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SLIPS: Have Bettors & Sportsbooks Caught Up to the Saints?

Josh Katzenstein for Bookies.com

Josh Katzenstein  | 8 mins

SLIPS: Have Bettors & Sportsbooks Caught Up to the Saints?

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Veteran sports reporter Josh Katzenstein, who has covered both the Detroit Lions and New Orleans Saints, takes a deep dive into the weekend’s betting slips in the NFL and college football, including where the money went, the bad beats, amazing covers, stunning parlays and more.

The New Orleans Saints continue to defy the odds, and their dominant Week 7 win over the Chicago Bears was their most impressive victory of the season.

Quarterback Drew Brees missed his fifth straight game Sunday, and the Saints offense also played without star running back Alvin Kamara and top tight end Jared Cook. Somehow, New Orleans still beat the Bears easily, 36-25, and proved again that sportsbooks — and bettors — don’t know how to handicap them with Teddy Bridgewater under center.

New Orleans has won five games in a row straight up and against the spread with Bridgewater under center. Since Week 3, the Saints have beaten the spread by 11, 4.5, 4, 9.5 and a whopping 15 in Week 7 against the Bears.

“Maybe they were underestimated,” Nick Bogdanovich, director of trading at William Hill, said of the Saints. “This last game, they had no Kamara, and they went out there and literally beat the piss out of the Bears, who are supposed to be pretty good. Obviously, (the Saints) defense has played above their head, and Bridgewater has filled in nicely when we thought there was a huge drop off."

SLIPS: Have Bettors & Sportsbooks Caught Up to the Saints? 2

The Saints opened as 3-point underdogs in their matchup in Chicago, and the spread moved as high as 4.5 during the week. The Bears never threatened to cover as their largest lead was just 1 point in the second quarter, and the Saints led for most of the game, including by two-plus possessions for nearly the entire second half.

“Maybe we did underestimate them, but when we put up the number, then the sharps and the masses take over, so I guess everyone did — not just us,” Bogdanovich said.

It’s certainly reasonable that books had the Bears favored Sunday. Chicago was supposed to be a top-flight team this season. The Bears defense should have had no problem slowing a Saints team without Brees and Kamara, and Chicago welcomed back starting quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, too. Instead, the Saints easily pulled the upset and proved once again that the betting world has been disrespecting them for most of the season.

The Week 7 matchup was already the fifth game in 2019 in which the Saints were underdogs. New Orleans is now 4-1 ATS and SU as an underdog, winning against the Seahawks -5, Cowboys -2.5, Jaguars -2.5 and the Bears. New Orleans’ only loss as an underdog was to the Rams -2 in Week 2, and that was the game in which Brees suffered his thumb injury and Bridgewater looked uncomfortable entering mid-game.

On the whole, the Saints are 5-2 ATS this year, but the two losses — Week 1 as 6.5-point favorites against the Texans and then Week 2 against the Rams — were the games in which Brees started.

It seems the books and bettors are finally starting to adjust to the juggernaut Saints. They opened as 7.5-point favorites in their Week 8 home matchup against the Cardinals, and the line has already moved to 9.5. It’s the Saints’ largest spread of the year and just the third time they’ve been favored this season.

Another fascinating aspect about the current Saints streak is how much their Super Bowl odds have shifted during the season. The Saints dipped to +900 after Week 1 but jumped up to +2000 after the Brees injury. Barring something unforeseen, bettors won’t have the chance to make such a valuable bet on the Saints again. Those odds have dropped to +550, making New Orleans the second choice behind the Patriots.

While the books and bettors have struggled to figure out the Saints, they just keep winning.

“I would say going forward they’ll be well-respected,” Bogdanovich said. “They look like the best team in the NFC to me.”

Sharps vs Squares

Sharps bet five of 12 games differently from the public, according to data from William Hill. In those games, the squares actually had a 3-1-1 advantage.

    SLIPS: Have Bettors & Sportsbooks Caught Up to the Saints? 1
  • In Bills vs. Dolphins, 61% of point-spread tickets were on the Dolphins +17 while 55% of the handle was on the Bills. Buffalo won, 31-21, but Miami covered the largest spread of the week as the public got it right.
  • The squares also nailed the Packers-Raiders game as 61% of the point-spread tickets were on Green Bay -5.5 and 51% of the money wagered was on Oakland. The Packers cruised in this one, 42-24.
  • There was a disparity in the Saints-Bears game, as 59% of tickets backed Saints +4 while 60% of the money was on Chicago. New Orleans proved the squares right.
  • The sharps made the right call in the Ravens-Seahawks. While 53% of tickets backed Seahawks -3, a whopping 74% of the handle was on the Ravens, who won 30-16.
  • Fittingly, the other game in which the sharps and squares deferred was actually a push. The Titans won, 23-20, but the Chargers had two touchdown rulings reversed in the final minute before Melvin Gordon fumbled to secure Tennessee’s win. William Hill has 60% of tickets on the Chargers +3 while 60% of the money was on the Titans.

As for the other seven games where the tickets and handle had the same team, bettors were 4-3, but the 49ers -10 and the Giants -3.5 both failing to cover were big wins for the sportsbooks.

The Mahomes Effect

Sportsbooks were quick to adjust a couple key futures bets last week after Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes suffered a knee injury Thursday night that will likely sideline him for a few weeks while Matt Moore fills in.

At DraftKings, Mahomes had the second shortest odds for MVP at +250 prior to the injury. As of Friday, the book changed those odds to +1400.

Mahomes was the preseason favorite to repeat as MVP, but a couple sloppy games before the knee injury actually allowed Russell Wilson to become the top choice. Before last Thursday’s game, Wilson had the slight edge as the favorite at +225, and his odds decreased to +150 on Friday at Draft Kings.

Deshaun Watson and Christian McCaffrey saw their odds shorten, too, after Mahomes’ injury. Watson went from +550 to +300 while McCaffrey went from +1100 to +900.

RELATED: Is Christian McCaffrey a Good Value Bet for NFL MVP?

The Chiefs are now a more valuable long-term bet, too, even though they are still considered to be the second best team in the AFC. Kansas City’s Super Bowl odds increased from +900 to +1100, and the odds to win the AFC shifted from +350 to +450. The Chiefs’ odds to win the AFC are slightly better, too, shifting from -400 to -335.

If anyone was waiting for more value to bet on Chiefs futures, the time is now. The Chiefs opened as +3.5 home underdogs in next Sunday night’s game against the Packers.

Illini Pull Big Upset

The biggest storyline of the college football slate — and of the 2019 season thus far — was Illinois +30.5 winning outright over Wisconsin 24-23 on a field goal as time expired.William Hill saw 73% of spread tickets and 74% of the money on the Badgers, who entered 6-0 and 5-1 ATS.

Notable Bets

  • Someone believed strongly in the Jaguars to bounce back. DraftKings took a $300,000 bet on Jacksonville -2, an alternate line, and won $192,000.
  • Another bettor at DraftKings turned $100 into $2,300 by betting on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to score a rushing or receiving touchdown. Fitzpatrick started over Josh Rosen on Sunday, and he ran for an 11-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Bills, one of his former teams.
  • William Hill took a $400,000 bet on the Falcons +3 at even money. The Rams won 37-10, so the bettor at least avoided a stressful viewing experience.
  • Cowboys receiver Tavon Austin hadn’t scored a touchdown since Week 3 of 2018, but one bettor turned $30 into $570 by betting him +1800 to score the first touchdown in the Sunday night game against the Eagles.

About the Author

Josh Katzenstein for Bookies.com
Josh Katzenstein
Josh Katzenstein is a former NFL beat writer. He spent the past three years covering the New Orleans Saints for NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune. His work can also be found at Bleacher Report.