All week sportsbooks saw nothing but bets on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their prime-time showdown with the New England Patriots.
The point spread grew from Tampa Bay -5.5 to -7 by midweek, and entering Sunday, for every one bet on the underdog Patriots, there were nine on the Buccaneers at sportsbooks around the nation. At sportsbook PointsBet, there were more bets on just the Bucs minus the points than there were on the point spread of any other game, combining both teams.
Yet, at 10 a.m. Sunday, the line did something somewhat unexpected -- it moved toward New England. The smart money had arrived.
Multiple sportsbooks reported taking sharp action on the Patriots +7 on Sunday morning, causing the line to drop to 6.5 across the market, even at the shops that were staring at a growing liability on the Buccaneers.
Chuck Esposito, a veteran Las Vegas bookmaker with Station Casinos, said the Buccaneers-Patriots game became the largest decision on a regular-season game that he could remember.
Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading for Caesars Sportsbooks, said the liability his shop had on the Buccaneers "won't be matched until the playoffs."
Even so, bookmakers seemed fine with their position. They knew they could attract limit bets from professional bettors by offering New England +7, so by moving the line to 6.5, the books could control their liability to an amount of which they were comfortable.
"The worst thing you can do is go to a crazy number and try to dump out of your position," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said. "Then, what happens when the Patriots win outright? You're the only book in the world that doesn't clean up on the game. That's not doing your job correctly.
"You get a game like this about once or twice a year," Murray added Sunday night. "The best thing you can do is book it the same way you book every game. Get to the right number first, limit the sharp players to a fair bet, and let your general public guys fire away. As long as you are at the right number and not giving away the house to the wise guys, you did your job correctly, regardless of the outcome of the game."
The bookmakers, indeed, did their job correctly and won big as the Patriots covered the spread in a 19-17 loss.
The best game of the early slate for multiple books was the Jets' outright upset of the Titans in overtime. Bettors did well with the Chiefs covering as 6.5-point favorites over the Eagles, which was the biggest decision of the season for BetRivers (prior to Bucs-Patriots).
A bettor with Caesars in New Jersey placed a $5,000 two-team money-line parlay on the Jets and Giants, who both picked up their first wins of the season, each coming in overtime. The parlay paid $51,425. The Giants upset the Saints in overtime.
Facing a fourth-and-5 from the Titans' 5-yard line, the Jets settled for a field goal on their first possession of overtime. According to Deck Prism, a Las Vegas company that provides live odds to sportsbooks, the Jets' win probability was 55.5% when they lined up to the kick a field goal with 4:31 left. If they would've gone for it, their win probability would've been 68%, in part because scoring a touchdown on the first possession of overtime wins the game. Matthew Davidow, co-founder of Deck Prism, noted that, in their model, it's correct to go for it in most instances on first drives of overtime.
The Jets made the field goal and stopped the Titans on their ensuing drive to secure a 27-24 win.
But really the day was decided by Bucs-Pats. Two hours before kickoff, BetMGM's Nevada sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said there was 10 times as much money backing the Buccaneers as the Patriots. "It's only going to get worse," Stoneback added of the liability on the Bucs. "We stayed the course, and even though it's going to be a big decision, we'll win some of those, lose some of those through the season. Just like any other game, we're going to stay with our [bookmaking] philosophy, and hopefully we'll win more than we lose on those big decisions."
Caesars Sportsbook reported taking a $500,000 bet on Patriots +7 on Sunday in Nevada. The bet evened out their point-spread action, but the parlay liability on the Buccaneers continued to grow. "We're huge Patriots fans tonight, because of all the parlays and teasers on the Buccaneers," Mucklaw said Sunday afternoon.
Other big bets reported by Caesars:
$500,000 on Seahawks money line (+130) (Win)
$500,000 on Bears -3 (even) (Win)
$500,000 on Bills -16.5 (Win)
$330,000 on Lions +3 (Loss)
$300,000 on Cardinals +6 (Win)
$315,000 on Vikings (-105) first half (Loss)
$300,000 on Jets +7 (-120) (Win)
The Chargers are consensus 3-point favorites over the Raiders in the Monday night game.
College football notables
Public 'dogs are said to have fleas, and there might never have been a bigger public 'dog than Arkansas.
The Razorbacks opened as 18-point road underdogs to Georgia. Money poured in on Arkansas at books around the nation. In the hours leading up to kickoff, more bets and more money had been staked on Arkansas than any other team at BetMGM books. After Georgia ruled out starting quarterback JT Daniels, the line dropped to Bulldogs -16.5, and money continued to show on the Razorbacks.
In the hours leading up to kickoff, 90% of the money bet on the point spread at Caesars was on the Razorbacks, and PointsBet reported taking a $100,000 bet on Arkansas +16.5 on Saturday morning. From time to time, the betting public will side with the underdog, but not at the rate it backed the Razorbacks. No underdog in a top-25 matchup this year had attracted anywhere close to 90% of the action at Caesars.
Georgia won 37-0.
"When it came across that Daniels wasn't playing, the public saw a chance to get plus a lot of points on a team they thought was decent, Arkansas," Matt Metcalf, sportsbook director for Circa Sports, said. "But then we also started seeing a lot of professional bettors betting on Arkansas.
"We were cool needing Georgia in that game," Metcalf added.
The Bulldogs (+135) are now the favorites to win the national championship at Circa Sports.
Notable opening lines and early moves
Via Las Vegas sportsbook Circa Sports, which posts the first weekly college football point spreads at 11 a.m. PT on Sundays. Opening lines are in parenthesis.
Maryland at Ohio State (-21, 72.5) -20, 69
Boise State at BYU (-1, 57.5) -4, 57
Georgia (-16, 48.5) -14, 44.5 at Auburn
Oklahoma (-3, 63.5) -3.5, 63.5 vs. Texas
Michigan (-1, 53.5) -3, 52 at Nebraska
Alabama (-16, 49.5) -17, 50.5 at Texas A&M
Arkansas at Mississippi (-2, 71.5) -5, 66
Penn State at Iowa (PK, 43.5) -2.5, 42.5
Notre Dame -2, 45 at Virginia Tech (PK, 44.5)
What were the odds?
300/1 - The St. Louis Cardinals' odds to win the World Series on Aug. 16, at Caesars Sportsbook. The Cardinals were 15 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 11. The Cardinals would go to win 17 straight games to clinch a spot in the playoffs. St. Louis is now 20-1 to win the World Series at Caesars.
40/1 - The San Francisco Giants' odds to win the NL West entering the season, the longest odds of an eventual divisional champion since at least 2008, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The Giants finished the regular season with 107 wins, 32.5 more than the win total (74.5) that sportsbooks hung in the offseason. The Giants are the second team to win at least 30 more games than their preseason win total since 1994-95. (2001 Mariners).
27/1 - Sheriff's odds to defeat Real Madrid on Wednesday in Champions League action. Sheriff beat Real Madrid 2-1, making it the largest upset by the odds in the past three seasons.