One of these wild-card round pointspreads is not like the others. It is unlike any in recent memory.
And maybe ever.
The Seahawks, who have won three games since Halloween, are 10- to 10½-point underdogs against the defending Super Bowl-champion Saints on Saturday afternoon. No other team is more than a 2½-point underdog in Round One, but then again, no other team carries a losing record into the postseason. The 7-9 Seahawks, of course, are the home team Saturday, which is either a source of amusement or outrage depending upon where you stand on the current NFL playoff system.
That the Seahawks are an underdog is obvious. Where do we start? We've mentioned Seattle's record, which is tough to get past. Oh, and the Saints clobbered the Seahawks 34-19 in New Orleans in November. So Seattle has to be getting points on the line. There is no other way.
However, seeing such a big home underdog in the postseason is, at the very least, extremely rare.
Handicapping information services The Gold Sheet and JimFeistFastFacts.com told PFW Monday that the Saints are the biggest road favorite in wild-card round history, which dates back to 1978. According to JimFeistFastFacts.com, which researched the topic, the Saints are the biggest overall road playoff favorite since at least 1978, whereas The Gold Sheet, known for its voluminous documentation of NFL pointspread history, found that New Orleans was the biggest road playoff favorite since at least 1976. Whether the Seahawks are indeed the biggest home playoff underdog ever can't be conclusively said, though it is clear they are in the team picture.
So how did oddsmakers land on 10 points or more as the right number in Seahawks-Saints? There was no choice, considering the way the public perceives both teams, two veteran linemakers told PFW.
"If you make it anything less than 10, everybody's going to lay that," Mike Seba, senior oddsmaker for Las Vegas Sports Consultants, said Monday morning. LVSC, which provides line-making guidance to various Nevada casinos, made New Orleans minus-10 its opening line.
"You have a great second-place team in the Saints playing the worst division winner ever," Seba said, calling the situation "a perfect storm" leading to this double-digit spread.
Jimmy Vaccaro, the director of sports operations and public relations at Lucky's Race and Sports Book, had been thinking about the Seahawks-Saints line for a couple of weeks before it came time to actually put the number on the board. At a recent lunch with some associates, Vaccaro posed the question: Would you take the Seahawks getting 9½ points?
"Nobody jumped up and took the 9½," Vaccaro recalled Monday, adding, "Right then, you knew the bite was 10."
As of this writing, the Saints are 10½-point favorites at Lucky's, according to VegasInsider.com, which tracks pointspreads and totals at Nevada casinos. Vaccaro said Monday that he could see the line getting as high as Saints minus-11½. Seba, for his part, thinks 11 is the limit, and he believes professional bettors, who prefer underdogs, will side with Seattle later in the week.
One major story line for Saturday's game is the health of Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck, who missed Seattle's 16-6 division-clinching win vs. St. Louis with a hip injury. The difference between a healthy Hasselbeck and backup Charlie Whitehurst, Seba said, is three points on the line.
Whether Hasselbeck will be able to play Saturday remains to be seen. Whether it would matter at all is a matter of debate. Even devoted Seahawks supporters have to know their team appears, on paper, very much up against it, even at Qwest Field. While the Seahawks have generally been tough at home in recent years, the Giants, Chiefs and Falcons have gone into Qwest Field and come away with victories by margins of at least 16 points. So ardent is the Seahawks' fan base at home that they have been dubbed the "12th Man," but Vaccaro joked that it "will only mean they have too many men on the field" on Saturday.
Handicappers are left to consider whether the spread is a bar the Saints will clear with ease or a hurdle too tall.
"You have to be careful laying that kind of lumber," Seba said of backing the Saints.
A good deal of the betting public, of course, will do just that, fear of the dreaded back-door cover be damned.