09/18/2006 12:00AM

NFL chalk still cash cow for bettors

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During the NFL off-season, the most common topic among oddsmakers and bettors was if last season's "year of the favorite" - when the chalk cashed at 58 percent - was an aberration or a continued sign that parity is dead.

After an era in which any team could beat any other team on any given Sunday, last year saw the top teams continue to roll week after week (and cover the spread no matter how high oddsmakers set them) and the worst teams fail to cover any type of number.

The consensus feeling around Vegas was that last year was a statistical oddity and, even if there are haves and have-nots in the league, things would be back to normal this season.

That seemed to have been proven out in week 1 when underdogs went 10-6 against the spread. The bookmakers breathed a sigh of relief that the favorites - which the public tends to bet at any price - did not dominate.

But that relief was short-lived. This past Sunday was a big loser for the sports books here and for bookmakers everywhere as favorites went 11-4 against the spread. Like last year, even the big favorites rolled. In the early games, the Ravens were bet to -13 vs. Oakland, the Colts were -12 vs. the Texans, and the Bengals were -10 vs. the Browns. The final scores: 28-6, 43-24, 34-17.

To make matters worse for bookmakers, all three games flew over the total. The favorite/over is the most popular combination for recreational players, and they cleaned up as it cashed on five of the nine early games.

Multi-team parlays and teasers also hurt the books as bettors tied the favorites together.

Big line moves also came in as the Vikings and Saints, both of whom started out as underdogs when lines were first posted, were bet to favoritism and ended up covering. The books lost the sides and parlays with those two games, and were doubly burned on teasers as both games ended near the number and all bets using those games cashed. Teasers are a bet where you can move the line in your favor on multiple games (the most common is a 6-point teaser), and bettors love to tease a 7- or 8-point favorite down to -1 or -2, or tease 1- or 2-point dogs up to +7 or +8. So, with the Panthers at +2 1/2 vs. the Vikings, bettors teased them to +8 1/2 before their 16-13 loss, and the Packers were at +1 1/2 vs. Saints and teased to +7 1/2 before their 34-27 loss.

Even when the dogs came through, it wasn't always good for the books. The Giants were one of only two dogs to cover in the early games (the Bills were the other in their 16-6 upset of the Dolphins), but that didn't help the books because the Giants were a popular bet as well.

Later, the red ink continued to flow as favorites went 3-2 against the spread with the favorite/over combo coming in on the Patriots-Jets and Chargers-Titans games.

The Sunday night game saw the Cowboys win, 27-10, as a 7-point favorite. The total landed on 37, so favorite/over parlay bettors got their two-teamers reduced to a straight-bet winner on the Cowboys.

Opening line moves report

The sports books here were still licking their wounds Sunday night when it was time to post the opening numbers for this weekend's games. There was a change in the air - and on the betting boards.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, they flashed the numbers and printed out sheets, but by the time they had early bettors draw numbers for their place in line, they had adjusted the numbers for seven out of the available NFL games in light of what was being offered offshore. The Dolphins flashed at -13 1/2 over the Titans, but by the time wagering started, it was -11. That turned out to be the biggest move.

The Hilton opened the Seahawks -5 vs. the Giants (after originally posting 5 1/2) and money came in on the Giants and it was bet down to 4.

Tighter lines also reigned at the Stratosphere, which also had a rough Sunday. The Strat did, however, open the Dolphins -9 1/2 vs. the Titans and that got quickly bet to -11. The Bears opened -2 1/2 vs. the Vikings (while it was 3 elsewhere) and it got bet quickly to -3, and the Lions got bet from -4 to -6 vs. the Packers.

There was even less movement on the college board as no games moved more than 1 point. Connecticut went from +3 to +2 vs. Indiana, Oklahoma State went from +2 to +1 vs. Houston, Michigan went from -13 1/2 to -14 vs. Wisconsin, and Minnesota went from -2 1/2 to -3 vs. Purdue.

Sports book notes

It was a shame the way the Marco Antonio Barrera-Rocky Juarez fight ended at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Saturday night with fans booing and many heading to the exits early. Barrera, as a -150 favorite, dominated the rematch to retain his super featherweight belt. It wasn't a spectacular slugfest like so many of his bouts, but Barrera put on a defensive clinic and easily won. Obviously, his fans prefer the wilder tactics and didn't appreciate the change in style.

* Ken Harvick won the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire International Speedway on Sunday. He was 10-1 at Station Casinos earlier in the week and bet down to 5-1 at some books by race day. His victory put him in the lead for the Nextel Cup points championship with nine races remaining.

* Former British Open champion Ben Curtis won the final Booz Allen Classic in June. This past weekend was another lame-duck golf event, the 84 Lumber Classic in Farmington, Pa., but oddsmakers at the Hilton still had Curtis at 75-1, and he cruised to a two-stroke victory while most of the top players took the week off to prepare for the Ryder Cup.

* Speaking of such, the Ryder Cup, scheduled for Friday through Sunday in Kildare, Ireland, is pretty much a pick-em betting event. The Hilton has the European team as a half-win favorite, so you can bet the USA +0.5 and cash if it ends in a draw.