Another test of the Manning curse


A voodoo curse was not cast upon Peyton Manning, ensuring that he will feel the pain of losing playoff games. It would be crazy to suggest as much. Or, on second thought, might there be something to it?

At this time of year, betting on Manning comes with a feeling of postseason paranoia, a sense that no matter how great he was in the regular season, something bad is about to happen.

It’s not a curse on the quarterback. There are logical explanations for why Manning has won only one Super Bowl and is 9-11 in the playoffs with eight losses in his first game. But he does carry some baggage into this weekend, and anyone plotting a wager on the Denver Broncos is probably thinking about it.

“I think there are a lot of reasons people might not want to empty a truckload of money on the Broncos, and one of those reasons is Manning’s past failures in the playoffs,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said.

As the top seed in the AFC, Denver is a 9½-point favorite over San Diego on Sunday. It’s the last of four divisional-round games and likely the one that will attract the most action.

“I feel the game will go back to 10 only because of the pounding we’ll take on parlays on the Broncos,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “I think if the Broncos lose, it will be the Chargers winning it, not Manning losing it.”

That was the case last year, when the Broncos were burned by a fluke play and fell in double overtime to the Baltimore Ravens. Manning did not play particularly well, however, and it could be said he froze under pressure.

When in Indianapolis, Manning had the misfortune of running into the New England Patriots in the playoffs, and there’s no shame in getting beat by Bill Belichick’s defense and Tom Brady.

“He’s had some bad luck,” said Kornegay, who senses Manning’s luck is about to change.

The weather forecast for Denver, with temperatures in the 40s, is mild. Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker, who missed a 27-20 loss to the Chargers on Dec. 12, is returning from a concussion. San Diego’s offensive line, specifically center Nick Hardwick and right tackle D.J. Fluker, is beat up following a wild-card win at Cincinnati.

Vaccaro questioned what the Chargers’ victory over the Bengals really meant, considering Cincinnati essentially gift-wrapped the game. But there are plenty of people who believe in Philip Rivers and the Chargers as this postseason’s sleeper team.

“One of the biggest problems amateur handicappers have is they weigh last week’s results too much in their decisions,” Kornegay said. “It’s interesting because it seems like the media has been hyping up the Chargers, and that should even the ticket count somewhat. Some people I’ve talked to, the general Average Joes, are supporting the Chargers in this spot, but I don’t know if that’s the sleeper team.

“I don’t think we’ll see Broncos money until game day. I don’t think it’s going to be a blowout by any means, but I do think the Broncos will win that game.”

The three biggest favorites — Denver, Seattle and New England — will be popular teaser and money-line parlay plays. On paper, all three look good now. In Saturday’s games, the Seahawks are 8-point favorites over the New Orleans Saints, and the Patriots are 7-point favorites over the Colts.

“It’s tough to lay big points in the NFL playoffs. It’s not something many sharp handicappers like to do,” Kornegay said. “You know we’ll have one or two upsets this weekend. I just have a feeling one of those teams is going to lose, but it’s tough to figure if it’s the Seahawks, Patriots or Broncos.”

The Colts, off a miraculous comeback against Kansas City, need quarterback Andrew Luck to overcome their many defensive deficiencies. I wouldn’t count on that, but I will bet on Brady and Belichick to win.

“That will be the biggest teaser game, I believe, and they will tease the Patriots down,” Vaccaro said.

Three of four home teams lost in the wild-card round, and the home-field edge this week might be overrated, as well. Since 2004, road underdogs are 23-16 against the spread in the divisional round.

“It used to be a major advantage having the extra week off, but that really hasn’t played out over the past decade,” said handicapper Bryan Leonard (Footballwinners.com).

The Saints won’t rely on Drew Brees as much in their return trip to Seattle, where they were ambushed 34-7 on Dec. 2. Look for New Orleans to stay competitive behind its running attack and defense. This is the ’dog I like the most, and with heavy rain and high winds expected, also look under the total of 46.

“I just have a feeling it’s going to be a different story,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “I’m not predicting the Saints will win, but it should be a much closer game.”

The closest call, according to oddsmakers, is San Francisco-Carolina. The 49ers are 1-point road favorites, and Vaccaro projects the line to close 2½. The Panthers are my sleeper team.

I’ll take the Saints at plus-8 and the Patriots and Panthers to win straight up. I’m leaning to the Chargers at plus-10, though I expect Manning to win. If he gets bounced from the playoffs again, consider him cursed.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.