04/12/2006 11:00PM

Ready or not, some football lines already up


Considering that it's April and betting boards here are full with professional basketball, baseball, and hockey games every day, you might think that oddsmakers wouldn't bother posting football numbers for the fall.

But you would be wrong.

Bookmakers know where their bread is buttered, and football, especially the NFL, is the No. 1 spread no matter the time of year. So when the NFL released its regular-season schedule last Thursday, it didn't take long for sports books here to post lines for the opening week of the season. The Plaza put up its odds later that same day, and the Las Vegas Hilton followed Monday.

The season kicks off with a Thursday night primetime game Sept. 7, with the defending champion Steelers favored by 6 points over the Dolphins at both the Plaza and Hilton. The Pinnacle offshore book opened the line at 6 1/2 and took multiple limit wagers on the Dolphins before dropping the line to 5 1/2.

Oddsmaker Simon Noble wrote this week in his online column, "The Pinnacle Pulse," that if you went against the defending champ in the first two weeks of the season from 1985 to 2005, you would have gone 28-13 (68 percent) against the spread.

This illustrates an old saying: Never take betting advice from your bookie. Pinnacle is thought to be among the sharpest books in the industry, and there's even a tip known as the "Pinnacle lean," which says to beware when it appears Pinnacle is offering too much value on a side - it probably means Pinnacle wants to put as many people on that "wrong" side as possible. So, it's interesting to note that, even armed with that trend to fade the Super Bowl champ, Pinnacle still opened the line that high, virtually begging for money on the Dolphins.

Back to the opening-week lines, the marquee matchup is the Sunday night game between the Colts and Giants, which is being dubbed the Manning Bowl. The Colts' Peyton Manning visits his younger brother Eli and the Giants. The Colts are a 3-point road favorite.

The other primetime games come on a Monday night doubleheader, with the Redskins favored by 6 at home vs. the Vikings and the Chargers favored on the road vs the Raiders. The line is 2 at the Plaza and 2 1/2 at the Hilton.

There are four other cases of road teams being favored in the Sunday games. The Broncos are -3 at the Rams, the Eagles are -3 1/2 at the Texans, the Seahawks are -3 1/2 at the Lions, and the Bears are -2 1/2 at the Packers.

None of the lines is very high, which is a little surprising considering that favorites covered at an unheard of clip of 58 percent last season. The biggest favorite of the opening week, believe it or not, is the Cardinals -9 (at the Hilton) vs. the 49ers. The Plaza had it -7 1/2. That's sure to come down, not because of any run of support on the 49ers but because it is, after all, the Cardinals, even if they did add running back Edgerrin James and are opening a new stadium.

The other opening-week lines are the Patriots -8 vs. the Bills, the Panthers -4 vs. the Falcons, the Buccaneers -4 1/2 vs. the Ravens, the Chiefs -3 1/2 vs. the Bengals (it opened as low as 2 1/2 at Pinnacle and as high as -4 at the Hilton), the Browns -3 vs. the Saints, the Titans -2 vs. the Jets, and the Jaguars -3 vs. the Cowboys.

Most of the early betting done into these lines is by professional bettors who are looking for better lines now than they think they'll get in September. The rest of the action comes from tourists who come to town and want to bet their favorite teams.

Over/under season win totals

The Venetian took things a step further by releasing the first over/under season win totals.

The Colts, Steelers, and Seahawks have the highest numbers at 11 1/2. The Venetian is using a 30-cent line. For instance, the over on the Colts and Seahawks is set at -130 (bet $1.30 for every $1 you want to win) on the over, with the under at even money. With the Steelers, the under is favored at -150, with the over offered at +120.

The Patriots and Broncos are next highest, with a projected win total of 10, followed by the Bengals, Jaguars, Giants, and Panthers at 9 1/2.

On the low end of the totem pole, the 49ers and Texans are at 5, with the Jets and Saints at 5 1/2.

Fourteen of the 32 teams are projected between seven and nine wins.

The Hilton will post its over/under season win totals in the next few weeks, followed by its "Games of the Year," which include all Sunday and Monday night games and big rivalries.

No word yet on whether the Plaza will post lines for every single NFL game as it has the past two seasons.

Super Bowl futures updated

A check of the odds to win the Super Bowl finds that the Colts are still the favorites at the Hilton at 6-1, but that is up significantly from the 5-2 odds on which they opened Jan. 9, before their loss to the Steelers in the playoffs. The Patriots are the second choice at 8-1. The defending champion Steelers are 10-1, followed by the Seahawks and Chargers at 11-1, the Broncos at 12-1, the Panthers and Cowboys at 13-1, and the Redskins at 15-1.

Among the most popular teams in early wagering has been the Dolphins, who opened at 40-1 and are now down to 18-1. The Saints, who opened as the co-longest shot with the 49ers at 200-1, have been bet down to 50-1.