Bill Ordine for Bookies.com

By Bill Ordine | | 7 mins

On The Money | NFL Week 1 Betting Recap: Public Holds Its Own

On The Money | NFL Week 1 Betting Recap: Public Holds Its Own

Heading into Sunday’s games to start a pandemic-era NFL season, money rolled in heavy on a handful of favorites which, under the strange circumstances of 2020, was to be expected.

With COVID-19 concerns curtailing training camps, no preseason games to gauge and few roster shifts with tremendous impact — the most notable being future Hall of Fame QB Tom Brady to Tampa Bay — it’s not surprising the public was looking to last year in order to handicap Sunday’s games.

Two of the most strongly favored public teams in NFL betting were Baltimore (-7 to -7.5 against Cleveland), and Buffalo (-6.5 against the New York Jets).


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The public was right in a breeze in both games. Baltimore cruised, 38-6, and Buffalo was in control the entire way to cover, 27-17.

“The day started with favorites winning — the Patriots covered, the Ravens covered, the Bills covered, the Raiders covered and Seattle covered,” said DraftKings director of sportsbook operations Johnny Avello. “So those were all games that went against us but then we had a couple of games that went our way, that would be Eagles-Washington and the Colts-Jaguars. (The public) also bet the Packers (where the Packers were underdogs against Minnesota) so that was another good game for the players.

“So, we were kind of struck early and then a couple of games went well for us — the 49ers losing to the Cardinals and the Bucs took a lot action against the Saints. So, we turned it around in the afternoon.”

Bettors enjoying a decent day was also true at BetMGM.

“We saw record NFL betting activity this weekend with BetMGM having a record day on the books. That said, big punters chose wisely on Sunday’s games and the book ran second,” said Jason Scott, vice president of trading at BetMGM.

Absent good recent information about the state of NFL teams, the public believed what it saw last season.

Playing Favorites

On The Money | NFL Week 1 Betting Recap: Public Holds Its Own 1

A year ago, the Ravens rampaged through the NFL, going 14-2 before a deflating Divisional Round playoff loss to Tennessee. Meanwhile, Week 1 opponent Cleveland struggled to the finish line last year losing three in a row both outright and against the spread — and the Browns continued on that trajectory.

Relying on last year’s performances, the public piled its money on Baltimore. At PointsBet with the Ravens at -7, moneyline tickets were 93% on Baltimore (94% of the total moneyline cash). At William Hill, the public enthusiasm for the Ravens (at -7.5) was slightly more tempered with 70% of the points spread tickets written on Baltimore (66% of the spread money).

On the flip side of that game, the Sharps (professional bettors) were leaning toward Cleveland all week trimming the opening line from 9/8.5 to the 7.5/7-point range.

The Bills, a playoff team in 2019, did make a personnel move perceived to move the offensive needle in acquiring former Vikings WR Stefon Diggs to help QB Josh Allen’s deep game. Diggs caught eight balls for 86 yards against the Jets. But even more to the point, bettors were looking at the New York Jets offense — or lack thereof. Against Buffalo, New York held the ball less than 19 minutes, gained just 254 yards and committed two turnovers.

PointsBet pre-game betting indicated the strong Bills public lean with 88% of moneyline tickets on Buffalo and 84% of the total moneyline cash also that way. It was just as heavy with the spread (81%, tickets; 86%, money). It was the same story at William Hill with 85% of the total points-spread dollars on Buffalo.

‘Dogs Have Their Day, Too

Bettors did get jolted when underdog Jacksonville (+7.5) surprised visiting Indianapolis and new Colts QB Philip Rivers, 27-20. The public put 86% of the point-spread money on the Colts at William Hill. The Colts’ loss tore up a lot of parlay tickets, and it disappointed moneyline players at PointsBet who favored Indy with 95% on both the tickets and the cash.

The Indianapolis loss, along with favored Philadelphia’s 27-17 swoon in Washington, also proved fatal to a raft of Survivor contest entries.

“The Colts were one of the biggest plays I’d say in Survivor contests in Week 1,” Avello said. “You could almost chalk up the Colts game to the Philip Rivers syndrome. Philip Rivers just doesn’t get the job done. He didn’t get it done in San Diego and he didn’t get it done today. He’s a tough one to bet on. He’ll burn you more than he’ll make you money.”

While the public frequently sides with favorites, the Arizona Cardinals were a popular underdog at some books. As a 7-point ‘dog to San Francisco in a no-attendance road game, the Cardinals drew 80% of the total money on spread bets at William Hill and rewarded their believers with a 24-20 outright win.


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By the Numbers

  • Looking at big wagers, PointsBet reported pre-game that one Eagles backer had $25,000 on the Birds (-5.5 at Washington) to collect $48.5K. That wager looked like a winner when Philadelphia built an early 17-point lead but an injury-riddled Eagles offensive line contributed to eight sacks on QB Carson Wentz and Washington won outright by 10 points. Meanwhile, William Hill had a Nevada bettor hit for $250,000 on a $275,000 wager backing New England (-7) over Miami; the Patriots won 21-11.
  • The Sharps caught a couple of games with lines that tilted toward road ‘dogs early in the week who were eventual outright winners, Avello said. Some pro bettors grabbed Arizona when the Cardinals were getting 8 points (later cut to 7) and also bet the Packers when they were getting 3 points (later trimmed to 1.5 at some sportsbooks).
  • In the Hall of Fame quarterback matchup between the Bucs’ Brady and New Orleans’ Drew Brees in an eerily empty Superdome, the betting was extremely even at William Hill’s sportsbooks across the U.S., with the Saints a 3.5-point favorite. On the points-spread tickets, bettors slightly favored Tampa Bay (52%) and the total cash leaned toward New Orleans (55%). The Saints covered, 34-23, and the over (48) easily came in. At BetRivers.com/PlaySugarHouse.com, the Bucs-Saints game accounted for 27% of all NFL bets and the public cashed big on the over-under (at 47.5) with an over 90% cash.
  • In the Bucs-Saints game, there was a notable prop bet at DraftKings involving Brady. With a 2-yard dive to put the Bucs up, 7-0, in the first quarter, the 43-year old quarterback became the oldest player in NFL history to score a TD (actually extending his own record) and also made a winner out of one DK bettor to the tune of $9,000 on a $147.79 first-touchdown bet.
  • On over-unders at William Hill, bettors went heavy on Seattle-Atlanta with 84% of the total dollars wagered to top 49 points and for Las Vegas-Carolina, 85 percent of the money was on the over at 48 points. Both games reached the over threshold easily with the Seahawks winning, 38-25, and the Raiders prevailing, 34-30.

CHECK OUT: NFL over/under trends for every team as well as against the spread records.