Teddy's Top 7 NFL Pointspread Plays of the Year
In my world, there’s nothing better than a ‘right side’ winner -- no drama, no sweating; an easy ‘rocking chair’ cover. Of course, cashing nothing but ‘right side’ winners is MUCH easier said than done. In the real world, there are so many games that come down to a single key late play that determines the SU and/or ATS winner.
As the end of the NFL season approaches. I’ve gone back through my notes, looking at the some of the wackiest pointspread outcomes of the year – the really memorable ones. End of the year Top 10 lists are so passé, so I’ll call this my Top 7 Pointspread Plays of the Year. Let’s start the countdown with #7
7) Week 11: Packers late field goal
Green Bay was a three point road favorite at slumping Detroit, but they trailed for most of the game, and were behind by six points at the two minute warning. Lions bettors weren’t worried – a Packers TD, in theory, would only lead to a one point, non-covering win. Aaron Rodgers threw for that TD on the very first play after the two minute warning. The Lions proceeded to go ‘four-and-out’ on their subsequent drive, leaving Green Bay the ball at Detroit’s 20 yard line with just over a minute to play. The Packers were unable to get a first down, and Jim Schwartz used his remaining timeouts, forcing Mike McCarthy to trot kicker Mason Crosby onto the field with less than 20 seconds on the clock. Crosby hit the ‘meaningless’ field goal and the Packers covered the spread in their four point win.
6) Week 11: Carolina punts on 4th and 1
Sometimes, the most important pointspread play is not a touchdown or a conversion or anything even close – it’s a coaching decision. Carolina’s Ron Rivera has been routinely criticized for his ultra-conservative decision making on fourth down, almost always choosing to kick. That’s a big part of the reason why his team blew a half dozen fourth quarter leads this year, including this one against Tampa Bay.
The Panthers spent most of the week priced as short home underdogs against the Bucs, but led the game by double digits with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Following a Tampa field goal, Carolina gained one first down and faced a fourth and one just past midfield, needing only 36 inches to clinch the game. Rivera chose to punt, resulting in a touchback. Bucs QB Josh Freeman led the Bucs 80 yards for the game tying score in 50 seconds without any timeouts, than did basically the exact same thing with the first possession of overtime. Rivera’s decision to punt was an absolute ATS difference maker.
5) Week 14: Kirk Cousins two point conversion
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – the single most important pointspread play in football is the two point conversion try; affecting every coaching decision thereafter whether it succeeds or fails. In Week 14, the Redskins and Ravens were lined in a pick ‘em range all week, meaning that the SU winner was in position to cover the pointspread. Down by eight in the fourth quarter, Redskins star rookie quarterback RG3 got hurt, forcing untested backup Kirk Cousins into the game. Cousins threw a TD pass with less than 30 seconds remaining on the clock, cutting the deficit to two. But it was the gutsy quarterback draw play for the two point conversion that put the game into overtime where the Redskins won on a late field goal, covering the spread in the process.
4) Week 12: Ray Rice on 4th and 29
The Ravens were in the mother of all flat spots as they headed to San Diego for a Week 12 showdown, and sharp bettors across the globe placed big wagers on the Chargers as one point home underdogs. And Baltimore played like they were as flat as a pancake, held to just a pair of field goals as they faced a 4th and 29 in their own territory with less than a minute to play. Unable to find an open receiver downfield, Joe Flacco dumped the ball off to Ray Rice, who eluded multiple tacklers, then extended the ball over the first down marker as he was finally getting tackled (at least according to the spot and the replay review). Baltimore’s miracle first down led to the game tying field goal in regulation and the game winning field goal in overtime, covering the spread in the process.
3) Week 13 Philly’s punt return TD
The Cowboys were ten point favorites over the slumping Eagles on Sunday Night Football. In a wild, back-and forth game, Dallas finally took control with a trio of fourth quarter touchdowns, including a 50 yard fumble return TD with less than four minutes remaining on the clock, taking an eleven point, spread covering lead. After forcing a fourth down stop, the Cowboys ran the clock down under a minute and forced the Eagles to use all their timeouts before punting. But instead of punting out of bounds, Brian Moorman boomed a 63 yarder, outkicking his coverage – one of many decisions that head coach Jason Garrett made this year that infuriated Cowboys backers. Eagles return man Damaris Johnson fielded the punt at the two yard line and raced 98 yards for the spread covering touchdown.
2) Week 7: Harbaugh declines the safety
The 49ers were a popular choice for bettors on Thursday Night Football in their matchup against the Seahawks, and the -7 opening spread was bet up throughout the week. The game was a defensive struggle, and San Fran led 13-6 when they had to punt with the clock winding down in the fourth quarter, pinning the Seahawks deep. On 4th and 17 from the Seahawks four yard line, Russell Wilson threw a 16 ½ yard pass to Ben Obamanu. But on the play, Seattle was flagged for an illegal chop block in the end zone, resulting in a safety. 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh demanded a measurement, and when he found out that his team had made the fourth down stop, he chose to decline the penalty, decline the safety and simply take a knee. San Fran bettors went from rejoicing over a miracle cover to cussing out Harbaugh in the blink of an eye (and about ten minutes of video review and on-field confusion).
1) Week 3: Disputed touchdown in Seattle
Without a doubt, the single biggest pointspread play of the year was also the single most controversial NFL ending of the year. In Week 3, on Monday Night Football, Green Bay matched up against Seattle in a defensive battle. The Packers took money all week, going off as 3.5 point road favorites. Mike McCarthy’s squad led 12-7, in position to win and cover until the game’s final play – a hotly disputed touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Golden Tate in which Tate never seemed to have clear possession.
The replacement refs ruled that it was a catch, and after a lengthy booth review, the call was upheld, giving the Seahawks the win and cover. $15 million changed hands in Nevada alone as a result of that play, and the worldwide estimate was that it was in the range of a $250 million swing. Now that’s a big pointspread play! The regular refs contract dispute was settled within the next three days.
Next week I’ll follow this article up with my top HIDDEN pointspread plays of the year.
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