09/08/2011 3:59PM

NFL Week 1: Take Manning-less Colts and the points


LAS VEGAS – Let’s get something straight: This city wouldn’t have turned into a ghost town on Sundays if the NFL hadn’t resolved its labor dispute.

Plenty of people still come to our fair city for the restaurants, nightclubs, shopping, entertainment, myriad unnamed nocturnal activities, and other forms of gambling – and they’re returning in increasing numbers. But that’s not meant to understate how happy bettors here are to have the NFL regular season begin as scheduled for all the betting they bring here on the game (as well as members of their families and entourages who also add to the city’s coffers by partaking in the restaurants, nightclubs, shopping entertainment, myriad unnamed nocturnal activities, and other forms of gambling.

The sports books here were trying to take a business-as-usual approach during the lockout, being cautiously optimistic that the NFL, which accounts for nearly half of their annual handle, wouldn’t have to be replaced with MLB, WNBA, and the occasional college football game that would have been moved to Sundays. As usual, Super Bowl futures were posted in January, and Week 1 lines went up in April at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Heading into Thursday’s season-opening game between the Saints and Packers, the Patriots were the 9-2 favorite, and the defending champion Packers were the second choice at 5-1. Interestingly, when the odds were posted a week before the Packers’ Super Bowl win over the Steelers, the Patriots opened as the 5-1 favorite, with the Packers next at 6-1.

The Patriots and Packers were followed by the Pennsylvania duo of the Steelers and Eagles at 8-1 (despite a lot of people trying to crown the Eagles’ ass), the Chargers at 10-1, the Saints and Jets at 12-1, the Falcons at 15-1, the Cowboys at 20-1, and the Colts and Texans at 20-1.

The Colts and Texans were involved in the biggest line move for Week 1. When the lines were first put up, before the NFL draft, the Colts were a 1-point road favorite at Houston. Of course, that was before most people really knew the extent of Peyton Manning’s neck injury and assumed he would be under center for the season opener. Some early bettors might have had an idea as the line was slowly bet to Texans -3, or maybe they just felt Houston has been knocking on the door for a few years, and this year they were going to kick it in (old-school Bum Phillips reference for those who remember when Houston was the home of the Oilers).

When the news leaked that Manning was going to miss the opener, the sports books here took the game off the board. When it resurfaced, the Leroy’s books made it Texans -7. Obviously, the marketplace didn’t think that was enough of an adjustment, and other books started putting up 8.5- and even 9-point spreads. Which brings us to my first selection of the season.

Colts +8.5 vs. Texans

Longtime readers of this column will no doubt know that I’ve been inclined to fade the Colts through the years with varied success. I took the Saints against them in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, but that was also after a run where Manning burned with a series of late covers. I’ve basically felt he was overrated by the oddsmakers and the betting public, so I guess it makes sense that I’m taking the Colts with him out of the lineup.

It’s not that I don’t like Manning − I do think he’s a great quarterback, but just not on the pedestal that others put him on − but I think this line has been overadjusted because he is out and being replaced by veteran Kerry Collins. We’re basically talking a 10-point swing here.

Besides, with as much talent as the Texans have – most notably Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson – the franchise has yet to have a winning season, and it is going into uncharted territory of being a favorite and fulfilling lofty expectations.

If the Texans were a 3-point home dog, as I was expecting when the schedule first came out, I would probably be on them. This illustrates that every team is bettable at the right price. If the number were adjusted to Texans -4 or even the 7 that was available shortly at Leroy’s, I would probably be passing on the game. But give me a winning wager if the Colts can stay within a touchdown, and I’m on board.

PLAY: Colts for 1 unit.

Titans +1.5 vs. Jaguars

This was another recent line adjustment. The Jaguars were sitting as a 3-point favorite, and I recommended the Titans +3 on my ViewFromVegas.com website. But Tuesday, news was leaked that Jacksonville was releasing starting quarterback David Garrard. I quickly made an extra bet before the books in Vegas were able to take it off the board. With Luke McCown taking over for the Jags, I was thinking the oddsmakers might make the Titans the favorite. As it turned out, the books only adjusted the line 1-2 points downward.

With that in mind, I actually like this bet better − not so much because of the number I’m getting, but because of the downgrade from Garrard to McCown. Chris Johnson also ended his holdout and agreed to a contract extension last week, so he should be good to go and have fresh legs. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is no slouch and should lead his new team to victory.

PLAY: Titans for 1 unit.