- Rick Reilly, Columnist, ESPN.com
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It sets up as the most one-sided game in NFL history, just slightly more lopsided than a Beijing election. If you take the Jags, you'll probably get a four-touchdown head start -- 28 points -- before either team leaves its hotel. That ties for the fattest spread in pro football betting history. Henry VIII never laid out one that big.
Gamblers, bookies and Las Vegas are chewing their pencils in half over this one.
"If it were in any other town, I wouldn't even put it on the board," said a bookie in Denver. "But I can't. All my regulars would be pissed. 'Wait a minute. You've been taking all my Broncos money for 10 years. NOW you're shutting me out?'"
It sounds like a trap, but you can safely eat the cheese on this one. Denver is just that good and Jacksonville just that pathetic. This is The Irresistible Force meeting The Very Moveable Object.
Denver might not lose a game this year. Jacksonville might not win one.
Denver scored 51 points in its last win over Dallas. Jacksonville has scored 51 all year.
Denver is on pace to be the highest-scoring team since the AFL merger. Jacksonville has a great chance to be the lowest.
Denver's kicker, Matt Prater, has five more points (56) than Jacksonville has all year.
"No sharp is going to lay that many points," said John Avello, the head of the Wynn Las Vegas sports book. "No sophisticated bettor would. There's too much value there. But the question is, how will the general public go?"
The general public will go straight to the Paris Hilton trust fund that the Broncos have been all season. They've come up short of the spread only once and are 5-0 on the over (two of those by the third quarter). It's all you can eat at your bookie's wallet.
"Denver is gonna kill me this year," said the mile-high bookie, who has set the over at 53.5. "They're crushing the over every week. You can't hang it high enough."
Isn't that sad? A bookie losing money? Shall we hold a telethon?
This thing is so Reagan-Mondale that a lot of bookies won't even give you a money line on the game. In other words, you won't be able to simply bet Denver or Jacksonville straight up, without the points.
"Oh, man, it would have to be something like bet $200 to win $1," Avello said. "At least $100 to win $1."
But would you take the flip side? Bet a dollar on the Jags to win $200?
"Oh, no, no," he said. "I mean, I'm not going to let some guy put up $5,000 to win $1 million."
But Wednesday, the Las Vegas Hotel did come out with a money line, one of the most bizarre in betting history. If you take Denver to win, you must lay $200 to win a buck. If you take Jacksonville to win for a buck, you only get $30. Step right up!
There has never been a betting window quite like this. Jacksonville is so bad there's talk that for their Oct. 27 game in London against San Francisco, they might not be given round-trip airfare. They would have a hard time scoring in the SEC. Their best player, Maurice Jones-Drew, has one rushing TD. Peyton Manning, who is slower than urban decay, has that many.
And yet, occasionally, football throws you a Buster Douglas. Do you remember one of the biggest spreads in college football history? The 41 points USC had to give Stanford at home in 2007? Stanford won that game 24-23. And never forget: Lyle Lovett once got Julia Roberts to marry him.
Still, the 28-point spread is so untouchably high in this thing that some Vegas sports book runners are trying to dream up prop bets to pour some lighter fluid on it. Jay Rood of the Mirage says he might put up: "Will Peyton Manning take a snap in the fourth quarter?"
I'd take that bet. Manning's backups hardly see a snap in practice, much less games. Three years ago, Manning's backup in Indianapolis, Curtis Painter, never got on the field at all. Manning is harder to get off the field than the hashmarks.
But what about these ...
... Will Jacksonville leave their hotel?
... Will a Broncos cheerleader score a TD?
... Will the officials turn off the scoreboard in the second half?
Anyway, even though I know betting is morally bankrupt and socially reprehensible, I'd give the points.
Yes, I know it's like playing a nine-hole golf match and getting the first four holes free. Yes, I know it's like sitting down to a pie-eating contest and the other guy has already had to polish off two of them. And, yes, I know the anti-blowout tendency of the NFL. There's no computer to impress, like in college, so why risk injury?
And besides, what if it snows? What if new Jaguars starter Chad Henne turns out to be this year's Colin Kaepernick? What if Sunday morning Eli ties up Peyton with duct tape and secretly takes his place?
I don't care. It's Jacksonville. They couldn't beat an egg if they had instructions tattooed on their arm. And Manning will dust the point spread just for spite.
"I really wish Peyton would just take the day off," Avello said. "That would be just fine with me."
Still don't like it.
1dEric D. Williams
2dBy Dan Graziano