Here are five words you probably never thought you’d read: Bring back the replacement refs!
With Sam the Butcher and Joe the Plumber donning the zebra suits—and providing an endless supply of unintentional comedy—for the first three weeks of the season, I compiled a 13-7 record (netting $1,079). Seeing that I was in a nice groove, I decided to go NFL-heavy last week, relying on the league for three of my top four selections. One problem: In the 36 hours between the time I put this column to bed and you laid eyes on it, the NFL settled its dispute with the regular officials. Coincidentally (or not), I ended up finishing 2-4-1 and dropping more than $500.
What’s that, you say? Why am I putting this on the refs instead of looking in the mirror and taking responsibility for committing the “Cardinal” betting sin (laying points with Kevin Kolb) when the easy money (Mark Sanchez vs. the 49ers defense) was staring me right in the face? Because this is America, dammit—why blame yourself when you can blame someone else?
You know what else is uniquely American? Manipulating numbers to put a positive spin on things. So here goes: I did go 5-1 in college football last week. And I did finish September with an overall football record of 35-28-1 (55 percent) for a net profit of more than $600.
Now, I can’t guarantee that latter number will go up this week, but I can come really, really close simply by stating the following: the aforementioned Mark Sanchez vs. the NFL’s best defense. On to this week’s selections (note: all point spreads are as of Oct. 2) …
$550 on Texans -7½ at Jets: Through four games, Houston has outscored the opposition 129-56 (76-21 in the first half). Take away a punt-return TD and a safety, and the defense has allowed just 47 points, forced seven turnovers and scored two touchdowns (while allowing just five). This is where you say, “Well of course—in three of the four games, Houston faced Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins, Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars, and Jake Locker/Matt Hasselbeck and the Titans!” And this is where I say: Mark Sanchez!
Sanchez’s numbers are downright comical (or, if you’re a Jets fan, terrifying): 69.6 quarterback rating; 49.2 percent completion rate (worst in the league), 6.4 yards per pass attempt, five TD passes and five turnovers. And whereas most quarterbacks improve as the season progresses, Sanchez is flooring it in reverse (his QB ratings from Week 1 forward: 123.4, 68.6, 58.2, 39.9).
Since opening the season with a 48-28 win over Buffalo, the Jets have scored a grand total of 33 points. And their once-stout defense is surrendering 27.3 points per game (thanks in part to Sanchez’s carelessness). Yes, the Texans are in a precarious spot (coming off a divisional win and with two tough home games vs. Green Bay and Baltimore on deck). And, yes, the Jets are desperate. That said, not even a Tebow miracle can keep Houston, which has covered easily in all four victories, from winning by at least two touchdowns.
$220 on Ravens -4½ at Chiefs: In last week’s 37-20 loss to the Chargers, the Chiefs committed six turnovers, bringing their season total to 11 (including Matt Cassel’s seven INTs). Now here come the well-rested Ravens (they’ll have had 10 days off prior to this game), who are averaging 30.3 ppg and facing a Chiefs defense that’s yielding 34 ppg. Oh, and then there’s the whole John Harbaugh vs. Romeo Crennel sideline showdown. Um, advantage Harbaugh!
$110 on Clemson -10 vs. Georgia Tech: I’m not into laying double digits this year with teams from the ACC (where they’re already asking, “Is it basketball season yet?”). But how do you not fade Georgia Tech, which lost its last two games as a 14-point home favorite (vs. Miami) and a 24½-point home favorite (vs. Middle Tennessee State, which lost its opener to McNeese State). The ACC has just two Top 25 teams right now, but one is Clemson (No. 15) and the other is Florida State (No. 3), which needed a furious fourth-quarter rally to beat Clemson just two weeks ago.
$110 on Wisconsin -14½ vs. Illinois: Wisconsin is coming off a game at Nebraska in which its 27-10 second-half lead evaporated into a 30-27 loss. Additionally, the Badgers haven’t covered as a favorite this season, they’re 3-10 against the spread in their last 13, and they’ve cashed just once in their last five meetings with Illinois. So why am I’m laying more than two touchdowns here? Because Illinois has faced three “legit” opponents (Arizona State, Louisiana Tech and Penn State). Cumulative result: “Legit” opponents 132, Illini 45.
BEST OF THE REST: College: Air Force -7½ vs. Navy ($66); Oregon -24 vs. Washington ($55); Texas Tech (+6) vs. Oklahoma ($55); Florida +2½ vs. LSU ($44); Maryland -6 vs. Wake Forest ($44). NFL: Patriots -6½ vs. Broncos ($77); Chargers-Saints OVER 54 ($66); Titans +5½ at Vikings ($55); Falcons-Redskins OVER 50½ ($55); Browns +9 at Giants ($44).