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NFL Opening Line Report: Brady-led Patriots touchdown favorites vs. Steelers
By Colin Kelly

When federal judge Richard Berman overturned Tom Brady’s four-game suspension last week, it was the metaphorical shot heard ‘round the world. And it was particularly loud and clear in Las Vegas, where the line on Thursday night’s Pittsburgh Steelers-New England Patriots game jumped by as much as a touchdown at some sportsbooks.

Yes, the defending Super Bowl champions will have their superstar quarterback under center when the 2015 season opens. And in the wake of the ruling that cleared Brady’s way, Patriots money flooded the books – rightly so, according to Johnny Avello, executive director of race and sports for Wynn Las Vegas.

“I don’t put the opening-week NFL lines up until the preseason is over, and this game in particular plays into the reasons why,” said Avello, who now has the Patriots (15-4 SU, 11-8 ATS in 2014) as 7-point favorites. “Tom Brady is worth approximately 6 to 7 points, and now that I know he’s in, a full touchdown is a good starting point for betting purposes.

Over the past 10 seasons, the Pats have won 83 percent of their home games straight-up, and bettors will need to decide if the 7 points will come into play in this excellent NFL opener.

At offshore site bookmaker, John Lester said his operation played it close to the vest while the Brady case made its way through the legal process.

“Obviously, this line has been all over the place due to the Deflategate saga, but we protected ourselves a bit by pulling it during most of camp and the preseason,” said Lester, who also had the Pats at -7. “I feel that the Steelers are a tad overhyped heading into this season, and not having LeVeon Bell (suspension) in this one will hurt. The Pats are perennially slow starters, but more often than not, when drama surrounds them, they use it as motivation. “

Along with Bell’s two-game suspension, Avello also cautioned bettors on the Steelers (11-6 SU, 9-8 ATS in 2014) being without center Maurkice Pouncey, who is expected to miss 10 weeks with a broken leg.

Baltimore Ravens at Denver Broncos (-4)

Two of the last three AFC champions collide in this Sunday matchup, with both teams holding high hopes for the 2015 season. And as much as two perennial playoff contenders can, Lester says the Ravens (11-7 SU, 9-8-1 ATS in 2014) and Broncos (12-5 SU, 8-9 ATS in 2014) are perhaps a little overlooked, and he likes the visitor in this contest.

“Here we have two very good teams that seem to be flying under the radar a bit, Baltimore more so than Denver,” Lester said. “I expect our sharper clients will let the public drive this spread up even further than it’s moved thus far, and then take a shot with the Ravens. They are very live dogs, in my opinion.”

Avello expects a good game but seems to have a bit more faith in Denver.

“The Broncos have only two home losses in the last three years and therefore one of the strongest home-field advantages in the NFL,” he said. “They may not be as strong offensively as they have been in the past, but may have their best defense during Manning’s tenure in Denver.

“The Ravens always put a quality team on the field but have traditionally been slow starters.”

New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-5)

Bettors get a clash of NFC East rivals right out of the gate, and in the Sunday night prime-time spotlight, no less. New York was a dismal 6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS last year, while Dallas reached the second round of the playoffs in going 13-5 SU, 11-7 ATS.
Avello expects more Cowboys money on this game in the coming days.

“New York Giants fans like myself haven’t had a lot to root for the past two years, and this season, at least on paper, doesn’t look that promising. Eli Manning has been inconsistent over that time period, and the offensive line probably plays a big part in that,” Avello said. “The Cowboys, who are coming off their best season in a decade, should compete for at least the division title. They’ve beaten the Giants four straight, and I expect the money will show up on them come Sunday night.”

Lester, who pegged the Cowboys a 6-point chalk, echoed Avello’s sentiments
“Some people believe in the Giants this year, but I am not one of them. The defense is a glaring concern,” he said. “This number seems about right, and the minimal line movement over the last couple of months has supported that. The Cowboys are the most public team we have.”

Seattle Seahawks (-3) at St. Louis Rams

The Seahawks (14-5 SU, 10-8-1 ATS in 2014) have been to the past two Super Bowls, and if not for a horrible play call, they’d be the two-time defending champions. But they start the season with an NFC West road game against what is expected to be an improved Rams squad (6-10 SU, 7-9 ATS in 2014).
That said, Lester still finds the number curiously low.

“Bettors who have any sense are going to look at this line and see that it reeks of fish stench,” Lester said. “St. Louis usually plays Seattle tough (3-0 ATS last three at home), and Rams coach Jeff Fisher should be preaching to his players that this is a statement game to start the season. The squares will be all over Seattle at this short price.”

Avello, who put Seattle at -4, also expects the Fisher-led rams to make this interesting.

“St Louis stayed competitive in 2013 and ‘14 after losing quarterback Sam Bradford, and I attribute much of that to Coach Fisher, because I believe he’s one of the best in the league,” Avello said. “In the last three meetings at St Louis, the Rams have won twice and lost the third by five points, so going to Missouri hasn’t been a cakewalk for the Seahawks.

“Seattle will certainly be in the hunt to win it all again, but we’re talking Game No. 1 of the season here.”