The Dallas Cowboys are very narrowly favored to beat the Washington Redskins Saturday, but among professional handicappers there is a consensus about what will happen in the NFC championship game:
The Redskins are going to win it.
In fact, one handicapper who operates in the Cowboys' territory insists that picking Washington is the only intellectually respectable position to hold on this game.
"Anybody who does their work has to like the Redskins," said Steve Turner, who runs the Texas Sports Wire, a football-handicapping service. "Anybody who gives out this game (to his clients) and doesn't give out Washington doesn't know much about handicapping. This is cut and dried.
"Dallas' only advantage is that they've been in the pressure cooker before, while the Redskins have a lot of young players," Turner maintained. "But from every other standpoint, the game is in Washington's favor.
"No. 1, defense: they've proved they can play better defense than the Cowboys. No. 2, preparation: they will have two extra days to prepare for the game. Dallas played last Sunday and will lose a day traveling. No. 3, they're at home. No. 4, they're playing on natural turf. No. 5, revenge: this is the most important factor in all handicapping and Dallas handed the Redskins their only loss of the year."
Rich Bomze, who publishes the Sports Reporter, analyzed the Cowboys' win with his usual attention to statistical detail and concluded: "Throw that game out."
Bomze loves the Redskins for compiling a 17-4-1 record against the point spread over their last 22 games, and he readily forgives that loss to the Cowboys.
"For that game," he said, "Dallas put in a new defense that Washington had never seen, rushing two linebackers. Theismann was sacked seven times for 60 yards. Of his nine interceptions this year, he threw three of them in that game. Riggins carried only nine times for 26 yards. Those are not legitimate figures."
The figures Bomze thinks are legitimate are the ones that reflect the Redskins' defensive superiority and the Cowboys' recent offensive shortcomings: "Washington has held its last three opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. I love that defense, and I don't think Tony Dorsett will get 100 yards against them. They're in gear, they couldn't be peaking any better. But the Cowboys aren't sharp; against Tampa Bay, they got inside the 20-yard line four times and couldn't score. I pick Washington, 20-16."
While the Texas Sports Wire and the Sports Reporter are two of the more reputable names in the often fly-by-night business of football touting, nobody in America has a better batting average this year than an obscure outfit called A.S.T. Sports. A Las Vegas-based newsletter called the Sports Service News has monitored the performance of 112 handicapping services this season, and A.S.T. has led them all, compiling an amazing 71.4 winning percentage on its selections.
The service's proprietor, Aaron Thorne, was reached by phone in Endicott, N.Y., and was asked whom he liked in the big game.
"Wait a minute," Thorne said. "Let me consult somebody." He returned to the phone a moment later. "Dallas," he said.
What was his reasoning?
"You probably wouldn't believe it," Thorne said. "I used to use statistical bases--the number of yards a team gained per rush, the number of yards the defense had allowed per rush . . . I used to do that. But my wife would make her picks on the games, too, and she was tremendous. I got tired of seeing my selections wrong and hers right. So I stopped using my own games and just relied on her intuition. Out of her last 18 games, she's 15-3. Uh, wait a minute."
Thorne left the phone briefly and then returned.
"Washington," he said. "We want to switch the pick to Washington. I had said Dallas because I know they're a good football team but my wife thought about it in the kitchen for a couple of minutes and Washington's our selection."
That makes it a cinch. On to the Super Bowl.