No longer is it hip to praise Peyton Manning. He looks much older now, even elderly at times, trotting onto the field as if limping with a broken hip.
His fastball has turned into a changeup. Rumors are he now needs a nap at halftime, talks a lot about the weather, looks forward to weekly doctor visits and gets irritated when youngsters drive through his neighborhood at speeds higher than 15 miles per hour. Hair is disappearing from atop his head, but it’s growing all over his back and out of his ears.
The old-age jokes have teeth, and they are not false teeth. Manning is definitely aging fast, and we’re about to see if he has anything left. The latest sign of his decline: The undefeated Denver Broncos are home underdogs Sunday.
“Critics are saying the death knell is ringing for Manning,” said handicapper Jim Kruger of VegasSportsAuthority.com. “Statistics back up the planning for his NFL funeral — a negative touchdown-to-interception ratio, and a pass that floats more than a Nerf ball on a windy day. Regardless, the Broncos are tough to beat at home.”
Denver is 26-4 straight up on its home field with Manning calling the shots. The Broncos are 6-0 this season, 2-0 at home, but they have not beat a team the caliber of the Green Bay Packers. It’s a team quarterbacked by Aaron Rodgers, who runs like a deer and dates a young actress.
The Packers are favored — the line is bouncing back and forth from 2½ to 3 — mostly because Rodgers is highly respected and Manning fans are hard to find.
“I’m not surprised Denver is a home underdog to Green Bay, which I think is the second-best team in the league,” Westgate Las Vegas sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “There can be an argument made the Broncos could be the worst 6-0 team in the history of the NFL.
“The last three weeks or so, the Broncos have fallen from grace with the public. Even though they are winning, it has been pretty ugly, so they are not going to get that much public support. As far as Manning’s arm strength, there’s just no doubt the velocity is not there anymore.”
Everyone raves about the Denver defense, which ranks No. 1 in the league in yards allowed (281.3 per game) and No. 2 in scoring (17.0). Nobody is nearly as crazy about Manning, who has passed for seven touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
“Peyton said he wanted to play until he sucks,” MGM Resorts book director Jay Rood said, “and it’s almost mission accomplished.”
The wagering handle on the Green Bay-Denver game, the Sunday nightcap, is expected to double what is bet on the second-most popular game of the day. A majority of the public will be on the favorite. A majority of the sharps will be on the ‘dog.
“We’re going to need the Broncos for sure,” Rood said. “Everything is lining up on the Packers — all the parlays are on the Packers. We’re going to need Peyton Manning to show up and play like Manning in a Colts uniform.”
New England, which dropped 36 points on Miami on Thursday, is a public favorite. Pittsburgh, which is getting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger back this week, will be a public team again soon.
“When a team scores 30 points a game, you can guarantee support at the betting windows,” Kornegay said. “The Steelers have the makings of maybe the best offense in the league with Roethlisberger back. You can see the Steelers are going to be a public team.”
Denver is scoring 23.2 points per game — with some help from its defense — and Green Bay has the league’s No. 1 scoring defense. Manning is unlikely to light up the Packers.
“I don’t think there’s going to be much of a change,” Kornegay said. “There’s no doubt in my mind we’ll have more tickets on the Packers, but I don’t think it’s going to be an avalanche of Packers money.”
Jason Simbal, vice president of CG Technology books, dropped the line to 2½ Thursday because of sharp action on the Broncos.
“So far, they have been betting the Broncos, with 76 percent of the money on Denver,” Simbal said. “I imagine that will change drastically by the time the games starts.”
The public will bet the Packers, even though their offense slowed and Rodgers’ hot hand cooled in the past three games. There is an argument to be made for the ‘dog.
“Four of Denver’s six wins have come on the road, as compared to four of the Packers’ victories being in the coziness of Lambeau Field,” Kruger said. “Yes, the Broncos offense is misfiring on many cylinders. But, Denver has the best defense in the league.
“Looking at how the Broncos do from both sides of the ball paints a rosier picture. Denver has outgained five of its six opponents, with its one negative result by only 15 yards at Kansas City. Green Bay has outgained only three of its six foes, with the Chargers piling up 178 more yards than the Packers in Green Bay’s last game. The Broncos rank ahead of the Packers in net yards per drive — how much they average offensively minus what they allow defensively.
“I believe the better place to put my money on is the home ‘dog in a night game with something more to prove than the visitor.”
I took a field goal with the Broncos. We turn back the clocks this weekend, and hopefully Manning does the same.
* CLOSING NUMBERS — The college football schedule is playing second fiddle this week. I went 3-2 last week and stand 26-16-1 for the season. Here are five plays for Saturday (home team in CAPS):
Nebraska-PURDUE (Under 55); COLORADO STATE (+3½) over San Diego State; Florida (-2½) over Georgia; CALIFORNIA (+6) over Southern California; HAWAII (+7) over Air Force.
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