Now is the time for Peyton Manning to call an audible. He might want to check with the NFL about changing the schedule.
More than two months after the first snap of the Super Bowl sailed over Manning’s head, the Denver Broncos appear to be screwed again. How about a rematch with Seattle and another road trip to New England?
Those are the so-called highlights of the Broncos’ regular-season schedule, which calculates as the second toughest in the league. It’s not necessarily a doomsday scenario, but for Manning, it’s definitely not getting any easier.
It’s late April, yet it’s never too early to talk football and jump to conclusions, and the ball got rolling Wednesday when the NFL unveiled 17 weeks of games. The schedule for 32 teams is also the one we as bettors will live and die by in the fall.
Season win totals were posted at the South Point sports book in Las Vegas a month ago. An hour after the schedule was released, the LVH opened lines on Week 1 games. As soon as one football season ends, another begins.
“When you put these things up, it proves what we’ve been saying for years,” South Point oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro said. “With the NFL, there’s a definite audience.”
And it expands every year. ESPN televised a special two-hour schedule release show, so it’s obvious there’s an audience, and Las Vegas sports books are quick to play to it.
The opening lines and win totals, at this point, are posted for entertainment purposes for a majority of the betting public. During the slow summer months, tourists place minor wagers and professionals maneuver the numbers to find an edge and get ahead of the game.
“It’s nothing to get overly excited about,” Vaccaro said.
But it is an intriguing talking point, because interest in the NFL is nearly as hot as Kate Upton jogging on the beach in a bikini.
I spent several hours studying the NFL schedule — taking occasional breaks to watch a video of Kate Upton jogging on the beach in a bikini — and arrived at these opinions and points of interest:
■ The Broncos are not going 13-3 again this year. Manning passed for 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards last season, but he reached those lofty numbers against a significantly weaker lineup of opponents. Denver opens with home games against Indianapolis and Kansas City before visiting the Seahawks, who humbled Manning and embarrassed the Broncos 43-8 in the Super Bowl. After a Week 4 bye — the early bye is a negative — Denver faces Arizona, the New York Jets, San Francisco, San Diego and New England. The Broncos’ posted win total of 11 looks right.
■ Dennis Allen is doomed. Allen, 8-24 in two seasons in Oakland, is the favorite as the first coach to be fired. The Raiders’ strength of schedule — based on opponents’ winning percentage in 2013, often a deceiving formula — ranks No. 1 ahead of Denver. Oakland’s schedule is truly brutal. Look for the Raiders to be 2-8 or 3-7 by mid-November.
■ Tampa Bay is a team on the rise. New coach Lovie Smith is building an impressive defense, and quarterback Josh McCown will revive the offense. McCown was spectacular last year in Chicago, and he can lead the Buccaneers over their win total of 6½.
■ Carolina is a team likely to take a fall. Cam Newton was not a highly effective passer last year, and he will decline this year without Steve Smith and with inexperienced receivers. Off a 12-4 finish, the Panthers’ win total is 8½, so oddsmakers are forecasting the fall.
■ The Jets are worth watching again. A more mature Michael Vick, not a raw Geno Smith, gives the team the best chance to win. Eric Decker, one of Manning’s favorite targets with 87 receptions and 11 touchdowns for the Broncos last season, is a great addition for either quarterback. Chris Johnson still can be a quality running back. The Jets’ schedule, with three of the first four games at home, sets the table for a positive start.
■ November is the month for high-profile quarterback showdowns. Manning and the Broncos visit Tom Brady and the Patriots on Nov. 2. Brady has a 10-5 career record in the personal rivalry. Following a Week 10 bye, Brady visits Indianapolis and Andrew Luck on Nov. 16 and Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers on Nov. 30.
The top two picks in the 2012 draft — Luck and Washington’s Robert Griffin III — finally meet on Nov. 30. It will be the Colts’ third straight home game, and the Redskins will be off a road trip to San Francisco, so Luck owns the scheduling advantage in more ways than one. Indianapolis, with a win total of 9, has the league’s easiest schedule. Luck is 22-10 as a starter, and Griffin is 12-16, so the right guy went No. 1.
■ Dallas, which has finished 8-8 three years in a row, will be lucky to equal its posted win total of … you guessed it, 8. In their season opener, the Cowboys are 3½-point home underdogs to the 49ers. Four of Dallas’ final six games are on the road, and its home opponents are Philadelphia and Indianapolis.
With quarterback Tony Romo returning from back surgery, the Cowboys could be in for a long year. But maybe it’s too early to jump to that conclusion.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.