In trend reversal, some teams are all rage on the road On the line

October 24, 1997|By Gerald Strine | Gerald Strine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Seattle is 3-0 against the point spread on the road this season, 0-4 at home. The Seahawks covered against Indianapolis, Kansas City and St. Louis but failed to do so against the New York Jets, Denver, San Diego and Tennessee.

This doesn't make a whole lot of sense. NFL teams tend to play their best ball before the home folks, in friendly surroundings, on a familiar surface. Yet Arizona and Minnesota both are 4-0 against the number away from home, as are the Jets. Tampa Bay and Indianapolis also are perfect on the road, at 3-0 and 2-0, respectively, while St. Louis is 0-3.

Denver, Jacksonville and San Francisco have covered all their home games. Then there's Green Bay and Cincinnati. They haven't beaten the spread anywhere this year, home or away.

I was on the verge of selecting Seattle for a mythical $100 at home Sunday as a two-point favorite over Oakland until I saw that 0-4 statistic.

Maybe I should wait one week until the Seahawks go to Denver. Trouble is, as noted above, Denver has been just as good at home as Seattle has been on the road.

Then again, if I put too much emphasis on these kind of statistical records, I'd never get up the nerve to make a pick on any NFL contest. Which, considering last week's results, might be a good thing.

This week's picks

(All bets in mythical dollars)

Jaguars at Steelers (-3): The Jaguars' most glaring weakness is their defense against the run, and the loss for several weeks of linebacker Kevin Hardy only adds to the problem. Jerome Bettis should have an enjoyable day banging into the middle of the Jacksonville line. Much depends, however, on whether the Steelers' patched-up secondary can hold up against the Jaguars' aerial game.

Pittsburgh is 1-3 against the spread at home, but this is the first "crucial" game of the season for the Three Rivers faithful, inasmuch as these two squads sit atop the AFC Central at 5-2. Jacksonville was lucky to cover in defeating the Steelers, 30-21, as a three-point favorite in Florida on Sept. 22.

Take Pittsburgh for $250.

Packers at Patriots (-1 1/2 ): This is the first time in 1997 that the Packers haven't been favored. They've been minus-7 to minus-16, going 0-7 against the spread and 5-2 straight up, tied with the Vikings and Bucs atop the NFC Central.

New England is becoming a bit of a bully, beating up on the league's lightweights and struggling against the strongest teams. Still, the Patriots played the Packers respectably on the line of scrimmage in January's Super Bowl, and Green Bay has not been up to last season's form thus far.

Take New England for $250.

Bears at Dolphins (-10): Da Bears are the best 0-7 team around or, more precisely, they're better than 0-7 Indianapolis. Jimmy Johnson is doing his typically excellent job with Miami. The defense has been rock-hard when it mattered the past three weeks and Dan Marino is no longer sulking over the long-shot possibility of losing his starting spot. But his receivers are still an ordinary group and Chicago does play aggressive defense.

No one gets up for the Bears. So look for Dave Wannstedt's squad to keep the score respectable now that Erik Kramer is back at quarterback and Curtis Conway gives him a legitimate deep threat.

Take Chicago for $100.

Cowboys at Eagles (pick): Dallas has much wear and tear at several vital positions and Troy Aikman isn't going to finish the campaign standing if his offensive line doesn't soon get its pass-protection act together. But the Cowboys still have more talent than the Eagles.

Take Dallas for $100.

Ravens at Redskins (-6): The Ravens' defense is a mess. The secondary is terrible, the young linebackers are confused and the down linemen aren't performing up to snuff. Washington's front seven on defense is pretty common, too, so look for the points to be plentiful in this one.

Take Washington for $100.

The numbers

Last week's record: 1-3. Net for week: minus $230.

Season record: 22-20-2. Net for season: plus $735.

Pub Date: 10/24/97

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