Updated on 09/17/2011 12:09PM

NFL's final week is tricky for bettors


LAS VEGAS - The final weekend of the NFL regular season is the hardest to handicap.

A number of games involve teams that have been eliminated from playoff consideration, and you have to determine which teams are still trying hard and which ones are going through the motions. Other games involve teams that are fighting to make the playoffs or trying to get a higher seed. Those teams obviously have incentive to play well, and oddsmakers take that into consideration, but often a team can have its playoff fate - for better or for worse - determined by another game played earlier.

It makes for an intriguing game of cat-and-mouse between the bettors and the sports books. When the Stardust posted its opening numbers for this weekend's schedule at 8 a.m. Monday, none of the games was bet enough to move the number, though the Titans were bet from -6 1/2 to -7 vs. the Buccaneers later in the morning.

Bob Scucci, the Stardust's race and sports book director, said he "went with the true line on the games" and didn't shade any of the numbers based on playoff scenarios, but he added that his staff will certainly be watching and listening for anything that will make it harder for the bettors to gain an edge.

Scucci said to expect the sports books to take Sunday games off the board if their lines could be affected by results in games on Saturday, or the earlier games on Sunday. They are then adjusted and re-posted with the new information factored into the line.

Rampart race and sports book director Eric St. Clair agreed that the books have to be on the ball.

"These guys know all the scenarios," he said, pointing to the roughly 20 bettors who were looking to take a crack at his opening numbers at 10 a.m. Monday. "This is a very dangerous week. We try to hang a line on every game, but if one team loses - like the Packers tonight - then another team - the Vikings in this case - might not have to win. You just don't want to get stuck taking too much on what could be a bad number later."

St. Clair said he put up mostly generic numbers for this week - as opposed to a usual week, when he puts more opinion into his lines - and that meant less action than normal. The only line moves came when the bettors took the Lions +11 vs. the Rams and the Jaguars +3 vs. the Falcons.

As for the playoffs next week, Scucci said the Stardust plans to put up lines as soon as the matchups become official during the day Sunday (though he said injuries could delay some lines until Monday morning), while St. Clair said he'll wait until 10 a.m. Monday to put up the four wild-card matchups at the Rampart.

NFL betting trends

The Patriots are pulling away with the best spread record in the league at 12-2-1, while the next three teams all lost last weekend. The Eagles dropped to 11-4, and the Colts and Bengals are now 9-5-1.

* The Giants' loss to the Cowboys dropped them to 3-11-1. The Raiders were 3-10-1 heading into Monday night's game vs. the Packers.

* The Bills improved to 13-2 with the under in their 20-3 loss to the Dolphins, who are 10-5 with the under along with the Buccaneers and Lions.

* No team is hitting 65 percent with the over, as the Rams (9-5-1) and Colts (9-6), two of the best over teams all season, both went under the total for the second straight week.

* Most of the leaguewide betting stats have also regressed to the mean. Favorites went 6-9 against the spread on Saturday and Sunday and now lead underdogs 113-111-11 for the season. Similarly, home teams went 6-9 and lead just 115-112-11.

* Double-digit favorites went 2-0, with spread-covering wins by the Cowboys and Seahawks to even their record at 10-10.

* Unders went 8-6-1 on Saturday and Sunday to improve to 120-113-6.

Stratton dusts the competition

GamingToday managing editor David Stratton claimed the $10,000 winner-take-all prize in the Stardust Invitational by defeated professional bettor Fezzik last weekend.

Stratton wrapped up the title by going 5-2 with a best-bet winner, while Fezzik was 1-4 with plays remaining Monday on Kansas +11 1/2 in the Tangerine Bowl and the Raiders +5 1/2 vs. the Packers.

Stratton was 21-14 (60 percent) overall in his five appearances in the single-elimination, 16-handicapper tournament, with a 4-1 record on his best bets.

Six out of seven for NFL bankroll

I followed up last week's 5-0 NFL record with a 6-1 mark this past weekend. The winners were the Vikings +2 1/2 vs. the Chiefs and the Patriots -3 vs. the Jets on Saturday, and then the Ravens -3 vs. the Browns, the Lions +10 vs. the Panthers, the Steelers -5 1/2 vs. the Chargers, and my upset play of the day on the 49ers +7 1/2 vs. the Eagles on Sunday. The loss was on the Bears -4 1/2 vs. the Redskins.

The 6-1 record and profit of 4.9 units (based on laying 1.1 units to win 1) raised my NFL bankroll plays to 52-32 (62 percent) with five pushes, for a net profit of 16.8 units.

No college plays for Friday

My college football record pales in comparison to my NFL plays. As of Monday afternoon, I'm 0-1 on bowl games, with a loss on North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl. Three games are pending: North Carolina St. -11 1/2 vs. Kansas in Monday's Tangerine Bowl, Boise St. -10 vs. TCU in Tuesday's Fort Worth Bowl, and New Mexico +3 vs. Oregon St. in Wednesday's Las Vegas Bowl. Heading into those games, college bankroll plays are 32-32 overall on the season for a net loss of 3.2 units.

As for Friday's two bowl games, I don't like either game enough to make them an official play, but I'm on record at the drf.com website (click on the football helmet logo) as taking Northwestern +7 vs. Bowling Green in the Motor City Bowl and Virginia Tech -2 1/2 vs. California in the Insight Bowl.