One fluke play turned a great season into a great depression. Peyton Manning jogged into the tunnel, one with no light at the end, and just like that, the Denver Broncos went dark.
“The whole season for Denver, all the good stories, it’s done,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. “It means absolutely nothing.”
It sounds cold, but that’s the one-and-done reality of the postseason. The NFL is down to its final four teams, and final three games, and the Broncos are nothing more than another bad-beat story.
Manning’s impressive comeback season – 11 consecutive wins, the top seed in the AFC – will end with him watching from the couch while eating a Papa John’s pizza. The Super Bowl co-favorites, the betting public’s favorite team to ride, all of the Broncos’ good deeds were undone on one stunning Saturday.
The show will go on, and it will continue to be a hit, but it could have been better. At a time when we should be hyping an AFC championship showdown between Manning and Tom Brady, we’re stuck with the Baltimore Ravens.
At the moment before Joe Flacco lofted a 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds remaining in regulation, the Broncos had a 97.2 percent chance to win the game, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
Every dollar wagered on Denver, which closed as an 8½-point favorite, went down the drain in a 38-35 loss in double overtime. Money-line and teaser bets that seemed alive and well died on a miracle that had a 2.8 percent chance of cashing.
“The Denver game turned everything around for us. It’s one of the better games we’ve booked,” Vaccaro said. “You had to send in the MASH unit to clean up after that one. All in all, for the weekend, it was very good.”
The New England Patriots now stand alone as favorites to win the Super Bowl. The Patriots are 9½-point favorites over the Ravens in the AFC title game. In the NFC, San Francisco is a 3½-point favorite at Atlanta.
So the show goes on, and a wagering handle that Vaccaro said was “off the hook” for the four divisional-round games still will be big without Manning.
“I think the handle on both games will be through the roof,” Vaccaro said. “The handle, in every aspect, is just incredible. People bet more when there are less games. People like to put up their cash and watch football. We keep writing tickets. There is always business.”
Expect the 49ers to attract more business than the Falcons, who blew a 27-7 fourth-quarter lead before pulling off their own minor miracle by beating Seattle 30-28 in the last minute Sunday.
Matt Ryan finally won a playoff game, but bettors who laid 2½ or 3 points with Atlanta got burned.
Going into the weekend, the Green Bay Packers were the most popular underdog on the board. But Colin Kaepernick ran circles around the Packers, accounting for 444 total yards (263 passing, 181 rushing) and four touchdowns in a 45-31 blowout.
And that was after Kaepernick put San Francisco in a 7-0 hole by throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
In the wild-card round, all four favorites covered and all four games went under the total. A reversal in that trend was due, so it was hardly a surprise to see all four games go over the total (with each team scoring at least 28 points) while the ‘dogs and favorites split.
Brady took care of business, leading the Patriots to a 41-28 victory over the Houston Texans. New England left the back door open but covered 9½.
Manning failed to do his part. It’s too much of an overreaction to call him the goat. The Broncos had a few goats, and he was one. Manning might be the greatest regular-season quarterback of all time, but he’s often an Average Joe in the playoffs, and it seemed unthinkable he could lose to Flacco.
“Flacco was magnificent,” Vaccaro said. “He would have got blasted if he had played bad. Everything was looking like he would fall flat on his face.”
The Denver defense was just as much to blame for a ridiculous breakdown, specifically cornerback Tony Carter and safety Rahim Moore. Carter let Jacoby Jones run by him, and Moore took a bad angle on the tying touchdown pass.
But it was Manning who made a rookie mistake, flinging a foolish pass that was picked off to set up the Ravens’ winning field goal.
“I would make it minus-130 Manning’s fault. He did spit it up with the second interception,” Vaccaro said. “He’s going to get a pass for the most part for all he’s done for the team this season. But he still made a crucial mistake.”
Ray Lewis danced and said God was on the Ravens’ side, an invaluable handicapping intangible that we didn’t know before the game, and support that Baltimore will need again this week against Brady.
Manning can order a Papa John’s pizza to help him deal with a depressing end to what had been a great season.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.