09/06/2012 3:24PM

Tuley: NFL back on center stage with kickoff weekend

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LAS VEGAS – Wednesday night’s NFL opener taught me a few things (or at least reinforced my beliefs).

◗ Opening day in baseball was a long-loved tradition in this country, but just as pro football has bypassed baseball as the national pastime in every way (Nielsen ratings, betting handle, etc.), the NFL’s opening night is closer to a national holiday. MLB couldn’t draw 27 million viewers for an opening baseball game, let alone a World Series game.

◗ I can watch a game without needing the announcers. I love Al Michaels, but I’ll only turn up the sound late in his games to see if he makes a gambling reference (such as “some people out West in the desert are happy with that result” or “it’s really OVER now” or “that was UNDERthrown” on a 2-point conversion pass that would have put the game over the total).

◗ The Cowboys’ 24-17 win over the Giants ended a 12-0 run of Super Bowl champs winning the prime-time opener. I always try to warn people: by the time you hear about a trend like that, it’s probably too late to profit from it moving forward, at least in long term. The law of averages work against it, but if you know about it, then the oddsmakers certainly know about it and have factored it into the line, so it’s usually a 50-50 proposition at best.

The defending champs lost, but it wasn’t that big of an upset. The Cowboys were just a 3.5-point underdog and +170 on the money line (odds of right between 8-5 and 9-5). In fact, the Giants were just the co-eighth betting choice in the Super Bowl futures at the LVH SuperBook heading into the game. The Patriots enter the season as the 5-1 favorite with the Packers at 6-1; the Texans, 49ers, and Eli’s brother’s Broncos all at 10-1; Steelers and Eagles at 12-1; and the Ravens at 14-1 before you get to the Giants and Bears at 16-1. The Saints, who are trying to become the first Super Bowl host to win the title, are 20-1 after their off season of disarray.

The LVH also does a generic AFC vs. NFC Super Bowl line that it updates every week. Heading into the season, it has the line at pick-em with the over/under at 52.5.

In last weekend’s column, I discussed how Alabama was the No. 1 team in the Don Best Linemakers Poll by a half-point over USC at No. 2 and LSU at No. 3 (and after blowing out AP’s No. 8-ranked Michigan 41-14 and USC failing to cover the closing number of –43 in a 49-10 win over Hawaii, Alabama’s lead is now up to 1.7 points over USC).

Well, now we have the NFL version of the Don Best Linemakers Poll. The pollsters do a little bit of a switch as the Packers are ranked No. 1 with a power rating of 102.5, while the Patriots are 101.5 (meaning they see the Pack as a 1-point favorite on a neutral field). The Eagles are the No. 3 team at 99.0, followed by the 49ers and Steelers tied for fourth at 98.5, the Ravens and Texans tied for sixth at 98.0, and then the larger grouping of the Saints, Falcons, Bears, and Falcons all at 97.5. The NFL poll also gives a home-field advantage rating for each team, ranging from just 1.5 points for the Jets and Dolphins up to 3.5 for the Packers and Saints. It’s been widely discussed that home field in the NFL is worth 3 points, but the Linemakers Poll put 20 of the 32 teams at 2.5 with just four others – the Patriots, Steelers, Ravens, and Broncos – at a full 3. The full NCAA and NFL polls can be seen at donbest.com and ViewFromVegas.com.

Back to the betting board . . .

I split my two NCAA plays last week with the wrong side of the Michigan loss to Bama, but then won with Georgia Tech covering +7.5 in a 20-17 overtime loss to Virginia Tech. I’ll stick with the NFL this opening weekend (it’s also interesting to note that there are fewer marquee college games this weekend, perhaps another nod that the NFL is taking over the spotlight this weekend).

Dolphins +12.5 vs. Texans

Oh, no, Tuley is taking the ugliest dog on the board. Yes, I love double-digit underdogs in the NFL (another profitable year at 21-18-2 against the spread last year) as there is still some semblance of parity. But this also has all the marking of an inflated line. When Week 1 lines went up back in April, the Texans opened as a 6-point favorite. It climbed steadily during the summer and was a consensus 10.5 over Labor Day weekend and steamed all the way to 13 at most books the other day before dipping back to 12.5 at presstime Thursday. The Don Best Linemakers Poll seems to agree with me. They have the Texans at 98.0 and the Dolphins at 91.0. Even with adding 2.5 points for the Texans’ home-field advantage, that’s just 9.5.

Steelers +1.5 vs. Broncos

Example No. 2 in overadjusted lines. Last January, the Steelers were 8.5-point favorite at Denver in the playoffs (and having the Broncos, who won outright in overtime, was a highlight in an otherwise mediocre season for yours truly) and now we’ve seen a 10-point swing in the spread. Really? Peyton Manning makes the Broncos that much better than they were with Tim Tebow? The Steelers, even with their injuries, are the better overall team. I’m just hoping Al Michaels makes a gambling reference in my favor Sunday night.