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Published: Jan 30, 2017 4 min read
Falcons in NFC Championship
Quarterback Matt Ryan has led the Atlanta Falcons to the Super Bowl, against long-shot odds.
Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Atlanta Falcons are the underdogs in their Super Bowl LI matchup against the New England Patriots. But it's expected to be a pretty close game: The Pats are favored by just 3 points.

Such a scenario was unimaginable at the start of the NFL season, when almost no one thought the Falcons could make it to the Super Bowl, let alone have a decent chance of winning it all. In September, oddsmakers predicted that the Falcons would win seven games during the regular season and likely miss the playoffs. Just before the season kicked off, Las Vegas bookmakers were welcoming bets with 80-1 odds on Atlanta being crowned Super Bowl champs.

The Patriots, by contrast, were expected to win at least 10 games and were given 6-1 odds for winning yet another Super Bowl. In other words, if you placed a $100 bet on the Patriots winning the Super Bowl before the season started, you would win $600 if your prediction holds up come Super Bowl Sunday, February 5.

That's not bad. But if you'd instead wagered that $100 on the Falcons, you'd be looking at an $8,000 payday if they win the Super Bowl.

Some gamblers not only bet on the long-shot Falcons in September, they did so when the odds—which change from week to week—would result in even bigger payouts. Here's what the sports book William Hill Tweeted after the Falcons won the NFC Championship to gain entrance to Super Bowl LI:

William Hill isn't revealing exactly how much these customers wagered with their 100-1 gambits. Most likely, they were small bets. But at such odds, even those could pay off handsomely: A $20 bet would pay off $2,000, while a $5 wager would net $500 if the Falcons win.

The Falcons didn't remain such long shots for long, however. By the end of September, after the team had beaten the Oakland Raiders and New Orleans Saints on the road, bookmakers began thinking the Falcons could be contenders, and the odds of them winning the Super Bowl shifted to 40-1.

These were the odds when the biggest early bet we know of was placed. "We took a $5,000 bet at 40-1 on the Falcons to win the Super Bowl," Jason Simbal, vice president of the gaming company CG Technology, told ESPN.

If that gutsy anonymous gambler's wager pays off with a Falcons Super Bowl win, that ticket brings home $200,000.

The bet is reminiscent of a 50-1 $2,000 wager placed a year in advance that the New York Mets would win the World Series in 2015. The Mets made it to the World Series, but alas, they wound up losing to the Kansas City Royals. So that long-shot bet, which would have resulted in a $100,000 win, never paid off.

There are a few Falcons believers hoping that things go differently for the long shots this time around.