LAS VEGAS -- We're heading into Week 17 of the NFL season and we have several point spreads that look out of whack. However, that's because oddsmakers have overinflated lines for teams in must-win situations while also adjusting for teams that are expected to rest some starters for the playoffs.
Still, seeing so many unusual lines got me and my fellow ESPN Chalk writer Rufus Peabody curious. We decided to look back through the 2016 schedule for lines that make us wonder, "What were the oddsmakers thinking?" We weren't looking for games where it was pick 'em and a team won by 20; rather, we were looking more for games where the lines seem "off" compared to what we would make them now.
Here is a list of those "interesting" games, along with a few comments on how the involved teams have fared this season as well as the lines that I would make for those games with the benefit of hindsight, using the NFL Vegas Rankings. Rufus will do the same with the Massey-Peabody ratings.
While this article might appear to some to have a silly premise, there's a serious underlying lesson to be learned from such a look back. During the course of any season (in any sport), there are times when oddsmakers are slow to adjust to how good (or bad) certain teams are. If you can identify those teams before the rest of the market, there are strong betting opportunities to be found.
Week 1: Seattle (-10.5) vs. Miami
The Seahawks entered the season as Super Bowl contenders, while the Dolphins were expected to be around .500. Today, both are heading toward the playoffs, and it's hard to imagine that the Dolphins were double-digit underdogs in the opener. The Seahawks prevailed 12-10 but never even approached covering the huge line. Today, Massey-Peabody (M-P) would make the line Seattle -7.6 (adjusted for Ryan Tannehill being in the lineup), while the Vegas Rankings (VR) also has it around Seattle -7.5.
Week 1: Arizona (-9) vs. New England
This line opened at pick 'em during the offseason before Tom Brady was re-suspended and really steamed in the week leading to kickoff. Still, knowing what we know now, it's amazing the Patriots were nearly double-digit 'dogs with Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback. The Patriots pulled out a 23-21 victory that most people wouldn't call an "upset" if it were being played now. M-P still makes the line Arizona -0.5 with Brady out for New England, while VR makes it New England -1.
Week 2: Chicago (-3) vs. Philadelphia
The Eagles beat the Browns in their opener, while the Bears lost to the Titans. However, based more on the preseason power ratings of the two teams, the Bears were 3-point home favorites when they met in Week 2's Monday Night Football game. The Eagles romped to a 29-10 victory. M-P and VR both have this line at Philadelphia -3.
Week 3: Houston (pick 'em) at New England
The Patriots were 2-0 without Brady, and Garoppolo was injured and unavailable on a short week for the Thursday night game. He would be replaced by unsung rookie Jacoby Brissett, so the game went off at pick 'em. The final score was Patriots 27, Texans 0. M-P puts the line now at New England -7.8 with Brissett. VR has it New England -6. We'll see if this matchup comes up again in the playoffs.
Week 4: Carolina (-3) at Atlanta
The Falcons were off to a 3-0 start, while the Panthers were suffering through their Super Bowl hangover at 1-2. Yet oddsmakers still made Carolina a 3-point road favorite at Atlanta. The final score was Falcons 48, Panthers 33. Knowing what we know now, M-P puts the line at Atlanta -6.1, while VR says Atlanta -7.5 -- which is more in line with the fact the Falcons were -3 at Carolina in the Week 16 rematch.
Week 4: Dallas (-1.5) at San Francisco
The Cowboys had already bounced back from their season-opening loss to the Giants, and the 49ers had shown that their Week 1 win over the Rams was the exception and not the rule. Still, the Cowboys were only -1.5 at San Francisco and won 24-17. If this game were to be played now, M-P would make it Dallas -8.2, while VR would have it Dallas -11.5.
Week 5: Cincinnati (-2.5) at Dallas
The following week, the Bengals were visiting the Cowboys, and both oddsmakers and bettors still weren't giving Dallas its due, as the Cowboys were home underdogs. The Cowboys romped 28-14, with the score being 28-0 before the Bengals mounted a futile fourth-quarter comeback effort. If this game were scheduled knowing what we know now, M-P would make it Dallas -5. VR has Dallas -7.
Week 6: Green Bay (-5) vs. Dallas
There's definitely a trend here. The Cowboys went into Green Bay and were around 6-point underdogs before the line closed at Green Bay -5. The Cowboys won 30-16, and finally Dak Prescott & Co. were seen as being for real. If this game were to be played now, M-P and VR would both have Green Bay favored, but only by around -1.5.
Week 10: Chicago (-3) at Tampa Bay
Based on what we saw from these teams this year, this is a pretty crazy line. The Bears were 3-point road favorites at Tampa Bay as recently as Week 10? That seems unreal, especially armed with the knowledge that the Buccaneers romped 36-10. If we were setting the line now, M-P would have Tampa Bay -5.7, with VR making it Tampa Bay -7 at home.
Week 13: New York Jets (-1) vs. Indianapolis
The line isn't that far from the target, but it still sticks out in my mind as being "off." Indianapolis opened as the road favorite for this Monday Night Football matchup and the line stayed there all week. Then on Monday, the line suddenly flipped to the Jets being favored at home. The money continued to pour in on the Jets and no one could explain why. This is the kind of line move that causes people to say, "Someone knows something." They did not. The final score was Colts 41, Jets 10. M-P makes it Indianapolis -2 now, while VR has it at pick 'em, That said, it still looks strange in retrospect that the 4-11 Jets were favored this late in the season over a team that was still in the playoff hunt.
Dishonorable mention (other lines that make you go, 'Hmmm')
Week 3: Kansas City (only -3) vs. New York Jets
Week 3: Dallas (only -6.5) vs. Chicago
Week 3: New Orleans (-3) vs. Atlanta
Week 4: Seattle (only -1) at New York Jets
Week 5: Philadelphia (-3.5) at Detroit
Week 5: Denver (-4.5) vs. Atlanta
Week 6: Pittsburgh (7.5) at Miami
Week 9: Dallas (only -7) at Cleveland
Week 10: Jacksonville (-3) vs. Houston
Week 12: Philadelphia (-4) vs. Green Bay