Spreading the Wealth

Denver is an unprecedented 28-point favorite against Jacksonville, but smart money—and NFL gambling history—is on the underdog Jaguars. No, really

Emily Kaplan
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This Sunday’s game in Denver between the 0-5 Jaguars and the 5-0 Broncos is anticipated to be a mismatch of historic proportions. This week The MMQB is exploring what it’s like for the Jaguars to be the NFL’s biggest underdog ever, whether there’s hope for the season—and the future—in Jacksonville, and how the Jags and the league’s other winless teams might turn things around. Read the entire series, and check back each day this week for more.

In Week 4, the Eagles faced the Broncos at Mile High Stadium. Philadelphia had nine days rest. The Broncos were coming off a Monday night game.

The spread: Broncos, an 11.5-point favorite.

“And we couldn’t find anyone—anyone—to bet on the Eagles,” says Jimmy Vaccaro, a Las Vegas bookmaker since 1975 who is currently the vice president of sports marketing at the South Point Hotel and Casino. “The general public picked up on Denver before we did.”

By now it’s no secret: Peyton Manning’s undefeated Broncos are Super Bowl favorites.

(Robert Beck/SI)
How big is the spread, Wes Welker? (Robert Beck/SI)

So what happens this Sunday, when they face the 0-5 Jaguars?

“It’s the perfect collision,” Vaccaro says. “You’re going to see the highest point spread in NFL history.”

The Broncos opened the week as a four-touchdown favorite against the lowly Jaguars. After all, Manning & Co. scored more points last Sunday (51) than the Jaguars have all season.

Which leads to an interesting trend in Vegas. The Broncos covered the spread in four of their first five games, and likely would have done so against the Cowboys last Sunday had they played for a touchdown instead of milking the clock and kicking a game-winning field goal as time expired. “The more Denver continues to win, the more a liability they become to books in town,” says Jay Rood, the MGM Resorts Sports Director.

It’s reminiscent of another undefeated team: The 2007 Patriots.

New England began that season 9-1 against the spread. So Vegas upped the ante. In Week 11, the Pats were 25-point favorites against the Eagles—the NFL’s biggest spread since 1976, and the second largest of alltime.

Of course, there were other factors at play: With Donovan McNabb injured, A.J. Feeley was scheduled to start at quarterback for the first time all season; the game was in Foxborough; and the Eagles were a middling 5-5. The Pats were averaging 41 points a game; only one opponent had come within 16 points.

“I was going to go down swinging,” Feely says. “I knew that was the only way we were going to beat those guys.”

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson dialed up an aggressive game plan, Philadelphia went for it on fourth down in the first quarter and even attempted an onside kick in the second. Feeley, who threw for 345 yards and finished with three touchdowns and three interceptions, admitted he threw some riskier passes than he might have in a normal game.

Of the 10 largest point spreads in NFL history, the favorites covered just twice.

Did the Patriots cover? Not even close. They won, 31-28, largely because of two second-half interceptions by Asante Samuel.

Here’s the thing about heavy favorites: they rarely prevail in a blowout. Of the 10 largest point spreads in NFL history, the favorites covered just twice.

“No matter how bad the Jaguars are this season, they’re still an NFL team,” Vaccaro says. “You’ve got guys playing for their contract. Plus, once the team gets a big lead, maybe they back off a little bit. You take Manning out of the game.”

In other words, banking on a rout is far from a sure thing.

Experienced bettors will take the underdog, Rood says, “Historically that’s been the case.”

On Page 2: The biggest point spreads in NFL history, and whether they were covered