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Flacco, underdog Ravens reward bettors’ faith

This smelled like another hoax. These days, not all sports stories are to be believed, and this one painted Joe Flacco as a Super Bowl quarterback.

A far-fetched script had the Baltimore Ravens going on the road and "Catfishing" the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and most of us bought it hook, line and sinker. For six days until Sunday, bettors – sharps and squares – jumped on the underdog.

When the public falls in love with an underdog, it’s usually wise to look the other way. That’s one of the unwritten rules of NFL wagering.

"I’ve never seen so much support for the Ravens," LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. "The landslide of money we took on Baltimore all week just totally surprised me."

The Ravens opened the week as 9½-point ‘dogs against the Patriots, and the line closed at 7½. One-sided action ambushed bookmakers such as Jay Rood at MGM Resorts.

"All week, we took Baltimore money," Rood said. "We’re getting ready to pay out a lot of money."

This was no hoax. Flacco was almost flawless, passing for 240 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens finished off the Patriots, 28-13.

Now, Flacco is a Super Bowl quarterback, opposing Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers, and how unbelievable is this story? Kaepernick was a backup until late November, when coach Jim Harbaugh gambled by putting a second-year guy with no experience at the controls of a title contender.

The Harbaugh brothers are another storyline, and with John coaching Baltimore, you can bet the media will play up that angle for all it’s worth. But coaches don’t figure into proposition bets, and their family affair means nothing to the Las Vegas line.

On that subject, the 49ers opened as 4½- to 5-point favorites over the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. The line dropped to 4½ and 4, and the total ranges from 48 to 49.

"The public really supported the Ravens (last week)," Kornegay said, "but will that carry over to the Super Bowl?"

Early money showed on Baltimore, no super surprise to Pregame.com handicapper Chris Andrews, who was an oddsmaker in Nevada for 30 years.

"A week ago, I made it 3½ if this was the matchup, so I think 4½ is probably a little too high," Andrews said. "I’ve got a lot of respect for this Ravens team."

Another former oddsmaker, speaking off the record, said, "San Francisco minus-5 is absurd. The game should be 2½ or 3. It will crash soon. I think it closes 3."

The line, where it sits now, is not on a key number.

"When you’re dealing with 4½ and 5, it’s basically a dead number, and I don’t think the sharps know what to do with it," said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of public relations for William Hill sports books. "I don’t know if anyone is going to jump in right now."

San Francisco opened as a 3½-point favorite over Atlanta in the NFC Championship Game, and it closed 4, which turned out to be key. Bookmakers paid out 49ers tickets at minus-3½ and refunded the others.

Down 17-0 early in the second quarter, the 49ers were facing long odds. But Kaepernick started shooting bullets, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan started shooting himself in the foot and fumbled a snap, and San Francisco staged a rally for a 28-24 win.

"The 4 in the first game was a major pain in the ass," Vaccaro said. "But we got to 4 early in the week. We lost an incredible amount of money on the Ravens, but we knocked out every teaser with the Patriots. So it surely wasn’t a negative day for us, which is a miracle."

The 49ers, the "perceived better team," as Kornegay said, surely deserve to be favored.

The Ravens are more of a miracle, needing a fluke 70-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to trigger a double-overtime upset of Denver, a week before taking down Bill Belichick and Tom Brady.

Belichick was sending in the punter when he normally would gamble on fourth down. Brady was lackluster and unlucky, throwing two interceptions and getting shut out in the second half.

I bet the Ravens plus-8½, but didn’t truly believe they would win. I expected them to lose a close game, expected Brady to go to another Super Bowl instead of Flacco going to his first.

"It’s an intriguing matchup because of the Ravens," Kornegay said. "I think a lot of people are sick and tired of seeing the Patriots involved."

A Patriots-49ers matchup might have set a record Super Bowl handle in Nevada.

"I think it would have been a monster," Vaccaro said.

But we’ll never know, because Flacco is in the Super Bowl. We now know it’s no hoax.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com 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.

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