FOX sports betting analyst
There is no shortage of compelling stories tied to the NFC and AFC Championship Games odds markets. But when the best quarterback in the league, arguably the best team over the past five seasons, is in questionable status, it’s going to dominate any NFL betting discussion.
Such is the case with Patrick Mahomes and his high ankle sprain suffered in the Kansas City Chiefs’ divisional round win over Jacksonville.
While Mahomes has been adamant that he will play Sunday at home against the Cincinnati Bengals, punters seem to think, at best, that the Chiefs QB will be significantly compromised. And the sports betting market has responded.
Let’s explore how the odds have changed since the opening lines.
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BetMGM opened the Chiefs as 1-point favorites on the AFC Championship Game odds board Sunday night. The first move came Monday morning, and it was actually in KC’s favor, with the line going to Chiefs -1.5.
But on Monday afternoon, the tide began to turn, with the line jumping the fence at Bengals -1. By Tuesday morning, Cincinnati was already off -2.5.
“The money is pretty significantly one-way. We were clearly wrong and we moved pretty quickly,” BetMGM VP of Trading Jason Scott said. “Bettors think if Mahomes plays, he’ll be heavily restricted.”
At FOX Bet, the Chiefs opened -1.5 Sunday night and moved to -1 Monday morning. The line went to Bengals -1 on Monday afternoon, then on Tuesday morning it moved to Cincy -1.5 en route to -2.5.
“We’ve seen a lot of movement because we have 80% of the tickets and 85% of the money on the Bengals,” said Dylan Brossman, senior director of business operations at FOX Bet. “In line with the action we’ve seen on the spread, we currently have 85% of the tickets and 89% of the money on the Bengals money line.”
CIN. -1.5. -139. o47
Kansas City Chiefs
KC. +1.5. +100. u47
Mahomes’ injury presents a challenge for bookmakers. A big question on people’s minds is what would the spread be if the Kansas City quarterback was 100%? Scott said that with a fully healthy Mahomes, the Chiefs would be -3.5 at BetMGM, while Brossman put the line at Chiefs -3. With Mahomes not healthy but insisting he is playing, most sportsbooks opened with KC at -1/-1.5.
“It’s always a challenge when you have a lot of uncertainty surrounding a team’s best player, let alone Patrick Mahomes, who may have more value to a team’s respective spread,” Brossman said. “It’s pretty easy to discount a quarterback’s value when he’s not going to play at all. But it’s a lot harder to quantify an injury when they’re trying to play.
“There’s a chance that Mahomes will heal quickly, and his adrenaline will propel him through the game largely unscathed. There’s also a chance that Mahomes will still be as hampered as he was in the second half of the game of last week. The reality is probably somewhere in the middle, as the spread continues to seek an equilibrium.”
BetMGM’s Scott echoed Brossman’s thoughts.
“It’s incredibly difficult, and here we also have the situation where [Chiefs coach] Andy Reid is notoriously finicky with player information,” Scott said. “We won’t really know until the warmup. [Sunday], when it runs out. But it’s fun. It’s a guessing game. We don’t know, but neither do 99.9% of our customers. So we’re all in the same boat.”
Scott said that as of Tuesday afternoon, punters are relying on what they know about this specific type of injury.
“History tells you that a high ankle sprain will rarely show up and heal within a week,” Scott said. “But Mahomes is a very good athlete, so I guess it’s possible. We’ll know more on Thursday. We’ll see if he practices, participates or even walks.”
More movement is coming
If Mahomes somehow looks better than expected in practice, then the number will obviously go back to Kansas City. However, it could be a modest move.
“With the game just five days away, it’s hard to imagine the line swinging all the way in KC’s favor, unless you see Mahomes doing cartwheels in practice,” Brossman said. “On the other hand, if Mahomes is sure to play, I don’t think the public has the guts to back Cincinnati -3.5 or more at Arrowhead. [Stadium]regardless of how limited Muhammad is.”
So where does the number go if Mahomes is limited in practice, or can’t go at all, and as Scott alluded to, Reid is iffy about the status of his QB?
“If, between Friday and Saturday, he still doesn’t walk properly, I think it’s possible that he goes through Bengals -3,” Scott said, hinting that Cincy could be at -3.5 or maybe higher.
That said, for now, pending more clarity, Scott believes the line is at a point of resistance.
“I think the Bengals are getting to the point where we’re going to see the money come back, certainly from the public,” Scott said.
In fact, later Tuesday afternoon, that started to happen. Both BetMGM and FOX Bet have shortened Bengals -2.5 to -1.5.
Patrick Everson is a sports betting analyst for FOX Sports and a senior reporter for VegasInsider.com. He is a distinguished journalist in the national sports betting space. He is based in Las Vegas, where he enjoys playing golf in 110-degree heat. Follow him on Twitter: @PatrickE_Vegas.
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