01/03/2005 1:00AM

Books got early jump on playoff lines


LAS VEGAS - On the surface, Sunday looked like a day of uncertainty in the NFL, with so many playoff-bound teams resting players and the talking heads on TV going through all the playoff scenarios, which seemed to change every other minute.

But when oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants were looking to make lines for the first round of the NFL playoffs, it was less complicated than usual. For starters, last week they already knew the Colts, Chargers, and Packers would be hosting three of the four games this weekend. The fourth home team would be determined in the battle for the NFC West between the Seahawks and Rams. After that, only four other slots had yet to be filled.

"It was easier than in past years," said Dan O'Brien, one of the team of oddsmakers at LVSC who helped set the opening numbers. "Once the matchups were set, we were also helped because all these teams have already played during the regular season, with the Vikings-Packers and Rams-Seahawks facing twice."

O'Brien said the days and times of each playoff game were released noticeably earlier, obviously because the NFL and their TV networks knew who the host teams were ahead of time.

Let's take a look at how the lines in this weekend's four first-round matchups were set and bet:

Jets at Chargers: This game, to be played Saturday night, was the first to get a line, since the Jets were guaranteed the No. 5 seed in the AFC after the Bills lost to the Steelers in Sunday's early games. Around 3:15 p.m. pst, LVSC sent out the Chargers as a six-point favorite, with a total of 45. The Stardust posted the line at 3:30 p.m., and early money came on the Jets. The line was adjusted to 5 1/2, but was then bet back to 6. The MGM Mirage properties posted their line at 4:45 p.m. and opened at Chargers -5 1/2, but it took only half an hour for them, and everyone else in town, to adjust to -6.

Vikings at Packers: This matchup was next to be set, with LVSC sending out the Packers -6 1/2 at 3:45 p.m., with a total of 50. While the Caesars Entertainment books and Station Casinos went with the 6 1/2, the Stardust and MGM Mirage opted for Packers -6. The Stardust opened the total at 49, and it got bet down to 48 1/ 2 and then 48.

Broncos at Colts: Once the Broncos pulled away from the Colts, oddsmakers were able to set the line for the rematch next Sunday in Indianapolis. LVSC sent out the Colts -8 1/2, and that's what the Stardust posted at 4 p.m. Shortly after, Caesars went with Colts -9 1/2. The Stardust line was bet to -9, then to 9 1/2. Half an hour later, the MGM Mirage and Stations properties posted Colts -10, and the bettors took the lower numbers at the Stardust and Caesars, betting those to -10 as well, which is where it stood everywhere as of noon Monday. The total is a pretty solid 56 around town.

Rams at Seahawks: This game, the first to be played Saturday, at 1:30 p.m. Pacific, was the last to be set, because oddsmakers had to wait until the Seahawks held off the Falcons, 28-26, to win the NFC West after a last-second Atlanta TD and failed two-point conversion attempt. LVSC sent out the Seahawks -4, with a total of 52 1/2. Most books shaded the number higher, to 53 or 53 1/2, and everyone put up Seahawks -4, except for the Station Casinos, which opened 4 1/2, had it bet to 3 1/2, and then settled at -4 by Monday morning.

Conference, Super Bowl odds moved

LVSC and the sports books also adjusted their odds to win the Super Bowl and the respective conference titles after the field was whittled down to the final 12 teams, and oddsmakers knew exactly what road each team will have to take to Jacksonville.

LVSC has the Steelers and Patriots as 2-1 co-favorites to win the Super Bowl, followed by the Eagles (3-1); Colts (7-2); Falcons (8-1); Chargers and Packers (10-1); Jets, Seahawks, and Rams (30-1); and the Broncos and Vikings (50-1).

In the AFC, the Steelers and Patriots are 9-5 co-choices, followed by the Colts (5-2), Chargers (6-1), Jets (15-1), and Broncos (25-1).

In the NFC, the Eagles are even money, followed by the Falcons (9-5), Packers (5-2), Seahawks (10-1), Rams (12-1), and Vikings (20-1).

You'll note that the odds on NFC teams to win the Super Bowl are 2 1/2 to three times higher than the odds to win their own conference, whereas the odds on AFC teams are less than twice as much. That's because the AFC is considered stronger than the NFC, mainly because of the dominance of the Steelers, Patriots, and Colts, but also because the AFC has a 40-20 record in interconference play. LVSC also has a Super Bowl line with the AFC -6 over the NFC, with a total set at 48 points.

"If it's anybody but Philly, it's going to much higher than that," O'Brien said. "Some books have had it at 5 1/2, but if we put it at that, it's going to get bet to 6, anyway."

NFL bankroll ends on high note

Considering how unpredictable everyone seemed to think the final week of the season was, I somehow had a handle on it. My bankroll plays went 4-1 Sunday, with wins on the Dolphins +11 vs. the Ravens, Bengals -3 vs. the Eagles, Saints +7 1/2 vs. the Panthers, and Rams +3 1/2 vs. the Jets. My only loss came when the Cowboys blew two fourth-quarter leads Sunday night vs. the Giants.

That closed my regular-season NFL bankroll at 41-42-3 for a net loss of 5.2 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1). Again, nothing to brag about, but the record certainly looks better after I started the season so poorly. Hopefully I can keep that late-season momentum (10-5 on sides over the final three weeks, though 0-1 on totals) going into the playoffs.

Early NFL line moves

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent
Took money OpenBet To
Vikings-Packers under 4948

Last week: The NFL bettors went 0-1 on sides against the Stardust's opening numbers with the Panthers being the only play of the week, dropping the overall record to 25-26 (49 percent) on the regular season. NFL totals bettors were 2-1 to close out a strong showing at 27-18 (60 percent) on the year.

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