Notable Bets: Bettors' costly offseason love affair with the Bears

ByDavid Purdum ESPN logo
Monday, October 2, 2023

Back before football romances were all the rage, the betting public had summer flings with two lovable long shots that are not panning out as planned.

This offseason, more people bet on the New York Jets to win the Super Bowl than any other team. But Aaron Rodgers went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, and Jets bettors found their wagers suddenly riding on Zach Wilson. The betting public never has had much luck.

The betting public's other offseason love interest was Justin Fields and the Chicago Bears. More people bet on Fields to win the regular-season MVP than any other player at sportsbook PointsBet, where the Bears quarterback attracted more action than Jalen Hurts and Patrick Mahomes combined. Entering the season, Chicago posed one of the biggest liabilities in Caesars Sportsbook's Super Bowl odds.

"I never understood it," John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook, said about the betting interest in the Bears. "They had the worst record in the league last season and ran it back with the same head coach and same QB."

The betting on the Bears began early in the offseason. On Feb. 27, Caesars reported taking a $3,000 bet on Chicago from a bettor in New York at 100-1 odds. Over the next seven months, enough bets came in on the Bears to cause bookmakers at Caesars to trim the Bears' Super Bowl odds to 50-1.

"Look, they were a big long shot with attractive odds," Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, said Sunday. "People thought Fields was going to improve and they were due for an improvement overall, but obviously that hasn't transpired."

The Bears fell to 0-4 on Sunday by squandering a 28-7 lead in a deflating loss to the previously winless Denver Broncos. Leading by 21 points late in the third quarter, Chicago was listed as a -10,000 favorite to win the game at PointsBet, meaning you had to risk $10,000 to win $100. There were no takers.

Indeed, the betting public's affection for the Bears has dwindled, but there are still some believers out there.

Over the past week, Caesars Sportsbook said nine bets were placed on the Bears to win the Super Bowl. The largest was $150 at 250-1.

"This was definitely a buy-low," Pullen added.

Pro bettors, sportsbooks prevail over betting public in Chiefs-Jets thriller

Bookmakers knew it from the beginning of last week -- they'd need the Jets for a big decision in the Sunday night game.

They were right. All week public money poured in on the Chiefs, who opened as 9.5-point road favorites over the Jets. Kansas City was included on more parlays than any other team at some sportsbooks. Yet, the line moved the other way, in favor of the Jets, dipping to as low as Chiefs -7.5 on Sunday in the hours ahead of kickoff. The sharp money was on the Jets -- and it was big.

Caesars reported taking a $350,000 bet and a $240,556 bet on the Jets +8.5 on Sunday -- and still had lopsided action on the Chiefs. An hour before kickoff, 91% of the spread bets and 84% of the money bet on the point spread was on Kansas City.

So why did the line move from Chiefs -9.5 to -7.5, if the vast majority of the money was on Kansas City?

"We have to respect the sharp money," Pullen said.

The long-held belief that bookmakers try to attract even action and collect the juice or commission is a myth in modern bookmaking. Sportsbooks instead try to manage the amount wagered on a game in a way that puts them on the same side as their customers they know have had long-term success, the sharp bettors. Although the action was overwhelmingly on the Chiefs on Sunday, the bets from the sharps caused the books to move the line toward the Jets.

"They're sharp for a reason, and we respect their opinion," Pullen said. "When the sharps win, it's not like we're suffering big losses," Pullen said. "But when the public wins, when all the favorites come in, the public is going to give you your worst losses."

Sunday night's game went to the sharps and the books, thanks to Mahomes' decision to slide down at the Jets' 2-yard line instead of waltzing to the end zone for a touchdown that would put the Chiefs up 10, enough to cover the spread with two minutes to play. Kansas City kneeled out the final seconds of a 23-20 win.

NFL notables

  • Favorites went 8-5-1 against the spread Sunday, with seven overs and seven unders.
  • "This will go down as a disappointing Sunday, overall," Murray of the SuperBook said. "Just way too many favorites, including all 3 in the afternoon. The best games for us were the Ravens and the Titans. The worst games were Vikings and Chargers. We would've been solid winners on the Colts and/or the Bears and couldn't get either down the stretch. I'm sure that will pain your readers." The largest reported bets on Sunday's afternoon games at Caesars Sportsbook were: $240,000 on the Saints (-3) (-120) against the Buccaneers (Tampa Bay won 26-9) and $240,000 on the Steelers (-2.5) against the Texans (Houston won 30-6).
  • Sportsbooks rolled out special Travis Kelce prop bets this week, based on the Chiefs tight end's rumored romance with pop star Taylor Swift, who attended the game at MetLife Stadium. DraftKings was offering -2,500 odds on Kelce to have more than 22 yards receiving, a play on Swift's song "Feeling 22." Kelce finished with 60 yards receiving on six catches but did not score a touchdown, which was costly for the betting public. At BetMGM sportsbooks, Kelce was by far the most-heavily bet player in several more standard prop offerings. He attracted three times more bets than any other player to score a touchdown and twice as many bets as any other player to score the game's first TD.
  • At DraftKings on Sunday, Kelce props attracted twice as much money as his prop bets did the first three weeks of the season combined. Kelce's longest reception and anytime TD markets were the most bet props of the day at DraftKings. A bettor at PointsBet (Fanatics) placed an $872 money-line bet on the Broncos when they were down 28-7 to the Bears at +1,050 odds. The bettor won a net $9,156. The Commanders scored a touchdown on the last play of regulation and elected to kick the extra point to send the game into overtime instead of attempting a potential winning two-point conversion. According to ESPN Analytics data, the Commanders' win probability by kicking the extra point was 48%, compared with 45% on going for two. The Eagles won 34-31 in overtime.
  • Browns QBDeshaun Watsonwas ruled out Sunday morning, causing the line to shift from Cleveland -2.5 to Ravens -2. Baltimore won 28-3.
  • The line on the Vikings-Panthers game moved against Carolina after it was announced that rookie QB Bryce Young would get the start. Minnesota opened as a 3-point road favorite, then moved to -4 when Young returned to practice and ticked up to -4.5 when the rookie was named the starter Friday. Minnesota won 21-13.

Week 5 opening lines [via Caesars Sportsbook]

Chicago Bears at Washington Commanders (-4.5, 42.5) (Thursday)

Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Buffalo Bills (-4.5, 47.5)

Houston Texans at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5, 41.5)

Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions (-7, 43.5)

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-1, 42.5)

New York Giants at Miami Dolphins (-10, 49.5)

New Orleans Saints at New England Patriots (-2, 40.5)

Baltimore Ravens (-2.4, 41.5) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

Cincinnati Bengals(-8, 42.5) at Arizona Cardinals

Philadelphia Eagles (-6, 46.5) at Los Angeles Rams

New York Jets at Denver Broncos (-3, 40)

Kansas City Chiefs (-6, 51.5) at Minnesota Vikings

Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers (-3, 45.5)

Green Bay Packers (-1, 43.5) at Las Vegas Raiders (Monday)

College football notables

For the second time this season, Penn State coach James Franklin took an unorthodox approach to a late-game situation, resulting in a score that covered the spread.

On Saturday, the Nittany Lions, who closed as consensus 26.5-point favorites, were leading by 21 and had the ball at the Northwestern 30-yard line with 2:26 to play. Typically, a time-killing running play or perhaps a kneel-down would be in order. Instead, Penn State backup QB Beau Pribula took a shotgun snap, stepped forward and pretended to kneel before popping up and throwing a 30-yard touchdown pass to Trey Potts. The final score was Penn State 41, Northwestern 13. Caesars reported taking a $90,000 bet on the Wildcats +26.5.

Franklin took a similar approach in the Nittany Lions' season-opening win against West Virginia. Leading 31-15, Penn State had the ball at the Mountaineers' 6-yard line with six seconds left. Instead of kneeling down, Franklin called a quarterback keeper, and Pribula scampered into the end zone to give Penn State a 38-15 win. The Nittany Lions were favored by 21 in that game.

Notable college football opening lines [via Circa Sports]

Odds & Ends

In February, a bettor in Maryland used a $100 bonus bet at Caesars Sportsbook on a three-team parlay featuring the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl (+105), Denver Nuggets to win the NBA Finals (+700) and the Baltimore Orioles to win the American League East (+2,500). The Orioles finished the parlay this week, and the bettor won $42,400.

Twelve NFL players, at least one coach and an undisclosed number of league personnel have been suspended for violating the league's gambling policy over the past five years, since regulated sports betting began spreading around the nation.

On Friday, the NFL announced it was revising its gambling policy, increasing the minimum penalty for players who are caught having bet on games involving their teams to two years.

Nevada casinos' net win in August

Blackjack: $99.1 million

Craps: $36.2 million

Roulette: $39.9 million

Baccarat: $116.2 million

Sports: $18.1 million

Penny slots: $256.9 million

Major League Baseball playoff series prices [via Caesars Sportsbook]

Tampa Bay Rays (-154) vs. Texas Rangers (+130)

Milwaukee Brewers (-190) vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (+160)

Philadelphia Phillies (-200) vs. Miami Marlins (+170)

Minnesota Twins (-125) vs. Toronto Blue Jays (+105)

Updated odds to win the NBA championship [via Caesars Sportsbook]

Milwaukee Bucks (+400)

Boston Celtics (+450)

Denver Nuggets (+475)

Phoenix Suns (+550)

Golden State Warriors (+1,000)

Los Angeles Lakers (+1,100)

Miami Heat (+2,200)

Philadelphia 76ers (+2,500)