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Carolina may prove
Ram tough with bettors

Jan 20, 2004 4:48 AM

So, it’s not the St. Louis-New England rematch that Vegas wanted to see. That doesn’t necessarily mean Super Bowl XXXVIII will be a dud, either on the field or at the window.

"Maybe it’s not the most desirable matchup that could have occurred, but the fact New England has been on such a roll and Carolina has played so well in the playoffs offers the potential of passing last year’s $70 million wagered on the Super Bowl in Nevada last year," said Chuck Esposito, race and sports director at Caesars Palace.

The opening line was New England -7, but Caesars was daring in knocking the line down to 6½.

"I’ve seen a lot of 6½ lines out there," said Esposito, whose line at Caesars is also used at the Las Vegas Hilton and other Palace-owned properties. "We’re looking at two defensive-minded teams, who like to play ball control so the low total (38) could play towards the ”˜under.’ The two-way betting has been brisk so far and Carolina does have some support."

The Stardust line opened and remained at 7 as of late Monday night, a number that overwhelming favors New England if you believe the history of two-week breaks in past Super Bowls. Only seven of the previous 30 Super Bowls have been decided by 7 points or less with the 14-day break.

"Personally, I feel the two-week break is fine," Esposito said. "It gives us a chance to come up with a plethora of props we will be working on over the next 72 hours. The extra time also allows both teams more team to heal and enter the game at their very best. That’s certainly what the fans want to see."

Esposito didn’t want to unveil all his prop bets, but did say that several would definitely involve NBA rookie stars LeBron James (Cleveland) and Carmelo Anthony (Denver).

"James, if his injured ankle heals, will probably be part of a prop involving Carolina as to who scores the most points that day," Esposito said. "The same with Anthony. We like to mix basketball with football. It has been a popular prop in the past with the public."

Esposito thinks the line won’t fluctuate much in the opening week.

"A lot of money is late," he said. "People will wait closer to game time, usually around 48 hours before. New England has the best coach in the game in (Bill) Belichek, but they win ugly. Carolina has played great defense as well."

The average victory margin during a two-week Super Bowl break is 16.7 points, with 23 of the 30 games (73.3 percent) decided by double-digits. Carolina is 7-1 in close games this year, so it may be of note that only one Super Bowl (1970 Baltimore vs Dallas) has been decided by three points or less with two-week break.

Carolina supporters have another notch in their holster. New England is 0-2 when in Super Bowls with two-week breaks. The Pats lost 46-10 to Chicago in 1986, and 35-21 to Green Bay in 46-10 against the Bears in 1986. New England’s Super Bowl victory against St. Louis in 2001 came without two-week break.