Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We went 9-6 last week, but would have been 10-5 had I not idiotically switched from the Redskins to the Eagles at the last minute. It's funny because we were worried about having too many dogs (we had 14 before the switch), and it turns out the favorites we picked (Eagles, Lions and Ravens) went 0-2-1. In other words, if you had all dogs, you would have gone 11-4. But I can't bitch about that because if the Eagles had covered I would have taken credit for it like I was a genius.
This week we're more balanced, actually taking nine favorites for a change. I can't even remember the last time we took a majority of favorites - you might have to go back five or six years, but there were so many irresistibly ugly ones, we couldn't help ourselves. And this slate was a strange one for us in another respect - usually we agonize over the games first on Tuesday, only settle on about half, then hash it out again on Wednesday. Even then there are a few that we go back and forth on and which I'm sorely tempted to change as I'm writing up the column Wednesday night. But this week, we didn't even talk Tuesday, and very quickly and with little debate decided on all of them Wednesday. And the only one I was tempted to change was the Dolphins-Jets, but I'm not going to because of last week's debacle with the Skins-Eagles. Plus, a three-point line for Jets-Dolphins hardly inspires passion in either direction. I was almost tempted to predict a push.
Finally, I don't really see an easy choice for best bet. Or even best three or four bets. I like the Chiefs, the Bears, the Falcons and the Raiders, but it's more just that the slate feels right as a whole this week. But in the interest of full disclosure, our confidence level in our picks hasn't necessarily correlated with better results in the past. In fact, if I were to guess, I'd say there's been an inverse relationship. But every week's different.
Cardinals +8.5 at Ravens
The Cardinals are a great value here when you consider that the Jets, using their backup quarterback, were within an inch of tying the game in the fourth quarter last Sunday. And the Cardinals are as good as the Jets and getting a lot of points. But we have an odd contrarian feeling here, as if we're being steered toward the Cards by this number, and we're going to resist. Take the Ravens who pull away on a defensive score (or two).
Ravens 24 - 10
Bills +17 at Patriots
We wonder how big this line would have to be for the majority of bettors to back the Bills. Twenty-four, maybe? In any event, 17 is enough for us - Buffalo's a desperate team, and there's no way New England will be as up for this one as they were last week. Back the Bills.
Patriots 24 - 16
Lions +6.5 at Eagles
This is a lot like the Cardinals-Ravens game with a perennial doormat that looks improved playing against one of the better teams from last year that's not living up to preseason expectations. Six and a half strikes us as a lot for an 0-2 Eagles squad with a struggling QB to part with. And if Brian Westbrook's knee is a problem, it looks even worse. Still, just as we did with the Ravens game, we'll resist the temptation to do the obvious. The Eagles are hungry, they're at home and they're very well coached. Plus Jon Kitna's coming off a concussion, the Lord's intervention notwithstanding. Back the Eagles.
Eagles 31 - 17
Colts -6.5 at Texans
The Texans showed us a lot by coming back from a 14-0 deficit in Carolina and destroying the Panthers from that point forward. It hurts a bit that they don't have their top playmaker, Andre Johnson, this week, but the line already takes that into account. Back the Texans who won't be intimidated by Indy and who should bring their "A" game at home.
Colts 23 - 20
Dolphins +3 at Jets
If we could pick against both of these teams we probably would. Which means we'd probably back either one if they were playing someone good. The Jets played better last week, and they're at home but only laying the obligatory three. It's a little too obvious for my taste, and I'm tempted to change it to the Dolphins who no one in his right mind would touch, but I screwed up changing a pick last week, so I don't want to mess with our agreed-upon choices. Back the Jets who barely cover.
Jets 21 - 17
Vikings +2.5 at Chiefs
Everyone talks about the Chiefs as if they're such a disaster, but they lost on the road to what seems like a tough Houston squad (contrast that with how Carolina lost at home to them), and they lost by 10 in Chicago in a game where they had a touchdown called back because of an illegal shift, and the Bears scored a special teams touchdown. We don't expect the Chiefs to make the playoffs, but they look more like 6-10/7-9 to us than one of the real dregs of the league. As such, we like them at home laying less than three against a Vikings team that can't throw the ball at all. Back Kansas City.
Chiefs 19 - 13
Chargers -4.5 at Packers
The New England game was a disgrace on a lot of levels, not least of which was the coaching. Forget about the Chargers bringing their "C" game in a contest of that magnitude, but how about the gutless play calling? Norv Turner actually punted on 4th and 2 from midfield with five minutes in the second quarter with his team down 24-0! The guy was down 24 points in New England, and he was playing it safe! That level of cautiousness from its leader when faced with adversity can't be good for team morale, and you wonder how much the aura of cowardice and failure has infected the roster. Moreover, Philip Rivers isn't playing well, and he's trying to get in sync with two very inexperienced receivers. San Diego might very well bounce back and kick the snot out of the Packers, but they're going to have to do it first before we back them as a significant favorite on the road against a pretty decent defensive team. Take the Packers.
Chargers 20 - 17
49ers +9 at Steelers
The Steelers look good early on, but we don't want to draw any major conclusions from two games against weak opponents. If the 49ers can defend the pass well enough and fight this one out on the ground, they'll keep it close. Back San Francisco.
Steelers 20 - 14
Rams +3.5 at Buccaneers
The contrarian in us wants to take the Rams, and normally we love that extra half point, but here it almost cuts the other way - offering us bait. We'll decline for a few reasons: first, the Rams defense is soft, second, they can't protect the quarterback and third, it's likely to be 90 degrees and humid with scattered thunderstorms on Sunday, conditions that should favor the home team. Back Tampa who pulls away in the fourth quarter.
Buccaneers 24 - 17
Bengals +3 at Seahawks
The Bengals could bounce back this week after surrendering 51 points to the Browns, but playing Seattle on the road won't be an easy place to do it. If Cincy was getting more than three, we'd have taken a longer look at this, but Seattle's tough at home and at least as good when you factor in defense. Back the Seahawks.
Seahawks 27 - 23
Browns +3 at Raiders
Fresh off a triumphant performance against their in-state division rival, the Browns should find it tougher sledding in Oakland against a game Raiders team that should have knocked off Denver at Invesco Field. The line is probably about right here, but Oakland's at least as good, they're winless (and likely more desperate), and they're at home. Take the Raiders.
Raiders 27 - 17
Jaguars +3 at Broncos
Neither team has been impressive so far. Denver's 2-0, but only an inch away from 0-2, and Jacksonville's 1-1, and awfully lucky that Matt Prater missed two field goals for the Falcons last week before being cut. Still, the Jaguars have played up or down to the level of the competition fairly often the last few years, and there's no reason not to expect a close game here. Back Jacksonville with the points.
Jaguars 20 - 19
Panthers -4 at Falcons
The Panthers don't strike us as a convincing road favorite after getting destroyed at home by the Texans. Moreover, the Falcons showed up in Jacksonville last week, and were it not for some horrific field-goal misses, might well have won that game. This game should be a pick 'em, and we wouldn't be surprised to see the Falcons win outright. Back Atlanta.
Panthers 19 - 17
Giants +3.5 at Redskins
We are really sick of backing the Giants. It's funny because there's nothing wrong with their personnel. Sure, they lost Brandon Jacobs, but to date he had proved only that he could get one yard more often than not. Derrick Ward is doing just fine, the offensive line is quite good and Eli Manning's shoulder seems okay. The problem has been the team's secondary, which hasn't been good for a while, but with the pass rushers they have, you'd think they could make up for that. And it would help if they had a better coach. Nonetheless, Washington strikes us as a soft 2-0, the Giants are getting more than a field goal, and everyone else is probably sick of backing them, too. Which means they'll probably show up out of desperation if nothing else. Back New York.
Redskins 24 - 21
Cowboys +3 at Bears
Certain teams when they play well generate more hype than others - the Steelers and Cowboys are two of them. No one takes the Lions or Texans all that seriously, but Pittsburgh and Dallas have lots of fans and winning traditions, so once we see a glimmer of hope from them, everyone's fighting tooth and nail for a seat on the bandwagon. In this case, there are some things to like about the Cowboys, namely their quarterback, their superstar receiver and their hard-running backup running back. But that secondary has been terrible for two years now, and the defense as a whole is nothing special. The Bears, on the other hand, have at least a good defense (how good, we'll know in a few weeks), and an offense that last season played well at times - like when they were at home and facing a mediocre defense. This is one of those times. Back Chicago.
Bears 24 - 17
Titans +4 at Saints
How preposterous that the Saints could play this poorly and be laying four against a Titans squad that won in Jacksonville and barely lost to the Colts. In fact, had Brandon Jones not dropped an easy reception in the closing seconds, Tennessee would have attempted a game-winning field-goal. Think about it - the Colts annihilated the Saints, the Titans almost beat the Colts, and now the Saints are favored by more than a field goal against Tennessee? But football's not transitive - in fact, it's more like Rock-Paper-Scissors - where A beats B, B beats C, and C beats A. The Colts are a finesse team that blew out a weaker finesse team on their speedy home turf. The Titans are a power team that knocked around the Colts on the Titans' slower home turf. But on the Superdome's fast track, maybe the finesse Saints will have an edge. But that's just a guess, and probably a weak one at that. The explanation is always just speculation anyway. The point is that the book is begging you to do the obvious and take Tennessee, and you should decline. Back the Saints.
Saints 31 - 20
We went 9-6-1 against the spread in Week 2 to go 14-15-3 on the season. We were 139-108-9 last season. From 1999-2006, we were 1057-898 - not including ties - (54.1 percent).
Article first appeared 9/20/07