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Week 9 in the NFL proved to be the stuff dreams are made of if you bet favorites and teasers. Twelve of 14 teams laying points cashed tickets as only the Chargers and Jaguars won their games but failed to cover the number.
While days like this usually spell disaster for the house, it was the wise guys that spared the books total annihilation. The sharps were all over what they thought to be live dogs in Miami, Green Bay, Baltimore, and Oakland, each of whom went down begrudgingly, in large part due to late turnovers, or in the case of the latter game, a last second touchdown that followed what looked to be an uneventful field goal positioning dump off to Larry Johnson that resulted in a 36-yard gain to the 1one-yard line with only seconds remaining. Dick Vermeil eschewed the game tying field goal, and instead let it all hang out by calling a handoff to Johnson that proved to be the game winner. Late Kansas City injuries caused the line to plummet from four to three, and all bets hung in the balance as the Chiefs gleeful celebration was interrupted while the special teams unit came back out onto the field to kick the PAT with the clock showing all zeros, and the scoreboard reflecting a 26-23 KC victory. The NFL mandates attempting the extra point for possible tiebreaker purposes.
In Miami, Michael Vick had arguably his best passing day as a pro in completing 22 of 31 aerials, including eight balls to Brian Finneran, as the Falcons held on courtesy of a late Gus Frerotte INT. Squares were all over the Falcons, but late money drove the number from three to 1 ½ points by kickoff. In spite of being out gained nearly 2 to 1, the Fish were in a position to tie the game at 17, but Keion Carpenter’s pick at the four-yard line allowed the Falcons to preserve the victory.
In Green Bay, it looked like most of the Packer money at plus-3.5 would stand up, as the home team trailed 13-10 halfway through the last period, before a late INT resulted in a Duce Staley TD that allowed the Steelers to escape with a 10 point victory. Apparently believing Charlie Batch was not the savior, bettors continued to pound the Pack as the line moved from 3.5 to 3 on game day, despite the fact that the opening number of six was quickly adjusted to that 3.5 when quarterback Roethlisberger’s injury became public. The sharps were half right in that Batch passed for a meager 59 yards, but the scoreboard told a different story.
In Baltimore, offensives breakdowns doomed the Ravens, who mustered but three field goals in four trips to the red zone. The game was marked by the appearance of Kordell ‘Slash’ Stewart, who replaced the injured Anthony Wright for a series and on the strength of three scampers for 30 yards, drove the Ravens to one of their field goals. Much to the chagrin of Raven backers, Baltimore had a score taken off the board when it was determined that the ref blew an inadvertent whistle, thus negating a return of a fumble for a touchdown. While the line held steady at 3 the entire week, it was once again a case of the public and the sharps on different sides.
Other early games that had the books running for cover were Carolina’s easy victory over the home standing Buccaneers, 34-14, and the Brad Johnson led Vikings waxing the Lions in a game that saw Minny go from a one-point dog to a 2 ½-point favorite, spurred on by the much maligned Joey Harrington filling in for an injured Jeff Garcia at QB.
The house scored convincing wins in the Browns nail biter over the Titans, 20-14, the Jaguars non covering 21-14 victory over the Texans, as well as the Jets staying within number against the Chargers, as the Bolts held on for a 31-26 victory. The same could not be said about the total in the Cleveland game, which dropped from an opening number of 39, to as low as 35 ½ at kickoff, the result of weather conditions that produced winds up to 35mph. The steam looked beaten when a Phil Dawson 30-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 45 seconds to go, but referee Mike Carey indicated a holding penalty that forced a re kick that sailed wide right, providing under bettors a very lucky win.
Besides Pittsburgh’s victory in the frozen tundra, the late games proved costly to the house as the Seahawks and Shawn Alexander ran roughshod over the Arizona Cardinals for the second time this season in chalking up a 33-19 victory, the Giants broke open a close game with two fourth quarter touchdowns, the second of which sealed the cover of the 11 ½-point number in a 24-6 victory, and the Bears managed a hard fought victory over the feisty New Orleans Saints 20-17. By virtue of the Chicago three-point victory, books that held the three-point number managed to walk away unscathed, but those houses that dipped to 2.5 (minus-20) or (minus-25) triggered big action on the favorite and were hurt by the final outcome.
By nightfall, with the Skins and the Eagles waiting in the wings, the topic of conversation was all Terrell Owens and his prior day suspension, which caused a major shift in the both the spread and the total. Opening as a one-point favorite, the Redskins were driven up to a field goal, with virtually all books requiring a Washington backer to lay added juice. The opening total of 40 was also bet down to 39 and as low as 38 1/2 in some spots. Despite throwing for over 300 yards, McNabb and the Eagles attempt at sending the game into overtime came up short as a last gasp pass was picked off by Redskin safety Ryan Clark at the three-yard line, thus wasting a first and goal from the Redskin 13. By virtue of the Skins’ 17-10 victory, the squares lit up the Vegas strip joints, while the house was left scratching their heads. Halfway through the season, and both sides are claiming victory. Stay tuned.