Updated on 09/16/2011 6:39AM

NFL favorites (and bettors) win


LAS VEGAS - Bettors drew first blood in the playoff battle with the bookies, as favorites won three of the wild card games over the weekend.

Saturday's betting handle in Nevada was boosted by the games being played late in the day, and bookmakers probably were wishing for the good old days of early kickoffs after the Eagles beat the Buccaneers 31-9 and the Raiders beat the Jets 38-24.

The Eagles were bet up from 3- to 3 1/2-point favorites, and bettors heavily cashed in with the Eagles-over parlay, as it went over the total of 32 1/2. The same scenario played out in the night game, with the Raiders-over parlay a winner as the two teams easily exceeded the 42-point total.

On Sunday, the bookmakers almost rebounded, as both games looked as if they would come in with the underdog and the under.

The Packers, who were bet up from 3 1/2- to 4-point favorites over the 49ers, made a major blunder when Coach Mike Sherman decided to go for a two-point conversion with a 15-7 lead. The attempt failed and left the 49ers within one touchdown and one two-point conversion of a tie.

Indeed, the 49ers scored a touchdown and tied the game with the two-point conversion. The Packers then took an 18-15 lead with a field goal and it looked like that would be the final score after Green Bay CB Mike McKenzie tipped a pass that was intercepted by Tyrone Williams. But instead of running out the clock, the Packers drove 93 yards for a touchdown to clinch the 25-15 victory. That fell under the closing total of 43, though bettors early in the week who bet over 39 or 39 1/ 2 (the line when the weather seemed likely to be worse) still cashed.

In the last game of the weekend, the bettors were on the wrong side as the Dolphins, who were bet up from 2 1/2- to 3-point favorites, lost 20-3 to the Ravens. The Dolphins got a field goal after recovering a Ravens fumble on the opening kickoff, but the Ravens dominated the rest of the way in a game that never threatened the closing total of 31 1/2 (bet down from 33).

This week's games:

Eagles at Bears

The Bears opened as a 2 1/2-point favorite at the Stardust, and the line hasn't budged. Some books opened at 2 and others at 3, but they all have met in the middle at 2 1/2. The total of 32 1/2 also seems solid.

Raiders at Patriots

The Patriots opened as a 3-point choice all over town. It takes a lot for a book to move off 3 since it's very common for a home team to win by a field goal, but early indications are that the bettors like the Raiders more at this spread. The Stardust has moved the line to Pats -3 (even-money), meaning bettors who want the Raiders +3 have to lay -120 (bet $1.20 to win $1).

If the line does move off 3, it's much more likely to be bet down to 2 1/2. The total has been bet up slightly from 40 to 40 1/2.

Ravens at Steelers

The Steelers opened as 6-point favorites but bettors immediately bet the line down to 5 1/2 all over town. The Ravens won as 6-point dogs at Tennessee and Oakland last year on the way to their Super Bowl victory. Bettors also anticipate a low-scoring game (and the Ravens-under parlay is always popular) as the total has been bet down from 32 1/2 to 32. Some offshore books have even gone to 31 1/2.

Packers at Rams

The Stardust opened the Rams as 9-point favorites and they got bet up to 10, which is what most other books chose as their opening line. By Monday morning, 10 was the consensus spread with Caesars Palace still holding out at 9 1/2. The total of 54 was seen as too low by players and was bet up to 54 1/2. Station Casinos beat the bettors to the punch by opening it at 55.

Other sports

Acelino Freitas pulled a minor upset over Joel Casamayor in their junior lightweight bout Saturday night at the Cox Pavilion. The bigger surprise was in how Freitas accomplished the feat. Fight experts generally considered Casamayor the purer boxer while Freitas was seen as a "puncher," having won 29 of his 30 career fights by knockout. But Freitas went the distance and won a unanimous decision.

The fight was not without controversy as referee Joe Cortez ruled a knockdown for Freitas in the third round (when Casamayor slipped) and deducted a point from Casamayor in the sixth for a punch coming out of the break. The rulings made all the difference as two judges had Freitas winning 114-112. Freitas will probably face WBC titleholder Floyd Mayweather Jr. next to unify the division.

* Speaking of fights . . . Shaquille O'Neal threw some punches at the Bulls' Brad Miller Saturday night in retaliation for the Hack-a-Shaq defense the Bulls were using. The strategy worked as the Bulls got Shaq ejected and went on to win 106-104 in overtime. The Bulls still have the worst record in the league at 7-29, but they've fared well against the spread at 19-17. The Lakers have the league's best mark at 26-8 (though they were only percentage points ahead of the Kings for first in the Pacific Division through Sunday) but are only 19-15 against the spread. The Lakers have yet to be an underdog this season, but that could change if Shaq is suspended for the game against the Spurs on Saturday.

But Lakers-Spurs will not be the marquee game that day, as Michael Jordan plays in Chicago for the first time since he retired in a game televised by NBC.

* Andre Agassi, the No. 3 men's seed and the top betting choice, and Serena Williams withdrew from the Australian Open on Monday morning before ever taking the court. Agassi is out with a wrist injury while Williams is sidelined by a twisted ankle. Future book bettors who took either Agassi (3-1) or Williams (5-1) are out of luck as all bets are action, but betting on this event has been light so few people are affected. Of course, if you bet someone else you now have an overlay.

* Horse handicapping contest players are in town for the Suncoast Invitational on the west side of town. Defending champion Tommy Castillo of Grand Prairie, Texas, is back to defend his title in the $1,000 buy-in event. Castillo, like several of the SI contestants, is here for a long stay because he qualified for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, which is being held Jan. 25-26 at the MGM Grand.