Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We're back for an 11th season, or I should say I'm back, as my brother Damon has dropped out after helping me handicap more than 2500 games. Unfortunately, he doesn't have time to watch the games closely and felt he was dragging me down last year. So I'm going it alone this year, for better or worse.
I'm also changing my overall philosophy slightly. The last few years, we had a conflict between two opposing schools of thought. The first is the idea that we can beat the book - that no matter what the bookies or the public think, we know better, and we should pick the team we believe is the right call.
The other is that the book knows more than we ever will, and all we need to do is align ourselves with it, i.e., see the way it's steering the public, and do the opposite.
In the early days, we usually subscribed to the first school, but recently we gravitated more toward the second. By last year, we would pick roughly half the slate almost entirely by fading the public (there were exceptions), and the other half (where it wasn't clear where the public stood) on gut feel, the idea being that we'd get the best of both worlds.
But this year I'd like to merge the two philosophies - rather than dividing the slate, every game will get both, so I'll be more inclined to take the sucker side even when it's clear where the public is going.
Enjoy the games.
Titans +6 at Steelers
The Steelers won the Super Bowl last year, but Tennessee was the AFC's No. 1 seed in large part because it blew out Pittsburgh without an injured Albert Haynesworth in December. Had the Titans not gotten some bad bounces against the Ravens in last year's playoffs, they would have been favored at home against the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game. Instead, the Steelers beat the Ravens and barely outlasted the Cardinals in the Super Bowl - which is all that counts - but it's not like they took their game to a new level. The bottom line - six points is too much - at most, the line should be 3.5, and in fact, we think Tennessee will get to Ben Roethlisberger and win outright. Back the Titans.
Titans 20 - 16
Dolphins +4 at Falcons
Both teams entered 2008 with O/U win totals of 4, and both made the playoffs. The conventional wisdom is Atlanta has the foundation of young players to support that growth (2009 O/U is 8.5), while Miami will regress significantly (O/U is 7). That makes this line slightly Atlanta friendly (You'd think it would be five or six in that case), but that assumes those O/Us are correct, and that's far from certain. In the end, I think it's the right line, but am taking the Dolphins on a hunch. Back Miami.
Falcons 20 - 19
Chiefs +13 at Ravens
The Chiefs fired offensive coordinator Chan Gailey not two weeks ago, and they were already likely without starting quarterback Matt Cassel. But both developments are overrated as coach Todd Haley was Arizona's offensive coordinator last year, and Cassel stepping into a new system probably wasn't going to be much better than Tyler Thigpen or Brodie Croyle right away. Moreover, Thigpen's mobililty might be important against Baltimore's aggressive defense. But that just means the Ravens will win by 17 and not 30. Back Baltimore.
Ravens 27 - 10
Eagles -1 at Panthers
The Eagles finished stronger than the Panthers last year, but I don't see how that warrants actually laying a point on the road against a roughly equal team. Back Carolina.
Panthers 20 - 17
Broncos +4 at Bengals
The Broncos have a had a tough offseason, but everyone knows that, and I assume that's priced into this line. Plus, Carson Palmer never had a chance to get in sync this preseason after missing most of last year. Back Denver who keeps it close.
Bengals 19 - 16
Vikings -4 at Browns
This is the type of ugly home dog that's hard to refuse. The Vikings have all the big-name talent, and I have to think that's where the money's going. Fade the public and back the Browns.
Vikings 20 - 19
Jets +4.5 at Texans
While the Texans return most of their key players and coaching staff, the Jets have a rookie quarterback and a rookie head coach. In Week 1, I tend to prefer continuity to change, and four and a half's not enough to sway me given that the game's in Houston. Back the Texans.
Texans 28 - 14
Jaguars +7 at Colts
Given how poorly the Jaguars played last year, this strikes me as a small line in Indy, but Jacksonville tends to play the Colts tough. Plus, the Colts (primarily the defense) will have to adjust to life without Tony Dungy. Back the Jaguars who keep it close.
Colts 24 - 21
Lions +13 at Saints
I didn't want to back a rookie QB on the road in Mark Sanchez's case, but 13 points is more like it, especially given the Saints' terrible defense. Take the Lions - I'm not sure New Orleans should be laying 13 until they can stop someone.
Saints 30 - 20
Cowboys -6 at Buccaneers
This is another ugly home dog I can't see myself passing up. Wade Phillips strikes me as a bottom-tier coach, and Tampa's rolling with a medicore vet at quarterback, which is far better than a rookie. Back the Bucs.
Cowboys 19 - 16
49ers +6.5 at Cardinals
Even though the Cardinals nearly won the Super Bowl, I can't buy them as an elite team, and apparently Vegas agrees setting their 2009 O/U at a meager 8.5, despite playing in the NFC West. Meanwhile, the 49ers should improve in Mike Singletary's first full year with the team. Back the Niners who keep it close enough.
Cardinals 23 - 19
Redskins +6.5 at Giants
I expect the Giants to be an elite team this season, but their defense has been banged up for much of training camp, while getting used to new defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan. Expect some rust, and the Redskins to keep it close. Back Washington.
Giants 20 - 16
Rams +8.5 at Seahawks
The Rams have been one of the league doormats for a couple years now, but I can't wrap my mind around laying that much wood with Seattle against anyone. Back St. Louis.
Seahawks 20 - 13
Bears +3.5 at Packers
I've spent way too much time agonizing over a line I essentially consider a coin flip. My brain says Pack, but I have a lingering unease with it. Take Chicago who sticks around and covers.
Packers 30 - 27
Bills +11 at Patriots
The Bills are probably the value play as they've looked terrible this preseason, and everyone will back the Pats. But 11 doesn't seem like that much for the Tm Brady and Bill-Belichick-led team to part with at home. I'm going with the sucker play here. Back New England.
Patriots 34 - 17
Chargers -9 at Raiders
This is a massive line on the road, especially in Week 1 where there's so much uncertainty. But the Raiders organization has been so suspect, it's hard to place my blind faith in the unknown as I would with most other teams. Back San Diego who rolls.
Chargers 33 - 16
We were 124-122-10 on the regular season last year. From 1999-2008, we are 1308-1140 - not including ties - (53.4 percent).
Article first appeared 9/8/09