The ninth year of "Playing Football" opens with a new twist--by quoting a price on the NFL season being sacked, or at least thrown for a loss, by a players' strike. The odds are 2 to 1, for.
"I'd say there's a very real chance there will be some kind of interruption in scheduled play," the head linesman declared from Las Vegas.
"Why that strong?" Bob Martin was asked.
"The owners' stupidity," he replied.
But Martin was quick to offer a tongue-in-cheek solution to the problem.
"The nation's bookmakers should be willing to come up with $25 million to help prevent a strike," he volunteered.
Perhaps the season's being played is more important to the bookmakers than it is to the owners or the players. The bookies stand to lose a small fortune if the pro games aren't available. While the college contests would pick up some of that loss, there are many betters who much prefer wagering on the players who are paid up front instead of under the table.
NFL squads do not change so radically in their makeup from year to year. The stronger professional teams enjoy much greater national television exposure. All this adds up to greater familiarity with the personnel on the teams, thus an easier opportunity to form an opinion. For many, betting on the pros will always be a more comfortable experience, even though the line tends to be sharper than it is for college games.
Few bargains are offered in the point spread on NFL events. A taste of what is to be expected starts with the Las Vegas future "book" on the Super Bowl. If you like a team to go all the way this year, here are the figures:
Dallas 7 to 2, San Francisco 9 to 2, Cincinnati 5 to 1, San Diego and Los Angeles Rams 6 to 1, Atlanta 8 to 1, Philadelphia and Buffalo 10 to 1, New York Jets and Miami 12 to 1, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles Raiders and Denver 15 to 1, Detroit, Cleveland, New England and Kansas City 20 to 1, New York Giants 25 to 1, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Minnesota 30 to 1, Washington 35 to 1, Houston 40 to 1, Chicago 50 to 1, Seattle and St. Louis 100 to 1, New Orleans and Baltimore 300 to 1.
I find picking one game at a time tough enough without participating in any long-range flirtations. But, if pressed to make one stab, Miami at 12 to 1 smacks as being the nearest thing to value on the futures board, and that price should be more like 20 to 1 in a fair economy.
Selecting divisional champions makes more sense. I like the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers in the AFC, with the Bengals and Broncos the wild cards. In the NFC, the Cowboys, 49ers and Lions should take the divisions, with the Eagles and the Falcons also likely to make the playoffs.
Sound advice calls for a relaxed approach to the early weeks of NFL action. Give the form time to form. Trouble is, there might not be any pro teams playing by mid-October if the strike occurs. So I'll dabble on Denver, Cincinnati and Detroit this week, an imaginary $250 each, and hope the owners and the players soon realize how unsporting it would be to deprive "Playing Football" of a chance to post a ninth straight winning season.
The Lions are favored by 5 1/2 at home against Chicago. They were the best team not to make the playoffs last season. The Bears lack a quarterback and the offensive line is hurting.
Cincinnati is favored by 7 1/2 at home against Houston. The Bengals should score at least 30 and cover.
Denver hosts San Diego in a game rated even. The Chargers' defense has to improve in '82, but it will take time. Denver, meanwhile, is becoming a much better balanced club, thanks to an improved offense.
In other games this weekend, the Vegas line shows the Giants favored by 1 1/2 over Atlanta, Cleveland 2 at Seattle, Buffalo 3 1/2 over Kansas City, the Rams 1 over Green Bay in Milwaukee, the Jets 2 1/2 over Miami, New England 2 1/2 at Baltimore, San Francisco 5 1/2 over the Raiders, St. Louis-New Orleans even, Minnesota 2 1/2 over Tampa Bay, Philadelphia 6 1/2 over Washington and (Monday night) Dallas 5 over Pittsburgh.