Week 1 lines feed early NFL appetites

With all due respect to Hank Williams Jr. (and who in their right mind would disrespect Hank Williams Jr.?), are you ready for some football?

Well, Jay Kornegay is. Once again this year, the Las Vegas Hilton’s race and sports book director beat his colleagues to the end zone and has posted point spreads (both sides and totals) for the NFL’s 16 opening-week games.

I know the start of training camp is still more than two months away, but much like it’s always plastic surgery season in Hollywood, the NFL season never ends in Las Vegas, which is why Kornegay has been taking Week 1 NFL action as early as mid-April for more than 15 years.

“The reason we started doing it was because the fans just can’t get enough football,” Kornegay says. “I don’t care if it’s December or May, they love to bet the NFL and they love to see these lines.”

As soon as the NFL releases its schedule in mid-April each year, a group of five to six oddsmakers at the Hilton, including Kornegay, crunch their numbers individually then convene in a room and hash out the final point spreads, which then are posted in the sports book.

“At this time of year, it’s more of a conversation piece,” Kornegay says. “There’s a few dollars that come in, but as we get closer and closer to training camp and preseason, these Week 1 lines begin to shift and attract some money.”

The key for bettors is to identify the games in which line shifts are most likely to occur. For example, even though it’s rare to see an NFL number move several points in a given week during the regular season, four Week 1 games last year shifted at least three points from the opening April number.

That included Kansas City at Baltimore (the Ravens opened as an 8½-point home favorite, were a 13-point chalk by kickoff and scored two TDs in the final 5½ minutes to win 38-24 and cover both numbers); and Philadelphia at Carolina (the Panthers opened as one-point home favorites, went off as 2½-point home underdogs and got destroyed, 38-10).

Where will the money pour in between now and the second weekend in September? Gazing into my crystal ball (and with my bankroll sitting at $5,255), I see five opportunities for big movement:

Dolphins (-1½) at Bills: Buffalo has a new coach and major quarterback concerns, while Miami is going to be a preseason darling. I’ll be shocked if the Dolphins (who traded for star receiver Brandon Marshall in the offseason) aren’t laying more than a field goal by kickoff.

Falcons (+1) at Steelers: We don’t know who will be the Steelers’ quarterback in this game, but we know it won’t be Ben Roethlisberger (six-game suspension). Even though Pittsburgh is a very public team, I expect Atlanta will get a lot of money in the weeks leading up to this one, and we could see a line shift similar to last year’s Eagles-Panthers contest.

Broncos (+1½) at Jaguars: The last image we have of Denver is a team that started 6-0 before losing eight of its final 10 games to miss the playoffs. Jacksonville’s stumble to the finish line (1-5) also was bad, but the Jaguars didn’t panic in the offseason and trade away their best player (Marshall) and pin their future on Tim Tebow. Because of those two decisions, there’s going to be a lot of anti-Denver sentiment in the betting public until coach Josh McDaniels proves he made the right moves.

Cowboys (-4) at Redskins: It’s always risky in Week 1 to lay more than a field goal on the road in a rivalry. Throw in the Mike Shanahan/Donovan McNabb upgrade for Washington—plus Wade Phillips once again on the Dallas sideline looking more confused than Jessica Simpson in a library—and I see this one coming in at much closer to pick ’em.

Chargers (-5½) at Chiefs: Every season, the Chargers start slower than a ’72 El Camino, but they remain a favorite of the betting public. And with Kansas City still very much in rebuilding mode, you can bet San Diego will be laying more than a touchdown when this Monday night game kicks off.

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