Saturday, Nov. 28, 2009 | 2 a.m.
With the homestretch of the NFL season in sight, nearly all of pro football’s divisional races are playing out true to expected form.
The lone exception comes in the AFC North, where the Cincinnati Bengals can pull off the upset of the year — in the division title department, that is — by holding on to their lead.
Cincinnati was listed as a 10-1 shot to win its division according to odds posted at the Venetian sports book in the spring. That was the longest price not only in the AFC North but in the entire NFL.
The Bengals lead the division with a 7-3 record, just ahead of the Steelers (6-4), who opened as a heavy favorite of minus 250 (risk $2.50 to net $1) to win the division.
The NFL’s other seven divisions have yielded no big surprises vis-a-vis the betting odds, with the preseason favorites or virtual co-favorites leading the way.
The Patriots are sitting in first place in the AFC East after opening at minus 350 to win the division, the heaviest favorite in the league. The Colts, minus 140 preseason favorites to win the AFC South, appear to be pulling away in the division. The Chargers, minus 220 preseason favorites, are in control in the AFC West.
In the NFC, the current division leaders — the Cowboys, Vikings, Saints and Cardinals — were all either favorites or close second choices before the season. Dallas, a 2-1 selection behind the 7-5 Giants, is the closest team to a long shot in the conference.
In college football, the march to the national championship has been “formful,” as the horse players say, at the top, with a few mild surprises a bit farther down the rankings.
Top-ranked Florida was the subject of a proposition at all Lucky’s sports books in Nevada in the summer, with odds of 2-1 on the Gators winning the national title, by far the shortest price on the board, and a price of minus 240 that they would not win the championship.
Florida has gone undefeated and maintained its No. 1 rating. Current odds on the Gators winning the national title range from about even money to 3-2.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, top preseason choices Virginia Tech (5-2 at the Las Vegas Hilton sports book to win the conference title) and Florida State (7-2 at the Hilton) have had relatively disappointing seasons compared with ACC division leaders Georgia Tech (6-1) and Clemson (5-1).
In the Big 12, Texas, a 7-5 co-favorite with Oklahoma to win the conference title, has gone unbeaten and emerged as a top contender for the national championship while the Sooners drifted to a 6-5 record.
Some midrange long shots are making noise in propositions regarding players to lead the NFL in major statistical categories.
In the race for most passing yards by a quarterback, for example, current leader Peyton Manning was available at odds of 8-1 to win the NFL passing-yards title at Lucky’s books before the season. Drew Brees, at 2-1 the original betting favorite in the category, is in sixth place on the leader board.
In the category of most rushing yards, Chris Johnson of the Titans, who holds a comfortable lead ahead of No. 2-ranked Steven Jackson of the Rams, was available at 15-1 at Lucky’s before the season. Adrian Peterson of the Vikings, the preseason favorite at odds of 5-1, is in third place.
In most receiving yards, preseason co-favorites Andre Johnson of the Texans and Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals, who were each listed at 6-1 according to preseason odds at the Venetian sports book, are in third and eighth place on the leader board.
Reggie Wayne of the Colts, who leads the league in receiving yards, was available at odds of 12-1 at the Venetian before the season.
In a June 1 column (lasvegassun.com/news/2009/jun/01/nd-value-toss-favorites/), NFL stats maven Shawn Wells recommended Wayne in this proposition. Although the long shots he backed in passing (Donovan McNabb) and rushing (Matt Forte) will likely fall short, at those odds you need only one winner in the three categories to ensure a nice score.