Quarterback is the single most important position in any sport. For most sports fans with an irrational disdain for the Foxboro dynasty, Brady's 4 game suspension is cause for celebration; for talking heads it's become outstanding discussion fodder with no right or wrong answer but for one faction of people that cover the league closer than anyone it's been nothing short of a legitimate headache. The absence of an elite quarterback can force oddsmakers to adjust a pointspread more than a full touchdown. With Brady sidelined, the betting community has responded in a variety of ways from overhauling futures odds, modifying regular season win totals, and of course completely overhauling the week 1 line and total for the Patriots opening game against the Steelers.
Odds courtesy of Westgate Superbook.
Oddsmakers understand the one constant of their jobs is being tasked with figuring out proper valuation of talent. The inherent challenge in all of this comes in identifying not just a player's true worth towards the actual pointspread but also in determining how public perception will impact a particular market as well. In just the last 10 days the biggest debate in the oddsmaking fraternity is figuring out what a power number needed to look like for the Washington Wizards without Jon Wall and how different the Clippers should be viewed when floor general Chris Paul wasn't available to play the Rockets. In the case of Tom Brady there is no absolute; one oddsmaker may think a 3.5 point adjustment is adequate while others may say that 5 points still doesn't properly convey his worth to the offense. Ultimately the betting market dictates what's right and wrong because unlike the opinions of fans and journalists, the gambling world revolves around people putting money where their mouth is every night of the year.
NFL teams playing without their starting quarterback is nothing new. The initial line adjustment from Patriots -6 all the way to -1 with news of the suspension is substantial yet it's nowhere close to the change we saw in how the Packers were priced 2 years ago when Aaron Rodgers missed time. On November 10, 2013 the Packers opened as a 10 point favorite at Betonline in a game against the Eagles. That price eventually moved all the way across the PK threshold to a closing price of Eagles -1.5. Even even an 11.5 point line move couldn't scare the general public off from betting against a Rodgers-less Packers team and they were rewarded with a 27-13 victory. Then, and even now, Aaron is in a class by himself when it comes to a single quarterback's worth to a pointspread. It's not just the QB's individual ability alone that impacts the number this much but also what the drop-off looks like from starter to back-up, particular match-up for a given week, supporting cast, and the system itself. Peyton Manning during his Colts prime was impossible to properly value as well given the lack of experience (and ability) of the other rostered Colts quarterbacks
While the Rodgers, Mannings, and Bradys of the world prompt major pointspread adjustments, first ballot hall of famers aren't the only quarterbacks responsible for forcing the hand of oddsmakers. Just last year we had one of the more fascinating examples of disparate opinions regarding Alex Smith. A few days before Kansas City's final regular season game against San Diego, Smith was ruled out with a lacerated spleen. The Chiefs and Chargers were both vying for a playoff spot and oddsmakers responded as you'd expect moving KC from -3 down to PK without their starting QB in the lineup. However bettors didn't quite see things the same way, electing to pile on Kansas City at PK driving the price, now with Chase Daniel listed as QB1, back to where it was originally listed with Smith. Pros laughed their way to the bank with a rocking chair style 19-7 win and easy cover. However for every example where pros find value created by a backup quarterback earning a start there are instances where the market doesn't respond enough to reflect a QB's impact on the game. On November 2nd the Cowboys hosted Arizona, a game where they opened as 3.5 pt favorites with the expectation Tony Romo would be the starter. Eventually Romo was ruled out and the number ticked as low as Dallas PK before closing Dallas -1.5. Again we saw the public looking to oppose Dallas with Brandon Weeden under center whereas the pros thought a 3.5 point line move for just Romo was an over adjustment. Bettors were quickly reminded why Brandon Weeden isn't exactly starting QB material in a 28-17 outright victory for the Arizona Cardinals.
Professional bettors love the unknown, it gives them a chance to take advantage of a market in flux. For the next few months speculation will run rampant as oddsmakers look to tweak Superbowl and AFC futures, divisional odds, and regular season win totals once the appeal process unfolds. Playing without your starting quarterback will remain a challenge in the NFL but one team's misfortune can always lead to another's financial gain...and there's nowhere that resonates more clearly than in the betting community.