It was not a good day for the betting public on Sunday as sportsbooks cleaned up for the second week in a row. When looking at the results we saw on Sunday, it's not a surprise that bettors performed poorly. We obviously saw the Buffalo Bills, New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys all go down as substantial favorites.
More importantly, we also saw a trend continue this past weekend. Teams that were dealing with injuries, or had in-house drama throughout the week and were therefore victims of negative public perception, came through as winners for the most part. Bettors are learning that oddsmakers are good at what they do and all of this information that permeates our brains for the whole week is already accounted for in the betting lines.
Five of six battered teams cover in Week 9
Entering Week 9, I feel confident in saying that there were six teams dealing with a situation that was definitely at the front of mind for most football fans:
The Arizona Cardinals ended up being without Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. Arizona opened as a favorite and closed as a 5.5-point underdog.
The Green Bay Packers were without Aaron Rodgers and then had to deal with the drama of him covering up the fact he was unvaccinated. The Packers opened as favorites against the Chiefs, but by the end of the week, they were 7-point underdogs.
The Tennessee Titans lost Derrick Henry to a long-term injury and they were playing their fourth consecutive marquee game. The Titans opened as 6-point underdogs but that line was inflated through the key number and up to 7.5 points.
The Miami Dolphins were without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. They opened as 7-point favorites against Houston, but the market closed with the Dolphins as just 4-point favorites.
The Cleveland Browns had to part ways with Odell Beckham Jr. after his dad publicly trashed Baker Mayfield in an 11-minute Instagram video. It seemed like the locker room had the potential to be divided and the heat was turning up on Mayfield.
The Las Vegas Raiders had to deal with the unfortunate reality of the Henry Ruggs situation.
Of these six teams, only the Raiders failed to cover the spread and they had a chance until the final few seconds against the Giants. The Cardinals, Titans and Browns all won comfortably outright as underdogs. The Dolphins covered both the closing and opening number against Houston. Jordan Love and the Packers stayed within the number against the Chiefs.
This is an ongoing trend
Week 9 was not the first time we saw public perception and narratives go up in flames when it came time to cashing tickets at the betting window. In fact, it's been an ongoing trend for the past few weeks.
There's no denying that Geno Smith is a sizable downgrade from Russell Wilson. However, under Smith, the Seahawks are 3-0 against the spread. In their first five games of the season under Wilson, Seattle was just 2-3 against the number. The public perception between these two quarterbacks is so vastly different that it leaves value backing Geno Smith.
In Week 6, the Raiders were 5-point underdogs on the road against the Denver Broncos. The Raiders had just parted ways with Jon Gruden after a nasty collection of emails were released. It seemed like Las Vegas' season might be on the brink of falling apart. Instead, the Raiders won the game outright and have won two of three games under interim coach Rich Bisaccia.
In Week 7, we saw the Browns on Thursday night going up against the Broncos. Cleveland was without starting quarterback Baker Mayfield as well as standout running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. Bettors were all over the Broncos, but third-string running back D'Ernest Johnson and backup quarterback Case Keenum led Cleveland to a win.
The trend continued on Thursday night of the following week, when the Packers were without star receiver Davante Adams after he tested positive for COVID-19. They were also without Allen Lazard, the team's No. 2 receiver. Green Bay opened as a 3-point underdog, but the line closed with the Cardinals as 6.5-point favorites. Green Bay ended up winning the game outright.
Cooper Rush and Mike White also spit in the face of public perception during Week 8. The Cowboys opened as 2.5-point favorites against the Vikings, but the Vikings became 4.5-point favorites once it was announced that Rush would start in place of Dak Prescott. Dallas won the game outright. In his first career NFL start, Mike White, a journeyman fifth-round pick out of Western Kentucky, led the Jets to an outright victory over the Cincinnati Bengals as an 11.5-point underdog.
What does it mean?
I think there are a few lessons that could be taken from these results.
First and foremost, I think we need to understand the fact that while this is all important and major information, it's already accounted for in the betting line. Your handicap needs to be much deeper if you want to be successful.
For example, if you bet Kansas City on Sunday for the simple reason that Aaron Rodgers was out, that's an awful handicap. Oddsmakers adjusted the line 8.5 points for that news. Your handicap needs to be something like "despite the odds being adjusted 8.5 points, I think Rodgers is worth 10 points for the Packers." Bet numbers, not teams, players or narratives.
There's also value in fading the noise. Odell Beckham Jr. was a big story this past week, but if you put any weight into the story when handicapping the game, you did it wrong. Beckham Jr. has been a non-factor in this Browns offense over the past two years and there's also strong data that suggests that Baker Mayfield is a much better quarterback without him on the field.
We also need to realize that a backup quarterback isn't a death knell. Backup quarterbacks are expected to be able to step in for a game and do enough. Teams rally around their backups usually and play with a bit more juice. Backup quarterbacks become exposed when they're expected to play multiple games. That's why players like Case Keenum and Colt McCoy are fine for one-week substitutions. If you're going to ask them for much more than that, it could become an issue. Look at Taylor Heinicke.