01/23/2006 12:00AM

Steelers quickly set as solid favorite

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LAS VEGAS - Sunday's AFC and NFC championship games were pretty much blowouts, which allowed the sports books here to get a jump on releasing odds on the Super Bowl.

With the Seahawks leading the Panthers by 13 points at halftime, oddsmakers started finalizing their numbers, and when the Seahawks scored on the opening possession of the third quarter to make it 27-7, the rout was officially on and lines started popping up all over town.

The MGM Mirage properties, Las Vegas Hilton, Coast Casinos, Palms, Caesars, Harrah's, and Golden Nugget all opened the Steelers -3 1/2 over the Seahawks, while the Stardust, Station Casinos, Leroy's, Imperial Palace, Stratosphere, and Wynn all opted for Steelers -4.

It's interesting that the Steelers were the No. 6 seed in the AFC while the Seahawks were the No. 1 seed in the NFC - and yet the Steelers are being favored by more than a field goal. Conventional wisdom all year, however, has regarded the AFC as stronger than the NFC, and the Steelers proved their mettle by going on the road to beat the Bengals, Colts, and Broncos.

As a general rule, the books that opened 3 1/2 took more Steelers money, while those who opened 4 took money on the Seahawks. By Monday morning, all the books had settled at 4, with the exception of the Palms, which was holding at -3 1/2 with vigorish of -115 while the Seahawks +3 1/2 was offered at even money, making the Palms the first in town to offer less than the standard 20-cent line.

Station Casinos opened the total at 49 1/2, the highest in town, but most books opened at either 48 or 47 1/2. The early money came in on the under, and by Monday morning, all books were pretty evenly split between 47 and 47 1/2.

The prevailing money line around town was the Steelers -180 to win the game straight up with the Seahawks offered at +160.

The Palms had the best bargain on the Steelers as it opened them at -163. After money came in on the favorite, the odds were raised to -173 with the takeback on the Seahawks at +162, which became the best price in town on the underdog thanks to the 11-cent line.