09/26/2006 12:00AM

Early bettors pounce on Chargers-Ravens


LAS VEGAS - As we enter Week 4 of the NFL season, the first thought is that the lines would be tighter and tighter as oddsmakers get a better grip on the teams, but when the opening lines for this upcoming weekends games went up this past Sunday afternoon, there was still plenty of difference of opinion and chances for the early bettors to grab juicy lines.

But it wasn't just here in Las Vegas that bettors found betting value. The Pinnacle offshore book opened the Chargers as a 3-point favorite at Baltimore and bettors jumped all over the Ravens +3. When the Las Vegas Hilton opened the game at pick-em, bettors here jumped on the Chargers and quickly bet it to -1 1/2, while Pinnacle and other offshore books. By Monday morning, when just about every book had its odds up, the consensus line was Chargers -2 as the Hilton, Caesars and MGM Mirage books were still at -1 1/2 while some offshore were at 2 1/2. Pick-em or 3 aren't likely to be seen again.

The same example of the difference in odds available in Vegas and offshore happened in the Jaguars-Redskins game. The offshore books opened the Jags -2 1/2 with some 3's available, while the Hilton opened the Jaguars -1 and the Stratosphere opened at -2 and quickly got bet to -3 before bettors took back the Redskins +3 and went back down to 2 1/2. The line is likely to bounce back and forth between 2 1/2 and 3 all week. Bettors laying the Jaguars -2 1/2 or taking the Redskins +3 should expect to have to lay 6-5 (or -120 when converted to a money line) instead of the standard 11-10 (-110).

The same is true of the marquee NFC matchup on Sunday night when the Seahawks visit the Bears. That game opened pick-em offshore and at the Stratopshere, as well as -2 at the Hilton, but got bet quickly to -2 1/2 everywhere.

Among the other big moves at the Hilton were the Cowboys being bet from -7 to -10 vs. the Titans, the Colts from -8 to -9, and the Falcons from -7 to -8 vs. the Cardinals (though that could be impacted by the result of Atlanta's Monday night game at New Orleans).

All of the above line moves were determined by money coming in, but another big adjustment was yet to come. After the afternoon games were done and the Hilton posted their opening line at 4:30 p.m., among the games listed was the Bengals -3 1/2 vs. the Patriots. Most books kept the game off the board Sunday afternoon/evening because the Patriots were playing the Broncos on NBC, and the Hilton did take the game off the board when the game kicked off at 5:15 p.m. After the Pats' 17-7 loss, the line was reposted as Bengals -6.

o The college line moves, entering the fifth week of play, were much less volatile with most of the early money at the Stratosphere coming in on the favorites. Rutgers, in the Top 25 for the first time in 30 years, was bet from -4 to -4 1/2 for its Friday night ESPN game vs. South Florida, Southern Cal was bet from -15 to -16 vs. Washington St., Wisconsin from -9 1/2 to -10 vs. Indiana, California from -9 1/2 to -10 vs. Oregon St., UCLA from -22 to -23 vs. Stanford. Among the rare dogs were Texas A&M being bet from +1 to pick-em vs. Texas Tech, New Mexico from +11 to +10 vs. Air Force, and Boise St. from +4 1/2 to +4 vs. Utah.

Sports book notes

The chalk reigned at the UFC 63 card at the Arrowhead Pond (which will be renamed the Honda Center next month) in Anaheim, Calif., on Saturday night as the favorites won of the five featured matches. The main event was Matt Hughes, a -225 favorite at the MGM Mirage properties here in Vegas, putting his UFC welterweight belt on the line vs. B.J. Penn, who had stunned Hughes in their previous meeting. Penn controlled the start of this fight, too, but Hughes rallied get a stoppage at 3:43 of the third round. UFC 64 will be held Oct. 14 at the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

o It wasn't as much of a fight in the Ryder Cup as the Europeans dominated the U.S. golfers 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 over the weekend at the K Club in Staffan Ireland. Betting was decent here in Vegas, but nothing like the report of a record 347,000 pound wager (roughly equal to $600,000 U.S.) wager made at William Hill in England. The wager was made on a U.S. victory and the bookmakers were obviously happy to cheer on a European victory as William Hill would have had to pay out at 6-5 odds.

o Jeff Burton hadn't won a Nextel Cup race in nearly five years, since October 2001, but he passed Kasey Kahne late in the Dover 400 on Sunday night to win the race at odds of 15-1 and move into the lead in the Chase for the Cup. Before the race, he was 8-1 to win the points title at Station Casinos, but now he is 7-2 co-second choice along with Jeff Gordon, who finished third Sunday. Matt Kenseth remains the favorite at 5-2.

o Locally, Mike Skinner won the Smith's Las Vegas 350 truck race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Saturday night. Skinner was the seventh choice at 12-1 in the first race run in the reconfigured LVMS with higher banking that promises to make for faster racing. Cautions kept the average speeds down in the race, but in qualifying, the trucks went faster than the Nextel Cup cars did last March as Skinner won the pole with an average speed of 178.065 mph.