Vito Stellino's Picks

September 26, 1993

Emmitt Smith will be doing the same thing today he did the first two weeks of the season: nothing.

The only difference is that this time we can't blame his holdout.

This time, the problem is the byes.

It's hard to pinpoint the blame for the byes. It's often said that victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan. The byes have become an orphan. Nobody wants to be known as the father of them. When the four-year, $3.65 billion TV contract was announced in 1990, commissioner Paul Tagliabue was happy to take credit for the bye idea that would stretch the season a week or two.

The original idea was that each team would have one bye in 1990 and 1991 and two in 1992 and 1993 so the season would last 17 weeks the first two years and 18 weeks the next two years.

The byes turned out to be a disaster for the networks. They had trouble selling ads for the extra week, especially since the byes meant fewer games in many weeks. They even agreed to stick with one bye last year as long as the owners gave back $1 million in TV revenue.

This year, the owners wouldn't give back any money so each team has two byes in an 18-week season. That means there'll only be eight games on some Sunday afternoons -- three on national TV even though some of the matchups aren't very attractive. The first such Sunday was last week, and the CBS and NBC ratings plunged 18 percent. NBC's two 1 p.m. games -- Cincinnati at Pittsburgh and Seattle at New England -- featured four 0-2 teams.

There are likely to be problems today, too. There will be only VTC eight games, and the glamour teams in the big markets of the NFC East -- New York, Washington, Dallas and Philadelphia -- are all off.

CBS, whose ratings are down 3 percent from last year, is screaming that it doesn't get the Super Bowl champion Cowboys until the fifth week of the year even though it pays extra money for the NFC. The Cowboys were on ABC, NBC and TNT the first three weeks and have a bye today.

Now the NFL says it didn't suggest the byes, but it accepted them before it knew the economy would go sour. If the networks proposed them then, they won't admit it now.

Anyway, you can make it a best bet there won't be two byes next year and maybe not any.

Incidentally, there were a few skeptics back in 1990 who posed the question about possible problems with byes. But they were sportswriters and nobody pays any attention to them.

Miami at Buffalo (-6) -- The Bills keep winning everything but the Super Bowl.

* Take Miami with the points. * Final score: Bills 27, Dolphins 24

L.A. Rams at Houston (-10 1/2 ) -- Did you notice Buddy Ryan's defense couldn't hold the lead in San Diego last Sunday? How's Buddy going to blame the offense for that?

Take Houston. * Final score: Oilers 28, Rams 14

Green Bay at Minnesota (-3) -- This game is one of those traps. Green Bay's the obvious choice even though the Vikings are favored so I'll fall into the oddsmakers' trap.

Take Green Bay. * Final score: Packers 24, Vikings 17

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Tampa Bay at Chicago (-7) -- Mike Ditka's lucky he got out when he did.

* Take Chicago. * Final score: Bears 20, Bucs 7

Cleveland (-2 1/2 ) at Indianapolis -- Imagine, the Colts didn't lose last week. That's why they love those bye weeks.

* Take Cleveland. * Final score: Browns 28, Colts 13

Phoenix at Detroit (-5) -- Garrison Hearst vs. Barry Sanders could be a matchup worth watching -- if only they had better teams

around them.

* Take Phoenix with the points. * Final score: Lions 24, Cardinals 23

San Francisco (-2 1/2 ) at New Orleans -- For the want of a Steve Young healthy thumb, the 49ers kingdom could be lost.

* Take New Orleans. * Final score: Saints 21, 49ers 17

Seattle (-3) at Cincinnati -- Twenty years ago, David Shula's father put together a perfect season. David has a chance to match that feat this year. The only difference is that instead of winning them all, he could lose them all.

Take Seattle. * Final score: Seahawks 20, Bengals 10

New England at New York Jets (-9 1/2 ) -- Bill Parcells isn't quite accustomed to that visitor's locker room at Giants Stadium.

* Take the Jets. * Final score: Jets 24, Patriots 10

Pittsburgh at Atlanta (-2 1/2 ) -- Is Jerry Glanville going to go out with a Monday night loss? He always liked doing things with a flair.

* Take Pittsburgh. * Final score: Steelers 27, Falcons 17

Best bets: Steelers, Seahawks, Packers and Bears.

Last week's record: 8-2. Against the spread: 6-4. Best bets: 2-2.

Season record: 29-9. Against the spread: 24-14. Best bets: 4-8.

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