Close to .500, but not even playing the game

It’s a gambling commandment to never complain about a winning week, but if there was ever a tempting week to do so this might be it. The Arizona Cardinals and Oakland Raiders failed to cover by a single point. The Chicago Bears gave up a late TD to push their number, and the Buffalo Bills blew a spread covering six point lead in the final minute against the Tennessee Titans. All of those results felt like a sucker punch to the stomach, but nothing compares to the ending of the Seattle Seahawks-San Francisco 49ers game.


Trailing 13-6, facing fourth down with less than a minute remaining in the contest, the Seahawks were flagged for an illegal block in their own end zone. The result of the penalty was a safety, rewarding the 49ers with two points and essentially ending the game as a 15-6 victory for San Francisco. Conveniently, the 15-6 final covered the eight point spread (the majority of action on this game was at -8 or -8 ½) for those backing the 49ers. Lost in the euphoria of a miraculous late cover was that the score on the television still read 13-6. San Francisco Coach Jim Harbaugh declined the safety! Harbaugh deliberately took two points off the board so the 49ers could take a knee and win the game 13-6 on the following play. Was Harbaugh aware of the spread? I strongly doubt it. However, Harbaugh’s decision to decline the safety had a huge impact in Las Vegas and around the world. Online estimates indicate that anywhere between 150 million and 1 billion dollars exchanged hands as a result of that decision. No big deal. Fortunately the author of this column had the 49ers at -7 which meant the game ended in a push, eliminating the need to find the nearest bridge. The bad beats resulted in good but not great 7-4-2 mark against the spread last week, leaving us at 49-51-4 for the season. If nothing else I’m consistent. Most Las Vegas casinos offer an NFL contest called “Fiddle in the Middle”. The objective is to finish the season as close to .500 as possible, meaning you want to lose the same amount of games as you win. Unfortunately, I’m not in that contest, such is life in Soldotna, Alaska.

Week eight provides us with an opportunity to have back-to-back winning weeks for the first time this season and there are a number of exciting games on the schedule. OK, I lied, this week is chalk full of clunkers. Only one matchup pairs two teams with winning records, and we have to wait until Monday Night to watch it when the 5-2 San Francisco 49ers travel to Arizona to face the 4-3 Cardinals in a game where points will be as hard to find as a Polar Bear in Mexico. Tampa Bay visits Minnesota to take on the surprising Vikings to kick off the week Thursday Night. It’s been recently revealed that Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder is dating ESPN’s College Gameday co-host Samantha Steele. She’s not difficult to look at and is likely responsible for Ponder’s abysmal performance last week against the Cardinals when he threw for a measly 58 yards. Clearly his mind wasn’t on football.

The Buccaneers-Vikings matchup will also mark Tampa Bay rookie running back Doug Martin’s introduction to a National TV audience. Martin is the proud owner of arguably the second best nickname in the NFL behind Calvin Johnson’s Megatron. Doug Martin is the Muscle Hamster. How great is that? I love it. For those of you familiar with the Birch Ridge Golf Report you’ll understand my affinity for nicknames, just ask local favorite PZ Top Paul Zimmerman.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @
Minnesota Vikings -7

Don’t be surprised if Tampa Bay sneaks up on a Minnesota team led by a quarterback, Christian Ponder, who may be pondering something other than football during the game. The Muscle Hamster will have a huge night rushing for over a 100 yards for the first time in his young career. Vikings win 24-20

Carolina Panthers @
Chicago Bears -9

The Carolina Panthers season is in disarray. At 1-5 the team dismissed General Manager Marty Hurney last week, an unusual move considering the timing. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is knee-deep in a sophomore slump. Ex-Seahawks quarterback Warren Moon, a childhood favorite of mine, has recently suggested that criticism of Newton is racially motivated. The whole thing is a mess. The Bears are rolling at 5-1 after defeating the Detroit Lions Monday night. Bears win 30-13

San Diego Chargers @
Cleveland Browns +1

I really want to side with the Cleveland Browns in this spot. That thought illustrates just how upside down this NFL season has been. Historically siding with Cleveland has been against the spread suicide. The San Diego Chargers have been that bad of late. Quarterback Philip Rivers in particular has looked awful. Browns win 20-19

Seattle Seahawks @
Detroit Lions -1

Every reasonable persons favorite team, the Seattle Seahawks, travel to the Motor City to face the struggling Detroit Lions. The Lions, led by quarterback Matthew Stafford have gotten off to a slow start this season following their surprise trip to the playoffs last year. My heart says Seahawks, but my anti-jinx policy sides with Detroit. Lions win 17-14

Jacksonville Jaguars @
Green Bay Packers -16

Wow, this is as big of a spread as I can remember this season. Sixteen points is a lot to lay even if your opponent is the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars who just lost their star running back Maurice Jones-Drew to injury. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been on an absolute tear of late. There doesn’t seem to be any possible way the Jaguars can slow Rodgers down. With that said, sixteen points is just too many. Packers win 30-17

Indianapolis Colts @
Tennessee Titans -4

Tennessee running back Chris Johnson finally had the breakout performance Titans fans and fantasy owners have been waiting impatiently for when he rushed for just under 200 yards last Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck has been brilliant at home this season, but has really struggled on the road. Luck’s play improves this week, but it won’t be enough for the Colts to cover. Titans win 31-24

New England Patriots @
St. Louis Rams +7

The St. Louis Rams are set to host the New England Patriots. Oh wait? The game is in London, England? The Rams are playing a “home game” in London? If I’m a Rams fan I’m not very happy right about now. Whatever chance St. Louis had against the Brady Bunch will turn up missing somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. Patriots win 26-17

Miami Dolphins @
New York Jets -1

Red flag! The Jets are only a one point favorite at home against a very average Miami Dolphins team led by a rookie quarterback not named Robert Griffin III? What gives? The books are begging for action on the Jets and they’re going to get it with that line. It’s never a bad thing to be on the same side as the suits. Dolphins win 23-20

Atlanta Falcons @
Philadelphia Eagles -1

Red flag! Back-to-back red flags? You really have to question a line when an undefeated team this far into the season is an underdog to a team with as many losses as it has wins. Joe Public will hammer the Falcons side this week, and the books are banking on the Eagles to win this game at home. Eagles win 27-23

Washington Redskins @
Pittsburgh Steelers -5

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III has been nothing short of remarkable to begin his NFL career. Can he keep it going against one the NFL’s traditionally great defenses in Pittsburgh? The Steelers appear to be hitting their stride after defeating the Cincinnati Bengals last weekend. Steelers win 24-21

Oakland Raiders @
Kansas City Chiefs -1

The Chiefs are a mess. When you hand the keys to the truck to Brady Quinn and anticipate improvement you’ve officially hit NFL rock bottom. Sadly, the Oakland Raiders aren’t much better. This week’s version of the Toilet Bowl should be excruciating. Grab your reading material. Chiefs win 20-17

New York Giants @
Dallas Cowboys +1

I love, love, love the New York Giants in this spot so you should immediately bet the farm on the Cowboys. Eli Manning is on a roll along with the rest of the defending Super Bowl champs. Plus you get the added bonus of the Giants being mildly irritated after losing to the Cowboys at home to open the season. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo excels at losing big games like this one. Giants win 28-17

New Orleans Saints @
Denver Broncos -6

The Saints look to continue their march back to .500 after starting the season off with four consecutive losses. Admittedly, the Saints defense is horrific, but they showed some spine last week in Tampa Bay with a team inspiring goal-line stand. I anticipate good things from the Broncos this season, but New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is on fire. Saints win 41-38

San Francisco 49ers @
Arizona Cardinals +7

San Francisco embarks on the long arduous journey to Arizona to face the Cardinals Monday night in an NFC West Division battle. The Cardinals have lost three straight, but could leap frog the 49ers in the standings with a victory. The 49ers are coming off an impressive win last week against Seattle and look to continue their recent dominance in the division. This should be another low scoring affair involving top defenses. 49ers win 17-13


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