Reporting from Las Vegas — Jay Rood is at quarterback and the playing field is mined with the volatility of the stock market, the cheap drama of a teenager's text message and the lunacy of television addiction.
Brett Favre is talking to ESPN with his truck's engine running, making his retirement audible barely audible. But Rood is tuning in, listening and watching for any hint whether the hunting-cap-wearing Favre is going to indeed retire to Mississippi or return to be the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback for another season.
"We don't have a definitive answer," Rood said after hearing Favre on Wednesday. "So we'll be guarding against inside information."
Rood, who is director of the MGM/Mirage Race and Sports book and sets odds at 10 Las Vegas properties, is charged with cutting to the chase through the onslaught of 24-hour NFL news cycles. Favre, he cares about. The impressive catches of Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Dez Bryant, now injured and out four to six weeks, and the nickname of new Cincinnati Bengals teammates Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco? Factored in, but mostly irrelevant.
Rood, to the tune of "seven figures" and up to $30,000 in bets a day by MGM/Mirage customers, knows followers want to simply know who's going to win this season's Super Bowl. So he takes the gabbing out of the equation, separating himself from the other analysts by putting his money where his mouth is.
It's all there for the viewing in the big board of lights at any of his Las Vegas sports books, flashing numbers under "Super Bowl Future Odds," revealing the truest power rankings of all.
And even if the NFL regular season doesn't start until Sept. 9, with the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints playing the NFC runner-up Vikings with or without Favre, Rood has experienced a crazy 48 hours in early August.
Monday, Rood handicapped Favre's Vikings as 6-1 co-favorites to win the Super Bowl along with the returning AFC champion Indianapolis Colts. But then word spread Tuesday that Favre was texting members of the Vikings that he planned to retire. Rood had work to do. Quick.
He dropped the Vikings from 6-1 to 10-1, without Favre confirming the reports. The Vikings' over/under win total went from 10 to off the board.
"I'm waiting for word from the horse's mouth, and then I'll take a more solid position," Rood said Tuesday. "With Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback all year, [the Vikings are] probably in the 30-1 range. I'll have to be careful with them. Because if Favre says at any point through the season, 'I'll be OK to play,' and returns, and I've got them at 30-1, then I'm in a bad spot."
The Favre reports Tuesday caused Rood to establish a new favorite to win the Super Bowl as the returning NFC East champion Cowboys jumped from 7-1 to 5-1. The Vikings' NFC Central rival Green Bay Packers jumped from 10-1 to 7-1 and the Saints bolted from 15-1 to 10-1.
But then, Favre on Wednesday mumbled above the truck motor that he wasn't retiring, and his agent released a statement saying the quarterback's return will hinge on his ankle and a doctor's future examination. Rood scrambled to post revised odds for these teams: Colts 5-1, Cowboys 6-1, Vikings 7-1, Packers 8-1, Saints 12-1.
Rood says he believes only the Colts' loss of Peyton Manning would alter a team's odds as sharply as the Vikings playing without Favre, although the Saints' loss of Drew Brees or the absence of Philip Rivers in San Diego would compare closely.
"You take the starting quarterback off any of the top 10 teams, they're going to be significantly worse," Rood said. "People aren't wanting to bet [17-1] Pittsburgh, and their guy [ Ben Roethlisberger] is only going to sit four games.
"The level of competition in the NFC increases if [Favre's] there. We just sort of try to position ourselves so if something happens one way or another, we can react."
Rood, with some hesitancy, decided to repost the Vikings' over/under victory total for the season: 10. If you bet the under, you have to bet $160 to win $100.
"If Favre's out, they're more likely to win eight or nine games, but if he's in, they can win 10, 11 or 12," Rood said. "My worst-case scenario is he doesn't play, someone finds out before he announces it and plays the unders big."
A Favre-less season favors Dallas and strangely unpopular-in-Vegas New Orleans in the NFC.
The Colts are Rood's choice to repeat as AFC champions. He has set their over/under win total at 11 1/2 games on the heels of their near-perfect regular season last year and the presence of Manning.
"Most people believe they'll get a solid performance, that if you have the Colts, you're going to get a good ride for your investment," Rood said.
Rood has the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, San Diego Chargers [with an over/under win total of 11] and New England Patriots at 10-1. Rood said the popularity of the Ravens in fantasy football leagues and the considerable buzz of publicity being heaped on the Jets [thanks to HBO's "Hard Knocks"] factored into his numbers.
"I've seen it time and again, how whenever something looks too good and everyone is jumping on it, we win," Rood said. "Public perception is a fallacy. The reality is things are a lot closer than they appear, especially in the NFL."