Teddy's Top 5 Hidden Pointspread Plays of the Year

Teddy Covers | Dec 31, 2012 | ARCHIVE

Last week, I made my end of the year Top 7 Pointspread Plays of the Year for the NFL; a look back at some of the wackiest ATS outcomes in what were thrilling or nerve-wracking results, regardless of which side you had. 

This week, I’m taking something of a different tack, writing about my Top 5 ‘Hidden’ pointspread plays that had massive repercussions – repercussions that were felt by the betting markets for weeks, even months after the game was played.   What’s a ‘hidden’ pointspread play?  Read on to find out!

5) Week 12: Miami sack vs. Seattle

The Seahawks led throughout the second half, but a late Dolphins TD had the game tied at 21 at the two minute warning.  Seattle was driving, facing a first and ten at the Dolphins 40 yard line, needing only a few more yards to put them in position for a game winning field goal try from kicker Stephen Hauschka.  But they lost yardage on their first down running attempt, then lost yardage again on a quick pass behind the line of scrimmage on second down. 

On third down, Seattle QB Russell Wilson took a bad sack.  The sack forced the Seahawks to punt from midfield, pinning Miami deep.  But a 19 yard completion from Ryan Tannehill to Devone Bess followed by a 36 yard completion between the same duo left the Dolphins in position to snatch the win and cover (as short road favorites)  with their own last second field goal. 

The long term repercussions from Wilson’s sack were significant.  The betting markets over-emphasized the Seahawks home/road dichotomy, leaving Seattle undervalued in subsequent outright road wins at Chicago and Buffalo.  And, frankly, the loss kept the Seahawks undervalued on any field for a full month following the defeat.  The TV talking heads and the pointspread pundits would be talking about an 8-0 SU , 7-1 ATS hot streak from the Seahawks heading into the postseason were it not for the sack that flipped the game in the final two minutes.

4) Week 13: Luck’s 4th down scramble

The betting markets have been down on Indy all year, in large part due to their weak strength of schedule and their struggles on the highway against decent foes.  The Colts had been blown off the field by 20+ point margins in previous road tests against the Bears, Jets and Patriots when they travelled to face a Lions team fighting to save their season in this Week 13 matchup.  Indy trailed by margin for most of the game, and faced a 12 point deficit as six point underdogs when they got the ball back with four minutes remaining. 

Following a pair of incomplete passes and a short completion, Indy faced a fourth down from their own 23 yard line.  Facing heat, QB Andrew Luck scrambled out of the pocket for the first down, and Lions defender Nick Fairley was flagged for a horse-collar tackle.  Voila: Indy suddenly had all the momentum, and Luck finished the drive with a TD, followed by a second TD drive on the last play of the game.  Without Luck’s heady fourth down scramble, there there’s a decent chance that we might not be talking about the Colts as a playoff team today.

3) Week 13: Jets kneel at the 1

When a team trails by even a single point and they’re out of timeouts late in the fourth quarter, the only way they can win is if their opponent lets them have a chance to get the ball back (barring some sort of miracle defensive score).  Now, that certainly wasn’t likely in this Week 13 battle, when the Jets were still considered to be playoff contenders. Arizona went 0-15 on third downs for the game, and gained only 137 total yards.  Still, the Jets led by a slim 7-6 margin as six point favorites late in the fourth quarter

But Arizona was still live to win as New York faced a 2nd and 3 from the Cardinals six yard line immediately following the two minute warning.  ‘Zona head coach Ken Whisenhunt instructed his team to let the Jets score – an eight point deficit with time and the ball is far preferable to a one point deficit with neither – and the Arizona defense parted like the Red Sea for New York RB Shonn Greene.  But Greene knew what was up – credit Rex Ryan here -- falling to the ground and curling up in the fetal position with the ball as he reached the one yard line instead of scoring the TD.  Three ‘take a knee’ plays later, the Jets had their non-spread covering win.

This wasn’t truly a ‘hidden’ pointspread play, but I mention it here because I didn’t see anybody else talk or write about it all year; nor did I see another team/player execute that strategy the same way all season.  It cost Green a touchdown for his stats, and probably a few dollars when it comes to his next contract, but it was the smart play for him to make.

2) Week 3: Jamal Charles 91 yd TD run

The Chiefs already looked like the worst team in the NFL by Week 3, blown out in each of their first two games.  And they were in the process of getting blown out for the third week in a row, trailing 24-6 on the road at New Orleans against a Saints team that was fighting for their season following an 0-2 start.

KC was backed up to their own nine yard line following a special teams gaffe when they handed off to Jamal Charles on a simple sweep to the left.  The Saints defenders looked like Keystone Cops  tripping over one another, and suddenly Charles was gone to the end zone on a 91 yard TD scamper, the longest run in Chiefs history.  And the entire momentum of the game changed dramatically as a result of that one play. The Saints next five drives looked like this: three ‘3-and-outs’, an interception and a safety, while KC went on to kick four more field goals, including the game winner in OT.

KC went 4-8 ATS in their next dozen games; an overvalued commodity for much of the season, at least partially as a result of that baffling (both at the time and in retrospect) win, while the Saints proceeded to go 5-2 SU, 6-1 ATS in their next seven games following that defeat.  Charles run set the stage for betting market mis-evaluations for both teams that weren’t truly corrected for months!

1) Week 6: Tony Carter’s fumble return touchdown

Bettors still remember the Broncos remarkable second half comeback on Monday Night Football at San Diego back in October.  Trailing 24-0 at the break, Denver outscored the Chargers 35-0 in the second half for the win and cover.  At the time, the Broncos were 2-3 SU, fighting to save their season, while the Chargers were 3-2; looking to take control of the division.  In fact, Norv Turner’s squad was the favorite in this game!

Peyton Manning took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched his team down the field into the end zone, cutting the deficit to 17.  But Philip Rivers led a solid Chargers drive right back as San Diego moved the ball 52 yards into field goal range.  A score on that drive and the Broncos positive momentum would have switched right back to the Chargers. 

But Rivers got sacked by Elvis Dumervil and fumbled.  After the ball bounced around for a moment, Broncos cornerback Tony Carter was in the right place at the right time, scooping up the fumble and racing 65 yards the other way for a touchdown.  The Chargers still had a ten point lead following the play, but that fumble return TD was the complete momentum changer in that ballgame….and for the entire season for both teams. 

Denver hasn’t lost since, the hottest team in the NFL heading into the playoffs.  San Diego proceeded to drop five of their next six, effectively ending the Norv Turner era.  Would either or both teams have had the same season without Carter’s fumble return touchdown?  Nobody will ever know…..