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July 30, 2014

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NFL betting guide: Vegas preview of the NFC

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A gambler glances at the betting board in this file photo.

Las Vegas’ preseason favorite to win the NFC rarely lives up to that lofty status.

In the last 11 years, 10 different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl. Last year’s champion New York Giants are the only NFC franchise to play for football’s world championship more than once since the turn of the century.

Gamblers approach betting on the NFC race accordingly. Jimmy Vaccaro, veteran oddsmaker and spokesman for William Hill sports books, reports minimal money wagered on perennial favorites like the Green Bay Packers and New Orleans Saints heading into this season.

Middle of the pack teams like the Dallas Cowboys, Chicago Bears and even the lowly Washington Redskins are more popular choices for the betting public.

Read below to find out why in Las Vegas Sun’s team-by-team betting preview of the NFC and check back tomorrow for the same content on the AFC.

    • 2012 Arizona Cardinals
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Arizona Cardinals

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 9-7 (8-8 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 85-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 6.5 (over -130, under +110)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 11 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “The Cardinals are a mess because of the situation at quarterback. Larry Fitzgerald might be like Charles Barkley or Dan Marino in never getting a ring. He’s so good, but he’s playing on such bad teams that never have a chance.”

      Overview: Bettors were probably pleased with coach Ken Whisenhunt's decision to start John Skelton over Kevin Kolb at quarterback this season. Skelton went a winning 5-2 against the spread last year, while Kolb could only muster a 4-5 mark. But sharper gamblers may note Skelton faced softer competition in his seven starts and advanced statistics indicated Kolb was the superior signal caller. Even the traditional measurements for quarterbacks favor Kolb over Skelton, who had a 55 percent completion percentage last year and tossed more interceptions than touchdowns.

    • 2012 Atlanta Falcons
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Atlanta Falcons

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 8-8-1 (10-7 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 20-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9 (over -125, under +105)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in eight games with one pick'em

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “This is the Falcons put up or shut up year. The general public has been a little more on them than off of them the last couple years, which has been good for the bookmakers. They’ve failed miserably every time they’ve gotten to the dinner table. I think you’ll see a great effort from them this year."

      Overview: Atlanta may have let down gamblers betting it to win the NFC or Super Bowl the past couple years, but it's been beyond dependable on a weekly basis. Falcons coach Mike Smith has posted a winning record against the spread in each of his four years in Atlanta, totaling a 39-27-1 mark. He's also produced more unders than overs in all but one season with an underrated defense that's poised to improve in 2012. Atlanta traded for cornerback Asante Samuel and are excited by the progression of third-year safety William Moore and second-year linebacker Akeem Dent.

    • 2012 Carolina Panthers
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Carolina Panthers

      2011 Against-the-spread record:9-7 (6-10 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 50-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 7.5 (over -165, under +145)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in seven games with two pick'ems

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “He’s a magnificent athlete playing on a team that needs some help. As well as we saw Newton play last year, they only won six games. To me, this year he’s got to get to .500 to show he and his team are making progress.”

      Overview: Consider bettors' opinions on Carolina headed into this season as mixed. While the Panthers haven't emerged as a trendy futures pick at a decent price to win the Super Bowl or NFC, their win total has seen more action on the over. Any optimism, of course, stems from the offense. Cam Newton had the best-ever rookie season for a quarterback and helped receiver Steve Smith re-emerge as an elite threat. But the defense ranked near the bottom in every statistical category and must improve for Carolina to contend for the postseason. The combination high-flying offense and atrocious defense accounted for 10 of their 16 games going over the total last year.

    • 2012 Chicago Bears
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Chicago Bears

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 7-8-1 (8-8 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 15-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9.5 (over +105, under -125)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in 11 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "I think the Bears have improved. We've taken some money on them, but it's not a landslide. It’s still not a situation where people are rushing in on the Bears. A lot is going to rest on Urlacher’s injury on the defensive side. You hear about how good they are on defense, but I don’t think they can make a run unless he’s on the field and playing 100 percent.”

      Overview: How important is quarterback Jay Cutler's health to the Bears? Anyone who bet on the NFL last year will now attest to his value. Not only did Cutler have the Bears on a five-game winning streak before breaking his hand and missing the rest of the year, but they had also covered the spread in each of those contests. They cashed exactly one ticket and notched one victory in the final six games without him. Cutler's back this year with new weapons in former Denver teammate Brandon Marshall and second-round pick Alshon Jeffery at receiver.

    • 2012 Dallas Cowboys
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Dallas Cowboys

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 5-10-1 (8-8 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 18-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total:8.5 (over -160, under +140)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in nine games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "We the oddsmakers make people pay a price for betting the Cowboys. But certainly the last two years, they haven't lived up to the preseason hype anyway. I would expect the same this year. But they're like the Chicago Cubs, they always attract attention and money before the season."

      Overview: Yes, Dallas will draw action before the season regardless of the situation. In fact, interest in the Cowboys is the reason Vaccaro invented the season win total bet in the 1980s. But this year there are legitimate reasons behind why Dallas could post only its second winning season against the spread in the last five years. The Cowboys signed Brandon Carr and traded up to draft Morris Claiborne in an attempt to fix an exposed defensive backfield. The organization also believes in Bishop Gorman graduate DeMarco Murray's potential to become one of the best running backs in the NFL. The offensive line is a concern though, particularly in pass protection, which is the type of deficiency a casual bettor may overlook.

    • 2012 Detroit Lions
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Detroit Lions

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 7-10 (10-7 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 25-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9 (Even over, -120 under)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in 10 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "The Lions showed some sparks last year, but they have a long way to go. Megatron and Stafford look like they are coming of age, but I don’t know if they’re going to be in a great position this year."

      Overview: Despite their losing record against the spread, the Lions did plenty to burn bookmakers last season. They were one of the most popular picks to go over their season win total of eight. Sure enough, Detroit notched its eighth win with nearly a month to spare. This year, opinions are significantly more split. It's easy to see why. While quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin "Megatron" Johnson look like a monstrous force for years to come, the running game is in disarray and the front office did nothing to address a glaring weakness in the secondary.

    • 2012 Green Bay Packers
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Green Bay Packers

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 11-6 (15-2 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 6-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 11.5 (over +105, under -125)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in every game

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “They aren’t attracting any money whatsoever. Their win total has stayed stagnant. Their Super Bowl and conference numbers haven’t changed much since we put these things up. The Packers are there. They deserve the odds they are getting, and we will make money in the future book if they win.”

      Overview: Green Bay has eclipsed its preseason win total in four of five seasons and posted a winning record against the spread for five straight years. That's as impressive as it gets in the NFL. So why aren't gamblers backing the Packers more in 2012? Well, they don't offer large enough payouts. The average bettor would rather take a shot with a mid-tier team instead of the NFC favorite. But it's foolish not to take note of seventh-year coach Mike McCarthy's jaw-dropping 63-39-2 record against the spread.

    • 2012 Minnesota Vikings
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Minnesota Vikings

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 7-8-1 (3-13 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 150-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 6 (over -110, under -110)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 11 games with three pick'ems

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “With the Vikings odds, you could win a hotel. But they aren’t going to win anything, so it doesn’t matter. The Vikings surely won't play a factor in the division no matter what.”

      Overview: Bettors are as dismissive about the Vikings chances as Vaccaro. Minnesota may have gained more steam as a sleeper at the betting window with a healthy Adrian Peterson, who is coming off of ACL surgery. Even though Peterson may play this weekend against the Jaguars, the betting market is skeptical about him being at full strength. Gamblers also aren't confident enough in quarterback Christian Ponder to back him consistently just yet. Las Vegas tabs Minnesota as the least likely NFC team to reach the Super Bowl and ahead of only Jacksonville and Cleveland overall.

    • 2012 New Orleans Saints
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      New Orleans Saints

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 13-5 (14-4 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 20-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9.5 (over -140, under +120)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in 11 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "We tried to higher their odds, like a lot of other properties, to attract some money. But it didn’t really work. I think it’s a situation where people have really shied away from them. People are figuring there’s going to be some drop-off with the situation they’re going through.”

      Overview: The New Orleans bounty scandal cost the Saints their coach, Sean Payton, and star linebacker, Jonathan Vilma, for the season. Interim coach Joe Vitt is even out until the eighth week, leaving Aaron Kromer in charge. Defensive end Will Smith will miss the first four weeks. Bookmakers were clueless as to how the betting public would react to the suspensions at the beginning of the summer. Bettors made it increasingly clear they wanted to avoid the Saints. They've been far less popular than in recent preseasons and money poured in against them for their week one game against the Washington Redskins.

    • Super Bowl XLVI MVP Eli Manning
      Photo by Tom Donoghue/DonoghuePhotography.com

      New York Giants

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 12-7-1 (13-7 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 16-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9 (over +110, under -130)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in seven games with two pick'ems

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "They are never a team that attracts a lot of attention, even as the repeat Super Bowl champions. There are a host of teams that are way ahead of them as far as we’re concerned. Oddsmakers still remember as well as they played at the end of the year, this was barely playoff team. They won the Super Bowl, deservedly so, but they were a catch away from losing it."

      Overview: Vaccaro can't pinpoint why a premier team in the country's biggest market is never popular in Las Vegas. Oddsmakers around town, however, were thankful for it last year. The Giants were available at as high as 80-to-1 to win the Super Bowl two months before they took home the Lombardi Trophy. Although several offshore sports books reported big payouts on the high price, no Vegas casinos were seriously hurt by New York winning its second Super Bowl in five years. They wouldn't mind the Giants repeating again this February as the betting market has mostly ignored the possibility.

    • michael vick
      /ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Philadelphia Eagles

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 8-8 (8-8 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 12-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 10 (over Even, under -120)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in 13 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "Anything with the Eagles was one of our better futures last year. People flocked to the window to bet them because of the early speculation and throwing the 'Dream Team' thing around. This year, there's a little more trepidation from the general public with putting money on them."

      Overview: Every book in town sees Philadelphia as the favorite in the NFC East. It's not that bettors don't agree. They're simply refraining from going overboard like last offseason. As a franchise, Philadelphia is also trying to avoid overreacting to last year's disappointment as evidenced by the lack of turnover on the roster. For all intents and purposes, it's the same team as last year. The offense will continue to go as far as quarterback Michael Vick and running back LeSean McCoy can take it. Much like the Eagles front office, gamblers are taking a wait-and-see approach to this season.

    • 2012 Saint Louis Rams
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      St. Louis Rams

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 3-12-1 (2-14 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 100-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 6 (over -120, under Even)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 12 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “I don’t think the concern is Sam Bradford. I think the concern is Steven Jackson. They can’t win at any consistent rate if Jackson isn’t healthy and performing at the level he did a couple years ago. But I don’t think it’s his fault. He’s been on a bad team and taken a lot of hits over the last few years.”

      Overview: The Rams were ravaged by injuries last season, as their starters missed more time than any other team's. That stroke of bad luck combined with a relatively weak schedule has bettors leaning toward the over on the Rams win total — albeit slightly. The Rams are among the least bet teams in the future book every year in Las Vegas and this season is no exception. They've also been one of the worst bets in the NFL over recent years and posted losing records against the spread in four of the past five seasons.

    • 2012 San Francisco 49ers
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      San Francisco 49ers

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 12-5-1 (14-4 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 6-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 9.5 (over +120, under -140)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in 11 games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “They aren’t falling off. Barring injuries or things that could turn a team around, I think they are better than they were last year. It’s a very good football team. They can run the football and are as good as it gets defensively. I would be very, very, very surprised if they wind up 9-7. It looks like a 12-4, 11-5 year.”

      Overview: That's a bold proclamation from Vaccaro, especially because respected gamblers have opinions that fall all over the board when it comes to San Francisco. A slight majority is calling from the 49ers to go under their win total of 9.5, as evidenced by the shifting price. The 49ers had the biggest differential between their victories and posted win total last year, as they won 13 games to embarrass oddsmakers' preseason line of seven wins. San Francisco's Super Bowl line, however, usually stays low in Nevada sports books because of the team's large fanbase near Reno that loves to bet on the 49ers in the futures market.

    • 2012 Seattle Seahawks
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Seattle Seahawks

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 10-5-1 (7-9 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 35-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 7.5 (-135 over, +115 under)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Favored in five games

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: "We’ll see if (Russell) Wilson can step up and takeover. Defensively, they are a little better. They have an excellent home field advantage, so I think they could be there at the end of the year."

      Overview: Everyone knows about the "12th Man" mystique of Qwest Field, but oddsmakers still haven't caught up. The Seahawks are 20-12 against the spread over the last four seasons at home. They are 11-21 versus the Vegas number on the road. That's an unusually high split for an NFL team. Seattle may need to make use of the environment behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, who was drafted in the third round but beat out free-agent Matt Flynn and incumbent Tarvaris Jackson for the starting job.

    • 2012 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Tampa Bay Buccaneers

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 4-12 (4-12 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 100-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 5.5 (over -175, under +155)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 12 games with one pick'em

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “They are a hard team to figure. I thought Josh Freeman had a breakthrough year two years ago, but last year he regressed. I don’t know about them. They are expecting more of what we saw two years ago, but I can’t put my finger on it. I would imagine they’ll go something like 8-8 with a new coach there who’s a little more competent.”

      Overview: At least one team has gone from last-place in their division to first-place the next year for nine straight seasons in the NFL. Could Tampa Bay become the squad could do it in 2012? The odds are heavily tilted against the Buccaneers, who come in at 15-to-1 to win the NFC South. They're also tied as the second-longest shot to win the NFC with Saint Louis, behind Minnesota, despite a handful of additions. Coach Greg Schiano will have two first-round picks — safety Mark Barron and running back Doug Wilson — and two major free-agent signings — wide receiver Vincent Jackson and cornerback Eric Wright — to work with in his first year.

    • 2012 Washington Redskins
      Photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS

      Washington Redskins

      2011 Against-the-spread record: 7-9 (5-11 straight-up)

      William Hill's odds to win the Super Bowl: 55-to-1

      LVH Superbook's over/under win total: 6 (over -140, under +120)

      Cantor Gaming’s week 1-16 lines: Underdogs in 10 games with one pick'em

      Vaccaro’s thoughts: “Maybe if the Redskins played somewhere else, they could get lucky and wind up with nine or 10 wins and get into the playoffs. But with the Cowboys, Eagles and Giants, they can't make any noise even if they play a little better than anticipated. I think they could get seven or eight wins, which would be valuable as a building block. But they won’t be in the mix.”

      Overview: Cam Newton is a big reason why the Redskins are receiving some attention at the betting window this year. Witnessing the success Newton found in Carolina last year has bettors believing in Washington rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III . Griffin has many of the same attributes as Newton as a dual-threat quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy. But Griffin has far more talent around him than Newton did last year, especially on defense. Brian Orakpo, London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan make up one of the better linebacker units in the NFC. The Redskins have posted more unders than overs in four of the last five seasons.

    Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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