The NFL’s regular season ended in unbelievably dramatic fashion.
A playoff spot was on the line in the Week 18 finale between the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders. The Raiders were 3-point home underdogs at BetMGM, and it was a game that would come down to the wire.
But there was more to it than that. With the results that took place earlier Sunday — the Jacksonville Jaguars upsetting the Indianapolis Colts, in particular — both teams would actually reach the postseason if the game resulted in a tie.
When the Raiders extended their lead to 29-14 midway through the fourth quarter, it did not look like that chaos scenario would enter the equation. Raiders bettors were sitting pretty. So were bettors who were on the under 49.5. But Justin Herbert and the Chargers kept fighting and the remainder of the game turned into an incredible sweat from so many different angles.
Herbert engineered a pair of epic touchdown drives that featured a combined five fourth-down conversions, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Palmer on a fourth-and-21 that cut the Raiders’ lead to 29-22 with 4:28 to play. That put the game over the total, but those who were on the Raiders +3 (and on the moneyline) were still in a relatively good spot.
The Raiders, though, quickly went three-and-out, giving the Chargers another crack at it. They managed to embark on an epic 19-play drive. That heroic journey was capped off by another Herbert touchdown pass, this time to Mike Williams, as regulation expired to force overtime.
At this point, Raiders bettors were all of a sudden staring a bad beat in the face while Chargers backers had hope. On top of that, the tie scenario was back in play.
According to Jeff Stoneback, the director of trading for BetMGM, the odds for the game resulting in a tie were +8000. It was a scenario that made its way around social media during the week and it was playing out before our eyes. Stoneback said “a lot” of folks sprinkled some cash on that prop.
In the end, the books (and the Steelers, who would have missed the postseason if the game resulted in a tie) would dodge a bullet.
The Raiders won the toss and opened overtime with a field goal. The Chargers then tied the score with a field goal of their own, putting the ball back with the Raiders with 4:30 left in OT.
The Raiders, very much aware that a tie would guarantee them a spot in the postseason, were in no hurry. They advanced toward midfield but were keeping the ball on the ground and the clock moving. With the clock under a minute and the Raiders at the Chargers 39, the edge of field goal range for Daniel Carlson, the Raiders looked content to just run the clock out.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley controversially called timeout with 38 seconds to go, and then Josh Jacobs broke through the line for a 10-yard run on third-and-4. Instead of letting the clock expire, the Raiders called timeout with two seconds left and Carlson booted a 49-yard game-winner.
Raiders bettors rejoiced. Chargers fans were in shock. And the sportsbook was thrilled to not have to pay out those tie prop bet tickets.
Jaguars shock the Colts
There were four double-digit favorites in Week 18 and only one managed to cover the spread. The Buffalo Bills were 16.5-point favorites over the New York Jets and covered by a half-point in a 27-10 win.
Two others — the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans — were able to eke out victories despite not covering the number. The Chiefs were favored by 11 over the Denver Broncos and won, 28-24. The Titans were favored by 10.5 over the Houston Texans and won, 28-25.
The fourth double-digit favorite was the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, with a playoff spot on the line, were 14.5-point road favorites over the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, the NFL’s worst team. The Colts did the unthinkable and laid an absolute egg in a 26-11 loss.
The Jaguars hadn’t won a game since Nov. 7. They hadn’t even covered a spread since Nov. 14. Yet they were able to upset Carson Wentz and the Colts.
It was one of the biggest winners of the day for the house, Stoneback told Yahoo Sports. The other big winners of the day for the sportsbook were also underdogs like usual. They included the Miami Dolphins upsetting the New England Patriots as 6.5-point underdogs and the Texans covering vs. the Titans.
Week 18 difficult to handicap
Another winner for the house was the Detroit Lions upsetting the Green Bay Packers, 37-30, as 4-point underdogs.
The Packers are the NFC’s top seed and the Lions have one of the worst records in the league, but it was a game that was difficult to know what to expect. According to BetMGM, the Packers received 78% of the bets and 72% of the money. The Packers said all week that Aaron Rodgers would play, but he — and many other starters — ended up sitting out the second half.
There were several games like that. The Cincinnati Bengals rested their starters vs. the Cleveland Browns. The Philadelphia Eagles rested their starters vs. the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bengals were transparent about it, but it wasn’t clear that Eagles QB Jalen Hurts and a slew of others would be inactive until right before kickoff. The Cowboys grew from 3.5-point favorites to 6.5-point favorites by kickoff. Dallas played its starters for most of the game and won in blowout fashion, 51-26.
49ers, Steelers, Seahawks win as underdogs
There were three other teams that won outright as underdogs on Sunday — the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
The Steelers and 49ers both won in comeback fashion.
Pittsburgh, a 3-point underdog, trailed the Ravens 10-6 deep into the fourth quarter, surged ahead with a TD at the 2:54 mark and then won, 16-13, with a field goal in overtime.
The 49ers were 4.5-point underdogs against the Rams and found themselves down 17-0 late in the first half. By late in the third, that score was tied at 17-17. The Rams went ahead 24-17 with 2:29 to go, but the 49ers marched 88 yards in five plays and forced overtime with a TD with 26 seconds to play. The 49ers then pulled out a 27-24 win in OT.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, played the role of spoiler against the Cardinals. Arizona had a chance to clinch the NFC West, but the underdog Seahawks had other ideas and won 38-30 as 5.5-point underdogs.