It’s obvious Peyton Manning is wildly popular, and not just in Denver and Omaha. But the power of the public’s attraction to Manning seemed to catch some Las Vegas oddsmakers by surprise.
For a brief time Sunday night, Manning and the Broncos were cast in the role of Super Bowl underdogs. The bettors called an audible.
It was a miscasting. Imagine if director Martin Scorsese picked Justin Bieber instead of Leonardo DiCaprio to star in “The Wolf of Wall Street.” That’s a dramatic exaggeration, of course, because NFL line moves are more subtle. Still, Manning has not played the underdog role all season, and it appears he won’t on Feb. 2, either.
Soon after several books opened the Seattle Seahawks as slight favorites over the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII, the favorite flipped, headlines changed, and the consensus line was Denver minus-1½.
“This thing is bouncing around. It looks like an attack on Denver,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “It’s just Manning. I think that’s the rationale behind the Broncos money.”
The South Point shifted from pick-’em to Denver minus-1 after taking a $25,000 wager on the Broncos, who eventually went to minus-2. At the LVH, Seattle opened as a 2-point favorite and was adjusted to a 1-point underdog. Station Casinos posted the highest line on Denver at minus-2½.
We’ll find out in two weeks if Manning deserved to be the favorite all along, but the bettors let their early money do the talking.
Manning passed for 400 yards and two touchdowns as Denver, a 5-point favorite, knocked out New England 26-16 for the AFC championship. Manning was methodical, completing 32 of 43 passes, and avoided mistakes. The Patriots, who avoided playing for three quarters and trailed 23-3 five minutes into the fourth, made a mistake by knocking themselves out.
When the alarm finally sounded and woke up Tom Brady, he was late for work. There was a report about Brady playing with an injured passing hand, but he also used that hand to throw for 277 yards and a touchdown, so it doesn’t explain everything. It’s hard to explain why Brady was overthrowing open receivers and why Bill Belichick’s defense was all bark and no bite while putting no pressure on the quarterback.
New England made it a long way despite being sabotaged by injuries, but January is not the time for excuses.
“I don’t think the Broncos did anything special, and that’s why they won,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “It’s just shocking how poorly the Patriots performed. I’m not complaining at all because it was a pretty good result for us.”
The day ended ideally for the bookmakers, who not only needed Denver to cover and for the score to stay under the total of 57½, they also needed Seattle to cover as a 3½-point favorite in the NFC title game. The latter appeared unlikely until Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers suddenly fell apart.
Kaepernick was spectacular for 2½ quarters, but after staking the 49ers to a 17-10 lead, he lost a fumble and threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter. His throw to Michael Crabtree in the end zone was deflected by the Seahawks’ Richard Sherman and picked off by Malcolm Smith with 22 seconds left.
Sherman made a fool of himself by shouting a lot of nonsense during a postgame interview, but he also was a hero in Seattle’s 23-17 victory. Just when it seemed San Francisco was about to steal it, Sherman’s swat changed the result and kept the score under the closing total of 41.
“The tipped pass changed everybody’s bets from a loser to a winner and a winner to a loser,” Vaccaro said.
A Super Bowl showdown of No. 1 seeds pits Manning against the league’s most dominant defense.
“It’s going to be a contrast of styles, and that’s going to make it a very interesting matchup,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “The Broncos were picking the Patriots apart. It didn’t seem like much of a game. The Broncos have been a public team all season, except for the playoffs.”
The betting public is back on Denver’s side. The Broncos, favorites in all 16 regular-season games and two playoff games, were favored by less than a field goal only once, closing as 1-point road favorites in a Nov. 24 loss to the Patriots.
No Super Bowl favorite has laid fewer than 2½ points since 1982.
“It was like a Super Bowl in here today,” Vaccaro said of Sunday’s overflowing crowd. “It’s just (bleeping) amazing. You can already tell it’s going to be a monster handle.”
The game has a shot to top last year’s Super Bowl-record wagering handle of $98.9 million at Nevada’s books.
“I think it could go over $100 million. It’s a strong possibility, just based on the great handle we’ve had all season,” Rood said. “I don’t know why it would taper off in the biggest game of the year.”
Manning opened as the underdog, but was the public right to cast him as the favorite? The answer to that big question and a few hundred proposition bets will be revealed soon enough.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.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.