Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
It's late and I couldn't think of anything to say for an intro, so I went and checked out last year's intro to Week 1, hoping to get some ideas. Here it is:
Back for another season of war with the book. Actually it's not so much the book but the lines. And it's not so much the lines, but ourselves. That's what it's really about - uncluttering the process and making good plays, no matter how they turn out. If we go all in with Aces pre-flop and get sucked out on the river, so be it. If we're going to have any luck, make sure it's bad luck because that way we won't depend on it. No, we want to make good, virtuous plays, and see that virtue as its own reward. Cause and effect karma. Long-term buy and hold. Slow and steady wins the race.
That's strong stuff, and when I read it, I'm a believer again. I mean that's the way life works - consistency, perspective, an eye on the long haul - that's what describes a person of character, a winner, so to speak. The problem is I always write the intro last after I've picked the games. And this week, Damon and I didn't go with that strong, virtuous, heroic angle. And come to think of it, we didn't do that for much last year, either. It's just not us. I wish it were us, but it's not. We're gamblers, and we like to jump around from value plays to hunch plays to going ugly with the doormats of the league on blind faith. So that's what we did below.
Enjoy the games.
Dolphins pick 'em at Steelers
Nothing like losing the marquee player in the game to kick off the NFL season... still, it's the NFL, so who's not going to watch, even if it is a dud? Initially, we liked the Dolphins plus 5.5 with a healthy Roethlisberger because we expected a close-to-the-vest tight game between two tough teams. But with Roethlisberger gone, expect Pittsburgh to try to run the clock and use a lot of short, low-risk passes. The Dolphins will probably play conservatively as well, with defensive minded Nick Saban coaching and Mike Mularkey calling the plays. All things considered, we expect this to go down to the wire, and as such, we like the Super Bowl champs defending their turf at home. Back the Steelers.
Steelers 16 - 13
Falcons +6 at Panthers
The Panthers are a popular pick to come out of the NFC this year, and we understand why, but Atlanta's not a doormat, and in Week 1, with all the uncertainty due to the nine-month layoff, we think six is a lot, especially between division rivals. There are a lot of elite pass rushers in this game, so Michael Vick's mobility could be a factor here as well. Expect the Falcons to show up, keep it close and cover the spread.
Panthers 20 - 17
Ravens +3 at Buccaneers
Typically when a home team is favored by three points, Vegas is treating the teams as equal because three is roughly what the home field advantage is worth. This varies from venue to venue and year to year, of course - going into Invesco Field during a blizzard in December is typically worse than playing in San Diego in October, but on average, a three-point home favorite means equal teams. But are these teams equal? Last I checked the Bucs were a playoff team, returning a healthy Michael Clayton and a more experienced Chris Simms, while the Ravens won just six games last year. Sure, they upgraded at quarterback with Steve McNair, but McNair isn't what he was six years ago, and neither are Jamal or Ray Lewis. These don't look like even teams to me. Back the Bucs who win fairly easily.
Buccaneers 24 - 13
Bills +9 at Patriots
Damon and I went back and forth on this. Normally we're partial to the underdog and like to go ugly, but Bill Belichick's defenses tend to have their way with inexperienced quarterbacks. Expect J.P. Losman to throw two or three picks which should be good enough for a nine-point loss in Foxborough. Back the Pats.
Patriots 27 - 13
Bengals +2.5 at Chiefs
Is this line a misprint? Or is it just some spillover from a parallel universe in which Carson Palmer looked unable to throw off his gimpy knee this preseason. Someone's setting a trap here, but if that's the case, I'm falling for it. Back Cincinnati who should be able to shred this defense unless it improved monumentally before even playing a regular season game.
Bengals 30 - 27
Broncos -3.5 at Rams
Damon and I usually like to go ugly and back the home dog getting a field-goal plus, but Denver's the kind of team that has it's **** together, and we don't see the Rams' defense slowing them down too much, especially on the ground. Back Denver who pulls it out on the road.
Broncos 24 - 20
Saints +3 at Browns
This is the right line between two bad teams, one of which has made a ton of offseason changes (the Saints) and one of which is largely the same (the Browns). Over the long haul, we're interested to see what Drew Brees, a presumably healthy Deuce McAllister, Reggie Bush and new offensive minded coach Sean Payton bring to the table, but for Week 1, we think the Browns should handle them at home. Back Cleveland.
Browns 20 - 16
Jets +2.5 at Titans
These teams are both equally bad, so this line looks right to us. For some reason, though, we have a Jets feeling - Eric Mangini might or might not turn out to be a good coach, but the Jets are better than Tennessee defensively, and it seems as though Jeff Fisher knows he's not going to be around when this team finally turns it around. There's something hapless and desperate about signing Kerry Collins at the 11th hour and five days before the season still not announcing who the starting quarterback will be. Incidentally, the Pennington-Collins matchup might be the greatest disparity in starting quarterback arm strength in NFL history. Still, we're backing the Jets.
Jets 17 - 16
Eagles -4 at Texans
The Eagles will be back this year to some extent at least - with a healthy Donovan McNabb, a developing Reggie Brown (I can't mention Donte' Stallworth because I don't think he'll matter) and a presumably healthy Brian Westbrook. But I don't think we can just assume they'll pick up where they left off pre-Terrell Owens - that was three years ago, and things change quickly in the NFL. The Texans have been a doormat since their inception, but Gary Kubiak was part of a winning program for years in Denver, and we think he at least has a chance to turn this team around. Back the Texans who play tough in Kubiak's first game and cover this line.
Eagles 23 - 20
Seahawks -6 at Lions
The "curse" of the Super Bowl loser has plagued a lot of teams in recent years - Neither the 2001 Giants, the 2002 Rams, the 2003 Raiders, the 2004 Panthers nor the 2005 Eagles made the playoffs. But that type of inductive reasoning is foolish - plenty of Super Bowl losers in the past came back with good seasons, and each team has to be evaluated on its merits. The Seahawks are still a strong team with a top tier quarterback, an overworked superstar running back and some young playmakers on defense. Are they an elite team? Are the Lions destined to be a doormat yet again, despite the coaching and quarterback changes? It's too early to say. We think this line assumes too much at this stage, so we're happy to take the six-point home dog. Back Detroit.
Seahawks 24 - 20
Bears -3.5 at Packers
We really don't like taking road favorites, especially by more than a field goal, and especially when said favorite has no passing game to speak of, but Brett Favre in his current incarnation -- a horror show that would have been shut down halfway through last year if either (1) the Packers had a good team or (2) he weren't a legend -- is hard to like against an opportunistic playmaking defense. Back the Bears who win an ugly one.
Bears 17 - 6
Cowboys +2.5 at Jaguars
The Cowboys defense looked awfully good this preseason. How much does that mean? Probably not a whole lot. Let's face it, a defense can look great for four games in the regular season and suddenly go off course. That's not to say Dallas won't be good - in fact we think they will be - only that what happened in the preseason isn't a huge indicator one way or the other. So at this point, Dallas is just another talented and well-coached team with a chance to do something, but they don't deserve to be getting less than three on the road against a Jacksonville team that went 12-4 last year, albeit with a very soft second half schedule. Back the Jaguars for value.
Jaguars 20 - 17
49ers +7.5 at Cardinals
The 49ers aren't good, but what have the Cardinals done to merit being more than a touchdown favorite over anyone? Alex Smith can't be as bad as he was last season, especially with a full training camp as the team's starter. Back the 49ers who make it a game.
Cardinals 27 - 21
Colts -3.5 at Giants
The oddmakers think a lot of the Colts here - laying three and a half on the road against a playoff team with an improved defense in Week 1 is presuming a lot. Peyton Manning will make throws down the field when he has time, but the Giants' first-rate pass rush should get to him on a few occasions as well. We see this as a close game that either team can win, and as such, we're taking the Giants who win outright so long as the younger Manning doesn't give it away with poor decision-making.
Giants 27 - 23
Vikings +4.5 at Redskins
With Clinton Portis iffy for the game with a bum shoulder, the Redskins don't have a ton of offensive weapons beyond a few small, speedy receivers and an aging quarterback who's lost most of his mobility. The Redskins are tough defensively, but Vikings coach Brad Childress is familiar with them from his offensive coordinator days with the Eagles. Washington should prevail in this game, but we expect the Vikings to hang around. Back Minnesota who covers in a low-scoring game.
Redskins 17 - 16
Chargers -3 at Raiders
As usual we were tempted to take the home dog, especially against the inexperienced Phillip Rivers, but the Raiders' defense is a major problem, and the Chargers have some players that are very hard to match up with. The bottom line is that we see San Diego controlling the game, and as such, we have to part with the points. Back the Chargers.
Chargers 27 - 17
We were 127-120-9 against the spread last season. Since 1999, we're 918-790 - not including ties - (53.7 percent).
Article first appeared 9/6/06