Intrigue surrounding the Indianapolis Colts' game plan highlighted Sunday's NFL wagering scene.
The Colts were 14-0 heading into their game against the New York Jets. They had a chance for a perfect regular season, but they had already secured home-field advantage in the playoffs, so the issue was how long they would play their starters.
Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell answered the question when he pulled his starters, including Peyton Manning, in the third period and the Jets rallied for a 29-15 victory.
However, the quandary in the days leading to the game drove a dramatic point spread move as the Colts began the betting week favored by as many as seven points in some quarters but tumbled to as low as a three-point favorite. The pressure on the line mainly came from so-called sharp money, meaning professional bettors, who were taking the Jets and the points.
"It all depended on what you wanted to believe," said Jay Kornegay, vice president of the race and sports book operation at the Las Vegas Hilton, regarding the Colts' plans for the game.
"The general public, the average Joes, they still love the Colts and you can just hear them saying, 'What? The Colts are giving just three?' " Kornegay added. "But the Jets money was coming from [bettors] with a few more zeroes and with a history of playing the sharper side, so we respect that."
The Jets-Colts story line was the same at other betting shops.
Jay Rood, director of the race and sports books at MGM Mirage casinos in Las Vegas, eyed the scoreboard as the Colts momentarily were ahead by five points in the third quarter.
If that point differential held, the sharp money would win its Jets bets that were made when the Colts were giving at least 51/2 points while the public money that took the Colts giving three and four points would also cash.
"It's a worst-case scenario," said Rood, who dropped the Colts from 51/2-point favorites to 4 during the week in a single move on the basis of who was making the wager.
As it turned out, the underdog Jets' outright win proved the sharp money correct and left the average bettors tearing up their Colts wagering slips.
With the NFL regular season heading into its final week, bookmakers and bettors will be facing the nettlesome circumstance of teams vying for the playoffs or seeding going against opponents with nothing left to play for, other than pride and jobs.
"Sometimes you get a team that is out of it," Kornegay said, "but they're playing loose and they sneak up on someone - Hello, Giants!"
Kornegay was referring to Carolina smoking New York, 41-9. The Panthers (7-8) had no playoff prospects while the Giants (8-7) were fighting to make the postseason.
The New York loss was greeted with smiles by bookmakers and groans by bettors as the Giants had been bet heavily and were a favorite play on parlay cards.