Four years ago this week, I posted my first NFL picks column. It went up on my then-prolific blog, and each of my eight readers was blessed with weekly predictions for one reason: I was a horrible gambler.
I placed my first NFL bet in 2001, and soon had wagers going every Sunday and Monday (and the blissful late-season Thursday). Always multiple bets at the same time, often multiple props on the same game. I was never a degenerate; not once did I gamble more than I had to lose. Still, though, when I lost - and bless me, I did - it didn't help my inherited blood pressure issues.
It had to end, and I had the solution: a gambling column. I figured the wagers were just a way to have a rooting interest, so making my picks public would ease the transition to non-gambler status. I still had that rooting interest, even if the payoff was public pride instead of actual money. (Pride is a lot easier to lose.)
Well, folks, I'm in trouble. I'm gettin' the jones again. Last week, I studied the match-ups, weighed the options, stewed on the lines. And I ended with a personal best 12-2 record against the spread, putting me 16 games over .500 on the young year. I'm fooling myself into thinking that, after all these years, I'm finally getting the hang of it.
Of course, I don't have the hang of it. I got lucky last week, because Vegas doesn't build billion dollar casinos because anybody can get the hang of it. But, hey, wait - maybe I'm that one guy that did. Yeah, that's it!
Anyway, Sunday is the real test. If I put up another silly-good number, I may go to the dark side again.
Pray for me this weekend. To lose.
Atlanta @ Philadelphia (-2 1/2). I'm torn about the possibility of seeing Michael Vick in action Sunday. At the time of this writing, it's looking like Kevin Kolb will start for the Eagles, but Vick keeps claiming he wants to play - which is probably just a manuever to throw off the Falcons defense. Atlanta's road game chances are certainly better with Kolb under center, but oh how I'd like to see the Falcons CRUSH Vick. Last year's Falcons-Eagles game was the most disgusting sporting event I've ever attended, and that includes a visit to Shea Stadium. The pro-Vick crowd (a loud minority no matter what you read) was irritating, but the most egregious action was Andy Reid naming Vick a captain - as if #7 should be celebrated in front of an organization he screwed over. It was a direct slap at Arthur Blank in his home stadium, highlighting a player who cost the Falcons' owner millions and, even worse, a year of starting Joey Harrington. The Atlanta players need to remember last year's sting, and take it out on whoever starts. And if John Abraham "accidentally" bowls over Reid on the sideline, I won't shed a tear. PICK: Atlanta
San Diego (-8) @ St. Louis. How long does San Diego have to be mediocre before they stop getting respect? Every single year, so-called experts claim "it's the Chargers' year!" And every single year, even the ones where they win double-digit games, they fail in some spectacular way. Vegas is guilty as well, making them 8-point road favorites despite losses to Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland. PICK:St. Louis
Kansas City @ Houston (-4). Alright, here you go Kansas City - a chance to prove you're for real. I'm certainly more curious about this matchup than I would have imagined a few weeks ago. (But seriously, Chiefs. Get Dexter McCluster more involved. A nation of desperate fantasy football players cries out to you.) PICK: Kansas City
Miami @ Green Bay (PICK). This point spread is a couple days old, and doesn't seem to take into account Aaron Rodgers' sudden availability one week after a concussion. It's all I have to go with, however, as the game is currently off-the-board everywhere I look. And honestly, I'm still tempted to pick Miami against a gotta-still-be-hazy Rodgers - but this game is just too important to a struggling Packers team (which, of course, I picked to win the Super Bowl). PICK: Green Bay
Baltimore @ New England (-2 1/2). Teen lesbian activist Justin Bieber earned some respect from me this week, making fun of Tom Brady for co-opting her hairstyle. (I have no idea who Justin Bieber is or what she really does. I'm just making assumptions based on photos.) PICK: New England
New Orleans (-4) @ Tampa Bay. The folks in New Orleans are of an unwavering faith, and pro-Saints wagers will be flying fast and furious this weekend - because doesn't it just seem the Super Bowl champs should take care of Josh Freaking Freeman? Sure, the Buccaneers have been a cute story so far, but let's not ignore that their three wins have come against Cleveland, Carolina and a possibly wretched Cincinnati team. Vegas clearly has some doubts about the Cajun Crusaders, but I'm not even close to writing them off. PICK: New Orleans
Detroit @ NY Giants (-10 1/2). The Lions are two years away. And Detroit fans will lap that up, even if it means 4-12 ball this year and next - because did you see the stat Adam Schefter posted today? Since 2001, the Lions have an 8-67 record on the road. How is that even possible? PICK: NY Giants
Seattle @ Chicago (-6). As a Falcons fan, I'm rooting for a Bears loss so Atlanta can have the NFC's best record all to themselves (presuming a victory against the Eagles, of course). We'll probably have to wait another week to claim it, but Jay Cutler will eventually turn back into Jay Cutler. Game prediction: Seattle's defensive players outscore their offensive counterparts. PICK: Chicago
Cleveland @ Pittsburgh (-13 1/2). Oh, Colty. It looks like Colt McCoy will be making his NFL debut on Sunday, due to Cleveland's ravaged QB corps (Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace both claim to be hurt, but I wouldn't hesitate to pull a Gilbert Arenas with Pittsburgh coming to town). It's not the easiest assignment for a rookie, and smart money should rely on The Return of Roethlisberger. There's a little something gnawing at me, though, especially with that weird 13 1/2-point spread. Vegas seems to be screaming at us: "Oh, come on, Big Ben is back and facing a rookie QB! They'll definitely win by two measly touchdowns! You HAVE to bet the Steelers!" Feels Ackbar-ish to me. Let's roll with the rook. PICK: Cleveland
NY Jets (-3) @ Denver. The Jets play a tough Monday night contest, then travel across country for a mile-high matchup? L-E-T-D-O-W-N. PICK: Denver
Oakland @ San Francisco (-6 1/2). What a weird line: a feisty Raiders team, 20 minutes from home, is almost a TD-underdog to a winless, shoelace-tripping 49ers squad? Yeah, I was just talking about those weird trap spreads, but here I think Vegas is just overreacting to San Fran's lofty Week 5 stats (achieved against a weak, praise be to God, Eagles defense). PICK: Oakland
Dallas @ Minnesota (-1 1/2). This is destined to be the most talked-about game between 1-3 teams of all time. And best of all, Atlanta wins no matter what happens. PICK: Minnesota
Indianapolis (-3) @ Washington. Manning v. McNabb gets prime-time treatment, which makes sense. As opposed to ... PICK: Indianapolis
Tennessee (-3) @ Jacksonville. Ok, I know there are weird scheduling rules for Monday Night Football - teams can only appear three times a season, networks can protect certain games, MNF doesn't necessarily get first choice, etc. At what point, though, did ESPN execs look at the slate of games and think, "You know, the nation will just be riveted by this Titans-Jags scorcher!" I would guess the selection was fueled solely by fantasy football: "It's Chris Johnson vs. Maurice Jones-Drew, Monday at 8:30!" PICK: Tennessee
Last week: 12-2-0 (WHAT.)