Hilton displays wistful thinking by posting Week 1 NFL point spreads

Jay Kornegay has long been considered one of the mavericks of the Las Vegas oddsmakers community. One prime example: The Hilton’s race and sports director not only is the first to post odds (sides and totals) for Week 1 of the NFL season, but he also releases point spreads for dozens of “Games of the Year,” including all prime-time contests … and he does it in mid-April, right after the NFL’s schedule is announced and some five months before the start of the season.

This year, though, with the unsettled labor situation, Kornegay had to call an audible, right? I mean, sure he might be a bigger risk-taker than most oddsmakers, but he’d have to be Pacman Jones-crazy to post odds (and accept action) on NFL games without knowing when (or if) the season will begin, not to mention where this year’s crop of free agents will land … right?

“Oh no, we did it,” Kornegay said recently. “As soon as they announced the schedule, we had ’em up the next day.”

A check of VegasInsider.com—which publishes odds for all Las Vegas and offshore sports books—shows that, as of mid-July, the Hilton remained the only property taking action on the Week 1 NFL slate.

“We’re continuing to do business as usual,” Kornegay says. “We just have a few disclaimers attached to some of the normal things we do just in case the season is delayed or games are canceled.”

The main disclaimer is this: Games must be played within 30 days of the scheduled date, or all money is refunded. Other than that, if you see a Week 1 game that you like—or any of the 80 additional marquee NFL contests on the Hilton’s board—Kornegay will be happy to take your bet.

“It’s been about the same,” he says when asked if the handle has decreased because of the labor dispute. “Maybe we’ll start feeling it a little more in August if [the situation isn’t settled] because that’s when most of the money comes in. But as far as the early returns, it’s not too bad at all.”

Well, if Kornegay is going to have the cojones to put up the numbers, I guess I better man up, break open the bankroll (which sits at $7,286) and make some picks. So here are three Week 1 “best bets,” plus a future game where I see some value.

$220 (to win $200) – Vikings (+9½) at Chargers: I don’t care if Minnesota’s starting quarterback is unproven rookie first-round pick Christian Ponder (who was mediocre at Florida State), Tarvaris “No Passin’” Jackson or the corpse formerly known as Brett Favre. The Vikings still can hand the ball to Adrian Peterson (the same Adrian Peterson who ran for an NFL-record 296 yards and three touchdowns the last time he faced San Diego, a 35-17 win in 2007). More importantly, for the Chargers to be the biggest Week 1 favorite makes about as much sense as Paris Hilton after three shots of tequila. In Norv Turner’s four seasons as head coach, San Diego is 6-9 straight up and 5-10 against the spread in September, including three straight non-covers in Week 1, all as a pricey favorite. The opposing starting QBs in those three games: Jake Delhomme, JaMarcus Russell and Matt Cassel!

$110 (to win $100) – Texans (+1) vs. Colts: Last year the Colts opened the season in Houston and got drilled 34-24 as a one-point road favorite in what is best described as Arian Foster’s coming-out party (the Texans running back and eventual 2010 rushing champ had 231 of his team’s 257 rushing yards). True, Foster’s a free agent, but I’m banking on Houston locking him up long term as soon as the free-agent signing period begins. I’m also banking on the Texans’ dreadful defense being much improved thanks to a strong draft. Also, remember that Peyton Manning had knee surgery in the offseason and because of the lockout isn’t rehabbing with the club.

$110 (to win $100) – Buccaneers (-3) vs. Lions: A few weeks back I wrote about how I’m very high on the 2011 Buccaneers, who went from 3-13 in 2009 and 10-6 last year. And if not for a 23-20 overtime loss to Detroit in Week 15, Tampa Bay would’ve finished with a four-game winning streak and qualified for the playoffs, taking the spot that ended up going to the eventual champion Packers. That makes this a big Week 1 revenge game for the Bucs. The Lions are on the rise, to be sure, but in the young QBs race, Tampa’s Josh Freeman is ahead of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford.

$110 (to win $100) – Raiders (+3) vs. Jets (Sept. 25): Classic trap spot for the Jets. Coming off a home game against Jacksonville, this kicks off a three-game road trip that takes New York to improving Oakland (8-8 last year), Baltimore and hated New England. That stretch is followed by consecutive home games against the Dolphins and Chargers. You know, assuming there’s a season!

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