Of all the factors used to predict which team is ready to beat the point spread, none is better than superior incentive. Trouble is, it's difficult, if not downright impossible, to know which team is emotionally up for a given game. Not even the coaches know for sure, and there are darn few clinical psychologists among professional prognosticators.
I have a hunch, however -- yeah, make that a very strong hunch -- that many players on this year's New England Patriots squad are planning a special welcome-home party for last year's coach, Bill Parcells, when the Patriots play host to Parcells and the New York Jets on Sunday night in Foxboro, Mass.
Parcells coached New England to the Super Bowl last season. He did a heck of a job. He is, indeed, a heck of a coach. The past performances show that. But by the time the Patriots got to New Orleans for the Super Bowl last January, where they lost to the Green Bay Packers, it seemed as though Parcells was a bigger story than his players.
When Parcells left New England for the Jets' job, it was less than a perfect parting. There was bitterness on both sides. Things were said about players and ownership that might have been better off left unsaid.
All of which is wonderful background leading into this AFC East BTC matchup. The spread is nine points, the 2-0 Patriots favored over the 1-1 Jets.
New York's players, encouraged by their good start, will want to play well for their new coach, I'm sure. But the New England players don't want to simply beat Parcells. They want to bury him.
They weren't too happy with the way he left town. They probably believe they had as much to do with their success last season as Parcells did. They're still a little ticked about that, and they'd like nothing better than to win by 40 if they could.
Well, the Patriots don't have to win by 40 to make me happy. Ten will do nicely. I'm going to pick New England for a mythical $250, knowing there will be few instances this year when an NFL squad will be as high emotionally for a game as the Patriots will be for this one. Given an opportunity late in the contest to put an extra score or two on the board, they will do so.
It also helps that New England has better personnel. No NFL team has looked better the first two weeks. Drew Bledsoe has thrown a touchdown pass to everybody but Pete Carroll. San Diego and Indianapolis couldn't seriously challenge them, and the Jets aren't much better than the Chargers or the Colts.
This week's picks
(All bets in mythical dollars)
Panthers at Chargers (pick): San Diego hopes both quarterback Stan Humphries and Pro Bowl wide receiver Tony Martin will be healthy enough to hook up for several completions against Carolina. The Panthers have been struggling to find an offense, what with Steve Beuerlein substituting for the injured Kerry Collins at quarterback. Carolina's excellent defensive unit also is nicked at a few important positions. If Humphries isn't ready, the Chargers will go again with Jim Everett, who held up fairly well at New Orleans.
Take San Diego for $100.
Ravens at Giants (-3): Handicapping the Ravens is enough to give anybody a headache, but the team's young linebackers seem to be giving the defense a major lift, and free agency certainly has improved the defensive front. Rookie Jay Graham helped Earnest Byner with the running game against Cincinnati. The Ravens' offensive line gives Vinny Testaverde solid protection. This team actually could challenge for the AFC Central title, given a little luck.
Take the Ravens for $100.
Eagles at Cowboys (-9): I watched the Cowboys move out to a 22-7 lead over Arizona last Sunday night, then turned off the television. I couldn't believe they lost in overtime. The Eagles not only covered (as a 7 1/2 -point underdog) against Green Bay, they won straight up. But they were outplayed by a huge margin until midway through the fourth quarter. Philadelphia has Ty Detmer operating behind a makeshift offensive line, so professional malcontent Ricky Watters won't be happy running the ball much longer.
Take Dallas for $100.
The week's desperate decisions would be Minnesota giving 4 to Tampa Bay; Arizona getting 7 1/2 from Washington; Oakland giving 4 at Atlanta; Chicago giving 2 1/2 to Detroit; Kansas City giving 4 to Buffalo; Green Bay giving 12 1/2 to Miami; San Francisco giving 11 to New Orleans; St. Louis getting 13 1/2 from )) Denver, and Seattle getting 2 1/2 at Indianapolis.
Record: 3-5. Net for week: minus $100. Net for season: plus $130.
Pub Date: 9/12/97