THE LINEAGE OF HISTORIC MISMATCHES
Spread: 27 (covered)
Steelers favored over the Buccaneers on Dec. 5, 1976
The Bucs’ minus-287 point differential remains an NFL record. Quarterback Steve Spurrier threw just seven touchdown passes—all year. Not much went right in their inaugural season. Weeks 12 and 13 were especially brutal. After getting banged up in a 49-16 loss to the Raiders (the eventual Super Bowl champs), the Bucs traveled to Three Rivers Stadium to face the defending champion Steelers.
Said Tampa Bay coach Jim McKay afterward: “We had no players, and the ones we did have wanted to stay at the hotel by the fire. I was ticked, because that’s where I wanted to stand.”
In bone-chilling 23-degree weather, Pittsburgh easily covered the spread, outgaining Tampa by 280 total yards in a 42-0 thumping.
Spread: 25 (not covered)
Patriots favored over the Eagles on Nov. 25, 2007
With Donovan McNabb injured, career backup A.J. Feeley started for the Eagles (5-5). It was supposed to be a mismatch for Tom Brady and the Patriots, who won their first 10 games by an average of 25 points. Not quite. Philly defensive coordinator Jim Johnson orchestrated an aggressive game plan, blitzing on roughly 50% of the Patriots’ passes as the Eagles sacked Brady three times. Still, the Patriots prevailed, 31-28, thanks to two second-half interceptions by Asante Samuel.
Spread: 24 (not covered)
49ers favored over the Bengals on Dec. 5, 1993
Led by quarterback Steve Young, the 49ers featured the league’s most prolific offense. They had outscored their last five opponents, 190-69. The Bengals, meanwhile, were 1-10. Quarterback David Klingler had more than twice as many interceptions (seven) as touchdowns (three). The team’s best pass rusher, first-round draft pick John Copeland, was out with a knee injury.
As you might imagine, fans at Candlestick Park weren’t exactly cheering as the 49ers ran off the field at halftime trailing, 8-7. But order was restored in the second half. The Bengals botched a fake punt early in the third quarter and Ricky Watters ran for two touchdowns en route to a 21-8 San Francisco victory.
Spread: 23 (not covered)
49ers favored over the Falcons on Oct. 11, 1987
NFL players might have been in the midst of a strike, but Joe Montana crossed the picket line, and Vegas set this line as a mismatch.
Montana and 11 strikebreaking veterans—including Dwight Clark, Roger Craig and Joe Cribbs—returned to the 49ers’ lineup in Week 4. They were heavy favorites against the replacement Falcons, who had just one regular on the roster: linebacker Tim Green.
San Francisco stormed to a 20-0 halftime lead, outgaining the Falcons 261-56. The 49ers won, 25-17.
“I think it was evident that they needed their veterans to win it,” Atlanta coach Marion Campbell told the AP after the game. “Our replacement guys, I thought, played well against theirs, and could have won it if that would have been the case.”
Spread: 23 (not covered)
Cowboys favored over the Buccaneers on Oct. 2, 1977
The Buccaneers, still winless as a franchise, scored a combined six points in their first two games. You didn’t have to be a Vegas bookmaker to know their fortunes weren’t likely to change in Week 3 at Texas Stadium against Tony Dorsett’s Cowboys (the eventual Super Bowl champs).
Dallas led 17-0 by the end of the first quarter, though Bucs’ linebacker Richard Wood made things interesting in the second when he scooped up a Dorsett fumble and ran 37 yards for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 10. But the Cowboys tacked on two short field goals and won, 23-7.
“The only thing Tampa Bay has been able to beat is the spread,” St. Petersburg Times sports editor Hubert Mizell wrote in the next day’s paper. “Gambling America must love them.”
Spread: 22.5 (not covered)
Patriots favored over the Dolphins on Dec. 23, 2007
New England entered the game 14-0; Miami was 1-13. Not only did Bill Belichick’s squad score at will (averaging 37.4 points per game), it also ruthlessly tacked on points in the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents 137-72 over the final 15 minutes. That stat certainly contributed to the line.
Tom Brady threw three first-half touchdowns—two to Randy Moss—and New England was up 28-0 at the break. But the Patriots cooled off in the second half. Brady threw two picks in the third quarter and was sacked twice in the fourth. Although the Patriots won, 28-7, they didn’t cover the spread. (New England went on to be double-digit favorites in its regular season finale and throughout the playoffs, including their Super Bowl loss to the Giants.)
Spread: 21 (not covered)
Patriots favored over the Buccaneers on Dec. 12, 1976
The Bucs scored first and even took a 14-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. But the game panned out just like Tampa’s season—with great disappointment. The Patriots scored 24 unanswered points, including Sam Hunt’s 68-yard interception return, in their 31-14 victory. The Bucs finished the season 0-14, losing by an average of 20 points. “You almost come to a Buddhist detachment from the outcome,” defensive end Pat Toomay told the New York Times in 2007. “It was a nightmare of the highest order.”
Spread: 20.5 (not covered)
Patriots favored over the Colts on Dec. 4, 2011
With three touchdowns, tight end Rob Gronkowski nearly covered the spread himself. The Patriots led 31-3 after the third quarter. But the winless Colts fought back. They scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter—two on passes from Dan Orlovsky to Pierre Garcon—and New England needed Deion Branch to recover an onside kick in the final minute to seal a 31-24 win.
“People can say what they want to say about not playing hard,” Colts tight end Jacob Tamme told the Associated Press afterward. “But I think that (comeback) pretty much shut that up right there.”
The Colts were 16.5-point underdogs against the Ravens the following week (Baltimore didn’t cover the spread but won, 24-10).
Spread: 20.5 (not covered)
Patriots favored over the Jets on Dec. 16, 2007
The undefeated Patriots had plenty to play for. It was the Spygate rematch and New England could lock up home field advantage through the playoffs. The Jets were 3-10, and just 1-5 on the road.
On a cold, slushy day with wind gusts exceeding 20 mph, Tom Brady had his worst game of the season (14-for-27, 0 TD, 1 INT and a 51.5 rating). So New England relied on its running game, specifically Laurence Maroney, who rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots did not cover the spread, but won, 20-10.
Spread: 19.5 (covered)
Rams favored over the Panthers on Nov. 11, 2001
Kurt Warner didn’t have his best day. He threw for only 144 yards and had three interceptions. Didn’t matter. The Rams easily beat the spread against the hapless Panthers in Week 9. (Carolina hadn’t won since opening day, and wouldn’t again for the rest of the season).
St. Louis finished with 337 rushing yards, the third highest total in franchise history, averaging 8.2 per carry. Marshall Faulk had 183 of them, and two touchdowns. The Rams stormed to a 31-0 lead in the second quarter, and won 48-14. The Panthers were underdogs in all but one of their remaining games—they were favored against the 6-8 Cardinals and won, 30-7—but covered the spread just once.
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