Why does Vegas set lines? What is their goal? Well, Vegas sets lines in an attempt to get exactly half of the action on each side of every line they post. In this case, they take the rake, guarantee a profit, and move on. So, does that mean Vegas lines are perfectly set? Furthermore, does it mean they are always perfectly set early in the week? No! Every week this season (starting Week 2), we’ll be jumping into early-week betting line inefficiencies to take advantage of before they move. This line movement can be caused by a number of factors, but the primary reasons for movements after initial line release are public sentiment and recency biases (shark money typically doesn’t come in until later in the week, when bettors have more complete information). With that, let’s jump in!
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We are going to see some weird things happen this week because there are very few teams left playing for anything, and some of the teams that are theoretically playing for playoff seeding could elect to rest starters. The Bengals are a perfect example of this, as they could theoretically finish anywhere from the one-seed to the five-seed in the AFC, but are dealing with some injury concerns – namely quarterback Joe Burrow. As such, the additional variance makes picking out +EV situations a bit more difficult this week, considering we are highlighting these picks early in the week when we know next to nothing regarding how individual teams will handle the final regular-season week of the season.
The Packers have locked up the one-seed, home-field advantage, and the only bye out of the NFC, meaning they have nothing to play for this week. That said, if the Packers choose to rest their starters this week, they’d go a full three weeks between playing a live NFL game (Week 17 occurred on January 2nd and their Divisional game wouldn’t be played until January 22nd or 23rd). Also, Aaron Rodgers and other players on the team have publicly stated that they intend to play this week. Obviously, this line is so low due to these unknowns, and the decision ultimately rests with head coach Matt LeFleur, but I would guess that starters ultimately end up playing for at least a half here, particularly considering there are no massive injury concerns with the Packers (David Bakhtiari, Billy Turner, Randall Cobb, and Jaire Alexander remain out, but the Packers entered Week 17 relatively healthy). And even if Rodgers and some of the primary players rest here, the Packers are playing a Lions team that has been decimated by injuries this year and could be playing with Tim Boyle at quarterback once more. There are numerous “outs” to this modest line as it stands currently.
This one is similar to the first pick, in that we don’t currently know how the Bengals are going to handle resting players versus gunning for playoff seeding. What sways me to side with Zac Taylor playing his players is the wide range of potential outcomes regarding the Bengals playoff seeding, as they could end the season anywhere from the one-seed to the five-seed. As in, they could find a playoff bye, or they could be traveling to play a team like the Patriots in the Wildcard Round. Joe Burrow tweaked his knee late in their Week 17 victory, adding an additional layer of concern here, but it is reportedly a minor injury that shouldn’t be of concern on a normal week. Offsetting those concerns is a Browns team in shambles. Their secondary was already hit hard by injuries, and then Denzel Ward was injured last week and didn’t finish the game with a groin injury. Nick Chubb also picked up a rib injury and there are legitimate reasons to hold him out here. Baker Mayfield is also playing some of the worst football of his career of late. And finally, the Bengals play in the early slot on Sunday, while the other 10-6 AFC teams (the Bills and Patriots) play in the afternoon slot. This all comes together to make the Bengals giving only three points a situation that outweighs the risk associated with them resting players.
This one is super interesting to me, as the line opened with Dallas favored by only 2.5-points. It appears that the market has over-corrected here. I have this line at Dallas -4.5 / -5.5, giving us some positive expected value on the Eagles with the points at home. Additionally, both of these teams don’t have a lot of play in their respective ranges of outcomes as far as playoff seeding goes, with the Cowboys locked into the two-through-five-seed, and the Eagles locked into the six-or-seven-seed in the NFC. Those unknowns have me siding with the massive spread here. Finally, what pushes this one over the edge is the fact that we have a large spread in a game with a small game total (Dallas now favored by seven with a game total of only 42.5 points).
This game takes a little more finesse. This is obviously the game with the most playoff implications this week (win-and-in for both of these teams), and the league echoed that notion when they flexed it to the Sunday Night Football game to put a bow on the season. There are a few reasons why the expected value resides with the Chargers here. The Chargers defense has been successful in taking away the primary areas of the field that the Raiders look to attack (deep passing), the Raiders haven’t scored more than 20 points in their last five games, the Raiders run game has underperformed this season behind one of the league’s worst run-blocking offensive line (the glaring deficiency of this Chargers defense), and the Raiders picked up yet another off-field distraction this week, with rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs arrested on Monday after he passed out in the driver’s seat blocking the exit ramp of a Las Vegas parking garage.