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Bad Beats Abound In Sunday NFL Action

James Murphy
by in NFL on
  • Two NFL games produced big betting swings on their final play.
  • Both last play decisions went in favor of ‘the house’
  • Failure to account for situations like these is one reason that the public struggles with NFL betting.

I’ll preface this by saying that I really don’t like the term ‘bad beat’. Most situations that get labeled as such are ones that are part and parcel of their respective sports and not entirely unexpected. Even those that can be considered outliers make sense in the macro view of sports betting. Like life, sporting events are (usually) not predetermined. Furthermore, there are countless chaotic forces at play in games that might look ‘cut and dried’. When it comes to the NFL in particular many ‘bad beats’ involve situations that a handicapper should at least consider as a possible scenario.

But, alas, the term ‘Bad Beat’ makes for a better article headline than ‘Situations that handicappers should have accounted for abound in Sunday NFL action’. No matter what you want to call them there were two games where final play coaching decisions directly influenced the betting outcome. In both cases, bettors that got the best number in the marketplace cashed their tickets while ‘squares’ that ate a bad number took a loss. Getting good numbers is a crucial part of sports betting that often gets overlooked, particularly by the mainstream sports media noobs. Both involve favorites, reinforcing the desirability of always looking to bet underdogs whenever possible in the National Football League.


The first situation we’ll look at came in Game #267/268 in what at one point would be your Nevada betting rotation book but now is more likely to be your live odds screen. The Arizona Cardinals hosting the Buffalo Bills in front of 4000 or so socially distanced fans. The Cardinals opened at -1 or -1.5 depending on your sportsbook before getting bet up to 3 at just about every sportsbook on the planet. Buffalo went ahead 30-26 with :39 seconds left as Josh Allen found Stefon Digs in the end zone.

Kyler Murray and the Cardinals would answer emphatically on their next series which culminated with a 43 yard Hail Mary touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins with two seconds remaining. Hopkins had three Bills defenders all over him when he managed to make the difficult catch. This put Arizona up 32-30 pending the extra point with no time left on the clock. Cardinals’ bettors were looking at a ‘push’ which is better than a loss…..

Except the Cardinals didn’t try an extra point. Instead of risking a blocked kick which could be returned for a tying two point conversion Arizona took a knee and ended the game. Those that financially backed the Buffalo Bills at +3 cashed their tickets. Arizona improved to 6-3 SU but dropped to 5-4 against the spread. Buffalo dropped to 7-3 SU but improved to 5-5 against the number. The final score went ‘Over’ the posted total of 56 (with a few 55.5 and 56.5 totals in the marketplace).

Here’s how the Las Vegas Review-Journal live NFL betting blog described the outcome:

4:32 p.m.: FINAL: Cardinals 32, Bills 30. The Cardinals win on a 43-yard Hail Mary to DeAndre Hopkins with two seconds left. Arizona decided not to try the extra point kick to avoid the risk of a block and return. That allowed the Bills to still cover as 3-point road underdogs. The Cardinals win outright at -150 ML. The game goes over 56, going from a push to an over on the final TD.

BTW, the LVRJ live betting blog on both the NFL and college football is pretty essential for me these days. They’re not exactly reinventing the wheel and there are plenty of places that do similar ‘in play’ blogs but the guys at the LVRJ be it Jim Barnes or Todd Dewey actually know betting which isn’t always the case with more mainstream sports media types.


An even more bizarre finish came at the end of the low scoring game between the Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. Cleveland had opened as a -2.5 favorite only to get bet up to -4.5 (they closed at -5 at the South Point in Las Vegas). Cleveland was holding on to a 10-7 lead and had the ball in their own territory facing a third and three. That was before Nick Chubb took a pitch, evaded one defender and ran 59 yards down the left sideline with no one near him.

But instead of taking the end zone and the easy touchdown Chubb stepped out of bounds at the 1 yard line. There wasn’t a defender anywhere in the vicinity–Chubb just made the decision to end his run on the one yard line. Instead of a 17-7 Browns win and miracle cover for everyone holding a ticket on Cleveland it ends up a 10-7 final with the only chalk winners those who had the foresight to get down at the -2.5 opening line. The baseball like final score never threatened the low total of 46 which had also been bet down dramatically after opening at 54.

The Chubb non-touchdown and Browns non-cover got a big writeup on ESPN from David Purdum, long one of my favorite sports betting writers. He offered this quote from Chubb about what transpired on the play:

“I got a call from the coaches, from [quarterback] Baker [Mayfield] to not score, get a first down to end the game. So that’s what I did,” Chubb said after the game. “Luckily the run was a little longer because I didn’t think about it until the last 10 yards.”

Adding insult to injury it was one of the most heavily bet games on the Sunday card with the public all over the Browns. William Hill nationally had 89% of the pointspread money on Cleveland. In Nevada, BetMGM experienced a ‘mid six-figure swing’ in favor of the book. Purdum’s article quotes sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback:

“We were yelling and then, unbelievable, he runs out of bounds,” Stoneback told ESPN on Sunday afternoon. “He was full speed, going down the sideline, and it was almost like an afterthought, ‘Oops, let me get out.’ That was our biggest game of the morning.”

Back in Las Vegas, here’s how Jim Barnes described it on the LVRJ live blog:

1:14 p.m.: FINAL: Browns 10, Texans 7. The Texans cover as 4½-point road underdogs, but the Browns win outright at -220 ML. The game stays way under 46. Browns running back Nick Chubb stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line inside the final minute instead of scoring to get the cover. That came after the Texans scored their first points of the game with 4:59 left. Frustrating day for Browns bettors.

The moral of the story? You’ve got to be betting underdogs in the NFL whenever possible. YTD, underdogs are 83-62 ATS pending the outcome of the Sunday night game. Josh Applebaum at VSIN notes that underdogs have been $$$ in a number of situations this year:

Welcome to Week 10 of the NFL season. Dogs have reigned supreme up until this point, going 76-58 ATS (57%). We’ve also seen short road dogs + 6 or less crush it (35-15 ATS, 70%), along with divisional dogs (29-17 ATS, 63%). Road teams with a line move in their favor (known as the COVID system) are 44-26 ATS (63%). In terms of totals, it’s been an over year thus far (overs 71-60-3, 54%).

In the Sunday night game, 7 point home underdog New England holds a 19-10 lead over Baltimore early in the second half.

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