The Atlanta Falcons are alive and kicking in pursuit of an NFC playoff spot. Their record is 8-5. Sunday they play the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Bengals are 1-12 in the AFC Central. Cincinnati rules a 1 1/2-point favorite.
Green Bay is 7-5-1, tied with Minnesota for first place in the NFC Central following a 10-10 tie with the Vikings last weekend.Sunday the Packers play Tampa Bay in Florida. The Buccaneers have only a mathematical chance for the playoffs. Yet Tampa Bay is a 2-point pick on the Big Board in Las Vegas.
A friend who couldn't believe the opening quotations printed in the sports section Tuesday morning called Yesterday to inquire as to the accuracy of the early line. "I can't believe what I see," the computer-oriented handicapper declared after studying his point-spread printout. "Something's wrong."
Nothing's wrong. Bob Martin has settled on the right favorites for both games. He couldn't care less where their division races. His consideration is based on how the four teams are playing as of the moment, not how they were playing three, six, nine or 13 weeks ago.
Cincinnati's defense is coming on. Tampa Bay is always tough at home. Martin also is keenly aware of the success the amateurs are having this season in going with "the dog" at home. Had he made Cincinnati and Tamp Bay underdogs, there would have been a rush of money on those two teams. His line, once again, will help the nation's bookmakers balance their betting ledgers.
Sunday offers the most interesting slate of games to appear in the NFL this year. The outcome of the Miami-Washington, New England-Dallas, Denver-Oakland and Pittsburgh-Houston contests will have significant bearing on the 10 teams to appear in post-season competition.
Bob Griese and Dolphins' offensive line should be a little too much for Washington to handle. There isn't a better offense in professional football than Miami's. But Don Schula's club has problems in the defensive secondary. The Skins will put quite a few points on the board and, quite conceivably, could win. Thus the risk is minimal, an imaginary $100 for Miami, giving 3 1/2.
New England is much more appealing, in Dallas against the Cowboys. I do not subscribe to the idea that Dallas has bounced all the way back to be what it was late last season - not with Harvey Martin performing at considerably less than maximum ability. The Patriots will be in this game all the way, with an excellent chance of winning. Getting 6 1/2, they're worth an imaginary $500.
Houston also draws an imaginary $500 against Pittsburgh. Franco Harris and the Steeler ground game are hurting slightly. The Oilers should shut down Pittsburgh's rushing, forcing Terry Bradshaw to go upstairs more than he wants in an effort to locate Lynn Swann. Houston, thanks to Earl Campbell, has never been better. The team is riding an emotional high that should carry it to within one game of the division lead. Houston is a 1 1/2-point favorite.
Oakland also attracts an imaginary $500, giving 4 at home to Denver in the battle for first place in the AFC West. If the Raiders are ever going to remember how to put everything together, this is the time.
The week's final pick is Minnesota, giving 3 1/2 at home against Philadelphia. Minnesota can not afford to let down so long as Green Bay hangs close. Fran Tarkenton should throw effectively against the Eagles. Ron Jaworski, on the other hand, figures to be in a tough spot inasmuch as Philadelphia's running attack appears to sputtering. The risk here is an imaginary $250.
My seven-week winning streak came to a screeching halt Sunday when Los Angeles, Minnesota and St. Louis went down the tubes. The week's only winner was Dallas, while Denver also lost, evening out the 1978 record at 24-24 and more important, reducing the net profit to $1,775.
Las Vegas, line on this week's other games finds the Jets 7 over Baltimore (with Bert Jones likely to return), Kansas City 6 over Buffalo, Seattle 3 1/2 over Cleveland, St. Louis 1 over Detroit, Los Angeles 8 over the Giants, New Orleans 7 over San Francisco and, Monday night, the erratic San Diego Chargers 6 1/2 over Chicago. Strine's Record
Season Totals Plus $1,775
Last Week's Results Minus $520
Last week: Dallas (37-10) giving 11 to Washington won $250. Denver (14-17) giving 3 1/2 to Detroit lost $100. Los Angeles (19-30) giving 4 1/2 to Cleveland lost $250. Minnesota (10-10) giving 3 1/2 to Green Bay lost $250.St. Louis (10-14) giving 3 to Philadelphia lost $100.
Season totals: 24-24.