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Vegas needs NFL chaos to keep public from betting big on favorites

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LAS VEGAS — When the NFL seems wild, crazy and unpredictable, the bookmakers win. That is a constant truth, week to week and year to year, and the theme will be the same when the regular season opens Thursday.

While the betting public will ride or die with the Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes, bookmakers root for surprises, not popular favorites. Underdogs and upsets cause chaos and spoil parlays, and the biggest ’dog of Week 1 takes the field in the first game of the season when Deshaun Watson and the Texans are getting 9 points at Kansas City.

“If Houston wins the game, it would be enormous for the books,” Westgate SuperBook director John Murray said. “I would expect we’re going to see every parlay start with Kansas City.”

The reigning Super Bowl champs are 17-3 straight up and 13-5-2 against the spread in the following season opener, so Chiefs bettors have that 20-year trend in their corner.

But the kickoff to this season will be unlike any other. The most recent NFL game was played on Feb. 2, when Mahomes led Kansas City’s comeback in the Super Bowl. There was no preseason, so no chance for bettors to overreact to the good, bad and ugly teams of August.

The COVID-19 pandemic has quieted some of the football hype, so will it all mean a decline in betting action this week? Probably not.

“There was no preseason to prep, and I’m not going to say bettors are going in blind, but there was not as much information out there so more people might wait and watch for a week,” William Hill sportsbook director Nick Bogdanovich said. “But if I had to bet, I would say more [action] because everything is more right now.”

Smart money says the wagering handle will be monstrous, as it always is in Week 1. Aside from Texans-Chiefs, five games will be most important to the books.

Raiders at Panthers

William Hill opened Carolina as a 1-point favorite on May 7, but the favorite has flipped to Las Vegas -3. Sharp bettors anticipated the line move and got ahead of it. Bogdanovich said the decision will be especially big in Nevada, where the Raiders are actually attracting a high volume of Super Bowl futures action.

“The sharps definitely were on the Raiders early,” Bogdanovich said. “I don’t know if it’s a bet on the Raiders or against the Panthers.”

Colts at Jaguars

The betting public typically plays the bully role against bad teams, and Jacksonville appears to be the worst in the NFL. Indianapolis is a 8-point road favorite as it begins a new era with quarterback Philip Rivers.

“Everybody is going to be on the Colts because of the perception out there that Jacksonville is tanking for [Clemson quarterback] Trevor Lawrence,” Murray said.

Tom BradyGetty Images

Buccaneers at Saints

There is a popular public underdog each week. This week, it’s Tom Brady and the new-look Bucs, who are getting 3½ points after the line opened 4½ in May. The 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff sets the stage for Sunday’s most-wagered game.

“This one is a no-brainer because of Brady,” Bogdanovich said. “If everything started at the same time on the same day, I would say Tampa Bay-New Orleans would be the top game of the week. All the money is on Tampa.”

The public money is on the Bucs. Most sharps view Tampa Bay as overvalued and will be inclined to lay a cheap price with Drew Brees and the Saints. However, New Orleans has failed to cover five straight home openers, and there will be no fans in the Superdome this time.

“The Bucs are going to be the big trendy team,” Murray said. “I really think the public is going to come in heavy on the ’dog, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see that number come down to -3 before kickoff. I think the books are going to need the Saints.”

Dak PrescottGetty Images

Cowboys at Rams

The prime-time game almost always draws the largest wagering handle on Sundays, and this is a marquee matchup. Dallas has an explosive offense and looks to be a team on the rise with new coach Mike McCarthy. The Rams are perceived to be on the decline. The line has ticked up from Cowboys -2½ to -3.

“The biggest decision for the books this week is probably going to be the Rams,” Murray said. “Every parlay is going to go to the Cowboys, so I would expect us to need the Rams huge in that game.”

Steelers at Giants: This is the most anticipated of the two Monday night matchups. Tennessee-Denver will draw two-way action in the later kickoff slot, but Pittsburgh will be the public play by a landslide in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s comeback. The Giants are 5-point ’dogs and rising after the line opened at 3.

“If the favorites are covering Sunday, you’re going to see all kinds of parlay money going to the Steelers,” Murray said. “We will probably need the Giants big. I would not be shocked if the number goes to 6, and the Giants could end up being a good bet.”

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