Bob Martin makes Cincinnati only a 6-point underdog against Oakland on Monday night in Riverfront Stadium. The Bengals are 1 and 9. Oakland is still a good football team. So at first glance this appears to be a sucker play.
But be careful. Martin knew he had installed Oakland a 7 1/2 point favorite, the world would have beaten a path to the Bengals' betting door. At 6, or 6 1/2, the enthusiasm of the professionals for Cincinnati cools considerably.
Once again, the Head Linesman in Las Vegas had done his job.
Martin's impact on NFL betting is tremendous. I have never been quite sure, in certain situations, whether the point spread winds up being exactly what the public makes it, or whether it retains strong traces of what Martin says it will be. Certainly in terms of the Monday night and the other nationally televised contest the public takes charge. The volume of money wagered quickly overrides the one man's opinion.
But in games of less interest, in games no one particularly cares about, on a regional basis, the starting point provided by Martin is most important. The number he provides Monday morning is designed to balance the action 50-50 - a "splitter," he calls it - and his line winds up being right on the money much more often than not.
"Dallas was available early this week giving only 4 1/2, if you knew where to look," Martin said yesterday.
"Where can I get it? I'll charter a plane," I replied, fresh from my best weekend of the season.
"It's not there now," Martin answered. "It is all the way out to 7 many places, but you can shop around and get the game at 6 1/2."
He was right. And I did. You are advised to do the same.
The Cowboys started to put things together in the second half of their losing effort in Miami on Sunday. Too Tall Jones suddenly realized that time was running out early. Jones ordinarily waits until Dallas is in the playoffs to get serious about his performance. He cannot afford that luxury anymore. Nor can his teammates.
The Cowboys should come out somkin' in Milwaukee on Sunday against Green Bay. They have played as poorly as they know how, three weeks in a row.
This means the Pack is in a tough spot. Green Bay will not be able to run on Dallas. David Whitehurst, in such a situation, is not to be confused with Bart Starr. I will give the 6 1/2 for a mythical $250.
Cleveland at home against Denver also is worth a mythical $250, getting 1 1/2. The Browns continue to play gamely for Sam Rutigliano and, at 5-5, they still have a chance for the expanded wild card format. The Broncos are a team without a quarterback, although they employ three.
St. Louis, giving 5 1/2 at San Francisco, is a mythical $100 throw-in. The Cardinals destroyed the Giants, leading by halftime, 20-0. Their offensive line is back together, which means it is the best in the NFL business at protecting the passer. Jim Hart against the 49ers will be effective.
The only risk here is that S.F. will play better without O.J. than it did with him. Simpson, considering his salary, is supposed to be able to run through places other than airports. He's not special anymore.
The week's top pick is Los Angeles giving 2 1/2 to Pittsburgh at home Sunday night. L.A., should be able to run against Pittsburgh. When that happens, and he doesn't have to adjust, Haden's passing becomes effective. Defensively, the Rams' unit is the finest in the league. It will be primed for a maximum effort, as it sill have to be, in order to keep Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Lynn Swann well enough under control to deprive the Steelers a 10-1 mark.
In other games Las Vegas lists Washington 8 over the Giants, New Orleans 3 over Atlanta, Seattle 3 over Baltimore, Minnesota 8 over Chicago, New England 5 1/2 over Houston. San Diego 10 over Kansas City, Miama 7 1/2 over Buffalo, Philadelphia 4 over the Jets, and Detroit 3 over Tampa Bay.