No hole too big for Brady, Patriots


HONOLULU -- Just to make things more interesting, the New England Patriots dug a 21-point hole for Tom Brady. But it was early.

It was especially early here in Hawaii, where the NFL games kicked off at 8 a.m., just as the New Year's Eve parties were winding down. The Buffalo Bills were double-digit underdogs, so bettors on that side were looking good as I fell asleep.

I woke up to Brady's second touchdown pass that put the Patriots in front, and soon the rout was on and the final was 49-21.

"A friend of mine called, and he had the plus-10½," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky's sports books. "What are the odds of rolling out 49 points in a row? You're speechless. You don't know what to think."

What I think is that no lead feels safe, and you never count your winnings too soon when wagering on the NFL. The same can be said for college bowl games and every other sport, for that matter. But Sundays tend to be especially crazy, and there is always a lot more money riding on the results.

Buffalo blew its 31½-0 lead, and the game turned into a joke, just like the Bills' season. Promising in the beginning. A comical collapse in the second half.

New England finished the regular season with an eight-game winning streak, and once again Bill Belichick is coaching the AFC's top seed in the playoffs.

"If Belichick and Brady had their in-laws down by 27 in the fourth quarter, they would keep pushing," Vaccaro said. "Those two guys are cold blooded."

No lead feels safe. My biggest bet was riding on the New York Giants, and there were a few anxious moments when their 21-0 halftime lead dwindled to 21-14.

"We needed the Cowboys," Vaccaro said. "All the parlays that were live were going to the Giants."

Eli Manning made some key plays, and the Giants, 3-point favorites, pulled it out 31-14 to send the Cowboys back to Dallas for a long offseason. Despite the setback, Vaccaro said the day was a small winner for Lucky's, and that was true in general for most books.

The betting public fared well backing Atlanta, New Orleans and Philadelphia as favorites, in addition to the Giants and Patriots. The Carolina Panthers, as 7½-point underdogs, attracted the supposed sharp action, but they were hammered 45-17 by the Saints as Drew Brees piled up 389 yards passing and five touchdowns.

"The smart guys took a lot of the 'dogs, and they didn't show," Vaccaro said. "For the past eight or 10 years, Week 17 has been feast or famine for the bettors and the bookmakers. There's a lot of guessing going on."

There was less guessing going on this year in the final week, because every matchup was a division game and fewer teams rested starters.

The one team that did sit key players was Green Bay, a 6½-point home underdog to Detroit. But the Packers prevailed 45-41 in a wild shootout that featured 1,000 passing yards -- 520 for the Lions' Matthew Stafford and 480 for Matt Flynn, who did a fine imitation of Aaron Rodgers. (The teams combined for a league-record 971 net yards passing.)

"If Flynn can pass for 500 yards, the game has completely changed," Vaccaro said. "I'm amazed by it. These kids go up and down the field."

Favorites went 8-7-1 against the spread in Week 17 and finished the season 116-128-10, according to TheLogicalApproach.com handicapper Andy Iskoe, who grades results by the Las Vegas Hilton's closing lines. Two of the 256 games were pick 'em lines.

Arizona closed as a 2½-point favorite in its 23-20 overtime victory over Seattle. Miami closed as a 2-point favorite and held off the New York Jets 19-17 -- only the seventh game of the season with a final margin of two points.

As for totals, there were 127 overs, 125 unders and four pushes. There was nothing amazing about the offenses in Kansas City's riveting 7-3 victory at Denver. Technically, Kyle Orton defeated Tim Tebow, but in reality, Tebow self-destructed and was a total disaster, completing 6 of 22 passes for 60 yards.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 7½-point road favorites over the Broncos in Sunday's AFC wild-card game, and Vaccaro said he anticipates at least 65 percent of the tickets will be on the Steelers.

"I'll make the prediction now: We'll be rooting our behinds off for the Broncos next week," Vaccaro said. "The Tebow people are still there, but they're not backing the Broncos with a ton of money. Tebow has been exposed to some degree, especially when he gets behind and is playing a solid defense. He's going to have his hands full when (Troy) Polamalu and those boys are chasing him around."

The Chicago Bears did not rest Brian Urlacher and paid for it by losing the star linebacker to a blown knee.

San Francisco blew the cover after leading 34-13, and Oakland blew its shot to win a playoff spot. Atlanta jumped up 42-0, and if there was one lead that felt secure, that was it.

Betting against the Patriots is not as scary as it was in past years, but when Brady is firing passes, nothing is safe and no opponent can go to sleep with a lead.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts the "Las Vegas Sportsline" weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

 

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