The NFL is halfway through its regular season and the leader of the pack, from the point spread perspective, is Minnesota, with a glossy 7-1 record against the number.
The only time the Vikings failed to cover was at home to Tampa Bay on Sept. 14, when they lost, 28-14, as a four-point favorite. Last Sunday, Minnesota atoned for that performance by defeating Tampa Bay, 10-6, in Florida as a three-point underdog.
The Vikings have been favored in only four of their eight outings, and only once has the spread been higher than four points -- at Green Bay on Sept. 21, when they rallied in the second half as 11-point underdogs and lost, 38-32.
Midseason point spread standings show San Francisco and Tennessee the closest to the top, at 6-2, followed by Kansas City's 5-2-1. Cincinnati and Green Bay are at the bottom of the statistical heap, but both covered for the first time last weekend.
This week's picks
(All bets in mythical dollars)
Patriots at Vikings (-1): Robert Smith goes to the sideline with ligament damage in his right ankle. That could spell trouble for Minnesota, because Smith is the excellent running back who gives Dennis Green's team a balanced offense. When Smith is hurt -- and he rarely makes it through a season without suffering a serious injury -- the Vikings start to fade.
Take New England for $100.
Lions at Packers (-10): Green Bay's best game is still the best there is in the NFL, as the defending Super Bowl champions showed Monday night against the Patriots. The number is a trifle high, as it has been most of the year on Green Bay, but the Pack (6-2) knows it can't mess around anymore if it is to gain home-field for the playoffs.
Take Green Bay for $100.
Steelers at Chiefs (-3): Kansas City has exceptional quickness on defense. The Steelers present power-plus on offense, with Jerome Bettis attacking the Chiefs' interior line. If he is kept under reasonable control, the rest should fall into place for Kansas City. Pittsburgh's secondary is suspect, and Andre Rison is having an outstanding year on the receiving end of Elvis Grbac's passes.
Take Kansas City for $250.
Redskins (-3) at Bears: Gus Frerotte is struggling, and the Bears' blitzing pass rush is certain to add to his problems. How much longer until Jeff Hostetler gets the call? That's my main fear in picking Chicago The Hoss off the bench. Otherwise, Chicago will run on Washington. Darn near everybody does.
Take Chicago for $100.
VTC Ravens at Jets (-5): Picking the Ravens takes courage, inasmuch as Bill Parcells is worth seven points against Ted Marchibroda. The Tuna is sticking with Neil O'Donnell as his starting quarterback over Glenn Foley until O'Donnell messes up again. The Ravens are 3-1 covering on the road. Vinny Testaverde and his receivers are exceptional at posting meaningless touchdowns against prevent defenses.
Take the Ravens for $100.
Seahawks at Broncos (-9): That's a Mile High number for Denver to carry against a Seahawks squad that suddenly is back in the AFC West race at 5-3 and is 3-0 on the road against the number. Running back Chris Warren gets his starting job back for the Seahawks, who must mount a decent defense against Terrell Davis. Denver tends to relax after establishing a substantial lead.
Take Seattle for $100.
Jaguars (-1) at Oilers: Mark Brunell is questionable because of a dislocated knuckle on his throwing hand. Rob Johnson filled in admirably earlier this year but he's not Brunell. The Oilers have quietly won three in a row to get to 4-4. Will Steve McNair develop into a pro quarterback? I once thought not. Now I'm not so sure.
Take Jacksonville for $100.
Cowboys at 49ers (-6 1/2 ): When the game opened at 7 1/2 , I leaned toward the Cowboys. When it went to seven, I had no opinion. When it dropped to 6 1/2 , I went with the 49ers, even though the Cowboys are much stronger than then NFC West types San Francisco has been embarrassing.
Take San Francisco for $100.
Last week's record: 2-3. Net for week: minus $145.
Season record: 24-23-2. Net for season: plus $590.
Pub Date: 10/31/97