Is unpredictable NFL season engaging fans? Bet on it


Cirque du Soleil is the marquee act at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

But as the people in that hotel’s sports book will tell you, even that show is tame when compared to the NFL circus through the first eight weeks of the season.

Think of the highly touted teams in the tank — Dallas, Minnesota, San Francisco — and traditional bottom dwellers such as Kansas City, St. Louis and Oakland that have bobbed to the surface.


You know it’s a strange year when the 1-5 Cleveland Browns travel to New Orleans and knock off the defending Super Bowl champions. Or when Miami is 0-3 at home, but 4-0 on the road.

Jay Rood, director of the race and sports book at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, said the unpredictability of this season has kept all sorts of fans and bettors engaged — especially those whose teams would typically be out of the running by now.

“With just about every team sitting in the middle of the road, everyone’s still kind of in it,” Rood said. “This season has been crazy.”

Rood said that normally through eight weeks, the favored teams would have a cumulative advantage of seven to 10 games over the underdogs. But this year, underdogs have prevailed 20 more times than the favorites. The scores also have been higher than expected, he said.

Rood said he’s keeping an eye on the Detroit Lions, who are an NFL-best 6-1 against the spread. He said that could indicate they are “not that far away from turning those spread Ws into real Ws.”

The handle — total money wagered — has been “pretty strong” on NFL games, Rood said, and the fact that traditionally weaker teams are still in the running has seemingly kept more people engaged in what’s happening. Even the league’s only winless team is keeping things interesting.

“Even Buffalo, they’re in there swinging away,” he said. “They’re in their games, they’re competitive, they took the Ravens and Chiefs down to the wire. Buffalo is not a team that you want to discount at the betting window at all.”

The erratic swings of teams from week to week makes matters a lot more interesting and entertaining for Rood.

“As a book, you get stuck with teams that no one else wants,” he said. “That’s the beauty about being a [bettor] is you get to choose who you want — I get who you tell me I get.

“Traditionally, I get stuck with the 1-8 Browns going against the 9-0 Patriots, and I’m usually out of the equation by halftime. But right now, the way these teams are playing, you don’t feel bad. You’re like, ‘All right! I’ll take them!’ You don’t feel like you’re stuck with the bottom of the barrel and no chance.”

Losing stripes?

Speaking of gambles, Cincinnati Coach Marvin Lewis took a big one when he turned down a contract extension last season with a year left on his deal. He was hoping to prove this season that he’s worth even more.

Now his team is 2-5 heading into Monday’s game against Pittsburgh, and he has a half-season left on his contract.

Asked if he’s concerned about his future with the club, Lewis said, “Whatever happens will happen, so I’m not at all.”

Laying it on line

The New York Jets selected two offensive linemen in the first round of the 2006 draft, and wound up making the playoffs with those two rookies — D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold — in the starting lineup.

San Francisco was hoping for similar results this season in starting its two first-round rookie linemen: tackle Anthony Davis and guard Mike Iupati. So far — for a lot of reasons, and not just a young offensive line — that hasn’t worked so well. The 49ers lost their first five games before winning two of the last three.

Coach Mike Singletary said the line — which also includes inexperienced center David Baas — is continuing to improve.

“When you have two rookies starting on the offensive line, that is such a huge part of the team,” Singletary said. “It’s just a matter of knowing you have to have patience. You have to know that there are certain setbacks that are going to happen.

“But overall in the past few weeks, those guys have continued to make strides of being a solid group and a very effective group. And as they continue to grow and mature, that gives the entire team the confidence that we need going into the second half of the season to battle for the division title.”

No defense

The Vikings led the NFL last season with 48 sacks. This season, they have six in seven games — and three games in a row without one.

All-Pro defensive end Jared Allen, whose career average is 12 sacks per season, has one so far.

“Guys have gotten into a rut, to be honest with you. It’s a lot of negativity and a lot of criticism and people don’t respond too well to criticism, no way, shape, form or fashion about it,” Allen said recently.

“But the way we’re playing, criticism is warranted.”