Midway through a season of record-setting close finishes, the National Football League is preparing for a weekend that oddsmakers predict will be loaded with blowouts.
Through the first seven weeks, 69 percent of NFL games were within seven points during the fourth quarter, the most in league history.
This weekend, five of the 12 games have point spreads that reached 10 or more, just the fourth time in 14 years that there have been that many double-digit favorites in a single week during the first half of the season, according to Pregame.com, a Las Vegas-based handicapping information website. The average spread for the entire slate is almost eight points, 2 1/2 points more than usual since 2000.
“With the way NFL teams are scoring points, a lot is the public perception,” said David Pemberton, specialty games director at the Rio Hotel and Casino’s Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas. “If you don’t put a good-sized number out there, the betting is going to be one-sided.”
Bookmakers design point spreads to get an equal amount of money wagered on each team, then profit off the vigorish -- the fees charged to bettors.
The San Francisco 49ers, New Orleans Saints, Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers have all been favored by 10 points or more this week.
NFL teams combined for a record 4,928 points through the first seven weeks of the 16-game season, eclipsing the previous high of 4,803 last year.
Even with a game average of 46.1 total points, teams in 74 of the 107 games through Week 7 were separated by seven or fewer points in the fourth quarter. Twenty-nine of those were decided by fourth-quarter comebacks, or 27 percent, the second-highest mark in league history.
The 49ers (5-2) are the biggest favorites this week, with the 0-7 Jacksonville Jaguars listed as 16 1/2-point underdogs for the teams’ Oct. 27 game in London. The Jaguars two weeks ago were record 26 1/2- to 27 1/2-point underdogs against the Broncos and trailed by only two points late in the third quarter before losing 35-19.
“They’re a young team in many areas, one in the secondary, but they fly around,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told reporters this week. “They play with great effort. And those are dangerous teams when you can see them getting better.”
The Saints (5-1) have been listed as high as -12 1/2 against the Buffalo Bills (3-4). The Broncos, 6-1 after their first loss of the season, are favored by 12 1/2 points at home against the 2-4 Washington Redskins.
The Seahawks (6-1) are at -10 1/2 against the St. Louis Rams (3-4), who lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season-ending knee injury. The Packers (4-2) were listed at -10 at sports books such as Bovada.lv against the Minnesota Vikings (1-5).
“You’ve got a lot of the good teams playing the bad teams,” Pemberton said in a telephone interview. “But some of the bad ones have put up a pretty good fight. These teams are professionals. They know what these lines are and when they see a big line like that they’re bound to be more motivated.”
The betting line for the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs’ home game against the Cleveland Browns, who are making a change to quarterback Jason Campbell this week, has climbed to nine points at some online sports books.
The only time there have been six 10-point favorites in the NFL since 2000 was Week 12 of the 2009 season, according to Pregame.com.
Two games this week -- Pittsburgh at Oakland and Atlanta at Arizona -- have spreads of less than three points. The New York Giants (1-6), after their first win of the season in Week 7, are 5 1/2- to six-point underdogs on the road against the division-rival Philadelphia Eagles (3-4).
The New York Jets (4-3) are 6 1/2- to 7-point underdogs against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2), a week after knocking off the favored New England Patriots.
“We just have to focus on this team,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said this week. “The fact we’re playing Cincinnati, who’s probably as hot as any team in the league right now, that’s enough to think about.”