- Dave Tuley, ESPN Insider
LAS VEGAS -- Week 17 of the NFL season had all the drama we expected, and a lot we didn't, with bettors here in the sports books hanging on all the twists and turns.
Their heads were spinning with all the playoff scenarios changing throughout the day, and then we saw a jump to the wild-card lines when they were posted Sunday night. But more on those lines in the "Opening Line" section at the end of this column.
As for Week 17's action, the two win-or-stay-home battles for the NFC North and NFC East titles both went down to the wire. Green Bay, which closed as a 3-point road favorite at Chicago in QB Aaron Rodgers' return to action, prevailed in a back-and-forth battle as Rodgers hit Randall Cobb on a 48-yard touchdown pass on a fourth-and-8 play in the final minute of the game to win 33-28 and cover the spread. In the Sunday night season finale, Philadelphia closed as a 7.5-point road favorite with Dallas having to play Kyle Orton in place of injured Tony Romo. The Eagles looked as if they might cover, leading 24-16 in the fourth quarter. However, Orton's 32-yard TD pass to Dez Bryant pulled the Cowboys to within 24-22. That's where it stayed, and the Eagles failed to cover.
With the NFL moving some of the games with playoff implications to the 1:25 p.m. PT time slot, the "morning games" (10 a.m. Vegas time) certainly set the stage. Carolina struggled to put away Atlanta as a 6-point road favorite but prevailed 21-20 to claim one of the NFC's first-round byes. The biggest upset in the early games was the New York Jets knocking the Miami Dolphins out of the AFC's last wild-card spot with a 20-7 victory as a 7-point road underdog. The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens also lost, 34-17 at Cincinnati, to set up the wildest of circumstances -- San Diego just had to win or tie its game against Kansas City in the afternoon session to make the playoffs. (And if the Chargers lost, the Pittsburgh Steelers would get in at 8-8).
Because the Chiefs were expected to rest starters as they were locked into the AFC's No. 5 seed, the Chargers had been a 9.5- to 10-point favorite all week. When it became apparent that the Chargers were in a win-and-they're-in position, the line was adjusted to minus-14 and bet to a Vegas consensus closing line of minus-14.5. However, the Chargers never even approached the spread and trailed 24-14 entering the fourth quarter before rallying to tie the score. The Chiefs had a chance to win at the end of regulation and send the Steelers to the playoffs, but Ryan Succop's field-goal attempt was wide right.
The Chargers won 27-24 in overtime, but they were the only big favorite that failed to cover in the afternoon games, as the sports books took a beating on parlays with most of the league's most popular teams. Denver routed Oakland 34-14 as a 10.5-point favorite (and it wasn't that close as the Broncos led 31-0 at halftime), and New England beat Buffalo 34-20 as a 7-point favorite to grab the AFC's first-round byes, plus Seattle blew out St. Louis 27-9 as a 12.5-point favorite to grab home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Add in New Orleans' 42-17 rout of Tampa Bay as a 10.5-point favorite, as well as Green Bay covering, and it was a chalk player's paradise.
Favorites were 6-1 straight up and 5-2 ATS in that afternoon session, and the only other 'dog -- besides the Chiefs against the Chargers -- to cover was San Francisco topping Arizona 23-20 after closing as a 3-point road underdog, and a popular one at that. Favorites went 13-3 straight up in Week 17 as the only other outright upset besides the Jets and the 49ers was the Vikings, who ended up closing as a consensus 1.5-point home underdog against Detroit in the final game at the Metrodome but won 14-13. Favorites went 9-6 against the spread to close out the season at 128-115 ATS (52.7 percent) with seven pushes. The Dolphins were the only home 'dog to win outright, although they went 3-2 ATS. Double-digit 'dogs, after sitting over 60 percent all season, went 1-4 ATS (the Chiefs were the only one to cover).
Here are the final regular-season betting stats we've been tracking all year:
Dave Tuley gives his take on early line moves for the NFL playoffs.