this offense struggle without him.”
Korner’s oddsmakers brought spread of New England -2 and -3 to the table, so they sent out the Patriots as 2.5-point road favorites in Miami.
“This is going to be a big dog play with the public,” he says. “Miami does need this game and could win straight up. Bettors are looking at how New England stalled versus Cleveland and needed a lucky hometown call to win the game. I just think dog players are going to be all over this one.”
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys (N/A)
The Packers continue to play the waiting game on star QB Aaron Rodgers. Korner says they sent out Dallas -2.5 with Rodgers in the lineup and would suggest Dallas -8.5 or -9 if he is ruled out again while recovering from his broken collarbone.
“He’s a full six or seven points,” Korner says of Rodgers impact on this spread. “Green Bay is trying to stay in the mix and they want to play him if they can. He wants to play if he can. The line somewhat depends on how Dallas does (Monday). But with that game in the cold on the road, it may not matter much overall.”
Baltimore Ravens at Detroit Lions (-6)
Both the Ravens and Lions played in crazy snow games this past Sunday, but will nice and warm inside Ford Field on Monday Night Football.
Korner is expecting a heated primetime clash between two teams in the playoff hunt and sent out Detroit as a 3.5-point home favorite while offshores posted a bigger number at Lions -6.
“This is a must-win for both teams, so we sent it out pretty much at the pick’em when you factor the home field,” he says. “With weather not being a factor and them playing on a fast track indoors, we’ll see the true colors of both teams."