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Carolina looks to dog doubters

LAS VEGAS -- The New England Patriots, having won an
impressive 16 games this season, are Las Vegas oddsmakers' pick to
gut out one more victory when they meet the Carolina Panthers in
Super Bowl XXXVIII.

The Patriots, who beat the Indianapolis Colts 24-14 in Sunday's
AFC title game, were made a 7-point favorite over the upstart
Panthers by four of the biggest Las Vegas sports books.

The Panthers earned a spot in the Super Bowl by defeating the
Philadelphia Eagles, who failed to win the NFC Championship for the
third consecutive time.

Bob Scucci, Stardust sports book director, said he posted a
7-point line with 8 minutes left in the Carolina-Philadelphia game.

He said bettors will most likely put their money on the gritty
and reliable Patriots, the most consistent NFL team this season
when it came to covering the spread.

Scucci said the defense-minded Patriots, along with a quality
quarterback in Tom Brady, appear to make the team unbeatable.

"Right now the Patriots look like the best team," Scucci said.
"I think we'll see a lot of money on them in the Super Bowl. I
don't think anybody beats them this year."

John Avello, director of Race & Sports Book operations at
Bally's Las Vegas, made the Patriots a 7-point favorite. The Las
Vegas Sports Consultants also had the Patriots as 7-point
favorites.

The initial odds put out by bookmakers often change as bettors
put money on one team and the bookmakers try to balance their
ledgers by moving the point spread.

Oddsmakers put up a 38 to 38½-point over-under line, meaning
bettors can put money on whether the teams combine to score more or
less than that amount. The oddsmakers said they expect that number
to rise.

Robert Walker, sports book director at The Mirage hotel-casino,
said he also tapped the Patriots as 7-point favorites.

Walker said the Panthers will not be a walkover. He added that
professional gamblers had bet on Carolina throughout the playoffs,
and he didn't expect that to change.

"I think Carolina will give New England a better game," Walker
said. "I do like New England in the game but seven is a lot of
points."