LAS VEGAS – It was no fun for oddsmakers to make opening NFL numbers this week.
There’s the usual number of lopsided pointspreads, but the really difficult part was deciding between 2 ½ and three on numerous matchups.
Among these games were the New York Giants-Dallas, New Orleans-Chicago, Seattle-St. Louis, Pittsburgh-Baltimore and Minnesota-Arizona.
Linesmakers have to be particularly careful about three, the most important number in NFL wagering.
Do you make Dallas a field goal favorite at home to the New York Giants even though the Giants are the superior team? The oddsmakers at Las Vegas Sports Consultants (LVSC) went that way, recommending the Cowboys at minus three.
“They absolutely have to have this game,” LVSC senior linesmaker Mike Seba said of the Cowboys. “You know they (the Cowboys) are going to get money so why not just open it three?
“Obviously the Giants are the better team, but based on incentive you have to make Dallas three. Plus the Cowboys should get Marion Barber back. You saw it on Sunday that the Giants are on cruise control.”
LVSC sent-out an opening line of Baltimore minus 2 ½ hosting Pittsburgh. Seba said the company’s oddsmakers debated whether to send out 2 ½ or three.
“You could justify making the Ravens minus three because they’ve been so good,” Seba said. “The game means more to Baltimore. Pittsburgh could lose and still be in first. If Baltimore loses, Pittsburgh clinches the division.
“I think Pittsburgh is slightly the better team, but when you figure home field and what the game means to Baltimore, it’s real close to three.”
The same 2 ½ or three debate took place in the Thursday night New Orleans-Chicago matchup. Most places were at Bears minus three. LVSC sent-out 2 ½.
“We hate to give the Saints three since they are so dangerous,” Seba said. “Plus they have Reggie Bush back.”
The 2 ½ or three discussion also came about in making lines on the Seahawks-Rams and Vikings-Cardinals matchups.
If the Rams would have shown better versus Arizona Sunday, they would have opened a favorite against the Seahawks, Seba said. Instead Seattle opened minus three. The Seahawks have lost six games in a row. They still might have to start backup quarterback Seneca Wallace if Matt Hasselbeck remains sidelined.
“I’m not so sure Seattle should be (minus) three versus anybody,” Seba said. “I’m not so sure it doesn’t close 2 ½. If Hasselbeck plays, it would close three. If not, I could see a 2 ½.”
The problem with taking the home underdog is the Rams have dropped seven consecutive games. They haven’t scored more than 16 points during this losing streak despite Steven Jackson returning to the lineup two games ago.
The Minnesota-Arizona line was tricky because the Vikings could lose their two run-stuffing defensive tackles, Pat Williams and Kevin Williams, to a league suspension this week. The Vikings also may be without injured starting quarterback Gus Frerotte.
Seba said there’s a one-point difference between Frerotte and backup Tarvaris Jackson.
LVSC sent-out Cardinals minus three on the matchup realizing that the Arizona players may not be too excited about this matchup after winning their first division title in 33 years on Sunday.
“You have to favor Arizona no matter what,” Seba said. “It could be 2 ½ or three or even 3 ½ if the two Williams and Frerotte are out.”
The two biggest spreads are Philadelphia minus 14 hosting Cleveland on Monday night and Indianapolis at home to winless Detroit. The Las Vegas Hilton had the Colts at minus 16 ½.
The Browns are down to third-string quarterback Ken Dorsey. Cleveland has lost five of its last six games. The Browns have only managed 21 points during their past three games.
“You don’t want to open the Eagles at minus 11 and get steamed up to 14,” Seba said. “We don’t want to be in the position of having to get Cleveland money.”
The Colts have won only two games this season by more than six points. Double-digit underdogs are 17-7 (70 percent) against the spread this season, although they are 0-5 since Thanksgiving.