With Patrick Mahomes' status up in the air, oddsmakers are hedging their bets while making a line for Sunday's AFC Championship game.
The Kansas City Chiefs will host the conference title game for the third straight year, becoming the first AFC team to do so, but whether they'll have their star quarterback at their disposal against the Buffalo Bills remains to be seen. Mahomes left the Divisional Round game against the Browns because of a concussion and did not return, leaving veteran backup Chad Henne in charge of polishing off Kansas City's 22-17 win. Mahomes has entered the NFL's concussion protocol, and his availability for the title game remains uncertain.
According to oddsmakers at PointsBet Sportsbook, the game could be a Pick 'Em or even a line of Buffalo -1 if Mahomes is ruled out. If he was fully healthy, the line could have reached in the neighborhood of Kansas City -5. Instead it landed in the middle, with PointsBet opening the Chiefs as 3-point favorites and the line holding steady amid balanced, two-way action in early betting.
"I think a line like Buffalo -1 is factoring in Chad Henne, and we just don't know that at this point. There's a solid chance Mahomes plays," PointsBet senior sports analyst Andrew Mannino told NBC Sports. "I try to say that you can only go on what you know, but in a situation like this, it's a significant drop off from Mahomes to Henne. And we have to bake that in a little bit, I think. It's just such a difference."
On the NFC side, oddsmakers opened the Green Bay Packers as 3.5-point favorites against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But early action has been on the side of Tom Brady, with the updated line shifting to Green Bay -3.
Packers move ahead of Chiefs as Super Bowl favorites
Mahomes' uncertainty for Sunday has also created another ripple effect as the Packers are now favored ahead of the Chiefs as the team most likely to win Super Bowl LV.
The Chiefs had created some distance in the futures market heading into last week's games, listed at +190 with the Packers next at +400. But Green Bay's odds have since been cut in half, as they're now sitting at +200 to win it all. The Chiefs, meanwhile, have drifted up to +210, barely above their price heading into the playoffs (+220).
"The uncertainty around Mahomes doesn't help. If he's 100 percent, the Chiefs probably get a dime edge," Mannino said. "But they're two very good football teams who are favorites in their games. So we think it's a coin toss on either of those teams."
The Bills moved from +600 to +325 with their win over Baltimore, while the Bucs went from +800 to +425 after upsetting the Saints. An exact Super Bowl matchup of Chiefs-Packers is listed at +150, while the longshot combination of Bills-Bucs pays +525.
Bills' title now best-case scenario for house
While there isn't exactly a doomsday scenario on the board, oddsmakers might have a slight rooting interest in the Bills this weekend.
After opening the season at +2200 to win it all, the Bills now sit at +325 and represent the current best-case scenario for PointsBet from a futures standpoint. That's in part because the Bills didn't garner many preseason bets: just 2.6 percent of the futures action, behind 14 others including teams like San Francisco, Arizona, New England, Philadelphia and Dallas who all failed to make the playoffs. By contrast, the most preseason futures bets (11.8 percent) came in on Kansas City, with Brady's arrival prompting a flurry of action on the Bucs who were fourth on the list at 7.8 percent of bets.
Kansas City has continued to receive heavy support throughout the season, and they're now the worst possible outcome in terms of Super Bowl champ. A win by either Tampa Bay or Kansas City would be described as a "manageable loss" for the house, while they'll likely turn a small profit if Buffalo or Green Bay lifts the Lombardi Trophy.
"None of them are awful at this point," Mannino said.
Playoff unders lead to profitable weekend for book
Public bettors got off to a strong start Saturday when the Packers won (and covered) against the Rams, but the lack of points over the subsequent three games tilted the final balance in favor of the house.
Scoring in the Ravens-Bills, Browns-Chiefs and Bucs-Saints games all stayed below their posted total, which often spells doom for the betting public. The big win for the house from that group was the Saturday night tilt in Buffalo, where the Bills won 17-3 in a game where the total at kickoff was listed at 50 and the vast majority of action (68 percent of bets, 72 percent of handle) was on the over.
"That was definitely the winner there. I think people expected more fireworks than they got," Mannino said. "Plus anytime the Chiefs don't score a ton of points, it's useful as well."
But oddsmakers at PointsBet didn't emerge from the Bills game entirely unscathed. One bettor put $5,400 per "point" on the Bills at -3.5 via Pointsbetting, meaning he stood to win (or lose) more depending on the exact margin between the final score and the spread. With a cap at $100,000 in either direction, the bettor took home a $56,700 profit. The figure represented 10.5 times his original stake, given the Bills won by 14 and covered the -3.5 line by 10.5 points.
"It was a significant bet. It's something we don't see every game," Mannino said. "That kind of swing with that big of a wager, it's always a risk both for the client and the book. We've certainly been on the wrong side of these before."
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