Football is a game of tradition. Bears-Packers on the frozen tundra in late December. Michigan-Ohio State in the season finale. Jets coach Rex Ryan inserting his foot in his mouth weekly. Oklahoma coach Bob “Big Game” Stoops falling on his face in, well, basically every big game.
Unfortunately, not all traditions bring joy. Take, for example, the 1972 Miami Dolphins, the last NFL team to make it through an entire season undefeated. Each year, when the last remaining unbeaten team goes down, the surviving members of that Dolphins squad pop the champagne cork and toast themselves.
Apparently these guys have never heard of the notion that records are meant to be broken. Or maybe they’re too senile at this point to remember it. Either way, the only thing more annoying than this annual tradition is Chris Berman glorifying it on ESPN. Which is why nobody is a bigger fan of the 2011 Green Bay Packers than I am.
Seven weeks into the season, the defending champs are the only team left that can forever silence the ’72 Dolphins. The good news is Green Bay, which has a bye this week, appears to possess all the necessary ingredients to make history: an explosive offense (33 points per game); a physical, opportunistic defense (tied for the league lead with 16 takeaways); health (the Packers won last season’s Super Bowl despite a roster decimated by injuries); and a favorable schedule (five home games plus four winnable road contests against the Chargers, Lions, Giants and Chiefs).
In other words, unless something catastrophic happens to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay—which has had a double-digit lead in every game—will be favored by more than a field goal the rest of the way. Still, a perfect regular season (let alone a 19-0 run that ends with another Super Bowl title) remains a long shot; Lucky’s Sports Book oddsmaker Jimmy Vaccaro has the Packers at 7-to-1 to finish 16-0.
His reason? As soon as Green Bay wraps up home-field advantage, coach Mike McCarthy could choose to rest his starters. That strategy is certainly in play, but McCarthy (like Bill Belichick, whose Patriots fell just short of 19-0 in 2007) strikes me as someone who appreciates history. And back-to-back championships in Title Town punctuated by a perfect season would put him right alongside Vince Lombardi.
However it plays out, I can promise you this: If the Packers finish what the 2007 Patriots couldn’t, I’ll be the first one to break out the champagne. I’ll drink half of it, then pour the rest on the ’72 Dolphins’ grave. (And yes, I know I just jinxed the Packers; Bears and Dolphins fans can thank me later.)
On to this week’s picks …
$550 (to win $500) on Steelers +3 vs. Patriots: In their first three road games (Miami, Buffalo and Oakland), the Patriots allowed Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jason Campbell to complete 64 percent of their passes for 1,103 yards and five touchdowns. Now the Pats have to face Ben Roethlisberger. I know, I know, he’s no Tim Tebow. But during the Steelers’ current three-game winning streak, Roethlisberger has nine TD tosses against just one interception.
In three home games, Big Ben has seven TDs, one INT and quarterback ratings of 115.7, 116.2 and 96.3. And that was against the Seahawks, Titans and Jaguars—three teams that rank in the top half of the league in pass defense; New England ranks dead last. Another reason to back Pittsburgh, which has covered in six of its last seven as a home underdog: The Patriots are coming off a bye, and teams in that situation are 3-9 this year.
$220 (to win $200) on Air Force -31 at New Mexico: Last week, Air Force was a 30-point underdog at Boise State, losing 37-26 (its third straight double-digit defeat). This week, the Falcons are laying more than 30 on the road. And now you know why New Mexico is, without question, the worst team in the country. Not only are the Lobos winless through seven games, four of those defeats—against Arkansas, Texas Tech, Nevada and TCU—were by the combined tally of 229-23.
The Falcons have won (and covered) five of six in this rivalry, and New Mexico has failed to cash in its last five games as an underdog of 21 points or more.
BEST OF THE REST (NFL): 49ers -9½ vs. Browns ($55); Jaguars-Texans UNDER 40½ ($55); Seahawks +3 vs. Bengals ($44); Cowboys +3½ vs. Eagles ($44); Ravens -13 vs. Cardinals ($44).
BEST OF THE REST (COLLEGE): Stanford -7½ at USC ($110); Oregon State +5 at Utah ($55); Georgia Tech +3½ vs. Clemson ($55); Michigan State +4 at Nebraska ($44); Washington State-Oregon OVER 69 ($44).
LAST WEEK’S RESULTS: 5-7 (-$445); Bankroll: $6,815.