Early Sunday evening is an interesting time in the Strine household during the NFL season. A few results are still coming in from the West Coast around 7 o'clock and as dinner is being served, my wife will often ask, "Well, how did we do this week?"
"The Raiders covered," I reported Sunday, "but it doesn't look good in Seattle. The last score we saw was 26-14 (the Seahawks leading) and there can't be much time left."
"If they're winning, what's wrong?" she inquired, and again I explained the importance of the number.
Seattle was favored by 13 or 13 1/2 over San Diego. Twenty-six minus 14 is not 13. It did not add up to winning and, a bit later, when the final 26-21 score was announced, the first loss of the season was in the books after nine successful selections.
"I thought you swore, before this season started, that you weren't going to ever, ever, ever pick a team when it had to win by more than seven points," she volunteered.
There was a long silence.
"Pass the gravy," I said. Game of the Week
Chicago at San Francisco. The 49ers are favored by 4. I'll take San Francisco.
Despite the fact the Bears are 5-0, they have not been quite as dominant defensively as they were last year. Now comes word that defensive end Richard Dent is hurting. Dent, tackle Dan Hampton, linebacker Mike Singletary and safety Gary Fencik are the backbone of the Chicago defense.
This is an extremely aggressive unit coordinated by Buddy Ryan, who is not afraid to take risks against any offense. What can give them trouble, however, is a quarterback nimble enough to avoid some pressure. Joe Montana is the ideal type.
When San Francisco defeated Chicago, 23-0, in the NFC championship last January, the score might just as easily have been 44-0. Of course, the Bears had Steve Fuller at quarterback that afternoon and Fuller is a poor substitute for Jim McMahon. There will be no shutout this time around. McMahon and Walter Payton could combine for as many as 21 points, but that still shouldn't be enough.
The 49ers (3-2) have not played at their 1984 level in the first five games. Only once, against the Los Angeles Raiders, did they appear to be primed for a maximum effort -- and that was the best performance I've seen by any team in the NFL this season.
Rookie receiver Jerry Rice gives Montana another excellent target. Roger Craig has developed into a brilliant runner/receiver. There is not a better all-purpose back in the league. Craig will out-total Payton. Montana is better than McMahon. Bill Walsh's coaching is worth the spread against Mike Ditka. San Francisco is in a class by itself, until proven otherwise. Give the four points. Other Picks
I'll also take Pittsburgh, getting 5 points at Dallas, the New York Giants giving 2 at Cincinnati and Philadelphia getting 5 at home against St. Louis.
Pittsburgh can give anybody a headache. The Steelers have balance, good line play, two outstanding receivers, two solid runners and a great coach. So why are they 2-3? The answer probably has something to do with quarterback Mark Malone. He can be erratic. But in John Stallworth and Louis Lipps, he has the kind of speed and talent available at wide receiver that can keep the Dallas defense honest.
Dallas has not beaten Pittsburgh in more than a decade. The Cowboys might put an end to that streak, but I don't see them blowing out Chuck Noll's club, and an upset is possible. Take the 5.
The Giants had Dallas on the ropes Sunday night only to see Phil Simms mishandle a snap from center. Once again, New York turned in a good effort. All the Giants have to do is continue to play at this level and they will be 4-2 after Cincinnati.
The Bengals are 1-4 even though they have enough size to handle Godzilla. They should not have lost to San Diego and their performance against the New York Jets was disappointing. Maybe the offense misses power back Larry Kinnebrew more than most people recognize. Certainly the defense should be better. Whatever, the Bengals are not playing to their potential. The Giants are. Give the 2.
Marion Campbell finally has reinstated Ron Jaworski as the starting quarterback for the Eagles (1-4). Too bad he waited so long. Philadelphia's defense has played as admirably as any defense in the NFL over the first five weeks. Now, with rookie quarterback Randall Cunningham back on the bench where he belongs, the offense has a chance to score some points.
St. Louis has a habit of leaving some of its offense at home when it goes on the road. And the right side of the offensive line came apart at the tackle Monday night in Washington. Suddenly, Neil Lomax is under pressure and the Cardinal pass rush isn't getting to anybody. This is a good spot for an upset. Take the 5. Detroit at Washington
Redskins favored by 10. Green Bay ran for 285 yards against the Lions last week. Washington's running game is much better than Green Bay's. I am not convinced the Redskins have solved their passing problems but, against Detroit, it shouldn't matter. Give the 10. This is an opinion, not a selection. Giving anything over 7 is tough. The Line
Las Vegas' early week numbers also had Seattle 14 1/2 over Atlanta, New England 10 over Buffalo, Cleveland 2 at Houston, Denver 6 at Indianapolis, Kansas City 4 at San Diego, Los Angeles Rams 6 1/2 at Tampa Bay, Green Bay 3 1/2 over Minnesota, Los Angeles Raiders 9 over New Orleans and, Monday night, Miami 3 1/2 at New York Jets.