January 19, 2021 | 9:00am | Updated January 18, 2021 | 10:36pm
LAS VEGAS — It’s generally easy for oddsmakers to post lines on most NFL games. A quarterback injury adds a degree of difficulty. An injury to Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes, who’s among the most valuable quarterbacks in the league, has created an unusual debate.
Mahomes’ status is a mystery after he suffered a concussion Sunday, but the opening line on the Buffalo-Kansas City matchup in the AFC title game was posted anyway. The line of Chiefs -3 might have been the season’s most difficult number to make, and it’s obviously subject to change. It could change dramatically.
“You have got to get a game like that up and let people bet it,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “It is a tough number. I think Mahomes is going to play, and I think it’s going up to six. If you want to make a bet and speculate, you can lay the three knowing that will go a little higher if he does play.”
Mahomes must clear concussion protocol this week to play in Sunday’s game. The Chiefs would be a much different team without him and with veteran backup Chad Henne as the starter. What’s the drop-off from Mahomes to Henne? Let the debate begin.
Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said Buffalo will become the favorite if Mahomes is ruled out, but there is a difference of opinion among his staff of oddsmakers. The line could flip to Bills -3 or move as high as -7.
“If Mahomes is fine and fully healthy, it’s Chiefs -3.5 or 4,” Murray said. “If he’s not playing, Buffalo could be about a 7-point favorite. The betting public loves the Bills.”
The first significant wager the Westgate took Sunday night was for $20,000 on Kansas City -3.
VSiN oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said the opening line is a “conservative” number that will allow bookmakers to adjust quickly once Mahomes’ status is determined.
“That number tells you that we believe Mahomes is going to play, and you could see that number go up,” Magliulo said. “There will be Kansas City money even with Henne.”
The worth of a starting quarterback to the point spread has much to do with the quality of the backup. Magliulo is high on Henne, a veteran who made key plays in the fourth quarter of the Chiefs’ 22-17 victory over the Browns on Sunday. Kansas City is not hopeless with Henne.
Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are each worth around seven points to the spread. There are no injury issues in the NFC title game, with Rodgers and the Packers opening as 3.5-point favorites over Brady and the Buccaneers.
“Rodgers means the most to the number from a quarterback perspective,” Magliulo said. “Henne was not awful. He was pretty composed. You know he’s going to get all of the reps in practice Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Think of the backup quarterbacks with all of the remaining teams. Who’s the most capable backup? It’s Henne.”
If Mahomes misses the conference championship game, Magliulo said he does not think the Chiefs should be more than 3-point underdogs to the Bills.
“Would it be Buffalo -7? No,” Magliulo said. “So you’re saying Mahomes is worth 10 or 11 points? I disagree with that. My personal opinion is I don’t see it as a 10-point difference. There’s no way it’s that much. I think Bills -3 is still high, but that’s much more in line.”
While the AFC line could be volatile — with estimates ranging from Chiefs -6 to Bills -7 — the NFC matchup will be all about wagering volume and two-way action.
“I think the NFC championship could be the highest volume non-Super Bowl game ever,” Murray said. “It’s Brady versus Rodgers at Lambeau Field. You couldn’t ask for a bigger game. It will be a massive handle through the roof.”
Brady passed for two touchdowns and ran for one as Tampa Bay upset New Orleans 30-20 and likely ended Drew Brees’ career. The Saints committed four turnovers, with Brees throwing three interceptions.
“The Saints kind of gave that game away with turnovers,” Murray said. “I don’t see that happening at all with Rodgers.”
The Packers covered as 7-point favorites in a 32-18 victory over the Rams. Rodgers, who jumped over Mahomes late in the season to become the MVP favorite, passed for 296 yards and two touchdowns.
Brady is making his 14th trip to a conference title game, but this is his first in the NFC, and the showdown in Green Bay will be the first postseason meeting between Brady and Rodgers.
“Brady attracts money, and the Bucs continue to draw big money,” Avello said. “You put them up against the Packers, who always draw big money, and it’s going to be huge.”
Matt Youmans is senior editor of VSiN.com, The Sports Betting Network.