09/06/2005 12:00AM

Lots of action, not much movement


Every week during the football season, I will be taking a look at the opening numbers for the following week's games.

Here in Vegas, the opening numbers are posted Sunday afternoon and mostly get action from professional bettors that have already made their own lines or are comparing the opening numbers to those available at offshore books. It's a worthwhile exercise to see where the point spreads started, how they got bet right out of the gate, and to determine whether it's wise to jump on a bet right away or to wait for the line to continue to move and take back the other side.

The opening week of the NFL presents a different scenario. Instead of being put up the Sunday before and bet mostly by the so-called wise guys, the first week lines have been available in sports books here since April and have been bet by not only professionals but tourists as well.

The other variable is that lines set four months ago didn't have recent performances and injuries factored into the equation.

That being said, no game has moved by even 2 points off its opening number, showing how easy it is for oddsmakers to set NFL lines even four months out and even before the draft.

Five of the games have stayed the same: Patriots -7 1/2 vs. the Raiders in the nationally televised opener Thursday night; Steelers -7 vs. the Titans; Jaguars -3 vs. the Seahawks; Chiefs -3 vs. the Jets; and Colts -3 at the Ravens. The half-point moves have been the Broncos from -4 to -4 1/2 at the Dolphins; Bengals -3 to -3 1/2 at the Browns; and the Giants from -2 1/2 to -2 vs. the Cardinals. The 1-point moves have been the Vikings from -5 to -6 vs. the Buccaneers; the Chargers from -5 1/2 to -4 1/2 vs. the Chargers; and the Panthers from -6 to -7 vs. the Saints.

The Panthers-Saints line only started to move in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, with the Saints becoming a vagabond team and concerns about their ability to concentrate on football.

The bigger line movements have largely been a result of changes in the public's opinion of teams. The Bills, a popular darkhorse pick a few months ago, opened -6 vs. the Texans, but that line has dropped to -4 1/2 with some questions about quarterback J.P. Losman being able to carry the team. The opposite has happened with the Redskins-Bears line. Washington opened -4 1/2 vs. the Bears, but the line is up to -6, not because people like the Skins better but because Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman suffered a season-ending injury.

The Rams have gone from -4 to -5 1/2 at the 49ers, primarily because the 49ers have looked so poor in the preseason. The other logical big move has been the Eagles going from 3-point favorites at the Falcons on Monday night to just -1 1/2. This line started coming down because of the Terrell Owens circus and questions over whether it would disrupt the team.

The most surprising of all the moves has been the Lions opening at -1 1/2 vs. the Packers and moving to -3. The consensus seems to be that the Packers are on their way down from the league's elite and the Lions are on their way up. I'm not so sure either opinion is true, at least not enough to justify this line move. If I haven't tipped my hand already, expect this to be one of my plays Sunday.

Raiders (+7 1/2) at Patriots

But first let's look at Thursday night's opener. I debated whether to play this, because I didn't want to feel like I was forced into playing the first game just because it's on national TV. The more I've looked at the matchup, though, the more I like the Raiders - at least to cover the number. I have every respect for the Patriots, what they've accomplished, and what they could do this year, but the Raiders should be able to keep up with them in this game. The off-season acquisition of wide receiver Randy Moss gathered most of the headlines, but the more valuable pickup might prove to be running back Lamont Jordan. If the preseason games mean anything at all, Jordan looks like he's going to be a workhorse running behind a strong offensive line and catching the ball out of the backfield. The Patriots have a great defense, but the first-team looked soft vs. the run in the preseason and will have a hard time containing Jordan. That will open up the passing game even more for Kerry Collins to look deep to Moss, Jerry Porter, and Ronald Curry. The Patriots offense should also have some success, but I think the Raiders defense will hold its own. This game shouldn't be decided by more than a touchdown either way, so I have to take the 7 1/2.

PLAY: Raiders for 1 unit.