There are occasions, in predicting against the point spread, when it's almost embarrassing to win or to tie. As, for instance, Monday night when my selection was Seattle giving 3 in the Kingdome against the Los Angeles Raiders.
For years I have stressed the importance of line play in making picks on NFL games. Give me a situation in which one line can dominate another and no other consideration is worth mentioning.
You'll have to wait a long time before there's a better example of that than what the Raiders' defensive front did to the Seahawks' offensive line. It was brutal. L.A. quickly stripped Seattle of what little running game it can muster and then went after quarterback Dave Krieg, who was lucky to get out of the stadium.
But Seattle's defense hung tough, as it always does, and the Raiders' offense turned the ball over at several inopportune times, as it has been doing lately. The numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the contest showed the home team on top, amazingly, 17-14.
Those fans who bet into the three-point line settled for a push, or a tie. No money exchanged hands. But anyone who backed Seattle had to feel like a winner to have escaped a very one-sided situation without losing. For those who backed L.A., the result was a crying shame. They had the right team.
I have spent much of this season beating up on the Raiders. Beginning with the third week, there was Kansas City getting 3 1/2, followed by San Diego getting 5 1/2, Denver getting 4, Seattle getting 5, Denver getting 6 1/2, Chicago getting 1 1/2 and, most recently, Seattle giving 3. Only one of those selections failed -- Seattle, the first time. L.A. is 4-6-1 overall against the line and 7-4 in the won-lost column, tied with New England for the fifth, and final, playoff spot in the American Conference.
From now on, things will be different. It is time to shift from a go-against to a go-with position with the Raiders, beginning Sunday at home against hapless Kansas City. The number is 9 1/2 and I think it's a little light considering the mood the Raiders are likely to be in.
This still is a quality club, despite unlucky losses to Denver and Seattle the last two weeks. I only hope I get the chance, in the playoffs, to handicap a Raiders-Broncos or Raiders-Seahawks matchup. The pick will be obvious: Los Angeles.
Other games this week find Las Vegas listing Atlanta 3 points over Cleveland, Dallas 10 at Buffalo, Chicago 7 over Detroit, Green Bay 3 over the Los Angeles Rams, Miami 7 1/2 at San Diego, Denver 9 over Minnesota, New England 7 at Indianapolis, the New York Jets 5 at Houston, St. Louis 1 at the New York Giants, Seattle 3 1/2 at Cincinnati, San Francisco 12 over Tampa Bay, Washington 7 at Philadelphia and (Monday night) New Orleans 1 over Pittsburgh.
I took a long, hard look at the Raiders, Green Bay, Miami, New England and St. Louis this week and came away with only three selections: the Raiders, Dolphins and Cardinals for an imaginary $250 each.
Jim Plunkett will never be my favorite quarterback, but he's a heck of a lot better than Marc Wilson with an injured thumb. That's going to help the Raiders' offense get going against a Kansas City squad that appears to have retired for the year two weeks ago. Give the 9 1/2.
Miami narrowly escaped against Philadelphia. Its overall performance the past two weeks has been less than scintillating. All of which means the Dolphins should be poised for a top effort at San Diego.
The Chargers' defense is not equipped to handle Dan Marino's passing game, and Dan Fouts is discovering what it is like to operate behind an offensive line that is slowly coming apart at the seams. Give the 7 1/2.
St. Louis has only itself to blame for two defeats in a row. Perhaps the Giants' defense can make Neil Lomax and friends self-destruct again. I doubt it. The loser of this game is in big trouble, in terms of making the playoffs. Give the point. THE RECORD
Won-lost record: 34-23
Net for Week
Net for Season +$225 +$1,425
Last week's results: Washington, giving 10, defeated Detroit, 28-14, plus $250; Green Bay, giving 6, defeated Minnesota, 45-17, plus $250; St. Louis, giving 4 1/2, lost to Dallas, 24-17, minus $275; Seattle, giving 3, defeated the Raiders, 17-4, a tie.