Notable bets: Oddsmakers debate NFL wild-card round spreads

C.J. Stroud and the Houston Texans won the AFC South on Saturday but enter their wild-card matchup with the Cleveland Browns as 2.5-point underdogs. Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

The Buffalo Bills are the biggest favorites of wild-card weekend and the team that would cost some sportsbooks the most by making a Super Bowl run.

The Bills begin the week as 9.5-point favorites over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers and with 6-1 odds to win the Super Bowl at ESPN BET. Entering December, Buffalo's Super Bowl odds could be found as long as 40-1.

The Bills are the biggest liability in Caesars Sportsbook's odds to win the Super Bowl.

"Forty-to-one will do that," Craig Mucklow, vice president of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said of the cause of the book's liability on Buffalo.

The San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and Steelers also are net losers in Caesars' Super Bowl market entering the playoffs, Mucklow said.

John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, likes his shop's position on its futures markets entering the postseason.

"We lose to the Eagles and the Steelers in the Super Bowl pool, but I'm not too worried about those teams," Murray said. "We take a hit on the 49ers in the NFC and that is certainly something that looks very likely with them having home-field advantage."

BetMGM reported Monday that the 49ers had attracted more money to win the Super Bowl from bettors than any other team. Sportsbooks will have plenty of time to mitigate their liabilities in the playoffs, starting with a wild-card weekend that includes two road favorites that caused debate among Caesars' oddsmakers.

The Browns are 2.5-point favorites on the road at the Houston Texans in the first game Saturday. Adam Pullen, a veteran Las Vegas oddsmaker for Caesars, said he initially made the Browns-Texans line pick 'em.

"I could see the Browns being a small favorite," Pullen said. "But 2.5, I think it's a little strong. The Texans have shown a lot."

Mucklow, on the other hand, said he had the Browns as 3-point favorites.

"I've been high on the Browns all year," Mucklow added.

The struggling and banged-up Philadelphia Eagles were installed as 2.5-point road favorites over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Monday night wild-card game on ESPN/ABC. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (finger) and star receiver A.J. Brown (knee) both suffered injuries during Sunday's ugly loss to the New York Giants, but coach Nick Sirianni said he hoped both would be fine for their playoff opener in Tampa.

"Regardless of the injuries, the team is just not playing well," Pullen said. "As bad as they're playing, it shows you something that they're still favorites."

The early line on the Super Bowl at the SuperBook has the NFC as 2.5-point favorites. Murray says that line reflects what a matchup between the Baltimore Ravens and 49ers in the Super Bowl would be.

"Not just because they have home-field, they also look like clearly the best teams in each conference," Murray said. "Dallas is on a roll, but I still have a hard time picturing them going up to San Francisco and beating the 49ers on the road. We'll see."

Wild Card playoff lines
as of Monday, via ESPN BET

Cleveland Browns -2.5 (-115), 43.5 (-115 over) at Houston Texans
Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs -3.5 (-105), 43.5 (-115 under)

Pittsburgh Steelers at Buffalo Bills -9.5 (-115), 38.5
Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys -7.5 (-105), 49.5
Los Angeles Rams at Detroit Lions -3 (-115), 51.5

Philadelphia Eagles -2.5 (-115), 44.5 (-120) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers

NFL betting notables

• Favorites went 139-127-4 (52.5%) against the spread during the regular season, the third-best ATS mark for chalk in the past 25 seasons.

• Unders went 146-125-1 (53.8%), the second-best mark for unders in the past 25 seasons.

• For the most part, sportsbooks said the NFL regular season was comparable to previous years. The betting public struggled out of the gates, losing big in September and October, but rallied in November.

"I think November did a lot of damage to a lot of sportsbooks," Mucklow of Caesars said. "Not just the NFL, but all the results seemed to be in the customer's favor."

Overall, though, Mucklow said the book's margins were in line with previous years.

Pullen has noticed a slight shift in the betting public's tendencies.

"It's not just blindly betting the over; it's not like that anymore," Pullen said. "We still usually need the under in prime-time games, but probably not the degree we used to. The public gets smarter year after year."

Still, though, the bottom line for the sportsbooks typically comes down to the favorites covering the spread, Murray of the SuperBook said.

"I'd call it a typical regular season," Murray of the SuperBook said. "We did great on the weekends where we got a few underdogs to cover and/or win for us. We got beat up when all the chalk came in. It's all you can do in the NFL. Let the people lay those favorite parlays and hope you get one or two of them to go down. If they all win, there's always next week."

• On May 9, 2023, bettor Martwon Weaver placed a $5 five-leg parlay on the top NFL player awards with FanDuel in Arizona at 136,191-1 odds with a potential payout of $680,960.

Eight months later, each player is among the favorites for the award, and Weaver is taking offers for the ticket on WagerWire, a secondary market where open bets are bought and sold. The ticket had an estimated value of $220,000 entering Sunday's games, according to WagerWire.