Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We went 7-7 last week, which is disappointing because we were 5-3-1 in the early games (getting most of the big margin ones right) and feeling like we were going to have a big week. But getting a little too cute with teams like the Bears and Saints (ugly favorites, we called them) against teams on the rise cost us. It's one thing to play the contrarian card as an angle within your picks - it's quite another to abandon all independent judgment in favor of it, and I think we were a bit guilty of the latter. Hopefully, we're not overcompensating here with some obvious plays (Dallas, Seattle, Indy - even the Raiders and Bucs strike me as obvious dogs). You need to have a mix of different angles, e.g., contrarian plays, hunch plays, trend plays and theory plays - a new theory I'm trying out is the "rising superstar quarterback" one which holds that when you have a player like Vince Young or Tony Romo who can almost single-handedly negate a good pass rush, the normal rules for handicapping don't apply. I may scrap that theory, but for now, it'll be considered as a factor.
The bottom line is there are no magic formulas here, and if there were, you can be sure the Book already knows about it and has incorporated it into its lines.
We're dog heavy again this week with 11 out of 14.
Ravens -4.5 at Browns
For two weeks we've backed the Ravens as home favorites, and both times they got off to a big enough lead, only to let the opposing team back in the game. At that point, we turned on them and rooted for an outright loss to knock people out of survivor pools, but even that small favor they refused to bestow. Now they're laying more than a field goal on the road, and we have a sneaking feeling that just when we go against them, they'll finally come through. But we'd rather suffer that indignity than go back to the well with them as a road favorite. Back the Browns.
Ravens 20 - 17
Bears -3 at Lions
We backed the Bears last week, thinking that their defense would slow the Cowboys down, and their offense would finally get going against a weak Dallas secondary. But we underestimated Tony Romo, who frustrated a strong pass rush with his nimbleness in the pocket, and overestimated the abysmal Rex-Grossman-led Chicago offense. Brian Griese should be a minor upgrade here, but the defense takes a major hit, losing Tommie Harris. Without Harris' up-the-middle push, we expect the Lions to make plays down the field and the Bears plodding attack to have trouble keeping up. Back Detroit who wins outright at home.
Lions 27 - 20
Packers -2 at Vikings
The Packers look good early on, but we're not buying into them as road favorite material against a stout Vikings defense just yet. Expect some turnovers by both sides and a low scoring, close enough game where you'll be happy you took the home team and the points.
Vikings 16 - 13
Texans -2.5 at Falcons
The Texans are playing well, but it's hard to win on the road without two of your top offensive weapons (Ahman Green, Andre Johnson), and Atlanta's desperate for a win. Moreover, the Falcons played the Jaguars and Panthers pretty tough, and despite their 0-3 record, aren't a total doormat. Back Atlanta, who gets its first win, at home.
Falcons 20 - 19
Jets -3.5 at Bills
The Bills are desperate and playing at home, but Trent Edwards probably isn't ready to quarterback an NFL team just yet. Still, Dick Jauron knows how to ugly up a game and lose while covering the spread. Back the Bills.
Jets 19 - 16
Raiders +4 at Dolphins
This is one of those lines where it looks like they're steering you toward the Raiders (getting the four) while really thinking the winless and hungry Dolphins will cover, but we're going to take the bait here. Oakland, especially with Daunte Culpepper at the helm, should be able to hang with this team. Back the Raiders.
Dolphins 23 - 20
Rams +13 at Cowboys
We went back and forth on this one. On the one hand, the value's got to be with the Rams - they're beaten down, injured and on the road, while Dallas is playing great and coming off an emotional road win on national television. The bookmakers aren't giving money away, and they know for a fact that everyone's betting Dallas. Normally we'd bet the Rams as a matter of principle here, but Damon and I will take the sucker side here and go with the Cowboys. Sometimes, you just want to ride out the trends until the tide turns. Back the Cowboys who roll.
Cowboys 34 - 17
Seahawks -2 at 49ers
Nomally, we love our home dogs, but this line is tantamount to a pick 'em, and Seattle is the more balanced team, with its ability to run or pass and play serviceably on defense. Unless San Francisco decisively wins the turnover battle, Seattle's ability to move the ball will make the diffence. Back the Seahawks.
Seahawks 23 - 16
Buccaneers +3.5* at Panthers
This line is off the board in most places due to the uncertainty surrounding Jake Delhomme's status, but three and a half was the one we saw posted. And in that case, we have to go Tampa, obvious though it may be, because they're just as good as Carolina, and they're getting more than the obligatory three. Back the Bucs.
* preliminary line
Buccaneers 21 - 16
Broncos +10 at Colts
This is also too obvious for our taste, and if I were to pick it over again myself, I'd probably go contrarian and take Denver. But we decided on Indy because Denver hasn't played well in any game this year, and the Colts are an elite squad and playing on their home turf. Actually, I might not pick Denver after writing that sentence. Either way, we're committed to the Colts who never seem to cover for us when we back them.
Colts 30 - 17
Chiefs +12.5 at Chargers
Once again, the Chargers could explode and take their frustrations out on an underdog opponent, but they didn't show us anything last week, and now the burden of proof is on them. Plus the Chiefs have a tough defense. Back Kansas City.
Chargers 20 - 13
Steelers -6 at Cardinals
The Steelers are off to a great start, but laying six on the road against a head coach who knows their personnel from being the offensive coordinator the last couple years is asking a lot. Back the Cardinals who cover and might win outright.
Cardinals 21 - 20
Eagles -3 at Giants
What a difference a half makes. The Giants were left for dead down two touchdowns in Washington and looking like possibly the worst team in the NFL. But Eli Manning played with poise, Plaxico Burress made some plays and the defense seemed like a wholly different unit. The Eagles broke out against the Lions, and Donovan McNabb looks like his old self without the knee brace, but one game against a bad defense doesn't warrant three-point road favorite status against a non-doormat. Back the Giants who win outright.
Giants 24 - 23
Patriots -7.5 at Bengals
When we first looked at this game on Tuesday, Damon said, "Take the Pats - they'll win by 20." And I said, "You sure? Never mess with a Monday Night home dog - they're money in the bank!" And Damon says: "I don't give a shit about that stupidity. I'm Diesel bad-ass Diesel, this is my best bet." (Diesel is his nickname). I said, "Okay, if you're going to step up for it like that, fine, we'll take it."
Cut to a day later, and I say, "You still want the Pats? Cincy's desperate, they're getting more than a touchdown at home on Monday Night in the ultimate showcase game. And they can move the ball on anyone. Plus, everyone's betting the Pats." He says, "We can take the Bengals. It's the smart bet." So we agreed on the Bengals even though I'd honestly rather root for Randy Moss to get 300 yards and five touchdowns and show Chad Johnson who the real master is. Back Cincinnati who keeps it close.
Patriots 31 - 30
We went 7-7-2 against the spread in Week 3 to go 21-22-5 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 9/26/07