The Seattle Seahawks can’t seem to avoid games that end with strange and controversial twists. What happened on Thursday night in San Francisco was nothing compared to the Golden Tate touchdown to beat the Packers, but it was still bizarre. It also left a lot of bettors angry, and bookmakers pretty happy.
Here’s how it played out if you missed it. The Niners were up by a touchdown late in the game and the Seattle Seahawks had the ball deep in their own end zone. On a desperate fourth down play, Russell Wilson was scrambling in the end zone looking for an open receiver. He found one, but not before his teammate committed an illegal chop block on a San Francisco defender. The penalty occurred in the end zone so it was a safety. In a bold decision that caught most people off guard, though, San Francisco declined the penalty. The pass was just 16 yards and the Seahawks were 17 yards short of the first down, so San Francisco took over the ball on the 20.
While it seems like an odd play, and it certainly is a cautious one, Jim Harbaugh actually made a good call. If he had accepted the safety he would have been up by nine points. Seattle would have kicked off after the safety, though. With an onside kick, a quick score, another onside kick, and a field goal the Seahawks could win. Highly unlikely, of course, but anything is possible. On the other hand, by declining the penalty Harbaugh could just have his team kneel twice to run out the clock and risk nothing. Winning by seven points or nine was irrelevant to Harbaugh, and this avoided even the remote possibility of stress and embarrassment down the stretch.
For bettors, the decision was very costly. A strong majority of bettors had bet on the Niners, and the line had settled at 7.5 points. The safety would have given the Niners the cover, but by declining it Seattle instead covered the spread. For the second time this year Seattle covered a spread thanks to a controversial call in the closing minute of the game.
So, what should bettors learn from this? First of all, it’s pretty clear that coaches don’t care about the spread — or that Harbaugh bet on the Seahawks. More significantly, it shows us how important it can be to act at the right time when making bets. The game opened with a spread as big as nine points, but fell relatively quickly and was available at seven points at some point at every major sportsbook. Because the majority of bets were coming in on the Niners, it was very unlikely that the line would fall below the key number of seven. If you liked the Niners, then giving up a touchdown was likely the best you were going to do. In a game that was clearly going to be this defensive, the difference between seven and 7.5 points is massive. Therefore, acting when you got the seven made a lot of sense. On this game the difference was huge — the difference between a lost bet and a refunded one. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take a “push” over a loss every time.
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