Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
There was a market correction of sorts in Week 5 as dogs went 8-6, but three of the four biggest favorites (Eagles, Giants and Vikings) still covered, so I expect more to come - especially because I've been hearing a lot of "the doormats are historically bad this year," and "there's a huge gap between the haves and have-nots." It's possible - you never know if perhaps something has fundamentally changed about the NFL. But more likely a few teams have started out slowly, due to coaching and personnel changes, fired offensive coordinators, injuries or bad luck. Remember every NFL team is a billion dollar organization whose sole purpose is to prepare the best athletes on the planet to win football games. They work out, practice endlessly and watch detailed game film of each opponent. A new quarterback like Chad Henne or Josh Johnson might take a few games to get comfortable. An offensive line might take time to jell. Teams off to fast starts regress negatively toward the mean while teams off to slow ones do the opposite. The spreads are not merely based on a five-game sample but also on historical data - the way the NFL works over years and years. A touchdown has always been six, a field goal three and the game 60 minutes - these things set the parameters for what a line can and should be. So when the Eagles are laying 14-plus on the road, it's saying - "we know you think the Raiders are historically, anomalously bad, but if they're just run-of-the mill awful, they're a good value."
Texans +4.5 at Bengals
The Bengals are for real - wins over Pittsburgh and in Green Bay and Baltimore are enough to establish that. But the Texans can move the ball on anyone, and we think they stay in the game. Back Houston.
Bengals 27 - 23
Lions +13.5 at Packers
We'd feel a lot better about this if Calvin Johnson were to play, but the Lions aren't all that bad. They gave Pittsburgh a game last week, even if they needed a pick-six, and they were competitive for half the game with New Orleans, Minnesota and Chicago. The Packers could blow them out, but this is a big enough number to take the Lions. Back Detroit.
Packers 30 - 20
Rams +10 at Jaguars
I'm not moved so much by the Jaguars no-show in Seattle last week as the Rams signs of life against the Vikings. Yes, the score was 38-10, but that was largely due to some freak fumbles, without which the game might have been close as the Rams moved the ball consistently. Back St. Louis.
Jaguars 20 - 16
Ravens +3 at Vikings
Normally I take ugly home dogs or the rare favorite of which the public wants no part, but this week, I'm going old school and simply picking the team I think is better. The Vikings are off to a great start, but last week's win in St. Louis was deceptive as the Rams moved up and down the field but fumbled the game away. The Ravens are only 3-2, but the loss in New England was due to questionable roughing-the-passer calls, and the loss to the legitimate Bengals was on the game's final drive. In other words, no team has had an easy time with the Ravens, and I don't expect the Vikings to change that. The Ravens need the game more, and they're getting the field-goal, to boot. Back Baltimore.
Ravens 30 - 24
Giants +3 at Saints
This is probably the right line given the venue. The Saints have played far tougher opponents (the Jets and Eagles) so far, while the Giants have been an elite team since January of 2007 and have lots of experience in big games. The biggest concern for New York is its weakness at safety now that Kenny Phillips is out for the year - C.C. Brown and Aaron Rouse will have a hard time covering Saints receivers, especially tight end Jeremy Shockey. On the other side of the ball, Eli Manning and the Giants faced defensive coordinator Gregg Williams many times when he was in Washington, so they should have some idea how to attack the Saints improved defense. What does that all mean? Probably nothing. I'm a Giants fan, so it's hard for me to be objective in a big game like this. New Orleans feels like the savvy, professional play, and I'd be willing to take them and root for the loss, but I'm going with the Giants who rarely have letdowns and should keep it close. Back New York.
Giants 23 - 21
Browns +14 at Steelers
The Browns played an even game against Cincinnati two weeks ago, and then won an ugly one on the road last week. They're by no means a good team, but I'm not sure they should be getting 14 points, either. Back Cleveland.
Steelers 27 - 17
Panthers -3 at Buccaneers
The Panthers pulled out the win against Washington last week but looked awfully shaky doing it. The Buccaneers are a team in transition, but they moved the ball a little bit against the Eagles, and in any event, the Panthers have to play better before laying points on the road. Back Tampa.
Panthers 20 - 19
Chiefs +6.5 at Redskins
I'm of two minds here. The Chiefs are the obvious play considering how much trouble the Redskins have had with other league doormats the last few weeks, but this is the rare case where 64 percent of the public is backing the underdog. In the end, we have to take the Chiefs who played Dallas tough last week. If the Redskins are really that much better, but just needed six weeks to show it, we'll adjust our thinking accordingly. Back Kansas City.
Chiefs 24 - 23
Eagles -14.5 at Raiders
The Raiders are the worst team in the league, despite their one win, but I don't see how you can't take the 14.5 at home on blind faith. The public expects another blowout, and it could easily happen, but Vegas isn't giving money away. Back the Raiders.
Eagles 20 - 10
Cardinals +3 at Seahawks
These are roughly equal teams at this point, so the line appears to be on target, but Seattle's home field advantage might be worth a little more than the customary three. Back the Seahawks.
Seahawks 26 - 20
Titans +9.5 at Patriots
Ever since Week 1 when they covered in Pittsburgh, I've been rolling with the Titans and getting burnt. Maybe Tennessee's given up - it sure looked like it when Jeff Fisher punted on 4th and 3 with six minutes left down 22 Sunday night - but barring that, this is a big enough number to send me back to the well. Back Tennessee.
Patriots 21 - 17
Bills +10 at Jets
I'd imagine the conventional storyline here is Rex Ryan and the Jets, stinking mad after the heartbreaking loss in Miami, are set to take out their frustrations on the hapless Bills. But everyone's mad - even Dick Jauron who as I type this is no doubt gently hitting a heavy bag so as not to risk injury to his wrists. The Jets bully act was exposed in Miami, and we expect their division rivals to show up and slug it out with them. Back the Bills.
Jets 16 - 13
Bears +3.5 at Falcons
The Falcons were impressive on the road last week, shredding a tough San Francisco defense with ease. But the Bears should match up better here, given their balanced attack and ability to strike down the field. Expect a close game and take Chicago.
Falcons 27 - 24
Broncos +3.5 at Chargers
The Broncos survived as home dogs against both Dallas and New England, but their much improved defense will face its biggest challenge yet against Philip Rivers in San Diego. Back the Chargers who pull away late.
Chargers 30 - 23
We went 11-3 last week to go 36-40 on the season. 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 10/14/09