Orchestrating a wild, odds-defying comeback was no problem for Peyton Manning. But handling a simpler task — calling the coin toss — turned out to be his costly mistake.
Wagering on NFL games means living and dying with some coin-flip decisions, and the Denver Broncos and their backers literally lost one Sunday.
After two weeks of getting buried by the bookmakers, the betting public watched its luck turn. Seattle’s dramatic win and cover in overtime benefited a majority of bettors, and it followed an unlikely comeback by the Dallas Cowboys, who delivered piles of cash to the public.
“Everyone who was standing in one of our books had a ticket on the Cowboys in their pocket,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said.
Opinions on the Broncos-Seahawks showdown were nearly as lopsided, and it was a wild ride to the result, a 26-20 victory for Seattle, a 4½- to 5-point home favorite.
“You had it won, then you had no chance,” William Hill sports book director Nick Bogdanovich said. “There were more turns than a Magic Mountain roller coaster.”
With 59 seconds remaining and the crowd roaring, Seattle bettors seemed to have it won with a 20-12 lead. And then Manning did something miraculous by driving the Broncos 80 yards in 41 seconds, closing the gap to 20-18 on a 26-yard touchdown pass to Jacob Tamme.
Suddenly, underdog bettors had it won if Denver’s 2-point conversion failed. But Manning fired a strike to Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone to tie the score.
That was a lucky reprieve for bettors like me laying points with the Seahawks, who most likely needed to win the coin toss and score a touchdown on the first drive of overtime to cover the spread.
Manning called tails, and in this case, tails failed. Seattle took the ball and marched 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by Marshawn Lynch’s 6-yard run for the cover.
“Every Sunday, you scratch your head and say, ‘This can’t happen,’ and it does,” Bogdanovich said. “It’s crazy (expletive) happening.
“It was not a monster decision, but we definitely needed Denver. I would like to know who made the decision to call tails. Maybe the coach or someone else told Manning to call tails. I don’t know.”
Manning, quoted in the Denver Post, solved that mystery: “It puts a premium on the coin toss. I called tails at the beginning of the game, and went with it again in overtime. It was heads, and it proved to be a significant call. But that’s the way it is.”
In hindsight, Manning should have called an audible before the coin toss. But he stood on the sideline and never touched the ball again as Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled for two third-down conversions on the winning drive.
Jay Kornegay, Westgate Las Vegas sports book director, said Seattle attracted 70 percent of the tickets and 85 percent of the money in the Super Bowl rematch.
A few hours earlier in St. Louis, the Cowboys were 2½-point favorites in a 21-point hole. But they slowly crept back into the game, and Tony Romo passed for two touchdowns in the second half of a 34-31 win.
“Up 21-0 with a good defense, and the Rams couldn’t get it done,” Bogdanovich said. “The public was all over the Cowboys.”
The public was all over four other favorites that covered — Baltimore, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and New Orleans — and San Diego as an underdog winner.
“I would have to say it was a very good public day and a really bad sharps day,” said Rood, who collected wiseguy money on Green Bay, Jacksonville, Miami, Minnesota, St. Louis and Tennessee.
The Packers, 1-point underdogs, were pathetic in a 19-7 loss to the Lions, who scored on a fumble return and a safety. The Jaguars, 6½-point ’dogs, played dead and got crushed 44-17 by the Colts. The Vikings, getting 10 points, hung tough in a 20-9 defeat to the Saints. The Titans were terrible in a 33-7 loss to the Bengals.
The so-called sharps did win with Washington, which closed as a 4-point ’dog in a 37-34 brawl-filled loss at Philadelphia.
Favorites went 8-6 against the spread, and Rood said the books “survived the day” with help from New England failing to cover as a 14-point favorite and Carolina and San Francisco falling.
Bookmakers needed a bailout performance from the underdog Steelers, and Ben Roethlisberger and his running backs came up big by pounding the Panthers 37-19.
The New York Jets are 2½-point home favorites over Chicago in tonight’s game, which has most sharps on the Jets and the public siding with the Bears. I’m on the Jets, but this could turn into another coin flip.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.