“You are what your record says you are.” It’s simple yet seems profound, and let’s face it: Anything Bill Parcells says just sounds cool. But here we are, in NFL Week 4, and the Chicago Bears’ and Tennessee Titans’ records say they are elite teams. The Cowboys are 1-2 and could easily be 0-3, while the Falcons … well, maybe it’s time their fans pursued other hobbies because football fandom has proven to be a painful endeavor.
As the season goes on, people will be more and more likely to let these teams’ records dictate their perceptions — and bet accordingly. Be careful. If you’ve watched intently these first few weeks, it’s more obvious than ever that this is a coin-flip league, an 8-8 league, with only a handful of teams on the extreme ends of the spectrum. As we head into Week 4, be cautious of reading too much into records, and be careful betting Unders, which are nearly unplayable at this point. Whether it’s the lack of crowd noise allowing offenses to operate unimpeded, a tendency for officials to call fewer offensive holding penalties or the analytics-friendly, pass-heavy offenses becoming more of a trend, business is booming for offenses.
With hockey having crowned a champion, we are now down to three major sports, with the NBA in its Finals and MLB having danced through the minefields en route to the playoffs.
With all this action, let’s have a buffet style of picks for this week. Who doesn’t love a buffet?
Steelers (-120) over Titans. I was high on the Steelers coming into the season, and they haven’t blown me away or exceeded my expectations in any meaningful way. But they are 3-0 and took a knee at the goal line against the Broncos or they’d have covered all three spreads. I think Ben Roethlisberger will improve as the season goes on and he sheds the rust of having played only one full game in the last 21 months coming into the season. This pick is anti-Titans as much as anything. They are a very misleading 3-0, failing to cover in all three games and winning every game on a late field goal. The Broncos were one or two first downs from being able to run out the clock and win the Monday night opener against the Titans, while the Jaguars and Vikings moved the ball at will vs. Tennessee. The Titans are a mess in terms of injuries and will fall from the ranks of the unbeaten against a much more complete Steelers team.
Patriots (+ 7.5) over Chiefs. Bill Belichick getting more than a touchdown. That’s it; that’s the handicap. Belichick, who slowed down the ’90 Bills and ’01 Rams, will likely do everything possible to limit time of possession for the high-powered Chiefs. Running the ball, running the clock, reducing the game and eliminating chunk plays will be the Patriots’ MO. Limiting the Chiefs to field goals instead of touchdowns will be the key to keeping the Patriots within the number. The Chiefs will be off a short week and a huge win in Baltimore. Good spot to back the Pats.
NBA Finals: Lakers in 5 (+ 325). The Heat have been a cash cow for anyone reading this column or listening to my appearances on “The Lombardi Line.” We’ve cashed them at + 400 to sweep the Pacers, at + 350 to upset the Bucks and at + 120 to dispatch the Celtics. The Heat are a great story, a talented and gritty team that proves you don’t need to tank to go from the middle of the pack to the top of the league. They are well-coached and can shoot the basketball at a high level, but it feels like this is where the clock strikes midnight for Cinderella. A rested LeBron James can smell the finish line and has the best co-star he’s ever had in Anthony Davis. It’s laughable to think some media members doubted this team’s ability to make the playoffs after watching what he did with George Hill, J.R. Smith and that crew against the juggernaut that was Kevin Durant’s Warriors. The Heat will be feisty, but the Lakers will win.
Reds (+ 1200) to win the National League. Tough draw for the Braves, who will see likely Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer in Game 1 and two recent candidates for the award in Games 2 and 3 in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. The Reds stumbled out of the gate but finished strongly to qualify and are a dangerous team in a playoff setting. They have a Big 3 similar to the trio who carried the Nationals to the title last year. The Reds also stay out of the Dodgers’ side of the bracket, meaning they would play the Cubs or Marlins in the second round and would avoid the Dodgers until the NLCS. This not only gives you a potential chance to hedge but increases the chances the Dodgers get upset, meaning the Reds can avoid them altogether. Bauer has insisted on pitching on three days’ rest going forward after doing it successfully against the Brewers in the final week. The Reds are going to be a tough out and, with their pitching, are well worth a flier at this price.