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How NFL Betting Markets React to Injury News

The Browns’ Week 6 game against the Cardinals provides a fascinating look into how injuries can change lines in real time.

The Cleveland Browns lost in heartbreaking fashion last Sunday. They were up 42-35 with 4:45 to go, only to fall 47-42 after the Los Angeles Chargers scored another two touchdowns in the final minutes. But it wasn’t just their last-minute loss on the west coast — they were also decimated by injuries. Going into the game, cornerback Greg Newsome, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, left tackle Jedrick Wills, and backup left tackle Chris Hubbard were all inactive.

But it didn’t stop there. During the game, CB Denzel Ward and right tackle Jack Conklin got injured and had to leave the game. Corner Greedy Williams got banged up, and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah was taken to the hospital because of a throat contusion. They were coming off a loss while being shredded with injuries.

That’s not an ideal situation heading into a game against the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals.

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Early Monday on Arizona

The situational spot favored the Browns from the get-go. Bettors like to bet on a home team coming off a last-minute loss and facing an unbeaten. That opponent might have reached the market peak due to being overvalued in some capacity.

But nowadays, stuff like that gets mostly priced into the market number already. Situational handicapping was strong about seven years ago, but not so much anymore.

After five weeks, most bettors should have the Cardinals and Browns close together from a rating standpoint. Home-field advantage is diminishing, so one would have to assume a modest market number — but sportsbooks still installed the Browns as -3 home favorites (-105 at Pinnacle) on Sunday evening right before Sunday Night Football kicked off. There was an inflow of Arizona money until Monday morning, and the market pushed the number down to 2.5 (-105 to -109).

We will hardly ever figure out the causal reasons for market moves unless we can back-track it, but it seems like the market disagreed with the opening number. Maybe Arizona was undervalued from their point of view, or they jumped on all the potential injuries looming for Cleveland.

Advantages in the Trenches

Matchup-wise, there are some clear-cut advantages for the Browns in the trenches. Kevin Stefanski’s team features one of the best run games in the league, and their defensive line is highly disruptive. Weather forecasts came up with projections of 18-20 mph winds with over 30 mph gusts during the game.

That naturally favors the run game, as throwing the ball against high wind speeds is tough.

Arizona’s injury situation was a bit cleaner, although far from perfect. It lost tight end Maxx Williams — not a big name, but an underrated injury — prompting a trade for Philly’s Zach Ertz. Stalwart center Rodney Hudson went down as well, and franchise QB Kyler Murray got treatment on his shoulder during Sunday’s game against the 49ers. 

The Browns took some money from Monday morning until Wednesday morning, and the market number got pushed toward the Browns -2.5 and -122. Most bettors were waiting for the first practice report to arrive on Wednesday because the situation was cloudy.

Suddenly, the script flipped toward the Browns.

Williams will miss the rest of the season and Cardinals center Rodney Hudson was declared out for the Browns game. Kyler Murray – who had the same injury last year when the Cardinals’ offense dropped in production and efficiency – could only get a “limited” practice in. Chandler Jones, Arizona’s best pass rusher, was surprisingly ruled out due to testing positive for COVID-19.

All the Way Across the Three

On the other side of the matchup, Cleveland’s first injury report looked a lot better than anticipated.

Cornerbacks Greg Newsome, Denzel Ward, and Greedy Williams were all seen on the practice field. The markets reacted adequately, moving the Browns from the expensive -2.5 through the critical number of 3, towards an expensive -3 -113 at Pinnacle. On Thursday, Kyler Murray was still limited, and Jadeveon Clowney also practiced. The market moved again, pushing Cleveland to -3 -120 and then to -3.5 -105. As of Friday morning, we are looking at Browns -3 -120 and -3.5 +102, depending on where you look.

The Cards took early money off the Sunday night opener, while Cleveland’s injury situation looked highly iffy. But the script flipped, and the Browns suddenly have a lot more going for them in their matchup against the Cardinals.

That’s market evolvement at its finest. And it’s a perfect example of why NFL bettors need to pay attention to news all week long – estimating injury statuses, judging their impact, and reacting fast is one key of successful handicapping.