Patrick Mahomes is generally considered the best quarterback in the game today and is a lock to collect his second NFL MVP trophy in a couple of weeks. But where does a Patrick Mahomes who can’t leave the pocket rank among the elite QBs in football?
That’s a key question sportsbooks and sports bettors have to be asking themselves heading into the Kansas City Chiefs vs. Cincinnati Bengals AFC Championship rematch in light of Mahomes suffering a high ankle sprain during the Chiefs’ victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. And the oddsmakers’ initial answer to that question was out of line — pun somewhat intended — with the customers’ thinking, it would appear.
As the Bengals were putting the finishing touches on their win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday, an advance line that FanDuel posted on K.C.-Cincy made the host Chiefs -2.5 and the Bengals +124 on the moneyline. This despite Joe Burrow and the Bengals having beaten the Chiefs three straight times and despite Mahomes never once passing from outside the pocket on his bum ankle in the second half vs. Jacksonville.
With a healthy Mahomes, Chiefs -2.5 at home would have made perfect sense. With a Mahomes who is not a running threat, and isn’t even a rolling-out threat, it didn’t make perfect sense. And FanDuel and the other sportsbooks quickly realized that.
At FanDuel, the Bengals moneyline was down to +114 by the time their game against the Bills was officially over. Minutes later, that moneyline was -102 (where it remained Monday morning).
Lines vary from book to book and from minute to minute, but the FanDuel movement was typical of what’s happened in the industry from Sunday to Monday — not only with the Bengals’ outlook in the AFC title game, but also, to a lesser extent, with the favored home Philadelphia Eagles’ odds in the NFC title game against the San Francisco 49ers.
Bengals now favored at one major sportsbook
At Circa Sportsbook, the Chiefs and Eagles were both favored by 1.5 points initially (with matching moneylines on the two games):
NFC/AFC Championship lines…👀 pic.twitter.com/GbsT6fixQY
— Jeffrey Benson (@JeffreyBenson12) January 23, 2023
At the end of the evening, the Eagles were favored by one additional point, while the Chiefs-Bengals line remained the same:
Conference Championship Odds#RuleTheJungle | #ChiefsKingdom | #FTTB | #FlyEaglesFly | #NFLPlayoffs | #SBLVII pic.twitter.com/WDWanaJlpK
— Circa Sports (@CircaSports) January 23, 2023
But by Monday morning, Circa was clearly taking the Mahomes injury much more seriously. The Eagles remained 2.5-point favorites on the NFC side. But the Bengals had flipped to 2.5-point favorites, rather than 1.5-point underdogs, on the AFC side.
Heading into this past Sunday’s divisional round games, Circa Sportsbook Operations Manager Jeffrey Benson was asked on Twitter what the potential lines could be. His response indicated that, depending on what happened in Cincinnati-Buffalo, the apparently compromised Mahomes, compared to a 100% Mahomes, was worth anywhere from three-quarters of a point to 2 points.
At SuperBook, the Bengals opened as 3-point dogs vs. K.C.:
A rematch of last year’s AFC Championship! Who are you taking? 🏈 pic.twitter.com/sfRgGL7d7G
— SuperBook Sports (@SuperBookSports) January 22, 2023
Within a few hours, the game was a pick’em, which remained the price on Monday morning:
Next Sunday! pic.twitter.com/nJidejdpg5
— SuperBook Colorado (@SuperBookCO) January 23, 2023
At DraftKings, the Chiefs moved from -2.5 at open to -1 on Monday. The same was true at Caesars.
ESPN injury analyst Stephania Bell wrote of the Mahomes ankle injury, the severity of which remains unclear: “A mild sprain can resolve within a couple of weeks, whereas a moderate sprain can require more than a month to fully recover. A severe sprain may ultimately require surgery. The early positive news around Mahomes is encouraging, but it is too soon to project what he will or won’t be able to do in a week, including whether or not he’ll be able to play.”
Dr. David Chao, a former team doctor for the Chargers known on social media as the Pro Football Doc, said at halftime of the Chiefs-Jags game, just based on what he’d seen on the play on which Mahomes got injured, “Mobility is not going to be there. He can obviously still play from the pocket. … This will hamper him some next week — not only in practice, but in the game. … The under rushing prop is probably safe at this point in time.”
NFC line opened small, getting wider
The Eagles-49ers early line movement has been less dramatic, but there is nevertheless the clear feeling that the opening lines after San Francisco’s shaky win over Dallas underrated Philadelphia’s status as the favorite.
FanDuel started Philly just -1.5, and within minutes it had the Eagles -2.5 (with -120 juice by Monday morning). At DraftKings, the Eagles went from -2 to -2.5, also with -120 juice. Caesars had that same half-point of movement.
BetMGM went all the way to 49ers +3, leaving some to wonder if there was still more movement to come.
BetMGM first book I’ve seen just move 49ers to +3. Where do you see this closing by Sunday
— Simon Hunter (@SimonHunterNFL) January 23, 2023
Super Bowl a tossup, according to futures odds
Amid all the line-movement madness, the futures odds to win the Super Bowl are fascinating. Sunday night — with some oddsmakers still seemingly shrugging off the potential severity of the Mahomes injury — the odds on the four remaining teams were about as tight as the NFL has ever seen heading into the championship games.
SuperBook had consistently close gaps between each team:
Only four teams remain! Who will hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season? pic.twitter.com/oRoFIrTdmF
— SuperBook Sports (@SuperBookSports) January 23, 2023
BetMGM was similar — but less customer-friendly for all four teams:
Updated Super Bowl odds:
– Chiefs +250
– Bengals +260
– Eagles +270
– 49ers +280
— BetMGM 🦁 (@BetMGM) January 23, 2023
FanDuel had the Niners a bit more separated behind the rest of the pack:
🏆 UPDATED SUPER BOWL ODDS 🏆
Which team are you betting on? ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/aHoYslznKh
— FanDuel Sportsbook (@FDSportsbook) January 23, 2023
At DraftKings, the numbers were also very tight, but the Chiefs had a dollop of distance from the others:
Super Bowl LVII odds are looking VERY close 👀 pic.twitter.com/u0I2QYc35d
— DraftKings Sportsbook (@DKSportsbook) January 23, 2023
Caesars came closest to making it a four-way dead heat:
Current Super Bowl odds at @CaesarsSports:
As wide-open a final four as you’ll ever see
— Max Meyer (@TheMaxMeyer) January 23, 2023
The slight outlier was Circa, which became the first sportsbook this season to make the Eagles the favorite to win it all:
Super Bowl Updated Odds:
49ers +320 pic.twitter.com/GjdjtCWtFq
— Jeffrey Benson (@JeffreyBenson12) January 23, 2023
It’s going to be a fascinating Sunday of football — and a fascinating week leading up to it as the sportsbooks continue to adjust to updates on Mahomes. And if it turns out we’re getting Burrow vs. Chad Henne, all line movement hell is going to break loose.
Photo: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY