The pick of the week is Washington, getting 4 1/2 points Monday night in RFK Stadium against Dallas.
If someone had said, 12 days ago, that "Playing Football" would have been making such a selection I'd have sent out for the shrink. Last week, at this time, the tendency still would have been to saddle up with the Cowboys.
But the Redskins are ready to peak, in their fifth game of the season, while Tom Landry's club is, as usual, being brought along more slowly.
I find it difficult to believe Washington is 4-0. The team started out a little uncertain about its coach, its quarterback and itself. But the defense remebers what George Allen taught, the offensive line has played unbelievably well - and Joe Theismann has calmed down to the point where he is completely passes to receivers no one ever heard of.
Dallas, meanwhile, has encountered a few minor problems. Los Angeles outmuscled the Cowboys on the line of scrimmage both offensively and defensively. Linebacker Tom Henderson has been sorely missed, and there is a weakness on the left corner of the secondary, one Ron Jessie and Mel Gray exploited the last two games.
The great pass rush that was the trademark of the Dallas defense has been diluted this year, probably because of the rule change that enables offensive linemen to try anything short of a half-nelson in order to protect the quarterback. Strip away the "great pass rush" provided by three of the front four, and the Cowboys and the rest of the defense become merely mortal.
This is the key to Monday's game. If Washington's surprising offensive line can do a respectable job against Harvey Martin, Too Tall Jones and Randy White the Redskins have an excellent chance of winning. They enjoy two fringe benefits; first, the contest is being played on grass which tempers some of Dallas advantage in quickness, and secondly, Theismann's mobility. He will not be a sitting pigeion. Riggins and Thomas are two runners who demand respect from any defense planning an all-out blitz.
I do not say Washington WILL win. I do say there is an excellent chance of that happening, however, and I predict Dallas will not be able to blow the home team away. That being the case, getting 4 1/2 points is a bargain. For the Redskins, it's their biggest game of the season. For the Cowboys, while Monday nights offers a critical situation, there still would be time for them to defend their Super Bowl title, which they probably will do.
I'll risk a mythical $750 on the Skins. This weeek's other picks are Oakland, a mythical $500, giving 6 1/2 points at Chicago; Pittsburg, $250, giving 11 1/2 in New York against the Jets, and the New York-Jersey Giants, $250, giving 2 1/2 points at Atlanta.
This column is off to the second worst start in its five-year history, down $2,025 after hitting on only one (Minnesota) of three choices (Pittsburgh failed to cover and Oakland lost) last weekend. Fear not. At least yet. The net profit is still $25,000-plus.
Oakland should be able to get its running game back together against the Bears. If that happens, Ken Stabler should find a way out of his passing slump in a hurry. Walter Payton must be extremely effective if Chicago is to cover up for Bob Avellini's inconsistencies.
The Steeler's spot against the Jets seems a trifle low particularly with Matt Robinson replacing the injured Richard Todd as quarter back for New York. Pittsburgh has all the ingredients necessary for an outstanding season. If I had to select the team likely to have the best 16-game mark they'd be the second choice to Los Angeles.
For years the Giants have never seriously entered my handicapping figures - except as a team to be bet against by a superior squad. Now there is no denying New York's improvement, particularly in the offensive line. The defense became solid late last sesson. Their giving a small number against the Falcons appears sensible.
Las Vegas' quotation on other games find Green Bay 4 1/2 over Detroit, Cleveland 3 1/2 over Houston, Buffalo 2 over Kansas City, Los Angeles 9 1/2 at New Orleans, Minnesota 6 1/2 at Tampa Bay, Miami 9 1/2 over St. Louis, New England 7 over San Diego and Denver 9 over Seattle. Price lines on Cincinnati-San Francisco and Philadelphia - Baltimore will hinge on the availability of quarterbacks Ken Anderson and Bert Jones.