Perception: Professional sports handicapper ranks among the five easiest and most enjoyable occupations in the world, slotting somewhere between Steve Jobs’ financial adviser and backstage hand at a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
Reality: There’s a reason my once jet-black hair is now more salt than pepper—and it has nothing to do with being married with children (OK, little to do is more accurate).
Take last week, for example, when I was more up and down than Jenna Jameson in her prime. Yeah, I had five easy winners, highlighted by Virginia Tech ($400) over Florida State, but those were offset by five of the worst calls I’ve made all season:
Northern Illinois lost outright to Miami (Ohio) as a 17-point favorite. The Chargers lost outright to the Raiders as a 13-point favorite. And three underdog plays (Bills over Vikings; Louisiana Tech over Nevada; South Carolina over Auburn) lost by a combined score of 129-48!
On the bright side, because of the big winner on Virginia Tech, I managed to produce a third straight winning week. Unfortunately, the net profit was a measly $84 (pushing the bankroll to $5,507).
$84? I guess that’s enough to cover the dye job for my hair. But it means the wife won’t be getting that fancy vacuum for Christmas that she deserves.
On to this week’s picks …
$440 (to win $400) on Eagles-Cowboys OVER 50½: Not to pull an Oliver Stone, but let’s just say I’m a little suspicious about the Cowboys’ sudden offensive explosion. Follow me here. In the season’s first eight games (six of them with Pro Bowl QB Tony Romo under center), Dallas scored 21 points or less five times and averaged 20.1 points per game. Then head coach Wade Phillips got canned and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett got promoted, and what do you know, Dallas—with Jon Kitna leading the charge—has produced 33, 35, 27 and 38 points the last four weeks, going 3-1 straight up and 4-0 against the spread (ATS). I’m not saying Garrett sabotaged Phillips because he knew he was next in line for the head job, but … OK, that’s exactly what I’m saying!
Regardless, the Cowboys’ offense is rolling, and their defense continues to struggle (32.6 ppg allowed the last nine weeks). Now here come Michael Vick and the Eagles, who have averaged 34.4 ppg over the last five weeks and allowed 26.8 ppg over the last six. Dallas has topped the total in nine straight games overall and all six at home, while Philadelphia has gone over in seven of its last eight overall and five of six on the road.
$220 (to win $200) on RAMS (+9) at Saints: Sure, the Rams’ schedule has been so soft it could use a double dose of Viagra (they’ve faced just two teams that currently have a winning record). And, yes, St. Louis is playing its third straight road contest and fourth in the last five weeks. Still, there’s no arguing with the Rams’ point-spread success; they’re an NFL-best 9-2 ATS dating to Week 2.
Then there’s New Orleans, which has won five in a row but has failed to cover in its last two games (at Dallas, at Cincinnati). The Saints are just 3-7 ATS in their last 10, and since starting out 6-0 ATS in 2009, they’ve brought home the money just six times in 21 regular-season contests. Only four of New Orleans’ nine wins this season have been by double digits, and St. Louis has lost by double digits just twice.
$110 (to win $100) on FALCONS (-7½) at Panthers: The Panthers are an NFL-worst 1-11 (3-9 ATS). They’ve lost nine times by double digits (including five home losses of 13 points or more), and they are starting rookie Jimmy Clausen at quarterback. The Falcons (10-2, 8-4 ATS) sport the league’s best record, they’ve won six in a row overall (5-1 ATS) and four of their last five road games; and they start Matt Ryan at QB. And Atlanta is barely a TD favorite? To quote Paris Hilton upon entering a library: “Huh? I don’t get it.”
BEST OF THE REST: Seahawks (+4½) at 49ers ($44); Jaguars (-4½) vs. Raiders ($44); Buccaneers (-2½) at Redskins ($33); Chiefs (+7) at Chargers ($33).