Timing can mean everything in handicapping NFL games. Having the right teams play in the right place on the right day happens much too infrequently.
This Sunday's Washington at Chicago game was circled on my calendar before the start of the season. I intended to go with the Bears. The point spread figured to be about 3, Chicago favored, with many fans eager to back the Redskins on the "revenge" angle, the Bears having upset the Redskins in the '84 playoffs, 23-19, when Washington was favored by 7. Chicago had Steve Fuller at quarterback that December afternoon, substituting for injured Jim McMahon.
This season the Bears sputtered in defeating Tampa Bay, then beat New England. Washington, which often starts slowly under Coach Joe Gibbs, was blown out at Dallas and was lucky to edge Houston.
Still, the spread was going to be about 3 1/2 -- until last week's games. Then a national television audience had the opportunity to see the difference between Fuller and McMahon as Chicago came from eight points down to defeat Minnesota Thursday night. And, of course, Washington played dismally in losing to Philadelphia, 19-6, as a 14 1/2-point favorite.
The line for Sunday's game, as a result of those two results, is the Bears by 6 1/2. Chicago, for all its aggressiveness on defense, is not so attractive when it has to give many points. Its offense lacks sophistication, even with McMahon in charge.
I still think the Bears will win but the Redskins, embarrassed by the Eagles, will now be geared for their best performance. The number is double what I originally thought it would be. So it's a game to watch. No pick. Game of the Week
Miami at Denver, the Dolphins favored by 1, although you may find it listed as even in some areas.
Anyone who saw Dan Marino pass so crisply in the second half against Kansas City Sunday knows he is back in top form, after having passed up the preseason. I thought the Chiefs were going to give the Dolphins a tough test. They lost, 31-0.
The injury to Mark Duper is certain to cut down on Miami's point production over the next six weeks. Marino was at his best last year when both Duper and Mark Clayton were healthy receivers. But Don Shula has always been one of the most resourceful coaches, and his recent squads seem to reach their peak early.
Certainly I can't go against Miami, given its most recent performance. But I learned long ago not to pick against Denver when the Broncos are at home in an important contest. Pass this game, too. Play of the Week
Kansas City, at home, getting 3 points from Seattle.
Last December Seattle was favored by 4 at Kansas City. The Chiefs won, 34-7. I remember it well because I picked the Seahawks.
Monday night Seattle had trouble moving the ball against the Los Angeles Rams. Kansas City does not have the splendid balance on defense that the Rams do, but it is an aggressive, spirited bunch that should be able to give Dave Krieg some discomfort.
I still like the Kansas City offense despite its shutout in Miami. Bill Kenney is a gutty passer who holds up well under a rush. Carlos Carson and Henry Marshall are swift, capable receivers. Coach John Mackovic continues intent on building a solid running game.
Seattle is my choice to win the AFC West, but the Seahawks have given up 24, 35 and 35 points to Cincinnati, San Diego and the Rams. The defense obviously is not performing up to last year's level.
Kansas City also has Nick Lowery, the best kicker in the league. The Chiefs are worth a shot, what with the number being a little bigger than I thought it would be. Monday Night
Pittsburgh, at home, is a 6 1/2-point favorite over Cincinnati.
The Bengals have scored 92 points in their first three outings. It doesn't seem to matter whether the quarterback is Ken Anderson, Boomer Esiason or Turk Schonert; all have been effective. Unfortunately, Seattle, St. Louis and San Diego scored 113 points against Cincinnati and the Bengals are 0-3.
Cincinnati had the misfortune of having to confront three of the best offenses in the NFL from the start. But Pittsburgh can score, too, and the Steeler defense is particularly tough at home.
Forced to pick, I would take Pittsburgh and give the 6 1/2. But I'm not forced. I'll pass. The Line
Las Vegas' early-week numbers also had the Rams 10 over Atlanta, San Diego 4 over Cleveland, Dallas 4 1/2 at Houston, St. Louis 7 over Green Bay, New York Jets 10 over Indianapolis, New England 2 over the Raiders, Minnesota 3 at Buffalo, San Francisco 14 1/2 over New Orleans, New York Giants 4 1/2 at Philadelphia, and Detroit 4 1/2 over Tampa Bay.