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Matt Youmans

Buckle up, NFL bettors, it's going to be a wild ride

14 September 2015

A special feeling, a sense of unbridled optimism, sweeps through Las Vegas sportsbooks on the first Sunday of the NFL season. It was especially true in the morning. By mid-afternoon, when the usual suspects were getting routed and Peyton Manning was lobbing lame ducks, some things changed.

"Everybody is positive and hopeful about their teams," Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino sportsbook director Jay Kornegay said while watching fans walk by in a variety of jerseys. "That's what's great about Week 1."

But by the end of a crazy day sure to elicit overreactions, some realities were obvious.

Cleveland, Jacksonville, Oakland and Tampa Bay still are terrible. The season essentially ended as soon as it began for those four teams.

Manning can sell pizzas, but the aging quarterback is fading fast and nearing the end of the line in Denver. The high-flying Broncos are becoming a low-scoring team led by their defense.

Backing the Dallas Cowboys as home favorites still is a way to ruin your day.

It was a great day to lay the points, with favorites winning and covering in nine of the first 12 games. So when day turned to night, it was the bookmakers who had lost that loving feeling.

"It's shaping up to be a very bad day," Kornegay said before the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants in the nightcap.

"We are getting crushed," MGM Resorts sportsbook director Jay Rood said. "It's almost a double-down situation for us. If it goes Cowboys and over, we almost double what we lost. It's almost historical loss territory."

The Giants, unpopular 7-point underdogs, got the books off the hook by nearly upsetting the Cowboys, who staged a dramatic rally to steal a 27-26 victory. Tony Romo's 11-yard touchdown pass to Jason Witten with seven seconds remaining tied it, Dan Bailey's 33-yard extra point won it, and the score landed on the closing total of 52½ to 53.

So, when all was said and done, most bookmakers avoided getting crushed and some even posted a small win.

There are few dull moments on any given NFL Sunday, except for fans of the Browns, Jaguars, Raiders and Buccaneers.

Oakland trailed 33-0 after three quarters in a loss to Cincinnati that was embarrassing even by the Raiders' low standards. Tampa Bay got blasted 42-14 by Tennessee as Marcus Mariota outclassed Jameis Winston in a matchup of rookie quarterbacks. Winston's first pass as a pro was an interception that was returned for a touchdown, and the reality is Winston makes bad decisions on and off the field.

The next time I think it's a good idea to bet on the Jaguars, someone please slap me on the head. (It won't happen again.) At least I was wise enough to bet on the New York Jets — or bet against the Browns — and the Jets got the job done in a 31-10 win.

"I know there were some sharps on the Browns," Kornegay said, making a statement that proves some sharps occasionally need slapped on the head.

Aside from the Jets, the public favorites that paid off in the morning were Green Bay, Kansas City and Miami.

Indianapolis was the favorite to hurt the public the most. Tyrod Taylor, in his first career start, outplayed Andrew Luck as Buffalo dominated the Colts, who dropped from 2½- to 1-point road favorites, 27-14.

"Every wiseguy in the world had the Bills," said Nick Bogdanovich, William Hill sportsbook director. "It didn't surprise me. The Bills got a monster defense, and now they have a capable offense."

Buffalo, Tennessee and St. Louis were the only underdogs to win outright. The Rams, getting 3½ points, took down Seattle 34-31 in overtime when Marshawn Lynch was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 run up the gut. With 1 yard to go, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll just can't win.

Arizona and San Diego covered as small favorites in the afternoon, and the Chargers did it the hard way by overcoming a 21-3 deficit in a 33-28 victory over Detroit. Philip Rivers threw an early pick-six but bounced back to pass for 404 yards and two touchdowns.

The pick-six plague was spreading around the league, and it got to Manning, who tossed one to put the Broncos in a 10-9 hole in the first minute of the third quarter. But Joe Flacco threw one, too, and Aqib Talib's 51-yard interception return helped Denver, a 4½-point favorite, hold off the Baltimore Ravens 19-13.

Manning completed 24 of 40 passes for 175 yards, but he made mostly short throws and had no touchdowns. And this was with Manning healthy in warm weather.

"That was our biggest game of the afternoon," said Rood, who needed the Ravens. "It definitely doesn't look like a normal Peyton Manning offense. Manning is one of those guys that if you rattle him a little bit, he's beatable."

Manning is definitely beatable, and there may soon come a time when fans start calling for backup Brock Osweiler.

"My friends are texting from Denver and asking, Is there a point we put in Osweiler?" Kornegay said. "Obviously, Manning's arm strength is not there. Another problem is his offensive line. The Broncos better get that vaunted running game together or it's going to be a long year. When you have a question mark at quarterback, it's a problem."

At the end of the night, it was Eli Manning who was second-guessed for throwing a pass out of bounds instead of going down and running clock. The extra time allowed Romo a chance to drive the Cowboys to an unlikely comeback win, if not the cover.

The first Sunday of the season was a wild roller-coaster ride, and we're just getting started.
Buckle up, NFL bettors, it's going to be a wild ride is republished from