4-0 Vikings are beating spread, too Green's surprising team perfect vs. the points

On the line

September 27, 1996|By Gerald Strine | Gerald Strine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Of all the surprises during the early stages of the NFL season, none is bigger than the Minnesota Vikings' 4-0 start. The NFC Central Division leaders also are 4-0 against the point spread.

Coach Dennis Green knows how to handle his players. His teams, year after year, win more games than they should. They just don't do too well once they reach the playoffs.

Minnesota's record includes road successes at Atlanta and Chicago in addition to victories in the Metrodome over Detroit and Green Bay. Only once have the Vikings been favored (by two points over the Lions).

Brad Johnson has filled in admirably for 39-year-old Warren Moon at quarterback when needed. Receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed are as good a twosome as the league offers. Defensive tackle John Randle is tremendous. And quite a few of the younger players on this squad are performing at a much higher level than anticipated.

The defense is quick, as Green Bay's offensive line discovered Sunday, and Minnesota's offense has enjoyed an unexpectedly strong contribution from running back Robert Smith. If the 6-foot-1, 205-pound speedster out of Ohio State can stay healthy -- and that's always a concern, given his four-year history as a pro -- the Vikings might make the playoffs despite their difficult schedule.

This week's picks

All bets in mythical dollars.

* Vikings (-5 1/2 ) at New York Giants: The Giants have to be absolutely giddy after their 13-6 triumph over the New York Jets. That success probably will go to their heads. And if Randle & Co. apply half as much pressure to Dave Brown as they did to Brett Favre, two or three turnovers will follow. I've been burned by Minnesota three straight weeks. That streak won't reach four. Take Minnesota for $100.

* Broncos (-3) at Bengals: Denver played well on both lines of scrimmage and should have won in Kansas City on Sunday. Its suspect secondary will be severely tested by the Bengals' Jeff Blake-to-Carl Pickens combination, but Denver enjoys a substantial edge in the running game, thanks to Terrell Davis. Take Denver for $100.

* Chiefs at Chargers (-2): This is probably the best contest on this week's card. Kansas City knows how to win, a quality displayed again in squeaking past Denver, and will be in better shape physically for San Diego, what with wide receiver Tamarick Vanover and tight end Keith Cash likely to return. But the Chiefs' running game isn't too impressive, and quarterback Steve Bono can be pressured into making mistakes. San Diego's Stan Humphries has found a good target in Tony Martin. The Chargers are plenty physical and a little mean and they can't afford to drop two games behind the unbeaten visitors. Take San Diego for $250.

* Oilers at Steelers (-5): Jeff Fisher is doing an excellent job as Oilers coach. This squad is disciplined, has an aggressive secondary and boasts a promising running back in rookie Eddie George. But no one should ever sell the Steelers short, especially with Jerome Bettis reborn at running back. But Erric Pegram is out this week, wide receivers Yancey Thigpen and Ernie Mills still aren't ready and the never-totally-reliable Mike Tomczak is at quarterback. Pittsburgh might win, but it should be close. Take Houston for $250.

* Cowboys (-1 1/2 ) at Eagles: Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman are nicked, so Dallas is hurting. Its wonderful offensive line is way below form, and Michael Irvin is still on suspension. The Eagles (3-1) will never have a better chance to distance themselves from the Cowboys (1-3) in the NFC East. Ray Rhodes always is worth points against Dallas' Barry Switzer, who talked too much after his team whipped Philadelphia, 30-11, in the playoffs last year. The Eagles will win unless quarterback Rodney Peete makes too many mistakes. Take Philadelphia for $250.

Last week

Record: 5-4. Net for week: plus $210. Net for season: minus $100.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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