Point spreads have moved dramatically this week amid the surge of COVID-19 infections in the NFL, causing some sportsbooks to halt betting on the games affected most.
Cleveland starting quarterback Baker Mayfield and backup Case Keenum are in COVID protocols, as well as Washington starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen. Third-stringers and players just signed to the roster could be forced into starting roles, and the betting market was trying to quantify those changes.
The Browns, who opened as 5-point favorites over the Las Vegas Raiders, were 3.5-point underdogs on Friday.
Washington began the week as a 2.5-point underdog to the Philadelphia Eagles. The line had grown to Eagles -12 on Friday.
Overall, five games had seen line movement of more than four points, a rarity in the NFL. And more changes are likely to come.
Updated NFL protocols allow players to return from COVID lists sooner if they meet the league’s updated requirements.
It adds to the challenge faced by sportsbooks and has caused some bookmakers to reluctantly take games off the board entirely. Caesars Sportsbook briefly halted betting on three games this week: Raiders-Browns, WFT-Eagles and Seahawks-Rams.
“Look, we don’t want to take games down. We want betting to occur,” Adam Pullen, assistant director of trading for Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN. “But we want to have the best information, obviously. It’s a tough decision, when it comes to taking games down. It’s a delicate straddle.
“I would think the rest of the season you’re going to be dealing with this, unfortunately. It definitely makes it hard from a bookmaker’s perspective, but also from a [bettor’s] perspective.”
The uncertainty this week was not driving away bettors, though. John Murray, executive director of the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, said Wednesday that his book, which operates in Colorado and New Jersey in addition to Nevada, had not seen any decline on betting interest this week, although the bulk of the NFL action comes in over the weekend.
DraftKings reported that the amount bet on the NFL this week was in the same range as previous weeks, “if not a little more.” The story was similar at sportsbook PointsBet, which has been experiencing a rush of bets when news comes out on players being added to the COVID-19 list.
At Caesars Sportsbook, Raiders-Browns was the second most heavily bet game on the board.