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Can NFL playoff underdogs continue success?

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles warms up before a game against the Dallas Cowboys in Philadelphia on Dec. 31, 2017.
(Chris Szagola / Associated Press)

The friction among the New England Patriots means nothing to the team’s standing as the prohibitive favorite over the Tennessee Titans, and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ woeful quarterback play can’t get any worse, can it?

As the NFL’s divisional playoffs were settled Sunday, bettors have endorsed the point spreads set by Nevada sports book operators with heavy bets on each side of the numbers.

After getting the better of the gamblers who poured into his Las Vegas book this past weekend thanks to outright victories by underdogs Tennessee and the Atlanta Falcons, with underdogs Buffalo and Carolina covering their respective spreads in defeat, Westgate Sports Book executive director Jay Kornegay has set the next round with these numbers:

On Saturday, the Atlanta Falcons are 2 1/2-point favorites on the road against the NFC’s top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots are favored by 13 1/2 points over the Titans. On Sunday, the host Pittsburgh Steelers are favored by 7 1/2 points over the Jaguars, and the Minnesota Vikings are four-point favorites against the visiting New Orleans Saints.

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Kornegay expects the Vikings-Saints game to draw the most action of any on the board, given the interest in seeing if New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees can move closer to a second Super Bowl ring against a strong defensive team seeking to become the first team to play a home Super Bowl game.

As he considered the data of his power rankings and own expertise to set the Patriots-Titans’ number, however, Kornegay said he paid no attention to the reports of tension among quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick and owner Robert Kraft. (47 1/2))

“It didn’t affect any of our procedures or our thoughts,” Kornegay said. “It’s a non-factor.”

Top-seeded Philadelphia standing as an underdog to the Falcons while at home after a bye is a rare thing, but the lacking play of Eagles backup quarterback Nick Foles is being taken into account along with Atlanta’s title as defending NFC champion.

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“We suspect the public will be supporting the Falcons because they don’t believe in Nick Foles, and because Atlanta looked” strong in defeating the Rams at the Coliseum on Saturday night, Kornegay said. “What the public last saw is always very prominent in their minds.

“It is a [poor-] weather game, however, and Atlanta hasn’t played a weather game in a very long time.”

For those who believe in the “line-move” system of betting, the sharpest move this week has been the over-under in the Falcons-Eagles game dipping from 44 1/2 in the opening line to 41 1/2 by Monday afternoon.

It was somewhat surprising to see Jacksonville listed as a 7 1/2-point underdog at Pittsburgh given the Sunday performance of Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (12 of 23 passing for 87 yards in a 10-3 home win against Buffalo).

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Kornegay said the Jaguars’ impressive defense in another cold-weather game (the over-under is 40 1/2) persuaded one bettor to make a heavy wager on Jacksonville, dropping the spread to seven points before another big bet came in to move the number back to 7 1/2.

“They have the worst offense — Bortles looked really nervous — but they have the top-rated defense to keep a game close … and I’d say there’s plenty of room for him to make improvement. Plus, they have a halfway decent running game,” paced by Leonard Fournette, Kornegay said. “We all see it coming that the public is going to bet Pittsburgh … we’ve seen these games before.”

The only indoor game is the one expected to be the best: Saints-Vikings.

The so-called expert “sharp” players are strong supporters of the Saints, deeply respectful of their running game and assessing their defense as being better than perceived.

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“The marquee matchup, and we expect a tremendous amount of balanced action,” Kornegay said. “New Orleans may have the brand names on its offense, but Minnesota’s are very productive players and its defense is very good.”


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