The numbers are plus-8, plus-11 and plus-6 for three-year veterans of Playing Football - 25 reasons to believe that picking winners against the point spread in National Football League games is far from an impossible dream.
Once again, it is Us against Them, at 11 to 10, "Them" being a well-financed team known as the Big Bad Bookies. Their No. 1 quarterback still sits in a pocket in Las Vegas. He is talented, But he can be sacked. I intend to get to him again, although no one has ever said it's an easy game, not when the player has to risk 11 units in order to win 10.
A unit is anything you want the IRS, or your spouse, to believe it to be. There was a time you had to look out for the boss, too. Now he probably wants to get in on the fun.
The importance of the "unit" is that it denotes the degree of conviction behind a particular selection, whether the unit involves $10,000, $1,000, $100, $10, $1, bragging rights at the office or blown-outbubble gum cards. I never risk more than three units on one game. A half-unit is a standard play.
The ground rules having been reviewed, it now is time to make several observations gathered from occasional viewing of games played during the Silly Season that just ended.
First, throw out the preseason standings. They mean nothing. More than ever before, the primary concern of most coaches was for the blue-ribbon talent not to be injured. May veterans relaxed throughtout the four-quarter exercises. Such nonsense ends Sunday.
The performance of several players serves, however, to show that they will never change.
Dan Pastorini still lacks the character and the intelligence to carry Houston, with its marvelous defense, into position to challenge Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the AFC Central. The year's best bet is that Pastorini will again lead the league in yardage on incomplete passes. He has a strong arm and loves to throw deep, but to no one in particular. And when rushed, he seems to enjoy dishing off to one of his backs who is completely surrounded by tacklers.
Then there is Pastorini's backup, John Hadl, who was through as a passer before he was traded by Los Angeles to Green Bay for half the Packer franchise. Just how the Oilers' management could have permitted Ron Jaworksi to go to Philadelphia and James Harris to join San Diego is something only losers can explain.
I look for Philadelphia and San Diego to improve, accordingly; for Joe Namath to give way to pat Haden as the Rams' started QB by midseason; for Dallas' defense to become positively scary; for Detroit to send all 11 defensemen 11 times in 11 games; for Kansas City to never quit frying, and for the Washington Redskins to find their way into the playoffs one more time.
Denver has the league's toughest schedule. New England enjoys the softest touch. The Patriots attracted my future-book flyer for the Super Bowl, at 6 to 1.
The first week of play is no time to go overboard in support of any team. It is a time for study, with an eye to selections to be made Sept. 25, Oct. 2 or later.
Bob Martin, the nation's leading price maker, believed that considerable money would show this week for Atlanta getting 10 points at home against Los Angeles. The Rams embarrassed the Falcons, 59-0 last December on national television, continuing to build the score long after the outcome was not in doubt. Embarrassed teams remember those occasions, and respond accordingly, Martin contends.
Maybe so, but I think Atlanta is extremely shaky, what with Scott Hunter having to replace the injured Steve Bartkowski at quarterback.
Instead, I'll open with Denver at home for one unit, giving three points to St. Louis. I'll also take half-units on Houston and New Orleans and quarter-units on Dallas and Pittsburgh Houston is favored by eight in the Astrodome against the New York Jets. New Orleans is 6 1/2 at home over Green Bay, while the Cowboys are a 2 1/2-point underdog at Minnesota and the Steelers, with host San Francisco Monday night, are favored by 13 1/2.
Denver's defense improeved steadily in recent years dispite injuries to Paul Smith and Lyle Alzado.Houston's 3-4 defense can overcome Pastorini when the Oilers are playing a weak opponent. New Orleans finally has direction, under Hank Stram. Dallas needs only a decent effort from Roger Staubach in order to beat the Vikings. Pittsburgh's pass rush should terrify Jim Plunkett.
For anyone determined to dabble on the other games. I suggest the Redskins giving 4 1/2 to the New York Giants, Seattle getting 13 1/2 against Baltimore, Cincinnati giving 11 to Cleveland, Detroit getting 5 at Chicago, Kansas City getting 11 at New England, Atlanta getting 10 against Los Angeles, Miami giving 2 1/2 at Buffalo, San Diego getting 13 1/2 at Oakland and Tampa Bay getting 14 at Philadelphia.