I normally only pay nominal attention to the Vegas lines for each game – it's a good barometer of which teams are thought of as good or bad, and a good indicator on which games could be considered upsets, but outside of that, it's never particularly interesting.
This week, however, is an exception – Vegas has set a record.When the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars travel to the 5-0 Denver Broncos next week, they will be 28 point underdogs – the single largest spread in the modern, post-meger era. The Denver Broncos are favored to win by four touchdowns, which is a pretty incredible number – the 18-1 Patriots never got that kind of number, the 17-0 Dolphins never got that number, the best of Bill Walsh and Joe Montana or Chuck Null and the Steel Curtain in the expansion era – it's a rare confluence of the unstoppable force and the highly movable object. Denver scored 51 points last week – that equals what Jacksonville has managed over the entire season so far. In honor of such a momentous occasion, here are some other matchups between some of the greats and some of the...not so greats.
This is the previous record setter, as long-forgotten tomes from the pre-Vegas days indicate that this, also, had a 28 point spread, and it's hard to argue against the logic. The '66 Colts, entering the game at 6-2, were legendary juggernauts, loaded with Hall of Famers like Johnny Unitas, Raymond Berry, John Mackey, and Jim Parker, with Don Shula and Chuck Noll coaching them. It was a somewhat off-year for the team, too – it wasn't their '68 Super Bowl year, nor the '58, '59, or '64 championship game squads, so think of them a bit like this year's Patriots in terms of respect – a few years removed from their pinnacle, but still heavily respected. They were coming off of a 37-10 win over a decently talented Washington squad.
The Falcons, on the other hand, were an expansion team who had yet to win a game in franchise history, and had a whole lot of nothin', talent-wise. Randy Johnson – no, not that one – was the quarterback, and the closest thing they had to a star was Junior Coffey, who ran for over 700 yards that year.They had been beaten, over the last five weeks, by an average score of 46-12. That's how you get a 28 point betting spread in an era where 28 points was a pretty darn good offensive output for a team by itself.
Shockingly, the game was fairly low-scoring, with Johnny U throwing two interceptions and only two touchdowns scored the entire game. The Falcons weren't exactly incompetent, either, actually outganing the Colts, but Johnson's four interceptions doomed them that day. It was a classic case of misevaluating the expansion team – the very next week, the Falcons went on to get their first win of the season and actually won three of their next four. They were a better squad than this year's Jaguars, who we're not misjudging.
A decade later, you had two-time defending Super Bowl Champions Pittsburgh rolling in to face another expansion team. The Steel Curtain Steelers practically need no introduction, but it's worth noting that we're right in the middle of their run, at the peak of their powers. Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount and Joe Greene led the punishing defense – best in the league in '76-- and were significantly aided by the likes of Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, and Mike Webster on offense. Bradshaw had been hurt early on in the season, and the team had sputtered out of the gates, but they had picked it up by the end of the year. The '76 Buccaneers, of course, are the famous 0-14 squad – the one about which head coach John McKay, when asked about his team's execution, replied "I'm in favor of it."
This was an era before wide free agency, with almost no ability to build a team up, and the Buccaneers had a legendary lack of talent. The most notable name on the squad was quarterback Steve Spurrier, and that's for his post-career coaching days, not his play. Here's your comparison to the Jaguars – maybe a bit worse, even, because at least the Jaguars have Maurice Jones-Drew. The line for this game? 27 points.
It was an understatement.The Buccaneers started ex-Steelers quarterback Terry Hanratty, in the hopes that his familiarity with Pittsburgh's system would help spark the offense. Hanratty responded by going 1 for 4 for -1 yards and an interception. When they entered halftime down 28-0, they put Spurrier back in, at which point the Steelers promptly scored an additional 14 points, winning 42-0. Bradshaw and backup Mike Kruczek combined for only three incomplete passes all day, Rocky Bleier rumbled for 118 yards and three scores, the Buccaneers were just routed.Responding to criticism of his quarterback's play, McKay replied "You guys should take a Sunday off and play behind our offensive line." At least they were good for a quote, if not a competitive football game.
The 1980s 49ers were to offense what the '70s Steelers were to defense – when you have Joe Montana and Jerry Rice anchoring Bill Walsh's offense, you don't need a whole heck of a lot more, and Ronnie Lott was still patrolling the defense. This was the year Rice set the NFL record for touchdown receptions in a season with 22, doubling his closest competitor – and doing it in 12 games due to the player's strike. Montana led the league in TD passes, completion percentage, and passer rating, while the defense, as a unit, surrendered fewer yards than any other team in the league that season. The '87 squad is somewhat forgotten because they ended up falling in the playoffs and due to the replacement player games in weeks 4-6, but they finished 13-2 and are right up there in terms of total talent.
The Falcons, on the other hand, were in a 3-12 season, right in the middle of eight consecutive losing years. They finished dead last in both points scored and allowed – it is arguably the worst Falcons team to take the field post-merger, and there have been some pretty ugly Falcons teams over the years. Making it worse, this was the fact that this is one of the replacement games, meaning the Falcons squad was made up of a lot of preseason cuts and CFL castoffs – but the 49ers had multiple notable players crossing the picket line, including Montana, Dwight Clark, and Roger Craig. Hence, you get a 23 ½ point line.
The end result, however, was NOT what you would expect if the Team of the 80s played Some Guys. It was a sloppy, pre-season-esque affair as the strange mishmash of established players and scabs struggled to find rhythm and consistency. Montana played a half, as did Bob Gagliano, a replacement player. It was more of a mockery of football than anything else – again, just like a preseason game. The 25-17 final score reflects the lack of preparation time more than anything else. Perhaps the Jaguars best chance of being competitive this week involves a quickly called players strike.
This would be one of the 49ers teams still trying to get out of the shadowof Joe Montana, who was having a good season in Kansas City, and trying to win a Super Bowl with some guy named Steve Young. Any struggles in that department certainly wasn't the offenses fault, led by Young and Rice – they led the league in points scored. They only had a so-so defense, though, strictly middle of the pack – the free agent bonanza that brought in the likes of Deion Sanders was still a year away. Perhaps, then, these 49ers are a good match for the Broncos, at least until they get Von Miller back from suspension – great offense, somewhat questionable defense.
The Bengals were the only team in football that season to win less than 4 games, and started the season with a ten game losing streak behind David Klingler. They had just gotten their first win over the LA Raiders, but this is a team that finished with no Pro Bowlers and was in the beginnings of the long and torturous Mike Shula era. A 24 point line seems almost too low.
Instead, Young could never get a rhythm going during the game, finishing 13-for-25 with two interceptions. Fortunatley, the running game, powered by Ricky Watters, was more than enough scoring, and neither Klingler nor Jay Schroeder led the Bengals anywhere near the end zone. The 21-8 did fail to come close to covering the spread, proving that even the most proficient offense in the NFL can have a bad day. Perhaps if Peyton Manning wakes up on the wrong side of the bed Sunday morning, the Jaguars could be competitive.
This season you likely remember – the 16-0 Patriots who shattered all sorts of offensive records and ended up taking an undefeated record all the way to the Super Bowl. Unlike most of the other opponents on this list, though, the Eagles weren't historically awful. They were 5-5 coming into the game – but the issue was that Donovan McNabb was out, and AJ Feeley was starting. They had been uneven during the season with McNabb, and with Feeley in, surely the season was doomed. The Patriots, who had already clinched the AFC East in only 11 weeks, were going to roll right over them, earning a 24 point line.
Instead, it was shockingly close to being a huge upset, as Feeley threw for 345 yards and three touchdowns, as the defense pounded and pressured Tom Brady all game long. They shut down Randy Moss, and it wasn't until a late Laurence Maroney touchdown that the Patriots were able to take the lead for good, squeaking out a 31-28 victory. With Blaine Gabbert likely out on Sunday, perhaps Chad Henne can get some of that Feeley magic and lead his team through the air, hitting Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts with a wide variety of devil-may-care, high-risk, high-reward plays and keep this one interesting through four quarters.
Or maybe they'll just get blown out by 40 points. We'll find out Sunday.
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