Oddsmakers had been contemplating what the line would be on an AFC Championship Game between the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs for days. Yet, on Sunday afternoon, after the matchup was set, the opening line ranged wildly, from Chiefs -4 to Bills -2.5, at sportsbooks around the globe.
That's what the injury to Patrick Mahomes did to the betting market, and it's only the beginning.
By late Sunday night, the line had settled with the Chiefs as 2.5-point favorites, with some books at -3. It's unlikely to remain there.
Mahomes left the Chiefs' 22-17 playoff win over the Cleveland Browns in the second half with a concussion. His status for the AFC Championship Game was up in the air heading into Monday. If he plays, the line will almost certainly grow. If he's out, Buffalo could end up favored, and the Green Bay Packers could become the Super Bowl favorites.
"If Mahomes were ruled out, the Bills would be a decent favorite," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said Sunday night, noting that some of his oddsmakers projected a line as high as Buffalo -7 if backup Chad Henne starts for the Chiefs in place of Mahomes. "That sounds a little extreme to me, but it gives you an idea just how much drop-off it is from Mahomes to Henne, in terms of the point spread."
Johnny Avello, sportsbook director for DraftKings, expected the Chiefs to remain the favorites to win the Super Bowl, but he knows the gap has narrowed significantly with Mahomes' injury.
"They'll still be the favorites, but it will be tightened up a little bit," Avello said.
On Sunday night, William Hill U.S. sportsbooks had the Chiefs at +200 to win the Super Bowl, followed the Packers at +225, Bills +300 and Buccaneers +400. But a lot could change this week.
In the meantime, here are the notable bets.
• On Sunday night, the Packers were consensus 4-point favorites over the Buccaneers in the NFC Championship Game. The SuperBook opened Green Bay at -4.5 and quickly took money on the underdog Buccaneers, driving the number to -4.
• In the AFC Championship Game, most of the early bets were on the Bills at the SuperBook. "Although the biggest bet yet was one for $20,000 on Chiefs -3 (even)," Murray said. "The public likes both of these teams, even though the Chiefs continue to let the bettors down. They failed to cover yet again today."
• The Chiefs have failed to cover the spread in eight of their past nine games.
• Late money showed up on the Browns leading up to kickoff Sunday. The line, which had flittered between Kansas City -10 and -9.5 all week, plummeted all the way to -7.5 before kickoff. The SuperBook reported taking late sharp money on Cleveland, as the entire market moved toward the underdog Browns.
"The difference between 7.5 and 9.5 is not that big," DrafKings' Avello said. "I don't know why that thing dropped. I can't explain why they were taking nine, eight and a half and eight."
At Circa Sports, a Las Vegas sportsbook known to cater to professional bettors, there were more bets on Kansas City, but more money was wagered on Cleveland.
"All the large bets we keep taking are on the Browns," Matt Metcalf, sportsbook director for Circa Sports in Las Vegas, told ESPN in a text message before Sunday's game began. "Someone just took [Cleveland plus] 8 for a lot a minute ago."
• The Chiefs were leading 22-10 with just over 11 minutes left when Mahomes was officially ruled out for the rest of the game. Kansas City was a massive favorite at that point, -900 to win the game outright. After a Browns' touchdown cut the lead to 22-17 and Mahomes was ruled out, the live odds shifted to Chiefs -500.
• The most popular player proposition bet on the Browns-Chiefs game at New Jersey sportsbook Tipico was the under 260.5 on Baker Mayfield passing yards, which accounted for 50% of the book's action on player props.
• The Buccaneers-Saints game Sunday was the most heavily bet game of the weekend for multiple sportsbooks.
• A bettor with sportsbook PointsBet placed a $5,400-per-point bet on the Bills -3.5 against the Ravens. In this example, the per-point bet, commonly known as pointsbetting, was based on the number of points by which the Bills covered the spread. They covered the spread by 11.5 points, and the bettor won a net $56,700.
• The Rams-Packers game on Saturday was billed as a "Pros vs. Joes" game by some. The underdog Rams attracted early betting interest from professional bettors at +7. The line dipped to Green Bay -6.5 and stayed there for most of the week, despite lopsided betting action on the favored Packers. At kickoff at PointsBet, 82% of the bets and 89% of the money wagered was on Green Bay. The Packers won and covered the spread 32-18.
Nets favorites in Eastern Conference after Harden trade
After the acquisition of James Harden, the Brooklyn Nets moved in front of the Milwaukee Bucks and are now the favorites in the Eastern Conference. But some oddsmakers still aren't sold on the NBA's newest superteam.
The Nets' title odds improved from 12-1 to 7-2 last week at the SuperBook. Jeff Sherman, who oversees the SuperBook's NBA odds, began shortening Brooklyn's title odds last Tuesday after Harden told reporters that he didn't think the situation in Houston was fixable. Sherman first trimmed the Nets' odds to 8-1, then to 6-1 before going to 7-2 after the trade.
Only the Los Angeles Lakers have better title odds than the Nets, who attracted big bets at the SuperBook in the preseason and more recently, including a $10,000 wager in December. The Bucks have the second-best odds in the Eastern Conference at 8-1, followed by the Boston Celtics, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers at 20-1.
"I don't have as much separation between them and some of the other teams in the East, as the title odds indicate," Sherman said. "When you see 7-2 on the Nets and 8-1 on the Bucks, and the Heat, Celtics and Sixers at 20-1, I don't think on a per-game basis it's that much of a difference than what it looks to be based on the title odds."
"They can talk a good game all they want, but we don't know how the chemistry is going to come out of this," Sherman said. "There's already been these rumors about Irving not being happy with the Nets behind the scenes. Is this going to make him more unhappy?"
... with Scott Butera, co-CEO of sportsbook platform Vigtory, which last week announced intentions to be acquired by live TV streaming platform fuboTV. The acquisition deal is in the final stages, and when completed, fuboTV expects to launch a sportsbook before the end of the year.
Q: What is your vision of the product that will come out of the fuboTV-Vigtory deal?
A: I think being able to watch sports live and transact on and bet on sports is very powerful. I also think it gives us tremendous reach in terms of customer reach, customer acquisition. The product, we'll announce at the right time, but the whole idea is that you'll have sort of a simultaneous experience between consuming sports, watching sports and being able to bet on sports and transact on sports. It could be betting, it could be merchandise, getting tickets. I think the whole idea is to create these global entertainment experiences that are multifaceted. We find that there's a lot of synergy between the two.
Q: What hurdles remain to launch such a service?
A: In terms of hurdles, clearly, like any other operator, we'll have a state rollout plan. We're knee-deep in that. Getting the correct legislation passed in jurisdictions that it has not yet passed. I think those things will evolve over time. I think this combination [with fuboTV] helps us get a lot in getting over those, and I think there are a lot of different ways that we can get into markets now that are beyond just traditional ways that a sportsbook would, either through streaming services or other products that we may introduce that don't necessarily have the same regulatory challenges that sports betting does at the moment. It helps us clear a lot of those, actually.
Q: Vigtory's announced approach to sports betting was to offer a low-vig sports betting option. Is that still the plan?
A: Our plan was always to have a really great product and great value. We want to have outstanding technology, outstanding experiences, and we want to have good value. And value is not necessarily defined by price; it's defined by what you get for what you paid for, and that's always been our goal.