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In a day where office ‘kill pools’ managed to weed out a more than their fair share of participants, offshore sports books were able to draw first blood versus the players in this the first weekend of the 2005 NFL campaign.
In what was arguably the biggest upset in the early part of the day, last years’ AFC doormats, the Miami Dolphins, made the Broncos look like anything but a Super Bowl contender in their 34-10 destruction of the Men from the Mile High.
Quarterback Gus Frerotte used the Miami arsenal of receiving weapons to perfection, as Marty Booker, Wes Welker, Randy McMichael and Chris Chambers combined for 20 catches in the rout. Even all but forgotten David Boston managed to get in on the action by hauling in an eight-yard completion. Look for the Dolphins to make some noise in the AFC East under new coach Nick Saban.
The New Orleans Saints also managed to kill their fair share of teasers by upsetting the Panthers 23-20 on the strength of a last second 47-yard field goal by John Carney. The Saints were out gained, but thanks to a flawless performance by QB Aaron Brooks, they were able to pull off the upset in Carolina. Late money shifted the closing number to 6.5 from 7-points, but it was not enough to overcome the early overload of Panther money.
In still another early shocker, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers managed to stave off the offensively challenged Vikings by a score of 24-13. With a pitiful running game that netted them only 26 yards, the Vikings were still in a position to pull out the victory when the last of quarterback Duante Culpepper’s three interceptions found its way into the waiting arms of cornerback Brain Kelly, his second pick of the game.
Tampa’s running back Carnell ‘Cadillac’ Williams then finished the scoring by dashing 71 yards off a handoff with just over a minute to play as the Bucs were attempting to run out the clock. The loss of Center Matt Birk has raised legitimate concerns with respect to the Vikings’ running game as the ‘Men in Purple’ were unable to create running lanes for Michael Bennett or Moe Williams.
In other early contests, Ryan Lindell converted all five of his field goal attempts as the Bills rolled over the punch less Texans, and the Jets averted a shutout by scoring a touchdown with 16 seconds to go, but could not avoid the embarrassment of a 27-7 shellacking by the Chiefs, who sported a new look defense that shut down Chad Pennington and company.
Rounding out the early games were the Steelers’ comfortable win over the new look Titans, the Jaguars dissection of the Seahawks, the Bengals’ mauling of the Browns in Cleveland, and the defensive slugfest in Washington which saw the Redskins squeak out a victory over the offensively stumped Bears, 9-7.
By late afternoon with the books soundly in control, it was the revamped 49ers that spoiled the bettors’ chances of salvaging the day. In spite of the lack of a running game (40 yards on 21 carries) and a mere 226 yards in total offense, the 49ers managed to tally 28 points in defeating the Rams, while holding off a late charge by the ‘Greatest Show on Turf’, thus spoiling any chance of even salvaging the massive amount of teaser money bet on St. Louis.
Other late games saw the Cowboys and Drew Bledsoe outscore the Antonio Gate-less Chargers, the Giants break open a close game with big plays in Kurt Warners’ Giant Stadium homecoming, and the Lions downing the Packers in an unexpectedly low scoring contest in which both offenses struggled throughout the game.
When the ESPN game rolled around, it was up to Peyton Manning and company to salvage a few crumbs on behalf of the bettors. Thanks to three Matt Stover missed field goals, and a few ill-timed penalties, the players ended the day on a high note as the Colts went on to a 24-7 victory. The combined 31 points never threatened the opening number of 46 or the closing total of 44.
Finally, the inaugural Monday Night Football game of the 2005 campaign pitted Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons versus the Bickering Birds from Philadelphia. Early Atlanta money shifted the Eagles from an opening line of 3 down to a 1-point favorite, but by game day the bettors were all over Philadelphia and the over as the total surged from 41 to 43 and the line showed a defined reversal.
Minutes before kickoff, a fight broke out between Philadelphia LB Jeremiah Trotter and Atlanta CB Kevin Mathis. The ensuing ejections of both players triggered a second wave of over money and wise guy Falcon backing, as the bettors were apparently of the opinion that the loss of a key run stopper for the Eagles would help Dunn, Duckett, and Vick exploit an already weak Eagles’ run defense. They were right.
With the total closing at between 44 to 44.5 and 21 points tallied by early in the second quarter, eclipsing the number seemed little more than a formality. In the end, in spite of tallying over 200 yards on the ground, the Falcons were held scoreless for the duration, but the Eagles were unable to overcome two missed field goals by David Akers, and the bettors took another one on the chin as the Dirty Birds from Atlanta prevailed by a score of 14-10.
When the smoke cleared, round 1 clearly went to the house. But it’s a long season and there are sure to be a few counter punches. Stay tuned.