The first game of the NFL Playoffs is this year's third meeting of NFC West rivals, as the Seattle Seahawks face off against the San Francisco 49ers. At the start of this NFL season, not a single person expected the first matchup of the playoffs to be a duel between Geno Smith and Brock Purdy but here we are.
Seattle started the year quickly but have since cooled off, going just 3-4 over the last two months. At 9-8 the Seahawks have greatly surpassed nearly all expectations, as well as their preseason win total of 5.5 games.
The 49ers have battled the injury bug at quarterback, but "Mr. Irrelevant" Brock Purdy has been an absolute find, with a 5-0 record as a starter. One of Purdy's wins came almost exactly one month ago against the Seahawks in Seattle. The 49ers won both meetings against the Seahawks this year and Vegas thinks they will make it a three-peat as they are currently favored by 9.5 to 10 points depending on the sportsbook. The current total for this game is 42 points. Let's see if there is any betting edge to try and exploit this week.
Does San Francisco's Home Field Advantage Matter Against a Division Rival?
The short answer is that it looks to be very important. The Niners are 8-1 at home this year and whacked the Seahawks by 20 points earlier in the season in Levi's Stadium, in a game that saw San Francisco lose quarterback Trey Lance for the year. The 49ers score 3 more points per game on average at home and their league-leading defense gives up less than 15 points per contest in their home stadium.
Seattle was actually .500 on the road this season and scored slightly more away from home, but the problem is on the defensive end. The Seahawks defense allows more than a full touchdown more each game when playing away from their notoriously noisy crowd.
A better 49ers home offense coupled with a poor Seattle road defense bodes well for those focused on betting over the total of 42 points, but with both of the previous meetings between these teams totaling just 34 points, we don't want to lean too heavily into this narrative.
How Good is the 49ers Defense? Can it Carry Brock Purdy to a Two-Score Victory?
San Francisco's defense might be the most dominant unit on any side of the ball in the league. Anchored by the NFL's sack leader Nick Bosa, the 49ers defense is allowing barely more than 16 points per game. Since Purdy took over early in Week 13 against the Dolphins the 49ers have won all 6 games he has played in and 4 of those wins have been by double digits.
There's Potential for Purdy to Make Mistakes, Right?
While that might sound true, we must acknowledge that the incredible host of weapons on the 49ers offense is making life incredibly easy on their rookie QB. The 49ers have scored a whopping 37 points per game over their last 3 contests, and Purdy posted a brilliant 117.0 quarterback rating last time he faced the Seahawks in just his second career start. Easy reads to get playmakers the ball in space and a strong rush offense will mitigate the risk for Purdy.
So, Can the 49ers Cover a Big Two-Score Spread?
I have two major hesitations when it comes to the 49ers covering as 9.5 or 10 points favorites. The first is that you just don't make money betting on divisional favorites by more than a touchdown, especially when it's their third time playing each other. There is just a lot of familiarity and a lot tape for these teams to go over that makes a blow out particularly less likely.
The second hesitation I have is how conservatively Kyle Shanahan has coached in the past when his team has a lead in the playoffs. Last year in the first round against Dallas, the 49ers jumped out to a 13-0 lead before largely slowing things down and putting up just 7 second half points in the victory.
When you have a defense as dominant as the one in San Francisco, and such an inexperienced quarterback under center, it's a savvy move to play conservatively with the lead. Look for Shanahan to take the air out of the ball in the second half and lean on his dynamic array of ball carriers to shorten the game.
What Can We Assume from the Money Already Wagered on this Game?
There is a big takeaway here, but it is more about the point total in this game than the spread. While the public money is on the over, with 52 percent of the wagers placed on more than 42 points, the sharp money from the professional gamblers is firmly on the under. An overwhelming 96 percent of the total money wagered on the game's point total has been placed on the under. This is absolutely something that should be raising every flag a smart gambler can have.
There is a lot more balance when it comes to the early money coming in on the point spread. The 49ers are receiving 68 percent of the wagers and roughly and roughly 50 percent of the money. So while sharp bettors like the Seahawks to cover, it is nowhere close to the enthusiasm they seem to have that this total will land under 42 points.
What is Our Best Gambling Edge in this Game?
I loved the under before I saw the sharp money figures and once I did I couldn't place a bet fast enough. In the two previous meetings these teams fell under the 42 point total by a full touchdown, and now you have a situation where the favored team is likely to play conservative with any lead at home because they have a rookie quarterback and a great defense— Baby, I am making like Thor and just hammering the under here.
I know casual folks don't want to watch a playoff game and cheer for a lack of scoring, but just remember winning money and being right is almost always more fun than watching a touchdown.
I don't want to put any money on the spread here, when you are betting the under on a low total in a game with a double-digit spread, you are almost hedging yourself if you take the favorite. It's hard to win in the long run betting against a divisional dog by more than a touchdown, and I don't trust Seattle at all, so any money I'd want to place on the spread is better off just being placed on the under.
If you must bet a winner to feel those gambling tingles, throwing the 49ers into a money-line parlay just to slightly increase your odds has some value, but in my opinion it's just not the best place to put those funds.
If you had to ask me, Brock Purdy plays solid football and only throws the ball about 20-22 times, including hardly at all in the second half. Geno Smith and the Seattle offense are just outmatched up front, and we see a final score of 20-10 with the 49ers heading on to the second round.
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