• Among the five most excruciating betting losses in this week's SI Backdoor Cover Jinx are a special teams gaffe on Friday night and a confusing special teams decision on Sunday.
By Max Meyer
October 15, 2018

We’re already midway through October as this football season is absolutely flying. Even if your team’s championship aspirations are no longer alive, rooting for the random squads you bet on every week is at least a decent replacement. 

Welcome back to the SI Backdoor Cover Jinx, where we highlight one of the only things comparable to your favorite team dropping a game that crushes its title hopes: Losing a bet that you were already counting your winnings for. Among the five worst are a special teams gaffe on Friday and a confusing special teams decision on Sunday.

Before we dive in, let’s hit the jukebox for this week’s mood music.

5. Bengals/Steelers UNDER 25 points first half

Unders and rivalry games go together like cheese and wine. This AFC North clash appeared to be on that road as well, as the teams were held scoreless in the game’s first 10-plus minutes. Tyler Boyd’s two-yard touchdown catch on third-and-goal snapped the tie, and the Steelers responded with a James Conner one-yard trip to paydirt to begin the second quarter.

But then the Steelers and Bengals combined for an even longer scoring drought, as neither of them put up any points over the next 13 minutes. Then, following the two-minute warning, Ben Roethlisberger threw it up to JuJu Smith-Schuster on third-and-six. The second-year USC product absolutely Moss’d cornerback Darqueze Dennard for a sensational catch, which after replay review put the ball on the one. Conner punched it in again with 1:07 left in the half.

Under bettors were still sitting pretty, however, as even a last-second field goal to end the second quarter would still give them the win. There just couldn’t be another touchdown. The sweats began to start though after Alex Erickson returned the ensuing kickoff to the 49-yard line, and an illegal formation penalty tacked on at the end meant the Bengals were starting their drive in Steelers territory with 54 ticks showing on the clock.

Four straight completions by Andy Dalton put the ball in the red zone with 23 seconds left. The fifth served as the dagger, as Dalton found Boyd again for the tying score before the break.
One parting thought: That has to be the first time in NFL history that a half featuring 4+ touchdowns were all scored by University of Pittsburgh alumni.

4. Vanderbilt +7.5 to +9.5

I actually suffered a tough beat myself, though mine was under 61.5 points live. Florida was unable to convert a third-and-one with 1:24 left up seven that would have finished off its SEC counterpart. Dan Mullen opted to kick a 43-yard field goal on fourth-and-two with 42 seconds left to make it a two-score game. The kick was good, which lost my bet and was a complete spread-killer for others.

For those who took Vanderbilt as a touchdown-plus dog, they must have been feeling pretty safe after the Commodores took a 21-3 lead in the second quarter. But Vandy is Vandy for a reason, and the video below is proof of why.

3. Nebraska moneyline (+140) or Nebraska +1 second half

One of the most famous games in football history is “The Drive,” in which John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards late in the fourth quarter to upend in the Browns in the AFC Championship Game back in 1987. While what Northwestern did on Saturday won’t have quite the same magnitude, Nebraska bettors will never forget what unfolded in Evanston.

After a 14-13 halftime deficit, Nebraska took the lead in the third quarter on a Devine Ozigbo one-yard scoring run that capped a 97-yard drive, an impressive possession that would be overshadowed by a different one later.

A Maurice Washington touchdown run from three yards out and a successful two-point conversion to start the fourth made it 28-14 Nebraska with 13:40 left. The Wildcats responded with a touchdown of their own a little over a minute later, as Clayton Thorson hit Flynn Nagel for a 61-yard connection.

Northwestern’s next possession wasn’t as prosperous, as Thorson was picked off by Tre Neal and he returned it to the Wildcats’ 36-yard line. The Cornhuskers were able to drain nearly four minutes off the clock, as Barret Picking's 34-yard field goal made it a 10-point game with 5:41 left.

The Wildcats subsequently went on a 15-play drive that saw them convert twice on fourth-and-10. But it fell short of the end zone, as a sack on second-and-goal and an incompletion on third forced Northwestern to settle for a 31-yard field goal with 2:27 left.

Nebraska recovered the onside kick, and just needed one first down to ice the game and give Scott Frost his first win of the season. Instead, the Cornhuskers gained three yards on three plays, and were forced to give the ball back. Nebraska couldn’t have asked for a better punt, however, as Isaac Armstrong’s boot was downed at the one. So Northwestern needed to go 99 yards in 1:59.

On the first play of the drive, Nebraska gifted Northwestern a roughing the passer penalty to move the Wildcats out of their own end zone. Eight plays later—including three completions to the aforementioned Flynn Nagel (what a great name)—JJ Jefferson dove into the end zone on a game-tying five-yard catch with 12 seconds left. 

Nebraska bettors must have felt doomed going into overtime and their worst fears came to life when Martinez was intercepted. Luckily for those that took Nebraska +3, Northwestern didn’t score a game-winning touchdown on the following possession, as the spread pushed after Drew Luckenbaugh’s 37-yard field goal. Moneyline backers and those who bet on Nebraska to cover in the second half weren’t as fortunate.

2. Buccaneers +3

Wait, there are two more excruciating betting losses than Nebraska moneyline? Damn, this was quite a week.

Let’s set the scene: The Falcons are up 31-29 with 1:16 left, and are facing a fourth-and-two from the Tampa Bay 39-yard line. The Bucs are out of timeouts.

It seemed like Atlanta coach Dan Quinn had two options here: Go for it on fourth down—the Bucs' defense appeared overmatched all day long against the Falcons' offense—or go the conservative route and punt it.

He chose a confounding Plan C: Attempt a 57-yard field goal with Matt Bryant. Yes, this game was being played in a dome and Bryant is a very reliable kicker. But if he missed the long attempt, it would give the Bucs prime field position needing only three points to win the game. If he made it, the Bucs would still be getting the ball back with a chance to win the game, but they’d need a touchdown. Going for it from two yards out to effectively end the contest seemed like the no-brainer move.

Bryant drilled the 57-yarder, which put the Bucs at the wrong side of the number instead of what bettors thought would be a two-point loss and cover. Down five points, the Bucs got the ball back and reached the Falcons 21-yard line.

On the final play of the game, Tampa actually called a very creative play: a Jameis Winston QB draw to attract the attention of the defense, then try to lateral it out to the outside for DeSean Jackson to score a miraculous touchdown. And it was close to pulling it off, but alas, Jackson couldn't handle the pigskin as it went out of bounds.

This end-of-game excitement and Bucs +3 loss never should have happened though if Quinn would’ve made the right call instead of opting for a 57-yard field goal.

1. San Diego State/Air Force UNDER 21.5 first half

This Mountain West Conference affair took place on Friday night and the wager was off to a rough start when San Diego State scored a touchdown in three plays to start the game. Air Force’s first points came with 14 seconds left in the first quarter, as Aztecs quarterback Ryan Agnew ran a play-action fake, tripped over his own feet and landed in the end zone for a safety.

Air Force took a 9-7 lead with 5:13 left in the second quarter on a Ronald Cleveland 12-yard scamper to the end zone. The Falcons got the ball back with 2:29 before the break, and were set to punt after going three-and-out. As long as there weren’t any theatrics on this punt with 18 seconds remaining, this was an easy cash.

Unfortunately, what occurred resulted in one of the worst betting losses of the football season.

San Diego State blocked the punt and Trenton Thompson returned it 19 yards for an absolutely crushing blow to the psyche of under 21.5 bettors. Betting the under is not fun, and finishes like these make it an even tougher pill to swallow.

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Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
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