Notable Bets: Behind the Georgia-Alabama opening line, and what caused it to move

  • Joined ESPN in 2014
  • Journalist covering gambling industry since 2008

The line on the national championship game ticked up Saturday, as respected money showed early on favored Georgia.

The Bulldogs enter the week as 3-point favorites over Alabama in a rematch of the SEC championship game in which the Crimson Tide dominated. Georgia was around a 6-point favorite over Alabama in their first meeting back in December. The line on next week’s national championship showdown opened much lower.

At 6 p.m. PT on New Year’s Eve, with the Crimson Tide having handled Cincinnati in the Cotton Bowl, and the Bulldogs dominating Michigan in the Orange Bowl, two oddsmakers at the SuperBook Westgate Las Vegas compared their numbers on Georgia-Alabama II. Ed Salmons had Bulldogs -1. Rex Beyers had Georgia -2.5. They landed on -1.5.

Other sportsbooks opened higher at Georgia -2 or -2.5, where the line remained until Saturday, when sharp money arrived on the Bulldogs at multiple sportsbooks.

“I didn’t want to go to [Georgia] -3 until we took a real bet on it, and we did,” said Salmons, vice president of risk management for the SuperBook. “One of our respected players laid -2.5 [on Georgia] for $40,000, so we went to -3.”

Caesars Sportsbook reported taking two $110,000 bets on Georgia on Saturday in Nevada that prompted the line to grow to -3. Craig Mucklow, director of trading for Caesars, said the same bettor also bet Georgia to win the national title at +135 prior to the semifinals. “He likes Georgia a lot,” Mucklow said.

Even with the big bets on Georgia, more bets (70%) and more money (68%) had been wagered on the Crimson Tide than had been bet on the Bulldogs as of Sunday afternoon at Caesars.

NFL Notables: ‘One of the most lopsided markets all season’

• Someone bet $15,000 on the Jets to beat the Buccaneers straight-up, according to Caesars Sportsbook. Moving on …

• Overall, bets of the Jets were hard to come by Sunday morning, as sportsbooks began reporting significantly lopsided action on the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay had grown from 11-point to 14.5-point favorites over the week, but bookmakers struggled to attract any money on the Jets.

At FanDuel and BetRivers, 95% of the money bet on the point spread was on Tampa Bay. At least 90% of the money was on the Bucs at BetMGM and WynnBET, too.

The money-line market on Bucs-Jets — the odds to win the game straight-up — was one of the most lopsided markets sportsbook PointsBet had seen all season, according to spokesperson Wyatt Yearout, who added that “nearly 99%” of the dollars wagered on the money line was on the Bucs, despite pricey odds. (Bettors had to stake $800 on the Bucs winning to net a profit of $100.) Tampa Bay on the money line also was included on more parlay wagers than any other offering PointsBet had Sunday.

Tom Brady led the Buccaneers on a 97-yard drive in the final two minutes that was capped by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Cyril Grayson with 15 seconds to play that gave Tampa Bay its first lead of the game. The Jets had a chance to ice the game on fourth-and-2 from the Buccaneers’ 3-yard line, but came up short on a quarterback sneak that coach Robert Saleh called a communication breakdown.

“We had a solid day,” John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, told ESPN regarding how his sportsbook fared Sunday afternoon. “It could’ve been one of our best Sundays of the season if the Jets hold on for the outright victory.”

The SuperBook and other bookmakers took a hit on the Packers covering the spread in a 37-10 win over the Vikings in the prime-time game that turned the day into more of a break-even for some books.

“[Our] wins were much bigger than losses, which is what our end likes to see,” DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said Sunday night.

• Home teams enjoyed their best record against the spread of the season Sunday, going 12-2-1 ATS. Favorites went 8-6-1 ATS, and nine of 15 games stayed under the total.

• The Bengals’ dramatic 34-31 win over the Chiefs on Sunday clinched the AFC North title and cashed a big bet for a bettor in Michigan. On Sept. 16, the bettor placed a $20,000 bet on the Bengals to win the division at 20-1 odds with Caesars Sportsbook. The bettor won a net $400,000.

The Bengals, who could be found as long as 25-1 to win the AFC North, are the longest preseason long shot to win its division since Washington won the NFC East at 35-1 in 2015, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

College football notables

• The wild Rose Bowl between Ohio State and Utah featured record-breaking performances, 93 points and a ton of in-game betting that won one Las Vegas sportsbook a pretty penny.

The SuperBook was down big after Oklahoma State came from behind to beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl.

“Everyone was on Oklahoma State yesterday, so we needed Notre Dame big-time,” Salmons, of the SuperBook, said. “When we lost that game, we were stuck a ridiculous number, and the Rose Bowl in-game almost got us back to even. “Ohio State in-game yesterday was our biggest in-game win we’ve had. It literally saved the day yesterday.”

• More money was bet on Georgia-Michigan than was bet on any other football game this year at Caesars Sportsbooks, except one — the NFL opener between the Cowboys and Buccaneers.

The majority of the money was on the underdog Wolverines, especially in Michigan. WynnBET reported nearly 95% of the money bet on the Orange Bowl’s outright winner was on the Wolverines at its Michigan sportsbook. Georgia won 34-11.

• More money was bet on the Birmingham Bowl than was bet on any other bowl game at The Borgata in Atlantic City, New Jersey, thanks to “several” six-figure bets, including a $200,000 wager on Houston (+105) on the money line in the second half. Auburn won the second half 10-3.

The best decision of the New Year’s bowl games for The Borgata sportsbook came on the total in the Sugar Bowl between Baylor and Ole Miss. The total opened as low as 50.5 and closed as high as 60. Baylor won 21-7, 32 points lower than the total. “That ended up being a nice decision for the house,” Tom Gable, Borgata sportsbook director, told ESPN.

• With Tuesday’s TaxAct Texas Bowl remaining, bowl favorites are 20-15-1 against the spread. There have been 18 overs and 18 unders.

What were the odds?

• +1,200 — Oklahoma State, down 21 to Notre Dame in the first half, was as long as 12-1 to beat the Irish straight-up in the Fiesta Bowl. The Cowboys rallied in the second half for a 37-35 victory. The 21-point comeback is the largest in program history for Oklahoma State. Caesars Sportsbook reported taking a $1,000 bet on the Cowboys when they were 8-1.

• +420 — Ohio State’s odds to win the Rose Bowl were as long as +420 at Caesars Sportsbook. The Buckeyes, who closed as 4-point favorites, twice rallied from 14-point deficits and beat Utah 48-45 Saturday in the Rose Bowl.

• +13.5 — The Los Angeles Clippers upset the Brooklyn Nets 120-116 Saturday as 13.5-point underdogs. It’s tied for the largest upset, point spread-wise, of the season. The New Orleans Pelicans (+13.5) beat the Utah Jazz on Nov. 26.

• -110 — Two defensive linemen begin the new year as co-favorites to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft: Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson and Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux.

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