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Win-total disaster: Cutler, Bears bad news

One week after he was benched, Jay Cutler is getting another shot as the Chicago Bears’ starting quarterback. It might be his last shot, and even if he wins, it’s not going to be a fairy-tale ending.

Almost everything about the Bears’ season has been bad news, especially for the optimists who banked on their regular-season win total going over 8½. It’s a bet that has no shot.

Chicago has dropped four consecutive games to fall to 5-10, leaving coach Marc Trestman blindfolded, backed against a wall and waiting for the firing squad.

In August into early September, the Bears were a strangely popular bet to go over their win total. Ed Salmons, Westgate Las Vegas sports book manager, was one of the pessimists.

“I didn’t like Trestman. Nice guys finish last,” Salmons said. “I didn’t think the Bears would be 5-11 bad. I thought they could be 7-9 or 8-8. We had a strong opinion on the Bears, which proved to be right. By far, the Bears were our biggest winner.”

Cutler and Trestman proved to be the wrong combination, and Chicago’s defense was a disaster area. It’s no surprise to me, either.

But the Dallas Cowboys made fools of many so-called experts, including this one. With one game remaining in the NFL regular season, most win-total results are decided. The Cowboys are 11-4, topping their win total of 8 (under minus-270) with stunning ease.

“I’m shocked at how well Dallas did this season. I did not see that coming,” Salmons said. “I thought it was a train wreck waiting to happen. I could not have been more dead wrong.”

DeMarco Murray leads the league in rushing with 1,745 yards, and Murray’s success behind a dominant offensive line has made quarterback Tony Romo and coach Jason Garrett look better than ever.

The Cowboys are a surprise, and so are the Arizona Cardinals, 11-4 and well over their win total of 7½.

While the Bears bottomed out in the NFC North, Detroit made an unlikely leap to the top. The Lions, over 8½ at 11-4, won five games by four points or fewer.

“The Lions easily could be 7-9,” Salmons said.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford can be an enigma, similar to Cutler, but he is escaping the same criticism mostly because of a good defense and good luck in close games.

“Every so often a blind squirrel will find nuts,” said handicapper Bernie Fratto, an ESPN Radio host in Las Vegas. “The Lions had an out-of-body experience as they garnered 11 wins against teams with a cumulative record of 33 games under .500. If the Lions actually win a road playoff game against a legitimate opponent, get your affairs in order. The apocalypse is imminent.”

The Lions are 7½-point underdogs at Green Bay in Week 17. The division title is on the line, but the Packers (11-4) already surpassed their win total of 10½.

“You’re always going to get Green Bay money ‘over’ and New England money ‘over,’ ” Salmons said. “But we had a ton of ‘over’ money on the Jaguars and Raiders, and that’s shocking.”

Jacksonville and Oakland, each with a win total posted at 5, are a pair of 3-12 teams heading into Sunday.

“The Raiders had just a huge amount of support on the over, and that was just crazy,” Salmons said.

The NFC West has been crazy, too, starting with the Cardinals and including San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis. The 49ers, under 10½ at 7-8, have fallen apart under coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Seahawks, 11-4 and with a win total of 11, are 12-point home favorites over the Rams in the finale. St. Louis, 6-9 with a win total of 7, lost its past two games at home.

“The one team that is probably not going to go over and deserved to go over is the Rams,” Salmons said. “The public loved the Rams.”

Most bettors were high on Atlanta, Carolina, New Orleans and Tampa Bay, as well, but all four teams turned into losers.

“They bet every team over, so the whole NFC South is really good for us,” Salmons said.

At 6-9 and with a win total of 10, the Saints are among the league’s biggest flops. The Superdome dominance once displayed by coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees disappeared in November.

“The Saints established themselves this season as the worst home favorite since Germany before the Normandy invasion,” Fratto said. “By going 3-5 in the Superdome, they shocked even the most casual observers. How bad was it? Even when Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 season, the Saints lost only three games at home.”

The New York Jets (3-12) and Washington Redskins (4-11) also belly flopped. The Jets are crash landing under 7, a result that is forcing coach Rex Ryan to exit the plane, and the Redskins (7½) are not sure if they want to keep their nickname or coach Jay Gruden.

“Gruden looks like a guy who has no business being a head coach,” Salmons said.

As the season heads for the wire, some win-total decisions will be a photo finish. The Philadelphia Eagles, 9-6 and on a three-game losing streak, are stumbling down the stretch for coach Chip Kelly, who has lost his coolly confident swagger. The Eagles’ win total closed at 9, and they close the season as 3-point road underdogs to the New York Giants.

“I would say we had 80 percent ‘over’ money on Philadelphia,” Salmons said.

Miami was bet under its total of 8 wins. The Dolphins (8-7) are 6-point favorites over the Jets. Denver’s win total of 11½ drew two-way action. The Broncos (11-4) are 14-point home favorites over the Raiders.

Minnesota (6-9) is sitting on its win total. To go over, the Vikings need to finish off Cutler and the Bears, who are 6-point road underdogs.

“Someone is going to take a chance on Cutler,” Salmons said.

That gamble backfired on the Bears. But maybe the Tennessee Titans, another underachieving team, would prove the right fit for an underachieving quarterback.

■ CLOSING NUMBERS — My best bets for the college football bowls went 2-1 last week, running the season record to 56-42 against the spread. Fortunately, Western Kentucky was not on the list.

Here are five plays for the next week: Duke (+7½) over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl; Oklahoma (-3½) over Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl; Notre Dame (+7½) over Louisiana State in the Music City Bowl; Arizona (-3) over Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl; Georgia Tech (+7) over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached 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). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

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