Although the rest of the sporting world may look at the Patriots as being one win away from completing a perfect season, Las Vegas views them through a much different prism.
To the oddsmakers on the Strip, the 18-0 Patriots are really 10-8.
"As far as the pointspread goes, that's correct," said Chuck Esposito, director of the race and sports book at Caesars Palace, where the Patriots were installed as 14-point favorites over the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII Feb. 3.
"Granted, it's a lot of points," Esposito said, "but we looked for a number that would draw good two-way action [an equal number of bets on both teams]. We're not predicting who is going to win or lose, but it's a pointspread that we feel is going to draw good two-way action."
Since its initial release, however, the pointspread has gone down to 12, which, oddsmakers say, is not so much a reflection of the recent news about quarterback Tom Brady's right ankle sprain as it is of the Patriots' 2-7 record vs. the spread in their last nine games.
"[Brady] would probably affect the line more than anybody in the NFL; maybe Peyton Manning could rival him," said Tony Sinisi, odds director at Las Vegas Sports Consultants. "But it might be a 10-point drop if it went from Tom Brady to Matt Cassel. It would probably go down to New England 3. But there's not any feeling out there that Brady won't play."
Before news broke about Brady's ankle, "I think the betting public was looking for value and felt that, at 13 or 14, there was just too good a value on the Giants," Esposito said. "They have covered nine out of 10 road games and have won 10 straight road games and covered all three playoff games."
It has prompted many bettors to take the Giants and the points.
"We opened the Super Bowl line at 14 and it quickly moved from 14 to 13 1/2, and ever since then, it's been dropping little by little," said Jay Kornegay, executive director of the race and sports book at the Las Vegas Hilton, who estimated that 70 percent of the early action has been on the Giants. "It's a little odd, because the favorite in the Super Bowl is always inflated and in this case, it's no different. This is one line that we make that's geared toward the general public, because the general public's money always dominates the action in the Super Bowl. When we put that line out, we expected a little bit more support on the Patriots and we haven't seen that yet, but we're hoping it comes out later."
At the beginning of the season, the Patriots were a sure bet after they trampled not only their opposition en route to an 8-0 start, but the Vegas sports books as well, beating the spread in those wins. Their perfect record (against the spread, that is) was blemished when they failed to cover as a 5-point favorite in a 24-20 triumph at Indianapolis Nov. 4.
"Actually, the Patriots all season long have been a thorn in our side," Kornegay said. "It's a team we just cannot figure out. We took it in the shorts for pretty much two-thirds of the season. The last game that we won - one of the games that we won - was the Eagles game [a 31-28 Patriots triumph]. That was the last game we saw this huge snowball effect of support for the Patriots.
"Ever since then, it's kind of been a lukewarm feeling from our gamblers."
That was likely because the Patriots have been performing poorly against the spread since midseason.
"The Patriots really are an incredible team and our lines reflect their excellence," Sinisi said. "Earlier in the year, they were covering the spread at an inordinate rate. So what we do is we always adjust off the results and the betting action each week, and those lines would continually go up and up and up.
"They've kind of reached a point where the Patriots are continuing to win, but they're not covering, which is lessening the pain on our end."
The only games in which the Patriots beat the spread in their last nine were against Buffalo (favored by 16, they won, 56-10) and Pittsburgh (they won, 34-13, after the line dropped from 15 to 10 1/2) when "a lot of money came in on Pittsburgh," Sinisi said).
"Last week against San Diego [a 21-12 win], it was 14 and there was a little fluctuation back and forth, but it closed at 14," Sinisi said. "The previous week [a 31-20 win], we opened them at 11 1/2 against Jacksonville and they closed at 13 1/2, so there was New England money. Even though they have cooled off spread-wise, they are still the glamour team and the numbers are still big because of a) performance and b) they still draw money."
And money, as everyone knows, follows money.
"It's been very difficult to book these games," Kornegay said. "They're 18-0 and the books have won maybe four of those games. The rest of those games, we've lost on. During the course of the year, the Patriots games have been like mini-Super Bowls for us.
"In most cases, it's been the game of the week. It's the game that has the most action on it, and whether you bet against them or for them, everybody's watching the Patriot game. And in most cases, the book wound up on the short end of the stick when the results came in.
"I can't say that we've really 'loved' the Patriots, but I can say this: It's been an exciting year and the Patriots obviously have been a big part of it. The electricity and the atmosphere in the sports books every time the Patriots play has just been tremendous; however, the sports book results haven't been in our favor most of the time."
Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.