Never have I seen a team that enriched its, uh, supporters for eight straight weeks fall from grace so fast. I'm talking about the Patriots, of course, and if anyone ever sits down to write the definitive research opus on football betting, I'm sure New England will deserve a chapter of its own.
Two games did it, Philly and Baltimore, and now the word on the street is that the Patriots are a tired team and anyone younger and more physical will give them real trouble.
Thus we saw a freaky betting pattern this week, involving the New England-Pittsburgh game. It opened at 14½, although if you check the betting sites, they'll list 13 as the first price they posted. Not true. I check 'em all Sunday night, when I write my handicapping column for the magazine, and the opening price was 14 in some places, 14½ in others.
One gentleman who has great experience in this line of work told me that the first Sunday night number is an accommodation for the high rollers, and after the odds-makers see what kind of action it draws, it gets adjusted. And that's what becomes what they call their opener, the price that all the run-of-the-mill wagerers can bet into.
This week, the New England number got hammered, as the public has turned its back on the great cash register that the Patriots have been in 2007. The line has gone down to 10½, a significant drop in half a week. Very few people that I talked to like the favorite. They all give the Steelers a chance. Those who like to invest have turned their play toward the underdog. I predict that the line will be a single digit number by kickoff.
I'll answer both questions together. Biggest problem for Pittsburgh -- scoring enough points. A sturdy running game will not put all that's needed on the board, but it will soften up a front seven that was hammered unmercifully by the Ravens. But Pittsburgh must be willing to sacrifice a lack of immediate scoring for heavy long range damage. It's like a fighter who carries a body attack into the later rounds.
The problem with that scenario is if the Pats put a couple of scores up early, the natural tendency would be to go into a catch-up mode and try to answer back immediately. Patience would be needed. Tire 'em out and their pass rush dies. Pass rush dies and the completions will pile up after a while. Guaranteed that if the Patriots are getting hit hard on the ground, they'll move
Defensively, everyone knows that you have to hit the Patriots with stuff they haven't seen before -- and maybe they haven't seen it because it's unsound. That's where imagination comes in.
I've devoted almost two pages to just two questions. At this rate, the rest of the emails will run me around 40 more pages, and what I think I'll do will be to have them bound, and sell the hardcover version for $22.95.
OK, there is one hell of a competition going on for Emailer of the Week among three worthy candidates. First on the list is the kind reader who answered my query about how
Contender No. 2 is a celebrity, a terrific actor named
"In 1969 you wrote a feature on me in the
I remember Norman Thomas Marshall quite well, being originally drawn to do the piece because he was named after the man I voted for in the first two presidential elections in which I was eligible to vote. Norman Thomas was one of my early heroes. I remember big Norm as a guy who seemed destined to keep doing monster type roles, you know Frankenstein clones. He's grown a mustache now, let his hair get a little longer, and he kind of gives the appearance of a John Wilkes Booth type, a serious looking actor. Thanks for checking in, Norman, but I'm afraid you just missed out on this prestigious award.
Which goes to
"Lassie," she said. I should have known better. Off the top of my head I'd say
"Talk about dating yourself," says TFR. "That movie is 50 years old."
"They think they have the last word," he said. "We'll see about that. We've still got something up our sleeve. It's called inadvertent whistle." Sure enough, next year those calls descended like a plague of locusts. It became a joke -- until Pete Rozelle told them to cut it out.
You're right, Patrick, I still haven't answered your question. The answer is yes, officiating is different now. But one thing is the same and that is that it's still inconsistent.
Which brings us to some officiating and rule questions.
A big, fat New Jersey thank you to
Yes, they do, but not so much in favor of teams but keynote players. I've seen Favre whack an enemy player who was particularly annoying, only to have the referee put an arm around his shoulder and tell him to take it easy. Some poor defensive tackle might do the same thing and get ejected, with both parents required to come to school.
This gets the full ride, namewise, because this column needs a little class.
From a longtime reader,
Now here comes a Viking fan who's a real Viking,
Jacob of New York wants to know why the Jets don't give the ball to