Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We went 9-4-1 last week, which we're happy about, and before the Sunday and Monday night debacles we were 9-2, losing only with the Titans (we made our pick before we knew Vince Young was starting and Terrell Owens was playing) and the Lions (who would have covered had the Rams failed to make that last two-point conversion). So it was looking very good until the Bears and Eagles saddled us with some legitimate beatings. The Packers pick was a coin toss for us, but the Seahawks were more of a principle pick and a little hasty with 20/20 hindsight. Bascially, we were suckers for that extra half point.
But enough about last week. I don't feel great about these picks (I didn't feel great last week, either), and, recognizing that, now I feel better about them, which in turn makes me worry. You see, at first, we're just as dumb as the suckers, the only difference being we realize it and deliberately go the opposite way. But once going the opposite way yields success, we feel good again. That confidence yields to better and bolder insight - suddenly we trust ourselves. Which is good. But at the same time trusting our perceptions runs contrary to doing the opposite of our misguided perceptions which served us well in the first place. So we have the problem of sorting out which perceptions are insightful and which are just the habitual thinking that everyone's doing. And it's hard to tell where the things that enter your mind come from. Keep that in mind when reading the picks below.
Bills +10 at Bears
The Bears are destroying people at Soldier Field not merely with defense but also with an effective and aggressive downfield passing attack. But after a big win over the defending NFC Champion Seahawks, we expect a natural letdown against the Bills. Buffalo, on the other hand, saw what happened to Seattle, and we expect them to be well-prepared for this game. The Bears will win, but Buffalo keeps it close enough to cover. Back the Bills
Bears 20 - 17
Browns +8.5 at Panthers
Damon and I both liked the Browns initially - they're not a terrible team, and Carolina has had trouble defending the pass. In fact, Carolina has generally been overrated this season, failing to cover against the Falcons, Vikings, Bucs and Saints. But I have a hunch that this is that odd game like Kansas City-San Fran last week where circumstances create a blowout. For starters, Reuben Droughns is banged up, and if Cleveland can't run against a stout Carolina front, we expect Charlie Frye to make some mistakes on the road. Cleveland has had problems stopping the run, so both DeShaun Foster and DeAngelo Williams could have big games, and now that Steve Smith's been back a couple weeks, he and Jake Delhomme are probably even more in sync. We like Carolina at 2-2 absolutely needing this game against Cleveland, off a win, playing its second straight game on the road. Back the Panthers who roll.
Panthers 34 - 10
Lions +6.5 at Vikings
The Lions can't stop the pass, but the Vikings don't throw downfield enough, and if they insist on pounding the ball with Chester Taylor, this will be a close game that either team has a chance to win. Back the Lions who play hard out of desperation and keep it close.
Vikings 23 - 20
Dolphins +10 at Patriots
This is totally insane, but we like it for that reason. We like that Miami lost to the Texans while the Pats annihilated the Bengals on the road. It just means that Miami will play as if its season depended on it, while New England is just trying to win another game. Moreover, these teams have had a few close games in recent seasons. We realize Daunte Culpepper could be in trouble facing a Bill Belichick defense, but we're going to suspend disbelief about the how, and trust Culpepper to play with some modicum of poise under adverse conditions, however unlikely that might seem. Back Miami who keeps it close enough.
Patriots 24 - 20
Rams -3 at Packers
The Rams just barely won a home game with six lead changes against the Lions, so we don't think they should be giving a field goal on the road. Back the Packers who keep it close and possibly win outright.
Packers 24 - 23
Buccaneers +6.5 at Saints
We were torn on this one. On the one hand, we like a desperate Bucs team with a good defense getting a fair amount of points. On the other, the Saints truly get no respect being favored by less than a touchdown at home against the 0-4 Bucs who are starting a rookie quarterback for the first time. The Saints have covered against the Browns, Packers, Falcons and Panthers so far, and we think they'll continue that trend. Back New Orleans.
Saints 20 - 10
Titans +18.5 at Colts
Damon and I were going to take the Titans just because the line is so big, but I've decided I'd rather be wrong with the Colts - Vince Young's throwing motion doesn't look legitimate at this level to me, and I don't see how Tennessee's offense is going to score points. All the Colts need is 30 to cover the spread, and I think they get there. Back the Colts.
Colts 33 - 10
Redskins +4.5 at Giants
I have a Giants feeling here - I think they'll regroup and come out strong after the bye, but the value is clearly with the Redskins who look like last year's playoff team the last two games. Back the Redskins getting more than a field goal.
Giants 27 - 24
Chiefs -3 at Cardinals
This one hurts to pick because Damon and I agreed on the Chiefs, but it's definitely the sucker play. I mean Kansas City just came off a 41-0 win while the Cards got blown out, and now they're starting a rookie QB. Everyone in their right mind is going to want to take the Chiefs. But Leinart's not an ordinary rookie - he played in a pro style offense for two years at USC, and would have been the No. 1 overall pick in the draft had he come out in 2005. Leinart also looked very good in the preseason, albeit against second stringers. Still, we're sticking with the Chiefs because their defense looks much better this year under Herm Edwards, the Cardinals can't pass protect or run block and the line is only three. It's a sucker play, but we're backing the Chiefs off the blowout.
Chiefs 23 - 16
Jets +6.5 at Jaguars
We're not happy to see this line go from seven to six and a half. Damon and I agreed on the Jets plus seven, but by the time I went to write this up, it's dropped. We're of two minds here. One, that Jacksonville plays close games against everyone, and the Jets are certainly good enough to hang with them. But on the other hand, the Jets aren't the most physical team, and coming off a tough loss to the Redskins, we think Jacksonville might blow them out. Still, we're going to stick with the Jets - Jacksonville's got to show us that they can pull away before we take them as more than three-point favorites. Back New York.
Jaguars 23 - 17
Raiders +3.5 at 49ers
That three and a half is awfully tempting, and normally we like to back doormats like the Raiders. But San Francisco has shown a lot more than Oakland early on, last week notwithstanding, and we think they'll have their way at home. Back the Niners.
49ers 27 - 17
Cowboys +2 at Eagles
Forget about the sideshow hype here, these are two good division rivals playing an important early season game. We have some concern about the Eagles' injuries - Brian Westbrook and Reggie Brown are questionable while Donte' Stallworth is doubtful - but we expect Westbrook and Brown to play. As such, we think these are equal teams, and the line should be three. Back the Eagles who blitz Bledsoe into a couple turnovers cover the spread.
Eagles 24 - 20
Steelers +3 at Chargers
Some books have this game at three and a half, in which case we really like the Steelers, but we just use the average line, not the best one, so it's more representative of what our readers will be looking at. Still, Pittsburgh still has a good defense and one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and we think Roethlisberger will play well now that he's had two weeks to get completely healthy and in rhythm. Back the Steelers who win outright.
Steelers 23 - 20
Ravens +4 at Broncos
After getting the Ravens wrong twice in a row (Bucs and Raiders), we've gotten them right the last two weeks (Browns, Chargers). Essentially, we see them as a good defensive team with a weak running game and a quarterback who is good in the clutch, but who hasn't been asked to make plays down the field. That's a good formula at home against an ultra conservative Chargers squad, but we don't see it working in one of the toughest road venues to play in against a very stout Broncos defense. Expect Denver to cover this number fairly easily.
Broncos 23 - 10
We were 9-4-1 against the spread in Week 4, to put us at 35-22-3 on the season. From 1999-2005, we were 918-790 - not including ties - (53.7 percent).
Article first appeared 10/4/06