From a betting perspective, the NFL’s wild-card weekend was very good for the underdogs.
Over the course of the six games, four underdogs managed to cover the spread and two won outright. That included all three games on Saturday and was capped off by the Cleveland Browns’ triumph over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night.
The Browns, who closed as 5.5-point underdogs at BetMGM, jumped out to a shocking 35-7 first-half lead and withstood a Steelers comeback to emerge with a 48-37 victory. It marked the franchise’s first playoff win since 1994. That was back when Bill Belichick was coaching in Cleveland.
While the Steelers attracted most of the bets over the course of the week — 75% of the bets, 82% of the money, per BetMGM — there were a few monster bets on the Browns.
One bettor wagered a whopping $500,000 on the Browns at +5.5 and won $454,545. Per Jeff Stoneback, the Director of Trading for MGM, there was also a $100,000 moneyline bet on the Browns at +210 that yielded a return of $210,000.
Stoneback told Yahoo Sports that Saturday was a big day for the sportsbook at BetMGM, but it essentially evened out on Sunday.
“The house was a big winner on Saturday. The house was a big loser on Sunday,” Stoneback said.
The house did have a winning weekend on the whole, according to Jason Scott, BetMGM’s VP of Trading.
"Wild-card weekend was a mixed bag for bettors and bookmakers. That said, the Browns upsetting the Steelers was big for the book and helped us have a winning weekend,” Scott said.
Underdogs rule Saturday
The NFL playoffs kicked off on Saturday with the Buffalo Bills hosting the Indianapolis Colts as 6.5-point favorites.
The game was within one score for most of the afternoon, but it looked like the Bills might pull away in the fourth. Buffalo’s lead was 24-10 at the 14:10 mark and again was bumped up to two scores, 27-16, with 8:08 to play.
But the Colts didn’t go away. A 27-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Jack Doyle, plus a successful two-point conversion, made it 27-24 with 6:13 to play. And when the Bills’ next drive ended with a punt, those who bet on the Colts were sitting pretty as the Colts had a chance to send the game to overtime or even take the lead.
The Bills’ defense, though, got the stop it needed to clinch the franchise’s first playoff win since 1995. The Bills, the NFL’s best team against the spread during the regular season, could not cover the 6.5 points on Saturday.
The Colts covering was a “big winner” for BetMGM, Stoneback said. The Bills received 75% of the bets and 69% of the money.
Later Saturday, the Seattle Seahawks hosted the Los Angeles Rams as 3.5-point favorites. The late-season offensive struggles for the Seahawks carried over into the postseason and the Rams emerged with a 30-20 victory.
The Seahawks received 68% of the bets, but the money splits were closer — 56% on Seattle, 44% on the Rams. Stoneback characterized the outcome as a “small winner” for the house.
The biggest win of the day for the house came via the Washington Football Team, who closed as 10-point home underdogs against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Bucs led the whole way, but Washington quarterback Taylor Heinicke, in just his second career start, kept his team within striking distance.
Heinicke’s touchdown pass to Steven Sims with 4:51 remaining all-but assured that Washington would cover the spread. Tampa Bay added a field goal a few minutes later, but the 31-23 final score was all Washington backers would need.
The game featured the biggest line movement of the weekend. With bets and money pouring in on Tampa Bay, the spread grew from 7 to 10 points over the course of the weekend. By the time kickoff came, the Bucs received 75% of the bets and 81% of the money.
“When Washington covered against Tampa, that was a very large win for the house,” Stoneback told Yahoo Sports.
Six-figure bets on Ravens, Saints cash
On Sunday, the winnings swung more in the favor of the betting public.
That started in Nashville, where the Baltimore Ravens were three-point road favorites against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Lamar Jackson and the Ravens climbed back and pulled out a 20-13 victory. While Jackson threw for 179 yards and rushed for 136 in the win, the Baltimore defense held Titans star Derrick Henry to just 40 rushing yards on 18 carries.
At BetMGM, 52% of the bets came in on the Ravens, but 70% of the money was on that side as well. That included a $240,000 bet on the Ravens -3 to win $200,000.
Later Sunday, the New Orleans Saints hosted the Chicago Bears as 11-point favorites. With such a large point spread, some bettors were anxious to bet on the Bears.
At BetMGM, 57% of the bets and 60% of the money came in on Chicago, but there were two six-figure bets on the Saints side. One bettor had $210,000 on the Saints -10, while another had $175,000 on the Saints -10.5. Both cashed as the Saints won 21-9.
After Javon Wims dropped a touchdown in the first quarter, the Bears only reached the end zone on the game’s final play. That play, a 19-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Trubisky to Jimmy Graham, cut the score to 21-9.
It came as time expired. With the game already decided, there was no reason to kick the extra point — despite the clamors of those who bet the Bears at +11 and were hoping for a push.
While there was some spread drama at the end, the under was never in question. The total closed at 48.5 and one bettor who put in a massive bet on the under covered comfortably. That bet was $330,000 on under 48 and yielded a return of $300,000.
More from Yahoo Sports: