Opening line report: Books wonder how high is too high

Oct 12, 2009 |
Opening line report: Books wonder how high is too high

So far in this NFL season, the oddsmakers who supply the shares have run into a problem. Bettors aren’t biting on the bad teams no matter the price, nor are they dumping the glossy ones despite the lofty fees to keep them in their portfolio. 

Although Week 5 favorites were just 6-7 heading into the Monday night game, the chalks that did take the cash hit the sportsbooks where it hurts. Three of the four teams laying double-figures – the New York Giants, Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia Eagles – took the money, while the Pittsburgh Steelers let the Detroit Lions sneak through the back door in their 28-20 win. 

Heading into Week 6, oddsmakers are left with the quandary of posting a number high enough to scare off public bettors without inviting the smart money. Thus far, they have been unable to set the bar out of reach.

“It has been a bargain so far,” said Las Vegas oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro, director of sports for Lucky’s Race and Sports Book. “People are going to bet these teams, and I expect to see much of the same, particularly against the super bad teams. 

“How far they can go … no one knows. All you can do is put up the next number, adjust it, and hope it works out.”

Vaccaro noted his sportsbook had heavy liability on parlay cards in which gamblers took at least two of the big favorites, noting they basically had a two-length start in a three-leg race.

“Now you are spotting them a minimum of 6-to-1 (odds on a parlay) because you gave away two freebies, depending on what it connects with,” he said. “It used to be, taking 14 points in the NFL was considered value betting. People aren’t so quick to jump on it these days.” 

Instead, they have been quick to jump on the other side. Week 6 is destined to test the resolve of those who back the big favorites as three games have opened with a two-touchdown gap, and Vaccaro said he expects all three spreads to grow before kick-off. 

Donovan McNabb and the Philadelphia Eagles are -14 at the moribund Oakland Raiders, who earned Vaccaro’s nod as the NFL’s worst team at the moment. 

“Even before they get on the plane to head out west, I’m putting the Eagles at -14,” he said. 

The Green Bay Packers open at -13.5 against the visiting Detroit Lions, though Vaccaro noted that number is expected to quickly reach -14, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are listed at -14 at home over the Cleveland Browns. The oddsmaker said he wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh’s number reach at least -15.5.

“I think the only shot Cleveland has to cover is if Pittsburgh is up 20 or 21 points late and they lay back a little,” Vaccaro said.

At least the sportsbooks won’t have to worry about dishing out money on the Giants and the New Orleans Saints in Week 6. This is because the two teams, which are a combined 9-0 and 8-0-1 ATS, play each other. The Saints are listed as 3-point home favorites. 

“This looks like the game of the weekend,” Vaccaro said. “We’ve all received money on these teams for the first five weeks. Now, the bettors have to make a decision.” 

Moreover, the cash-friendly Vikings (5-0, 4-1 ATS) will be put to the test when they host the Baltimore Ravens (+3). The Vikings are fresh off another road blowout after their 38-10 dismantling of the St. Louis Rams, while the Ravens are looking to rebound from their 17-14 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

“I know Baltimore is a very good team, but the Vikings are doing everything right,” Vaccaro said. “They are effective even when they are not rushing the ball that well. Brett Favre appears to have found a second fountain of youth. His decision-making is better than it has been in recent years.” 

Another Week 6 tilts sure to grab some attention will be the Denver Broncos’ latest No Respect Bowl, this time against the struggling San Diego Chargers (-4). First-year coach Josh McDaniels will again see his team listed as an underdog despite taking the cash in each contest this season, the last two as a home underdog.

“San Diego is better than Denver, but Denver has been playing on a lot of good emotion,” Vaccaro said. “This game is big for both teams in the division race. I think the line goes a little higher. This is a good betting game for the books. We expect great two-way action.”

Denver isn’t the only team bent on disproving its critics. The Cincinnati Bengals (4-1, 3-2 ATS) have quietly reeled off four straight wins after their last-second loss to the Broncos in Week 1. Coming off their upset win over the division rival Ravens, they are 4.5-point favorites over the visiting Houston Texans

“Even though the Bengals still can’t seem to get out of their own way, they are looking like a decent football team,” Vaccaro said. 

Other Week 6 NFL games include: St. Louis Rams at Jacksonville Jaguars (-10); Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+3.5); Kansas City Chiefs at Washington Redskins (-6.5); Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (-3); Tennessee Titans at New England Patriots (-9.5); Buffalo Bills at New York Jets (-9.5); Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons (-3.5). 

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