In a quarterback showdown that was debated and hyped all week, one guy walked away a blowout winner and the other was a no-show. The big winner, of course, was Carson Palmer of the red-hot Arizona Cardinals.
The NFL’s surprise team was in Dallas on Sunday, but it was not the Cowboys, and there was no Tony Romo.
Palmer passed for four touchdowns — the first one put the Cowboys on the scoreboard first — as the Cardinals overcame a clumsy start and coasted to a 28-17 win and the league’s best record at 7-1.
“If you look at the Cardinals, that’s a team no one talks about, but it’s a very good team people should start talking about,” Sunset Station sports book director Chuck Esposito said. “The Cardinals are clearly, quietly solidifying themselves as one of the top teams in the league.”
In the other quarterback showdown, Tom Brady put a beating on Peyton Manning in New England, a storyline so old it’s going bald and growing hair out of the ears.
Romo was the news. He made the call Saturday night to sit out with a back injury, and when word spread Sunday morning, the betting public jumped behind Palmer and rode the Cardinals to the cash-out window. With Romo’s status up in the air, Dallas opened the week as a 3½-point favorite, but on game day the line briefly moved to pick-em and closed Cowboys minus-1 at most books.
“As soon as it became apparent Romo was out, that number started to drop,” Esposito said. “The guests did really well on the Arizona game.”
Palmer’s start was really poor. He tossed an interception that Tyler Patmon returned 58 yards for a touchdown, and Dallas led 10-0 after the first quarter. That’s when reality started to set in for the Cowboys, who were going nowhere behind backup quarterback Brandon Weeden.
After three touchdown passes by Palmer and two interceptions from Weeden, the Cardinals led 28-10, and the Cowboys’ surprising 6-1 start was suddenly fixed to 6-3.
Arizona, Kansas City, Miami and Philadelphia helped the bettors beat up the bookmakers in the morning games. The Chiefs, Dolphins and Eagles covered as favorites.
Kansas City, a 9-point favorite, shut the back door in a 24-10 victory over the New York Jets, who were shut out in the second half while failing to score with a first down at the 3-yard line. There is a word to describe the Jets, but it’s not fit for print.
“The guests did well betting against the Jets again,” Esposito said.
Miami, bet up to a 3-point favorite, slammed San Diego 37-0. Remember when Philip Rivers was hot and the Chargers were 5-1? Rivers had four turnovers, and the Chargers are 5-4.
Philadelphia, a popular 2-point road favorite, lost quarterback Nick Foles but still produced a 31-21 victory over Houston. Mark Sanchez threw two interceptions but avoided a butt-fumble and passed for two touchdowns.
“The worst game for us was the Texans,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “But even with those losers in the morning, it was an above-average day.”
It was a surprisingly good day for the league’s worst teams as Jacksonville, Oakland, St. Louis and Tampa Bay covered as ugly ’dogs.
The Rams, getting 10½ points and plus-450 on the money line, stunned San Francisco 13-10 in the biggest outright upset of the season. The 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick lost a fumble at the goal line on a quarterback sneak with 2 seconds left.
The wiseguys bet the Raiders from 15- to 13-point ’dogs, and the wiseguys were not looking smart when Seattle stormed to a 24-3 halftime lead. Of course, as the poem goes, “The Autumn Wind is a pirate, blustering in from sea … The Autumn Wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun. He’ll knock you ’round and upside down, and laugh when he’s conquered and won.”
The Raiders (0-8) did not win, but they did cover when Derek Carr’s touchdown pass with 1:52 left pulled them within 30-24.
The bettors waffled before nailing the nightcap, as Pittsburgh pounded Baltimore 43-23. The Steelers opened as 1½-point favorites, went into the weekend as 1½-point ’dogs and closed as 2-point favorites.
“All during the week it was Ravens,” Vaccaro said, “and it was nothing but Steelers at the end.”
Esposito reported “phenomenal two-way” action on Denver-New England, a one-sided quarterback showdown. Brady passed for 333 yards and four touchdowns. Manning threw for more yards (438) but never had a shot after the half in a 43-21 loss to the Patriots, 3-point home ’dogs.
“It’s Manning-Brady,” Esposito said, “and Brady seems to play extremely well in cold conditions.”
It snowed in the morning, and was cold and windy in the afternoon. Bettors on the Broncos were treated for brain freeze, and Manning again went quietly into the New England night.
The Cardinals, believe the hype or not, own the NFL’s best record.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.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.