On the opening drive of the NFL season opener, it was business as usual for the New Orleans Saints. There was no containing Drew Brees, who shot down the field with the aggression of a wildfire.
And then the rest of night was just a slow burn.
At the end, Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings went up in smoke again, and Las Vegas sports books were sorting out the mess of a point-spread decision that serves as a hot topic.
The Saints were about 5-point favorites — a lot of gray area surrounded that number — in their 14-9 victory over the Vikings on Thursday.
“It was relatively good two-way action. It wasn’t a one-way attack,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books. “Some joints got a little push late on the ‘dog, and some got a push late on the favorite.”
Jay Kornegay, director of the Las Vegas Hilton sports book, agreed the bettors were split on the side. “We really anticipated a lot of Saints money, but it was more of a balanced game than I thought,” he said.
Ironically, the margin fell right in the middle. In early August, when bogus reports surfaced that Favre would retire, the Saints were adjusted to minus-6 and 6½. The line was as low as minus-4. It closed at 4½, 5 and 5½.
What it means is this: The books lost all the early money on the Saints, refunded all the minus-5 tickets and paid off all the Vikings bettors at 5½ and higher.
“It probably won’t be too pretty,” said Kornegay, who was about to look through the books and sort out the mess.
But the result was not a worst-case scenario for the books, either. Minnesota and New Orleans, the two highest-scoring teams in the league last season, combined to go way under the total of 49.
Vaccaro said about 70 percent of the parlays were connected to the ‘over,’ and a few other book directors reported something similar. The encouraging news was NFL bettors were out in impressive numbers and the books were getting all the business they could handle.
“The handle was absolutely incredible,” Vaccaro said. “I would say the handle was at least as good as any Monday night game we booked last year. It was outstanding for us.”
A few oddities contributed to the final score landing on a rare 5-point spread. The Vikings had an extra-point kick blocked in the second quarter. The Saints’ Garrett Hartley, who made three field goals of 44 yards or more in the Super Bowl win, missed two chip shots.
Brees slowed after his rapid-fire start. Favre, looking fit for an old-timers’ game, misfired on his first seven passes of the second half before completing a short throw with nine minutes remaining.
It’s just the beginning of the madness. Thirteen more games are on Sunday’s schedule, and there are two Monday matchups in Week 1.
“The action was hot and heavy. It was really great to see,” Kornegay said. “Football fans were betting on this game. I think people found a way to develop an opinion on it.”
There is no obvious Super Bowl favorite as we sit here in early September. Many are touting the Dallas Cowboys, who are 3½-point favorites at Washington on Sunday night.
Tennessee is a 6½-point home favorite over Oakland, but no team is favored by more than seven points this week.
“Almost everybody will be betting against the Raiders. The Titans will be a very popular play, and I think the Cowboys will be popular,” Kornegay said. “Those will be key decisions for the books.”
The horrendous teams that stunk up the basement of the league last season seem to be fewer in number.
“I think it’s shaping up to be a great season. There’s certainly a lot of parity in the league, and that’s our best friend,” Kornegay said. “When you don’t have parity, all the betting patterns are very similar, which creates a lot of liability.
“At the end of the season, I would love to see the best record for any team be 9-7 and the worst record 7-9. That’s highly unlikely.”
Favre and the Vikings have much improvement to make. If not, they will sit somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 when the smoke clears.
■ CLOSING NUMBERS — It was a solid handicapping start to the college season. I went 4-2-1 last week, with the two losses by a total of three points. Here are five plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
SOUTH CAROLINA (-3) over Georgia; Florida State-OKLAHOMA (Over 58), Brigham Young (+1½) over AIR FORCE; ALABAMA (-12) over Penn State; OKLAHOMA STATE (-13½) over Troy.
Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2907. He also co-hosts the “Las Vegas Betting Line” weeknights at midnight on KDWN-AM (720) and kdwn.com.