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January 10, 2018

The Eagles are only underdogs because we believe it to be true

Eagles NFL
123117_birdman_usat Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

A Philadelphia Eagles fan cheers on before the start of action against the Dallas Cowboys at Lincoln Financial Field.

The big talk this week leading into the Eagles' divisional round game against Atlanta has revolved around the top-seeded Birds being home underdogs against the sixth-seeded Falcons, something that's never happened before in NFL history.

The players have been asked about it – some are using it as motivation while others are trying their best to ignore it. The coaches have too. But, as it turns out, we're the reason that perception exists in the first place. That's right, I said "we" – the fans are just as responsible as the media. 

So far, we're proving the oddsmakers to be correct. 

According to data released by the Sports Book Bovada on Wednesday, a significant portion of the betting public is backing the Falcons to win as a favorite and advance to the NFC Championship Game. 

Only 23 percent of bettors are taking the Eagles -- currently 3-point home underdogs -- against the Falcons, representing the smallest total of any team playing this weekend.  [nj.com]

In other words, despite the Eagles being the No. 1 seed, playing at home, and getting three points, less than a quarter of those betting on Saturday's game are picking the Eagles. 

But what if they're wrong? After all, with all that action on the Falcons, it's strange that the line hasn't really budged. Why haven't the oddsmakers tried giving the Eagles a few more points to even out the betting? Maybe because they want everyone betting on Atlanta, because they actually think the Eagles will win.

Over at Forbes, contributor Dave Caldwell spoke with international betting expert Jim Murphy of sportsbettingexperts.com, who said the Eagles-Falcons game was drawing five times more money than any other game this weekend, and summed up this disconnect quite simply.

Bookmakers don’t pick winners as much as they try to attract balanced betting on each side. Murphy said a point spread represents a bookmaker’s prediction on what the betting public thinks about the game.

Remember: Odds are not predictions. That's important, especially in light of what's about to come next. Unlike the betting public, several computer models are actually forecasting a win for the Eagles. 

•  OddsShark.com has the Birds listed as a three-point dog but if you look at their game prediction, it's a win for the Eagles. 

•  ESPN's Football Power Index was giving them a 66 percent chance of winning.

•  And over at FiveThirtyEight, the Eagles have a 57 percent chance of winning. Furthermore, their computers also believe the Birds should be favored by two points. 

So why does the betting public seem to be so down on the Eagles compared to the computers? The answer is actually simpler than you think: Humans have emotions. 

Moreover, people have a tendency to overreact. And that may be what's happening with the Eagles.

“There’s a confluence of factors that have influenced the public opinion here,” Murphy wrote, “the most significant being the public’s [recreational players] tendency to overreact to injuries.  The higher profile the injury, the greater the reaction, and for that matter the overreaction. The public views losing a starting quarterback as a veritable death sentence for a team.”  [forbes.com]

Because the idea is to get the betting as balanced as possible on either side, oddsmakers had no choice but to make the Eagles an underdog regardless of whether or not they think Nick Foles can get it done against Atlanta.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t really see how you could hope to get balanced action on this game without making the Falcons favorites in this price range,” Murphy wrote. “From the bookmaker’s perspective, this isn’t a vote of confidence for Atlanta but an effort to make Philadelphia more attractive to bettors. Had Philadelphia opened as a favorite or a ‘pick-’em’ the media would have been focusing on the drop-off from Wentz to Foles. In that situation, it would be hard for recreational players and ‘sharps’ money to not take the Falcons plus the points.  [forbes.com]

I can already see Eagles fans repeating that line over and over in their heads while trying to fall asleep.

This isn’t a vote of confidence for Atlanta ... this isn’t a vote of confidence for Atlanta ... this isn’t a vote of confidence for Atlanta ... 


Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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