Greetings to you all from PoliticalBetting.com's Special Correspondent for Colonial Affairs, and hoping all are having a lucky and prosperous New Year thus far!
With gratitude for my recent TotY gong, I thought I would trash my reputation in one fell swoop by offering an overview of the betting markets covering American Football as we head towards Super Bowl XLIV.
The Super Bowl is the cup final between the winner of the AFC Championship and the NFC Championship. Both championships have a final to decide who plays in the Super Bowl - so the AFC and NFC championship games are like semi-finals. Each of these 'semi-finals' is populated by 2 teams out of 6 seeded teams who made the playoffs. 1st and 2nd place get a first-round bye, and play the winners of 3rd v 6th and 4th v 5th respectively in the divisional deciders (quarter-finals).
So this year, the AFC seeds are
(1) Indianapolis Colts (bye)
(2) San Diego Chargers (bye)
(3) New England Patriots vs (6) Baltimore Ravens
(4) Cincinnati Bengals (5) vs (5) New York Jets
The NFC seeds are
(1) New Orleans Saints (bye)
(2) Minnesota Vikings (bye)
(3) Dallas Cowboys vs (6) Philadelphia Eagles
(4) Arizona Cardinals vs (5) Green Bay Packers
American Football really does have a tradition of 'Any Given Sunday' - that form and talent can be overturned by sheer hard work and luck, and the worst team can (and frequently do) beat the very best. Prediction is a dangerous game, but I think there is some value that might be eeked out of the markets.
A brief look at Ladbrokes, and Shadsy is giving little away - there aren't too many big-odds bets available on this weekend's games, but the one that did catch my eye was under American Football - NFL Player Props - player rushing props: Cendric Benson to rush more than 81.5 yards available at 5/6. I think that's value - Benson rushed more than 100 yards a game in most games he played in full this season (almost got a 200-yard game) and if he is fit, he could run double this, even against a good NY Jets defence - I'm biassed (I'm a Bengals fan, and I have "32 Benson" on my jersey), but I would be very surprised if he didn't breach this mark, even if he's having a bad game.
My expectation is that Jets@Bengals could be close, but that the Jets - who were statistically very good, but only got through because the Bengals and Colts rested all players for the playoffs, letting the Jets win easily - don't really belong in the post season. They are highly unlikely to make even the AFC championship, whereas the Bengals (in my view) stand as much chance of winning three games as winning none. A talented-but-erratic team, they have only played well against good sides (sweeping the difficult AFC North vs the Ravens and Steelers, but losing 3 matches in the final 20 seconds to the Chargers, Broncos, Raiders because of errors). In spite of my fandom, I can't help but feel that the Bengals' Chad Ochocinco, Cedric Benson, Jonathan Joseph and Heismann Trophy-winner Carson Palmer are value for the Superbowl at 42.0 on Betfair, if just as a trading bet if they should happen to win a game or two back to back.
Having seen a lot of AFC North archrivals the Baltimore Ravens this season, I also fancy them at 36.0 for the Super Bowl (they are absolutely capable of winning it). They will be playing the Patriots first, but the latter will be without the injured Wide Receiver Wes Welker - the Ravens only need shut out brilliant Patriot WR Randy Moss (!) with the focus of their secondary defence to render Tom Brady's passing game next to useless. A strong line and good rushing could well see the Ravens take this game, and I'd fancy their chances against the San Diego Chargers too. They came within inches (and 17-points *cumulatively*) of beating the Bengals, Vikings, Patriots, Colts, and Steelers during the regular season, which instead of posting a mediocre 9-7 season (9 wins- 7 losses) could have been an NFL-leading 14-2 in spite of the toughest schedule in the league. With Ray Rice on fire, a solid defensive line, and QB Jo Flacco gaining confidence, they are a fieldgoal-kicker away from being perhaps the best all-round team in the AFC.
Betfair is also running Conference markets - I agree with the majority of punters that the AFC v NFC Superbowl should be won by the former. The AFC has more strength in depth, and maybe 4 or its 6 teams would be unsurprising winners of the Super Bowl versus only perhaps 3 NFC teams, so there's little value there.
For my money, I think the New Orleans Saints are both brilliant but falling apart. The value for the NFC Conference winner is still the Minnesota Vikings at 4.1 although with QB Brett Favre's experience, I wouldn't make them second favourite to any team in a Super Bowl, so the 9.0 to go all the way is a better bet (but consider trading it) - the Phillie Eagles are a dark-horse, and worth the 14.5 for the NFC conference as well. The Vikings have had a dismal end to the season when it didn't matter, but the sheer talent of Favre and Adrian Peterson make them the most naturally talented offence in the NFL.
Some experts are talking up the Cowboys and Chargers - maybe my inexperience is telling, but I don't see that Super Bowl happening, and there is no value in those positions even if it does happen. I personally cannot see Peyton Manning's Colts failing to secure the Super Bowl, but unfortunately millions of punters agree and have staked the NFL's 4-time MVP to the hilt.
Key bets: Ravens at 36.0 for the Super Bowl on Betfair (and if the Patriots can beat them, proving they can play without WR Welker, then Patriots 8.0 for the AFC championship might be value too).
Morus (Greg Callus)
The author is now a resident of New York, but inexplicably a fan of the Cincinnati Bengals. WhoDey!