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October 30, 2014

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10 bets to make this football season

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Evan Vucci / AP

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick throws a pass during the second half of Super Bowl XLVII against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013, in New Orleans.

THREE CONTESTS WORTH YOUR TIME AND MONEY

Las Vegas football contests hit a peak four or five years ago with almost every property in town offering an alternative way into action.

Several since have vanished, but a handful of contests have stuck around with a range of prices and formats. Here are three that merit consideration this year:

• $1,500 Westgate Superbook Supercontest. The unofficial world championship of sports betting, the Supercontest asks entrants to pick five games against the spread every week. Last year’s winner, Chicago trader and veteran sports bettor David Frohardt-Lane, won $557,850 for beating a field of 1,034 entries and hitting more than 67 percent of his bets. Bankroll-permitting, it’s the one to join.

• Station Casinos’ Great Giveaway. With multiple prizes totaling $2 million both weekly and at the end of the year, Station Casinos’ long-running contest is the most popular of several that ask contestants to pick every game straight-up. The entry fee is $25, with the purchase of two cards earning a third free.

• William Hill’s Pro Pick’em Contest. William Hill regrettably ditched both its college and NFL Three ‘N Out contests this year, but it added a gaudy bonus to its signature offering. If the winner goes 200-56 or better in the contest where entrants pick every game all season straight-up, he or she wins an additional $100,000. Normal prizes in the $25 buy-in contest include $10,000 for the best record of the week and $20,000 for the season.

Local sports books have made miraculous advances toward curing pre-football season lethargy.

Summer sports-betting days that drag as slowly as meaningless regular-season baseball games between bottom feeders start to become bearable when casinos release their football lines. From full-season game spreads to divisional odds, from over/under win totals to player proposition wagers, there never has been as many ways to bet on Las Vegas’ most popular sport before the season begins.

With a wealth of gambling options now available as football mercifully heads toward the start of the games, here’s a look at 10 of the best bets we’ve seen across town this summer.

Minnesota Vikings over 6 wins at minus-130 (at South Point). The Vikings have the third-lowest win total in the league, but they’re ages ahead of their betting-board contemporaries in the Raiders and Jaguars. Two years removed from a playoff berth, Minnesota’s only mediocre unit is its quarterbacks, and the tutelage of new offensive coordinator Norv Turner should do wonders for eventual starter Teddy Bridgewater.

Chicago Bears plus-7 at San Francisco 49ers on Sept. 13 (at CG Technologies, formerly Cantor Gaming). As tempting as it is to weigh in on an opening-weekend game, it’s a Week 2 matchup that jumps off the betting board and screams value. The 49ers open Levi’s Stadium on Sunday Night Football, but new home fields don’t typically carry the same immediate advantage. Teams in their first home game at a new location are just 10-10 in the past 20 debuts. San Francisco also still will be adjusting to defensive life without injured NaVorro Bowman and likely suspended Aldon Smith, while Chicago will have one of the NFL’s best offenses with every starter returning.

Atlanta Falcons under 8.5 wins at minus-145 (at South Point). All of a sudden, the Dirty Birds have an aging offense with a permeable line and a shoddy defense plagued with injuries. If this year’s “Hard Knocks” on HBO is any indication, the Falcons would be more feared in the octagon than on the gridiron, as they spend as much time fighting as practicing.

Alabama minus-6 vs. Auburn on Nov. 29 (at Golden Nugget). An overvalued Auburn team is bound to trip up a couple of times before the season-ending Iron Bowl, but Alabama should come in either undefeated or with one loss. In other words, the line will certainly be pricier on the home team three months from now.

UCLA under 9.5 wins at even money (at South Point). The hype on the Bruins has gone overboard. UCLA suddenly is favored to pull off something it has done only twice in the program’s 94-year history: win 10 games in the regular season. That’s a taller task than the betting market anticipates, especially in this year’s stacked Pac-12 Conference.

Florida over 7.5 wins at plus-105 (at Westgate Superbook). Ravaged by injuries and cursed in close games, Florida finished a fluky 4-8 in 2013 to produce benthic-low expectations this season for the first time in more than two decades. It’s a symptom of faulty short memories, as the Gators returned a team with a similar outlook two years ago and won 11 games.

Colin Kaepernick to lead NFL in passing yards at 100-to-1 (at CG Technologies). San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh is a master of surprises. What if this season’s big reveal is Harbaugh transitioning the 49ers offense into an air-it-out spectacle? With one of the NFL’s best receiving corps — Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, Vernon Davis and Brandon Lloyd — it wouldn’t be far-fetched. It’s also not likely but worth a gamble at this high of a payout.

New York Giants to win the NFC East at plus-340 (at William Hill). The Giants were rocked with the second-most injury-plagued season of the past 25 years in 2013, according to Football Outsiders, but still managed to overcome an 0-6 start to finish a somewhat respectable 7-9. Over the years, New York has proven dangerous when no one expects much. With the Redskins offered at lower odds to win the NFC East, this preseason would qualify.

New Orleans Saints to win the NFC at 15-to-2 (at William Hill). Months ago, a story in The Sunday advised a bet on the Saints to win the 2015 Super Bowl at 18-to-1. Those odds are long gone now — New Orleans is as low as 12-to-1 — making the Saints’ price to get to the last game stand out just as much. While the four NFC West teams brutalize each other during the regular season, New Orleans could win home-field advantage in the playoffs. And the Saints rarely lose in the Superdome.

Iowa to win the Big Ten at 12-to-1 (at William Hill). The Hawkeyes were bet to as low as 5-to-1 at other sports books in town, creating glaring value at these lucrative odds. With the easiest schedule of any team from the five power conferences, Iowa projects as a favorite in every game except a Nov. 22 home date with Wisconsin. Pull off that upset, and the Hawkeyes should be in the conference championship game.

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