Twenty weeks into the NFL sports betting season you could count on the fingers of one hand the number of NFL matchups where all the players went unaffected into the next week. One of the 32 NFL teams didn’t have a COVID outbreak this year.
Injury and disease played havoc with NFL betting odds all season long, and for the penultimate time the BetUS NFL injury report details the remaining wounded and their importance when it comes to NFL betting.
With stakes (and limits) so high at the sportsbook, even mainstream media outlets are decrying poor information in regard to injury reports.
When he signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late October, observers crowed about how they now held an unfair advantage. Back then, the addition of WR Antonio Brown served to fill the gap left in the absence of star wide-outs Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. This Sunday, they will again be without Brown, as he’s been ruled out with a swollen knee and won’t travel with the team.
To no surprise, both Evans and Godwin will be active. While both of them were limited in practice throughout the entire week, they’ve been cleared of injury designation and should be expected back in the same shape as last game.
The good news this week for Tampa Bay was on full display, as NT Vita Vea’s return from injured reserve was practically heralded from the rooftops. Normally, a team would attempt to be more subtle when bringing back a player in these circumstances. (Vea broke his leg in Week 5 and hasn’t played since then.) But the Bucs put him on the practice field so beat reporters could see him practice first hand, and even activated him to the roster a day earlier than necessary.
If there’s not some element of showmanship at play, and Vea is truly close to full strength and prepared to assume his full role again in the defensive front, it gives Tampa Bay back its full rotation on the defensive front for the first time since Vea went down. Cleared from the injury report, DE Jeremiah Ledbetter (calf) practiced in full this week after being sidelined last Sunday.
Back too for the defense, the Bucs activated ILB Kevin Minter from the COVID-IR (IR-C). His status as a close contact caused him to miss the divisional-round win over the New Orleans Saints. (Worth noting, all four conference-championship teams cleared their Saturday round of testing, and with Minter off the IR-C, only one other player between the four teams is listed as having an exemption for Sunday.)
A few of the players who returned to the injury report, with the same issues and profile as the week before, have all returned to full practice and been cleared of an injury designation. Namely, RB Ronald Jones (quadriceps), CB Sean Murphy-Bunting (quadriceps) and S Jordan Whitehead (knee), all of whom should be coming back in the same shape as last Sunday.
The Buccaneers do have one concern, in that S Antoine Winfield’s ankle casts some doubt on his availability. He popped up on Thursday’s report without warning, and by Friday he was downgraded to questionable after not practicing at all. His name is worth checking on the inactives list released about an hour or so before kickoff, but — considering the importance of the game and the fact that he’s the team’s only questionable — he might well also make some news earlier on in the day if he’s prematurely ruled out.
In odds and ends, Tamps Bay lost special-teams’ ILB Jack Cichy to a fractured arm last week. He’s now on injured reserve, and replaced by practice-squad Deone Bucannon. Also, expect to see CB Jason Pierre-Paul active Sunday despite missing the entire week’s practice. The Bucs elevated S Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen from the practice squad for Sunday’s game.
In one of those “complete coincidence” situations, the Green Bay Packers managed to address an injury problem before it appeared on their report. Earlier in the week, the team signed veteran free agent and fan-favorite CB Tramon Willams back to the roster. He played for the Baltimore Ravens last week in their loss as a free-agent, one-game signing (and has previously played for Green Bay twice in his career).
In an extra twist of irony, Williams is set to (finally) become the first player to play for two different teams in the same postseason. Just a week ago, that accolade was slated to go to Jared Veldheer, an offensive lineman who changed hands from the Colts to the Packers. But Veldheer landed on the COVID-IR, and is the roster exemption the Packers have Williams active on Sunday.
As fortune would have it, CB Kevin King appeared out of nowhere on Friday’s final injury report with back spasms. He missed Friday’s practice completely and is listed questionable. He’s reportedly a game-time decision, the kind who will need to improve in the hours leading up to kickoff. King routinely appeared on the injury report this season, so it should be no surprise if he’s active, and some team chatter suggests Williams will be dumped from street free agency straight into a championship game. (Do it, Packers — make history!)
Green Bay declared only one player out for Sunday’s game, as DE Kingsley Keke remains sidelined now for over a month with a concussion.
Otherwise, all the injury-report drama earlier in the week turned out to be just noise. The loudest of that noise, the questionable designation of RB A.J. Dillon, quieted when he was cleared of his questionable tag for a quad strain on the final Friday report.
The same goes for all of the other eight players whose names appeared on the list during the earlier practices.
On offense: WRs Allen Lazard cleared his wrist injury and Equanimeous St. Brown his knee injury. RB Jamaal Williams is no longer listed for his ankle. And both TE Marcedes Lewis and RT Rick Wagner were cleared from their knee designations.
On defense: OLB Za’Darius Smith and ILB Krys Barnes both cleared the questionable status from their thumb injuries.
And kicker Mason Crosby’s shoulder, which got banged on a tackle after a botched PAT snap, is also clear.
Green Bay elevated DL Brian Price and CB KeiVarae Russell from the practice squad to the active roster for Sunday’s game.
The earliest bets came for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as they flashed as four-point underdogs when the odds opened and quickly shot down to 3½. After which, the vig on the Bucs rose to -115. After the final injury report was released, action went the other way, and the Packers are now laying four points flat. The total took two-way action when it opened at 51, but money to the over prevailed and the total is now 52.
The line move doesn’t seem commensurate with the injury news, and looks more like a divide between the public-favored Packers and the Buccaneers backed more by sharp money. We’ll step in front of the sharp bettors with a slight lean to the Green Bay Packers -4, but understand that’s the worst of the number. Patience, in this case, may well take the necessary half-point off that spread in order to merit a play.
We’re expecting a high-scoring affair with a ton of passing and a 38-31 final, and would play over the total of 52. It seems pretty unlikely that number will come back down to 51, and may notch up towards 53 before close. Green Bay weather is forecast not to be as menacing as was threatened earlier on.
The Bills did some wide-receiver juggling throughout the week to keep everyone on their toes, and by Friday, cleared the whole thing up (and readied a free-agent veteran in case it’s not).
First, WR Stefon Diggs returned to the injury list after Wednesday’s first practice. On Thursday, WR Cole Beasley joined him, and the Bills were in a worse situation than the week before since WR Gabriel Davis (ankle) was also listed as questionable.
At week’s end, Diggs and Beasley once again cleared their injury designations, practiced in full on the final day, and are set to start. Davis, on the other hand, managed only a limited Friday practice and falls more on the doubtful side of the questionable designation he’s been assigned.
Have mercy for WR Kenny Stills who could find himself in a suddenly elevated role in a championship game, as the Bills promoted him (and CB Dane Jackson) to the active roster for Sunday.
Buffalo’s few other injury concerns all came on defense. DT Vernon Butler is listed as questionable as he too managed only limited participation in Friday’s practice. He’s pretty much a game-time decision.
On the plus side, a couple of defenders returned to full practice throughout the week and have since been cleared of their questionable tags. DE Quinton Jefferson was cleared from an ankle injury, and backup DE Darryl Johnson rehabbed the knee that kept him sidelined last week.
It’s funny how any other transaction involving player availability is officially issued by the league’s communications’ office, but when it comes to clearing concussion protocol we pretty much rely on off-handed comments by players during media availability times.
That’s what happened with Patrick Mahomes on Friday, of course, as the team traipsed him out in front of the microphone after practice. Mahomes took questions, spoke plainly about how he felt coming into Sunday’s game, and then dropped the news that he’d cleared the concussion protocol with the same enthusiasm as one might announce they had a hard-boiled egg for breakfast.
Having chanced their last playoff win to Chad Henne, Kansas City earned the right to play up their star quarterback’s questionable availability. Mahomes was never considered to be in serious doubt — though concussions can be surprising, it’s presumed he was never concussed — and all the talk about his head took attention away from his toe. He was still struggling with a turf toe that he claims feels fine (which may well be the case when properly anesthetized).
Besides the breathless anticipation of Mahomes, the Chiefs still have a handful of other injuries to report. They declared backup MLB Willie Gay out on account of his ankle, which has had him inactive since he sustained the injury in the season finale.
A critical half of the running-back corps are listed as questionable. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire was limited in practice the entire week, still nursing an ankle that had him questionable leading into last week’s game. And, more on the doubtful side of questionable, RB Le’Veon Bell’s knee swelled up in the middle of the week, keeping him from the last two practice days. Both names will be widely reported on game day, but it’s hard to imagine either being scratched or at 100% of their normal capacity.
For at least one more week, WR Sammy Watkins will be remembered as questionable, as he was for the vast majority of the year, but now ending on calf injury. He’s a game-time decision (again) who isn’t critical to the Kansas City offense, but would be a nice bonus.
Good news for the Chiefs, as CB Bashaud Breeland cleared the concussion protocol and will be able to play on Sunday. Kansas City also listed his backup, CB Rashad Fenton (both ankles), as questionable after limited practice during the week, so Fenton doesn’t have to be pushed into taking snaps.
Just before last week’s divisional game, the team moved backup TE Deon Yelder to the injured reserve for a groin injury. His season is over.
For Sunday’s game, the Chiefs elevated WR Marcus Kemp and CB Chris Lammons from the practice squad.
Early action in the week had this line bounce between its 2½-point open, in favor of the Chiefs, to three. What little bit of doubt about Mahomes’ status in the betting markets was cleared up by Friday, and the juice moved another nickel in favor of Kansas City to -120.
The total opened at 55½ before it crashed down two full points after a day of betting. Since then, it’s steadily climbed back up to the current number of 54½.
Even with Mahomes cleared of the concussion protocol, he’s still dealing with a turf toe that shouldn’t be a surprise when it acts up in the second half. (Watch carefully.) And with Vita Vea back, we’d expect to see the Bills not bother to force the run. In that case, it helps that they’re brazen enough to have a game script where Josh Allen just goes toe-to-toe with Mahomes.
Last time, the Bills practically begged the Chiefs to run on them, but all signs point to that not being the defensive strategy this time around. We’ll play the Buffalo Bills +3 even, and would guess the line doesn’t get any better than that.
If the moneyline gets better than +140, we’d consider taking the Bills straight up, but don’t see them losing by more than a field goal most of the time, so the points are the better value here. Expect a tighter, lower-scoring game than the nosebleed total, with a Bills win in the 23-20 range. Play under the total of 54½, expecting that number to come down a bit.
Weather forecasts for game time suggest there will be some wind and rain, which won’t be contributing to the total increasing before kickoff.