Not unlike other major sporting events, oddsmakers have a rooting interest in Sunday’s NFL conference championship games.
There is, however, a significant difference this time around. The bookies are pulling for the chalk.
It’s an unlikely circumstance. But with three relative long shots – the Arizona Cardinals, Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens – finding themselves on the door step of the Super Bowl, the books run the risk of getting burned by high-payout futures bets.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are the only team among the final four whose title-game appearance doesn't catch people off guard.
So as far as the oddsmakers are concerned, go Steelers.
“There is definitely irony here,” says Michael Perry, oddsmakers for Logans.com. “Because the same team we are rooting for in the Super Bowl, we typically would be rooting against week-in and week-out during the regular season.”
It’s also a twist of fate for the Steelers, who four years ago relished the role of underdog as the AFC’s No. 6 seed and posted road wins over Indianapolis and Denver before toppling Seattle in Super Bowl XL. Now they find themselves in an unfamiliar position atop the betting board.
Their legions of towel-waving fans just added a few extra members. Since Pittsburgh generally was considered a sound club both personnel and coaching wise, its odds to win the Super Bowl never climbed higher than 12-to-1. Thus, the oddsmakers will have limited liability if the Steelers take home their sixth Super Bowl title.
The same can’t be said of their AFC opponent, the Baltimore Ravens. Not much was expected from Baltimore with a rookie at quarterback and a rookie head coach roaming the sidelines. Although, the Ravens' opening odds of +6000 dropped quickly when bettors recognized the Ravens weren’t half bad. Perry says there still aren’t a whole lot of futures bets on the Ravens to fade.
The NFC picture is a different story. Nobody seemed to have faith in the Arizona Cardinals, who opened at +5000 and could still be had for the bargain price of +3000 even after they defeated Atlanta in their first-round playoff game. Arizona’s stunning upset of Carolina put the Cardinals in their first NFC title game and long-shot bettors on the cusp of a serious payday.
Moreover, their opponent might be the team that Perry and his colleagues fear the most. After the wildly erratic Philadelphia Eagles needed a minor miracle to even reach the playoffs, Perry set their odds at +10,000 heading into the final week of the season. Although it doesn’t look good now, Perry seems to have no regrets.
“That’s what you do in the gambling business, you take risks,” he says.
You also root like crazy for the team you need. The current Super Bowl futures at Logans have Pittsburgh at +180, followed by Philadelphia at +200, Baltimore at +450 and Arizona at +500. Perry said most of his action has been on the Cardinals and Eagles.
Last season, oddsmakers just missed their futures nirvana when New England was upset by the New York Giants. Needing the favorite to win, but not cover, is likely the same scenario they will need this year.
“We still won money on the Giants, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to what we could have,” Perry says.
Of course, the oddsmakers aren’t the only ones hoping for a Steelers triumph. There are still Pittsburgh bettors who hope to win with the house if their team can come through.
Sports bettor Jim Jensen of Sparks, Nevada, is a Pittsburgh native. He says he rarely bets with his heart but puts a future on the Steelers each season out of loyalty to his hometown team. He is looking at a ticket with +1200 odds.
“It’s about time I’m on the side the books need,” he says. “But for me, this is a coincidence more than anything.”