Remember when it took an injury to a quarterback or star runner to move an NFL line? Those days are long gone.
In the National Fling-It League, wide receivers have usurped running backs in importance. One sportsbook manager told Covers.com a Calvin Johnson injury would downgrade the Lions by two points. All he does is score two touchdowns a game, like clockwork.
Fortunately for Lions backers and Megatron fantasy owners, that’s a hypothetical. But Andre Johnson proved the same point when he pulled a hamstring Sunday.
MGM Mirage withheld its Oakland-Houston line while awaiting results on Johnson’s MRI. The Las Vegas Hilton SuperBook opened the Texans as 8-point favorites but might have opened them at 9 if Johnson was healthy. (The line is currently 7).
“It’s a totally different game now,” MGM Mirage sportsbook manager Jeff Stoneback told Covers.com. “It’s all about the quarterbacks and the wide receivers. Nobody establishes the running game. The Cowboys have a 24-point lead and they’re throwing the ball.”
Stoneback estimated Johnson’s line value at 1.5 points. In a little over three seasons, Johnson has caught 327 balls for 4,712 yards and 27 TDs.
Steelers workhorse RB Rashard Mendenhall also left Sunday with a hamstring injury, but his absence against Tennessee likely would not affect the line at all. It’s Big Ben’s foot sprain that’s keeping Titans-Steelers off the board.
The Hilton’s Jay Kornegay said a player’s line value always depends on his backup.
“If Andre Johnson is out, the best receiver probably ends up being the tight end [Owen] Daniels,” he said. “[WRs] Jacoby Jones and Kevin Walter haven’t really proven themselves. Andre is a huge weapon to lose.”
In general, Kornegay said, receivers drafted in the first round or early second round of fantasy drafts can influence a line. The list includes Larry Fitzgerald, Roddy White, Hakeem Nicks, Vincent Jackson and Mike Wallace, in addition to Andre and Calvin Johnson.
BIGGEST SPREAD OF THE WEEK
Seattle Seahawks at New York Giants (-10, 41.5)
The Seahawks don’t travel well. They’re 2-15 against the spread (ATS) as a road underdog since 2009, including 0-2 this year.
If the Giants get Justin Tuck back to join Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul on the defensive line, Tarvaris Jackson will need every ounce of his athletic ability to stay upright.
SMALLEST SPREADS OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars (-1.5, 35.5), Arizona Cardinals at Minnesota Vikings (-3, 42), Philadelphia Eagles at Buffalo Bills (3, 48.5)
The Bills still lead the AFC East by virtue of their win over New England. The Eagles are the NFL’s biggest disappointment.
But “Philadelphia is certainly a better team right now in a lot of eyes,” Kornegay said. “Buffalo is a great story and everything, but they did just lose to Cincinnati. And they’ve squeaked out some exciting wins. As far as power ratings, they still haven’t made their mark.”
Added Stoneback: “The public perception is that Philly is going to break out, and that’s what we put our numbers on.”
Cincy-Jacksonville is one of three unattractive matchups, along with K.C.-Indy and Arizona-Minnesota.
“Some bad games this week and a lot of byes,” Stoneback said. Six teams are off.
BIGGEST TOTAL OF THE WEEK
Green Bay at Atlanta (4, 53.5)
Both teams have posted 3-1 over/under marks so far. Going back to the Super Bowl, the Packers have played over the total in eight of their last nine games, including preseason. They whipped Atlanta 48-21 on this same turf in the NFC playoffs in January.
The most telling moment of Sunday’s massacre came when wideout Greg Jennings caught the Packers’ fourth TD and acted insulted no Bronco bothered to cover him. Truth is, this receiving corps is impossible to cover.
Green Bay is scoring a league-best 37 points per game. Look for a lot more championship-belt celebrations by Aaron Rodgers.
SMALLEST TOTAL OF THE WEEK
Cincinnati Bengals at Jacksonville Jaguars (-1.5, 36)
This is the lowest total of the season even after rising from 35.5. The second-lowest also involved the Bengals, when they visited Cleveland in Week 1. Cincinnati’s 27-17 win easily cleared the 36.5 total.
In a league where scoring has erupted, the Jags are the only team yet to produce an over.