“A dream run for the public, and a nightmare for the books.”
That’s how MGM Resorts sportsbooks’ Jeff Stoneback described the first 10 weeks of NFL betting during the 2007 season. Specifically, that’s how Stoneback described Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. As NFL betting trends go, that stretch was a microcosm of Brady’s two decades under center for the Patriots.
New England went 10-0 SU, 9-1 ATS and 8-2 to the Over in those 10 games, and bookmakers took a bath due to the tsunami of NFL public betting on the Pats.
“The Patriots were very popular right off the bat,” Stoneback said, reminding that Randy Moss joined New England that year. “With that start, they got much more popular. We couldn’t make the line or the total high enough. The public was betting the Patriots blindly, and the Patriots were covering easily.”
Indeed, the Pats cashed in the first eight games, and nine of those first 10 victories were by 17 points or more. Favorite and Over – a public bettor’s delight but never a good combination behind the counter – was almost unstoppable.
In fact, MGM books took an unprecedented step, solely for Patriots games, to stem that flood of public cash.
“About halfway through that run, we stopped offering the parlay of favorite and Over,” Stoneback said. “We were getting drilled on it, but we couldn’t really keep it off the board. So we went to a four-way prop bet instead.”
The proposition allowed bettors to take either Patriots and Over, Patriots and Under, underdog and Over or underdog and Under – New England was favored in every game, often by double digits. The prop bet paid out Patriots and Over at slightly shorter odds than the 13/5 of a standard two-team parlay, while welcoming underdog/Under wagers that paid 14/5 or even 3/1.
“That helped us out, because it drew some sharp money on dog and Under. You were getting a higher payout on that,” Stoneback said. “That run forced us to change the way we booked the game. We’ve never done that any other time, in my 34 years in the industry.
“We had to come up with a way to get money on the other side.”
That refrain was sung many times over Brady’s 19 years as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. On March 20, Brady took his talents to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving behind not only a bundle of championships and MVP awards, but a stunning NFL betting legacy.
Brady became the starter in Week 3 of the 2001-02 season, replacing an injured Drew Bledsoe, and went a whopping 249-75 SU (76.85 percent) and an impressive 186-129-9 against the NFL pointspreads (59.04 percent).
Over a near two-decade stretch, New England covered the spread just a tick below 60 percent of the time with Brady taking snaps.
Even the smartest and savviest sports bettors can only hope for a season-long winning percentage of 55, 56 or maybe 57 percent against NFL spreads – the tightest and sharpest odds on the board every week – but to sustain that ATS success over 19 years is nearly impossible.
But, if you blindly bet $100 on Brady, Bill Belichick & Co. to cover every week since that 2001 Week 3 matchup – with the fresh-faced QB out of Michigan taking on the Indianapolis Colts – you’d be up roughly $4,000 (given the flat -110 juice per spread bet).
Hot streak and hot seasons
It wasn’t just the Patriots’ steady stream of overall pointspread victories. It was the red-hot streaks – during that 2007 season, for example – and in several cases, full seasons that made life dreadful for oddsmakers and delightful for Pats backers.
From the get-go, Brady was a spread-covering machine, going 14-3 SU and 13-3-1 ATS in the 2001-02 season, stepping in after Bledsoe suffered a season-ending chest injury. New England capped that campaign with a 20-17 Super Bowl upset as a 14-point underdog against the St. Louis Rams – one of the biggest stunners in NFL history and perhaps the last time anyone viewed the franchise as an underdog.
The Pats took a step back in 2002-03, going 9-7 SU and 6-10 ATS. Then Brady led New England to another Lombardi Trophy in a 17-2 SU and 14-5 ATS 2003-04 season – a spread-covering rate of 73.7 percent. In fact, the Patriots reached double-digit ATS wins in 12 of Brady’s 19 seasons, and that likely would have been 13 if he’d not missed all but one game in 2008-09 (9-7 ATS) due to a knee injury in suffered in Week 1.
“It’s really hard to have a 20-year run covering at 59 percent. I’m not saying it won’t ever happen again, but those are few and far between,” longtime handicapper Teddy Sevransky said, before noting that even as Brady aged, the pointspread sprees continued. “The back-to-back-to-back Super Bowl appearances at the end, they had incredible pointspread runs in two of those three seasons.”
Indeed, the 2016-17 season, which ended with the miracle 34-28 overtime victory against Atlanta in Super Bowl LI, saw the Patriots post a bookmaker-torturing 16-3 ATS mark (17-2 SU). Within that season-long spread record, New England went 7-1 ATS in its first eight games and 8-0 ATS in its last eight, with a three-game pointspread sweep in the playoffs.
The Pats followed with a 10-1 ATS run at one stretch in 2017-18, a season that ended with the Super Bowl loss to Philadelphia.
PATRIOTS RECORD BEHIND BRADY
*Brady started 17 games, taking over in Week 3
**Brady injured in Week 1, missed rest of season
#Brady missed first four games due to suspension
Throughout all but Brady’s last season in New England, Jay Rood was behind the counter at MGM Resorts sportsbooks, much of that time as MGM’s vice president of race and sports. Rood, who is now chief risk officer for Bet.Works, marveled at those ATS numbers.
“You’re not likely to see that again, not in a day and age where guys move around so much,” Rood said. “What they were able to accomplish for that period, it just all came together. And with just one centerpiece, too, in Brady. They very rarely had a great running back, wide receiver and tight end all at the same time. They had guys who were definitely castoffs.”
And consistently, the Patriots were a bet-against or no bet for the smart players. Sevransky noted that sharp bettors, himself included, rarely jumped aboard the freight train of success.
“The Patriots, despite being the No. 1 public team for years, were never a wiseguy favorite, especially over the back half of the Brady era,” Sevransky recalls. “The Patriots received markedly little wiseguy support. Their statistical profile was never overwhelming. They’d win the turnover battle, and while the market respected that, it didn’t respect it enough. Every year, the Patriots would win the turnover battle, and the market would say, ‘Well, they’re not gonna win the turnover battle by 15 this year.’
“While the public cleaned up, the wiseguys never did. As big as the bandwagon was for the Patriots, it never got as big as it could have. There was always sharp money willing to step in front of the Patriots.”
The 2007-08 campaign was remarkable not only for what the Patriots did over those first 10 weeks, but for what they almost did by season’s end. New England was both the unstoppable object and the immovable force, going 18-0 SU before a stunning 17-14 upset loss to the New York Giants as 12.5-point Super Bowl chalk.
Some bettors might look at New England’s 10-9 ATS record that season and think it was somewhat mediocre. But again, the Pats covered in their first eight games, winning all by 17 points or more. Along with the drastic measure Stoneback described at MGM books, all shops were forced to make huge line adjustments in an effort to slow the New England money. The Patriots were double-digit favorites in their last 10 games, laying 16 points or more five times, including three games as faves of 20.5 or more.
One veteran New England reporter who covered the team that season said he was well aware of the numbers, and that those pointspreads just might have crept into the back of some players’ minds, too.
“I don’t think there was any sort of specific conversation. I have to believe, as dialed in as they were, as locked in as they were, that they weren’t as aware of the outside world,” the reporter said. “But from a subconscious perspective, a Vegas line perspective, I think some of that must have seeped through. I have to imagine the betting line was part of that overall conversation. In a roundabout way, I have to imagine they were aware, at least on some level.”
Longtime Boston sports journalist Christopher Price, who covered the Patriots for 18 of Brady’s 19 seasons as the starter, knows for a fact that the media was aware, experiencing it firsthand. He said that over the course of Brady’s career, the pointspread would get mentioned for certain matchups from time to time, whenever it was particularly large. But that near-history-making year was different.
“In 2007, yes, I recall a lot of chatter. It was a fairly common experience,” he said. “The media would reference the line and talk about it. ‘Can you believe they’re favored against the Eagles by twenty-something points?’ It was all part of the conversation.”
Indeed, in Week 12 against Philadelphia at home, the Patriots went off as 24-point favorites. Bookmakers and bettors were equally astonished.
PATRIOTS 2007-08 SEASON RESULTS
|Week 1||at Jets||38-14||-6||W|
|Week 2||vs. Chargers||38-14||-3.5||W|
|Week 3||vs. Bills||38-7||-16.5||W|
|Week 4||at Bengals||34-13||-7.5||W|
|Week 5||vs. Browns||34-17||-15.5||W|
|Week 6||at Cowboys||48-27||-5||W|
|Week 7||at Dolphins||49-28||-15.5||W|
|Week 8||vs. Redskins||52-7||-15||W|
|Week 9||at Colts||24-20||-5||L|
|Week 11||at Bills||56-10||-16||W|
|Week 12||vs. Eagles||31-28||-24||L|
|Week 13||at Ravens||27-24||-19||L|
|Week 14||vs. Steelers||34-13||-10.5||W|
|Week 15||vs. Jets||20-10||-20.5||L|
|Week 16||vs. Dolphins||28-7||-22||L|
|Week 17||at Giants||38-35||-13||L|
|Divisional Playoffs||vs. Jaguars||31-20||-13.5||L|
|AFC Champ.||vs. Chargers||21-12||-14||L|
|Super Bowl||vs. Giants||14-17||-12.5||L|
“They were -17 in the first half against the Eagles. I said, ‘These numbers are getting ridiculous,’” recalled veteran oddsmaker Chris Andrews, who that season was fortuitously taking a break from behind the counter, partaking in betting, rather than booking. “I caught them on the way up and caught against them on the way down, so I had a really good year, and I had the Giants against the spread in the Super Bowl.”
Sevransky wasn’t quite as fortunate during that near-historic season.
“I didn’t make even a little bit betting on or against New England,” he said. “I bet against them a couple times early, and then I said, ‘I’m just not stepping in front of the Patriots.’ That was a bad strategy to follow during the second half of the season.”
Meanwhile, behind the counter, the MGM odds team made up a little ground when the Patriots went 1-8 ATS in their last nine games. But those first 10 games were a killer.
“In a lot of those games, the Patriots covered and the total went Over,” Rood said, echoing his peer Stoneback’s thoughts. “It’s hard to overcome that.”
Fortunately for Rood and his fellow bookmakers, the Patriots failed to cover in that Week 12 contest against the Eagles. The game was close the whole way, and in fact New England needed a mid-fourth-quarter touchdown to notch a 31-28 victory.
“I remember that 24-point spread,” Rood said. “We got to that point and I thought, ‘This is crazy. We’re still taking about pro football here.’”
Of course, any assessment of the Patriots’ success with Brady under center would be wildly incomplete without noting the division in which he played.
Over the past 19 seasons, New England won 17 AFC East titles, with the Jets claiming the division crown in 2002-03 and the Dolphins taking it in 2008-09, when Brady tore his ACL in the season opener and missed the rest of the year.
Not only did the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills rarely rise up to win the division, they didn’t field wildcard-caliber teams, either. New York made the playoffs six times in the Brady era, but not since the 2010-11 campaign. Miami has just three postseason trips and Buffalo two, with both teams losing on Wildcard Weekend in all those appearances.
“You look at six games a year, the Patriots sure won those division games at a hell of a clip, more than any other team in any other division,” Andrews said. “That’s a big part of it. How many times did they go into the playoffs with a bye? A whole bunch.”
To Andrews’ points, since the AFC East became a four-team division in the 2002-03 season, New England is 85-23 SU in division play, going 6-0 twice, 5-1 nine times and posting a winning record all 18 years. The team owned a 61-43-4 ATS record versus divisional foes in that span, covering 58.6 percent of the time.
The Jets have the second-best SU division record, at a meager 45-63. The weakness of the AFC East helped propel the Patriots to a dozen first-round playoff byes in that span.
PATRIOTS VS. AFC EAST (SINCE 2002 REALIGNMENT)
*Brady injured in Game 1, missed rest of season.
“The single biggest factor in the Patriots’ success is the failure of their division opponents to rise up,” notes Sevransky. “The No. 1 reason is because the Jets, Dolphins and Bills. None of them ever got their act together. It was like playing with three Bengals in your division.”
View from the press box
Price, currently with BostonGlobe.com, had a unique vantage point for the Brady era. In fact, Price was there the moment Brady took over for Bledsoe against the Jets in Week 2 of the 2001-02 season.
“My first game was when Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe sideways,” Price said of the hit and subsequent injury that propelled Brady to the starting lineup. “I was standing on the platform when the right train came through the station.”
Price remained on that train through the end of the 2018-19 season. He wrote three books on the Patriots over that stretch, including “Drive For Five”, documenting New England’s run to the 2016-17 championship, the fifth of six in the Brady-Belichick era. While the focal point of Price’s work dealt with the Pats’ on-field results, he was certainly aware of the NFL betting impact, as well.
“As long as Brady was playing, as long as he was upright, as long as he had air in his lungs, as Patriots fans and as bettors, you felt you had a chance,” Price said. “He came through more often than not.
“Sixty percent of the time (ATS) is a ridiculous stretch. It’s remarkable. I’ve had friends who are probably casual to semi-serious gamblers, and as writers, we always used to say, ‘When in doubt, write about the quarterback.’ You could extend that through a gambling prism: when in doubt, bet on the Patriots, and as an extension of that, bet on Brady.”
Price had significant access to the players over the past two decades, so he’s seen and heard plenty. Sports betting chatter from the players was uncommon, but there were certainly moments.
“I don’t know if anything ever came up from a sports betting perspective, other than with a few of the more irreverent guys,” Price said, noting the Patriots certainly had a few characters over the years. “I know those guys would make those kinds of roundabout comments, kind of off the record, in casual conversations.”
Price’s perspective allowed him to draw a parallel between how fans received Brady and how public bettors – and perhaps persuadable sharp players – followed the same path. It took time for people to really believe in the sixth-round draft pick out of Michigan.
“It was fascinating, especially in his early years, that there was some reticence to accept him,” Price said. “People used to deride him as a system quarterback, and I’m sure that was the situation with sports bettors, as well. But he managed to win people over with his consistently excellent performance.”
Is Brady the gambling GOAT?
Along with being a handicapper/bettor for decades, Covers Experts’ Marc Lawrence is also an encyclopedia of sports betting statistics. He has an avalanche of Brady stats, breaking down the QBs broader ATS record, which he pegged at 187-127-10 – a tick off of Covers’ official tally of 186-129-9 (based on which closing line was graded).
• Brady was 40-16-2 ATS (71.4 percent) with the Patriots either an underdog or in a pick ‘em game, including 10-1-1 ATS at home and 16-1 ATS following a SU loss.
• Behind Brady, the Pats were 60-14 SU and 50-23-1 ATS in October, a 68.5 percent cover rate. Just bet ‘em blindly every October, and you’d have done just fine.
• Against teams with a better record, Brady was a superb 39-13 SU and 37-11-4 ATS, not only winning on the field at a 75 percent clip but covering the number 77.1 percent of the time.
“That is the stuff GOATS are made of,” Lawrence said, aptly applying the acronym for “Greatest Of All Time.”
Lawrence rightly considers Hall-of-Fame QB Joe Montana in Brady’s stratosphere, as well. But who is at the top of the heap: Tom Terrific or Joe Cool?
Brady’s on-the-field stats dwarf Montana’s, though Lawrence is quick to note the Patriots signal-caller played in an increasingly quarterback-friendly era. That said, Montana’s career quarterback rating of 97.0 rates above Brady’s 92.3.
The overall ATS numbers are also very close, though Montana gets the edge at 115-71, cashing 61.8 percent of the time, compared with 59.5 percent for Lawrence’s Brady mark of 187-127-10 ATS. There were several other similarities, leading Lawrence back to an aforementioned category.
“The one deciding stat that most likely serves as the tiebreaker was how each quarterback performed against opponents that owned the better record,” Lawrence said. “In such games, Brady is 39-13 SU and 37-11-4 ATS. Montana was 21-21 SU and 25-17 ATS. Thus, by the narrowest of noses, Tom Terrific edges out Joe Cool in a photo finish as the NFL’s all-time GOAT. Either way, they are two thoroughbreds who own pedigrees unlike any quarterbacks to ever play in the league.”
With New England such a juggernaut during the Brady era, bettors and oddsmakers have tales of wonder and woe aplenty. Sevransky’s memory went straight to one of those rare occasions when he backed Belichick and Brady, in an equally rare spot where the Patriots were an underdog, on November 15, 2009.
“It was against the Colts on Sunday Night Football,” Sevransky recalls. “The Patriots were up 17 (31-14) early in the fourth quarter. I had them +1.”
Indianapolis sandwiched two touchdowns around a New England field goal to pull within 34-28, with 2:23 remaining. All New England needed to close it out was a first down on the ensuing possession. Short of that, the Pats just needed to get off a decent punt, as Indy still needed a touchdown to win.
The Pats did neither, with Belichick opting to go for it on fourth-and-two from his own 28-yard line. The Pats gained a yard, the Colts took over possession, and Peyton Manning hit Reggie Wayne on a 13-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left. The extra point gave Indy a 35-34 victory.
“That was one time that Belichick was a little too cocky. They were up six at the time, they ended up losing by one. I pushed,” Sevransky said.
Meanwhile, Andrews couldn’t really nail it down to one game, perhaps because he did surprisingly well on both sides of the counter with Brady in the lineup.
“My own personal perspective, I’ve always said I don’t hate Brady and the Patriots nearly as much as I probably should,” Andrews admits, considering that he’s a lifelong Pittsburgh Steelers fan. “The Patriots won a couple games for me when I really needed them to.”
That included the aforementioned Patriots upset of the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, when Andrews was an oddsmaker at Cal-Neva in Reno, and his 2007-08 stint betting on the Pats early and against them late. Over the past few years, as sportsbook director at the South Point in Vegas, Andrews was served well by a couple of key Patriots outcomes.
“They lost to Philly, which ended up being a really good Super Bowl (LII) for us, and they beat Atlanta (Super Bowl LI), which also ended up being really good for us,” Andrews said. “If you go down through history, they beat the hell out of us, generally. But I happened to be on the right side of them for a lot of big and memorable games.”
Rood also noted the Falcons-Patriots Super Bowl, though New England’s infamous comeback from a 28-3 deficit to a 34-28 overtime win was actually good for the book.
“At that point, we luckily didn’t have mobile betting going in full swing, so there was not as much in-play liability. It looked like in the second quarter, we’d be a stone-cold loser,” Rood remembers.
It was one of those very rare situations that Rood was rooting for the Patriots, who were 3-point favorites in that memorable championship tilt. More often than not, Rood and his sportsbook contemporaries needed whomever was playing New England, week after week, year after year, for 19 seasons.
Passing the Bucs
It’s a whole new betting ballgame now for the Patriots, Brady and the Buccaneers. Even with Belichick as coach, it’s hard to believe New England’s ATS consistency continues, but perhaps it does. Perhaps the Bucs become a much better bet than last year, when they went 7-9 SU and a meager 5-9-2 ATS.
Bettors certainly responded over these past couple of weeks. PointsBet USA’s trading team said Tampa Bay had 50/1 odd to win the Super Bowl, tightened to 16/1 after the Brady news broke, and are now at 17/1. The Bucs represent 11 percent of the total ticket count and are PointsBet’s largest Super Bowl liability.
Further, the Buccaneers are the +130 second choice to win the NFC South, behind the even-money Saints, but Tampa leads the division with 41 percent of tickets written.
Meanwhile, the Patriots are +120 co-favorites with Buffalo to win the AFC East, but are getting just 4 percent of tickets, while the Bills are drawing 44 percent of wagers. And generally speaking, the Bucs have been a popular public bet in all facets over the past two weeks at PointsBet, while the Patriots’ popularity has waned with the public.
“I’m gonna be fascinated to see what it’s like going forward for the Patriots as a franchise,” Price said. “In my mind, the easiest bet to make every year is on the Patriots to go over their win total. I’m interested to see how the relationship is between the sports betting community and the Patriots going forward.
“What’s the new reality? Are bettors going to be cautious with a team going through a transition period? Are people going to have the same faith in Belichick, without Brady? Can gamblers feel the same way about the Patriots without Brady, but still with Belichick and some defensive game-changers such as Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty and Dont’a Hightower?”
That’s a lot of questions. But PointsBet USA also noted some interesting action landing on the Patriots. After Brady’s decision, New England’s season win total dropped from 10.5 to 8.5 – immediately drawing sharp money on the Over and moving the total to 9. PointsBet’s trading team pointed out that the Pats have won less than nine games just once under Belichick, going 5-11 SU in his first season of 2000-01, which happened to be Brady’s rookie season playing behind Bledsoe.
Price sees some uncertainty around a 43-year-old Brady, as well, even with a solid receiving corps and an offensive-minded coach in Bruce Arians.
“The question is: Can Brady be the guy to push the Bucs over the top, from a sports betting perspective?” Price said.
When one delves into last season’s results, the answer could certainly be yes. Six of the Buccaneers’ ATS losses came in one-score games, including two in overtime and four with spreads ranging from Bucs +3 to -1. Tampa Bay also had two pushes, as a 3-point pup and a 3-point favorite.
Also not to be overlooked, Jameis Winston threw 30 interceptions for Tampa Bay to go with 33 touchdowns last year. Brady had 24 TD passes and eight interceptions for the Patriots, and his 29 picks thrown over the past four seasons still doesn’t reach Winston’s bloated 2019 INT total.
“It would seem to suggest, when you look at the offensive side of the ball, that someone like Brady could do that,” Price said of Brady’s potential to make the Bucs a more successful wager. “From a sports betting perspective, I don’t think Brady will ever reach the same heights that he hit in New England. But if he’s worth 2.5 points per game, the Buccaneers will go a long way toward becoming an attractive team for gamblers, based on what they did last year.”
Indeed, adding 2.5 points per game last year would’ve given the Bucs at least 10 ATS wins, and potentially two more if they’d avoided overtime. As Price said, time will tell if Brady becomes a sports betting bonanza for Bucs backers.
Unquestionably, Brady has been a sports betting bonanza for the ages, as he enters the twilight of his career. Pundits, bettors and bookmakers are unlikely to see such greatness again
“I don’t see the ability to have an owner (Robert Kraft), a coach and a player with those kinds of commitments,” Rood said. “If it happens again, it’ll have to be because of having a similar organizational influence over everyone, from top to bottom. That’s the thing the Patriots were able to do, get buy-in, but more than that, buy-in with the right coach and right players.
“It will happen year-to-year, but to sustain it for 19 years is pretty incredible.”
Patrick Everson is a Las Vegas-based senior writer for Covers. Follow him on Twitter: @Covers_Vegas.