12/20/2004 12:00AM

If NFL lines look strange, here's why

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Monday was a quiet morning at the Stardust sports book. Usually, the Stardust puts up its opening NFL lines on Sunday night to accompany the college football lines for the following Saturday. But with the lines for college football bowl games having been on the board for two weeks, there was no sense of urgency to release the NFL lines, so the Stardust waited until Monday morning to put them up.

That also gave oddsmakers a little more time to go through all the injury reports, weather forecasts, and playoff scenarios that can affect wagering at this time of year.

"These last two weeks of the NFL season are the toughest to put up solid lines," said Bob Scucci, the Stardust's race and sports book director. "Some teams that have locked in their playoff position will be resting their starters. Other teams are in must-win situations, so the bettors will be focusing on them.

"We have to take all those factors into consideration and put up the best line we can for early in the week. Then we really have to keep an eye on the injury reports and coaches' quotes about who they will be resting and make adjustments through the week. We will probably see some lines move four to five points."

Scucci used the Falcons-Saints game as an example. The Stardust opened the Saints as a 1 1/2-point favorite.

"Based on the strength of the teams, the Falcons should clearly be favored in that game," Scucci said, "but the Falcons have nothing to play for. They can't improve their position, so no one really knows how much their starters will play. The Saints are still fighting for a wild-card spot, so we had to make them a favorite because you know the public will be looking to play them."

Just then, Scucci was called away to approve a bet on the Saints, and he moved the line to 2 1/2.

Scucci said another game where there could be a strange line is the Eagles-Rams game next Monday night. It was off the board this Monday because of the injury status of Rams quarterback Marc Bulger and Eagles receiver Terrell Owens.

"The Eagles should be about a touchdown favorite on the road in that matchup, but they've clinched home field throughout the NFC playoffs and will not have any incentive," said Scucci. "The Rams need that game a lot more, so we're working on finding the right number once we learn more."

In the two hours after the NFL lines were posted, at 8 a.m. Pacific, the only other game that was bet enough to move off the opening number was the Broncos-Titans game on Saturday, which opened at Broncos -4 and was bet to 3 1/2 right after the numbers went up.

That wasn't too surprising as the Las Vegas Hilton and Stratosphere did put up NFL lines on Sunday night and both opened the Broncos -3 and they were bet to -4, so it's likely some sharp bettor took the Broncos -3 on Sunday night and decided to take back the Titans +4 on Monday morning.

College bowl lines holding steady

When the sports books here put up the bowl lines two weeks ago, there was a flurry of action, but it has been slow the last week or so.

"That happens every year," Scucci said. "We saw a bunch of action, and then as the numbers settle in we don't see much until the day or two before each game."

A check of the numbers as of Monday morning show that only two point spreads have moved more than a half-point since Dec. 6.

Thursday's Las Vegas Bowl is now at UCLA -11 1/2 over Wyoming after being at 12 1/2 two weeks ago. Friday's Hawaii Bowl has been bet to Hawaii -3 1/2 after being at 2 1/2 two weeks ago. The really strange thing about that move is that the line opened Hawaii -3, so it was bet to 2 1/2 and then reversed direction to 3 1/2.

Most totals are exactly as they were two weeks ago with two exceptions: Wednesday's GMAC Bowl between Memphis and Bowling Green was bet up from 71 points to 72 and the Dec. 30 Holiday Bowl between Texas Tech and California was bet down from 66 to 65.

Memphis (+4 1/2) vs. Bowling Green

The move on the over is probably the right idea as both teams in the GMAC Bowl have repeatedly been involved in shootouts down the stretch. I like the way Memphis played with Louisville in a 56-49 loss on Nov. 4 and then came back the next week and beat Southern Miss, 30-26. Bowling Green also has one win over a bowl team, beating Marshall 56-35, but then the Falcons couldn't keep that momentum in a 49-41 loss at Toledo. I'm not so sure the right team is favored here, so I will take the points in what should be an entertaining game.

PLAY: Memphis for 1 unit.

Bowl record: 1-0 with Southern Miss -5 1/2 vs. North Texas in last Tuesday's New Orleans Bowl. College season record: 29-21-1 (58 percent) for a net profit of 5.9 units.

More bowl picks available online

During the bowl season, I'm only going to be doing writeups on games I am betting myself or intend to make a wager on if I anticipate the line moving in my favor. But the DRF.com website has my preferred sides in all of the bowl games at http://www.drf.com/football/2004/picks.html.