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Week 1 lines keep NFL on front burner

Seldom is the NFL out of sight, out of mind. Six quiet weeks followed the Super Bowl before Peyton Manning picked the Denver Broncos, and the football betting frenzy started all over again.

The drama and intrigue continued with the New Orleans Saints’ head-hunting scandal that resulted in a one-year suspension for coach Sean Payton. Next up is the draft.

But the first significant event on the league calendar arrived Tuesday, when the regular-season schedule was announced. Just as women circle the day after Thanksgiving to go shopping, this is when men resume their football handicapping.

Hours after the schedule release, point spreads for the Week 1 games surfaced offshore, and by Wednesday the lines were open for business at Las Vegas sports books.

“There’s a promotional value to these things. It’s April, and we’re getting our name in the paper because of the NFL,” said Jimmy Vaccaro, director of operations for Lucky’s sports books. “Absolutely it’s worth it to put these up right now. It’s interesting, it’s entertaining, and it’s fun.”

It’s not as exciting as a party with Secret Service officials in Colombia, but it is some good, clean fun. The unveiling of the NFL schedule – and speculation about the betting lines – triggered text and Twitter messages and radio talk-show topics.

“Speaking in social media terms, it was trending pretty heavily,” LVH sports book director Jay Kornegay said. “Everybody was talking about it and asking about it.”

Lucky’s books, based downtown at the Plaza, and the LVH were first to post the numbers locally. Cantor Gaming, which followed suit Thursday, will open lines on the entire 17-week schedule in mid-May.

And this is how suddenly it should happen. If the numbers are not up somewhere by this weekend, someone behind the counter is asleep at the wheel. The bettors deserve the option to get in on the action, and the books benefit by driving handle and holding the money.

“If you’re a good sports book,” professional gambler Steve Fezzik said, “why not put all these games up? There are good bets to be made.”

The risk for the books is minimal. Kornegay said wagering limits at the LVH are $5,000 for sides, $1,000 for totals and $2,000 on money lines. Those generally are loose guidelines, because those who want to bet more probably can get more.

“It’s not going to break the bank either way,” said Vaccaro, who reported seeing mostly small, recreational wagers the first two days, including money on Manning. “We took a couple of small bets on the Broncos already. I can tell you already, if you like the Broncos, you’ll be paying a higher tariff until they lose one of these games.”

The season opens Sept. 5 with the New York Giants as 3-point home favorites over the Dallas Cowboys. It’s a rematch from Week 17 of last season, when the Giants’ win and cover launched their improbable run to the Super Bowl title, the second for quarterback Eli Manning.

It’s early, but what has been established is that Eli’s older brother has turned Denver into a contender, at least in terms of public perception. The Broncos open Sept. 9 in prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s another rematch, but with a new cast of characters and an entirely different line.

With Peyton Manning at quarterback, the Broncos are 2-point favorites. When the teams met on the same field for an AFC wild-card game on Jan. 8, the Steelers were favored by 7½ to 9. Tim Tebow’s 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime lifted Denver to a 29-23 upset.

Tebow is off to the New York Jets – as the most hyped backup in NFL history – while Manning brings his mystique from Indianapolis, where he missed all of last season. How much does that change things?

“It’s a 10-point line move,” said Fezzik (LVAsports.com). “It’s a very interesting game. You wouldn’t see Tebow laying 2, that’s for sure. They were cutting in line just two months ago to lay 7½ and bet Pittsburgh against Tebow. The market is saying that Manning is worth 10 points. Isn’t that amazing?”

Also factor in this: In the January game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hobbled, and the team’s defense was depleted.

“I can see the Broncos becoming a very huge public team if they get off to a hot start,” Kornegay said. “If they go 2-0, they could become the No. 1 public team going into Week 3.”

Twenty-four hours after opening the lines, Kornegay said no number had moved. Yet, there is a noticeable difference in one line. At the LVH, the Saints are 11-point favorites over Washington. The Lucky’s line is 9.

“The most fascinating game on the board is the Saints’ game. It’s kind of pick your poison,” Fezzik said. “Do you want the Redskins with all their baggage, or do you want the Saints with all their problems? The Saints are going to get (defensive) guys suspended, and their coaching is in disarray. That makes it difficult.”

The Redskins are expected to start Robert Griffin III, the likely No. 2 pick in next week’s draft. The top pick will be Andrew Luck, who could start for the Colts as 9½-point underdogs at Chicago.

“A rookie quarterback making his first start is going to be nothing but negative,” Fezzik said. “The draft is completely irrelevant to the lines.”

But NFL betting, aside from maybe six quiet weeks, is always relevant at the books.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 3 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM) and thelasvegassportsline.com.

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