Worst NFL Team Takes On The Best

The dismal Jacksonville Jaguars play the formidable Denver Broncos today, a match-up that makes for the biggest point spread ever and possibly the worst regular season NFL game in a long time. NPR's Mike Pesca joins host Rachel Martin and can talk of nothing else.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. And this is sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: Baseball playoffs, the start of hockey, the start of basketball - excitement, possibility. But this week, Mike Pesca wants to focus on none of that. He has zeroed in on one of the least exciting sports match-ups in the country's near future. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: So unexciting it could be exciting actually.

MARTIN: Ooh, you think?

PESCA: Well, let's think about it.

MARTIN: What is this game of which you speak?

PESCA: So, the game that promises to be the most lopsided and therefore what we would call unexciting is the game the Broncos are playing the Jaguars. But the note on this game is that when the odds makers in Las Vegas put a number on it, set a point spread - in other words, tell bettors how much the Broncos would win by - they said they're going to win by 28. And Chad Millman - got to give Chad Millman of ESPN credit - went back, talked to guys who keep historical records. That is the biggest point spread - ties the biggest point spread - in the history of the NFL. So, in other words, they're predicting this will be the most lopsided game in NFL history and that why I said it could make it interesting that, you know, if the score is 30-0 in the fourth quarter, maybe people will tune in to see if the Broncos actually exceed that 28-point (unintelligible).

MARTIN: Is this because the Broncos are so good or the Jaguars are so bad, or I guess you're going to say both.

PESCA: Well, of course. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: And they are also - so, actually, though literally, what it really is, is because of the public's perception of the Broncos being good and the Jaguars being bad. And the perception isn't that off from the reality. I mean, as the Broncos' own official Twitter feed noted, hey, we scored 51 points last week; the Jaguars have scored 51 points all season. So, what a point spread is - it tries to get bettors to an equal amount, put money on both sides and both teams. But usually a team that's on national TV and gets a lot of attention and just shown themselves to be so good, like the Broncos, they'll have so much more interest than a team like the Jaguars. People will think the Broncos are maybe a little better than they are and they think the Jaguars are maybe a little worse than they are. And that's why even though we said the line opened at 28 points, since then smart money, you know, guys who do this for a living have bet it down a little bit. It's now only a 27-point spread, which still doesn't mean that this is, you know, going to be one of the closely fought NFL games this week.

MARTIN: But if I put my money on the Jaguars and they happen to win...

PESCA: Right.

MARTIN: ...I mean, I'm going to make a lot of cash.

PESCA: I don't think NPR allows that for the 401(k), by the way.

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Well, yeah. So, there's two things. If you put them with the points spread, you'll just get basically what you bet. Now, if you want to bet them outright, most casinos just will not offer this bet. The odds are too big. It's not worth it for them to give, you know, 50-to-1 odds. But you want to bet $5,000, you know, a casino will give you $100 if the Broncos win. Much worse odds if you want to bet on the Jaguars. They don't want to be losing their shirts on, you know, 5,000-to-10 odds or something like that.

MARTIN: Could we talk about something else?

PESCA: I'd like to.

MARTIN: OK, sure. I mean, it's kind of related. It's just a think that's like a bee in my bonnet. I'm fascinated with the whole Manning family and, you know, this is related. We're talking about the Broncos. Eli is doing really badly right now.

PESCA: Very poorly, yeah.

MARTIN: So, is this just - it happens in this family, if one's up, one's down?

(LAUGHTER)

PESCA: Right. There's just a maximum amount of Manning goodwill in the world. No. I think what it is, is there's a couple of things have happened at the same time. Peyton is getting very used to his offense, Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning is. He's a fantastic quarterback and he has all these offensive weapons. And Eli - we know Eli's not bad. He didn't get bad all of the sudden. He's always had a propensity for interceptions. And it's the offensive line. And although we note this, hey, the offensive line is important when it's a shambles, like the Giants' offensive line, and offers the quarterback no protection, he's going to look particularly terrible, especially when juxtaposed to his famous and awesome brother.

MARTIN: There you go. Curveball?

PESCA: Yes. I was watching the baseball game last night, the American League series. And Tim McCarver noted - it was Miguel Cabrera at bat - and John Lester, the Red Sox pitcher, was throwing very fast and Cabrera got a hit. And McCarver said that ball went out faster than it came in, which was, I guess, supposed to be notable, but I immediately said to myself, wait a minute - this almost always happens. And I did a little research, and, yeah, I'm not going to bore you with things like coefficient of restitution, which is .55 in baseball. But balls when a big, strong hitter swings his bat really fast, the ball almost always goes out faster than it comes in. To wit, you know, if you approach 100 miles an hour, a pitcher, that's a notable thing. You know, guys have tattoos if they throw 100 miles an hour. But on average, a good hitter like Albert Pujols, his exit speed will be 120 miles an hour. Balls go out faster than they come in, bunts notwithstanding.

MARTIN: Now you know it. NPR's Mike Pesca. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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