Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We're not going to lie to you: Week 1 is a crapshoot from a betting standpoint. For starters, the preseason means nothing. It has no bearing on what will happen when the real games start. Secondly, the games that do inform us happened nine months ago, and a lot has changed since then. Forget about the free-agent signings/cuts, the NFL draft and injuries - even if the teams had exactly the same players, the season wouldn't shake out the same way. There's always uncertainty in the NFL - past performance does not guarantee future results - and normally we use that uncertainty to our advantage by keeping our minds open to the possibilities and not overreaching in what we know. But in Week 1, we know so little that even picking a side is probably an overreach. That doesn't mean we're not happy to do it - only a warning that we're all flying blind here. Actually, we're always flying blind, but this week we're blind, deaf and blacked-out drunk. But at least we know it... Fasten your parachutes and don't forget your football helmet.
For what it's worth we especially like the Dolphins, 49ers and Titans.
Redskins +3.5 at Giants
Normally, the defending Super Bowl champion would be getting some respect, but not the Giants. Take a look at the Super Bowl odds where they're getting 20:1. That's worse than the Saints (16:1), Vikings (14:1) and the Jaguars (13:1). As such, they're getting just a half-point more at home than would be expected from equal teams, and that makes them a good value over a Redskins squad with a shaky quarterback trying to learn a new system. The loss of Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan is big, but look for Steve Spagnuolo to attack the Skins unpredictably and keep them off balance. Back the Giants.
Giants 23 - 13
Buccaneers +3.5 at Saints
Last we checked the Buccaneers won the division last year before losing badly at home to the Giants in the playoffs. At the time, it seemed like they laid an egg, but history revealed there was no shame in the loss. As such, Tampa has to be considered at least a co-favorite in the NFC South, along with Carolina and New Orleans, and there's no reason they should be getting more than a field goal here. Back the Bucs.
Saints 20 - 17
Rams +7.5 at Eagles
We don't like that this line jumped an extra half point - when lines go from 6.5 to 7, or 7 to 7.5, it makes a big difference - but we're still going to back a well-coached veteran Philly squad at home against a Rams team trying to adapt to a new offensive coordinator. Take the Eagles who roll.
Eagles 27 - 17
Jets -3 at Dolphins
It doesn't matter what you think of these teams - you must shut your brain off and simply pick the Dolphins as a matter of faith. It's the right way to bet, and that will be the case even if the Jets roll. If you don't understand this, you will have many miserable Sundays cursing the apparent randomness of the NFL. For those of you who need an explanation, here it is: The book knows with 100 percent certainty that the public will bet the Brett Favre-led Jets here. And the book does not give money away. Plus, the game's in Miami which is a brutal place to play in September. Favre was always good in the freezing cold at Lambeau, but a 38-year old who came to camp late could have a tough time in the heat and humidity. Back the Dolphins who keep it close and possibly win outright.
Dolphins 20 - 19`
Chiefs +16.5 at Patriots
We went against the Patriots for most of last year, and early on, it killed us. By midseason, commentors were ripping us, but we stuck to our guns and eventually got our money back when New England couldn't cover against anyone down the stretch. This is a new season, but apparently, the book's betting the public won't notice. Take the Chiefs who stay close enough.
Patriots 23 - 10
Texans +6.5 at Steelers
Another line move that hurts us as this one was seven. And we even have a bit of a Steelers feeling - a veteran team that's probably more in sync early on than the upstart Texans. That said, the Texans went 8-8 in a tough division a year ago, despite losing two of their best players Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson for half the year. If they're healthy, Houston is probably as good as the Steelers. Take the points.
Steelers 23 - 17
Bengals -1 at Ravens
This is probably the game we have the least feel for. The Bengals are a troubled organization, and it's not just the crime syndicate that's infiltrated their roster of late. Chad Johnson changed his name to "eight" "five" in Spanish (I'm told by my friend Jonah Keri that Ocho Cinco is not "eighty-five"), and like Domanick Davis/Williams before him, the rechristening will not heal his severely injured joint - in Johnson's case his shoulder. Finally, the team released tackle Willie Anderson and starting tailback Rudi Johnson a week before the season and is relying on one of the most injury prone players in the league to take Johnson's place.
But Baltimore's also got problems. Kyle Boller's out with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder and backup Troy Smith is struggling with tonsilitis. That means rookie Joe Flacco might have to start his first NFL game, though he could hardly have asked for a better opponent. The bottom line is that both of these teams have major uncertainties, and it's a question of whether to go with the star quarterback, or the home team with the better defense that's getting a point. We don't have strong feelings, either way, but when in doubt, take the home dog.
Ravens 15 - 13
Lions -3 at Falcons
Damon and I don't see how we can back the Lions as a three-point road favorite against anyone. Take the Falcons.
Falcons 23 - 20
Seahawks pick 'em at Bills
The Seahawks play better at home, and the Bills are a young team that could improve. With all the uncertainty heading into Week 1, we'll take the home team. Back Buffalo.
Bills 19 - 16
Jaguars -3 at Titans
These are two tough division rivals - we expect a close game with lots of running plays and not a ton of scoring. Under those circumstances, laying three on the road is too much. We'd have set this line as a pick 'em. Back the Titans.
Titans 20 - 19
Cowboys -5.5 at Browns
We don't like that Derek Anderson (concussion) and Braylon Edwards (foot) missed so much practice time in August, but they're practicing this week, and that's better than nothing. The Cowboys are a good team on both sides of the ball, but laying more than five on the road against an up-and-comer is asking a lot. Plus, we expect the public to jump all over Dallas. Back the Browns.
Cowboys 24 - 20
Panthers +9.5 at Chargers
The Chargers should be a good team, but they're getting full credit with this line. The Panthers should get a lift from quarterback Jake Delhomme's return from Tommy John surgery, though his top target, Steve Smith will be out. It's a fair number, but we'd rather take the points until we see how things shake out.
Chargers 23 - 16
Cardinals -2.5 at 49ers
This is another easy call as the Cardinals have done nothing over the last couple seasons to differentiate themselves significantly from the Niners. Maybe J.T. O'Sullivan is the answer, and maybe not. But we don't see any compelling reason to favor one team over the other. Take the home dog.
49ers 24 - 23
Bears +9.5 at Colts
At full strength, the Colts are as steady as they come. But losing Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday is a big blow, and we still don't know all the details about Peyton Manning's knees. The Bears are typically overrated, but Lovie Smith usually gets these guys to play hard, and we think they'll keep it close enough. Back Chicago.
Colts 24 - 16
Vikings +2.5 at Packers
We went back and forth on this one, but we have to give Green Bay credit for last year's showing, and take them over the overhyped Vikings squad that has yet to achieve anything. That Green Bay is getting less than the obligatory three-points at home tells us the Viking hype has gotten ahead of itself. Back the Packers.
Packers 23 - 19
Broncos -3 at Raiders
With the development of Jay Cutler (and his return to full health now that his diabetes is being properly treated) along with a trio of young pass catchers (Brandon Marshall, Tony Scheffler and Eddie Royal), we think the Broncos have a chance to break out this year. But Week 1 is not a good spot for them as they're missing Marshall (suspension) and facing the best tandem of cover corners in the NFL (Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall). We expect this game to be decided on the ground, and these teams are about equal there. Back the Raiders as home dogs.
Broncos 19 - 17
We were 127-120-9 last season. From 1999-2007, we were 1184-1018 - not including ties - (53.8 percent).
Article first appeared 9/1/08