NFL bets: Laying 20 to Jags a reckless wager

Forget about winning the game. This is about covering. If the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the spread Sunday, coach Gus Bradley deserves a Gatorade shower and a ride off the field on the shoulders of his players.

The point spread is the oddsmakers’ equalizer. In this case, the number is a monster, and it presents a hairy dilemma for a handicapper.

The Jaguars opened as 20-point road underdogs to the Seattle Seahawks, and the number has dipped to 19½. Bigfoot sightings are more common than NFL lines in this neighborhood.

“Jacksonville is arguably the worst team in the league, and on the flip side, Seattle appears to be the best team in the league right now,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “It’s just a perfect storm.”

It’s easy to forecast the winner. The Seahawks are minus-9,900 (to win $100) on the money line. But the Jaguars, according to history, are more likely to get the cover.

Beauty is in the eye of the ticket holder, and contrarians and professionals are typically attracted to the big, ugly ’dogs.

Dave Tuley is an underdog player. A plus sign is attached to around 95 percent of his NFL sides.

The last time there was a 20-point favorite in an NFL game, it was 2011 and Peyton Manning was sidelined with a broken neck. His replacement, quarterback Curtis Painter, rallied the Indianapolis Colts to a cover in a 31-24 loss at New England.

“I laugh when I hear everyone discussing this game,” said Tuley, a handicapper from ViewfromVegas.com. “Everyone is saying the Jaguars won’t score and that the Seahawks are going to run over them. Most media and fans still say the Seahawks will probably still cover the spread. But I know for a fact that people were saying the same things two years ago when the Patriots were minus-20 against the Colts.

“The Patriots were a juggernaut and the Colts were on their ‘Suck for (Andrew) Luck’ campaign to get the No. 1 draft choice, yet the Colts did indeed score and easily covered the spread. But were the Patriots disappointed in their win? Of course not, just like when they failed to cover 20-point spreads in 2006. They notched their W’s and moved on, and that’s what happens as the favorite’s goal is to get out with a victory and winning by a touchdown or two is comfortable enough.”

A couple of trends from Covers.com states a case for the big ’dogs:

▶ Favorites of 20 points or more in the NFL are just 1-8 against the spread since 1985.

▶ Favorites of 14 points or more are 87-111-6 ATS (187-17 straight up) since 1985, a cover rate of 44 percent.

The Oakland Raiders are 15-point ’dogs at Denver on Monday night. The Colts, led by Luck, are 10-point ’dogs at San Francisco on Sunday.

Tuley, who writes a weekly NFL betting column for ESPN.com, said, “The Seahawks might very well roll to victory and cover this spread — and if they can beat the 49ers by 26 points, there’s no denying that’s very possible against the Jaguars — but that’s not the way to bet. You might cash this time, but laying 20 points in the NFL isn’t the road to riches.

“Even though double-digit underdogs are 3-0 ATS so far, I’m less confident in the Raiders covering against the Broncos. Manning hasn’t had any problem extending leads in second halves so far, so I’ll pass here at plus-15. But if you were to give me 20 points?”

The Jaguars might be getting 20 or more by Sunday, when the public starts hammering the line.

“If I wanted to bet Jacksonville,” Golden Nugget sports book director Tony Miller said, “I’d probably wait until next year.”

Jacksonville has scored 11 points, two on a safety, in two games. Seattle has the league’s No. 1 defense. Making matters more difficult for the Jaguars, their best offensive player, running back Maurice Jones-Drew, is questionable with an ankle injury.

“We got some takers at plus-20,” Esposito said. “I do think the public loves the Seahawks. I still think it will be a good handle because it’s kind of intriguing for a lot of people when you look at that high number.”

Underdogs are 18-14-1 ATS after Kansas City, a 3-point ’dog, opened Week 3 on Thursday with a 26-16 win at Philadelphia, where no one spotted Bigfoot but there was an Andy Reid sighting.

Taking the points is the sharper strategy when handicapping the NFL. Taking a lot of points with the Jaguars this week is a big, ugly dilemma.

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — Continuing the underdog theme, here are five college football guesses for Saturday (home team in CAPS):

Western Michigan (+16½) over IOWA; San Jose State (+3½) over MINNESOTA; Colorado State (+40) over ALABAMA; SAN DIEGO STATE (+9½) over Oregon State; Western Illinois (+13) over UNLV.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.