Notable Bets: Receiverless Browns let down betting public

  • Joined ESPN in 2014
  • Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008

Less than 24 hours before kickoff on Sunday against the New York Jets, four of the Cleveland Browns’ leading receivers were ruled out because of COVID-19 protocols.

The Browns were already expected to be without half of their offensive line and a couple of linebackers. Yet some sportsbooks still couldn’t buy a bet on the Jets.

Cleveland was favored by 9.5 points before the news about the wide receivers. The line settled at Cleveland -6.5 after Jarvis Landry, Rashard Higgins, Donovan Peoples-Jones and KhaDarel Hodge were ruled out. That didn’t matter to the majority of bettors, though. People bet on the Browns before and after the news, and by kickoff more than 80% of the money bet on the point spread was on Cleveland, at multiple sportsbooks.

“The Browns, even though they were at minimal strength, took a bunch of money on the money line and on the side,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said. “Once we got under a touchdown, they started to bet the Browns again.”

That money remained with the sportsbooks after the Jets took down the Browns 23-16 for their second consecutive victory.

It was that kind of Sunday for the betting public, another losing one to cap what will go down as one of the most lucrative football years ever for U.S. sportsbooks. The good news for the betting public — and, really, for all of us — is that 2020 is almost over.

While we count down the final days of the year, here is this week’s edition of Notable Bets, our recap of storylines from sportsbooks around the country.

NFL

• The largest reported bet on Sunday was a $500,000 money-line wager on Carolina to beat Washington at -115, placed with BetMGM. The Panthers won 20-13, and the bettor won a net $434,782.60.

The Panthers’ win produced one of the very few losing results suffered by sportsbooks on Sunday. “We only lost one game in the morning,” Jeff Stoneback, sportsbook director for BetMGM in Nevada, said, pointing to the Bears’ 41-17 rout of the Jaguars.

• The Cowboys’ 37-17 victory over the favored Eagles produced another big win for the sportsbooks, but it also brought Dallas back into the mix for the NFC East title, which could prove costly for The Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

More bets were placed on the Cowboys to win the division in the preseason than were placed on the Eagles and Giants combined, including a $40,000 bet on Dallas at even money.

“I’m sure everyone thought they were left for dead on Thanksgiving when they lost to Washington,” Thomas Gable, sportsbook director at The Borgata, told ESPN of the Cowboys. “There are some big tickets that are still live.”

• The SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas reported a break-even Sunday, after suffering a small losing day on Christmas. “The handle on Christmas Day was very good,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, said. “A lot of sharp money on the under in the Vikings-Saints game. That didn’t work out too well.”

The Saints pulled away from the Vikings for a 52-33 win on a Christmas Day full of favorites covering the spread. The favorites covered in all five of the NBA games on Friday, and Buffalo also covered the spread in the day’s only college football bowl game.

“I was pleasantly surprised with how small the figure we lost on Christmas was,” Murray added. “That was a recipe for disaster for the house, and we somehow managed to avoid it.”

• The most heavily bet Sunday games at sportsbook PointsBet:

Titans at Packers
Bears at Jaguars
Browns at Jets
Eagles at Cowboys
Colts at Steelers

• Lambeau Field was covered in snow for the prime-time game between the Packers and Titans. After opening around 55.5, the total closed at 52 at most sportsbooks. The Packers, who were 3-point favorites, won 40-14.

One of the most popular props on the Titans-Packers game at DraftKings was on Tennessee running back Derrick Henry to score the first touchdown. Avello said Sunday afternoon that the liability on the prop was approaching seven figures. Packers wide receiver Davante Adams caught a touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers on the Packers’ opening drive for the first score.

• The Bills are 7-point favorites over the Patriots in the Monday night game. As of Sunday, 95% of the money bet on the point spread was on the Bills at PointsBet.

• A four-team parlay, with a final leg of the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl, sold for $57,200 last week on PropSwap, a secondary market for sports bets that have already been placed.

The parlay was placed in August at Hollywood Casino in West Virginia. The first three legs — Braves to win the National League East, Lightning to win the Stanley Cup, and Storm to win the WNBA championship — have already cashed. If Kansas City wins the Super Bowl, the ticket will pay $171,360.

• Week 17 will decide season-win totals for three teams: Bears (8), Raiders (7.5), and Panthers (5.5). (Win totals via SuperBook.)

• DraftKings donated $1 for every entry into its free fantasy contest on the Titans-Packers game to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee to help residents and businesses affected by the explosion in Nashville on Christmas Day. The contest attracted 84,692 entries.

College football

• The early betting action on the Clemson-Ohio State College Football Playoff semifinal game has been lopsided on the favored Tigers at Circa Sports. Circa sportsbook director Matt Metcalf told ESPN on Sunday that the bets were 3-1 in favor of Clemson.

In the other playoff semifinal, Alabama is a consensus 20-point favorite over Notre Dame. Last week, Circa moved its line down a tick, to Crimson Tide -19. Metcalf said it’s been “all Alabama” since the move. Both semifinal games are slated for Jan. 1.

• Tuesday’s Alamo Bowl pitting Colorado against Texas has seen significant line movement. The Longhorns opened as consensus 12-point favorites, but were down to -9.5 as of Sunday. Metcalf pointed to “sharp anti-Texas money” as driving the line movement.

Odds and ends

• $131.4 million was bet with Tennessee sportsbooks in November. It was the state’s first month with a regulated sports betting market.

• $231.2 million was bet with Colorado sportsbooks in November. The NFL accounted for $88.4 million of the monthly handle, followed by $22.2 million for college football. The third-most-heavily bet sport? Table tennis with $12.4 million.

• In the NBA, the Mavericks beat the Clippers 124-73 on Sunday. The Clippers, who were 3-point favorites, trailed by 50 points, 77-27, at halftime. The live line at halftime was Mavericks -40, which Dallas covered.

At William Hill U.S. sportsbooks, 62% of the dollars bet on the money line was on the favored Clippers.

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