Pick 6: 3-TD-plus NFL favorites, like Broncos against Jaguars, rarely win by that large margin

Bad as the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers were in 1976, going 0-14 on the way to what became a 26-game losing streak, they never were as big of an underdog as the Jacksonville Jaguars are against the Denver Broncos this weekend.

And good as the nearly perfect New England Patriots were in 2007, 16-0 during the regular season and 18-1 overall, they never were as big of a favorite as Peyton Manning's Broncos are against the visiting Jaguars: Odds-makers started Denver off as a 28-point pick.

That's because heading into Sunday's game, the Broncos are 5-0 and averaging a league-leading 46 points, while the Jaguars are 0-5 and averaging a league-low 10.

Looking at "consensus" lines — the market average from multiple odds-makers — there have been eight previous NFL games since 1972 in which one team was at least a three-touchdown favorite, according to RJ Bell, who runs a website that analyzes betting and betting patterns.

Worth noting: Only one of those eight times did the favorite manage to win by at least the amount it was "supposed" to.

Here is a Pick 6 of past NFL mismatches:

PATRIOTS FAVORED BY 21 AT BUCCANEERS, DEC. 12, 1976: This is the only game on the list in which the visiting team was the huge favorite. In the season finale for those winless Bucs against a Patriots club that went 11-3 and made the playoffs, Tampa Bay actually led 14-7 at halftime thanks to a TD pass by Steve Spurrier. New England wound up winning by 17 points, 31-14, thanks in part to a pick-6 thrown by Spurrier. A sign of where offenses were back in the day: The winning QB, Steve Grogan, was 4 for 14 for 40 yards.

COWBOYS FAVORED BY 23 AT HOME AGAINST BUCCANEERS, OCT. 2, 1977: Dallas would go on to win the Super Bowl after this season, while the Bucs would start 0-12, and so, not surprisingly, the Cowboys compiled a 415-163 edge in total yards and won without much trouble. They "only" won by 16 points, though, 23-7.

49ERS FAVORED BY 23 AT HOME AGAINST FALCONS, OCT. 11, 1987: This one featured a playoffs-bound 49ers team with the NFL's top offense against a last-place Falcons team with the league's worst defense — but that's not why San Francisco was such an overwhelming favorite. This game came during a strike, and while Atlanta's roster was filled with replacement players, San Francisco had guys such as Joe Montana, Roger Craig and Dwight Clark on the field. Montana only played five possessions but those resulted in 17 points as the 49ers won by eight, 25-17. "I'm sure it could have been a much higher score," Clark said that day, according to the AP story, "but I don't think that's what (coach Bill Walsh) had in mind."

PATRIOTS FAVORED BY 24 AT HOME AGAINST EAGLES, NOV. 25, 2007: Philadelphia was on the way to 8-8 and used career backup A.J. Feeley at quarterback in place of the injured Donovan McNabb against the first NFL team to go 16-0. But this was the closest call of all the mismatches on the list — New England pulled out a three-point victory, 31-28, after trailing midway through the fourth quarter. Feeley outplayed Tom Brady for stretches, going 27 for 42 for 345 yards and three touchdown passes — but he also tossed three interceptions. The Patriots also had two other big spreads during the 2007 regular season: They were favored by 21 at home against the Jets on Dec. 16 (New England won by 10, 20-10), and favored by 22 at home against the Dolphins on Dec. 23 (New England won by 21, 28-7).

49ERS FAVORED BY 24 AT HOME AGAINST BENGALS, DEC. 5, 1993: Another one where the underdog led at halftime — Cincinnati was up 8-7. But thanks to three TDs from running back Ricky Watters, a San Francisco team that wound up playing for the NFC title capped a six-game winning streak with a 13-point victory, 21-8, against the Bengals, who began the season 0-10 and finished 3-13.

STEELERS FAVORED BY 26 AT HOME AGAINST BUCCANEERS, DEC. 5, 1976: This was the highest "consensus" line Bell came across, and the only instance of a three-TD-or-more favorite winning by at least the margin that was set by odds-makers. The Steelers were the defending Super Bowl champions, on their way to another AFC championship game appearance, and rolled to a 42-0 victory thanks in part to Rocky Bleier's three touchdowns and 118 yards rushing.


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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org