How much is Lewis worth to the spread? 

October, 19, 2012

Hysterics is the lifeblood of sports. It fuels the happiness, sadness, euphoria and vitriol of fandom. Naturally, we're going to focus that energy on one moment, a big one that we can see. Something tangible that sparks a debate or makes our argument or gives us permission to get, well, hysterical.

For example, oh, I don't know, let's look at last night's game between the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. You might have heard that the end was a little wackadoo, in keeping with Seahawks tradition this year. The spread, for many bettors, was Niners minus-7.5 (it had moved higher as the game approached, but most wagers came in at minus-7.5 and minus-8).

With less than a minute left and his team trailing by seven, Seattle QB Russell Wilson stood in his own end zone on a fourth-and-forever and threw the ball downfield. It was caught, the receiver struggled for a first down, getting oh-so-close. It came down to a spot of the ball. But wait! There was a flag! An illegal block! By Seattle! In the end zone! A safety! Two points for the Niners! They cover, they cover, they cover! Hysterics, hysterics, hysterics, hysterics, hysterics!

And then Jim Harbaugh, who used to look happy as a player, made a decision: He wanted a measurement to see if Seattle had made the first down. If it did, he'd take the safety. If not, he wanted the ball. That would mean one snap, a kneel-down and game over instead of risking all the mayhem that would come from Seattle's free kick following the safety.

The officials measured, the receiver was short. If you were on Twitter, what you saw was hysterics, hysterics, hysterics, hysterics. Once again, Seattle had covered in an unprecedented way.

Here's the thing: That might have been the last play, the most visible play, but it wasn't the play that should have made all the Niners backers so mad. That happened earlier in the quarter, with San Francisco up 10-6 and driving. There was 7:21 remaining, and the Niners were on the Seahawks 13. It was second-and-7. At this point, the Seahawks were gassed. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter were running right through them. So naturally, the Harbaughs run a sweep to the right, with the speedy Hunter beating everyone to the edge and gaining eight yards. First down.

But wait! There's a flag! Tripping on the Niners. Ten-yard penalty. It's now second-and-17. Where were the hysterics? To me, this was the play that bettors should be lamenting. Without the trip, the odds are pretty short that San Francisco ends up slicing right through the Seahawks D and scoring a touchdown. Then they are up 11 with about five minutes to go. And we aren't having a conversation about safeties.