No NFL player generated more betting interest this offseason than Trey Lance did at multiple sportsbooks.
The San Francisco 49ers second-year quarterback was a trendy bet to win regular-season MVP. Lance attracted more MVP money than Tom Brady at PointsBet, and in August, more MVP money was bet on Lance at Caesars Sportsbook than all other NFC quarterbacks combined. Only Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert attracted more bets.
Out of the dozens of season-long player props Caesars offered, more money was bet on the over on Lance's rushing yards than any other prop, causing the line to grow from 475.5 to 625.5. The third-most-heavily bet player prop at Caesars was the under on Lance's rushing yards. One Caesars rep called Lance "easily a top-3 biggest story at Caesars leading up to the NFL season."
Some of the offseason betting interest in Lance stems from the odds. He opened at 200-1 to win MVP at Caesars, a lofty price for a starting quarterback on a perceived Super Bowl contender. His odds improved to 40-1 ahead of the season.
The opening over/under for his rushing yardage varied significantly at sportsbooks, too. PointsBet opened it at 524.5. Savvy bettors live to capitalize on market discrepancies and aren't afraid to bet both sides of a prop at different sportsbooks for a chance at hitting the middle and winning both wagers.
Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading for Caesars, described the MVP action on Lance as "surprising and not surprising."
"Our opening number in hindsight was a little too high, but he's basically a rookie fully taking the reins for the first time," Pullen said. "We'll see if he can put up the type numbers that Rodgers or Brady or Mahomes will. Then we always get a lot of 49ers money from our northern Nevada bettors, and clearly they're taking Lance. We had big liability on Jimmy [Garoppolo] to win MVP ahead of last season."
In addition to the market differences, Caesars' oddsmakers speculated that the uncertainty over 49ers star Deebo Samuel's holdout and where Jimmy Garoppolo, last year's starting QB, would end up could be angles that were motivating bettors.
"Lance is a fascinating player for so many reasons ... tons of betting options given he's a running and touchdown scoring threat, and currently sits in a spot of low information due to a limited number of first-year snaps," Sam Garriock, lead NFL trader for PointsBet, told ESPN.
The interest in Lance continued into Week 1. Caesars Sportsbook didn't take its first bet on the under on Lance's rushing yardage (which ultimately rose to 39.5) against the Chicago Bears until Friday. Caesars halted betting on the prop Sunday morning after pictures of sloppy conditions at Soldier Field began circulating on social media. Lance finished with 54 rushing yards in the 49ers' 19-10 loss to the Bears -- one of four outright upsets by underdogs on a big opening Sunday for bookmakers.
Professional bettors caused two notable line movements on Sunday's games. Both of the plays proved to be correct.
• On Tuesday, influential betting syndicate Right Angle Sports released the Chiefs -4.5 over the Cardinals as a wager. The line shot up to as high as Chiefs -6.5, before closing at a consensus -6. Caesars Sportsbook reported taking a pair of "six-figure" bets on Friday on the Chiefs at -6 and -6.5. Kansas City won 44-21.
• On Saturday afternoon, right in the thick of a big day of college football, line-moving money showed up on the Vikings, who in matter of hours went from home underdogs to small favorites over the Packers. Green Bay had been a 1.5-point favorite for months, but enough money came in on the Vikings on Saturday and Sunday morning to drive the line all the way to Minnesota -2 at some books.
"Late money came pouring in on the Vikings," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook in Las Vegas, told ESPN. "We kept moving [the line], and the sharps kept playing the Vikings anyway. We can certainly see why now. The public was on the Vikings, too. Normally the Packers losing as a small road favorite -- which is what the line was all summer -- would be a great result for us, but it really wasn't. So many sharps and public players on Minnesota."
"The Vikings seemed like the sharp side all offseason," Andy Morrissey, trader for WynnBET, wrote in an email. "The decision ended up being our worst outcome of the weekend."
On top of those two losers, sportsbooks took it on the chin on the Ravens covering the 6.5-point spread in a comfortable 24-9 win over the Jets. It was the worst decision on Sunday for multiple sportsbooks.
However, before you get overwhelmed with concern for the bookmakers, there's this from the SuperBook's Murray: "The combination of all those college football games and UFC 279 made Saturday our biggest day since March Madness."
PointsBet senior director of communications Patrick Eichner called NFL Week 1 "a great start to the season" and other sportsbooks echoed those sentiments.
"Our priority every Week 1 [of the NFL season] is to get as many customers back on the platform as we can," Karol Corcoran, general manager for FanDuel's online sportsbook, said Sunday night. "And we've achieved that."
College football notables
• Sportsbooks cleaned up on Alabama's close call against Texas on Saturday. In what was the most heavily bet college football game of the day, the books won big on the underdog Longhorns covering the spread, both overall and in the first half.
The Crimson Tide have been a covering machine in first halves in recent seasons (19-6-1 ATS the past two seasons), and the betting public had taken notice. On Saturday morning, more money had been bet on the Alabama-Texas first-half spread than 32 of 45 full-game spreads at Caesars Sportsbook.
The bulk of the first-half money was on Alabama, despite a line that grew out of proportion to the full-game spread. The Crimson Tide closed as consensus 21.5-point favorites for the game; the first-half line climbed to has high as Alabama -14.
Caesars reported that 95% of the bets on the first half line were on Alabama. One savvy bettor, though, took the Longhorns +14 for $22,000 at Caesars and was rewarded with the game tied 10-10 at halftime. The Crimson Tide mounted a late rally and won 20-19.
"That was a bonanza for the house," said Lamar Mitchell, sportsbook director for BetMGM books in Nevada.
The amount bet on the Alabama-Texas game was similar to how much was bet on a top-5 NFL game Sunday, according to Caesars Sportsbook director of trading Craig Mucklow.
• On Saturday, a bettor in New Jersey with Caesars Sports hit a $50 money-line, in-game parlay with Marshall (+1,050), Washington State (+650) and Appalachian State (+700) that paid $34,450.
• Colorado State opened as a 5-point favorite over Middle Tennessee State at Circa Sports, the Las Vegas-based sportsbook known for posting some of the first weekly college football lines on the market. The line closed as high as Colorado State -14. Middle Tennessee raced out to a 34-0 lead and won 34-19.
• Notable Week 3 opening lines: (via Circa Sports)
Georgia -26, 48.5 at South Carolina
Oklahoma -16, 68.5 at Nebraska
UConn at Michigan -45, 58.5
Cal at Notre Dame -11, 41.5
Penn State at Auburn -3, 47.5
BYU at Oregon -3, 56
Michigan State at Washington -2, 54.5
Miami at Texas A&M -5, 50.5
Fresno State at USC -12, 74.5
Sportsbook opens at NFL stadium
Hours before the Chiefs-Cardinals kicked off Sunday, the Cards' new stadium attraction -- a two-story, 17,000-square-foot BetMGM sportsbook -- was already buzzing.
"Fans were in the door from the moment we opened [at 9 a.m. PT]," David Main, senior manager for BetMGM, wrote in an email to ESPN.
The sportsbook, a short walk from State Farm Stadium, is among the very first ever at an NFL venue. (FanDuel operates a retail book in the parking lot of MetLife Stadium complex in New Jersey.) It's a sign of the evolving sports landscape in the U.S. In just the past four years, the NFL has gone from distancing itself as much as possible from gambling to now having sportsbooks in stadiums and running across the ticket on the league's cable network.
At a ribbon-cutting ceremony last week, BetMGM CEO Adam Greenblatt said his company "shares the Arizona Cardinals' vision in pursuing new ways to break barriers and entertain fans."
Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill added, "We are proud and thrilled to be the NFL's first team to offer its fans this type of unprecedented amenity and innovative experience. The BetMGM Sportsbook at State Farm Stadium gives us a chance to engage current and potential fans on a year-round basis in a fun, entertaining and responsible way."
The venue with a grill and bar will be open year-round. Videos posted on social media by BetMGM showed lines of fans and bettors stepping up to betting windows and self-serve betting kiosks. Cain said fans started to filter out as kickoff of the Chiefs-Cardinals game got closer, but early in the day, it was bustling.
"It was a lot of fun seeing the energy as the chaotic morning developed," Cain said.