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April 16, 2014

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Sports Betting:

A Super Bowl conversation with two of Las Vegas’ veteran sports book directors

Influx of 49ers money to match early Ravens steam evens out bettors’ action

Image

Courtesy

The sports book at Red Rock Resort.

READER POLL: Which team would you bet in Super Bowl 47?

Ravens vs. 49ers
49ers -4 — 52.7%
Ravens +4 — 47.3%

This poll is closed, see Full Results »

Note: This is not a scientific poll. The results reflect only the opinions of those who chose to participate.

They’ll all take a deep breath and look forward to some rest after an exhaustive 22-week season that saw its share of highs and lows concludes Sunday night in New Orleans.

Oh, we’re not talking about the players on the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens rosters that advanced to Super Bowl XLVII. We mean the long list of Las Vegas oddsmakers who have spent the past six months posting, monitoring and adjusting lines for all 525 NFL games.

The NFL is, bar none, the most bet-on sport in Las Vegas. Sports book directors have to show every bit the dedication as a coach scheming for the next game and discipline of a cover-2 safety.

Come this time of year, their opinions on the two remaining teams are more valuable than almost anyone else’s in the world. No other analyst or expert, after all, can claim their judgments caused millions of dollars to change hands every week of the season.

If you’re betting on the big game, it’s worth hearing their opinions. That’s why the Sun caught up with the two moguls of the Station Casinos sports books spread throughout the city for a conversation.

Jason McCormick, Red Rock Resort's sports book director, and Chuck Esposito, who runs the Sunset Station sports book, gave their in-depth opinions and analyses on 49ers vs. Ravens to the Sun’s Case Keefer.

Keefer: The line has been posted for 10 days now. With four more days still until kickoff, what’s the action been like?

McCormick: We’re really balanced. We went down to 49ers minus 3.5, and that’s the lowest we’ve been. A few minutes ago, we went back to 49ers minus 4, so it’s even action right now.

Esposito: I think the first public reaction was, “Whoa, the Ravens are getting points again? They got a lot of points against the Broncos, got points against the Patriots and pretty much dominated those games. Their defense has given up four touchdowns in three games against Luck, Manning and Brady, and they’re getting points again?”

Keefer: That’s the same defense that looked mediocre for a lot of the regular season, though. The Ravens obviously have turned it around and played their best defense in the playoffs, but what do you make of that split? What story is more telling?

Click to enlarge photo

Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Ray Lewis celebrates after the Ravens beat the Denver Broncos 38-35 in overtime of an AFC divisional playoff NFL football game, Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, in Denver.

Esposito: They struggled through a lot of injuries — (Terrell) Suggs with the Achilles, Lardarius Webb with the ACL and, of course, Ray Lewis. They’ve finally started to get more healthy. Even though the Ravens weren’t a top 10 defense — they were more middle of the pack — they are still a physical team that plays defense in big games. I think the public is looking at that. They’re looking at their spiritual and emotional leader in Ray Lewis, a quarterback in the secondary in Ed Reed and a defense that’s played the best they have all year in the playoffs.

McCormick: I don’t believe this defense is playing all that much better than they were in the regular season. When you look at these games, I think they are kind of winning with smoke and mirrors. Look at the stats. In the Indianapolis game, they allowed the Colts to rush for 152 yards and the Colts had the time of possession, they had the ball 15 more minutes than the Ravens. Denver ran for 125 on them and had the ball for four more minutes. New England out-gained them by 70 yards. They’ve been able to win these games with turnovers. They got Denver to turn the ball over three times to their one. They got New England to turn the ball over three times to their no turnovers. I don’t know that that will continue.

Keefer: On the other side, no one’s going to dispute that the 49ers defense has been among the best all season. But they’ve looked vulnerable against the deep ball, which is one of the Ravens' strengths. What do you make of that?

McCormick: Julio Jones, who was able to burn them twice downfield last game for the Falcons, is a 6-foot-3 receiver. If you look at both receivers the Ravens have, Torrey Smith is 6 foot and Anquan Boldin is 6-foot-1. I don’t think either of them have the same height, and that could be a significant disadvantage. I think the key for San Francisco to avoid the big downfield plays is their pass rush, and I think the 49ers' pass rush is better than what the Ravens have seen throughout these playoffs. Even though the Ravens have been able to score touchdowns through the air with Flacco — he has eight touchdown passes this postseason — they’ve been running the football. They had 170 rushing yards against the Colts, 155 against the Broncos and 120 against the Patriots. They’ve had great success in the playoffs on the ground, which has opened up the passing game. So I have to ask, will they be able to run the ball against this San Francisco defense? When I look at that, I think no. I don’t think the Ravens can put up the numbers they’ve put against other teams with the 49ers' fourth-ranked rushing defense.

Click to enlarge photo

Ed Reed and Torrey Smith

Esposito: On the other side, look at the 49ers defense when teams were inside their 40-yard line during the regular season. They allowed their opponents to complete 66 percent of their passes, gave up double-digit touchdowns with no sacks and no interceptions. They were a much different team when the field was a little shorter. The Ravens may not have a Julio Jones, but look at Boldin, who can physically dominate, and Dennis Pitta, who was one of the best tight ends in football over the second half of the season, and Ray Rice coming out of the backfield and Jacoby Jones, who actually does have that height and can go deep. I think they create a lot of matchup problems for the 49ers. I agree with Jason that it’s going to be difficult to run. But the way Flacco has been playing, and with the skill players he has on offense playing tremendous, I think they can attack the 49ers. The 49ers are a team that’s been good when they’re pinned back. But when they get into their territory, they haven’t been nearly as good.

Keefer: The Colin Kaepernick factor. How do you gauge his influence?

Click to enlarge photo

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick passes during practice on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, in New Orleans.

McCormick: I think it’s a big problem for the Ravens preparing for the 49ers' game plan. Is it going to be Kaepernick throwing the ball through the air like the Atlanta game or rushing the ball like the Green Bay game? I think it’s very difficult to prepare for a kid like this.

Esposito: He’s the popular guy, the guy everyone is talking about now. But you don’t know how he will produce in a big game. He’s still, for the most part, a rookie quarterback. He didn’t start at all last year and only played half of the season this year. He did struggle on the road against the Rams, against the Seahawks. And this is a huge game. Flacco has been in the playoffs longer and he’s been phenomenal — 8-4 in the playoffs, six victories on the road and one Lee Evans drop away from playing in the Super Bowl last year. You can make an argument for both teams, but that’s a lot of pressure on a young quarterback like Kaepernick.

McCormick: The quarterbacks don’t sell me on who’s going to win or lose the game. To me, it’s about guys like Frank Gore. Can the Ravens stop Frank Gore? Can the Niners' defense get pressure on Flacco to stop him from throwing the ball around? In most games this close, it’s a turnover here or a big penalty that’s going to decide the game. You can make arguments both ways, so it’s going to come down to who makes that big mistake. Flacco hasn’t made those big mistakes throughout the playoffs. But he’s never gone five games in his career without throwing an interception. This would be the fifth game. He’s never done that throughout his five-year career. If Joe Flacco can get through this game without an interception, then I would probably lean the Ravens. But I don’t know if that can happen.

Click to enlarge photo

New Orleans police officers drive past the Superdome where the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens will play the NFL Super Bowl XLVII football game, Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013, in New Orleans.

Keefer: You both have made great points on your respective sides. Is there anything we’ve missed or something that’s being overlooked in general?

Esposito: The last thing, for me, is if it’s a close game, look at the kickers. Justin Tucker, for the Ravens, made 32 out of 35 field goals this year, including the playoffs. Then look at David Akers, who has had his struggles in the regular season and the playoffs. He missed double-digit field goals this year. The game is indoors, so there’s that. But what’s the psyche of the 49ers kicker if he has to make a big field goal? It’s something to think about.

McCormick: In the last five years, taking out Houston because their stadium opens up, the Ravens have only played five games in true domes. They are 1-4 in those games. They’re not a team that’s comfortable with playing in a dome.

Esposito: After all of this is said and done, we’re going to be rooting for whoever we need at kickoff.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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  1. Nice article about the Super Bowl....but the photo could have been current, or at the very least, showing a football game or two on the screens - instead of baseball!. Sorry but it's just my radar that noticed this (it's habit, I guess) - odd that photos of the same member of the Chicago Cubs on two of the screens in the background - along with the score of the game (and as usual, the Cubs were losing!)

    Always loved Super Bowl weekend when in Vegas. Was always lucky gambling, too!