Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

08 Oct 2006

Super Spreads

The Colts were 18.5 point favorites against the spread on Sunday against the Titans. They were supposed to blow out their division rival, but they barely escaped with a 14-13 win.

That 18.5 point number was the largest spread posted for an NFL game in four years. Most casual bettors steer clear of spreads that wide in the NFL. Other gamblers will only take the dog in lopsided games, and anyone who bet the Titans last week was counting his money in the third quarter.

But the favorite isn't a bad play in a wide-margin game, especially when that favorite has a horseshoe-style helmet. Here are all the games that had wider than 14.5-point spreads in the last four years and their ATS results. You can guess why the 14.5 number was chosen: if you lay two touchdowns without even getting a push, you're really banking on a blowout:

Eagles 19.5 over Texans 2002: Eagles 35, Texans 17: Loss

Chiefs 14.5 over Lions 2003 Chiefs 45, Lions 17: Win

Broncos 15 over Ravens 2005: Broncos 12, Ravens 10: Loss

Colts 17.5 over Texans 2005: Colts 31, Texans 17: Loss

Colts 15.5 over Niners 2005: Colts 28, Niners 3: Win

Colts 14.5 over Texans 2005: Colts 38, Texans 20: Win

Colts 15.5 over Titans 2005: Colts 35, Titans 3: Win

Jaguars 16 over Niners 2005 Jags 10, Niners 9:Loss

Seahawks 16 over Niners 2005: Seahawks 41, Niners 3: Win

Colts 18.5 over Titans 2006: Colts 14, Titans 13: Loss

Notice that most of the lopsided spreads occurred in 2005, and all but one involved either the Colts as favorites or the Niners as dogs. Last season, the gap between the best and the worst teams in the NFL became so huge that we had to adjust our opponent-adjustment formulas at Football Outsiders. It looks like Vegas had to make some changes too: two-touchdown spreads went from being a once-a-year phenomenon to a regular part of life in San Francisco and Indianapolis.

The Colts are now 3-2 in the past two seasons when laying 14.5 or more points. As usual, Vegas has made the Colts – and big-time favorites in general – almost a 50-50 play, so don't automatically grab the points when the Colts face the Texans or Titans again. Of course, both of those games will be on the road, and after this week's narrow escape at home the Colts may not inspire such wacky spreads.

Oh, and that guy who made up the drinking game forgot that you have to take two shots every time the words "Snowball" or "Santa Claus" are uttered.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 08 Oct 2006