On Tuesday, I got a call from a client and he was interested in what I was looking at early for the final week of National Football League action.
“I like the Cleveland Browns,” I said with a lot of work to still do before game day selections are released.
He then asked me, “What is the spread on that game?”
“The Browns are favored by ten.”
“Oh,” he said dismissively, “I could never lay that many points against the Steelers.”
What we have here is a clear example of the books at work. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who put together a second half comeback to erase a double-digit halftime deficit against the Indianapolis Colts last week, which won them the AFC North Division while the Browns were losing at MetLife Stadium to the New York Jets, now meet the Browns in Cleveland. Cleveland needs this game to crack the postseason playoff field for the first time since 2002, and the Steelers are coming off an emotional win to clinch their division title.
With what is at stake, and where these two teams are coming from, the Browns are a clear choice … so what do the books do? They put a number on the game that has most bettors thinking like my client on the phone, never able to lay that many points with Cleveland.
Some might even think taking the points with Pittsburgh has an advantage, further enhancing the books position on a game that early in the week was an obvious choice.
Then, and this is why we work all week, the Browns had added complications from Covid-19 outbreaks. The primary reason the Browns lost to the Jets last week was based on the virus sidelining their entire receiving corps. Now, they have additional problems this week with more players testing positive and forced to quarantine.
How important is that?
In addition to the Browns last week, who lost to the Jets on the road as a point spread favorite while suffering Covid-19 consequences, two other teams this year had severe constraints thrown on their chances by the virus.
In twelfth week action, the Denver Broncos were forced to play the New Orleans Saints without a player listed on their roster as a quarterback. Back-up quarterback Jeff Driskel tested positive, and while he had been in meetings with the other three Denver signal callers, all of the quarterbacks on the roster were forced into quarantine.
The result? The Broncos completed one of nine passes while wide receiver Kendall Hinton played quarterback and the Saints rolled, 31-3.
The Baltimore Ravens suffered widespread outbreaks on their team, forcing them to play multiple games with a skeleton roster that was missing quarterback Lamar Jackson. A team that is favored to win their 11th game of the season on Sunday, lost three straight games and a shot at the AFC North Division title.
In other words, Covid-19 can level any team … even perhaps the Browns on Sunday when they vie for a playoff berth in what would otherwise be a very sweet spot.