Facing the dilemma of not knowing Patrick Mahomes’ status after last Sunday’s game, the online sports betting market faced a tough decision on what number to put up at the sportsbook for the Bills-Chiefs AFC Championship Game, or when they should post it. Let’s check out all the facts we have in BetUS’ Mahomes injury report.
Man Down: Mahomes Injury
The football world gasped a collective “Oh No!” Sunday when Mahomes’ knees buckled as he stood up. He had that thousand-yard stare that made it seem like he might have thought it was Tuesday.
The play came on a called-run, third-and-one at midfield, halfway through the third quarter. Stuffed by Mack Wilson at the line of scrimmage, Mahomes was slow to get up and was rushed by trainers and field-concussion staff as soon as he did to the infamous blue medical tent. That was followed by a visit to the locker room, and Mahomes was seen no more.
Instead, 35-year-old veteran Chad Henne entered the game and commanded a sustained drive starting at the KC 25-yard line and ending in an interception in the Cleveland Browns’ end zone. For a moment long enough to terrorize smug Chiefs’ fans, it appeared the Browns would pull off the improbable upset. They were down five points with eight minutes left.
But the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense held — enough to convince Browns’ coach Kevin Stefanski that fourth-and-nine on their 32, with 4:31 on the clock and one timeout remaining, was a good situation in which to punt. Cleveland never got the ball back.
Now, oddsmakers were under pressure to come up with a point spread in a game with a massive question mark hanging over it.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
If this were a game in the middle of the season, under the circumstances, there’s no doubt it would still remain off the board. With Mahomes’ condition uncertain to a concussion, and his replacement a decided downgrade, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a game like this not get a point spread hung on it until as late as Friday. But this is not the middle of the season.
A Conference Championship Game brings with it a monstrous handle, and it’s common practice to post a line on the game as soon as possible. (Sometimes before the previous game is over if it’s a foregone conclusion.) But here was a dilemma that no one seemed certain about the star quarterback’s status.
Any indecision only lasted about 20 minutes, as the brick and mortar sportsbooks of Vegas posted first. Normally, it would be the online sportsbooks that would first open next week’s NFL betting odds, but this was an exception. Some books on the strip opened the Chiefs as three-point favorites. Others posted Kansas City -2½. Bettors wondered what kind of insight the books had, and how much of Mahomes’ availability was considered in the number.
Looking Back at the Lookahead
Taking a step back, a bettable line for this game existed the week before in the form of a lookahead.
Conference Championship Lookahead Lines:
Bucs vs. Packers (-3)
Saints vs. Packers (-2.5)
Bills vs. Chiefs (-3.5)
Browns vs. Bills (-4.5)
— The Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) January 17, 2021
So, long before the Buffalo Bills looked solid in their victory over the Baltimore Ravens, and long before Mahomes took a bonk on the noggin, the market suggested the Chiefs would be 3½-point favorites. The difference between that line and the one posted in Vegas, less than a point, is more of a reflection on the Bills than it could be for missing your lead QB.
That lead quarterback also tweeted a response to the man who stuffed him on the tackle, shortly after all those Vegas’ books were dealing in live numbers.
All good brother! 💪🏽 https://t.co/ORwLG6eFTV
— Patrick Mahomes II (@PatrickMahomes) January 17, 2021
Even though it’s pretty ambiguous and doesn’t clear Mahomes from the concussion protocol, it was enough to bring in enough bets to clean up most of the Chiefs -2½ lines still remaining, and the line moved closer to a uniform three (with reduced juice on the favorite) shortly after.
Online Comes Online
Once the online world came on board, about 15 minutes later, the prevailing number was 2½ juiced heavily in favor of the Chiefs. And just as the Vegas books moved to a three, so too did the offshores. By ten o’clock Eastern Time that Sunday night, the line was broadly painted three.
With only a half-point separating a forecast line from 12 days before and the one currently available, it seemed clear that the markets believed Patrick Mahomes was just fine. And he’ll certainly be playing on Sunday. But is that the case?
A concussion is a brain bruise. And it’s unclear if the Mahomes injury is one of those for certain. He certainly looked like it when he first stood up. But, we’re not privy to the team’s CT scans or other imagery. To the media, coach Andy Reid can’t outright lie. However, he can feign the medical knowledge of Labrador retriever when talking about the subject.
Whether Mahomes is actually diagnosed with a concussion, we do know that he is in the league’s concussion protocol. These are rules that dictate a five-step process towards being cleared to play. And concussions, like most neurological injuries, aren’t linear. This means you can’t easily compare one case to another to estimate a healing time. Everyone’s different.
Some clues to his status will come as the team issues its practice reports throughout the week. If he’s not at phase two by Wednesday, he won’t be at practice. Even if he’s as far as phase four, he would be listed as limited. A full practice would be a good indication he’s at the final phase five.
That said, he’s still not cleared to play. Thanks to the 2018 “Savage Rule”, players need to be cleared by an independent neurologist before they can be allowed to play. (The NFL injury rule, by the way, is named after Tom Savage, not just that it’s in place to avoid gruesome brain injury.)
That final clearance by this independent doctor could come as late as game day itself. Even if Mahomes makes what would be a gradual return to practice and even, say, a full practice on Friday. If Coach Reid really wanted to play head games (horrible pun) the team is under no obligation to ensure that independent clearance is done before Saturday. It’s possible his status remains a game-time decision.
That’s assuming, of course, that Mahomes is actually good to play in a matter of five days. What happens if he’s not?
Hennething Is Possible
For starters, the bottom would fall out of that line. If it should pan out that Mahomes misses the first day of practice, expect the Bills line of +3 to whittle quickly. It wouldn’t surprise to see the side shift to the Bills as a short favorite if Mahomes missing a second or third day. Especially if it also coupled with some coaching pessimism.
If the unthinkable happens, and Mahomes is not cleared to play, it’s challenging to guess the line. Presumably, the Bills would be a short favorite but would they lay as much as a field goal? Some speculation suggested Buffalo could lay as much as a touchdown if the Chiefs are without Mahomes.
That part is borderline silly to think the Chiefs would be catching a touchdown at home in an AFC Championship game even if Matt Moore were under center. Jordan Ta’amu, sure, Bills -7. But with a prepared Chad Henne, books would be flooded with Chiefs plus the points if they offered too many. (Books would be exposed as soon as they hit KC +1½ in teaser territory.)
Currently, the market optimism about Mahomes hopping through the five-step dance and getting a kiss of clearance from the neurologist isn’t as strong. While the Bills are still catching a field goal, indicators suggest that number might not last long.
On the other hand, this is a game that could see some relatively wild line changes based on NFL news and what happens even as beat writers are tweeting away about who they see (and don’t see) on the practice field in those given days.
The NFL injury report is on high alert, e.g. turned on notifications for @PatrickMahomes and Schefter, and will be closely monitoring the number of bicep icons he tweets.