Only one week into the NFL season, a season-ending injury to New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has dramatically altered the landscape.
The league, fans, bettors and oddsmakers are shocked and trying to determine what happens next.
The Patriots now turn to Matt Cassel to steer the ship, and the impact in relation to the wagering line is staggering.
“We’re in a profession that looks back to project forward,” Las Vegas Sports Consultants odds director Tony Sinisi said. “Brady is worth at least a touchdown to the spread, which is unheard of. The biggest previous drop-off I can recall would be when (Denver’s) John Elway was out, and that was about a 4-point difference. Cassel is the great unknown. The Patriots, to a degree, will have to reinvent themselves.”
LVSC senior oddsmaker Mike Seba sees an even bigger shift on the wagering board when it comes to the totals on Patriots games.
“They have scored so many points with regularity that proportionally Brady’s impact is immense,” Seba said. “I’d say in the neighborhood of nine points less for the totals, of course depending on the matchup. It stands to reason they’ll be more of a grind-it-out team now.”
To that end, the New York Jets are 11/2-point home favorites over the Patriots today, and the paltry total sent out at 381/2 has been bet down to 37.
Brady’s absence makes it a wide-open race, with strong AFC contenders Indianapolis and San Diego bobbling at the break. With a loss at Denver today, the Chargers would be three games behind the Broncos just two weeks into the season by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker.
Sinisi is willing to read between the lines for this game, in which the Chargers are 1-point favorites.
“Having dropped the opener, there is no doubt the Chargers will bring an enhanced focus to the game in Denver,” Sinisi said. “The desperation level early in the season is more severe for quality teams that have high expectations.”
The importance of avoiding an 0-2 start cannot be diminished. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 234 teams have gone winless in their first two games, with only 27 teams able to regroup to make the playoffs.
So less than 12 percent of the time, those slow starters found themselves competing in the postseason.
Last year, of the 10 teams that were 0-2 heading into Week 3, only the New York Giants reached the playoffs.
And what do we make of the unbeaten rookie quarterbacks, Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, when they play on the road for the first time? Starting at home against weak opponents helped both rookies.
The Ravens displayed a stout defense against the dysfunctional Cincinnati Bengals, and Flacco scored on a 38-yard run. His biggest contribution was not throwing any interceptions.
Ryan also avoided turnovers against the Detroit Lions, but he might have developed calluses on his hands from handing the ball to Michael Turner so often. The Falcons are 7-point underdogs at Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers’ defense remains a stiff challenge.
“It will be a roller-coaster ride for the Ravens and Falcons,” LVSC chief operating officer Ken White said. “In relation to the line, rookie quarterbacks cover the spread in the 30 percent neighborhood.”
Added Sinisi: “The NFL is so much more sophisticated these days. It makes it not only a rarity for a rookie QB to succeed, but more often than not a recipe for disaster, unless he’s surrounded by extraordinary talent.”
In 2004, Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went 13-0 as a starter and 10-3 against the spread. The supporting casts for Flacco and Ryan make those numbers a pipe dream.
Brian Blessing, project manager for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, can be reached at email@example.com. Listen to the LVSC oddsmakers on Sportsbook Radio, weekdays at 4 p.m. on Fox Sports Radio (920 AM). Visit vegassportsconnect.com for more odds information.