Good NFL underdogs have been hard for me to find in recent seasons. I'd always rather get points with a 'dog than give points with the favorite in making selections.
There's always the possibility, for example, of a back-door success -- like Chicago's meaningless late score Monday night at Green Bay that enabled the Bears, a 15-point 'dog, to cover despite losing, 38-24. Much too often lately I've wound up giving instead of getting points with my picks and the result frequently has been less than thrilling.
So, this week, it was a pleasure to be at least slightly attracted to more than one or two underdogs. Last week, four of the five home 'dogs covered and three won straight-up.
This week's picks
All bets in mythical dollars:
San Francisco (-4 1/2 ) at St. Louis: The Rams turned in a solid effort for Dick Vermeil in his return to coaching, defeating New Orleans, 38-24, and have an excellent chance to go 2-0 in the NFC West, given the physical condition of the 49ers' quarterbacks and the loss for the season of Jerry Rice.
Take the Rams for $100.
Buffalo at New York Jets (-4 1/2 ): New York is this week's bandwagon team, after its 41-3 victory at Seattle. Bill Parcells has turned the Jets around quickly, although it should be noted that last season's sad sacks (1-15) showed some signs of improvement over the second half of the season. Marv Levy, at 72, seems determined to go with young Todd Collins as Buffalo's successor to Jim Kelly. Which means Billy Joe Hobert must be even less of a prospect than I thought he was.
Take the Jets for $100.
Denver (-5 1/2 ) at Seattle: The Broncos' offense scored only 19 points in the victory over Kansas City as the Chiefs' defense performed stubbornly. The Seahawks' defense didn't perform at all in the embarrassment with the Jets. Warren Moon figures to give Seattle's offense a bit of a lift, short term, filling in for the injured John Friesz. But Denver is the best in the West, AFC style, until proven otherwise. John Elway has never had a runner as dangerous as Terrell Davis to work with.
Take the Broncos for $100.
Washington at Pittsburgh (-6): The Redskins handed Carolina its first loss in its new stadium despite allowing 158 yards on the ground. Jerome Bettis should, accordingly, have an enjoyable afternoon running the ball for the Steelers. Pittsburgh's passing game continues suspect, however, until Kordell Stewart silences the skeptics. Washington's offensive line won't be intimidated by the Steelers' defensive pressure.
Take the Redskins for $100.
N.Y. Giants at Jacksonville (-6): The Jaguars might be forced to start their third- or fourth-string quarterback what with Mark Brunell out and Rob Johnson limping badly. That leaves nobody anybody hardly ever heard of in the dangerous position of having to run the Jacksonville offense. The Giants, bless their hearts, might then emerge 2-0 and begin to think they're a serious NFC East contender. They're not.
Take the Giants for $100.
New England (-5) at Indianapolis: Indianapolis is a play simply because I'm tired of trying to cover against the Colts when they're getting points in their dome. They always play better than expected at home when the situation appears bleak.
Take the Colts for $100.
Minnesota (-1 1/2 ) at Chicago: Chicago played respectably despite being overwhelmed by Green Bay in the second half. I have a hunch the Bears are going to put up a better record than many observers expect. They have decent balance on both sides of the ball and Dave Wannstedt will get the most out of the squad's abilities. Minnesota, usually a poor road team, surprised the Bills in Buffalo. So much depends on how long running back Robert Smith stays healthy.
Take the Bears for $100.
Green Bay (-7 1/2 ) at Philadelphia: The week's only selection worth more than $100 is Philadelphia. The Eagles' offensive line isn't as pathetic as it looked in the loss to the Giants. If it regroups quickly, Philadelphia has a chance to stay close against Green Bay, which is coming off a Monday night opener in which cornerback Craig Newsome was lost for the season and tight end Mark Chmura suffered a serious knee injury.
Take the Eagles for $250.
Net for week: plus $230.
Pub Date: 9/05/97