South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday)

Take the gamble?

NFL betting lines in season of COVID-19 are moving targets

- By Wayne Parry

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Trevor Konitzer is the kind of guy whose cellphone is constantly buzzing with updates on NFL players: who’s hurt, who’s playing, what breaking news affects one team or another.

He sawa betting line on lastweek’s Saints-Broncos game open at New Orleans giving up 6.5 points.

And then 2020 struck— again— in away that’s been creating havocwith the NFL’s schedules, rosters and, most importantl­y to some, betting lines.

A coronaviru­s outbreak involving the Broncos saw three of the team’s quarterbac­ks deemed high-risk close contacts for having been mask-less around QB Jeff Driskel before he tested positive, making them ineligible to play in the upcoming game against the Saints.

“Itwent up to 10.5, and as soon as I got that alert onmy phone, I saidO,`K, it’s time,“’ Konitzer said.

He quickly placed a bet on New Orleans, knowing that awide receiver recently elevated fromDenver’s practice squadwas to start at quarterbac­k.

Itwas someof the easiestmon­ey he evermade.

Kendall Hinton completed 1 of 9 passes for 13 yards, and the Broncos lost 31-3.

It came during a week when what was to have been the marquee matchup of Thanksgivi­ng night, the Ravens-Steelers game, was repeatedly pushed back due to multiple

COVID-19 cases involving Baltimore, including reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson. That game was played six days later, with heavily favored Pittsburgh holding on for a

19-14win.

The virus has been forcing postponeme­nts, knocking key players out of action and jumbling betting lines sinceWeek 4 back in October.

“It’s been pretty difficult,” said John Sheeran, director of trading for FanDuel. “We don’t have all the informatio­n on who’s going to play, but we do endeavor to have a line for every game.”

“The traders have to be more creative and apply their analytical skills to our lines more than ever before,” added Jay Croucher, head of trading for PointsBet. “This year, it’s obviously more up in the air, particular­lynowthat there are nichemarke­ts like player props.

“Denver loses all their quarterbac­ks, and nowyou have to set player props for Kendall Hinton,” he said. “It’s really just calculated guesswork. We set his passing yards at 120.5; he ended up with 13.”

Onetrendth­at hasbecomep­articularl­y noticeable this season: Gamblers seem to bewaiting longer than ever to place their bets as they wait till the last possible moment to see who’s playing and who isn’t.

DraftKings’ line on Broncos-Saints went from the Saints giving up 5.5 points to 16.5 points.

“That’s one of the largest moves I’ve ever seen,” said Johnny Avello, head of sportsbook for DraftKings. “You just don’t see that in the NFL.”

The sportsbook­s say they roll with the punches when developmen­ts pop up, just as the gamblers must do. FanDuel’s Sheeran said oddsmakers apply the latest news to their “core calculatio­ns” for each team.

Using Sunday’s Giants-Seahawks game as an example, Sheeran said FanDuel has Seattle ranked as a 4.5 to 5-point better team than the NFL average. It has the Giants as 4 to 5 points lower than the NFL average.

“Then you add the fact that Colt McCoy is playing quarterbac­k (for New York) and is 7-21 as a starter in the NFL, the game is being played in Seattle, add in the travel factor for the Giants, the historical matchups, and you put that all in the pot and it gives us a number we think it should be.” (Seattle is favored by 11, up from 10 a few days ago).

The Steelers opened at -4.5 but went up to 10.5 with the cascading virus-related absences on the Ravens’ part. (A late touchdown by the Ravens’ third-string quarterbac­k, Trace McSorley, gave the Ravens the cover).

The merry-go-round that is the NFL schedule will continue past this weekend: The Steelers and theWashing­ton Football Team will play at 5 p.m. EST Monday, before the regularly scheduled Bills-49ers game that wasmovedto­Arizona ( SanFrancis­co having been ousted from its home by county health officials). And the Cowboys and Ravens will play a rare Tuesday night game.

All this uncertaint­y, however, is not affecting gamblers’ eagerness to bet on NFL games. Sportsbook­s uniformly say their overall handle isway up this season, as people look for forms of entertainm­ent that don’t involve going out.

And Konitzer, a 22-year-old bank employee fromGreenB­ay, Wisconsin, won bets on both the Saints-Broncos and Ravens-Steelers games.

“It’s been aweird season, for sure,” he said.

 ?? WAYNE PARRY/AP ?? A gambler makes a sports bet on Sept 5, 2019, at Bally's casino in Atlantic City, N.J.
WAYNE PARRY/AP A gambler makes a sports bet on Sept 5, 2019, at Bally's casino in Atlantic City, N.J.

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