Photo via Abbie Parr/Getty Images
BETTING & FANTASY

How NFL Betting Markets Attack Backup Quarterbacks

Week 8 featured several unsung QBs taking the reins and producing surprise wins. Let’s discuss the takeaways for NFL bettors.

On Thursday Night Football, Jets backup quarterback Mike White threw a touchdown pass to rookie Elijah Moore while exploiting a blown coverage in the Colts secondary. That made the score 7-7. But after the Colts scored their second go-ahead touchdown, third-string signal-caller Josh Johnson entered the game. Due to a forearm injury, Mike White’s night was over. The Colts won 45-30, but the game’s last drive had some massive implications for some folks: football bettors.

The New York Jets entered as around +10/+10.5 underdogs on the spread. Josh Johnson and Co. almost came back from a 32-point deficit to get the famous “backdoor cover” for Jets bettors. So, one could ask: how would the game have played out if Mike White didn’t get injured?

The Jets were 10.5-point underdogs when they upset the Bengals at MetLife Stadium last week. The lookahead number was much lower. But after the Bengals destroyed the Ravens and the Jets conceded a 50-burger in New England, the market flipped towards a double-digit spread last week. One contributing factor was Zach Wilson getting injured himself during the Pats game, and Mike White didn’t look better by any means. The AFC-leading Bengals faced a terrible Jets team with a former fifth-round pick under center.

What could go wrong? Well, everything.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Get on our list for weekly sports business, industry trends, interviews, and more.

Geno Smith: Covering Machine

A few weeks ago, Russell Wilson got severely injured in a prime-time game against the Rams. Geno Smith became the starter for the past three affairs against Pittsburgh, New Orleans, and Jacksonville. At Pittsburgh, the lookahead number was Seahawks -2.5. With Geno Smith announced as the starter, the market re-opened at Steelers -3.5 and got bet up until -5.5 before kickoff. Geno covered the spread. Seattle lost by 3. One week later, the Seahawks opened as 3.5-point home dogs against New Orleans. Up to kickoff, the Saints got “steamed” up to -6. Professional money loved the Saints in that spot. The Seahawks couldn’t get a lot going, but it was still enough to cover the spread. 

Against the inferior Jaguars, Geno Smith and the Seahawks were finally favored at home. They started at an expensive -3 -112 at Pinnacle and were bet up to -4 by kickoff. Sharp bettors loved their matchup – after two affairs against solid defenses, Geno Smith was supposed to have a field day against the lousy Jags defense. It was not a highlight reel, but the Seattle support was correct. Geno Smith is 3-0 against the spread as the starter in 2021 – who could have predicted that!

Mike White Magic

White had a fantastic performance against the Bengals. Jets offensive coodinator Mike LaFleur concurred, calling it an excellent game. They called a lot of play-action and screens on early downs. White had a low air yards average in that game, but that’s not a bad sign per se. You can run a very efficient offense with quick and short passes.

White’s significant contrast between White and Wilson is that the former took everything he had underneath and didn’t hold the ball too long. He also made a few great throws that traveled longer. In that game, the Jets offense displayed what fans and experts expected during the summer. That output left bettors with a lot of uncertainty: what could they expect from Mike White and the Jets’ offense going forward?

The look-ahead line at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas for Thursday night’s Colts-Jets matchup was 14 points last week. After the Jets’ upset and the Colts’ loss, the market opened at Colts -10.5. The number didn’t move much until game time. There was an adjustment over the lookahead number, and the market didn’t intend to correct it.

There were a lot of arguments to be made for the Colts when the spread touched -10, but now that the game’s gone final, we still don’t know much more about Mike White — he only played two drives before giving way to veteran Josh Johnson.

The Saints are Different

The following backup quarterback situation has brewed in New Orleans. Jameis Winston had to leave with a torn ACL. Against the Falcons this week, it will be either Trevor Siemian or Taysom Hill.

We’re looking at two completely different styles of quarterbacking, but the market doesn’t care at all; the lookahead number at the Superbook was Saints -5.5. Atlanta had a rough outing against the Panthers and lost wide receiver Calvin Ridley for the foreseeable future, so going into the weekend, the betting markets have bet the Saints up to -7 -105 (Betcris) and -6.5 -112 (Pinnacle). 

Despite the iffy quarterback situation, there is no support for Atlanta. Bettors trust the Saints’ defense and their coaching staff to figure it out. The Saints were successful with Taysom Hill before. Most experts would describe Siemian and Hill as a downgrade over Winston, but the markets don’t care.

Betting markets made a decent adjustment for Geno Smith and Mike White, but not for Trevor Siemian and Taysom Hill — what does that tell us? Every team, matchup, and situation are different. Bettors assume that the Saints’ backup quarterbacks are in a much better situation this week than Geno Smith and Mike White recently. The downgrade for this specific matchup doesn’t seem to be as severe as going from Russell Wilson to Geno Smith against the Steelers.