We’re a little late with this Bettor’s Playbook, but what a roller-coaster thrill ride for NFL bettors in Week 8.
The league’s two worst teams, Washington and Miami, book-ended the 15-game slate on Thursday and Monday Night Football by covering the spreads in the major sportsbooks of DraftKings, FanDuel, SugarHouse, and William Hill.
Washington played tough in a 19-9 road loss to Minnesota, getting 17 by game-night, and Miami eked out a cover against Pittsburgh, losing 27-14 while getting 14.5.
The games may illustrate how far into double digits bettors will go on backing a favorite. Minnesota and Pittsburgh laid a ton of points and Pittsburgh has a losing record.
The league’s best two teams remained unbeaten in grand style. San Francisco scored a whopping 51 points, one week after scoring nine, and pummeled a hot Carolina team. New England took the gift offered by mistake-prone Cleveland, winning 27-13 outright and against a spread averaging 12.5 throughout the week.
Eagles, Jets, Giants: Giving NJ bettors reasons to cheer
The bulk of the games featured an underlying theme of teams losing, rather than winning their games. Yet the league-wide parade of head-scratching coaching decisions and unforced errors did not affect favored teams of Pennsylvania and New Jersey bettors.
Backers of the Eagles, Jets and Giants went 2-1 against the spread.
Philadelphia covered for the first time in three weeks, winning outright against Buffalo 31-13 as a two-point underdog at DraftKings.
The Eagles rewarded their bettors in a practically mistake-free game and changed the momentum with a defensive strip deep in Buffalo territory at the end of the first half. A 7-3 deficit thus became a touchdown, two-point conversion and a score at the start of the second half.
The Giants, 6.5-point underdogs in Detroit at FanDuel, scored a late touchdown and a back-door cover in a 31-26 setback. The Giants improved to 3-5 against the spread and are starting to look like a good bet on the over wagers.
The Jets, getting 7 points according to William Hill, ran into a tough Jacksonville defense and fell 29-15 despite playing hard.
Around the league, some games had bizarre turning points. And some provided perpetual gambling intrigue throughout the week because of changing spreads.
Line shopping proves key in NFL Week 8
One of the week’s major stories surrounded wagering variables. Some lines moved rapidly and bettors had to decide whether to chase them or become contrarian.
Seattle and Atlanta held bettors in suspense most of the week. There was no early line for the Atlanta-Seattle contest because it wasn’t known if injured Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan would play.
Some establishments outside the major books listed it as Atlanta +3.5. Then came the news that Matt Schaub would start, and the spread bounced like coveted auction items. How much did this backup mean to the line? Schaub hadn’t started an NFL game in four years.
One could imagine:
“Seattle -5, what am I bid, who wants 5.5, yes, there we have 5.5, how about 6, the big 6, who wants 6? Going once. Going twice. Sold.” The number finally settled between 5.5-6.5 at all the books, but the uncertainty was far from over.
By Sunday morning, William Hill had Seattle giving 8. That’s a big road number, backup quarterback or not. Atlanta, despite being down 24-0 at halftime, rallied and lost 27-20.
When one placed the bet told the story of this game. Those who got in at the 5.5-6.5 late in the week covered. Those who chased the rising tide of Seattle money were burned Sunday and bettors who thought the spread had risen too much and took Atlanta late with eight felt like geniuses.
Saints cover in a Brees
The books were mixed about whether Saints quarterback Drew Brees would return from a week-two injury Sunday, posting a tempting line for visiting Arizona in the range of 9.5 -10 points. Many pundits said Brees would not play.
Well, he “sacked” the linemakers and betting public by starting, with the announcement coming so late that it did not affect the spread. New Orleans’ excellent offensive line, strong defense and Arizona’s bold fourth-down, third-quarter gamble not to punt from deep in its own territory (more on that later) decided this one.
Another quarterback impacted the line several points because of his absence. It’s the Mahomes Factor.
Green Bay, on the road Sunday night, gave between 4.5 and 3.5 points to Kansas City at varied books and triumphed 31-24. The injured Pat Mahomes would likely have flip-flopped the spread, making Kansas City the favorite by at least a field goal. But he is out for a while.
The Chiefs nonetheless looked sharp offensively and can be trusted going forward, with or without Mahomes, but expect over-under totals at the books to drift from the 55-ish range into 45-47 when Mahomes is out.
Meanwhile, around the league, unconventional wisdom and strange miscues from star players created some difficult betting variables.
Arizona: The All-In Backfire
Arizona Cardinals bettors had to be fuming. The Cardinals held New Orleans close and were only losing 10-6 midway through the third quarter. That was not the time to go for it on 4th-and-1 from their own 30.
There’s only one thing worse than giving New Orleans the ball back on a punt. That’s giving the Saints a short field, which Arizona did with a running play that was stuffed. That changed the momentum, permanently.
The Saints went marching in on five plays, made it 17-6 and cruised, 31-9 in a game that was tougher than it looked.
The game-changing move by Kliff Kingsbury prompts the question of when coaches will believe the gutsy fourth-down calls have a substantial downside. Kingsbury, the Cardinals head coach, defended the decision Monday, but not the ultra-conservative play selection.
Normal aggression would be gambling on 4th-and-1 from your opponents’ 30. (The Patriots did that twice in Cleveland territory, with mixed results.)
This one came back to burn Arizona, which lost after three straight wins.
A spread split for teams at the crossroads
Cleveland and Oakland, like a back close to busting a long run, have been on the cusp of rewarding their backers in recent weeks while coming up short.
One broke out of the slump Sunday, one did not.
Oakland, which had a deceptively large 18-point loss in Green Bay one week earlier because of red-zone turnovers, returned dividends to its PlaySugarHouse.com backers at +6.5 in Houston. The Raiders played tough in a 27-24 loss, showing a strong running game and the ability to protect Derek Carr.
The Raiders, who have been away from Oakland for a long stretch because of games in London, Green Bay, and Houston, are worth keeping faith in. The Raiders have not played in front of their own fans since Sept. 15 and still came out of this stretch 3-4.
The Cleveland Browns, meanwhile, self-destructed against New England.
The professional bettors kept playing them last week as the spread dropped from 13 down to 10.5 at the Westgate in Las Vegas and other sites. Some played Cleveland on the moneyline at more than 5-1.
Had Cleveland backers known the Browns would only be outgained 318-310 in yardage, they’d have even felt stronger about taking the Browns.
But there are turnovers and wretched turnovers. Cleveland suffered the latter.
The first Nick Chubb fumble was returned for a Patriots TD. A second Chubb fumble nearing the Patriots goal line cost Cleveland points and sent New England on another drive. And then a Baker Mayfield handoff/interception ensued, leading to another Patriots touchdown. Three Cleveland turnovers on three successive touches. Fourteen points, the difference in a 27-13 loss. Remove one turnover and Cleveland covers. Remove all three and the Browns may win the game.
Add in the four false starts, two offensive pass-interference calls and some calls not levied against New England and it was a frustrating affair for Browns backers. If you bet Cleveland, this was one you should have pocketed.
Now comes the gut-check time. Cleveland is 2-5 and went through October with no victories. Are they simply afraid to get over the hump?
Tampa Bay: Winston, Call, Sinks Bucs
That’s two straight horror shows for Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston. His six turnovers sabotaged the Bucs in a lopsided London loss against Carolina two weeks ago.
After the bye week, he returned Sunday and inexplicably hurt his team again versus Tennessee. Winston fumbled a bobbled snap and threw an interception on two straight early possessions, which led to two Titans touchdowns.
Three other daggers rubbed salt into those wounds. Tampa could not get in the end zone on first-and-goal from the four early in the game.
Coach Bruce Arians ran a 4th-and-1 straight into the line that was stopped with Tampa trying to extend a game-winning drive. And the officials killed the Bucs with a blown call on a late fake field goal. Tampa popped the ball loose and ran it in for a go-ahead touchdown but an inadvertent whistle blew the play dead.
Arians criticized the officiating and said Winston’s interceptions were the fault of receivers not finishing routes.
Still, what does it take for this team, which looked so good beating the Rams early in the season, to put a top game together?
Did anybody suffer more this weekend than Bears bettors? An excruciating 17-16 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers underscored how not winning the game early costs the same as losing it late.
Consider that the Bears were booed off the field despite leading 9-7 at halftime. How did it unfold?
Eddie Pineiro missed the first field goal.
After the Bears did kick one, they had 3rd-and-goal at the Chargers four. Field goal.
After giving up a touchdown, they had first and goal at the Chargers four just before the half. Three plays go nowhere, but a Chargers penalty gave them first and goal on the 1. The one. And they could not score, taking a field goal. The Bears had five plays inside the Chargers’ five-yard line, with no TD.
Later, when the Bears led 16-10, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky missed a wide-open Taylor Gabriel deep in Chargers territory. Then he fumbled on the next play, which the Chargers converted into a go-ahead touchdown.
Chicago, giving 3.5 at PlaySugarHouse, still had a chance to salvage the moneyline but the last-second field goal from Pineiro sailed wide. He should have made both field goals that were missed on the game. FanDuel NJ bettors with the Chargers got +176 and Bears backers saw a probable win slip away.
Bengals rammed on replay
Finally, here’s how one call changes fortunes. The Rams were giving the Bengals 13.5 at most books before their 24-10 win over Cincinnati in London.
The Bengals scored an apparent covering touchdown with four seconds left, but the ruling on the field was overturned. All scoring plays are reviewed and this one changed.
As did a barrage of funds. Think of the wagering implications not only of the game but all the parlays and prop-bets it became part of.
Depending upon which side you played, that call was divine intervention or the denial or fortune.
With a 14-point lead, the Rams also found themselves on the fortunate side of the score in the final five minutes. Cincinnati twice got inside the five-yard line late. Had the Rams been winning by 11, for instance, Cincinnati would have kicked the field goal in at least one instance.
Overall, it was a wild week, leaving bettors to wonder what regressing quarterbacks and teams they can trust.