There was a time not so long ago—and by that, I mean, oh, about six weeks—when I’d happen upon a shocking event or headline and be genuinely taken aback. Not anymore. TV’s newest sensation is a 7-year-old beauty “queen” named Honey Boo Boo? Sure, why not? Some DJ by the name of Afrojack is in the same tax bracket as Springsteen? I can see that. UNLV (a 3-to-1 underdog) upsets Air Force two weeks after losing to Northern Arizona? Well, duh, that’s why I had a money-line ticket on UNLV (no lie).
This Arizona Cardinals thing, though … I can’t stop shaking my head in disbelief. Wasn’t this the last team to name a starting quarterback this summer? Didn’t that quarterback (John Skelton, from the QB factory of Fordham) get hurt in the first game of the season, forcing his $65 million backup onto the field? Didn’t Pro Bowl wideout Larry Fitzgerald gain only 67 receiving yards in the first two games? How in the hell is this team 3-0 (all upset victories)?
Obviously, I’m asking such questions because I don’t know the answers—and I’m convinced nobody in the Cardinals organization does, either. All you can do is just ride the hot hand, which is what I did last week when I took Arizona (+3½ vs. Philadelphia) as my second-strongest recommendation (resulting in a 27-6 victory). Now I’m elevating the Cardinals to “Best Bet” status, even though they’re laying points for the first time this season.
To those afraid to jump on Arizona’s bandwagon: You’re aware this team is an NFL-best 10-2 since last Halloween, right? Sure, only one of those victories—last week’s rout of Philadelphia—was by more than six points. But look who’s visiting the desert this week: the Dolphins, who are coming off a disheartening 23-20 overtime loss to the Jets. Miami’s shaky rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill tossed three interceptions—all before halftime—in his first road game (30-10 loss at Houston), and now he must face a defense that leads the NFL in points allowed (13.3 per game), ranks second in sacks (12) and has held 10 of 12 opponents to 20 points or less.
Throw in the fact that Arizona has won seven straight at home (6-1 against the spread), while Miami has lost eight of 10 on the road, and I’m calling for a two-touchdown win. Give me $440 on the Cardinals -6½.
On to this week’s other top selections (note: point spreads are as of Sept. 25) …
$220 on Giants +2 at Eagles: A week ago I called the Eagles the luckiest 2-0 team in NFL history (both wins by a single point). This week, they’re the luckiest 2-1 team in NFL history. Philly committed three more turnovers in Arizona (bringing its season tally to 12) and now faces a Giants defense that has eight takeaways. New York is 36-15 ATS in its last 51 road games (including last week’s 36-7 evisceration of the Panthers as a 2½-point underdog); the ’dog is on a 13-3 ATS roll in this rivalry; and New York is 5-2 ATS in its last seven trips to Philly.
$110 on Falcons -7 vs. Panthers: After starting the season by lifting their leg on 75 percent of the AFC West—crushing the Chiefs, Broncos and Chargers by a combined score of 94-48—the Falcons face their first NFC South rival … the same rival they’ve defeated four straight times by scores of 31-10, 31-10, 31-17 and 31-23 (sense a pattern)? In fact, Atlanta has won six of the last seven meetings, all by more than a touchdown, going 6-1 ATS. While the Falcons look like the NFL’s most complete team, Panthers QB Cam Newton looks like he’s headed for the dreaded sophomore slump.
$110 on San Jose State -2½ at Navy: Since opening with a 20-17 loss at Stanford (how good does that look in retrospect?), San Jose State has ripped off three straight wins, scoring 45, 40 and 38 points. Now the Spartans head to Navy, which opened the season with blowout losses to Notre Dame (50-10) and Penn State (34-7). Starting with a 27-24 home upset of the Middies in November, San Jose State has won five of six. The Spartans also have covered in 10 of their last 12, while Navy is 2-6 ATS in its last eight against I-A foes.
BEST OF THE REST: College: Louisiana Tech -3 at Virginia ($66); Baylor-West Virginia OVER 82 ($66); Penn State +1 at Illinois ($44); Minnesota +7 at Iowa ($44); Fresno State -71Ž2 vs. San Diego State ($44). NFL: 49ers -4 at Jets ($77); Jaguars +21Ž2 vs. Bengals ($66); Patriots-Bills OVER 51 ($55); Chiefs -1 vs. Chargers ($44).