LAS VEGAS — In the NFL’s upside-down world, it’s not always a positive thing to be a popular team with the betting public. The law of this season is what goes up must come down. Next up: Jonathan Taylor and the Colts.
The league is in the midst of chaos, with COVID issues forcing a rearranging of the schedule while playoff contenders rise and fall on a weekly basis, and any sense of clarity is only a mirage. But everyone will attempt to handicap the chaos anyway.
What’s most important is getting hot at the right time, when the postseason is in the near future. The time could be now for the Colts, who just cooled off the AFC’s hottest team and feature the league’s leading rusher.
“The irony of a passing league is you still have to be able to run the football,” Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director and veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker Vinny Magliulo said. “Jonathan Taylor is just fantastic. He’s the best running back in the game. The Colts have demonstrated they can run the ball and play decent defense.”
Taylor rushed for 170 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining Saturday to put away the Patriots 27-17 and end their seven-game winning streak.
The hottest team in the league is now the Chiefs, who have won seven in a row after entering November with a 3-4 record. Kansas City is in position to seize the AFC’s No. 1 seed. New England is not to be forgotten, and Indianapolis is surging.
A week ago, the Buccaneers were riding high in the NFC and had regained Super Bowl favorite status. And then came Sunday, when Tom Brady fired blanks and Tampa Bay, an 11-point home favorite, was stunned in a 9-0 loss to the Saints.
“Was it a normal Sunday? No,” Magliulo said.
Week 15 turned wild before it even started. The scheduled Saturday doubleheader was cut in half when the Raiders-Browns game was postponed to Monday because of a COVID controversy in Cleveland.
The Browns, seemingly down to their third-string quarterback, moved from 6.5-point favorites to 4-point underdogs before the postponement. When the line was reposted, Cleveland was a 3-point favorite. It’s a rare situation that can create mass confusion at sportsbooks.
At the South Point, where Magliulo is an oddsmaker, a game must be played on its original date or all wagers are refunded. At the Westgate SuperBook, however, all bets are action if a game is played within eight days of when it was scheduled.
“The most important thing is to pay attention to the house rules where your bet is made,” Magliulo said. “There are no universal house rules. People are starting to realize how this works and becoming more educated and informed about sports betting. It’s not as confusing as you might think.”
COVID concerns also caused two games scheduled for Sunday — Seahawks-Rams and Washington-Eagles — to be moved to 7 p.m. Tuesday. NFL games are challenging enough to handicap in normal times and the degree of difficulty is raised when numerous key players are surprisingly sidelined for health reasons.
Still, the opening lines for Week 16 are on the board. COVID is not going away and neither is the NFL, which is forging ahead with business in unusual times.
A Christmas Day doubleheader is on the schedule, with the Browns facing a quick turnaround as 7.5-point underdogs at Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, who was unvaccinated yet dodged the league’s COVID protocols, is back in the MVP race and the Packers are the first team to clinch a division.
The Colts are 1.5-point underdogs at Arizona in Saturday’s nightcap. The Cardinals, 13-point favorites in a 30-12 loss at Detroit on Sunday, have dropped two in a row.
During a strange season, it almost makes sense that Taylor, who has 1,518 yards rushing, was an afterthought in September and might soon become a front-runner for MVP. On the BetMGM odds board, Brady is the MVP favorite at +135, followed by Rodgers (+165), Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (11/1) and Taylor (12/1).
“It’s tough to win MVP as a running back these days, especially when you have to overcome big brand names like Brady and Rodgers,” SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “If you notice how physical the Colts are, it’s not a team you want to play in the playoffs. The Colts became a popular pick a few weeks ago.”
The SuperBook, which is now doing business in New Jersey, opened Taylor’s MVP odds at 100/1 and raised the number to 1,000/1 in September. He was listed at 40/1 before running over the Patriots. On Nov. 21, BetMGM offered the Colts at 40/1 to win the AFC.
“The Colts are a dangerous team,” Magliulo said. “It would not be surprising if Indy gets more betting attention in the game at Arizona.”
Of course, it’s not always a good thing to be popular. The Chiefs, nearly written off in October, are the new Super Bowl favorites (+475), for what it’s worth.