In what’s predicted to be a historically lopsided affair, the Jacksonville Jaguars travel to Sports Authority Field at Mile High this Sunday to play the Denver Broncos. The Jaguars are off to a horrible start, being outscored by opponents 51-163 in route to a 0-5 record. Third year quarterback (and Real American) Blaine Gabbert performed abysmally through his first three starts–throwing just one touchdown against seven interceptions, while fumbling twice. Then he got hurt, mercifully. So on Sunday the Jaguars will turn again to back-up quarterback Chad Henne, who significantly improved the Jag’s offense in the last two games by being merely bad instead of awful. Meanwhile Denver’s situation is the exact opposite of Jacksonville’s. The Broncos are led by future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning. He’s off to the best start of his career and currently on pace to throw over 60 TD passes this season, which would obliterate the record. Despite losing key players to injuries (Ryan Clady) and suspensions (Von Miller), the Broncos have rolled in their first 5 games outscoring opponents 230-139. It’s a perfect storm not only in Colorado but in Vegas: this extraordinary Broncos team at home against a historically bad Jaguars team has led bookmakers to set the opening spread at 28 points–the highest in NFL history!
The point spread was invented by Charles K. McNeil, a University of Chicago-educated gambler. (McNeil taught high school and also worked as a bank analyst, but to say he did these things is like saying Michael Jordan played baseball.) Whenever a spread looks more like a point abyss, as in the Broncos-Jaguars game, the ingenuity of McNeil’s invention is most obvious. In the old days, bookmaking action on a Broncos-Jaguars-type game would be limited. You could only bet that a team would win or lose, and you had to live with the straight odds of that happening. So even those utterly confident in Denver’s dominance would have to risk thousands just to win a few dollars, while dreamers hoping for a big payday could lay a few bucks on the woeful Jags, but odds against collecting thousands for their troubles were formidable. So level of action, on which bookmakers in Vegas and elsewhere thrive, remained low. But the point spread turns any contest into what’s virtually an even money proposition. Now you can bet $50 on the Jaguars just because you don’t think professional football teams should lose by 27. They won’t need to win for that wager to net you a $50 profit. (Leaving aside the vigorish.) They just need not to get embarrassed out there. There really ought to be statue of McNeill standing right next to Caesar on the Vegas Strip. By the way, the last time a team was favored by a number like this it was a Super Bowl juggernaut called the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976. They covered the 27 points they were giving, with a 42-0 victory. For what it’s worth, the Broncos haven’t beaten the Jaguars since 2005.