If the global betting market is any indication, then sports talk radio and every other pundit has been exaggerating a polarizing NFL topic this week.
The Indianapolis Colts shocked the football world by hiring Jeff Saturday as interim head coach, even though the former Colts center has no coaching experience at the college or professional level. The move was lambasted and ridiculed across the board.
However, following the announcement, sharp bettors backed Indy, which visits the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. The Raiders are now 4.5-point favorites, after the spread opened at 6.5. Las Vegas has plenty of issues of their own, including a worse record, but they at least have a veteran quarterback in Derek Carr, as opposed to 24-year-old Sam Ehlinger of the Colts.
"We will adjust [the line] if they announce their only NFL-quality quarterback on their roster is named the starter," BetMGM vice president of trading Jason Scott told ESPN, alluding to veteran QB Matt Ryan. "For all we know, Saturday might be the best head coach on the sideline."
That's what makes this situation so compelling. We all recognize the league's complexities and praise wizards like Bill Belichick and even younger offensive minds like Sean McVay, Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel. However, the betting community has yet to react negatively to a newbie head coach and brand-new playcaller in Parks Frazier, who has never held this responsibility in any capacity.
"With this team, it doesn't matter. They suck already," SuperBook head football oddsmaker Ed Salmons told ESPN. And while nothing is that simple or even that binary, it might be unfair to automatically assume an inexperienced coach will result in a drop-off. Indy is 0-9 against the first-half point spread this season, which I would argue is a clear indication of an unprepared team.
The Raiders have already tied an NFL record by blowing a 17-point lead three times this season. But the silver lining is they have the talent to build those leads, while Indy is lucky to muster three scores in any game. Ehlinger shouldn't be starting in the NFL and ESPN's Football Power Index has this margin at 13.1 points in favor of Vegas. So regardless of who is coaching, I am laying the points.
The numbers you need to know
As I indicated last week, the betting market still believes in Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, even though they own the NFL's worst cover percentage (2-6-1 ATS). In fact, Tampa is 0-6-1 ATS in its past seven games. Perhaps a change of scenery will snap this run, as the Bucs face the Seattle Seahawks in Munich, Germany, as 2.5-point favorites.
Once again, sharp money arrived on Tampa Bay, which briefly moved the point spread to three points. That prompted another respected wager, but this time on the Seahawks, moving the line back to 2.5 points. As I have indicated, three is the most key number in NFL handicapping, which is why professional bettors are stubborn about finding the right line. Since the extra-point distance moved back in 2015, 14% of games have been decided by exactly three points. The next most common margin of victory is seven points (9%).
I respect Tampa's defense, but I do not understand why they are favored. The offense is a mess, despite Brady's late-game heroics last week. I think highly of Seattle, and the coaching staff has positioned Geno Smith impressively and he has delivered. Give me the Seahawks. Frankly, the betting market can be wrong. If the Bucs lose, they will become just the second team in the Super Bowl era with a losing record through 10 games despite being favored in each game.
Line move of the week
When an MVP betting favorite has an uncertain status for a game, the betting market will certainly see that effect. The Buffalo Bills began the week as 8.5-point home favorites over the Minnesota Vikings. A respected wager arrived on the 'dog, which started to lower the point spread. Around that same time, news surfaced of Josh Allen's right elbow injury. Oddsmakers began to lower the line further and a respected bettor even bet the Vikings +3.5 on Friday, which gave one oddsmaker confidence that Allen would not play. After all, in these situations, the smart money usually represents solid information.
However, the winds started to change on Saturday, even though Allen has practiced only once this week. The Bills did not activate third-stringer Matt Barkley, which means only two quarterbacks are active for the game. That suggests Allen will be available, along with backup Case Keenum. While the star QB is officially listed as questionable, the point spread has climbed back to 6.5 points.
Wise guys were heavily involved in the line movement surrounding the Vikings-Bills game. Additionally, they moved the market on other games. As always, it's important to remind everyone that the numbers they grab are rarely still around. Plus, sometimes we see two-way professional money on a particular game.
However, based on my sources, this is what I have heard are the sharpest wagers for this NFL card: Texans +7 and +6.5, Browns +3.5, Colts +6.5, Rams -3, Jaguars/Chiefs over 50.5, Cowboys/Packers over 43 and 49ers -7.