Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
We took 12 more dogs again, the only favorites being the Steelers and Bills, and while that initially had us worried that perhaps we've been unduly underdog biased, we talked about it and largely rejected that line of reasoning. There's no rule of thumb that you should have seven favorites and seven dogs, and even if you did, and seven favorites were to cover, you could still go 0-14 if you picked the wrong ones. Moreover, we're not trying to come up with a set number of favorites or dogs - we're taking each game individually and letting the chips fall. Perhaps we end up with a lot of dogs because we're contrarians by nature - we don't believe the hype. Most teams in the league are a bad game or two from being considered doormats, or a good game or two from being considered contenders. The Rams, Vikings, Chiefs, Steelers, Jaguars, Eagles, Cowboys, Panthers and Saints are all in that boat right now, and six of the seven playing this week (including three on the road) are favorites.
Finally, a word about the Dolphins-Bears game which we went back and forth on, and I switched on my own back to the Dolphins - I think we felt compelled in some sense to pick another favorite and justified it by saying the Bears should blow out a Joey-Harrington-led team in Chicago... Good reasoning, to be sure, but our first instinct was to go with the Dolphins, and I trust that. Of course, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 1 being 50/50, and a 10 being our best bet of the year, we give the Dolphins pick a 1.5.
Falcons -5.5 at Lions
The Falcons have posted big wins the last couple weeks thanks to Michael Vick's two-game epiphany as a scrambler who keeps his downfield focus. You'd think Detroit's generous secondary would help keep Vick's streak alive, but he could have a letdown against a bad team the Falcons are supposed to beat. Moreover, the Falcons pass defense has slipped of late, and Mike Martz and Jon Kitna should be able to keep the Lions in the game. All told, we like the Lions coming off a bye against a Falcons team that might coast after two thrilling wins. Back Detroit who keeps it close.
Falcons 23 - 20
Bengals +3 at Ravens
We went back and forth on this one - the Ravens have been the better team so far this year, but we still don't buy into that offense no matter who's running it. So we expect a close game between two hungry division rivals, and in that case, we're taking the points. Back Cincinnati.
Ravens 24 - 23
Cowboys -3 at Redskins
Damon wanted to make the Redskins our best bet - getting three at home in a rivalry game against a a quarterback in his second start? Dallas is flying high after the win in Carolina, and no one in his right mind wants a piece of this reeling Redskins team, so Washington is the no-brainer smart play here. I just couldn't bring myself to consider them a best bet given how horribly they've screwed us every time we backed them in spots like this. Still, we have to back the Skins.
Redskins 28 - 27
Packers +3 at Bills
The Packers have been the better team this season, but I just have an odd feeling that this Bills squad, coming off a bye and facing a beatable opponent at home, is going to show up and play well. Back Buffalo who wins this game surprisingly easily.
Bills 27 - 17
Texans +13 at Giants
We could go either way on this, but David Carr and the Texans strike us as the kind of team that mind do some damage in garbage time and come away with the cover. Maybe the Giants are up 24 - 6 in the fourth quarter, and Houston scores with a minute left to make it 24 - 13. Or something like that. Back the Texans.
Giants 24 - 13
Chiefs +3 at Rams
I've got to admit I fudged the line here, and it's a big one. Damon and I go by the average of the USA Today/Covers.com lines (there are five different ones). When we went over the picks this afternoon, three out of the five had Kansas City plus three, and two had the line at two and a half. So we agreed to take the Chiefs plus three. But now, late at night Pacific Time, one of the threes moved down half a point. So now the average is two and a half. But it's too late to call Damon and wake him up, and I'm not sure what we'd do if the line moved (probably take the Rams, as we had some debate about this game at three). So I'm going to fudge it and leave it at three (after all, you can still get it at three at press time in two places). As for the matchup, the Chiefs are better defensively, and Damon Huard has played well since he took over for Trent Green. We expect Kansas City to keep it close. Back the Chiefs.
Rams 23 - 21
Dolphins +13.5 at Bears
We really went back and forth on this one. At first, Damon guaranteed the Dolphins would cover this spread. But then we thought about it and wondered, "Why is this line only 13.5?" The Bears have been annihilating everyone at home, and now a team that has just one win all season (a home squeaker against the Titans) is getting less than two touchdowns in Chicago? Shouldn't this line be closer to 17? How is Joey Harrington going to deal with that defense? The book is begging us to take the Bears - how can anyone not? Maybe, it's because people still think the Dolphins, a preaseason playoff contender, are better than they've played, and the Nick Saban, a winner almost everywhere he's been, can't possibly be coaching a team this bad. So are the Bears both a value play and a contrarian play at the same time? When has an undefeated 13-point favorite EVER been the contrarian play? We initially decided on the Dolphins, then switched to the Bears for value, and I'm tempted to switch it back to the Dolphins because that was our first instinct, but I'm not going to because I've vowed to go with what we've collectively decided and not make last minute switches. Bet the Bears who are a LOCK. Actually, scratch that, I am going to switch it - windy weather and a decent Dolphins defense makes this a close game. Back the Dolphins.
Bears 17 - 6
Saints -1 at Buccaneers
The Saints are fun to watch, and they're a nice story, but they're not good enough defensively to be laying a point in Tampa after the two teams played a very tight game in New Orleans. Expect the Bucs' offense to get back on track here. Back Tampa.
Buccaneers 24 - 20
Titans +10 at Jaguars
This looks like a trap game to us like the Jets at Jacksonville a few weeks ago, but we're going to take the bait. The Jaguars are so Jekyll and Hyde that it's hard to part with 10 points against anyone. Back Tennessee.
Jaguars 17 - 10
Vikings -5 at 49ers
The Vikings' offense has been awful of late, and while their defense played well until Monday night, we don't think they're a good enough all-around team to be parting with more than a field goal against a San Francisco squad that's shown occasional signs of growth. Back the Niners who keep this close.
Vikings 23 - 20
Browns +12.5 at Chargers
By one important metric, the Browns pass defense is the best in the NFL so far this season, allowing opponents just 5.8 yards per passing attempt. Of course, they only manage 6.0 YPA on offense, but without Shawne Merriman, we expect Charlie Frye to have a little time to make some throws. And given San Diego's big favorite status, we don't expect Marty Schottenheimer to take a lot of chances. Unless San Diego gets a big edge in turnovers, or a defensive or special teams score, we think the Browns will stay with them. Back Cleveland.
Chargers 21 - 13
Broncos +2.5 at Steelers
The Broncos were favored against the then 6-0 Colts last week, and now they're underdogs to the 2-5 Steelers. Seems insane, but not really when you consider that a healthy Ben Roethlisberger is so much better than Jake Plummer, the Steelers defense is capable of playing as well as Denver's and the game is in Pittsburgh. Throw in that the Steelers are desperate to win, beat up on the Broncos in Denver in last year's playoffs and are parting with less than a field goal, and this is our best bet. Back the Steelers.
Steelers 24 - 13
Colts +3 at Patriots
We're not sure if this can top the terrific Denver-Indy game from last week, but we look at this with the same mindset - any time you can back the Colts as a three-point dog, we figure you take it. We'd be surprised if Indy didn't at least keep it close. Back the Colts.
Patriots 31 - 30
Raiders +8 at Seahawks
We're fairly sure this won't top the Denver-Indy game, but it has a point spread, a vig and two sets of goal posts, so we'll be watching it. The book here is begging us to take the Raiders - eight points against Seneca Wallace and Maurice Morris? Oakland's defense isn't bad even, and Seattle's pass defense is last in the league in yards per attempt at 7.9 allowed. It might be the sucker play - Oakland on the road in front of that hostile crowd, but we're taking the bait. Back the Raiders who keep it close.
Seahawks 20 - 16
We were 6-8 against the spread in Week 8, to put us at 58-48-8 on the season. From 1999-2005, we were 918-790 - not including ties - (53.7 percent).
Article first appeared 11/1/06