KENNEBUNKPORT, MAINE -- Word has reached me that some of my rapt fans are concerned that my well-deserved vacation may intrude into my keen knowledge of the NFL. This is categorically untrue. Like any good "in-house guru" -- to steal a phrase that Minnesota Coach Jerry Burns once hung upon me -- I have stocked my country mansion with state-of-the-art modems. Or modules. Or whatever those things are called that I can't operate.
Just the other day, in my state-of-the-art speedboat, I was thunderstruck by the revelation that the underdog is 6-0 in the first Steelers game of the year on real grass in non-strike years.
On my scenic local golf course, I was just reaching for my wedge when it occurred to me that the Bills have covered seven straight times during the first 12 weeks of the season when playing teams that dwell indoors.
But in my hot tub, I became awash with guilt. I was not only enjoying my vacation in this time of crisis for the bettors of the land, but I was getting these deep thoughts from my trusted vice guru, stat genius Dan Gordon. He assured me he was in constant touch with all points in the NFL -- from his own vacation condominium in Aspen. It is clear that, between us, we have fingers on the pulse of all major events affecting our readers.
Why did Dan just tell me to take Kuwait plus the 10 1/2?
On a more serious level -- pass the drawn butter for my fresh Maine lobster please -- we are prepared to squash the NFL schedule like a grape. I am unflagged by the Great Censor Tagliabue, who has ruled that I must not utter a word about point spreads on the air. By relaxing on the cliffs, or whatever these things are that hang over the coastline on my palatial Maine mansion, I have wiped out all recollection of my handicapping debacle in last season's playoffs. I am so eager to face the challenge of this season that I am prepared to relocate in my winter White House, in Bimini.
Or possibly in sunny Tampa Bay. The best bet this week revolves around those fighting Tangerine-tinged Tigers, the Buccaneers. The Lions are favored by 6 1/2 in this game. They are also a chic-physique kind of team, with everyone from here in Maine to distant Spain clambering aboard their bandwagon. Fact: The Lions are overrated. Fact: Their fabled run-and-shoot offense is a fad whose time is about to pass. And for those who want more specific details on why the Bucs will win this game outright, note that Detroit hasn't beaten Tampa Bay by more than six points at home since 1980 -- in even-numbered years. Buccaneers plus the 6 1/2.
The talent-laden, generally unhappy Vikings supposedly found harmony on the scenic banks of the Pacos River this summer. I would rather have seen them try Niagara Falls on a cold day. In any case, they are favored by 1 1/2 over the Chiefs in Kansas City. The Vikings never play well against AFC rivals. And the Chiefs have covered in nine straight home openers. Kansas City is banged up, but this is too tempting. Chiefs plus the 1 1/2.
The aging Browns, with an aching line trying to protect blue-chip quarterback Bernie Kosar, are favored by 3 over the Steelers. These are teams going in opposite directions. I'll take the ones on the up elevator. As an added incentive, there is that 6-0 thing about first Steelers games on grass. Merril Hoge, I made you and I can break you. Steelers, plus the 3.
The Rams are favored by 3 in Green Bay. The Rams are somewhat overrated, but the Packers are in chaos. The Majik Man has finally signed, but probably won't play. And whoever plays, the Packers have lost seven straight openers. Rams minus the 3.
The Giants are rated 4 over the Eagles on Sunday night in the Meadowlands. The mighty Giants have failed to cover only six times in their division since 1984 -- but four of those losses were to Philadelphia. It remains a puzzle why the Eagles haven't come to terms with tight end Keith Jackson, Randall Cunningham's favorite target. But it does not take a rocket scientist to figure out basic stats here. The Eagles, at 13-3, happen to be the greatest road underdogs on artificial surfaces in the history of the planet. Eagles plus 4.
Rocking back in my quaint chair while I contemplate these selections, I can only add that the world somehow seems clearer here in the brisk sea air. And if a fog descends on us all by Sunday night, well, remember the Maine.