In no way is Aaron Rodgers a clown, but when the Green Bay Packers quarterback was trotted out to meet with the media Thursday, circus music should have been playing in the background.
Rodgers’ comeback from a broken collarbone became the biggest act in a week already highlighted by entertaining sideshows such as Tony Romo. Drama in Dallas is nothing new, but it’s a theme throughout the NFL with the regular season headed for a grand finale.
So many times in the past, the last week was a major letdown as several teams rested starters and only a few games held significance. But this post-Christmas schedule is a present to bettors and bookmakers.
“It’s an intriguing weekend. It’s good business when most of the games have meaning,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “Week 17 is usually about 25 percent off what you normally write for a week, but I think this will be a big Sunday. People will be jammed at the counter.
“It’s so confusing to some degree because it looks like every game means something. It’s a week with eight or nine games with playoff implications.”
Actually, 13 of the 16 games are relevant to playoff positioning, though some mean much more than others, with Green Bay-Chicago and Philadelphia-Dallas holding the most meaning and intrigue.
The return of Rodgers, who was knocked out early in the Packers’ 27-20 loss to the Bears on Nov. 4, sets the stage for a far more interesting winner-take-all battle for the NFC North title at Soldier Field. The announcement of his status had oddsmakers calling audibles and scrambling to set the right line.
The number on the LVH SuperContest card was set at Bears minus-4½ with an educated guess that Matt Flynn would be in and Rodgers would be out. With Rodgers back in, there was a 7½-point shift to Packers minus-3.
“We took three bets on the Bears and moved it to 2½,” Vaccaro said. “Rodgers is a cut above the rest, but I just don’t know how effective he’s going to be after missing about two months. I could see money coming in on the Bears for a couple reasons.”
A potentially rusty Rodgers aside, the leader of the Green Bay defense, linebacker Clay Matthews, is out with a thumb injury. Not as concerning is the condition of running back Eddie Lacy, who is expected to play despite an injured ankle. The Bears are beat up, too, and trying to rebound from a 54-11 loss at Philadelphia.
“The team that gets its ass kicked the week before usually plays better the next time around,” Vaccaro said.
LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay anticipates the public and so-called sharp bettors to be toeing opposite sides of the line.
“You’ve got to expect Packers money will be rolling in,” Kornegay said. “It looks like the sharps might be on Chicago, but the public will be siding with the Packers.”
The schedule is balanced, with kickoff times set according to playoff scenarios, so eight games start at 10 a.m., seven games start at 1:25 p.m., and the Eagles and Cowboys tangle to decide the NFC East at 5:30 p.m.
Romo was on the losing end of Week 17 elimination games the past two years. This time, the odds say he’s probably going to be a spectator, sidelined by a herniated disk in his back, according to credible sources.
“If I had to make a price right now, it would be 2½ to 1 no Romo,” Vaccaro said. “The dominant games of the week, as far as the money bet, are Packers-Bears and Eagles-Cowboys. It’s funny, with both games there are quarterback questions. We had to wait all week to put these up, but people will catch up.
“This is a huge impact when you’re talking about Rodgers and Romo.”
The Cowboys were 3-point underdogs before the Romo injury was revealed, and the LVH moved the line to 7½ when it became evident they would go with their backup plan, Kyle Orton, who is 35-34 in 69 career starts. The number is sitting at 6½ and likely is headed to 7.
“I don’t think Romo’s going to go,” Kornegay said. “We really think the public is going to be on the Eagles.”
By kickoff Sunday night, Vaccaro said, “One way or another, I think the sharp money will show on Dallas.”
There’s a lot more, so call in the acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers, trained animals and unicyclists to accompany the clowns under the Big Top.
In the AFC, Denver is playing to clinch the No. 1 seed, New England can secure a first-round bye or clinch home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs with a win and a Broncos loss, Cincinnati and Indianapolis have shots at first-round byes, and Miami, Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh still can clinch playoff berths.
In the NFC, aside from the two division elimination games, Seattle is playing to secure the top seed, Carolina can clinch its division and a first-round bye, and San Francisco, New Orleans and Arizona each have something at stake.
Some of the scenarios are complex and confusing. The playoff pictures for the games in Chicago and Dallas are simple but with the big-time quarterback issues thrown in to add to Sunday’s circus atmosphere.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.