It appeared as if the Jets’ game at Kansas City on Sunday might be one for the record books in terms of point spreads when the Chiefs opened as a 21.5-point favorite, per covers.com. That spread ranked among the ten highest in NFL history since 1976, excluding games during the 1987 players’ strike pitting teams of replacement players against teams whose veterans had crossed the picket line. But somehow, by Tuesday afternoon, the line had dropped to 19.5 and 19 at most offshore and online sportsbooks.
Which raises the question: Why? The Jets are off to their worst start in nearly a quarter-century and are on a collision course with the No. 1 overall pick in next spring’s NFL Draft.
The Jets (0-7), who started 0-8 in 1996, had not covered a spread this season until losing 18-10 to Buffalo on Sunday, taking 10 points. Of course, if the Bills had made one more field goal, or had converted one of their red-zone opportunities into a touchdown, they would’ve covered.
Still, the massive spread favoring Kansas City dropped quickly, and one major factor was what happened at the Westgate SuperBook in Las Vegas, noted Chris Altruda, sports betting analyst for PennBets.com. Altruda, referring to a story in the New York Post, said, “someone put a max bet on the Jets, which instantly moved the line to 21 points. At that point, the book operator said the line moved another half-point in New York’s favor in terms of general betting.
“The track record of favorites failing to cover huge spreads,” Altruda added, “which has been getting plenty of publicity since the look-ahead line moved, is a factor in the movement.”
Scott Cooley, odds consultant for SportsBetting.com, where the line has settled at 19, had the same reaction.
“It’s pretty common to see a massive NFL spread like this take a nose dive in the first few days on the board,” Cooley said. “It’s all sharp money moving the number as the pro bettors see value with a three-score underdog, and rightfully so as most of these big favorites fail to cover the spread.”
Of the seven highest non-strike favorites since 1976, only one, Pittsburgh over expansion Tampa Bay in 1976, has covered. Interestingly, Denver was minus-28 in 2013 and beat Jacksonville, 35-19. The offensive coordinator for that Broncos team? Current New York head coach Adam Gase.
Altruda said, “My other hunch is after that second half-point move, there may have been ‘panic buying’ on the Jets to get as many points as possible. That means the line keeps moving in New York’s favor until taking the Chiefs and laying the points becomes attractive to bettors.”
Gase indicated Monday he wouldn’t use the Jets’ status as a huge underdog as a motivating factor when speaking to his players.
“It’s a fine line,” he said on a conference call. “When you get into these games, you’re learning these opponents. You’re not paying attention to that. You’re trying to focus solely on what’s our game plan, how are we defending, how are we going to attack this team. Talking about, ‘hey, we’re underdogs,’ I haven’t really seen guys respond to things like that.”
When asked about people giving the winless Jets very little chance of winning, right guard Greg Van Roten said, “I don’t know about extra motivation. It’s definitely motivating in and of itself. … I’m not a big believer in, ‘There’s no chance you guys win this game,’ because every time you line up to play, you have a chance to win.
“It doesn’t matter what your record is or who you’re playing against,” he added, “you’ve still got to play the game and make the plays and do your best. I don’t think anyone is going to shy away from this opportunity.”
Cooley said, “Even as bad as the Jets are, being one of the lowest power-rated teams in recent memory, this is still a professional football team that is going to come out and compete. We saw the defense do that last week against Buffalo, and they covered.”
Before game day, the question becomes where will this line go? Both analysts can envision Kansas City money coming in later in the week to drive the number back up, although likely not as high as where it opened.
“(Covering) anything more than three touchdowns is a tall order, regardless of talent discrepancy,” Altruda said, “even with the chasm between these two offenses. More than three scores is challenging, yet realistic. The line could move as low as 18.5 points and perhaps test 18 in a few places given that could emerge as a popular potential margin, before there is some snap-back buying on the Chiefs.
He added, “The pass-throughs at 20 and 21 points—and potentially 18—make the betting line intriguing to watch throughout the week. In the highly unlikely event it would dip to 17.5 points, there would almost certainly be a run on the Chiefs that would drive the line higher.”
Cooley said, “As we get closer to the weekend, we’ll see a lot of public money come in on the Chiefs. So even though the smart money is on the dog, we’ll likely need the Jets to keep it competitive because there will be so many teasers and parlays tied into this game. However, even with the expected public action, I don’t expect the line to get back anywhere close to the opener.”
Altruda also noted that some bettors who played the Jets heavily early might look for “arbitrage opportunities” later in the week or on Sunday. Or, to use the lingo of the old-time bettors, trying to “middle” the game and win both sides of the bet.
“It seems unlikely the line will get back to 21,” Altruda said, “but depending on the sharp plays, there could be bettors who create arbitrage opportunities by playing both teams at either ends of the spectrum with a minimum of two points between either play. So if there was a person who jumped on the Jets taking 21.5 points, it makes sense for that person to also make a play on the Chiefs laying 19.5 points—that way a 20-point margin winds up providing a victory on both sides.”
Unless the Jets can shock everyone, the action at the sportsbooks for this game could prove to be more interesting than the action on the field.