Colts make late run in chaotic NFL

December 21, 2021 06:13 PM
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In the NFL’s upside-down world, it’s seldom 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 again in the midst of chaos, with COVID-19 issues forcing a rearranging of the schedule while playoff contenders rise and fall on a weekly basis. 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 near. 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.”

On a pivotal Saturday night in Indianapolis, Taylor rushed for 170 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown with two minutes remaining to put away the Patriots 27-17 and end their seven-game winning streak. As impressive as the Colts were, it’s important for bettors to harness the enthusiasm.

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 still a serious threat, and Indianapolis is surging. It would be surprising if the AFC’s Super Bowl representative is not one of those three teams.

A week ago, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers were riding high in the NFC and had regained Super Bowl favorite status. And then came Sunday, when 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 point spread turned into a roller-coaster ride.

The Browns, 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. At kickoff Monday, Las Vegas was the 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.”

The books survived the result, a 16-14 victory for the Raiders, without taking big losses. COVID concerns also caused two games scheduled for Sunday — Seahawks-Rams and Washington-Eagles — to be moved to Tuesday. NFL games are challenging enough to book and handicap in normal times, and the degree of difficulty is raised when numerous key players are surprisingly sidelined for health reasons.

“I did not like our position (on the Raiders-Browns game) because we were so open for a middle it’s ridiculous,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “It turned out not to be bad. I’ve never seen this much (line) movement in NFL games this late in the season. We’ve learned to roll with it.”

It’s risky business on both sides of the window, but the 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 doubleheader is on the schedule, with the Browns facing a quick turnaround as 8-point underdogs at Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers, who was unvaccinated yet somehow 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, and their brief run as the league’s hottest team is a distant memory.

During a strange season, it almost makes sense that Taylor, who has 1,518 rushing yards, went from an afterthought in September and to an MVP candidate. On the BetMGM odds board, Brady and Rodgers are co-MVP favorites at + 150, followed by Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (11-1) and Taylor (12-1). Most books have made Rodgers the new favorite. Taylor needs a strong finish to steal the award.

“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 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, and those odds are now 10-1. In other words, the best time to bet Indianapolis on the futures board has passed.

“The Colts are a dangerous team,” Magliulo said. “It would not be surprising if Indy gets more betting attention in the game at Arizona.”

It’s not always a good thing to be popular, of course. A Christmas bet on the Colts almost looks too easy, so approach with caution. The Chiefs, nearly written off in October, are the new Super Bowl favorites (+ 475), for what it’s worth.

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