Line It Up: The NFL On Pause

bills bengals postponed

It is a Tuesday in the football world that is fraught with questions and light on answers.

The most important question, by far, concerns the health of Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who collapsed after a collision with Cincinnati Bengals receiver Tee Higgins on Monday night. Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest and remained in critical condition Tuesday morning.

Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest following a hit in our game versus the Bengals. His heartbeat was restored on the field and he was transferred to the UC Medical Center for further testing and treatment. He is currently sedated and listed in critical condition.

— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) January 3, 2023

Countless viewers seeing the incident and others learning of it would be asking additional questions surrounding the risks involved in football and how comfortable we all are watching the sport.

Numerous steps down the priority ladder, we find the question of when, or if, the Bengals-Bills game will resume. Thankfully, given the emotional state of players on both sidelines, it appears their head coaches advocated for them and prevented the possibility of a near-immediate resumption Monday night.

Speculation as of Tuesday morning included the possibility of playing the rest of the game on Wednesday, bumping the playoffs back by a week and finishing the game on what would have been wild card weekend, or simply not bothering to play the rest of the game and allowing both teams to finish with 16 games on their records.

Given that the Bills and Bengals both have already clinched playoff berths and all that’s at stake here is seeding, I’m guessing that latter option is the one that will become reality. But it’s certainly possible the NFL will announce something different soon after this column has published.

If the game is not played to a conclusion, that leads us to the least important — but that doesn’t mean unimportant — questions: What becomes of sports wagers and fantasy contests impacted by the result of the game, and what about futures bets related to the players’ season statistics?

From where I sit, it’s OK to think about this sort of thing. You should feel icky if it’s the first thing you thought of when ESPN went to a series of somber commercial breaks. And you sure as hell don’t want to be a performative troll on Twitter focused on the resumption of the game while a 24-year-old man’s life hangs in the balance. But there’s no shame in it crossing your mind if you have money at stake.

Rules vary among sportsbooks regarding wagers on the particular game in question. Most are holding bets initially. Some will refund 24 hours later, others eight days later, others somewhere in between. This is all relatively simple — although it gets complicated with bets like “first touchdown scorer,” which are typically graded and paid out immediately. If, officially, the game never happened, was there really a first TD scorer? In this case, I imagine sportsbooks would simply let those who put money on Tyler Boyd keep their winnings and eat whatever loss there is.

Season-long futures bets are also plenty tricky. While both the Bengals and Bills have already gone over their non-adjusted win totals, what about a wager such as Joe Burrow to go over his passing yardage total, which was 4,450.5 before the season at DraftKings? He’s at 4,260 without the Bills game.

Some sportsbooks have fine print about a team needing to play 17 games for certain bets to count. The COVID-19-impacted seasons in the sports world should have made all operators conscientious with rules regarding cancellations, but that doesn’t mean all operators took heed.

And as much as people want to minimize talk of fantasy football at a time like this, the reality is that there was significant money on the line everywhere from Underdog’s tournaments to private leagues, and for most, Week 17 was championship week. Everyone needs to keep things in proper perspective, of course. But it’s normal to feel aggrieved if the cancellation of a game takes money out of your pocket because you needed, say, just a few more points from Stefon Diggs to win top prize.

All of the above matters. Not all of it matters to the same degree. What’s most important is the status of Hamlin.

I’ve long covered the sport of boxing, where tragic results are more common than in football. Just two months ago, a fighter from Kazakhstan named Aidos Yerbossynuly was placed in a medically induced coma following a knockout loss, and seemingly because of the quick medical attention he received, he made a remarkable recovery. Each situation is unique, of course, but I choose to remain hopeful about Damar Hamlin.

While we all keep Hamlin in our thoughts, let’s take a quick look at the early lines for NFL Week 18 in a stripped-down version of the weekly “Line It Up” column.

The consensus lines

Most lines vary by half a point in either direction, with slightly different vigs from book to book, so it’s always advisable to price-shop at all the available mobile sportsbooks in your state.

There remains uncertainty over exactly what is at stake in a handful of these games due to the Bills-Bengals suspension, and it is a nearly impossible task to project how Buffalo players in particular will perform on Sunday. As of publication time on Tuesday, there were no lines listed at any major U.S. sportsbooks for either Patriots at Bills or Ravens at Bengals, but here are the consensus (most commonly found) spreads for the other 14 games in Week 18:

Chiefs (-9) at Raiders
Titans at Jaguars (-6.5)
Buccaneers at Falcons (-3)
Vikings (-4) at Bears
Texans at Colts (-2.5)
Jets at Dolphins (-0.5)
Panthers at Saints (-3.5)
Browns at Steelers (-2.5)
Chargers (-3) at Broncos
Giants at Eagles (-14)
Cardinals at 49ers (-14)
Rams at Seahawks (-6.5)
Cowboys (-4) at Commanders
Lions at Packers (-4.5)

Gadget plays

Attempting to end this week’s abbreviated column on a more light-hearted note: Back on Sept. 18, after the Jaguars had improved to 1-1 and the Chiefs had moved to 2-0, while the Eagles and Bills were both 1-0 and awaiting Monday night games, I put together a four-leg division-winner parlay at FanDuel on that quartet of teams.

Buffalo was -290 to win the AFC East, Philadelphia was -160 to win the NFC East, Kansas City was -105 to prevail in the AFC West, and Jacksonville was +340 to win the AFC South. In essence, I was looking to bet on the up-and-coming Jags, but I wanted to add both risk and reward by mixing in three favorites in which I had fairly strong confidence. The parlay came out to +1777.

Heading into Thanksgiving week, with the Jaguars at 3-7 and four games behind the 7-3 Titans, the bet appeared as done as a turkey with the timer button popped. But as the Jags closed the gap (and, admittedly, I got lucky with the Titans’ mounting injury woes), the wager roared back to life, with the other three legs all just about clinched.

Well, heading into Week 18, there’s potential for the bet to implode in a stunning manner. The Jags will clinch the AFC South with a win or tie against the Titans on Saturday night. With Tennessee starting third-string QB Joshua Dobbs, Jacksonville ranges from -265 to -300 on the moneyline.

But if the Jags win or tie Saturday, there’s still a Sunday sweat awaiting. The Bills and Chiefs have both clinched, but the Eagles, improbably, have not. They led the Cowboys by three games with three to go. Then the Jalen Hurts injury news came out. Then a Gardner Minshew-led Philly team lost to Dallas heads-up. Then the Cowboys won in Week 17 and the Eagles lost as home favorites. So, for the third straight week, Philly’s magic number is 1.

For the parlay bet to cash, if Jacksonville gets by Tennessee I’ll still need either Dallas to lose to Washington or the Eagles to beat the Giants.

Fortunately for my bet, and for Eagles fans who don’t want to see their team slip from the top seed and a bye to the fifth seed and a road playoff game, the Giants are locked into the NFC’s sixth seed and have nothing to play for on Sunday. So New York is expected to play its B-team and rest its A-team — hence the two-touchdown spread.

So the Jags remain the most wobbly leg. But they most certainly are not the final leg.

Photo: Joseph Maiorana/USA TODAY

Author: Ryan Gonzales