The point spread for 14 games in the second week of the 1976 season totaled 112. Two games were listed at 7, two at 10, one at 11, three at 13 and one at 16.
The total point spread for this weekend is 63. The biggest number is 7.
A decade ago, a handicapper had to worry about his team's winning but not covering. That happened frequently with the bigger numbers. Now, such a concern is much less. More than 85 percent of the favored NFL teams that won in 1982 and 1983 also beat the spread.
Last week's results were typical. Ten favorites won; eight covered. Oh, how the game has changed. Parity has never been more pronounced. Not even the "dog"-at-home is safe, despite its excellent record of recent seasons. Five underdogs played in friendly surroundings last weekend. All lost.
I did only a tad better than the "dog," San Diego's romp at Minnesota being the one selection that averted a shutout in five tries. I picked the Giants over the Eagles and saw the game on television. New York was clearly better, but its 15-point halftime lead shrank to a point and that's not quite good enough when you're giving two.
So, even though winning favorites are covering more than 85 percent of the time, there are times when . . .
The line this week: Pittsburgh at the New York Jets tonight is rated even. Sunday, Chicago is 5 over Denver, St. Louis 7 over Buffalo, Atlanta 3 over Detroit, Miami 6 over New England, Philadelphia 5 over Minnesota, Cincinnati 4 over Kansas City, New Orleans 7 over Tampa Bay, Dallas 5 at the Giants, San Diego 1 at Seattle, the Los Angeles Rams 5 over Cleveland, the Los Angeles Raiders 7 over Green Bay and Houston 6 over Indianapolis. Monday night finds San Francisco 2 over Washington.
I'll go with Houston, St. Louis, San Diego and Miami for $500 each and San Francisco for $250.
Last week, I predicted Houston would be one of the most improved teams in the league. They were beaten by the Raiders but looked promising in losing. The Raiders never did put together much of an offense; instead, their defense gradually took control.
Fortunately for Houston and all the other NFL squads, there aren't many teams like the Raiders. Against the Colts, the Oilers' big, young offensive line should be able to give Earl Campbell more running room and help Warren Moon develop into a solid NFL quarterback.
Indianapolis seems to be stuck with Mike Pagel as its quarterback. As a passer, Pagel is an excellent scrambler. And Curtis Dickey, the splendid runner who represents 70 percent of the Colts' offense, was banged up a bit in the loss to the Jets. Give the 6.
St. Louis is coming on. The Cardinals' one-point defeat in Green Bay needed no apology. The Cardinals showed last season that, given a team they can handle, they get the job done. Buffalo fits that description. The Bills don't have Joe Cribbs any more, leaving Joe Ferguson to carry the offense. I doubt he can do it. Give the 7.
San Diego was impressive at Minnesota. Seattle will provide a much tougher test. The retirement of Kellen Winslow in a salary dispute won't help the Chargers' morale, but they have too much offense for the Seahawks, especially with Curt Warner out for the year. Dan Fouts had an off year, for him, in 1983 because of injuries. Now he is healthy. Give the 1.
Miami's performance against Washington was almost picture-perfect. The departure of Bill Arnsparger as defensive coordinator didn't seem to make any difference to the Dolphins. Dan Marino has outstanding speed and better depth among his wide receivers. I have respect for the Patriots this season, but Steve Grogan is not the ideal passer when confronted by the quickness of the Dolphins' defense. Give the 6.
Washington's problems in the secondary are being exposed by the top passers, and Joe Montana is one of the best. San Francisco will miss not having nose tackle Pete Kugler against the Redskins' running game, but Dwight Clark is back and he should have a big night catching the ball. Give the 2.