Chalk strikes back with Sunday wins

Quiet for most of the game, running back Brian Westbrook broke loose for one big play that produced a point-spread cover for the Philadelphia Eagles and a Sunday sweep for the betting public.

The opening weekend of the NFL postseason essentially was a split decision between the sports books and bettors.

The Arizona Cardinals and San Diego Chargers both opened as home underdogs in Saturday’s games, and both won to create “very positive results for the books,” said Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay.

The opposite was true Sunday when the Eagles and Baltimore Ravens won after closing as 31/2-point road favorites.

“The favorites covering produced very poor results for the books,” Kornegay said. “We had four huge decisions over the weekend. The general public bet all four favorites and split.”

Westbrook’s 71-yard touchdown off a short pass from Donovan McNabb was the backbreaker for the Vikings. The Eagles were leading 16-14 before Westbrook’s score with 6:37 to play, and Philadelphia pulled away to a 26-14 victory.

“Everybody bet the Eagles. It was a big decision for us,” Kornegay said.

Westbrook was wrapped up for most of the game, held to 38 yards on 20 carries.

Minnesota quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was exposed as his team’s biggest weakness. Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel intercepted a poor pass by Jackson and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.

The New York Giants, the top seed in the NFC, opened as 4-point home favorites over the Eagles in next Sunday’s divisional round. Philadelphia was a 61/2-point underdog in a 20-14 road win over the Giants on Dec. 7.

In the other NFC matchup Saturday, the Carolina Panthers are 10-point home favorites over the Cardinals.

Kornegay said sharp money showed up late on Arizona against Atlanta, so the Cards closed as slight favorites at most books in their 30-24 win.

The Chargers’ 23-17 overtime win over Indianapolis was a boost for the books.

“Almost everybody was betting the Colts,” Kornegay said.

The Pittsburgh Steelers opened as 6-point home favorites over the Chargers in next Sunday’s AFC showdown. The Steelers were 4-point favorites when they won the first meeting 11-10 on Nov. 16.

That game had a controversial finish. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu returned a fumble 12 yards for a touchdown as time expired, but the officials wiped out the score and later admitted their ruling was a mistake.

The Ravens, who advanced by whipping Miami 27-9, are 3-point road underdogs to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

“If the favorites cover, it’s high liability for the books,” Kornegay said. “It’s all or nothing with these games. It’s very nerve wracking when you have high (wagering) volume … and it’s lopsided action on the favorites.”

• R-J CHALLENGE — Dave Tuley of won the Review-Journal NFL Challenge with a 51-31-3 record against the spread. R-J assistant sports editor Allen Leiker finished second with a 48-34-3 record in the 17-week contest that was published Sundays.

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