Chiefs-Bengals NFL Championship Game sports betting unusual

Jay Kornegay – executive vice president for SuperBook Sports operations – says what has happened in the past 72 hours is unprecedented in an AFC or NFC championship game.

Kornegays SuperBook sports opened his lineup Sunday night with the Kansas City Chiefs favorite of three for Sunday’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Less than 24 hours later, so many Cincinnati bets came in that the Bengals became the team of choice.

And as of early Tuesday afternoon, that trend hadn’t slowed, with the line shifting 2 1/2 to Bengal (though moving back to 1 1/2 later Tuesday).

“We talk about the Bengals’ great performance (against the Buffalo Bills last week), but that’s a 5 1/2 point move. That just doesn’t happen,” Kornegay said. “And I would say 90% of that is because of (Patrick) Mahomes’ injury.”

Chiefs quarterback Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain against Jacksonville last week, limiting his mobility in the second half. Mahomes has vowed to play Cincinnati on Sunday, meaning sportsbooks have had to speculate on his status as they try to establish their opening lines.

Kornegay said he and a handful of other handicappers met on Sunday at the Bills-Bengals game to establish SuperBook’s opening lines.

They started the conversation with Mahomes. They knew from the past that high ankle sprains could be serious, and estimated that Mahomes would be about 60-80% of his usual output (some in the discussion leaned closer to that lower 60%).

However, the next topic of conversation was about Chiefs coach Andy Reid. Could the bookmakers give Mahomes that much of a deduction if the Chiefs coaching staff planned a game around Mahomes’ lack of mobility?

“We think there will be certain moves designed to keep Mahomes in that pocket or a more dink-and-dunk like pass plan to limit his limitations,” Kornegay said. “And so we’re thinking about that.”

The group also tried to keep the big picture in mind. For example, one of the biggest upsets of Sunday’s Bengals-Bills game was Cincinnati’s run game; running back Joe Mixon had 20 carries for 105 yards, and the Bengals averaged 5.1 yards per rush.

Whether that would be repeatable against the Chiefs, however, was another discussion.

“The Bengals just ran straight at the Bills and there was nothing the Bills could do about it. It was just shocking to us,” Kornegay said. “So we thought that was kind of an anomaly from what we saw, simply because the Bengals really haven’t been able to do that all season.”

The handicappers also had to take recent history into account. The Bills were favored by six at home over the Bengals in that game Sunday, with more betting on the Bills side. That number could at least be the start of a baseline for how Cincinnati should be viewed when traveling to KC.

Kornegay said the group eventually came to a consensus: SuperBook Sports, which prides itself on posting some of the fastest opening lines in the NFL while operating in seven states and at Westgate in Las Vegas, started with the Chiefs favoring had three.

“You take all these variables and you throw them in the hat. And we spat out three, even though I admit… I admit it wasn’t our best work,” Kornegay said with a laugh.

According to Kornegay, Cincinnati had “a rush of money” in the first few hours to move that line to Chiefs on a late Sunday night. On Monday morning, the Bengals were preferred. However, Kornegay noted that some “highly respected handicappers” began betting on Kansas City when the game was a pick ’em or Cincinnati preferred one.

That still didn’t stop Cincinnati’s support as the line shifted to 2 1/2 points. As of Tuesday afternoon, Kornegay had seen only one brief instance of a sportsbook making the Bengals a three-point favorite before going back to 2 1/2; that three-point number is a big number in betting circles, as NFL games often end with a three-point margin due to field goals.

“What surprises us at this point,” Kornegay said, “is that (the bets) just keep snowballing on the Cincinnati side.”

Some of this can be attributed to recency bias, Kornegay said. The Bengals appeared dominant in their 27-10 victory over the Bills, while the Chiefs failed to cover their 8 1/2-point spread in a 27-20 home win against the Jaguars.

Kornegay talked through some hypotheses to provide context on where the public landed with the Bengals-Chiefs line. He said that with Mahomes completely healthy, he would place the Chiefs as 4 to 4 1/2 point favorites against the Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. If Mahomes was ruled out, he would have drawn the line on Bengals against five.

There have been NFL instances in the past, Kornegay said, when a team missing its starting quarterback and turning to its backup moved a line between seven and 10 points. Those are typically extreme examples.

This circumstance is unique, however, as it tries to pit a healthy Mahomes against an injured one.

“I think everyone’s eyes – whether you’re a gambler, an educated player, a sharp dude, a sharp handicapper, a bookmaker, an oddsmaker – everyone will be looking at that ankle all week,” Kornegay said.

With that information, Kornegay said, the line could still shift in either direction.

“It will really be based on those field reports,” Kornegay said. “I think people will look at that and see — including us — and read between the lines of what’s being reported to really get a feel for how healthy he is.”

Nothing that happens in the future will change the madness of what has already happened to the Cincinnati-Kansas City spread.

Kornegay says the line has been a “hot topic” in Vegas this week, with other handicappers he spoke to agree they’ve never seen anything like it.

“This is the biggest move,” Kornegay said, “I’ve ever seen in a championship game.”

This story was originally published January 25, 2023 6:30 AM.

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Jesse Newell – who won an EPPY for Best Sports Blog and was previously named Best Beat Writer in his run by AP’s Sports Editors – covers the Chiefs for The Star. His interest in sports analysis comes from his math teacher father, who handed out rulers to Trick-or-Treaters every year.

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