10/16/2006 12:00AM

Steelers a good or bad bet?


It has often been said that when oddsmakers work to come up with an opening line, it's part art and part science. But it's not rocket science.

Relatively speaking, setting football odds is pretty simple, especially in the NFL where there's so much information that's accessible to everyone. Most people, even novice gamblers, can do a fairly good job of estimating point spreads in the NFL. Basically, if two teams are about equal strength, you can expect to see the home team favored by right around 3 points. If one team is a notch or two above the other, the line will be around a touchdown, give or take (switch the venues and the game is around pick 'em). Expected blowouts by a home team will be around 10, but the favorite might only be -3 or -4 on the road in the same matchup.

That's the science. The art part is that oddsmakers also have to factor in injuries, historical trends, scheduling situations, and the betting public's tendencies with the two teams involved, among other things. They can shade the number by a half-point or a point to find the number they think will get balanced action on each side.

When I make my rounds on Sunday nights looking at opening lines for the next week's action, I usually try to make my own lines ahead of time to compare to the oddsmakers and see which sides I want to bet early.

Even when I don't necessarily agree that a team is X amount of points better than another, I can usually see how the oddsmakers came up with a given number.

The Jets are perceived to be a little better than the Lions, so when the Jets opened -4 at the Las Vegas Hilton this past Sunday night, that seemed logical. The Seahawks are a notch above the Vikings, so they're -7 at home. Check.

The Colts opened -9 1/2 vs. the Redskins. Hmmm, that might be a little low considering the Redskins lost at home to the Titans - but before I finish the thought, the line had moved to Colts -10. Another move made perfect sense: the Chargers opened -4 1/2 at the Chiefs and were bet to -6 shortly after the line went up. After all, the Chargers had just dismantled the 49ers, 48-19, while the Chiefs had lost to the Steelers, 45-7, and it's to be expected that bettors will look to bet the Chargers and fade the Chiefs.

Right down the board, the opening lines and the way they moved from early money seemed to make sense - with one exception that threw me for a loop. When I checked the Pinnacle website at 4:30 p.m., the Steelers were a 3-point road favorite over the Falcons. That seemed right to me. Again, the Steelers' romp over the Chiefs had just ended, a game where the defending Super Bowl champs seemed to finally play like champs, while earlier in the day the Falcons were beaten, 27-14, by the Giants. When I saw the Hilton had the Steelers -2 1/2, I went ahead and bet it, thinking that the public could only be expected to back the Steelers and drive it toward the offshore number of 3. But then I went over to the Stratosphere and they had the Steelers -1. I thought this was a gift and bet it again, only to learn later that the number dropped offshore and looked like it was settling at 1 1/2 both there and here.

Conventional wisdom says that I misread the market, and probably failed to adhere to the adage that "a team is never as good as it looks in victory, and not as bad as it looks in defeat." The professional bettors that take a whack at the early lines obviously felt the Steelers -3 and -2 1/2 and even -2 were too high. It will be interesting to see what the general public does with the line later in the week. Will bettors continue to back the Falcons, or will they see it the way my first instincts did and back the Steelers?

Other early line moves

Besides the ones listed above, no other NFL lines moved in the first half hour of wagering at the Hilton.

At the Stratosphere, the Chargers opened -5 and also took action, and the line moved to 5 1/2. The Dolphins opened -4 1/2 vs. the Packers and money came on the Pack and it was lowered to -4.

No other NFL lines moved at the Strat, though a few moved in the colleges, all on favorites: West Virginia from -19 1/2 to -21 vs. Connecticut, Arkansas from -14 1/2 to -15 1/2 vs. Mississippi, South Carolina from -2 to -3 vs. Vanderbilt, Texas from -6 to -6 1/2 vs. Nebraska, Wyoming from -3 to -4 vs. Colorado State, and Florida State from -3 to -5 vs. Boston College.

Sports betting notes

As of Monday morning, the Detroit Tigers were in the World Series awaiting the winner of the Cardinals-Mets series, which was tied 2-2 heading into Monday night's game in St. Louis. So, I don't know who will win the National League, but judging from adjusted odds to win the World Series around town, it looks like the Tigers will be a -150 favorite over either team when the matchup is decided. The Tigers will have home-field advantage when the World Series starts Saturday in Detroit by virtue of the American League's victory in the All-Star Game.

o Anderson Silva scored a shocking first-round TKO of middleweight champion Rich Franklin to highlight the UFC mixed martial arts card at Mandalay Bay on Sunday night. Silva was a +170 underdog vs. Franklin, who had a record of 22-1 entering the bout, but took control midway through the opening round with a couple of knees to Franklin's body and head. He continued the assault until referee John McCarthy stopped it at the 3:59 mark (rounds are five minutes apiece).

It wasn't the only upset of the night as Carmelo Marrero, the biggest underdog on the card at +375 vs. highly touted heavyweight contender Cheick Kongo, won a split decision.

Sean Sherk, as a -230 favorite, won the vacant lightweight title with a unanimous decision over Kenny Florian.

* On Sunday at the TPC Summerlin, PGA rookie Troy Matteson won his first Tour event with a 22-under-par score to win the Frys.com Open, formerly known as the Las Vegas Invitational, which (in a piece of trivia) in 1996 was the first PGA tournament Tiger Woods won. The Las Vegas Hilton had Matteson as part of the field at 5-2.

* The Phoenix Suns defeated the Los Angeles Lakers, 99-91, Sunday night in an NBA exhibition game at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Hilton had the Suns as 3-point favorites. Kobe Bryant did not play for the Lakers, who were scheduled to play the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at the T&M.