Pats-Eagles point spread largest ever not involving expansion team

PHILADELPHIA -- Just three seasons after being separated by just three points in Super Bowl XXXIX, the gap between the Patriots and Eagles has widened to historic proportions: Philly is a 23½-point underdog.

That is the largest point spread for an NFL game that does not involve an expansion team, according to odds-making experts in Las Vegas.

On Dec. 5, 1976, the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were 24-point underdogs to the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers covered easily, winning 42-0.

"Nowadays, you don't see too many spreads over 16 or 17 points," said Sean Van Patten, an oddsmaker at Sports Consultants in Las Vegas. "That's because most teams take their starters out in the fourth quarter of a lopsided game. The Patriots don't. I call this phenomenon The [Bill] Belichick Factor."

By continuing to pour it on the fourth quarter, Belichick is throwing Vegas out of whack. And making bookies run for cover.

It all started Sunday night after Belichick walked across the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium to shake hands with Buffalo Bills head coach Dick Jauron, an awkward moment captured on national TV after the Patriots annihilated the Bills 56-10.

"The line for the Patriots-Eagles game was immediately set at 17 points -- and the big bettors, the sports syndicate guys, jumped on it, bet it hard," said Brandon Lang, whose life was depicted by Matthew McConaughey in the movie "Two for the Money" and is regarded as the nation's leading sports handicapper.

According to bookies and oddsmakers, all the big money took the Patriots and gave the points. Why? Because Belichick has been running up the score.

"So the spread jumped all the way to 22 in a matter of minutes," said Lang.

"You add the fact that Donovan McNabb is injured and you have the perfect storm," said a bookie in South Philadelphia who asked not to be identified.

McNabb has a swollen thumb on his right (throwing) hand and a sprained ankle. He did not finish the game on Sunday, when the Eagles beat the Miami Dolphins in Philadelphia. On Monday, head coach Andy Reid said his franchise quarterback is day-to-day.

"McNabb is worth four more points, in my opinion," said Van Patten. "Which means if he doesn't play Sunday, the spread in this game could set the record."

If the record is not set in this game, Van Patten said, don't be surprised if it is threatened in two of the Patriots' upcoming games -- against the New York Jets on Dec. 16 or the Dolphins on Dec. 23.

"The Jets game is the one to watch," said Van Patten. "The perception, at least, is that Belichick is running up the score because he's angry over Spygate. And he was caught by the Jets back in the first week of the season. It's gonna be payback time."

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN.