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QB Injuries And Poor Play Lead To Record-Low NFL Point Totals

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 7 mins

QB Injuries And Poor Play Lead To Record-Low NFL Point Totals

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The over/under on the Patriots-Steelers Week 14 game stood at 30 points Tuesday across most major sportsbooks. 

If that number holds, it will be the lowest single-game NFL betting points total since the Supreme Court cleared the way for nationwide sports betting in 2018. 

It’s also the smallest pre-PASPA NFL betting points total since the Bears and Steelers pushed a 30-point O/U on December 11, 2005. Pittsburgh won 21-9 at home amid the snow and wind. Four games this season have seen O/Us at 35 points or lower. The Jaguars-Browns total this week is weather-effected and ranged between 30.5 and 31.

The Week 14 Thursday night Patriots-Steelers tilt has become a betting microcosm for the 2023 NFL betting season. It features two games that boasted Hall of Fame-caliber QBs just a few years ago, now down to second and third-stringers due to injuries, and/or bad personnel decisions. 

“We’re anticipating Bailey Zappe will start for the Pats and Mitch Trubisky for the Steelers in the Thursday night matchup. For the entire season, the Pats have 16 total TDs, the Steelers have 18 and neither team has a successful 2 pt conversion. Over the past three games, the Patriots scoring looks like a baseball team going against good pitching. A total of 30 points in the NFL with no inclement weather anticipated is very rare," DraftKings Director of Race and Sports Operations Johnny Avello told bookies.com. He began writing tickets on the Las Vegas Strip nearly 40 years ago. 

Zappe got his first start of the 2023 season in Week 13 against the LA Chargers instead of Mac Jones. The Patriots were zapped at home in a 6-0 loss to the Bolts. Mitch Trubisky is the Steelers QB by default. He replaced Kenny Pickett after an injury in Pittsburgh’s 24-10 loss to Arizona Sunday. 

While bettors of yore would have reflectively hammered the over on any game with a total of 30 points, the Patriots-Steelers total has moved steadily down since it popped at 32.5 on Sunday. It even touched 29.5 at one book Tuesday night. 

"Totals are lower and lower than they've ever been,"  Adam Pullen, Assistant Director of Trading at Caesars Sportsbook told bookies.com. He says the Patriots-Steelers total could land in the 20s before kickoff at his book. While weather won't be an issue in Pittsburgh this week, it will be one soon enough elsewhere. And totals in the low 30s or even high 20s are inevitable.

"This is the new normal. Offensive ineptitude combined with bad weather. It’s going to happen," Pullen said. 

The overs have rallied a bit in the past two weeks (To wit: Cincinnati’s 34-31 OT win over Jacksonville Monday night), but the unders are still dominating during this season at 110-82 (57.3%).

“Bad quarterback play has driven low totals this season and the success of unders. Thursday is no different with Trubisky and Zappe starting,” reported BetMGM PR and Data whiz John Ewing

‘Dropoff In Starting QBs Has Been Pretty Big’

QB Injuries And Poor Play Lead To Record-Low NFL Point Totals 1

Zappe became the 50th different starting QB in the NFL this season when he took the field on Sunday in Foxboro, Massachusetts. He was soon followed by the 51st different starting QB in 2022. That would be the ever-elite and unflappable Joe Flacco, who got the start for Cleveland late Sunday afternoon in a loss to the Rams at SoFi Stadium. 

The never-ending QB carousel has been triggered by injuries and poor play. Among those sacked for at least one game this the start of the season: Aaron Rodgers, Kirk Cousins, Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson, Daniel Jones, Jimmy Garoppolo, Matthew Stafford, and top-five 2023 NFL draft picks Bryce Young and Anthony Richardson

Among their replacements: Tyrod Taylor, Zach Wilson, Tim Boyle, Brett Rypien, P.J. Walker, and Jaren Hall

“The drop-off in starting QBs to backups has been pretty big,” Circa Sports Director of Operations Jeffrey Benson told bookies.com. “Offense/scoring is really down this year.” Benson believes the Patriots-Steelers number should hold at 30. “It has already been bet down so not sure it can go much lower,” he said. 

Of course, not all the new QBs have fizzled. Jake Browning led the Bengals on Monday in Jacksonville. He connected on 32 of 37 attempts with no picks, 354 passing yards, a TD, and a 115.5 QB Rating. He would run for another score. 

RELATED: NFL Stating QBs Against The Spread

Pickett, despite his inconsistent-if-not-terrible play, carried the best career record against the spread of any of the NFL QBs who took the first snap Sunday with more than 20 career starts. Pickett is now 15-9 (62.5%) ATS. Bettors backing the Steelers in each of his 24 starts would be up $463.50 betting on standard -110 odds. 

Still, things got so ugly on offense in Pittsburgh, that the Steelers fired OC Matt Canada after their 13-10 loss at Cleveland in Week 11. Pickett led the team to victory in Week 12. But he was back to his ineffective ways Sunday before getting hurt. He underwent ankle surgery on Monday and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks. 

The Patriots have scored 148 points, the fewest in the NFL. On Sunday, they became the first team in NFL history since the 1938 Chicago Cardinals to lose three straight games despite allowing 10 or fewer points. 

All of this has come with relatively good weather. The Patriots close at home against the Jets on January 7. "With bad weather, who knows how low we can go?" Pullen said of that projected total. 

Oddsmakers Always Ready For Replacements 

The continual movement in starting QBs is nothing new for the books. Last season, 66 different QBs started NFL games. This season, the NFL is pace for 70. Once it is known that there is a QB change in the offing, oddsmakers are able to seamlessly adjust. 

“There has been a ton of uncertainty at the quarterback position this season, but we’re always prepared for it. It’s essential that we determine what each starting QB and backup are actually worth, and our team has done a really nice job adjusting to all the injuries and turnover,” Avello said. 

Oddsmakers assign a numeric price on each QB. When a replacement is made, the value of the new QB is simply swapped with that of the previous player.

“As for the QB injuries, you know what value each QB has to the spread and the overall power rating for their team. When the starter goes down and the backup has to come in, we already have a number ready for that. It’s up to the market though if they agree with that and bet accordingly,” said Borgata AC Director of Race and Sports Thomas Gable

Futures Markets Roiled By QB Changes 

QB Injuries And Poor Play Lead To Record-Low NFL Point Totals 2

The real damage has come to those who invested in certain teams – see the N.Y. Jets – in preseason futures markets. NFL futures bets are inherently risky in the NFL where injuries are an integral part to any equation. 

Before Rodgers suffered his Achilles’ injury on the fourth snap of the season, Gang Green stood at +270 to win the AFC East at Caesars Sportsbook , behind only Buffalo at +120. Heading into Week 1, New York stood at +1300 to +1700 depending on the book to win its first Super Bowl since man landed on the moon. The Jets absorbed as much as 5% of the handle in some of those markets. 

Their season win total was 9.5 and that number was juiced up to as high as -130 on some sports betting apps. And the Jets were -130 to make the playoffs.

At FanDuel, the 4-8 Jets are +100000 in Super Bowl betting futures. They carry a similar number to win the AFC title. They are off the board in the AFC East market. Their season win total is now 5.5 (O -162; U +132.)

In other words, that Super Bowl drought continues. Regardless of QB. 

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About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.