Vick, Eagles getting public’s support, but Rams are way to go in season opener


Photo by Getty Images | The Eagles’ success this year depends greatly on Michael Vick’s ability to stay healthy.

Don’t overreact to opening-week results. In the sports-betting handbook, that tenet ranks somewhere between “never bet on the Buffalo Bills to win the Super Bowl” and “never wager against UNLV when it plays Wisconsin.”

Keeping that in mind, here are four things I think we learned after the first week of the 2011 college football season:

1) Mississippi State (59-14 over Memphis), Stanford (57-3 over San Jose State), Boise State (35-14 over Georgia), LSU (40-27 over Oregon), Oklahoma (47-14 over Tulsa), Texas A&M (46-14 over SMU) and Virginia Tech (66-13 over Appalachian State) look to be every bit as good as their preseason rankings suggested.

2) The fraud alarms are deafening at TCU (50-48 loss at Baylor), Auburn (last-second 42-38 home win over Utah State), Notre Dame (23-20 home loss to South Florida), USC (19-17 home win over Minnesota) and South Carolina (trailed East Carolina 24-14 at halftime before rallying for a misleading 56-37 win).

3) The Rebels’ defensive front is even worse than anyone thought, but their offense actually looks promising. (Translation: Look to bet UNLV games “over” the total!)

4) After my disastrous opening week—I went 3-8 and dropped $795, including big losses on Wisconsin, USC, Notre Dame and LSU-Oregon “under”—my bankroll (down to $6,291) may not make it to Halloween.

Oh, right, I’m not supposed to overreact to Week 1 results. So I’ll move on to this week’s selections, focusing on the long-awaited start to the NFL season.

$440 (to win $400) on Rams +5 vs. Eagles: If you’re a regular reader, you know I’m not someone who sides with the masses. And clearly the masses have sided with the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, who apparently should go ahead and make Super Bowl reservations right now. Call me crazy, but the last time I checked, most football games are won in the trenches, and none of the big names Philly added (or retained) in the offseason play on the offensive line, which is clearly the team’s weak link.

Perhaps the thinking is Michael Vick can play Houdini for 60 minutes every Sunday, but I’m not buying it. After a remarkable start to last season, Vick’s numbers tailed off over the final seven games in which he played (11 TD passes, seven interceptions)—meaning as coaches got more film on Vick, they figured out ways to neutralize him. Well, Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo (a defensive guru) has had five months to game-plan for the Eagles’ explosive offense. And my money is on that game plan (it’s also on second-year St. Louis QB Sam Bradford, who greatly exceeded expectations last year—as did the rest of his team). I’m looking for Bradford to make an even bigger leap in his sophomore season.

Finally, while you wouldn’t think an NFL team could get caught looking ahead in its season opener, Philadelphia (and Vick in particular) just might fall into such a trap. That’s because Vick returns to Atlanta in Week 2 for the Sunday night game against the Falcons.

$110 (to win $100) on Bills +5½ at Chiefs: A couple of weeks back (Aug. 18), I suggested a play on Kansas City “under” its season win total and Buffalo “over” its win total. So you’re damn right I’m grabbing the points here, even though I would’ve preferred Buffalo at plus-7, which is what the line was a couple of weeks ago before Chiefs QB Matt Cassel got hurt (he is listed as probable) and before the public watched Kansas City bumble its way through an 0-4 preseason (getting outscored 90-42).

Last year, the Bills took an 0-6 record into Arrowhead Stadium, gave up 274 rushing yards and still nearly escaped with a win, falling 13-10 in overtime (Buffalo kicker Rian Lindell’s game-winning 53-yard field goal was wiped out by a K.C. timeout, and he shanked the retry). The Bills are improved this year, especially on defense, while the Chiefs (with or without Cassel) are headed for a Charlie Sheen-esque downward spiral.

BEST OF THE REST (NFL): Steelers +2½ at Ravens ($55); Falcons -3 at Bears ($44); Cowboys +4½ at Jets ($44).

BEST OF THE REST (COLLEGE): Mississippi State -7 at Auburn ($77); Oregon -26½ vs. Nevada ($66); Air Force (+2) vs. TCU ($55); Ball State +20 at South Florida ($44); Alabama-Penn State UNDER ($44); Texas -7 vs. BYU ($33).

PENDING PICKS (FROM JULY 14 AND LAST WEEK): Vikings +9½ vs. Chargers ($220), Texans +1 vs. Colts ($110), Buccaneers -3 vs. Lions ($110), Saints-Packers OVER 47 ($55).

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Labor Day signals the end of summer, a transitional time when kids return to school, temperatures (hopefully) begin to cool and football reasserts itself as the modern national pastime. Once upon a time, it also meant a celebration of the American worker. But these days it seems the only time we hear much about labor is on SportsCenter.