It took one preseason game for the Denver Broncos to become a popular team with the betting public, and that must mean Peyton Manning was working his old magic, right?
In Manning’s debut in a new uniform, the Broncos blasted the Bears 31-3 in Chicago. That was predictable, right? The bettors sure seemed to think so.
“It’s all Broncos at this point,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said Thursday as he monitored the wagering action an hour before kickoff.
The Broncos cashed all those tickets as 3-point underdogs, and never mind that Manning was the weak link among Denver’s four quarterbacks. When betting the first week of the NFL preseason, forget everything you know about starting quarterbacks, because even the great ones like Manning don’t matter much.
All bets are in the hands of backup QBs this week, when a football wager is similar to the spin of a roulette wheel.
Nick Foles, Jarrett Lee and Curtis Painter passed the test the best on a night when underdogs went 4-1-1 against the spread.
Foles, a rookie, passed for touchdowns of 70 and 44 yards as Philadelphia overcame a 13-0 deficit to defeat Pittsburgh, 24-23. The Eagles, 1-point favorites, prevailed in Michael Vick’s absence. Vick led a pair of three-and-out drives and suffered a bruised left thumb.
Lee, who did not play for Louisiana State in its blowout loss to Alabama in the Bowl Championship Series title game, passed for 235 yards and a touchdown to lead San Diego past Green Bay, 21-13.
The Chargers covered as 2½-point favorites, and the score stayed under the total of 37½. Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers traded early interceptions before making early exits.
Atlanta led 14-0 before running into the Baltimore buzzsaw known as Curtis Painter, who passed for three touchdowns to rally the Ravens to a 31-17 victory. Painter, a monster failure last season in Indianapolis, overshadowed Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan.
Then there were Tom Brady and Drew Brees, two of the league’s most prolific passers. Rood said the money showed on the New England Patriots as 4-point favorites, mostly because Brees and the New Orleans Saints were playing their second game in five days.
The bets were on red, and the ball bounced black.
Brady and Brees combined for 34 yards passing, and the Patriots pounded out a 7-6 victory. The Saints covered in a game with a total of 38. “If it was the regular season, the total would be 52½,” Rood said.
Despite the random results of preseason Week 1, bettors like myself could not resist the temptation of football. I lost with the Packers, won with the Packers-Chargers under and did not bet the Broncos-Bears game, which was notable because Manning threw an interception and Jay Cutler never took a snap for Chicago.
“I think a lot more people are getting involved with the preseason,” Rood said. “Everyone is looking forward to the NFL, and I’m right in line with the rest of them.”
It’s better to get involved with the preseason in the second and third weeks, when starters stay on the field longer and coaches map out more sophisticated game plans.
“Usually, the first week is pretty vanilla. For the most part, teams have the same philosophies,” said handicapper Chuck Edel of SportsXRadio.com. “Once you get to the second week, things change. Some coaches play their starters for one quarter, and some will play starters for two quarters.”
Edel never shies away from preseason wagers, and he makes the time commitment to do thorough homework.
“I read the team websites, watch all the press conferences and skim through newspaper articles. It takes a lot of work sometimes in the preseason to try to get that one key sentence,” Edel said. “I think I’ve had a profitable preseason every year.”
The preseason track record for coaches is an angle every handicapper eyes in August. Three of the most profitable to follow in past years were Bill Belichick (New England), Mike Shanahan (Washington) and Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh). But none of those three covered Thursday, underscoring the unpredictability of the preseason’s first week.
Another consistent winner has been Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, who is 10-2 straight up and 9-3 ATS in three preseasons. The Lions are 3-point home favorites over Cleveland today.
There’s nothing wrong with betting the preseason, as those who landed on the right side with the Broncos can attest.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.