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How Outside Influences Had A Massive Impact On NFL Betting In Week 3

To say that politics played a part in the NFL this past weekend would be like saying a little rain cloud passed over Florida when hurricane Irma ripped through.  

I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything comparable where the president’s comments – or anyone’s – had such an impact on the game itself. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin admitted these are distractions right now but he’s one who says he welcomes it.

Just how much of an influence was the controversy that unfolded? Well, by my count, the team that showed the most public display of being influenced by outside factors this weekend went 1-10-5 against the spread versus a seemingly less distracted opponent. 

The only team that showed a more public display of protest than its opponent before the game that also covered the spread was the Dallas Cowboys on Monday night. They beat the Arizona Cardinals 28-17 as 3-point favorites. 

Dallas kneeled arm in arm before the anthem with owner Jerry Jones in a widely photographed and publicized moment before rising for the Star Spangled Banner. The Cardinals, meanwhile, stood arm in arm before and during the anthem. 

Now if you think I’m trying to make a political point, you are sorely mistaken. I’m absolutely not. 

What I am concerned about here is the gambling aspect of things. It’s what I do. And there were many things on and off the field that point to the games being compromised by outside influences. (I explain each game below in summary.)  

If you think we should just buzz by the gambling aspect here like some unfortunate piece of roadkill on the highway, you’re glazing over the importance of betting to the NFL.   

Keep in mind that $4.5 billion was wagered on sports in the state of Nevada in 2016 according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.  A record $138 million was wagered on Super Bowl 51 in Nevada and the American Gaming Association estimated that almost $5 billion was bet on Super Bowl 51 overall. The American Sports Betting Coalition estimates that $58 billion was wagered on NFL and college games last season.

When you consider that TV ad revenue in the NFL was ‘only’ $3.5 billion last season you can argue gambling is a far bigger deal than the game itself from a financial standpoint.     

This weekend, everyone seemed to forget about this very important fact except for the bettors and the effects were evident. 

Richard Sherman took personal foul penalties beginning in the first quarter and the Seattle Legion of Boom had one of its worst games ever. Von Miller took an unsportsmanlike penalty that he admits cost his team the game. The Steelers lost as 7.5-point favorites. The Patriots nearly lost as 13.5-point favorites. 

Reports say it was one of the worst NFL Sundays ever for the betting public as underdogs went 11-4-1 against the spread and home underdogs went 7-3 straight up. For some sportsbooks, that made for their single best NFL Sunday ever.  

You can argue the inability to accurately handicap the distractions or outside influences off the field was a major factor why the handicapping went so poorly. Below I try to explain how I made the comparisons. Obviously it’s open to some opinion but I was looking for overall division among teams and any clear signs during the game that point to distraction. 

The five ‘pushes’ were games where I couldn’t discern which team appeared more distracted, in addition to the Niners-Rams game that was played before the president’s comments.  

Please keep this in mind: I’m examining the betting impact here of the politics, not the politics themselves.  

So below is a handicap of how teams reacted to the comments from the president and whether or not they covered the spread. I used this helpful piece from NPR as a guide.    

The breakdown…. 

Dallas-Arizona – More distracted team: Dallas. Cover: Dallas

Dallas kneeled as a team before the anthem with owner Jerry Jones in a widely publicized and photographed moment on Monday Night Football. They also declined an offer from the Cardinals to do something in solidarity. The Cardinals stood and locked arms as a team. 

Note: The Cowboys were the lone team that covered the spread that seemed to show a more pronounced protest than their opponent. Dallas was the only team in the NFL to kneel before the anthem and then rise during.  

Baltimore-Jacksonville – More distracted: Push.  Cover: Jacksonville 

“About 10” Ravens players knelt before game time according to the Baltimore Sun. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti released a short statement supporting his players. The Jags had 12 players who knelt while owner Shad Khan stood with the rest in locked arms and released a statement supporting his players. 

*Note: The 44-7 loss matched Baltimore’s worst defeat in franchise history, equalling a 37-0 shutout to the Steelers on Nov. 9, 1997. 

Denver-Buffalo – More distracted: Denver. Cover: Buffalo

“Several Bills players” knelt before the anthem and LeSean McCoy and players met Saturday night to discuss a plan of action. Team owners Terry and Kim Pegula released a statement about unity, love and equality. Thirty-two Denver players protested by kneeling or raising a fist during the anthem. Von Miller spoke after the game on the issue in a widely viewed clip. 

*Note: After the game, Miller admitted he “killed the game” for the Broncos with his unsportsmanlike penalty on Tyrod Taylor when he faked to help him up and then pulled his hand away. The Broncos would have gotten the ball back on a punt, down seven points, if not for the penalty. Instead the Bills scored a field goal on the drive that was kept alive by the penalty.   

New Orleans-Carolina – More distracted: Push. Cover: Saints 

Defensive end and veteran Julius Peppers stayed in the locker room while the rest of the team stood. Carolina was one of the few teams that issued no statement on the issue on game day and they stood for the anthem with no arms linked. Team owner Jerry Richardson released a statement on Monday saying “politicizing sports is damaging.” At least 10 Saints players sat on the bench during the anthem while Saints owner and military veteran Tom Benson released a statement that said he supports the military and his players’ rights to have their own viewpoints. Drew Brees spoke passionately after the game saying he disagrees with both the president and his teammates’ decision to sit. 

PITTSBURGH-CHICAGO – More distracted: Steelers. Cover: Bears. 

The Bears stood and locked arms for the anthem. The Steelers were one of the first teams to suggest they might kneel on Sunday as a team. The Steelers were one of three teams to stay in the locker room while army veteran Alejandro Villanueva stood alone for the anthem in the players field entranceway. He later said it was an accident and that he was embarrassed. Mike Tomlin spoke after the game saying this issue will not divide the team and Pittsburgh wanted to protect both the players with opinions and those without. 

*Note: Villanueva’s No. 78 jersey is currently the best-selling NFL jersey according to many reports. Ben Roethlisberger said he couldn’t sleep after the team’s decision to protest the anthem. The QB also admitted he’d be lying if he said the whole thing wasn’t a distraction.The Steelers lost straight up as 7.5-point favorites. 

Cincinnati-Green Bay – More distracted: Packers. Cover: Bengals 

Three Packers knelt while Cincinnati locked arms and stood. Cincinnati issued a statement saying “football and politics don’t mix easily.” Packers president Mark Murphy issued a statement denouncing Trump’s comments.  

Atlanta-Detroit – More distracted: Detroit. Cover: Atlanta. 

Lions owner Martha Ford locked arms with the players during the anthem and eight Lions knelt. Anthem singer Rico Lavelle dropped to a knee while singing the end of the anthem. Two Falcons knelt during the anthem and the rest of the team locked arms. 

Houston-New England – More distracted: New England. Cover: Houston 

Texas players stood and locked arms while the team released a statement saying the unity the team and community showed from hurricane Harvey should set an example. Seventeen New England players knelt while the others linked arms. Owner Robert Kraft said he was “deeply disappointed” by President Trump’s comments. Former Patriot Matt Light spoke about the Patriot Way to the Boston Herald saying: “….On the door going out it says, ‘Ignore the noise.’ It says, ‘Ignore the hype.’ It says, ‘Manage expectations.’ And it also says, ‘Speak for yourself.’ If that is not the Patriot Way anymore, then I am very disheartened and very upset.”

*Note: The Patriots needed a last-minute drive to come back and win as Week 3’s biggest favorites at -13.5.  

Cleveland-Indianapolis – More distracted: Cleveland. Cover: Colts. 

Several Colts players knelt and owner Jim Irsay released a statement saying he was troubled by the president’s comments. At least 20 Browns players knelt, while others stood and linked arms. Browns owners released a statement saying Trump’s comments were “misguided, uninformed and divisive.” 

Kansas City-Los Angeles Chargers – More distracted: Push. Cover: Chiefs. 

Both teams had several players kneel or sit on the bench during the anthem while most Chargers locked arms. Both owners released similar statements.  

San Francisco-Los Angeles Rams 

More distracted: N/A due to game being played before comments. Cover: Niners but graded as push where this game was not impacted by the president’s comments. 

Miami-New York Jets. More distracted: Miami. Cover: Jets 

Several Dolphins players knelt and some wore “I’m with Kap” T-shirts supporting Colin Kaepernick. Team owner Stephen Ross stood and locked arms with his players and has spoken in the past about supporting his players’ right to kneel for the anthem. The entire Jets team stood and linked arms and the team released a statement later about unity. 

Oakland-Washington – More distracted: Oakland. Cover: Washington 

A majority of the Raiders knelt or sat during the anthem and Raiders owner Mark Davis released a statement saying “I could no longer ask our team not to say something while they are in a Raider uniform.” Redskins owner Dan Snyder locked arms with his players and some took a knee. The team released a statement supporting unity and the sacrifices of veterans. 

Note: At MGM’s sportsbooks, seven times more money came in on the Raiders than the Redskins, making it the most public play of the day. It was the most public play of the day at several other books also. 

New York Giants-Philadelphia – More distracted: Push. Cover: Giants. 

Three Giants knelt for the anthem while the rest of the team locked arms. Three Eagles raised their fist during the anthem while the rest stood and locked arms. Both teams released statements. 

Seattle-Tennessee – More distracted: Seahawks. Cover: Tennessee 

The Seahawks showed perhaps the most emotion of any team in the NFL, releasing a statement they would not participate in the national anthem as a stand for injustice that “has plagued people of color in this country.” They stayed in the locker room during the anthem. Richard Sherman made social media posts prior to the game on the weekend against President Trump’s comments and said the team met for 3.5 hours on Saturday to discuss the issue. Sherman received three flags in the first quarter on one play and he chased an official up and down the sideline with his helmet off, screaming at him. He later received a penalty on a dangerous late hit on Marcus Mariota that caused a pushing-and-shoving scrum. The Titans were also one of three teams who stayed in the locker room for the anthem, releasing a short statement saying “we want to be unified in our actions.” 

Tampa Bay-Minnesota – More distracted: Tampa Bay. Cover: Vikings.  

Two Bucs players knelt with their hands over their hearts while most of the others locked arms. The Vikings stood and locked arms while both owners released similar statements supporting freedom of speech. 

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