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Thursday night’s Pro Football Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio is just a preseason game, but it’s the first game of 2019 and first time Americans will get to wager on an NFL game since the Super Bowl ended in February.

Despite most of the game being played by guys who likely won’t make either team’s opening day roster, there will be plenty of interest where the Denver Broncos are a consensus 2.5-point favorite over the Atlanta Falcons with a total set at 34.5.

Like most preseason NFL games, this number has moved rapidly since most books first posted it last week. The game opened as pick ‘em or the Falcons a small favorite, but the money has come in on Denver.

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“We’re just trying to stay ahead of the market and be high with the Broncos,” said Westgate SuperBook VP of risk management Jeff Sherman. “When other places opened the Falcons -1, we opened pick ‘em and at the time Ed (SuperBook manager Ed Salmons) said the Broncos should be -3 because Atlanta is banged up a little, but mostly because Denver comes in with a new coach and this first game is a little more important for him to win.”

Falcons head coach Dan Quinn begins his fifth year with the Falcons while the Vic Fangio Era begins in Denver. It’s Fangio’s first time being a head coach after spending the last four seasons as the Bears’ defensive coordinator.  The SuperBook had a position they wanted to be in and didn’t wait for money to push them there and it worked because they’ll need the Broncos.

“We’re actually long on the Falcons right now because of offering a higher number than most,” Sherman said.

As of Monday afternoon, the SuperBook and Circa were the only books offering Falcons +3. The SuperBook’s preseason limit on the side is $2,000.

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The total at 34.5 seems low, but five of the last seven Hall of Fame games have scored less than 34 points because the defense usually has the edge this early. The offenses are usually way behind and when all the reserves come in there’s no cohesion. After Matt Ryan plays a series or two, Matt Schaub takes over and then it’ll be third-stringer Kurt Benkert.

Fangio said after Monday’s practice that new Bronco QB Joe Flacco and many of the starters won’t play Thursday and Kevin Hogan will start at QB followed by No. 3 Drew Lock and No. 4 Brett Rypien.

I’m skeptical of how Flacco will be offensively in the regular season, but I like some things Fangio can do with a defense that was ranked No. 4 or better four straight years before falling to No. 22 while finishing 6-10 last season.

So far the betting public has seen some value with that defense in futures to win the Super Bowl. 

“We opened the Broncos 50-1 and took quite a bit of action early on to make them a loser for us,” said MGM Resorts sportsbook hub manager Jeff Stoneback. “They bet them again at 40-1 and after dropping to 30-1 we didn’t see much more action on them.

“But as we got more risk on other teams and the Broncos were shown as a winner for us we moved them back up to 40-1.”

The Falcons went to the Super Bowl just three seasons ago but went 7-9 last season and it took some baiting to try and get future bets placed on them at MGM books.

“We started the Falcons at 22-1 odds to win, and it wasn’t attractive so we moved up to 25-1, then 30-1,” Stoneback said.  “And when we finally went to 40-1 we took a lot of action, so we’ll be dropping that down a little today (Monday), maybe back to 30-1 until things balance out and they get back in the black for us.”

MGM books opened their season win totals on May 1st and the betting public has an opinion on both of these teams with one being more pronounced with action.

“The Falcons are 9 under -150 now after getting a few under bets when we opened 9 under -130, but the Broncos over wager has eight times more tickets written than the under,” Stoneback said. “The Broncos opened 7 under -115 and are now 7 over -120.”

Browns Hysteria

The Cleveland Browns haven’t had a winning season since 2007 and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, but America says this is the year they win their first Super Bowl. Or at least that’s the case with visitors on the Las Vegas strip placing future wagers.

“The Browns are by far our biggest Super Bowl risk,” said Stoneback, who opened the Browns 22-1. “We’ve had the futures posted since January 24, a week before the last Super Bowl, and it’s been steady Browns action daily since then.

“They’re still betting them consistently now at low 8-1 odds. They’re a significant loser for us if they win it.”

The Browns have the most tickets written at MGM books and the second-most is the Bears and Stoneback says there’s a huge drop down to the third-most, which are the Chiefs.

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