01/09/2006 12:00AM

Despite road victories, hardly a wild weekend


After a college bowl season with very competitive games and fantastic finish after fantastic finish, this past weekend's NFL wild-card games were hardly wild at all.

With road teams winning three of the four games - including two outright upsets by road underdogs in the NFC with the Redskins and Panthers - you would think it would have been more exciting, but there wasn't anything shocking in any of it as the Patriots and Steelers also rolled to victory.

The Redskins, who were 2 1/2-point road dogs most of last week leading up to their game at the Buccaneers, jumped out to a 14-0 lead thanks to their defense and held on for a 17-10 victory in the first game on Saturday. Bettors were on the right side as the line closed as low as Bucs -1 at the Stardust and the MGM Mirage properties.

The Patriots, as 7 1/2-point home favorites, led only 7-3 at the half vs. the Jaguars in what looked like it might be a competitive game, but then the Pats rolled to a 28-3 victory.

On Sunday, the Panthers, as 2 1/2-point road dogs, thoroughly dominated the Giants in a 23-0 victory. Action was mostly split on this game, though late money drove the line to 3 at most books Sunday. It was also the third straight playoff game to go under the total.

The finale at least had some drama. The Las Vegas Hilton had opened the Bengals as a 3-point favorite and the Stardust had Cincy -2 1/2 when the lines first went up last Sunday, but the public quickly bet the Steelers to 3-point favoritism, and that's where it stayed during the week. Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer got injured on his team's second play from scrimmage, but Jon Kitna came in and led the team to a field goal, and when another touchdown drive put the Bengals up 10-0, it looked like oddsmakers might have had the line right in the first place. The Steelers, however, battled back and eventually took control on the way to a 31-17 win. With a total of 46 1/2, it was the only wild-card game to go over the total.

Divisional playoff lines set

Redskins at Seahawks: This was the first divisional playoff line posted, because the Redskins were the No. 6 seed and thus automatically slated to face the No. 1 seed if they advance. The Seahawks opened -8 1/2 at most books in Las Vegas last Saturday night, though they were as low as -8 at the Palms and as high as -9 1/2 at Wynn. The total opened as high as 43 at the Stardust. By the end of the day Sunday, most books had settled at Seahawks -9 with a total of 41.

Panthers at Bears: The line on the NFC's other divisional playoff game, which will be played Sunday, wasn't set until the Panthers were wrapping up their win over the Giants. The Bears opened as a 3-point favorite everywhere except Caesars Palace, which opened at -2 1/2. Within minutes, Caesars increased the juice on the Bears' side and made bettors who wanted the -2 1/2 to also lay -120 ($1.20 to win $1, as opposed to the standard $1.10). The books at 3 held the line through Monday morning, though some have attached extra juice to the Panthers +3, as that would cost -115 at the MGM Mirage properties and -120 at the Palms and Golden Nugget. The total opened between 31 and 32 at all books, and by the end of Sunday's betting was bet down to 30 1/2.

Patriots at Broncos: The AFC matchups weren't determined until the Steelers defeated the Bengals in Sunday's late game. Around 4:20 p.m. Las Vegas time, when the Steelers got possession with a 14-point lead, the line on this game went up at the Hilton. The Broncos opened as a 3 1/2-point favorite and were bet to -4. Most other books followed suit with the Broncos at either -3 or -3 1/2. When that happened, the Patriots +4 got bet at the Hilton and dropped into line at 3 1/2. During the course of Sunday night and Monday morning, the line continued to drop, and by noon Monday it was pretty much Broncos -3 (-120) everywhere. The total opened at 44 1/2 at the Hilton but quickly became a consensus 44 around town.

Steelers at Colts: The Colts opened either -9 or -9 1/2 at most books, though it opened as high as 10 at Caesars and the Golden Nugget. The Hilton saw early money on the Colts and increased the line to 10, but then it was bet back to 9 1/2. The total opened between 47 and 48 at all books, but still hadn't settled on a consensus line as of noon Monday. The more interesting thing in the early betting on this game was the money line to win the game straight up. At the Hilton, it opened Colts -550 (risk $5.50 for every $1 you want to profit) and Steelers $425 (profit $4.25 for every $1 wagered). Money poured in on a Steelers upset, dropping the odds to -500/+400, -450/+375, -430/+360 and finally to -410/+330.

Future odds updated

With just four teams alive in each conference, odds were updated to win the Super Bowl, as well as the AFC and NFC titles.

The Hilton still had the Colts as the odds-on favorite to win the Super Bowl at 10-11, followed by the Broncos (5-1), Seahawks (6-1), Patriots (7-1), Steelers (12-1), Bears (13-1), Panthers (20-1), and Redskins (35-1).

In the AFC, the Colts reopened at 1-2, with the Broncos at 7-2, the Patriots at 6-1, and the Steelers at 8-1. After an hour or so of betting, the odds were adjusted to the Colts at 5-9, the Broncos at 4-1, the Patriots at 5-1, and the Steelers at 7-1.

In the NFC, the Seahawks were 10-11, the Bears at 11-5, the Panthers at 9-2, and the Redskins at 8-1. After an hour, the Seahawks were lowered to 4-5 and the Bears were raised to 5-2, while the Panthers and Redskins stayed the same.

Wanna wait 'til next year?

The Hilton took things a step further by posting odds to win the 2007 Super Bowl at Dolphins Stadium in Miami. In years past, we usually didn't see the following year's odds until Super Bowl week, when the huge crowds come to town, but Jay Kornegay and his staff obviously wanted to get a jump on the competition.

The Colts are the overwhelming favorite at 5-2, with a huge dropoff to the Patriots and Chargers at 10-1, the Steelers at 12-1, the Seahawks at 14-1, and the Bengals, Broncos, and Chiefs at 15-1.

The longest shots on the board are the 49ers and Saints at 200-1.