The bettor’s “push” is just like what they say about playing any competitive game to a tie: It’s like kissing your sister. Well, we kissed two sisters this past week, ending up at 7-5-2. All things considered, maybe we should be grateful. If Brett Favre holds onto the ball at the end of the Packers/Rams game, we might’ve had overtime and an eventual Packers victory. So we’ll take that push. As for the Patriots and Dolphins, I guess the 10-point margin made perfect sense, both in Vegas and on the field in Foxboro. So we’re accepting. (Besides, I’ve got four sisters. I’ve given ‘em each a peck on the cheek. You survive.)
Harder to accept is the reality that if we’d waited another day before going on the record with our picks, the Chiefs’ spread over the Cards would’ve shrunk a half point, thus turning a close, painful loss into a preferable push and a 7-4-3 finish for the weekend. Once again, the Panthers got lax on their late lead, and what appeared to be a 20-9 win over Cleveland (and a spread win for the good guys), turned into 20-12 and a loss for us. Those close ones are murder. And you can imagine our high when we learned that the Lions went into the fourth quarter against the Vikings leading 17-3. How could they possibly not be winners when Minnesota was spotting them 6.5 points? Now imagine our low when we heard the report that the Vikes had pulled it out 26-17, covering almost handily. Sheeesh. Mama said there’d be days like this—when the Titans play over their heads and the Redskins hide their heads in the sand.
But thank goodness for the seeming miracles. We were staring at a possible worst-case scenario 4-8-2 by late Sunday afternoon, when the Eagles, Chargers and Broncos, home favorites all, and facing teams who might easily have beaten them (spreadwise or otherwise), rose to the stiff challenges and won their games by comfortable margins. 7-5-2 is not very good in my book. It’s not playoff-caliber. In fact, it’s only a little better than kissing your sister. We’re still looking for that hot date, then. Record for the year: 23-15-4. (Spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.)
1. CINCINNATI (-6) @ TAMPA BAY The Bucs are winless. I thought they had a shot at a Super Bowl berth. My bad. Either they got old very fast, or last year’s defense was just lucky. Now they have a rookie quarterback trying to save their season. The Bengals (3-1) are off a bye week, which they spent conferring with their lawyers, trying to figure out which of their law-breaking players they should reprimand, or replace, first. Tough call here, especially since the Tampa Bay offense showed signs of life last week on the road, with Cadillac Williams surpassing the 100-yard mark on the ground for the first time in 2006, and rookie QB Gradkowski throwing 2 TD passes with no interceptions. Yet the Bengals have Carson Palmer and all that firepower. I’m thinking the Bucs will stay with ‘em for a while. Prediction: Bucs.
2. TENNESSEE @ WASHINGTON (-10) The Titans (0-5) are just the kind of desperate, winless sad-sacks to put up a fight versus the erratic Redskins (2-3). And just why couldn’t the Skins get it up for the Giants last week? Pretty tough to put any faith in a team that needs the on-field equivalent of a penile implant. The Titans are losing games by an average of 27-12; what we don’t know is whether last week’s 14-13 loss at Indy was anomaly or genuine improvement. The Skins have beaten two other AFC South teams this year—the Jags at home by 6, and the Texans on the road by 20. I see this one two ways: Either the Skins blow it completely and lose, or their offense rediscovers itself and catches fire for the rout. Anything close is a “W” for the Tennessee money. Prediction: Redskins.
3. HOUSTON @ DALLAS (-13) Cowboys licking their wounds after a difficult loss in Philly. Houston is off a bye. Cowboys should win all right, but 13 points? The ‘dog looks good to me. Prediction: Texans.
4. BUFFALO (-1) @ DETROIT Hard to believe, but there are still four winless teams in the NFL, and Detroit, at 0-5, is one of ‘em. Buffalo (2-3) has already played two other NFC North teams, beating the Vikings at home by 5, and getting routed in Chicago. Except for the Chicago fiasco, Buffalo has played every opponent tough. This is a...uh...pointless point spread. I’m going with the better team. Prediction: Bills.
5. SEATTLE (-3) @ ST. LOUIS Along with New Orleans one of the surprise teams of the NFC, the Rams are 4-1. They still give up almost 20 points a game, though, and they seem to just skitter by in their victories. Which explains why they’re getting three points at home. Seattle (3-1), still without the services of Shaun Alexander at running back, hasn’t been impressive. This one’s a bitch, and the bookies like it that way. Go with the pedigree and pray. Prediction: Seahawks.
6. NY GIANTS @ ATLANTA (-3) Falcons should be rested after their bye week. You’d think the Giants (2-2) would be spent from a big game against Washington, but they handled the Skins pretty easily. If only Michael Vick were a money QB. He’s not, but that Falcons running game and aggressive defense, and a vocal home crowd, should bring home the bacon. Prediction: Falcons.
7. PHILADELPHIA (-3) @ NEW ORLEANS Only the Bears have scored more than the Eagles thus far this season. Which is a huge testament to QB Donavan McNabb, who’s been without running backs and wide receivers along the way to putting up 155 points. The Saints’ Cinderella season continues at 4-1, and this game should be a solid indicator of just how good they are. However, they did not cover the spread at home last week against the flailing Bucs. This time they get points instead of giving them. Fact is, it’s impossible to know how good New Orleans will be against a veteran squad on the upswing like Philly. They’ll just have to prove it to us. Prediction: Eagles.
8. CAROLINA @ BALTIMORE (-3) Remember that kids’ toy, Rock’ em-Sock ‘em Robots? That’s what we have here. Tough defenses versus capable offenses. Ravens on a short work week after losing Monday night to Denver as QB Steve McNair displayed his ugly penchant for throwing interceptions at absolutely the wrong time. I like McNair, and I think the Ravens could go far this season. But I was surprised how incapable their offense looked against the Broncos, even on the road and in the rain against a good D. Jamal Lewis has moments as a runner, then goes into hibernation. Carolina has shown a remarkable aptitude for giving away points and then not covering. But this time they’re getting the points. Prediction: Panthers.
9. MIAMI @ NY JETS (-2.5) It’s sad how bad the Dolphins have looked. I doubt, when he was at LSU, Coach Nick Saban ever thought things could get this dire. And now he’s got Joey Harrington at quarterback. The Jets have Chad Pennington at QB and are at home, and they can’t even give away three points? Well, the Dolphins are due. Still, seeing is believing. Prediction: Jets.
10. SAN DIEGO (-10) @ SAN FRANCISCO At 2-3, the Niners must be feeling good about themselves. I suppose they could get the 10 points and thwart the San Diego money. It’s very possible. But Chargers QB Philip Rivers looked terrific last week against the Steelers, and the Niners look like just the kind of team that LaDainian Tomlinson could chew up for big yardage. Plus, the San Diego defense will pose problems for young and still-learning Niners QB Alex Smith. Prediction: Chargers.
11. KANSAS CITY @ PITTSBURGH (-7) The World Champions are 1-3, and their quarterback looks like a reject from the Mid-American Conference. The Chiefs (2-2) are on a roll...sort of. I guess the 7 points here are supposed to indicate that we’re all nuts—that the Steelers are as good as ever and that what we’ve been witnessing is just a bad dream. They need to win this game, and it’ll be a surprise if they don’t, but covering the spread is another matter. Okay, I’m gonna hope they wake up from the nightmare. Prediction: Steelers.
12. OAKLAND @ DENVER (-15) This should be a no-brainer, but 15 points is never that. Broncos on a short work week and poised for a letdown, even though they remain at home. Thinking....thinking... Raiders lost by 14 last week on the road just across the Bay—to mediocre 49ers. This means that the Broncos could probably stumble their way to covering the points. Prediction: Broncos.
13. CHICAGO (-10.5) @ ARIZONA I drove through Illinois last weekend, listening to Chicago sports radio. The town is in a frenzy about their Bears. Old and young alike call up the radio stations and gush about this team, how they’re the second coming of the 1985 “Super Bowl Shuffle” squad that won it all. It’s premature, but this team does look awfully good. Now they get a Monday night podium to show the world just how good. They’re not really an offensive juggernaut yet, but Cardinals rookie QB Matt Leinart will have his hands full trying to pierce that Chicago D, which is capable of turnovers that can change games quickly. And Edgerrin James could get hurt trying to run against that Bears front 7. It’s a lot of points to cover on the road, and Leinart seems gutsy and talented, so this becomes a much more interesting proposition. Let’s presume the Bears want to show off on national television. Prediction: Bears.