Virus complicates betting on NFL playoffs, NCAA title game

It’s tough enough trying to figure out the winners of playoff and championship games without factoring in COVID-19, but that’s what bettors are faced with in this year’s NFL playoffs and the college championship game.

COVID-19 is a particular concern in the Pittsburgh-Cleveland playoff game. The Browns will be without at least their head coach, two assistants, and seven regular players because of the virus, which has prevented them from practicing together as a team for over two weeks.

That’s the main reason the betting line has moved from -3.5 to 6 points in favor of the Steelers, who along with the Bucs have attracted the most betting action of the six games in the first round of the playoffs.

I like the Steelers too, but at no more than 6.5 points, a spread they’re likely to hit by game time. But Pittsburgh is hardly a lock to cover the number. QB Ben Roethlisberger was rested for game 17 and showed a propensity for throwing short passes in the team’s last couple of games. There’s a suspicion Ben has a sore arm, but of course nobody will admit it. Approach this game with caution.

COVID-19 and a mystery injury are also impacting the college championship game between Ohio State and Alabama, a game I’m going to pass on. I have Alabama a 7-point favorite in the game, and Vegas currently has them favored by 7.5. I need at least a 4-point gap between the line and my projection before the game is a bet, so I’ll just watch this one.

That’s assuming the game will be played Monday night. Ohio State has several players grappling with the virus and there’s talk the game may be postponed a week. Then there’s the health of Buckeyes QB Justin Fields, who took a solid shot to the ribs in their win over Clemson.

Some people suspect Fields has one or two broken ribs, but Ohio State is stonewalling all questions on the issue, saying only that he’ll be ready to play. Unlike the NFL, college teams don’t have to issue injury reports so anybody who wants to bet on that game will have to make a guess on Fields’ health. If his ribs are broken, that could easily add several more points to the betting line.

I’ll just be focusing on the pros for the rest of the season. Thanks to a 7-2 run on the bowl games, my season record is now 39-27, almost the 60% winning percentage I aim for. If history is any guide, I’ll be betting on just two or three more games this season. I’ll have to go 2-0 or 3-0 to hit my 60%.

Go Steelers!

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