11/21/2005 1:00AM

Early money flows in on Lions, Broncos


Thanksgiving week used to be special because it provided a rare opportunity to watch football on Thursday and Friday. Now, ESPN shows games on those days just about every week during the season. Still, Thanksgiving week is big for both college and pro football fans.

The holiday action was actually scheduled to start on Tuesday with Bowling Green, a 4 1/2-point favorite, taking on Toledo, and another Mid-American Conference game on Wednesday, with Northern Illinois favored by 9 over Western Michigan.

When the first betting lines in Vegas on those games went up Sunday night at the Stardust, they remained unchanged, but early bettors let their opinions be known on several other games.

In the Thanksgiving Day NFL game between the Falcons and Lions, the Falcons were installed 3-point favorites at all four books putting up NFL lines (Imperial Palace, Las Vegas Hilton, Stratosphere, and Stardust), and the early money came in on the Lions. However, none of the books moved off the key number of 3, instead opting to make Detroit bettors pay more in vigorish (-120 instead of the standard -110 at the Hilton, -125 at the Stratosphere, and -115 at the Stardust). The line is not likely to move off 3, which is bad news for Falcons' bettors who missed out on the -2 1/2 the Hilton had posted last Tuesday before it got bet to 3.

In the other Thanksgiving Day NFL game, the IP, Hilton, Strat, and Stardust all opened the Cowboys a small favorite over the Broncos - with the Stardust even moving the line from -1 to -2. But on Monday morning, most books opened the game pick-em, with Caesars and the Wynn making the Broncos -1.

In Thursday night's NCAA "Backyard Brawl" rivalry between West Virginia and Pittsburgh, the Stardust opened WVU -11 1/2 and saw it promptly bet to -12 1/2 (the Stratosphere opened it at 13), and 13 became the consensus line on Monday.

In Friday's action, the Stratosphere opened LSU -16 vs. Arkansas and saw it bet to 16 1/2 before just about every book made the line 17 1/2 on Monday, and the Stardust opened Colorado -15 vs. Nebraska and saw it bet to 15 1/2, but then the line did an about-face Monday and was down to 14 at most books.

Saturday's games saw relatively little point spread movement, but there was one interesting development. Everyone knows (or should know by now) that 3 is the most common margin of victory in football, and if a line is opened a point or so away from 3, it's more likely to be bet toward 3 than away from it. That was the case when the Stardust opened North Carolina St. -3 1/2 over Maryland, Mississippi -2 1/2 vs. Mississippi St., and Iowa St. -4 vs. Kansas.

Within an hour, all three (which were in successive order on the betting board) had been bet to -3.

On Sunday's NFL schedule, most of the numbers were pretty stable, moving by a half-point at the most, with the exception of the Imperial Palace opening the Titans -6 1/2 over the 49ers and seeing it bet to 7 1/2, and the Stardust opening the Jaguars -4 1/2 over the Cardinals and seeing it bet to 3 1/2.

Those ended up being the consensus numbers around town on Monday.

Not-so-smart money on Harvard-Yale

Harvard and Yale are regarded as two of the finer institutions of higher learning in this country. Ivy League schools have been off the boards in Las Vegas for many years because of lack of interest and the fact it mostly attracted action from wise guys who had an edge and beat the books soundly.

For "The Game" last week, the Hilton opened Harvard -6. The early so-called "smart money" came on Yale, and the line closed at 4 1/2 (it makes you wonder why smart money didn't pour in from Harvard grads to drive the line back up).

For most of the game, with Yale jumping out to a 21-3 lead, it looked like the smart-money bettors would win, but Harvard rallied and won what became the first triple-overtime game in Ivy League history, 30-24 - landing square on the opening number, which meant the first bettors on Yale +6 pushed but the rest of the smart money lost.

Sports book notes

Greg Biffle won the season-ending Ford 400 Nextel Cup race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday as the 7-1 co-favorite, but the big winner was Tony Stewart as he finished 15th Sunday to win the season points title. When the season started back in February with the Daytona 500, Stewart was the co-fourth choice at 7-1 to win the title, but his consistency had him in control down the stretch. Heading into the finale, he needed only to finish ninth to wrap up the title, and when his top challenger, Jimmie Johnson, crashed on the 126th lap, Stewart was able to drive even more conservatively.

* In addition to a cornucopia of football games, Thanksgiving weekend also brings the start of golf's silly season with the Skins Games. In this weekend's edition at Trilogy Golf Club in La Quinta, Calif., the Hilton has Tiger Woods as the 6-5 favorite to win the most money in the made-for-TV event with Fred Couples at 2-1, Fred Funk at 7-2, and Annika Sorenstam at 13-2.