By David Purdum ESPN
As the first Sunday of the NFL season wound down, the financial fate for several Las Vegas sportsbooks sat squarely in the hands of a longtime nemesis: the New England Patriots.
To avoid a losing day, the books needed the underdog, Tom Brady-less Patriots to cover the spread on the road against the Arizona Cardinals. An outright win would be an added bonus.
Over the course of the week, as New England ruled out tight end Rob Gronkowski and other key players, the point spread grew from Arizona -5.5 to as high as -9.5 as kickoff approached Sunday night.
The action was lopsided, and on the Cardinals. At MGM's sportsbooks, four times as much money was bet on Arizona as on New England. For every parlay card that included the Patriots, there were seven that had the Cardinals.
At William Hill, nearly 80 percent of the money wagered on the game was on Arizona, and sportsbook operator CG Technology was staring at six figures' worth of parlay and teaser liability on the Cardinals.
New England, of course, won 23-21 on a go-ahead field goal by Stephen Gostkowski with 3:44 to play.
Rooting for the Patriots was an odd feeling for some longtime bookmakers, who have become accustomed to seeing the betting public flock to New England.
"I can't remember needing the Patriots on a night game," Westgate SuperBook vice president Jay Kornegay told ESPN. "This might be the last time we need New England the rest of the year."
Since upsetting the St. Louis Rams as 14-point underdogs in Super Bowl XXXVI, the Patriots have covered the spread in 57.4 percent of their games, the best record against the number in the NFL during that time span.
The Patriots were one of six underdogs to cover the spread Sunday, including the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, who produced two of the books' largest wins of the afternoon games.
The Dolphins covered as 10.5-point underdogs in a 12-10 loss at Seattle, and the Jaguars covered the majority of bets as consensus 3.5-point home underdogs in a 27-23 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
The Jaguars were targeted by respected bettors at several sportsbooks, causing the line to drop from Green Bay -5 to -3.5 on game day, even though the public had overwhelmingly sided with the Packers.
"We were taking big late money on the Jaguars, mid-five-figure bets," said Jay Rood, vice president of MGM race and sports. "Fortunately, a lot of big money pushed at four."
Rood also reported taking early sharp action on the underdog Detroit Lions, who knocked off the Indianapolis Colts 39-35 on the road, and on the Washington Redskins in the Monday night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"The sharps made a big move on the Redskins, early before [Sunday's] kickoffs," Rood said Sunday night. "We took a few limit plays [on Washington] from the sharps. They were driving that number down."
The Steelers were bet down from 3- to 2.5-point favorites over Washington at most books by Monday morning.
The Houston Texans were responsible for the biggest loss for Caesars Palace and MGM's books, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' upending the Atlanta Falcons was the biggest loss for Station Casinos' sportsbooks.
Overall, thanks to the Patriots, the opening Sunday of the NFL season went to the books.
"We'll make enough money to pay for the lights, the comp drinks and a little bit of salary," Rood joked.
Good Teams Win, Great Teams Cover!