In NBC's handpicked Sunday Night Game this week, the Patriots are a shocking 23 1/2 point favorite over the McNabb-less Eagles, the largest in the NFL since 1976 and the largest in the history of the NFL in a game not involving an expansion team. New England is 9-1 against the spread this year, barely failing to cover a 5 1/2 point spread against the Colts. The fact that the Patriots run up the score is the reason for the huge number.
"Nowadays, you don't see too many spreads over 16 or 17 points," said Sean Van Patten, an oddsmaker at Sports Consultants in Las Vegas. "That's because most teams take their starters out in the fourth quarter of a lopsided game. The Patriots don't. I call this phenomenon The [Bill] Belichick Factor."
The Eagles are 5-5 and have won 3 out of 4. Bill Belichick probably doesn't hate them and might respect Andy Reid, but you never know. Imagine when the Patriots play the 2-8 Jets, who touched off this scorched earth offense with Spygate, at home. A 40 point spread is absolutely unheard of in the NFL, but it's not out of the question. Or the 0-10 Dolphins, whose ex-players and coaches have been making their typical inane comments about how great they were?
I just can't believe that NBC is choosing to air these mismatches. They've got to be losing at least 80% of their audience at halftime, at least based on the people I've talked to, and they're people who don't tend to give up on an NFL game. If you look at Sunday's slate, the three games featuring two playoff contenders are Buffalo at Jacksonville (-7.5), Houston at Cleveland (-3.5), and Washington at Tampa Bay (-3). Philadelphia at New England also is a matchup between playoff contenders, but it's obviously more of a mismatch. The problem is the the NFL has become a purely quarterback driven league, and the only games that get any play are the ones with marquee quarterbacks. So this is what we get in primetime.