09/16/2010 3:30PM

Defense can help Bears cover against Cowboys


LAS VEGAS – Week 1 of the NFL season was a roller-coaster ride for bettors and bookmakers here (and elsewhere), and we loved every twist and turn.

The season kicked off a week ago Thursday with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints beating the Vikings, 14-9. From a Vegas point of view, the 5-point margin was significant because the Saints were favored by 4 points most of the spring and summer until Brett Favre’s retirement/unretirement saga popped up in early August. When it was rumored that Favre was retiring, the spread on the game went as high as 6 1/2, but then was adjusted back down to 4 when he announced he was going to play after all (c’mon, who was really surprised by that?). Anyway, the line ended up getting bet higher to 5 1/2 by kickoff, which meant that a lot of books got middled on the game as they paid off on the majority of bets on the Saints at under –5 and the majority of the bets on the Vikings at more than +5 and refunded all those on the number.

That left some books with liability on parlays, but Sunday’s results bailed them out as some of the most popular sides for the public went down in flames, including the Colts losing to the Texans and the Cowboys losing to the Redskins. Even though favorites went 5-3-1 against the spread in the early games Sunday and 2-1 in the afternoon contests, it ended up being a chop-chop kind of weekend that the books love as the dogs covered the Sunday and Monday night games (as well as the Thursday night opener with the consensus closing line of 5 1/2) to go 8-7-1 for the opening weekend.

◗ After the opening weekend – with the Colts and Cowboys both losing as top Super Bowl contenders – the Packers have taken over as the 6-1 favorite at the Las Vegas Hilton. The Saints and Ravens are the co-second choice at 7-1 with the Colts raised to 10-1, the same price as the Patriots. The Cowboys and Vikings are now at 12-1, with the Chargers, Steelers and Jets at 15-1. In college football, Alabama and Ohio State are 7-2 co-favorites to win the BCS title game with Boise State at 5-1.

◗ The Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest, the most established of the high-end football handicapping contests here in town, drew 345 entrants at $1,500 apiece. That’s up from 328 entries last year and nearly back to the 350 that entered in 2008. After the opening weekend, 10 SuperContestants were tied for the lead with records of 5-0 against the spread, including my personal entry, ViewFromVegas.com. However, there are no weekly prizes, so there’s no need to get too giddy. It’s a long season, plus there are 16 contestants at 4-0-1, plus two-time defending champion Fezzik is off to a 3-1-1 start, so the leader board is crowded.

◗ In other Vegas contest news, the M Resort drew seven entries for its $100,000 buy-in contest. The M isn’t revealing the players’ names (some of whom are rumored to be pro poker players) and only Fezzik has publicly said he’s a participant. The South Point had 73 entries at $2,500 apiece for its contest that guarantees a $250,000 prize pool (meaning they needed 100 to make their nut) and $100,000 to the winner, so that is a nice overlay for the players.

Back to the betting board

I went 4-0 against the spread in this space last week, and I’m glad I stuck to my guns in using the same plays in the SuperContest even though I was getting the worst of some of the numbers. The other game I used in the contest was the Vikings +5 1/2. Hopefully I can keep the winning going this week.

Bears +8 vs. Cowboys

I bet against both teams and won last week, but after watching both teams closely it was clear that the Cowboys weren’t able to “flip the switch” after an ineffective preseason and their offensive line is a far cry from their glory days. The Bears, while struggling to get past the Lions – and the Calvin Johnson nullified game-winning TD is still the cause of much debate – should still be able to contain the Dallas offense with Julius Peppers wreaking havoc in the Cowboys’ backfield and Brian Urlacher back to his old self, while Jay Cutler and the offense should do enough to keep them within a touchdown.

PLAY: Bears for 1 unit.

Cardinals +6 1/2 vs. Falcons

This line has come down from the advance betting that had the Falcons – 7 1/2, but I’m still a little surprised it’s still this high. The Falcons were road favorites at Pittsburgh last week an lost in overtime, 15-9. There’s no shame in that as the Steelers are still a solid team without Ben Roethlisberger, but they still didn’t look very impressive. As for the Cardinals, they didn’t dominate the Rams either in squeaking out at 17-14 victory, but they have been a great underdog for me in recent years and I haven’t given up on them with Derek Anderson taking over for Kurt Warner. There’s still plenty of talent on both sides of the ball and they match up well with Atlanta. Grab +7 if you can get it.

PLAY: Cardinals for 1 unit .

Giants +5 1/2 vs. Colts

This is the Sunday night match-up and we will be treated to endless features and shots of Peyton and Eli Manning, as well as their father, Archie. Longtime readers know my feelings about Peyton Manning being overrated when it comes to dealing with pressure as well as the defense’s inability to stop the run (despite usually not ranking too bad in the league stats because teams tend to abandon the run when they fall behind against the Colts), but both were on display in the Colts’ 34-24 loss to the Texans as Arian Foster ran for 231 yards and the Houston defense got physical for once. I trust the Giants’ coaching staff learned from the game films and will implement the same game plan.

PLAY: Giants for 1 unit .

Last week: 4-0 for a profit of 4 units.