By Phil Simon
One reason why the game of football is so popular is because it’s easy to gamble on. And when it comes to raking in the dinero at the betting window the National Football League is king. Things start to heat up come playoff time with the number of available bets increasing. There are reasons for this. First, the interest level rises both in the games and in the betting markets. And second, with fewer games being played oddsmakers can concentrate on just a handful of teams instead of the entire league. The Super Bowl is the dramatic climax to the season, but the NFC Championship is the dress rehearsal.
The National Football Conference
The National Football League is divided into two conferences – The National Football Conference (NFC) and American Football Conference (AFC) – that consist of the same number of teams. There are four four-team divisions within each conference for a total of 16. Combined that brings the number of NFL members to 32. The NFL changed its playoff format for the 2020 season to now include seven teams, the four division winners and three wild cards.
For 2020 the Green Bay Packers posted the best record in the NFC at 13-3 earning a first-round playoff bye. The other division winners included the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints and Washington Football Team. The three wild card teams were determined by the best record and tie-breakers among the remaining clubs regardless of division affiliation. Those teams were the Los Angeles Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears.
The NFC boasts a number of franchises that competed in the NFL before the 1970 merger with the rival American Football League. They all boast rabid fan bases, but as we know you can’t bet with your heart. Well, I guess you can if you find value in the odds. The last two teams standing play in the NFC Championship with the right to represent the conference in the Super Bowl.
Betting the NFC Championship
For some risk-takers the NFC Championship game might be a better bet. Having knowledge of team trends and injuries will help to make a smart wager. And if you’re a fan of the conference or a team in it and follow them closely the added insight is a plus. The betting markets are the same for the conference title game as they are for the Super Bowl, just on a lower scale when it comes to the prop bets. Sportsbooks limit the number of props during the regular season and start to bust them out once the playoffs begin. Still nearly all of the playoff props are team and player related. There are rarely exotic props on the board for a regular season encounter.
We discussed the most common types of wagers in other articles, but we’ll touch on them once again. Those common bets are on the spread, total or moneyline. In the most recent NFC Championship game between Green Bay and Tampa Bay, the Packers came off as a 3-point favorite (there’s that key number again) with a total of 53. The Bucs got the payout with an upset 31-26 while OVER bettors cashed a winning ticket.
You don’t have to wait until game time to bet on the NFC Championship. There is a market for futures bets, which means just what it says. You’re betting on an outcome to take place later in the season. Sportsbooks will put up conference champion odds among others in advance of the season and the Bucs were an afterthought before acquiring Tom Brady. Can one player change the fortunes of a team? In this case the answer is yes. Tampa went 7-9 during the 2019 campaign but saw their championship odds plummet before the ink was dry on Brady’s new contract.
There are a few things to keep in mind when betting in the futures market. The odds change constantly depending on how the season is going. And while the payout will likely be better a few months before the title game even takes place, you can’t factor injuries into the equation. The San Francisco 49ers are a great example. Last year’s NFC Champs were favored to repeat before the season started, but season-ending injuries to a number of key players took care of any chance they might have had. The Niners missed the playoffs with a record of 6-10.
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