≡ Menu

Four Blowout Upsets Ties NFL Record

The Houston Texans switched from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Ryan Mallett over the bye week. The former Patriots quarterback would make his first start in Cleveland, and he would have to do so without Arian Foster. The Texans were 4.5 point underdogs, but still won 23-7, covering by 20.5 points.

In some weeks, that would be the craziest story of the week. But not this week. In fact, it probably doesn’t crack the top three.

The Broncos were 8-point favorites on the road against St. Louis. Shaun Hill against Peyton Manning somehow turned into a 22-7 Rams win. St. Louis covered by 23 points in; points spread margins aside, was the most shocking result from week 11.

The Bengals and Andy Dalton were embarrassed on Thursday Night Football against the Browns ten days ago. The Saints, meanwhile, had won 20 consecutive home games under Sean Payton prior to losing in overtime against the 49ers last week. As a result, Cincinnati was 8.5-point underdogs in New Orleans on Sunday, yet came away with a 27-10 win, covering by 25.5 points.

But the biggest cover by an underdog1 came in the Washington/Tampa Bay game. Traveling to D.C., the 1-8 Bucs were 8-point underdogs.  Tampa entered the day with a -15 in the SRS, easily the worst in the NFL. And then the Bucs won 27-7, covering by 28 points in the process. Rookie wide receiver Mike Evans picked up 209 yards and two touchdowns, giving him 458 receiving yards and five touchdowns over the last three weeks.

If you’re thinking all these underdog blowouts were unusual, you are correct.  Last year, there was only one week all season where multiple underdogs of at least 3 points wound up covering by at least 20 points.  That came in week 3, when the Colts won by 20 as 10-point underdogs in San Francisco and the Panthers won by 38 points against the Giants as 3-point dogs.

In fact, since 1978, there has been just one other week where four underdogs of at least 3 points covered by at least 20 points. That came in week 9 of the 1992 season.

  • Just as it was this weekend, a Washington implosion helped was part of the quartet. In 1992, the 3-4 Giants traveled to Washington, a 5-2 defending Super Bowl champion. As a result, New York was 10.5 point underdogs, but after a Brian Mitchell punt return to kick off the scoring, the Giants would score the game’s final 24 points, and cover by 27.5 points. Washington would still finish the year 9-7 and in the playoffs, while New York would go just 2-6 over the back eight.
  • Vegas did not quite understand Brett Favre just yet, as 1992 was the first year in Green Bay for the future Hall of Fame quarterback. In week 9, then, a game between the 2-5 Packers and 2-5 Lions probably didn’t look like much. Blessed with home field and Barry Sanders, the Lions were 10-point favorites, but the Packers won 27-13 (24-point cover). Detroit continued to struggle, finishing 5-11, while this game was a jumping off point for Favre and the Pack. Green Bay went from 2-5 to 9-6, but lost in Minnesota on the final day of the season. Things would continue to be good for Green Bay for just about forever.
  • You probably know that in 1992, the 49ers were good and the Cardinals were not. That’s a pretty safe assumption for just about any year in the ’90s, and in ’92, the 49ers finished 14-2 while Phoenix went just 4-12. The Cards were 1-6 when the 6-1 49ers came to town in week 9, and San Francisco was justifiably favored by 13 points. Chris Chandler hit Randal Hill for the first score of the game, and the duo struck again in the third quarter to give Phoenix a 17-0 lead. By that point, Steve Young (flu) had exited the game, leaving Steve Bono to lead a comeback (armed with Jerry Rice, Ricky Watters, Brent Jones, and uh, Mike Sherrard). The 49ers lost three fumbles, and would fall 24-14, giving the Cardinals a 23-point cover. San Francisco would not lose against until the NFC Championship Game. Phoenix would continue its losing ways, and finished with the 3rd pick in the ’93 draft. The Cardinals used that selection on Garrison Hearst, who wound up doing much more for the 49ers than he ever did for the Cardinals.
  • In a game where Jim Harbaugh threw a pick six to Jack Del Rio, it’s easy to overlook the rest of what happened. But Minnesota, 3.5 point underdogs on Monday Night Football in Chicago, obliterated the Bears, 38-10 (31.5-point cover) in week 9. Chicago entered the game 4-3, Minnesota 5-2, but this game was a preview of the rest of the season. The Vikings finished the year 11-5, while the Bears would finish 5-11 in Mike Ditka’s  final year in Chicago.

These four upsets felt incredibly strange, particularly since all occurred during the 1:00 time slot.  As it turns out, that was a really, really unique, weird, and unpredictable three hours in NFL history.

  1. The Packers covered by 28.5 in a very Sanchez-tastic performance, but the Packers were favored by 4.5 points. []
  • Richie

    Bill Simmons called it:

    “We’re Officially in “One Sunday Annihilates Every Gambler” Range
    Every November features one bonkers gambling Sunday that crushes absolutely everyone. Bonkers Gambling Sunday always happens in Week 11, 12 or 13; it always features at least two big-money dogs winning outright along with two other crazy endings that send Vegas into a tizzy;”

    • Richie

      …I guess there were no crazy endings, though.

  • Nate

    With some pretty reasonable assumptions, you get that this sort of event should happen – on average – once every 20 years. Scores are – roughly normally distributed about the spread with a standard deviation around 13-14 points so a 20 point cover happens 1 in 7 times or so. Around 5 in 6 games have a spread of at least 3 points, and the underdog covers half the time. So per game, that’s 5 in 84 or roughly 1 in 21. If there are 14 games in a week, and 16 games in a season, we’d expect it to happen – on average – once every 19 years.

    • Chase Stuart

      Interesting, thanks.