In Week 3 of the 2013 NFL season, we had the rare chance to see highly elevated numbers in a couple of games, as the Denver Broncos were 17-point favorites before kickoff against the Oakland Raiders and the day before, Seattle Seahawks had an actually bigger spread: 19.5 against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
UPDATE: In Week 6 of the 2013 NFL season the Denver Broncos opened up 28.0 point favorites over the Jaguars. If it holds they will be the biggest favorite ever!
After some research through several point spread databases and consensus records, it was found that this game tied the 8th largest point spread in modern NFL history (since 1970). Even as the league has prided itself in the parity it has shown over the last few years, 5 such games have come in the last 6 years.
Remember that a point spread is not a prediction of the game itself, but rather a number that sports books present trying to entice bettors to bet on both sides of the game. When a game reaches such a big spread, it usually means that one team is such a prohibitive favorite that only a huge number could elicit interest in betting on the underdog.
So, without further ado, here are the 10 largest point spreads in modern NFL history:
On the first case, the defending champion Rams came into the game with a 6-1 record against a weak Panthers team with a 1-7 mark. Kurt Warner was firing on all cylinders, and the Rams would have Marshall Faulk back after missing three weeks with an ankle injury. The spread jumped all the way to 19.5 points, and the Rams had no problem covering the massive spread. After jumping to a quick 21-0 lead in the first quarter, they never looked back and won 48-14 comfortably.
On last Sunday´s clash, the Seahawks actually opened as a 21-point favorite on some sites but settled at 19.5, a week after dismantling the 49ers. The Jaguars were starting their backup QB and had Maurice Jones-Drew nursing an injury, which ended up making the Seahawks massive favorites. Seattle dominated the game handily, going up 24-0 at halftime, and even as the spread was threatened when Jacksonville pulled up to a 38-17 score, Seattle scored another touchdown to win 45-17. Actually these two cases are two of the three games on this list in which the favorite covered.
The modern Patriots have been the quintessential NFL powerhouse, and it seems more plausible to see them as massive favorites than even as slight underdogs with Tom Brady at the helm. In these two particular games, the Patriots were heading to the playoffs and played two heavily over-matched teams. On both cases, the Pats won but didn´t cover.
Against the Jets, the Patriots were in the middle of their infamous 18-1 season and had the motivation of the so-called Spygate revenge game, but even as New York entered the game 3-10, they held their own against New England, never falling over a margin larger than 10 points. The game ended as a sluggish 20-10.
Versus the Colts, Indianapolis was in the midst of a 0-11 campaign during the year where Peyton Manning missed the whole season. Starting Dan Orlovsky, Indianapolis was down 31-3 at the end of the third quarter, and the Pats were well on their way to cover, but taking their foot off the pedal, they allowed the Colts to score three meaningless touchdowns to end the game 31-24.
At the time when the young Bucs were 0-14 and at risk of going winless, big spreads against them were practically the norm, even playing at home. The Patriots were a solid 10-3 entering the game, and even as they faced some resistance, they ended up winning handily. Tampa Bay actually took a 14-7 lead at halftime but couldn´t hold up, ultimately losing 31-14.
Just a week after being almost a 3-touchdown favorite, the Pats surpassed that mark by a full point against the lowly Dolphins. The team that always won faced the team that almost never won, and still the underdog covered. New England took a 28-point lead at halftime, but never scored again and cruised to a 28-7 victory after Miami scored at the end of the third quarter.
With Roger Staubach leading the Cowboys against the dreadful Bucs, the huge spread appeared to be the natural thing, but again the massive favorite failed to cover. Even as the Cowboys jumped to a quick 17-0 advantage in the first quarter, a defensive touchdown provided the only points Tampa Bay could muster, proving to be the deciding factor for bettors in what would end up being a 23-7 Dallas victory.
The 49ers had a young Joe Montana while the Falcons were one of the worse teams in the league, but even still a 23.5-point spread on the road seemed exaggerated at the time. San Francisco only had 18 pass attempts, as they dominated the running game with a 239-yard output, and while they led 20-0 at halftime, they cruised through the second half to a comfortable 25-17 triumph.
Three touchdowns and a field goal was the spread when Steve Young´s 49ers hosted the weak Bengals, who entered the game with a 1-10 record and a QB controversy. In the end, the Bengals had more total yards than San Francisco, but their inability to score led them to lose with a decent 21-8 scoreboard. They actually led 8-7 for a few minutes, but the 49ers were too big a team.
In the third and final appearance on this list for Tom Brady´s squad, the Pats suffered their first real scare of the season when they barely squeaked by the lowly Eagles by a 3-point margin. The large point spread was set up by the fact that A.J. Feeley was starting for Philaelphia, but the Eagles held their own and held two separate leads before falling 31-28 after a Laurence Maroney touchdown run.
In one of the biggest mismatches in NFL history, the Steel Curtain traveled to Tampa to face the terrible Bucs in their creamsicle uniforms, and it produced what will probably always be the largest NFL point spread of all time. Even as the line could have gone at least 10 points higher had the game been played at Pittsburgh, the Steelers had no problem covering. Outgaining Tampa by 280 total yards, and with the Bucs committing 4 turnovers, the Steelers cruised to an easy 42-0 victory that had Terry Bradshaw only throwing 8 passes.
Of the 10 highest points spreads in modern NFL history, the favorites have covered the spread just of 3 of 10 times making them 3-7 against the spread.