12/13/2007 12:00AM

Sports books take a beating as NFL favorites cover spread

EmailEarlier this football season, with all of the upsets in college football and underdogs covering more than 60 percent of the NFL's first four weeks in September, the sports books here in Las Vegas were reporting record profits.

Just like the temperature here in the fall, things cooled off a little in October and into November. By the time favorites went 12-4 against the spread on the weekend of Nov. 18-19, the ledger was exactly even - favorites and underdogs had each won 79 games and there were seven pushes.

Then it got worse.

Favorites swept the three games on Thanksgiving Day (and to make matters worse for the bookmakers, the three teams were the very popular Packers, Cowboys, and Colts - and let's not forget to add USC covering that night as well). Then they went 10-5 against the spread for the week and have followed that with records of 9-7 and 12-4 the past two weeks. All told, favorites are 43-20 (68 percent) the last four weeks, and the books have been bleeding money, especially when factoring in that a lot of tourists will parlay a lot of favorites.

Parity has taken a big beating lately.

The silver lining for underdog players is that oddsmakers have had to continue adjusting the spreads higher in order to balance action on the other side, so there appears to be a lot of betting value on the dogs. Nine of the 16 games this weekend have spreads of more than a touchdown, starting with Saturday night's game with the Bengals -8.5 at the 49ers, and six of the games have spreads of 10 or more.

Of course, the biggest spread of the week - Patriots -23.5 vs. the Jets - has been anticipated for a long time ever since the Jets blew the whistle on the Patriots' Spygate operation in Week 1. With the Patriots continuing their quest for an undefeated season and running up the score at every opportunity, and the Jets languishing at 3-10, the opinion of most people is that Bill Belichick & Co. will go for some revenge. The line opened Pats -25 at the Las Vegas Hilton last Sunday but has come down slightly for a couple of reasons: the Patriots failed to cover 20-plus lines vs. the Eagles and Ravens; the Jets have shown some life in a win over the Dolphins and a gutsy effort vs. the Browns; and inclement weather tends to level the playing field a little bit.

The biggest line movement has come in the Buccaneers-Falcons game. The line opened with Bucs -10 on Sunday, but after the Falcons got blown out 34-14 by the Saints on Monday night and then coach Bobby Petrino snuck out the back door to Arkansas on Tuesday, the line was up to 13.5 at MGM Mirage properties, the Harrah's/Caesars group, and Wynn by noon Thursday.

It'll be interesting this weekend to see if the oddsmakers have adjusted the lines enough to stop the run of favorites and their chalk-eating followers or if there really is that much difference between the haves and the have-nots.

Picks for lucky Week 15

Longtime readers of this column have noticed that I don't publish my weekly NFL picks here and instead have them on my ViewFromVegas.com website. I haven't received too many complaints, mostly because I've been hovering around .500 all season. However, the one request I've heard more than any other is for my Week 15 picks.

Why is that? Well, exactly a year ago, I wrote that in the five years I had published my picks in Daily Racing Form, I was a combined 25-7 (78 percent), including 19-4 (83 percent) in the four most recent Week 15s. Now, usually, pointing out such a thing would surely jinx it, but instead my plays went 4-0 that Sunday afternoon before losing on Sunday and Monday night. The 4-2 record actually dropped the overall record to 29-9 (76 percent) over six years and 23-6 (79 percent) over the past five.

There's no logical reason why Week 15 has been that successful for yours truly, but there's no reason to fight it, either, and readers have asked for the plays. So, here we go. And just like last year, I'll go with six plays instead of my normal five: Cardinals +4 vs. the Saints, Bills +5.5 vs. the Browns, Jaguars +3.5 vs. the Steelers, Jets +23.5 vs. the Patriots, Lions +10.5 vs. the Chargers, and Eagles +10.5 vs. the Cowboys.

The British lost this war, too

Last Saturday's welterweight title bout between undefeated fighters Floyd Mayweather Jr. of the U.S. and Ricky Hatton of Manchester, England was a sight to behold. And I'm talking very little about the action in the ring.

The crowd that filled the MGM Grand Garden Arena wasn't all for Hatton, but it sure sounded that way. I now know what it's like to be at a British soccer match. The chanting was constant, as was the singing, especially of the adopted theme song "Walking Ricky Hatton Wonderland." The crowd cheered everything that Hatton did, whether he was shown in his dressing room on TVs during the undercard or when he landed the occasional punch during the actual fight, and jeered everything done by Mayweather.

You would think we had dumped more tea in Boston Harbor.

Or deported David and Victoria Beckham.

Many people thought it crossed the line when the crowd booed and hissed throughout Tyrese Gibson's rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner." I'm assuming he sang the words, as I saw his lips moving but couldn't hear anything from press row above the din of the crowd.

It was surreal. And more than a little bit scary. I had a bet on Hatton, but in the end I was mostly relieved that it didn't come down to a controversial decision in favor of Mayweather as I'm certain a riot would have broken out. The crowd was that much on edge.

HBO is replaying the bout Saturday at 10:15 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time. It's certainly worth a look to not only appreciate the mastery that Mayweather showed as he continues to cement his legacy as the best pound-for-pound fighter of this generation (I don't feel qualified to rank his standing among the all-time greats), but also to see if the broadcast was able to capture the atmosphere and the unabashed enthusiasm of the British crowd.