Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
I knew we were in trouble when we got comments from everyone praising our picks. The best thing we can hear is that we're dead wrong on particular games - those almost always turn out to be right (special thanks to our pal Marty for writing that Arizona would easily cover over San Fran in Week 1). But seriously, it doesn't much matter either way what people say because the games will go as they go. I can look back afterwards and divine anything I like out of the comments, but that won't change the games.
And even if you lose a game, it's often luck. I used to think that only if your team got unlucky in a close game (e.g., the Eagles last week) could you claim that it was the right side, and you should have won. But what about the idea that you might have been right to take the Raiders plus 12 even though they wound up on the wrong side of a blowout? Maybe the Raiders really were a good value getting all those points, but the way the game went didn't bear that out. Pocket aces are better than pocket jacks, but if the flop comes J-J-2, you're not even close to winning. That doesn't mean the Aces weren't a great value before the flop. There are a lot of different possible flops, and infinitely many ways a particular football game can turn out. What if the Ravens-Raiders was one of the more extreme versions of that game, akin to a very unfavorable and unusual flop. We'll never know for sure, of course, because unlike poker hands, football games can't be repeated a million times until we know the average expectation. But if the Ravens turn out to be a mediocre team - say an 8-8 squad, and the Raiders go 4-12 and cover six times, maybe Oakland was the right pick after all.
But because you can't know whether you're playing right but just getting bad flops in the NFL, results are really all you can judge yourself by. And we went 7-9 last week, so please no favorable comments on this week's picks.
Panthers -3 at Buccaneers
The Panthers look better than the Bucs, and there's even a chance Steve Smith could return this weekend. Still, Tampa is just as desperate for a win, and they're getting three points at home from an 0-2 team possibly without its best offensive player and almost certainly without Smith being 100 percent. I don't want to think too much about how the Tampa Bay line is going to block Julius Peppers, but the value is with the Bucs.
Buccaneers 17 - 16
Bears -3 at Vikings
Normally, we're partial to home dogs, especially ones that are playing pretty well, but Chicago absolutely annihilated its first two opponents, and even though Green Bay and Detroit aren't great resume builders, the way Chicago went about it impressed us. The swagger and confidence that we saw last season from the Bears' defense is now spilling over to the offense which is attacking down the field, and Rex Grossman is making the throws. This is a hunch play - both Damon and I think the Bears are going to pass this intermediate test fairly easily. It'll take another elite team to match up with them, and the Vikings aren't there yet. Back Chicago.
Bears 23 - 13
Bengals +2 at Steelers
I have a Cincinnati feeling here - they look like they're hitting they're stride while Pittsburgh seems to be a little lost early on. Even in their Week 1 win, their defense didn't impress, allowing the Dolphins to move the ball through the air before Daunte Culpepper choked away the game. But Damon feels confident that the defending champs giving less than three at home is the smarter play, so we'll roll with it. Ben Roethlisberger should play better now that he's had another week to practice and heal, and the Steelers desperately need a win this week to avoid falling two games behind both the Bengals and possibly the Ravens. In short, Pittsburgh should come to play, and at home and giving up less than three, they should be able to cover. Back the Steelers.
Steelers 24 - 20
Packers +7 at Lions
We really hate to back the Packers, especially on the road, but the Lions shouldn't be parting with seven points against anyone - at least until they show something on offense. Back Green Bay who keeps it close enough.
Lions 20 - 17
Jaguars +7 at Colts
A lot of people hate the ugly way Jacksonville plays, but Damon and I love them. They always seem to be a good value against strong teams because they'll stay in the game against anyone. Fred Taylor ran very well last week, and the Jaguars trio of big receivers creates matchup problems, especially on third downs when they need to move the chains. Defensively, if any team can replicate the success Pittsburgh had in Indy during last year's playoffs, it's this one. Last year, the Colts beat them by seven and eight points in their two meetings, and we expect the Jags to stay in this one as well. Back Jacksonville who keeps it close.
Colts 28 - 27
Jets +5.5 at Bills
The Bills look like a legitmate team this year, but then again, so do the Jets. Not that either one is likely to make the playoffs, but they're the type of teams that will offer good value as underdogs all season long. As such, we'll take the Jets who, assuming Laveranues Coles is okay, have a better passing attack than Buffalo. Back New York.
Bills 20 -19
Titans +11 at Dolphins
The Titans are a funny team. They have a quarterback, starting tailback and head coach who are all just keeping their seats warm for someone else who will eventually matter. As such, it's hard to see them approaching this game with the same urgency that Miami is. Still, these are professionals, and 11 is a lot of points for a struggling team like the Dolphins to be giving up before they get their first win. Back the Titans.
Dolphins 27 - 17
Redskins -4 at Texans
We backed the Redskins last week, and that game was a disaster - barring a fluky kickoff return, it never would have been close. And watching Mark Brunell struggle to get the ball to anyone but reserve running back Ladell Betts on short screens was tough to take. This week, Washington should have Clinton Portis back in some capacity, and against Houston's defense, Santana Moss should have more room to operate. But Houston isn't going to roll over for them, and until we see a sign that Brunell can make a play further down the field, or that the team as a whole is grasping Al Saunders' new offense, four points on the road is too much to part with. Back the Texans.
Redskins 19 - 16
Ravens -6.5 at Browns
The Ravens have looked good defensively against two horrendous teams, but no team averaging 4.9 yards per passing attempt and 3.7 yards per rush should be laying big points on the road against anyone. The Browns haven't looked great, but they're not a total doormat, either, and as discussed above, their young offensive nucleus should improve as the year goes on. Back Cleveland at home who keeps it close and possibly wins outright.
Browns 17 - 16
Giants +3.5 at Seahawks
I was watching Dan Marino on HBO's Inside the NFL say how the Giants will have a tough time traveling across country to play Seattle after last week's emotional win over the Eagles. He implied that somehow it would be difficult to muster the same intensity, having spent so much of it in a five-quarter game last week. Well, he played the game, and I didn't, but being no less an amateur psychologist than he is, it occurred to me that an emotional comeback like last week's might uplift a team in the following weeks. In fact, there are three possibilities: (1) that what Marino said is true; (2) that the win will be the catalyst for a successful season, or; (3) what happened last week won't affect them one way or the other. Because we don't know, let's assume (3) is the case and back the Giants getting more than a field goal.
Seahawks 27 - 24
Eagles -6 at 49ers
Normally we'd love to take the home dog, but even without Jevon Kearse, the Eagles' blitzing defense should be trouble for young Alex Smith, and Donovan McNabb should have his way with the 49ers defense. Back Philly who pulls away early and staves off a late comeback.
Eagles 30 - 20
Rams +4.5 at Cardinals
We don't see why the Cardinals are giving more than three to the Rams - after all, what has Arizona done to show they're better than St. Louis? This game could go either way, so take the points.
Cardinals 23 - 20
Broncos +7 at Patriots
Mike Shanahan always seems to do well against Bill Belichick, covering four of the last five contests between them. While the Broncos look out of sync early on, we expect them to play with focus in Week 3. Unless Tom Brady can discover a go-to receiver, this game should stay close, as New England is great at killing the clock behind their resurgent running game, but that's not how you pull away on the scoreboard. Back Denver who falls just short of the upset.
Patriots 19 - 16
Falcons -3.5 at Saints
We were torn about this one as we normally don't like to take road favorites, and the Falcons stock has gone up enough after two weeks that it might be time to sell. But we chose Atlanta because we like that coach Jim Mora, Jr. is allowing Michael Vick to run a Texas-style offense in which he's able to maximize his talents (running the ball) and minimize his weaknesses (throwing short, accurate passes in the West Coast offense). Still, I'm going to reverse field and go with New Orleans here because not only are they a home dog with a good quarterback and a new, offensive-minded head coach, but it's the re-opening of the Superdome roughly 13 months after Hurricane Katrina. Normally, I think that emotional made-for-TV stuff is overrated (we took Minnesota at Washington on the five-year anniversary of 9/11), but this case is different for a number of reasons. First, the tragedy is more recent, second, the dome itself was the site of much of the drama on those days, third, the return of the Saints and the restoration of the dome is incredibly important to the city's ongoing recovery, and finally, because the Saints will be inspired by the occasion and what it represents for New Orleans. The Falcons, on the other hand, are charged with the task of disappointing the people of that city, and while they're professionals, their edge could be missing. Back the Saints who keep it close and possibly win outright.
Saints 27 - 24
We were 7-9 against the spread in Week 2, to put us at 17-15 on the season. From 1999-2005, we were 918-790 - not including ties - (53.7 percent).
Article first appeared 9/21/06