The Atlanta-San Francisco game opened at even money in Las Vegas Monday and whammo, before the little old pricemaker had a chance to put his pencil down, the number was up to two, the Falcons favored. Atlanta is now a 2 1/2-point choice in certain parts of the country.
This is an excellent example of so-called smart money showing for a particular game. There were no major injuries to prompt the strong action; rather, a sharp difference of opinion. Bob Martin thought the game to be a toss-up. Many big bettors thought otherwise.
This doesn't happen that often. Nor does it mean that the Falcons are a cinch to beat the 49ers. My observation, over the last decade, is that smart money wins approximately 50 percent of the time, which means the smart money isn't all that smart.
I happen to believe the big boys are right this time, however. The Falcons have the best-balanced, most consistent offense in the NFL. They are going to move the ball on the San Francisco defense.
Atlanta's defense and special teams are much less dependable, unfortunately. Which is why Georgia's favorite franchise is 5-4, two games behind the surprising Niners in the NFC West.
The most important consideration, in picking the Falcons, is that they positively, absolutely MUST win this game if they are to keep their division chances alive. A loss would go a long way toward eliminating them from even wild-card consideration. So I'm convinced Atlanta will be primed for its best effort of the season and Atlanta, on its best days, is a very formidable squad.
The Falcons attract an imaginary $750, giving 2 1/2.
The week's other picks are Dallas, St. Louis and Los Angeles. The Cowboys outplayed the Eagles by much more than the 17-14 score indicated last Sunday. The final count might have been 31-14, just as easily. Dallas finally got its offense coordinated. There was none of the frantic shuffling of plays in and out at the last second. Danny White had time to bring his team to the line of scrimmage without worrying about his communications network.
Dallas gets $500, giving 3 1/2 at home to Buffalo. I have great respect for the Bills' defense and for the speed of their receivers, but the loss of Shane Nelson to a knee injury is going to hurt Buffalo. He was an integral part of its defensive "triangle."
The Cardinals and the Rams attract $250 each. St. Louis has a quick-strike offense that can give any defense, even Philadelphia's, trouble. The Eagles have arrived at that time of year when they must try to carry Ron Jaworski the rest of the way, and he can be a burden. Philly is favored by 4 1/2.
Los Angeles was upset by New Orleans, 23-17, on Sept. 13. That was a mistake, one that should never happen twice, but one that should assure the Rams being ready for the return match at home. We'll see how Dan Pastorini does at quarterback in place of Pat Haden, now that Jeff Rutledge has dislocated a thumb. The spread is 11.
In other games, Las Vegas lists Kansas City eight over Chicago, San Diego four over Cincinnati, Denver four over Cleveland, Washington two over Detroit, New England 1 1/2 over Miami, Green Bay 2 1/2 over the New York Giants, the New York Jets 3 1/2 over Baltimore, Houston one over Oakland, Pittsburgh 4 1/2 at Seattle and Minnesota 4 1/2 over Tampa Bay.