04/16/2008 11:00PM

Patriots the heavy favorite in NFL Week 1

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LAS VEGAS - The NFL Draft is being held next weekend, April 26-27, but a more important date on the NFL calendar (especially from the point of view of oddsmakers and bettors) was this past Tuesday when the league announced the schedule for the upcoming season.

Less than 24 hours passed before the Las Vegas Hilton posted its NFL Week 1 lines. Oddsmakers have long known that rookies (even first-round studs) don't normally have an immediate impact in the pros, so they can set lines pretty accurately at this time based on how teams have addressed their needs at this point in the offseason. And, whenever it's clear that a given team might take a specific player, the odds can always be adjusted to take that into account. The thing working in the oddsmakers's favor (besides the standard 10-11 odds that bettors lay) is the fact they have more than four months to make up for any mistakes.

The season kicks off Thursday, Sept. 4, with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants hosting the Redskins. The Hilton has installed the Giants as a modest 4-point favorite over the NFC East rivals.

The opening weekend will conclude with a Monday night doubleheader for the third straight year, with the Packers -3 hosting the Vikings and the Broncos -2 1/2 visiting the Raiders.

In between, there are 13 games Sunday, with the night game being the Colts -9 vs. the Bears. The rest of the Week 1 schedule has the Ravens pick-em vs. the Bengals, Jets -3 at the Dolphins, Patriots -15 1/2 vs. the Chiefs, Steelers -7 vs. the Texans, Jaguars -2 1/2 at the Titans, Lions -1 at the Falcons, Bills -2 vs. the Seahawks, Saints -3 1/2 vs. the Buccaneers, Eagles -6 1/2 vs. the Rams, Cowboys -3 at the Browns, Chargers -8 1/2 vs. the Panthers, and the Cardinals -3 1/2 at the 49ers.

As for the Super Bowl, which will be played Feb. 1 in Tampa, Fla., the Patriots are still the 7-2 favorite, with the Colts, Chargers, and Cowboys all at 6-1; the Jaguars at 14-1; and the Giants, Eagles, and Saints at 20-1.

The Hilton has its generic line at AFC -6 1/2, with a total of 51 1/2.

NBA playoffs tip off

The NBA starts its version of the Sweet 16 this weekend. The NBA's best-of-seven format in each round doesn't pack the intensity of the NCAA tournament with its do-or-die, single-elimination format, but bettors will be relishing the extra chances to wager on the games.

The final six spots in the Western Conference bracket weren't totally determined until Wednesday night, but oddsmakers were still quick on the draw by getting lines on the opening games for this Friday and Saturday as well as series prices.

In series that start Saturday, the consensus lines around Las Vegas had the Cavaliers -2 1/2 vs. the Wizards. Cleveland is -135 (risk $1.35 for every $1 you want to profit) with Washington at +115. The Spurs are -4 vs. the Suns and are a -145 favorite for the series, the Hornets are -4 vs. the Mavericks and are a -140 series favorite, and the Rockets are at -1 vs. the Jazz although Utah is a -180 favorite for the series.

Those are all expected to be much more competitive series than the ones that start Sunday: the Magic is -6 1/2 vs. the Raptors in Game 1 and a solid -500 favorite for the series, the Lakers are -8 1/2 vs. the Nuggets and -900 for the series, the Pistons are -9 1/2 vs. the 76ers and -1,500 for the series, and the Celtics -15 vs. the Hawks and -4,500 for the series.

As for the odds to win the title, Las Vegas Sports Consultants has the Celtics as the 2-1 favorite, followed by the Lakers (3-1), Pistons (9-2), Spurs (6-1), Suns (8-1), Hornets (10-1), Mavericks (12-1), Jazz (15-1), Magic (20-1), Cavaliers (25-1), Rockets (30-1), Wizards and Nuggets (both at 40-1), Raptors (75-1), 76ers (100-1), and Hawks (150-1).

Derby odds taking shape

With Saturday's Lexington Stakes at Keeneland being the only graded Kentucky Derby prep race remaining, Wynn Las Vegas director of race and sports John Avello has drastically trimmed the number of 3-year-olds on his future book list to just 24. The Derby field is limited to 20.

It's common knowledge that pari-mutuel odds are determined by the public (or at least I hope everyone who is reading Daily Racing Form would know that), but future book betting tends to be that way as well. Sure, the oddsmaker, Avello in this case, set the opening odds, but he adjusts depending on the liability each horse poses. So, barring any major injuries during training or changes in the public's perception of this year's 3-year-old class, this is how the odds might look on the First Saturday in May for the top contenders: Big Brown 5-2, Colonel John 6-1, Pyro 7-1, War Pass 10-1, Monba 12-1, Court Vision 12-1, Gayego 14-1, Tale of Ekati 20-1, Z Fortune 22-1, Recapturetheglory 30-1, Adriano 30-1, and Smooth Air 30-1.

Wynn also has a prop on whether there will be a Triple Crown winner. The "no" is favorite at -950 (risk $9.50 for every $1 you want to profit) and the "yes" at +700.