01/24/2005 1:00AM

Pats-Eagles offers ideal matchup for bettors

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As the Patriots were wrapping up their 41-27 victory over the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, sports book directors all over Nevada were already feeling like Super Bowl winners with the matchup of the Patriots vs. the Eagles.

"It should be a great game," said Chuck Esposito, who oversees the sports books in the Caesars Entertainment chain. "We have the two best teams, apologies to Steelers fans. The Patriots and Eagles were the two favorites in our future book, and they're very popular teams with bettors, and now they're meeting for the title. We should get a lot of balanced action."

Esposito also mentioned that with so many recognizable stars - Tom Brady, Corey Dillon, Troy Brown, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, and maybe even Terrell Owens - the ever-popular proposition bets should generate a lot of handle.

But the majority of betting will still be on the side and total, and sports books didn't hesitate to put up their Super Bowl lines. In fact, Robert Walker, head man at MGM Mirage, said that at the beginning of the day Sunday, he posted the Patriots as a 6-point favorite over the Eagles, raised it to 6 1/2 when the Pats looked dominant, and the public bet it to 7.

Esposito put the Pats up as a 6-point favorite late in the third quarter of the Patriots' rout and raised it to 6 1/2. Bob Scucci, sports book director at the Stardust and overseer of the Boyd Gaming group, said he opened the line at 6 1/2 when the Patriots were winning big, lowered it to 6 when the Steelers made a little bit of a comeback, but then raised it to 6 1/2 as the Patriots rerallied. The number was also bet to 7 at the Stardust.

On Sunday, instead of charging the standard 10-11 odds on point spreads, many books were making Eagles bettors lay -115 or -120 when the line moved to 7. But as of noon Monday, every major sports book in Las Vegas had the line at a solid 7 with 10-percent vigorish on both sides.

The total also had some minor adjustments. Just about every book in town opened the over/under at 47, but by Monday morning it was up to 48 at most books, with only the Station Casinos group holding the line at 47 1/2.

Most books didn't put up a money line on winning the game straight up, but the MGM Mirage opened the Patriots at -240 (risk $2.40 for every $1 you want to win) with the Eagles at +200 (profit $2 for every $1 wagered). Coast Casinos opened it at -245/+205. Early money came in on the Patriots and drove the price above -250. That's still a bargain, since usually a 7-point favorite is priced in the -330 range during the regular season, but bookmakers know from past experience that the Super Bowl-betting public tends to load up on the underdog to win straight-up, so the number is shaded lower on purpose.

With the two-week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, oddsmakers have plenty of time to formulate their proposition bets. A lot of them, however, are expected to be posted by this Wednesday or Thursday.

Books pay for marquee matchup

Though the sports book directors were giddy about the Super Bowl matchup, their enthusiasm was tempered a little because Sunday's results didn't work out too well for the house.

In the early game, the Eagles won, 27-10, after being bet as high as 6-point favorites over the Falcons after opening at -4 last week. The blowout was bad enough for the books, but then it was made worse when the total landed on 37. Some books opened the total as high as 42 last Sunday and moved it lower as bets came in on the under and also as weather reports worsened. On Saturday and Sunday, some books had the total as 36 and 36 1/2. Weather reports improved for Philadelphia, and the total got bet back up to close at 37 at some books.

"The bettors love to bet the over, and who can blame them?" Walker said. "It's natural to cheer for scoring, and with the number that low they took the over. We got middled on that one."

Bookmakers also paid out on parlays using Eagles to the over, as well as winning with teaser bets on the Eagles with either the over or the under. (Both sides win on teaser bets when it lands within 6 points either way.)

It was a similar tale with the Patriots-Steelers game. The Pats opened as 2 1/2-point favorite and were bet to 3, but even though that game had more balanced action, parlay bettors cashed with the Patriots and the over. The total was bet down early in the week, as low as 34 1/2, before getting pounded late with over money, closing at 36 or 36 1/2 at most books.

Early NFL line moves

Took moneyOpenBet ToOpponent
Patriots-6.5-7Eagles
Took money OpenBet To
Patriots-Eagles over 4748

Last week: The NFL bettors went 2-0 on sides for the second straight week against the Stardust's opening numbers in the conference championship games as both the Eagles and Patriots rolled. For the season, early bettors are 30-26 (54 percent), and a perfect 5-0 in the playoffs. Early totals bettors went 1-0 with a win on the Eagles-Falcons under. For the year, early totals bettors are 30-19 (61 percent).

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