According to the Chinese calendar, 2014 ushers in the Year of the Horse. In sports-betting circles, however, it’s shaping up to be the Year of the Dog. Consider:
• Beginning with the final bowl game of 2013—Texas A&M vs. Duke on New Year’s Eve—underdogs went an astounding 11-2 against the spread to close the college football campaign. In fact, ’dogs covered all five Bowl Championship Series games, including four outright upsets (with Auburn coming within 13 seconds in the BCS Championship Game of making it five).
• Underdogs went 3-0-1 ATS in the opening weekend of the NFL playoffs, with the Chargers (at Cincinnati) and Saints (at Philadelphia) scoring upset victories.
• Finally, in college basketball’s first weekend of 2014, ’dogs went 12-8 ATS in games involving Top 25 teams, including outright losses by No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Duke, No. 10 Oregon (albeit at No. 20 Colorado), No. 16 Kansas (vs. No. 21 San Diego State), No. 17 Connecticut, No. 18 Memphis and No. 19 North Carolina.
So if you’re wondering why Vegas sportsbooks seemed extra smoky this week, wonder no more: It’s just oddsmakers puffing on celebratory cigars, as they pretty much made their 2014 nut in the span of a week.
Given how loudly the ’dogs have been barking, you’d think those oddsmakers would’ve set some tight point spreads for the divisional round of the NFL playoffs—especially considering three of last week’s four games were decided by a total of six points. Not so. Of this weekend’s four matchups, three feature favorites of a touchdown or more: Patriots -7½ vs. Colts, Seahawks -8 vs. Saints, Broncos -10 vs. Chargers. Perhaps even more perplexing, the fifth-seeded 49ers are laying 2 points to the No. 2-seeded Panthers—the same Panthers who won in San Francisco two months ago.
Did I just say perplexing? Get this: Since 2006, underdogs are 18-10 ATS in Round 2 of the playoffs, including 13 upsets. Over this seven-year span, at least one underdog has won outright, and in five of those years, at least two ’dogs prevailed.
So, yeah, you’re damn right I’m backing some underdogs this weekend. And it starts with the red-hot, nobody-believes-in-us, we’ve-got-nothing-to-lose Chargers against Peyton Manning, who is 9-11 all time in the playoffs … including eight one-and-dones … with two of those quick exits coming against San Diego.
Playoff Picks: Chargers +10 at Broncos (Best Bet); Colts +7½ at Patriots; Saints +8 at Seahawks; 49ers-Panthers UNDER 42; Chargers +6½, first half.
Bowl Results: 10-11 (2-1 Best Bets). Season: 60-67-1 (36-36 college; 24-31-1 NFL; 5-13 Best Bets).
Says RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) of Pregame.com: Agree on New Orleans. A big mistake of the average bettor is reacting too strongly to a recent result, and last month, Monday Night Football viewers saw Seattle dismantle the Saints. This inflated point spread is an overreaction to that result—combined with the “New Orleans can’t win on the road” narrative. Value on the ‘dog.
Matt Jacob appears Wednesdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview, which airs 10-11 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM. Jacob also appears on “Vegas Wise Sports” at 9 p.m. Sundays on KDWN 720-AM