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Packers solid NFC favorites in Nevada

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Recent posts by Mike Wilkening

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Posted March 08, 2011 @ 11:36 a.m. ET
By Mike Wilkening

Nevada sportsbooks have had better Super Bowls, but they can't be completely disappointed with the way Super Bowl XLV turned out. According to the Nevada Gaming Control Board, Nevada casinos showed a net profit of about $724,000 on the Packers' 31-25 win vs. Pittsburgh in February. This was the 15th time in the past 17 Super Bowls that Nevada sportsbooks collectively profited on the big game, but only the second time the books had made less than seven figures when showing a profit.

The good news for the sportsbooks? Betting was up on the Super Bowl in Nevada. According to the Gaming Control Board, nearly $87.5 million was wagered at 183 Nevada sportsbooks on Super Bowl XLV compared to about $82.7 million at 182 sportsbooks the previous year. Nevada books took in about $94.5 million on Super Bowl XL in 2006, a record that stands today. Handle began to fall thereafter, and tumbled to just $81.5 million on Super Bowl XLIII in 2009 amid heightened concerns about the U.S. economy. However, Super Bowl betting has been up since, and a relatively good result for the betting public on Super Bowl XLV isn't the worst thing that could have happened to Nevada's casinos as it pertains to attracting bettors next February.

The Packers covered a 2½-point spread in Super Bowl XLV and were 4-0 against the spread in the playoffs. Such success can spawn devotion even if there is no green-and-gold in your closet. Handicappers who consistently backed the Packers throughout the playoffs might have had difficult-to-close wristlets and wallets around Valentine's Day.

Those wanting to get a bet down on whether Green Bay can repeat as champions can do just that in Nevada. The Packers are a short price, but not comically so for a defending champion with a strong fan base. They are anywhere from 9-2 to 6-1 at four Las Vegas sportsbooks who furnished odds for PFW on Monday. The Packers are the favorite at the Caesars Entertainment sportsbook and Lucky's Race and Sports Book. However, they are the second betting choice at the MGM Resorts International sportsbooks and the Las Vegas Hilton, with those books posting the Patriots as favorites to win Super Bowl XLVI.

There is a case for New England being NFL title favorites; after all, the Patriots won 14 games a season ago and were utterly dominant at times. That said, the Jets, who handed them two of their three defeats in 2010 and bounced them from the playoffs, are division rivals, so another AFC East championship isn't even a sure thing for New England. Moreover, the Patriots' defense simply as strong as that of other contenders.

At 10-1, the Patriots would be a fine play to win a fourth Super Bowl in franchise history. At 9-2, which is where they stood at MGM as of odds listed Feb. 28, they are tougher to take. The Patriots are formidable, yes, and logical contenders for the AFC title, but they have dropped home playoff games in back-to-back seasons. The Pats are a slightly longer shot at Lucky's, which listed them at 7-1 as of March 3, the highest odds on New England at the sportsbooks surveyed by PFW. 

Some would argue the Packers at anywhere from 4½- to 6-1 is hardly a wonderful gamble either, and indeed, such a bet about six months out from the slated start of the 2011 season is something handicappers may dismissively wave off, like the chicken hearts at a Brazilian steakhouse.

Personally, the odds currently available on the Packers at the four sportsbooks surveyed are a touch lower than I would like on any team at this point of the offseason, but I can see where Green Bay could draw the interest of some future-book bettors. I just can't help but think we have yet to see the Packers' best. They were beset by injuries last season and still won the Super Bowl — a game in which dropped passes by the Packers' wideouts surely kept Green Bay from scoring more than 31 points. Also, should there be any extended work stoppage, a club like the Packers, with a loaded roster and the vast majority of its key contributors under contract for 2011, would look all the more formidable.

In my view, the Packers are the clear favorites to repeat as NFC champions. I don't fear a "Super Bowl hangover" or "Super Bowl-winning curse" or any such imagined ailments or evil spirits. The Packers are favored at all four sportsbooks to win the NFC at prices ranging from 5-2 to 3-1, and deservedly so.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are favored to capture the AFC at Caesars, Lucky's, MGM and the Hilton, at odds ranging from 11-5 to 7-2. The next five betting choices, in varying orders at the four sportsbooks, are the usual suspects: the Colts, Chargers, Jets, Ravens and Steelers.

The AFC champion probably will come out of those six teams. I know, nice of me to step out on that limb — that's three-eighths of the conference's clubs right there, and five of those outfits made the playoffs in 2010.

However, one AFC long shot holds some appeal to me: the Houston Texans.

The Texans' defense was simply awful a season ago, but new coordinator Wade Phillips has some solid front-seven talent to work with, and the secondary should be better, too, with help likely to come in free agency and/or the draft. And we know Houston's offense is top-class.

The Texans are anywhere from 15-1 to 18-1 to win the AFC at the four sportsbooks who provided odds for PFW and are 35-1 to capture the Super Bowl at three of the sportsbooks, with Caesars posting Houston at 30-1. Those odds seem reasonable. They can't be too long — it's not as if Houston's offense will be taking anyone by surprise. Yes, the defense needs to make up a lot of ground, but with Phillips' direction, it has a chance to show the improvement needed for Houston to contend in the AFC South.

I wonder what kind of odds I could get on a Packers-Texans Super Bowl matchup. Now that's a bet that would catch my eye.

Chicken hearts? Why yes, I would love another helping.

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