Every handicapper should be permitted one minute of madness during the NFL season. So I'll plead guilty, in advance, to having little more than a hunch as the primary reason for selecting the Chicago Bears, 11 1/2 -point underdogs, to cover Sunday at Soldier Field against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
The Bears are 0-6, at the bottom of the NFC Central. They've been blown out by Detroit and New England, faded badly in the second half at Dallas, lost by 14 at Green Bay, and disgraced coach Dave Wannstedt by losing to former coach Mike Ditka's New Orleans team last Sunday night in Chicago. Their only solid effort came in Week 2, when they dropped a 27-24 decision at home to Minnesota in the final minutes.
Chicago has beaten the point spread only once, at Green Bay in Week 1, by scoring a meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Bears were a 15-point underdog that day, covering by one at 38-24. So how in the name of George Halas, you might ask, can anyone in his right mind pick the Bears to perform nobly this weekend? And do it against a superior squad that's 4-2, one game behind division-leading Tampa Bay and can't afford to let down against any rival the rest of the way?
Admittedly, it's not easy. Wann- stedt, a good young coach, is in danger of being fired if his team doesn't show considerable improvement in the next few weeks. He made a horrible mistake by announcing some 11 days ago that Rick Mirer would be his starting quarterback the rest of the season.
Mirer has played terribly in three starts. On Sunday night, he was benched at halftime, giving the job back to Erik Kramer. Kramer will never bring back memories of Sid Luckman, but he's a much better passer and quarterback than Mirer will ever be, and his presence helps make Chicago respectable.
The Bears' defense has played spiritedly despite wearing down in the second half from overexposure. The offense will get a big boost from the return of wide receiver Curtis Conway, who has been sidelined by a fractured collarbone.
If Chicago plays over its collective head twice a year it's usually against Green Bay. The Packers, meanwhile, don't figure to be too excited about their trip to the Windy City. They played Tampa Bay last week and then go to New England after a bye.
Green Bay is 0-6 against the spread. Da Bears, bad as they may be, could make it 0-7. I'll risk a mythical $100 and be ready to apologize next week.
This week's picks
(All bets in mythical dollars)
Panthers at Vikings (-3 1/2 ): The Vikings were lucky to get out of Arizona with a victory. Still, their beautifully balanced offense shows up every week, and the defense, despite having problems in the secondary, usually performs better at home. Carolina goes with Steve Beuerlein instead of Kerry Collins at quarterback. That probably isn't the answer to the 2-3 Panthers' problems.
Take Minnesota for $100.
Eagles at Jaguars (-3 1/2 ): The Eagles are a gritty group. Give 'em credit. They're physical enough to hang tough against the Jaguars' offense while scoring occasionally on Jacksonville's vulnerable front seven. At 2-3, Philadelphia knows it can't afford many more mistakes. This is an underdog that figures to keep things close against the AFC Central leaders.
Take Philadelphia for $100.
Giants at Cardinals (-4 1/2 ): The Cardinals are the unluckiest team in the NFL. They should have beaten Cincinnati in their opener and would have beaten Tampa Bay and Minnesota if they'd had a reliable field-goal kicker. They have been in every game, thanks to a stout defense, yet they're 1-4. The Giants are switching to Danny Kanell at quarterback. Be still my heart.
Take Arizona for $100.
Cowboys (-2 1/2 ) at Redskins: The Cowboys blew one to the Giants. They'll play much better against the Redskins, who were embarrassed in Philadelphia. Washington is always vulnerable to strong running attack, but Emmitt Smith hasn't been afforded much room to roam lately. Indeed, the Redskins might run on Dallas instead. Look for this one to go down to the final drive.
Take Washington for $250.
Forced to choose, I'd also go with New Orleans giving 2 to Atlanta, Tampa Bay giving 6 to Detroit, Buffalo getting 8 1/2 from New England, Tennessee giving 2 to Cincinnati, the New York Jets giving 3 1/2 to Miami, St. Louis getting 14 at San Francisco and Pittsburgh giving 11 to Indianapolis.
Last week's record: 2-2-1. Net for week: minus $20.
Season record: 18-15-2. Net for season: plus $735.
Pub Date: 10/10/97