One of the nuttiest finishes in recent memory

I don’t normally watch games involving teams I don’t care about unless it’s a championship game, but I am sure glad I had the TV tuned to NBC Sunday night for the NFL regular season finale between the Las Vegas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers. I was on the edge of my seat despite not having a rooting interest, so I could imagine what sportsbook managers were doing, as they came two seconds away from losing millions.

To set the scene, the Raiders and Chargers were still fighting for a spot in the playoffs. Whichever team won the game would claim a Wild Card spot, whichever team lost was done. But there was one other scenario. Because the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Indianapolis Colts (who blew a chance at the playoffs by losing to the worst team in the league) and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens, earlier in the day, the Raiders and Chargers could BOTH get into the playoffs if they tied. In that case, the Steelers would be on the outside looking in.

There was some talk among fans that the two teams could just kneel every play to end in a 0-0 tie, but they would likely be heavily punished by the NFL. So, the teams played it out as normal.

The Raiders had a 15-point lead with just a few minutes to go, but the Chargers came storming back to tie it as the fourth quarter ended, completing desperation fourth-and-long after desperation fourth-and-long. It was incredible to watch.

The game went to overtime, where the Raiders scored a field goal on their first possession. The Chargers kicked one to tie it with a few minutes left. The Raiders then put together a decent drive, but looked like they might stall out on the edge of very long field goal range. It appeared that with about a minute or so left, they were willing to just run the ball, let the clock tick down, and end tied, but they broke a ten-yard run to get into reasonable field goal range, so they took a timeout with two seconds left and then kicked the field goal to win it, 35-32.

A tie would have been tragic for sportsbooks

Probably because of the excitement of a tie being meaningful, lots of money was bet on the very unlikely result. As such, the sportsbooks were on the hook for a lot of money had nobody won the Raiders-Chargers game. According to MarketWatch reporter Weston Blasi, FanDuel Sportsbook would have lost more than $10 million with a tie. A PointsBet spokesperson told ESPN that it had “seven figures” at risk. DraftKings was similar.

ESPN’s David Purdum said that sportsbooks generally offer tie odds of 60-1 or greater; fewer than 1% of NFL games since 1974 (when overtime started) have ended in a draw. But because of all the money coming in on a tie, the Borgata, for instance, lowered its odds from 50-1 to 11-1 by gametime.

As mentioned, the tie was probably such a popular bet because the Raiders-Chargers game was the last one of the season and impartial fans were both keenly aware of and rooting for the tie because of the unique playoff implications. In fact, the most popular two-leg parlay at PointsBet, according to ESPN, was the tie plus the Jaguars moneyline. Considering how much of a longshot that was (even just the Jags moneyline was a longshot by itself), PointsBet was sweating that final game, as were the other sportsbooks.

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