Las Vegas sports books have welcomed a surge in wagers over the past few months on the Denver Broncos, who visit the New England Patriots tomorrow night in the second round of the National Football League playoffs. When the teams met Dec. 18, it was the most heavily bet game of the regular season at $14 million, about five times an average NFL contest, according to Las Vegas-based handicapping information website Pregame.com.
Oddsmakers attribute the increase to Tebow, the second-year quarterback who’s been criticized by former players Merril Hoge and Kurt Warner for his style of play and religious zeal, while being lauded by teammates and fans for his leadership and perseverance. He’s helped the Broncos to five fourth-quarter comeback wins, and last week led them to their second playoff victory since the retirement of Hall of Fame quarterback John Elway in 1999.
“It’s good for business,” Jimmy Vaccaro, director of sports operations at Lucky’s Race & Sports Book in Las Vegas, said in a telephone interview. “This kid brings in people who might not normally bet on games. They’ll be on the bandwagon one way or another. Either they hope he falls on his face or hope he continues this magical ride.”
The NFL is the most-wagered sport in the U.S., including an estimated $725 million annually in Nevada, and sports books receive a commission of about 4.5 percent for taking bets. Sports books won money on Denver’s game last week, as about 60 percent of the total was bet on the Pittsburgh Steelers as 8 1/2-point favorites. The Broncos won 29-23 on an 80-yard touchdown pass play from Tebow to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime.
“It was a very profitable weekend,” Todd Fuhrman, Caesars senior race and sportsbook analyst, said by telephone from Las Vegas. “But while last weekend I was sporting a Tim Tebow jersey, this weekend I will not be.”
Tebow’s success against the Steelers has meant betting support this week for the Broncos, who are 13 1/2-point underdogs for tomorrow’s game in Foxborough, Massachusetts. That’s the biggest playoff point spread since after the 2007 season, when the then-unbeaten Patriots were favored by 14 1/2 points over the San Diego Chargers and won 21-12. About 66 percent of the bets placed in Las Vegas for this weekend’s game have been on Denver.
Home teams are both favored by 7 1/2 points the following day, when the defending Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers host the New York Giants and the Baltimore Ravens are home against the Houston Texans.
Tebow, 24, was named America’s favorite active pro athlete in an ESPN fan-based poll this week, the most recent entry on a list that includes Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, LeBron James and Tiger Woods. Three percent of Americans named Tebow as their favorite athlete, ahead of Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers (2 percent) and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers (1.9 percent).
Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships at the University of Florida, has his share of critics. He’s been panned by scouts and commentators such as Hoge, an ESPN analyst, for his lack of throwing accuracy, which was the worst among starting quarterbacks this season.
Tebow kneels and prays after wins, a public display known as “Tebowing” that has spawned an Internet craze. A survey of 1,076 Americans by Atlanta-based Poll Position, released yesterday, found that 43 percent of those who said they were aware of Tebow’s success believe it’s at least partly the result of divine intervention.
Tebow said the attention he’s received hasn’t been a locker-room issue.
“You care about going out there and trying to get better every day and trying to be a great teammate,” he told reporters this week. “Hopefully they see you as a friend and as a teammate and the rest of it is something that we laugh at and sometimes they make fun of you for.”
The spotlight has fueled betting on the Broncos and created a unique atmosphere, according to Vaccaro.
“Let’s say you’re in the Bellagio and your plane is at 2 p.m.,” he said. “Right now, with what he’s doing, he might make you stop, turn around and make a bet just because you’re leaving town. We’ve never had this kind of social climate involved. It was always for other reasons, whether a guy was going to play or wasn’t going to play. I’ve never, ever seen a phenomenon like this.”
Won Seven Starts
Tebow was victorious in seven of his first eight starts after replacing Kyle Orton in the lineup, including a six-game winning streak. In that stretch, Denver became the third NFL team in 20 seasons to win five straight games as an underdog, according to Pregame.com founder RJ Bell. The Broncos lost three games in a row to end the regular season, with Tebow committing eight turnovers, souring bettors on the Steelers’ game.
“Setting a line on the Denver Broncos since Tim Tebow has been starting has been tricky every week,” said Kevin Bradley, sportsbook manager of Bovada.lv, an online betting site. “Not necessarily setting the actual line, but knowing how to adjust once the action starts coming in.”
Bettors at Caesars have several extra wagering options, including whether Tebow will run for a touchdown against the Patriots -- he had two in their last meeting -- and whether he’ll finish with more passing yards than 49ers quarterback Alex Smith has against the Saints.
Popular in Futures
The Broncos have been among the most popular teams in futures betting to win the Super Bowl, even though the odds put their chances at 1.5 percent. Denver would have to beat the Patriots and then the winner of the Baltimore-Houston contest to reach the NFL’s championship game in Indianapolis on Feb. 5.
“It would be OK with me if he goes to New England and wins the game, even if it costs us money,” Vaccaro said. “It will keep building and building. Can you imagine if this kid made it to Indianapolis?”
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