Rodgers regaining bettors' trust

November 2, 2021 06:47 PM

When the objective was to resist overreactions, almost everyone still overreacted to how poorly Aaron Rodgers and the Packers performed in Week 1. I make every effort to avoid falling into the knee-jerk reaction trap, but I was guilty of it too. 

It was ugly. Rodgers threw two interceptions and appeared uninterested as the Packers took a 38-3 beating from the Saints. It was Sept. 12, and it seems like so long ago.

Seven consecutive wins later, with the schedule turning to Week 9 and the regular season’s midpoint approaching, it’s time to ask: Is Green Bay the top team in the NFL?

“That’s a good question because it could be three or four teams, and there’s no clear-cut favorite at this point,” Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay said. “The NFC is pretty loaded on its side with the Rams, Packers and Bucs. When ranking the top teams in the league, you have to put the Bills in the mix. If I had to pick one at this point, I would probably pick the Packers.”

BetMGM lists the Bills as 5-1 favorites on the Super Bowl futures board, followed by the Buccaneers (+ 600), Rams (+ 650), Packers (+ 800), Cardinals (10-1) and Cowboys (10-1). The Bills are + 450 favorites at the Westgate, where the Buccaneers (+ 600), Rams (+ 600), Packers (8-1) and Cowboys (10-1) round out the top five.

While Super Bowls odds are influenced by a sportsbook’s liability on specific teams, a handicapper’s power ratings reflect only the numerical strength of each team. VSiN analyst Scott Kellen, who specializes in NFL handicapping, ranks his top five in this order: Rams, Packers, Bills, Buccaneers and Cowboys.

“The Rams’ defense is average, but the offense makes up for that and then some,” Kellen said after the Rams boosted their defense Monday by trading with Denver for pass-rushing force Von Miller.

Green Bay made its boldest statement Thursday, when Rodgers was forced to work with a skeleton crew of wide receivers yet still led the Packers to a 24-21 win at Arizona. The Cardinals closed as 6.5-point favorites in their first loss of the season.

The Packers opened as underdogs again this week. Green Bay was getting 2.5 to 3 points Sunday at Kansas City, but that was before Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, who had lost two of their last three going into Monday night, stumbled to an unimpressive 20-17 victory over the Giants. The line appears to be moving in the direction of Chiefs -1.

“You can’t count out Aaron Rodgers or give him too many points,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director.

Still, Rodgers and the Packers were widely dismissed as title contenders after their Week 1 debacle. Rodgers’ desire to be traded, diva attitude and flirtation with retirement in the offseason contributed to the perception that Green Bay was falling apart. The Super Bowl is the goal, but Rodgers already has restored his MVP reputation and regained the trust of bettors.

“I thought the Packers might have some locker-room issues and turn on Rodgers a little bit, but I have to give them credit,” Kornegay said. “I like teams that can run the ball, and the Packers are doing that.”

Rodgers has totaled 17 touchdown passes with one interception during the seven-game winning streak. Rodgers is a finesse player, but his running backs are physically punishing. Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon combined for 137 rushing yards against the Cardinals.

A week ago, Arizona and Cincinnati were among the hottest teams and stories in the league. The Cardinals’ setback meant a big win for bookmakers, but nothing in Week 8 compared with the money the books scooped up Sunday after the Jets’ 34-31 victory over the Bengals, who closed as 11.5-point favorites at BetMGM. Cincinnati’s loss knocked out 41 percent of the contestants in the Circa Survivor contest.

“That was one of the biggest wins for the house all season,” Magliulo said.

The Browns, Buccaneers, Chargers and Vikings also went down as significant favorites. Minnesota was laying 4.5 points in its 20-16 loss to the Cowboys, who improved to 7-0 against the spread. Cooper Rush, filling in for injured star Dak Prescott, passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning 5-yard pass to Amari Cooper with 51 seconds left.

As clumsy as he has been with game-management decisions, it’s crazy to see the Cowboys’ Mike McCarthy listed as the 6-1 favorite on the Coach of the Year odds board at DraftKings. I would take the Rams’ Sean McVay at 9-1 or the Bills’ Sean McDermott at 11-1. The Packers fired McCarthy in December 2018, a move that thrilled Rodgers.

Rush, signed by Dallas as an undrafted free agent in 2017, did not quite top the performance turned in by Mike White, however. With rookie starter Zach Wilson sidelined, White stepped in and went 37-for-45 for 405 yards and three touchdowns in the Jets’ stunning upset. It’s interesting that White was a fifth-round pick by the Cowboys in 2018.

When big dogs win, it’s usually good news for bookmakers.

“It was our best Sunday of the year,” Kornegay said. “We finally got a major upset. The Jets’ upset was huge and by far our best game of the day.”

The Titans have won four in a row — and were underdogs in the last three of those games against the Bills, Chiefs and Colts — to claim the AFC’s best record at 6-2. Tennessee is not a Super Bowl threat without league rushing leader Derrick Henry, who needed surgery on his right foot Tuesday and might not return this season.

The NFL can be a weird, upside-down world. On a Sunday when White and Rush emerged as Cinderella stories, Trevor Siemian came off the bench in relief of injured Jameis Winston and led New Orleans to a 36-27 victory over Tampa Bay. Tom Brady threw two interceptions, the last one returned for a touchdown to clinch it for the Saints with 1:24 to go.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve counted Brady out and got stung for it,” Kornegay said. “The Bucs will be there in the end. Obviously, we have a long way to go.”


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