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by Bryan Leonard - 12/15/2007
It has been an unusual year in college football with endless shocking upsets, and in the NFL with record-setting point spreads surrounding the record-setting Patriots offense and the stumbling Dolphins going in the opposite direction. Itâ€™s also brought about an amazing number of comments from players and coaches, something rarely seen as the NFL prefers to stay as far away from Las Vegas as possible.
It started when the Redskins were a 17-point underdog to the Patriots, despite having a 4-2 record and the No. 5 defense in the NFL. Joe Gibbs said, "What are we? How many points of an underdog?" When told that the point spread was in the 16-to 17-point range, Gibbs replied, "Seventeen or sixteen? Is that blowing smoke? I would say 17-point underdog, and it will probably climb, let's put it that way." Hats off to Gibbs for having the honestly to address what was on the minds of just about every football fan, even though the league policy is usually to ignore that it even exists.
When the Ravens were a record 19-point home dog to the Pats, coach Brian Billick was asked whether the large point spread would motivate his players. Billick replied, "Motivate to make a bet? Or to play the game? I'm not a bettor. I don't know how all that works. Is it a Ouija board or some monkey pointing at a board with a dart? Is it something like that?" Making power ratings for years, I can assure Mr. Billick there is a lot more to it than playing darts!
The Ravens were the seventh team since 1980 to be at least a 20-point underdog, with the Jets and Dolphins later following. Billick said he couldn't remember the last time a team of his was that big of an underdog. He thinks it might have been against Nebraska in the 1980s, when he was the offensive coordinator for Utah State. "But we weren't at home," Billick said. Like Billick, a few of the Ravens joked about the 19-point spread, but some considered the spread a slap in the face. "There should be a lot of disappointed people come," fullback Le'Ron McClain said. "We're coming to play. We've got to protect our house. We're going to come out and prove everybody wrong."
WR Derrick Mason was also angered by it: "We could have been 100-point underdogs; it doesn't matter to me," Mason said. "I know a lot of people figure we should just pack it up and not go out there and play. But we're a football team just like they're a football team. I feel that if we do what we need to do and don't turn the ball over, then we have a good shot of winning this game. I'm not saying it just to be saying it. I believe in what we're doing as an offense and as a defense and special teams unit. So, let's be a 19-point underdog. We've just got to out there and allow our play to dictate the way the game goes." HE backed it up, as the Ravens nearly won the game.
The Jets took note of the point spread when they were an UNDERDOG at winless Miami. "It was disrespectful," Jets defensive end Shaun Ellis said. "That goes to show that the people who make those lines don't know what they're talking about. Everybody that said the Jets were going to lose to the Dolphins, counting us out that was (bleep). I hope we made them eat their words." He was talking about the final score, an angry 40-13 Jets win as a dog.
They scored 30 unanswered points after Miami had taken a 13-10 lead. Jets tight end Chris Baker added, "We were picked as an underdog to a team that hasn't won a game, so that was kind of an insult to everybody.â€쳌
The Patriots were made a 27-point favorite over the Jets before the line dropped to 24 the next day. "From those numbers alone, we don't stand a chance, but that's outside this locker room," Jets safety Kerry Rhodes said of the point spread. WR Laveranues Coles didnâ€™t care: "It's just oddsmakers doing their thing. We were a one-point underdog in Miami. It didn't make a difference then, so why would it make a difference now?" Quite a year for upsets and point spreads making the news!