- Chad Millman
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Of all the records Peyton Manning is laying waste to through the first five weeks of this season -- 20 passing touchdowns, 1,884 passing yards, 230 points -- it is perhaps this number that best defines how dominant he and the Denver Broncos have been: minus-28.
That's how many points Denver is favored by over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 6 opening lines posted by the Las Vegas Hotel.
According to The Gold Sheet, a sports-betting publication that has been tracking point spreads since the 1950s, that number ties the highest spread of all time, set by the Baltimore Colts over the expansion Atlanta Falcons in 1966. The Falcons covered. It is the highest since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970.
"The Jaguars are just so awful, and the interest in betting on the Broncos has been pretty consistent," Jay Kornegay, who runs the sports book at the Las Vegas Hotel, said Sunday night. "There's a group of us here who put together the lines for each week, and it took us 10-15 minutes to debate what this number would be. Some folks didn't feel that good about making history with this."
The Broncos have become the kind of team that recreational bettors can't stay away from. They're scoring 46 points per game, which is 16 points more than the second-best team in the league, the Dallas Cowboys. They are winning games by an average of 18 points, and other than against the Cowboys this past Sunday, they've covered not just the point spread, but the over in every game.
In recent history, it's a run matched only by the 2007 New England Patriots, who went undefeated during the regular season and began the year 8-0 against the spread, regularly winning as 15- or 16-point favorites. But despite how dominant they had been, even the Patriots didn't see spreads that approached more than three touchdowns until the second half of the season. It happened three times -- 24 against the Philadelphia Eagles, 20½ against the New York Jets and 22 against the Miami Dolphins -- and all three times the underdogs covered. In fact, after starting the season as can't-miss favorites, the Pats went 2-8 against the spread to end the season, including their only outright loss, in the Super Bowl against the New York Giants.
"The Pats were a nightmare for us in every way," Kornegay said. "At first we couldn't stop losing because everyone was on them and they covered. Then once they didn't cover, all the money kept coming in against them. There was nothing we could do."
But the Broncos didn't become four-touchdown favorites six weeks into the season just because they seem to score at will and Manning makes even the best defenses look silly. The Jaguars contributed, too.
As historically awesome as Denver has been, Jacksonville has been equally bad. It took the Jags nearly two games to score a touchdown. It's only thanks to their 20-point outburst against the St. Louis Rams, a relative bonanza, that they're averaging slightly more than 10 points per game, fewer than any other team. (The Jaguars' 51 total points are equal to what the Broncos scored Sunday against Dallas, which Denver pointed out via its Twitter account, garnering a quick response by the Jaguars in a follow-up tweet).
— Jacksonville Jaguars (@jaguars) October 7, 2013
The Broncos didn't miss a beat, responding soon after.
— Denver Broncos (@DenverBroncos) October 7, 2013
Even worse for the Jaguars, their 112-point differential is tied for second-fewest through five games in league history. (They can thank the 1971 Eagles for being 11 points more inept.)
They have already lost a game in which they were nearly 20-point underdogs -- to the Seattle Seahawks -- by 28 points.
Even many of the professionals in Las Vegas, who pride themselves on betting against big favorites, have turned their backs on the Jaguars. But the best example of how lightly regarded the Jags are by bookmakers and the betting public is the fact that, in Week 5, they were double-digit underdogs to the Rams, a team that had yet to cover a spread this season and was on a three-game losing streak.
The Jaguars did not cover.
Kornegay and his team had been looking ahead to this game for weeks, thinking about basic line-making factors such as how each team was playing and what the betting patterns were. Their challenge is finding a line that will draw equal action on both sides. And, more than anything, the factor that mattered most was public perception. What do fans think of the Broncos? What do fans think of the Jaguars? Those are questions the oddsmakers have been asking themselves, knowing this game was on the horizon.
As a test balloon, they floated a line of Denver minus-26½ several days before the Week 5 games, nearly 10 days in advance of the matchup. Early on, the professional bettors made a few bets on the Jags. "But, today, we saw the public betting on the Rams as nearly two-touchdown favorites against Jacksonville. The Rams!" Kornegay said Sunday night. "Meanwhile, all the money was coming in on the Broncos against the Cowboys. It was clear to us we were going to have to open that number higher."
Historically high, it turns out.