- Jon Greenberg, Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Jay Kornegay, the director of the sportsbook at the Las Vegas Hilton, didn't wait long to set the line for the much-anticipated Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers NFC Championship Game next Sunday at Soldier Field.
Like, he didn't wait for the Bears' game against Seattle to end.
Kornegay set the line at Packers -3 shortly after the Bears went into halftime up 21-0. Chicago wound up winning 35-24 in a game that lacked the requisite playoff drama.
"We did open the Packers at -3 and are accumulating money on them like snow in the U.P.," Kornegay wrote in an e-mail, referring to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
A common question among amateur gamblers is: Does Vegas set the line to encourage action on both sides?
"We do try to set a line that gets action on both sides, but it's very rare for that to take place," he said. "We try to get a good starting point and from there move the line to put us in the best position to win."
The Bears were 3-point underdogs (according to covers.com) when they beat the Packers at home on Sept. 27, 20-17. They were 11-point underdogs in the season finale at Green Bay, as no one was positive the Bears would play their starters the entire game after wrapping up the NFC North the week before. The starters played the entire game and Green Bay won 10-3.
Green Bay's 48-21 whipping of the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night has boosted an already popular team's reputation among bettors, Kornegay said, but he doesn't expect the line to move much.
"Despite these two teams playing a very close game just a couple of weeks ago, the Packers have made an impression over the last two weeks," Kornegay said. "Anyone outside 200 miles of Michigan Ave. is in love with Green Bay. They put on a clinic over the last two weeks and their bandwagon is growing by the minute. I expect a lot of tickets on the Packers but anticipate some larger wagers on the Bears. The sharps won't let this line get out of hand. With that said, I'm very positive we'll need the Bears [to cover] when they kick off next Sunday."
Offshore action likes the Packers as well. Sportsbetting.com has the Packers -3.5 with an over/under of 44 1/2. Sportsbook.com has the Packers -3 (-120) and o/u 44.
The Bears are 5-3, straight-up, when playing as underdogs this season, according to covers.com, and are 10-6-1 overall against the spread. But it seems like the Bears play better as underdogs because those wins have come in high-profile games against Dallas, when the teams' expectations were reversed, Philadelphia and Green Bay.
In any event, the Bears, like any team, thrive on perceived disrespect, so this news is probably welcome in the inner sanctum of Halas Hall.
"I'm surprised we weren't underdogs this last game we just played," safety Danieal Manning said. "It doesn't surprise me. We're just going to come in and do our best, man."
TV ratings could set records, and tickets to one of the smallest stadiums in the NFL are going to be in high demand for a game that Bears safety Chris Harris predicted would be, "probably the most-watched NFC Championship Game ever."
NFC Championship Game tickets go on sale Tuesday at 2 pm. Costs range from $134 to $586.
SeatGeek.com, a website that forecasts, aggregates and organizes ticket data for the online secondary market, shows the cheapest available ticket at $504 and the most expensive eclipsing $13,000. But the range falls somewhere in between.
For example, as of 5 p.m. CT Sunday, SeatGeek's map of Soldier Field showed 12 tickets on the market for section 108, which is near the 50-yard line on the Bears' sideline, ranging from $1,679 to $2,968.
"As of today, tickets are averaging $515, quite an increase above the approximately $400 they were last week," Ben Kessler, the director of communications at SeatGeek, wrote in an email. "We might see an even bigger change by [Monday]."
For the more economical fans, section 436 in the upper deck, near the 40-yard line of the visitors' sideline, showed 15 tickets on the market, ranging from $582 to $1,120.
Regardless, this will be the hottest ticket in Chicago sports, maybe ever.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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