Lines are out for wildcard weekend. We spoke to oddsmakers to get their reasoning behind the opening numbers.
No. 6 Detroit Lions (10-6) at No. 3 New Orleans Saints (13-3), Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC
The Sports Club recommended line: Saints -9, 58
Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook line: Saints -10.5, 58.5
Pete Korner has been making lines for 28 years and he’s never sent out a total as high as the 58 he recommended for Lions-Saints in the NFC playoffs.
“It’s two teams with a lot of firepower,” said Korner, founder of The Sports Club in Las Vegas. “We’ve seen 55s, 56s, but this is the highest one I’ve ever done. And I wouldn’t be surprised if people play the over. It’s a fast track, weather’s not a problem.”
The Saints averaged 44 points over their last three games. All three sailed over.
The Lions just let Matt Flynn throw for 480 yards in a 45-41 loss in Green Bay. Detroit finished with a 10-6 O/U mark, including three overs in its last four games.
It should be noted, however, that the earlier Lions-Saints game stayed under the total. In Week 13, New Orleans won 31-17 as a 9-point favorite. The score finished seven points below the total of 55.
Entering the playoffs, the Saints have won and covered eight straight.
“They’re scary,” Jay Kornegay, director of the Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook, told Covers.com. “They look like they can score on every down.”
The Lions “don’t look that appealing to a lot of people,” he continued. “We know we’re going to hardly get any Lions’ play. They just lost to a team that was supposed to go through the motions and Matt Flynn lit them up.
“It’s going to be difficult to draw some Lions’ money, so you’re going to have to inflate it a little bit.”
Korner gave this explanation for sending out 9.
“We think people’s kneejerk reaction is that playoff games are a little closer,” Korner said. “They’re familiar with each other too. New Orleans is going to be the public favorite, but I just think Detroit can hang with them offensively. If they’re within two touchdowns and they’ve got the ball, they can get a backdoor cover.”
No. 5 Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) at No. 4 Denver Broncos (8-8), Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
The Sports Club recommended line: Steelers -7 (-130), 34
Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook line: Steelers -8, 35
Pittsburgh won’t have running back Rashard Mendenhall (knee) and might not have safety Ryan Clark, whose sickle-cell trait could trigger a blood reaction in Denver’s high altitude.
Still, the Broncos backed into the playoffs on a three-game losing streak. If they scored 3 points against Kansas City, how many will they put up against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense?
“Tebow just looked awful Sunday, and Denver can’t score,” Korner said. “This line would certainly be double digits if the game was in Pittsburgh.”
Denver’s offensive problems go beyond Tim Tebow, Kornegay said.
“I’ve been telling people they weren’t very good when they had someone who could throw the ball, like Kyle Orton,” Kornegay said. “They don’t have many playmakers on that side of the ball.”
No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals (9-7) at No. 3 Houston Texans (10-6), Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The Sports Club recommended line: Texans -3 (even), 39
Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook line: Texans -3, 38.5
Texans rookie QB T.J. Yates separated his non-throwing shoulder on Sunday but is expected to start.
Yates threw for 300 yards and led Houston to a 20-19 comeback win in Cincy in Week 14, capping it with a 6-yard TD pass to Kevin Walker with two seconds left. The Texans covered as 2.5-point underdogs.
The Bengals actually play better on the road, where they’re 5-1-2 ATS.
Kornegay said that due to Houston’s injuries, the teams are fairly even.
“We have a lot of respect for an underrated Cincinnati team and what the Texans have done despite all their injuries,” he said, referring to the loss of QBs Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and OLB Mario Williams.
Neither team is on a roll. Cincy lost three of its last five, while Houston dropped its last three.
“Things aren’t clicking for either team,” Korner said. “It’s basically a pick-em with the Texans favored due to homefield advantage. It’s a great game for bookmakers because anything can happen.”
The atmosphere will be electric: It’s the first playoff game in the Texans’ 10-year history.
No. 5 Atlanta Falcons (10-6) at No. 4 New York Giants (9-7), Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, FOX
The Sports Club recommended line: Giants -2.5, 48
Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook line: Giants -3, 49
Kornegay said the line will be short because “the Falcons can take advantage of any bad defense.”
Korner expects the wiseguys to bet Atlanta on the moneyline. He’s a strong believer in the Falcons, at least this week.
“My first number out of the box was a pick-em, but everybody else [in his company] said 2.5 or 3,” he said. “Atlanta can take these guys.”