In this topsy-turvy 2020, in which the Belmont Stakes came before the Kentucky Derby, golf’s U.S. Open came before the Masters, and the NBA and NHL post-seasons run into September, you could be forgiven when gazing upon the Week 3 NFL schedule for thinking the football playoffs have arrived already.
The defending champion Kansas City Chiefs vs. the Baltimore Ravens. The Green Bay Packers vs. the New Orleans Saints. The Dallas Cowboys vs. the Seattle Seahawks. All six of these teams are currently favored to win their divisions and all three of these matchups could very well repeat in January.
But it’s only September. We just happen to be embarking upon a ridiculous Week 3 slate. Add in the 2-0 Rams vs. the 2-0 Bills, the 2-0 Raiders vs. the extremely public Patriots, and the 2-0 Steelers vs. the short-straw-drawing but still dangerous Texans, and every network with an NFL contract is assured ratings gold this weekend.
For the gambling industry, though, the question is whether robust ratings equate to hefty handle. According to several of the top online sports betting operators, it’s shaping up to be a mixed bag.
Sizable Sunday, massive Monday
As of Thursday afternoon, the most-bet game at most books was, unsurprisingly, the Thursday night game between Miami and Jacksonville. That was the case at PointsBet, the Australia-based bookmaker that has thus far taken root in New Jersey, Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. But the Monday night game, Chiefs vs. Ravens for unofficial AFC supremacy and the top spot in NFL power rankings, was a fairly close second and a near-lock to draw the most handle of any game this week.
With Saints-Packers in the spotlight Sunday night and Cowboys-Seahawks in the late window Sunday afternoon, the action figures to build and build as the weekend goes along until it hits a crescendo in the MNF game.
“From Week 1 to Week 2, we saw ticket count increase by about 10% and handle saw just over a 20% increase,” PointsBet USA Director of Communications Patrick Eichner told US Bets. “With all these marquee games in Week 3, we have to let the dust settle, and a lot comes live, in-play, but the way we’re trending, I’d be surprised if we didn’t surpass those Week 2 numbers.”
FanDuel Director of Publicity Kevin Hennessy noted, “The national games are always our biggest games. So expect the Sunday Night Football and Monday Night Football games to be tops for the week, especially with those matchups.”
By handle so far, DraftKings Sportsbook has them ranked:
- Chiefs at Ravens
- Packers at Saints
- Cowboys at Seahawks
But BetMGM is seeing a completely different trend, as the biggest games are not proving the most attractive to bettors. At that online book, here are the five games that had attracted the most handle through Thursday afternoon:
- Rams at Bills
- Panthers at Chargers
- Buccaneers at Broncos
- 49ers at Giants
- Lions at Cardinals
Cowboys-Seahawks ranked seventh, Chiefs-Ravens placed eighth, and, shockingly, Packers-Saints was 13th in handle.
At the Rush Street Interactive books, including BetRivers and PlaySugarHouse, the most heavily bet game as of Thursday — not counting Dolphins-Jags — was, surprisingly, the upstart Cards hosting the Lions. “When all is said and done, however,” noted Rush Street Interactive COO Mattias Stetz, “we expect both the Packers vs. Saints and Chiefs vs. Ravens games to be in the top three of the weekend. Cowboys vs. Seahawks should be in the top 5 as well.”
Piling up points
Interestingly, of the six teams in the three marquee games, none of them play in states with legal sports betting. So there will be no local biases fueling their handle.
But the “N” in “NFL” is important — this is the one U.S. sports league in which massive numbers of fans care, watch, and bet regardless of their local team’s involvement in a game. There are certain very “public” teams with national followings, like the Cowboys, Packers, Steelers, and Patriots, that draw action week in and week out regardless of opponent.
All three of the marquee games have extremely high point totals; along with Lions-Cardinals, they make up the four highest numbers of the week.
The Cowboys-Seahawks game is the highest, set at 56 or 55.5 at most books, and DraftKings Head of Sportsbook Johnny Avello told us, “Betting over 55.5 points has been a popular choice, as very few seem to be interested in going under.”
The BetRivers sites are seeing the same trend, with “over” receiving 70% of the bets, according to Stetz. He added that 87% of the bets on Green Bay-New Orleans are on the over at 52.5 points, and a whopping 95% of tickets are taking over 54 in Chiefs-Ravens.
Inside the splits
The betting splits at the various sportsbooks are worth noting.
With Seattle favored by 5 points over Dallas everywhere we looked, the Seahawks are generally the more popular choice, getting anywhere from 58-69% of the spread bets at most books — although Eichner noted that PointsBet was almost dead even on handle, with a narrow 55% majority of tickets favoring Seattle.
The Packers-Saints game is decidedly more lopsided, with Green Bay getting either 3 or 3.5 points and the respective quarterback performances thus far this season of Aaron Rodgers (looking like an MVP contender) and Drew Brees (looking like the 41-year-old he is) apparently holding a lot of sway. At FanDuel, 88% of the bets and 84% of the money are on the Pack. At BetRivers, 91% of the bets are going Green Bay’s way. At BetMGM, it’s almost 95%.
Then there’s the unofficial main event of the week, on Monday night: Kansas City vs. Baltimore.
“You might say these are the best the AFC has to offer, but then again, they may be the best the NFL has to offer,” Avello observed. “This will end up being the heaviest bet game of the week and maybe the heaviest wagered MNF game ever.”
The line varies between 3 and 3.5 in favor of the home Ravens — it’s been vacillating between those two numbers all week at PointsBet — and the public likes the defending champs with the points:
The NFL games on tap for this weekend are of such high quality that you could make a case for just sitting back and enjoying them as a fan, no money on the line, and appreciate watching the best teams in the league battle for supremacy.
You could make that case. But the smart money is on football fans with legal betting in their state contributing at least a little something to what might turn out to be a record weekend of wagering handle.
Photo by Robert Hanashiro / USA Today Sports