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Books squeak out Week 17 win
The final week of the NFL's regular season got most New Year's Eve parties started early on Sunday with all 32 teams participating. There were six teams vying for the final three wild card slots and the NFL made sure that all the playoff hopefuls played games at the same time. No Thursday night games, no Saturday games, no Sunday or Monday night contests either and it turned out being one of the most exciting weeks of the regular season.

As for the the end results for the sports books, mixed would best describe it with most in the category of being small winners.

"We won a crumb," is how William Hill's head bookmaker Nick Bogdanovich perfectly described results from his 107 books across Nevada.

A crumb is something, for sure, but it's really not. In fact, we often throw crumbs away as trash. Those crumbs are much worse to look at when it happens on the final day of the business quarter and overall season. It's smaller than a ham sandwich. Most of all, end-of-year bonuses are at stake and crumbs don't turn into bonus checks.

"Escaped is the best I can say about the day," said Atlantis Reno sports book director Marc Nelson of his Week 17 results. "The parlay cards could have been a nightmare had just two or three games gone differently."

Nelson, who just took over Atlantis two weeks ago, said his worst game ended up being the Lions and his best game was the Buccaneers. The Lions (-7) covered at home in a 35-11 win over the Packers. The Buccaneers (+6) electrified the sports book crowds with their last second, 31-24 home win over the Saints, who still ended up winning the NFC South despite the loss because Carolina lost at Atlanta.

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The money-line payout on the Bucs at Coast Resorts was +270, one of five underdogs to win outright while favorites ended up going 10-6 against the spread and the 'under' was 9-7.

Perhaps the coolest thing to watch on Sunday was the amount of afternoon games. Of the 16 games on the day, nine of them kicked off at 1:25 p.m. PT. It was an odd, but welcomed sight.

"I've seen eight or nine in the morning games with just two in the afternoon before, but never nine in the afternoon," said Nelson, who has worked in Nevada books for the past 25 years. "I kind of liked it," he said.

Of course, Nelson and other bookmakers liked it because it gives bettors more options to lose on. With only two afternoon games, it's easier for bettors to cash because they're not allowed to be greedy. Side-to-total 1 and side-to-total 2. That's it.

Some books managed to do better than others on Sunday.

"It was a very good day for us," said CG Technology VP of risk management Jason Simbal. "The worst game of the day for us was the Cowboys and the best turned out being the Bengals and Cardinals."

Again, the key underdogs stepped up for the books. The Bengals knocking the Ravens (-8) out of the playoffs with a last second, 31-27 win, paid +380 on the money-line and was the crowning moment of a spectacular Sunday whether betting the games or not. It was amazing. The Cardinals gritty 26-24 win at Seattle (-8) was their fourth win at Seattle in the past five seasons and paid +340 on the money-line.

If the Eagles had managed to score anything, the books would have been happy because every parlay on the day seemed to have the Cowboys (-4) knowing Philly would rest players. The Cowboys ended up winning 6-0.

"Lighter handles, but still an okay day," said Station Casinos sports book director Jason McCormick. "I'm happy just to get through the mess of Week 17. The Giants, Bucs, and Cardinals were great games for us. The 49ers were by far our worst."

Week 17 always provides drama for the bookmakers because of not knowing who is playing, or how long the starters will play. It's all eventually reflected in the number, but being vulnerable gives them a queasy feeling because eventually middle opportunities are created for the books to get beat on both sides.

For example, if you had bet the Rams last Sunday night at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, you could have gotten -6.5. By kickoff, the spread had the 49ers -6.5 with the Rams resting their two MVP candidates. That's the biggest swing of the NFL season and one of the largest I've seen in a while -- the last was another Week 17 also. The 49ers easily won, 34-13, for their fifth straight win after starting 1-10.

One piece of information that escaped both the books and wise guys was Jay Cutler scheduled to take only three snaps. The Bills had a playoff berth on the line and the Dolphins decided to let back-up David Fales play most of the game, and he was terrible. The Bills (-2.5) won 22-16. Had bettors know of the QB plan, the number would have ran to at least -6.

Happy New Years and Cheers!

Roberts is a former Las Vegas sports book director that has been covering the sports betting industry for the last 13 years.

  
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