Even when Peyton Manning falls short of perfection, the Indianapolis Colts still win. Sometimes they win with ease and occasionally, as we've seen the past two weeks, they do it ugly.
Manning seems rather boring and stiff, and he's not in the running to be voted The Most Interesting Man in the World, but every other NFL quarterback -- aside from Tom Brady -- lives vicariously through him.
At this point, even with their defense ravaged by injuries, the Colts are as good as any team in the league. They are 8-0 after holding off the Houston Texans 20-17 on Sunday.
''Until somebody knocks them off, I have to consider the Colts the best team in the AFC,'' handicapper Andy Iskoe said. ''Sometimes they win with offense and sometimes they win with defense. I don't think they are clearly far and away the best team.''
Betting against the Colts is risky business, and that's because Manning is always one play away from busting open a close game. But he never made the big play against the Texans, and the bettors who lined up to wager against Manning lived to brag about it.
Indianapolis closed as a 71/2-point home favorite after the line opened two points higher. The bettors sniffed out that one, but the sports books still won in Week 9 because the Colts were just one of many favorites to fail.
The league's elite teams -- a group including the Colts, New England and New Orleans -- suddenly are not quite as dominant.
Underdogs are 10-2 against the spread this week. Arizona, Cincinnati, Dallas, San Diego, Tampa Bay and Tennessee won outright.
Two weeks ago, Las Vegas books lost an estimated $8 million on the NFL when big favorites covered across the board. A turnaround in that trend was inevitable, but the surprising aspect is how quickly it has happened. Underdogs are 18-7 the past two weeks.
''It was like the old NFL this week. Parity is back,'' Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said half-jokingly. ''The NFL really treated us well with some of the bigger favorites not covering. It's kind of a relief for the bookmakers to see some of these bad teams can be competitive.''
Kornegay laughed because it's too soon to say parity has resurfaced. The Buccaneers were the only terrible team to cover Sunday, getting their first win against the fading Green Bay Packers. Carolina and Miami also covered as double-digit underdogs, but barely.
The league is 128 games into a 256-game regular season. So here's the betting scorecard at the season's midpoint, graded by Iskoe against closing lines at the Hilton:
Home favorites are 40-45-1 against the spread and home underdogs are 17-22 ATS. Favored teams are 63-62-1 ATS -- neither team was considered to be at home in the Patriots' blowout victory over the Buccaneers in London, and there have been two pick-em games.
"Things usually balance out. Sometimes it's just not as dramatic as we've seen this week,'' Iskoe (thelogicalapproach.com) said.
The New York Giants have stumbled into the category of mediocre. They started 5-0 by beating four weak opponents but are now a huge disappointment after a 21-20 home loss to San Diego.
Philip Rivers' 18-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson with 21 seconds left lifted the Chargers to an upset of the Giants, who were briefly covering as 5-point favorites.
''You certainly have to knock the Giants back. It's hard to excuse a good team losing four straight games,'' Iskoe said. ''I'm concluding, and I think many are concluding, the Giants' quick start was due to the weak teams they were playing. Maybe this is a team in free fall.''
Atlanta and Seattle were the only favorites to cover Sunday, and both needed defensive touchdowns to beat the number.
The Falcons, 81/2-point home favorites, topped Washington, 31-17. The Seahawks, 11-point home favorites, climbed out of a 17-0 first-quarter hole and defeated Detroit 32-20 as Josh Wilson returned an interception 61 yards for a score with 22 seconds to go.
Next week's schedule features three big games -- Dallas (-1) at Green Bay, Philadelphia at San Diego (-11/2) and New England at Indianapolis (-3).
Manning has completed 65 of 98 passes for 665 yards in the Colts' past two games. But he has thrown for just one touchdown, and Indianapolis failed to cover both times.
The Colts are riding a 17-game regular-season winning streak, and Brady and the Patriots are next to try to stop it. Now it really gets interesting at the top of the AFC.
Sports betting reporter and columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907.