The SMA “swami” again scored 8-5-1 against the spread (ATS) last week. Consistency is an okay thing, and at 16-10-2 for the year, we’re not grousing. But we’re not jubilant either. Oh, to have shown some faith in those upstart Jets and Chad Pennington. Oh, to have listened to that inner voice that whispered, “The Titans really suck.” Oh, to have realized that it’s never wise to underestimate Tom Brady & Co. And who knew that the Dolphins were so bad that they’d lose an early-season must-win against the Texans? And don’t get me started on that New Orleans/Carolina encounter, where the Panthers had a healthy, spread-busting 11-point lead with a minute to go, then gave up an 86-yard TD pass. That all said, the beloved Bills covered comfortably (“Thank you, J.P. Losman”), and the Ravens and Redskins (home underdogs both) sent the competition back to sunnier Cali and Florida climes while stuffing a couple of tough picks into our back pocket. Even the un-knowable Rams gave 6 points and then went out and nipped the Lions by 7, turning that early Sunday sour stomach into a fairly full feeling. The romps by Chicago, Kansas City and Philly felt pretty good too. So the question now is, “How do I tweak the game plan to start predicting like a marquee player?” 10-4 would look awfully nice. So would 11-3. It’s a constant battle between head—where all the facts reside—and that thing called instinct. It’s like that line in Miracle on 34th Street: “Faith is believing in something common sense tells you not to.” (But not if you’re only getting 4 points as a Monday night road team.) Methinks tweaking will be tough this week. (Early-line spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.)
1. TENNESSEE @ INDIANAPOLIS (-18.5) Yes, the Titans (0-4) suck. Now that Albert (“The Gouger”) Haynesworth is out of the lineup, maybe they’ll be nicer—or even better. Rookie Vince Young takes his “Potential” tour on the road here, and the oddsmakers are giving the undefeated Colts (4-0) the world. Let’s see, if the Titans lose by 31 at home to Drew Bledsoe, how will they fare on the road against Peyton Manning? Well, they won’t fare well, but what happens if they “only” lose 31-14? Head...instinct...head...instinct... I like 28-6. Prediction: Colts.
2. WASHINGTON @ NY GIANTS (-4) The Skins’ offense has come alive. The Giants are 1-2, giving up 30.7 points a game, but coming off a bye week. Meanwhile, the Skins' defense has only been so-so compared to last year’s squad. This should be a heckuva game, and I don’t see the Giants running away with it. Prediction: Redskins.
3. DETROIT @ MINNESOTA (-6.5) Vikes come back to earth (2-2) and come home. Lions on the road for the second straight week and still searching for a “W.” Vikings are giving up only 16 points a game (in the NFC, only the Bears and Falcons are better after 4 games). Their offense is wobbly, though. The Lions scored 34 points in their loss last week. The Vikings should win, but it could be close. Prediction: Lions.
4. TAMPA BAY @ NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) The Bucs (0-3) try to start the season over, this time after a bye week and with rookie Bruce Gradkowski behind center. The Saints (3-1) looked decent in their road loss to Carolina and now come home to their adoring fans. It doesn’t seem possible that the Bucs will win, but I can’t shake the notion that they’re not as bad as all that. Prediction: Bucs.
5. ST. LOUIS (-3) @ GREEN BAY Beware the road favorite. The Rams are 3-1, looking as lucky as they might be good. They’re a dome team, playing here in the cooler air and wide-open grassy spaces of Lambeau Field. The Packers looked bad on Monday night versus Philly, which means they also have a short work week. The plain fact is, I have no faith in the Packers. Prediction: Rams.
6. MIAMI @ NEW ENGLAND (-10) Last year’s Dolphins would have swaggered into Foxboro and said, “Hit me with your best shot.” This year the wheels have fallen off. The defense still has some players, but QB Daunte Culpepper looks pretty consistently lost in that offense. They encounter a Patriots team fresh off a big, bad win in Cincy and looking to build on the strides they’ve made with new personnel. This explains the double-digit spread. It’s tempting to take the ‘Fins and the points, but, until Miami (1-3) proves something/anything, probably not prudent. Prediction: Patriots.
7. BUFFALO @ CHICAGO (-11) Can a team that beat the Seahawks by 31 at home beat the Bills by 12 at home? The Bears are giving up 7.3 points per game, while the Bills have yielded 16.3 PPG. There’s 9 points right there. On the other hand, it’s all about the blue-collar matchups, and then you have the “Jauron factor,” where ex-Bears coach Dick Jauron comes back to Soldier Field leading a 2-2 squad that plays gritty, if not inspired, football. The Bills might hang in there for a while, and quite honestly the bettor enters here at his/her own risk. But I suspect that, along about the third quarter, Bills QB J.P. Losman won’t know what to do with all those black jerseys in his face. Prediction: Bears.
8. CLEVELAND @ CAROLINA (-9) Yet another game with tricky heavy numbers. The Browns escaped Oakland with a narrow victory last week, and now hit the road again, facing a 2-2 Panthers team that would like to forget they lost those early games. Steve Smith is back and playing well, the Carolina running game looks in synch, and the D seems to be settling in. With the Panthers needing to keep pace with Atlanta and New Orleans, maybe 9 points isn’t spread enough. Prediction: Panthers.
9. NY JETS @ JACKSONVILLE (-7) The 2-2 Jags return home to get some peace of mind and back to their winning ways after tough road losses to Indy and Washington. Chad Pennington’s surprisingly good health makes the Jets a surprisingly interesting team, and one not easy to count out. They beat the spread last week against Indy, thank you very much, but they were in New York. A tougher task lies ahead of them here. Pennington can’t do it alone, especially not in this hostile environment. Prediction: Jaguars.
10. KANSAS CITY (-3.5) @ ARIZONA Another road favorite, but at 1-2 the Chiefs are hardly automatic anything. But imagine this: They’ve only given up 32 points, just under 11 a game. The defense faces Cards rookie QB Matt Leinart, making his starting NFL debut. Chiefs backup QB Damon Huard hasn’t been spectacular, but he’s playing error-free ball in place of concussed Trent Green, which can work out if your running back is Larry Johnson. The Chiefs could win, but will they cover? If Leinart makes a mistake or two, it could all fall KC’s way. Arizona, at 1-3, is not looking like the hot young team many predicted, and they’re giving up almost 25 points a game. Prediction: Chiefs.
11. OAKLAND @ SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) How do you spell “dog”? B-A-Y A-R-E-A. On the one hand, the Niners appear to be the better team. And they’re at home. On the other hand, the Raiders have to win a game sometime. Well, don’t they? (Don’t they??) Even a Joe Nedney field goal only counts for three points, and that +.5 could be hard for the Niners to come by. This game’s as ugly as the two teams’ combined 1-6 record. Crap shoot. Prediction: 49ers.
12. DALLAS @ PHILADELPHIA (-2) An emotion-filled game with plenty of impact on the NFC East. Eagles have built 3-1 record against patsies, but would be 4-0 if they hadn’t given one away to the Giants. The Cowboys definitely look improved, but I can’t see the Eagles laying down for this one, even with the short work week. A very tough call, and the oddsmakers know it. Say they go into overtime and David Akers kicks a field goal? That means the Eagles would win by 3 and cover. Prediction: Eagles.
13. PITTSBURGH @ SAN DIEGO (-3.5) The Steelers are 1-2 and falling behind in the AFC North to Cincy (3-1) and Baltimore (4-0). Their win was the opener against a Miami team that maybe isn’t as good as everyone thought. The Steelers aren’t scoring much, though their defense has been adequate. After the bye week, QB Ben Roethlisberger has had some extra time to get healthier. The Chargers lost a toughie versus the Ravens and home could be a tonic. That Chargers D is good and they have L.T. to carry the offense. Head says Chargers. Instinct says...Chargers. If only I had a crystal ball. Prediction: Chargers.
14. BALTIMORE @ DENVER (-4) Two early challengers for conference supremacy. I watched Ravens QB Steve McNair for years in Nashville. He’s an exciting guy, and last week against San Diego he looked like he had regained some of the speed that injuries were threatening to beat out of him. But I’m not sure Denver is the right setting for his cardiac-arrest approach to victory. This’ll be a whale of a game, and maybe that Ravens defense can win it all by themselves. Fact is, I used to be a major detractor of Broncos QB Jake Plummer. But the numbers last year don’t lie: He only threw 7 interceptions in all of 2005. If the old Jake shows up, then the Ravens will rattle his cage. The Ravens are due to lose, though, so the question is, “By how much?” Oddsmakers messin’ with our heads. Pray for Mile High Magic. Prediction: Broncos.