A fair share of luck is important in attempting to beat the point spread on NFL games. Last weekend, Houston quarterback Warren Moon suffered a hip pointer in the first quarter and Pittsburgh became an even better selection. Washington's Joe Theismann suffered a broken leg but someone named Jay Schroeder stepped in and led the Redskins to victory over the New York Giants. Seattle, driving toward a touchdown in the final minutes against New England, had a pass from Dave Kreig deflected, intercepted and run back for what led to the Patriots' winning score.
Anyone who cashed in on Miami giving 7 1/2 points in Indianapolis needed two fumble recoveries for touchbacks in the final four minutes to protect the investment. Then there was the agony or ecstasy of San Diego at Denver. The Broncos covered the 4 1/2 points in overtime by blocking a field goal attempt and running it in for six points.
Timing is everything. Washington opened as a one-point favorite over the Giants. The number went to 1 1/2, 2, 2 1/2, then closed at 2. Depending on when you did what you did, you won, lost or pushed, at 23-21. I was lucky, getting down early. GAME OF THE WEEK
New England at the New York Jets, the Jets favored by 3 1/2.
When the Patriots defeated the Jets at Foxboro, Mass., 20-13, five weeks ago, New York played without running back Freeman McNeil. Since then, first-round draft pick Al Toon from Wisconsin has emerged as an excellent receiver to go along with Wesley Walker and Mickey Shuler. Quarterback Ken O'Brien has all the elements necessary to put plenty of points on the board, as the 62-point performance against Tampa Bay shows.
New England has won six straight and is tied with New York for the AFC East lead at 8-3. Old Steve Grogan has been able to keep from making critical mistakes at quarterback, but I wonder how he'll hold up under pressure from defensive end Mark Gastineau and friends. The Patriots have a slight edge, overall, when comparing defenses, but the Jets clearly are more dangerous on offense. I'll take the Jets giving the 3 1/2. OTHER SUNDAY PICKS
I'll take Dallas, giving 6 1/2 at home against Philadelphia, and Washington, getting 4 1/2 at Pittsburgh.
The Cowboys were humiliated by Chicago, 44-0 (and I thought the Bears would need regular quarterback Jim McMahon to get it done!). Philadelphia also has an excellent defense but it is not in the same category as the Bears' in going after the passer.
The quarterback situation for both teams is shaky. Dallas' Danny White and Philadelphia's Ron Jaworski were injured slightly Sunday. The Cowboys' Gary Hogeboom provides a much better backup than the Eagles' Randall Cunningham. Hogeboom filled in for White Oct. 20, when the Eagles came from behind to register a 16-14 upset at Philadelphia.
This is the year of the all-out blitz. Victories often go to the defense that can apply more consistent pressure. Dallas is superior in that regard in this matchup. Give the 6 1/2.
Washington and Pittsburgh are 6-5 and are similar in many respects. Both have good running games. Both play solid defense. They will provide excellent matchups on both lines of scrimmage and I doubt that either team will be able to establish anything resembling dominance.
John Stallworth and Louis Lipps give the Steelers the best pair of wide receivers in the league. The problem is they don't have a top passer to get the ball to them.
I don't pretend to know how Schroeder will perform in his first start for the Redskins. Off the evidence from the game against the Giants, however, he has enough poise to make taking the 4 1/2 points (five also was available) on Washington worth the risk. This figures to be a low-scoring game, with a field goal likely to be the difference. MONDAY NIGHT
Seattle at San Francisco, the 49ers favored by 6 1/2.
There is every reason to believe that Coach Bill Walsh's 49ers are putting the pieces back together again. They are the only team in the NFC that has the potential to give Chicago a serious argument for the Super Bowl berth.
They are talented but have not lived up to the high expectations many people had for them at the start of the season. Coach Chuck Knox, for all his excellence at building a strong team, continues to be conservative with his offense -- or is it simply that he lacks faith in quarterback Kreig? Certainly Kreig has let him down in many important situations. This game comes down to the quarterbacks. Joe Montana has a history of being tough in the clutch. Kreig does not. Give the 6 1/2. THE LINE
The early week line in Las Vegas had Chicago by 16 over Atlanta, Cleveland 3 over Cincinnati, the Los Angeles Raiders 4 1/2 over Denver, Detroit 1 at Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Rams 5 1/2 over Green Bay, Kansas City 4 over Indianapolis, Miami 8 at Buffalo, Minnesota 7 over New Orleans, the Giants 4 at St. Louis and San Diego 5 at Houston.