Frustrating outcomes big part of NFL allure

When it goes bad, it tends to get worse before it gets better. Eli Manning’s first pass was a screen thrown directly to a defensive lineman and intercepted. That’s how the season started for the New York Giants.

And it got a lot worse. William Shakespeare wrote a play titled “The Comedy of Errors,” and the Giants used it as their playbook Sunday night.

Tom Brady narrowly escaped defeat in Buffalo. The Oakland Raiders, the biggest underdogs on the board, almost pulled off a stunner on the road. The New York Jets, of all teams, staged the miracle comeback of the day.

One of the great attractions of the NFL is the unpredictability of each Sunday. It’s an unscripted reality show and a betting circus. It can be fun and frustrating as hell at the same time. People love it one minute and hate it the next, but they are drawn to it in bigger numbers every year.

“We never have seen a crowd like this for opening weekend,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said from the Mirage, where the standing-room-only crowd watched 10 morning games on super-sized screens.

At the South Point, 10 betting windows were open from 8 to 10 a.m., with each line at least 10 deep with men and women of all ages. The book’s wagering handle, Jimmy Vaccaro said, was 15 to 20 percent higher than a year ago for Week 1.

“I didn’t think you could squeeze that many people into a sports book,” Vaccaro said. “I just keep shaking my head. It’s amazing.”

LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay, who hosted a theater overflowing with football fans, was amazed by something else. The SuperContest, an NFL handicapping event with a $1,500 entry fee, drew a record 1,034 entrants.

“It’s crazy,” Kornegay said. “The reach of the NFL is growing all the time. It reaches a large demographic and so many different types of people.”

The popularity of NFL wagering is amazing and crazy, and, frequently, so are the results.

The New England Patriots, 10-point favorites over the Bills, needed Brady’s last-minute drive to win 23-21 on a field goal with five seconds left.

The Raiders, 11-point ’dogs, led midway through the fourth quarter before second-year quarterback Andrew Luck recaptured his rookie-year magic and led the Indianapolis Colts on another drive for a 21-17 win.

Trailing 17-15 with 34 seconds left, the Jets were on their 20-yard line. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith, with the help of a personal foul penalty, moved the offense into range for Nick Folk’s 48-yard field goal with two seconds remaining. Tampa Bay, a 4-point road favorite, was the far more popular side.

“The Bills were huge, and the Jets were huge,” Rood said. “That crushed the parlays.”

It was a winning day for the books, mostly because the Buccaneers, Colts and Patriots failed to cover. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who closed as 6-point home favorites, crushed a lot of teasers by losing 16-9 to Tennessee.

Sometimes, you’re on the right side of a game and end up on the wrong side of the point-spread decision.

Carolina, a 3½-point home underdog, was the right side into the fourth quarter. Russell Wilson’s 43-yard touchdown pass rallied Seattle to a 12-7 lead with 10 minutes left. But with the Panthers in position to score, running back DeAngelo Williams coughed up a fumble at the 8-yard line, and the Seahawks covered the spread.

So did the San Francisco 49ers, who were laying 5½ points but trailing 28-24 midway through the fourth quarter. Colin Kaepernick passed for 412 yards and three touchdowns, and he completed a fourth-down pass to set up a 33-yard field goal with 26 seconds to go for a 34-28 win and cover.

The 49ers benefited from an officiating blunder in the second quarter that resulted in a touchdown instead of a likely field goal, and those four points made a difference in the end.

“That’s a tough one to take,” Vaccaro said. “It’s so random anymore, it’s unbelievable.”

Let’s talk coin-flip results. Cincinnati blew a 21-10 lead in a 24-21 loss at Chicago, which pushed as a 3-point favorite. New Orleans, a 3-point favorite, made a late goal-line stand to hold off Atlanta 23-17. “Our biggest loser was the Saints game,” Vaccaro said.

The Giants were at their worst, a comedy of six turnovers in a 36-31 loss at Dallas. Tony Romo was the unlikely hero.

I was one of the unlucky losers on the Giants, Packers and Panthers. It was bad and it got worse, but it eventually has to get better. Two more games are tonight, in Washington and San Diego.

“There should be a doubleheader every Monday night,” Vaccaro said, and we all can agree on that.

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.