The trouble with touting, from the point of view of many pro football touts, is that the emphasis is wrong. Touts are under pressure to get off to a fast start with their picks or risk being out of business by mid-season. Yet the opening weeks are the toughest to predict. It takes time for the form to settle.
An excellent tout I know has this problem almost annually. He is outstanding, most seasons, from the 10th week through the playoffs. But invariably he struggles through the first half of the campaign and loses much of his clientele.
"It's not how you did last year . . . it's how you did last week, in this line of work," he said with a moan, "and I don't have many convictions about games until late in the year. Too many guys want to go right from the start. If I don't give them action they'll take their money elsewhere."
I sympathize with the man, even though I'm 6-1 after seven selections. I'm considerably more comfortable making predictions after I've seen a team two or three times on the tube. This year, unfortunately, it's already rather late in the season as the NFL offers its fourth games this weekend. Seven of the eight weeks lost to the strike were lost for good. Only one game will be made up.
The quality of play was better last week than most observers thought it would be. Perhaps I can get back into the swing of things faster than I thought likely, although caution is still good advice.
This week presents two games on Thursday -- Dallas favored by 6 1/2 at home against Cleveland and Detroit favored by four in the Silverdome over the New York Giants.
On Sunday Washington is 2 1/2 over Philadelphia, Buffalo 12 1/2 over Baltimore, Minnesota five over Chicago, San Diego 6 1/2 over Denver, the New York Jets 3 1/2 over Green Bay, New England 3 1/2 over Houston, the Los Angeles Rams 2 1/2 over Kansas City, San Francisco nine over New Orleans, Cincinnati four over the Los Angeles Raiders, Pittsburgh 6 1/2 at Seattle, Atlanta six over St. Louis and (Monday night) Miami two over Tampa Bay.
It's going to be a great week for the home teams if the favorites prevail. Only two visiting squads, Pittsburgh and Miami, are accorded an edge in the Las Vegas numbers. I'm going to go against the Dolphins and take the Buccaneers, getting two points, for a mythical $250. Anyone who saw Tampa Bay outplay Dallas Sunday in a losing effort can't help but be tempted by this line. The underdog at home on Monday nights has always been a favorite spot, and this is no exception.
Tampa's defense is sound. Lee Roy Selmon is an all-pro defensive end and Hugh Green, in his second season, is about to become an all-world linebacker. The Buccaneers' secondary is better than most. Miami's offense is inconsistent, because of an unsettled situation at quarterback.
If Doug Williams will be patient, Tampa Bay can win this game. No one questions the passer's ability, only his tendency to go for the big play when it isn't there.
Miami's defense is one of the steadiest in the league. It exerts pressure. Williams must stay cool, or his team will be 0-4 and virtually eliminated from playoff consideration. I have a hunch he'll get the job done.
The other pick is Washington, giving 2 1/2 to the Eagles for $250. Much is being written about Joe Theismann, and he is having a fine year. But the key to the Redskins' 3-0 record is the offensive line. This unit has played at Philadelphia, at Tampa Bay and at the New York Giants--against three of the better defensive fronts in the NFL--and has more than held its own on each occasion.
The Eagles are 1-2. They certainly are not over the hill. They will move the ball on Washington's defense and, should Ron Jaworski have one of his good days, an Eagle victory is quite possible. But if it comes down to Jaworski or Theismann in the final drive, bet the mortgage on Theismann. Jaworski will be even more suspect if Wilbert Montgomery isn't 100 percent. Montgomery was injured slightly in the second half of the loss to Cincinnati.