The NFL has always branded itself as a league of parity, but the betting market is showing that an inept outlier has arrived.
The Miami Dolphins are creating sports betting history and forcing oddsmakers to adjust in ways they never have.
The Dolphins are 21.5-point underdogs against the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday, after closing as 18-point home 'dogs in a 43-0 loss to the New England Patriots last Sunday. In the Super Bowl era, no point spread had ever been that large in the season's first two weeks.
"The spreads are obnoxious," Ed Salmons, a 30-year oddsmaker and vice president of risk for the SuperBook at Westgate Las Vegas, told ESPN. "It's like I'm looking at college [football]."
Added CG Technology sportsbook director Tony DiTommaso: "My brother from New Jersey bet against them in Week 1 and doubled up against them in Week 2. And he called me and said, 'It's that easy. I can't believe you get paid to do this and you couldn't figure that out.' And I just started laughing."
Oddsmakers are now fully aware. Miami has been outscored 102-10 through two games, failing to cover the point spread by a combined 67 points.
"This is unprecedented. Teams have been bad before, but this is different. They're bad and not caring. Everyone wants out. It's kind of crazy," Caesars Sportsbook director of trading Jeff Davis told ESPN.
The Dolphins' start follows an offseason that fostered allegations of tanking. The NFL had yet to see a team draw an accusation that is more common in the NBA and occasionally demonstrated in MLB.
But in the preseason, Miami traded its best player, offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, and just this week the team granted a trade request and sent defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both former first-rounders were signed to team-friendly rookie contracts, yet Miami added to its stockpile of future draft picks and league-high salary-cap space for 2020.
"There's nothing you can do. You just make high numbers," Salmons said. The SuperBook increased Miami's Super Bowl odds to 20,000-1, which is believed to be the largest odds ever after two games. "We wanted to offer fair odds on a team that is not trying to win."
Analytics-based company Football Outsiders has graded Miami as the single worst team through two games in its entire database (since 1986). The Dolphins are currently the only NFL team without a single All-Pro or Pro Bowl player on offense. The average draft pick of their offensive starters is a league-worst 155.8, which represents the middle of the fifth round.
"New England had more interception return yardage than Miami had passing yardage. I've never even heard of such a thing," Davis said. "I'm trying to watch all the games, and then I see a random-numbered [Baltimore] Raven running down the field completely in space, and I'm like, 'What the hell is happening?' And then I watched the replay and realize, 'Oh my god. They faked a punt up five touchdowns.'"
The betting public has been riding this wave. In the season opener, Caesars reported 93.7% of the total money bet backed the Ravens, who won 59-10. In Miami's second game, the Patriots drew 82.9% of the action. NFL underdogs of at least 14 points are 294-244-17 against the spread all time (55%), yet notable betting interest on Miami has yet to arrive even as the point spreads climb.
"At some point, the number will get to a playable spot for sharps, but I'm not sure anyone quite knows where that is yet," Alan Berg, a senior oddsmaker at Caesars Sportsbook, told ESPN.
"Quite honestly, I am a person that has bet on major league baseball and bet on the NBA. I have learned my lesson to not pound my head against the wall for a team that is tanking," professional bettor Erin Rynning told ESPN. "I'm sure there will be a time I back Miami, but it won't be anytime soon."
Even with the lopsided liability, a silver lining in the form of kickoff times has calmed any bookmaking nerves. Miami will play 14 of its 16 games during the first Sunday time slot, and past betting behavior suggests the house will absorb the damage. "If the Dolphins [fail to cover] and all the public wins, the bettors [will] just put the money back through the window for the second set of games and the night game," Davis said.
Sportsbooks have adjusted to Miami's eye-popping futility in unique ways.
Following Miami's opening loss, DraftKings became the first U.S. sportsbook to post a yes/no proposition on whether the Dolphins would finish 0-16. One bettor wagered $3,400 at 30-1 odds on a winless season for a payout of $102,000. DraftKings has since removed the proposition for further evaluation. Circa Sportsbook in Las Vegas currently lists the 0-16 prop with +380 odds.
CG Technology updated season win totals after Week 1. Miami reopened with a line of 3.5 wins and immediately a respected bettor wagered on the under, driving the line to three wins. After a second home loss, CG reposted Miami's total to 1.5 wins (over -130) and has yet to receive notable action.
"I tend to have that old-school mentality that no team is as good or as bad as you last saw. Now, I know after doing a lot of reading and certainly watching them, they looked awful," DiTommaso said, leaning on his 36 years in the industry. "They do face the Bengals and the Jets twice. They also get the Bills twice. They go to New York and play the Giants. They play the Redskins. Those are winnable games, if the team doesn't quit."
In the Super Bowl era, only 10 of 1,578 teams have finished with fewer than two wins. Miami's schedule will undoubtedly soften, but that may not necessarily translate to wins or even point-spread covers. If these woeful performances mount, the Dolphins will continue to rewrite the history books.
Since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule in 1978, only 20 of 1,233 teams have played a full season without being favored once (1.6%). The 1976 Buccaneers went 2-10-2 ATS (17% covering) in their inaugural season, which ranks as the worst mark in the Super Bowl era.
"I don't think we quite know how bad it could still get: injuries, attrition, more players traded and a team that becomes more and more demoralized. It may still not be rock bottom," Rynning said.
ESPN's David Purdum contributed to this story