Weekend of Huge Games in College, NFL
by Robert Ferringo - 11/13/2006
The conceptual archetype of the hero in Roman mythology is that of an exceptional person or being that is lauded and worshipped for their amazing accomplishments, extraordinary excursions, or daring deeds. They generally possess abilities or characteristics that set them apart from normal folk, and their prowess is commonly used to achieve the Greater Good.
Our culture and our nation's belief structure have clearly been erected on a foundation of heroes and hero worship. Jesus. George Washington. Superman. John Holmes. They were all exceptional and unusual in their own special way. And as a result they've become part of our lexicon, with some even used as a basis for a certain hit television show on NBC.
But did anyone ever wonder what happens to the heroes that don't quite make it? What about the guys who were good - nay, great - in some facet of Life but they came up just short? At that critical moment they collapsed or were exposed as some wannabe frauds and hucksters. But what becomes of them?
I can't say for sure. But what I do know is that Hero Worship is also at the fulcrum of our collective obsession with sports, and by extension sports gambling. I don't have space or the desire to wax poetic on the subject in this space; we all get enough of that from those cretins and carnival barkers on ESPN. Instead, I just wanted to plant this seed in your head as two very serious football games, the type that make grown men weep like babies or build monuments after arsonists and multiple felons, approach us this weekend.
It should be a great show, but at the end of the day I feel like the mortality of certain individuals will be exposed. It may not be pretty, but it should be entertaining. Here's a quick peek:
Michigan at Ohio State (-6.5)
This game's potential for entering the Pantheon of Greatest Game Ever Played Since The Last Greatest Game Ever Played has almost reached critical mass. In fact, the media overkill adds to the absurdity and excitement of the situation, and is the prime reason why any self-respecting handicapper has to have a play on this game. But because this contest has/will be dissected ad nausea I'll try to keep my observations brief and to the point.
First, never underestimate the Revenge Factors. I'm not just talking about the Buckeyes 25-21 win last year. Ohio State is 6-2 ATS in the last eight years of this matchup. They've won four of the last five meetings straight up. Juniors Chad Henne and Mike Hart haven't beaten the Buckeyes in their college careers.
But the Wolverines aren't the only ones with scores to settle and wrongs to right. Ohio State endured the pain and shame of a loss to Texas at the Horseshoe in last year's Regular Season Game of the Year. It may have cost them a crack at the title and you have to wonder if they would allow it to happen again.
Second, pay attention to the spread. This year it has opened at 6.5 but I expect it to flirt with a full touchdown. It could go over that or could plunge downwards. It's too early to tell. But over the course of the last decade the line has been greater than a touchdown four times. The dog has won outright twice (2001 and 1996) and has covered in three of those instances.
Third, don't spend too much time psychoanalyzing guys like Troy Smith, Hart or Henne. The big names will bring their A-Game. The things to look at are the role players and your projections of how they'll perform. Kick returners, first-year starters on the offensive line, Ohio State's young secondary, or Michigan's young special teams players are decent places to start. The minutia will make the difference, and it's always someone that you may not have thought about beforehand that dramatically affects the game.
Now onto the Big Boys.
Indianapolis (-1) at Dallas
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. A Republican Congress. Donald Rumsfeld. Yup, I guess some things are just too weird and wonderful to last. I think we may soon be throwing the Colts' want for an undefeated season in that bonfire as well. And this week could, in fact it should, be it for the boys from Middle Earth.
To this point the Colts have been a paradigm of perfection in professional football. Their back-to-back road victories over Denver and New England vaulted them to the forefront as the odds-on favorite to bathe in victory and expensive hookers at Miami after Super Bowl XLI. But they're walking into a trap. And they're not the only team whose bones can be found on the dungeon floor.
In eight of the last nine years, excluding 2002, there's been at least one team that's stayed unbeaten just long enough to make the General Public contemplate that unit's mortality. But every time that wishful yearning for Perfect got the car door slammed on its hands by some reckless up-and-comer with speed to burn and an unpredictable gait.
In 1998 the Denver Broncos rolled to 13-0 before falling, 20-16, in the Meadowlands to the Giants. The St. Louis Rams started the 1999, 2000 and 2001 seasons at 6-0 before dropping their seventh game at Tennessee (24-21), at Kansas City (54-34) and against New Orleans (34-31), respectively. In 2003, Kansas City ran to 9-0 before getting ambushed 24-19 in Cincinnati. New England started 2004 at 6-0 and took a 21-game winning streak into Pittsburgh, only to be smacked 34-20. (The Steelers then jackhammered another unbeaten, 7-0 Philadelphia, by the count of 27-3 the following week.) And last year the Colts saw their faultless record come to a crashing halt at the hands of San Diego in a 26-17 letdown.
You'll find some interesting similarities between the eight teams that toppled the seemingly unbeatable. Six of those eight thieves were playing at home. From 1998-2000 the deathblow was struck by a home underdog. In 2001 the Rams lost at home to a divisional rival. Then there were three more consecutive occurrences where a team was bested on the road before last year's game at the RCA Dome. That's three upsets on the road, one at home. Three upsets on the road, one at home. So if form holds the Colts should lose on the road this season.
Furthermore, in five of those eight cases the spoiler won straight up and covered the week prior. This year's potential giant killer, Dallas, won and covered easily in a 27-3 brain beating at Arizona last week.
Another similarity those seven dream crushers shared was that they all possessed high-powered offenses capable of outscoring their previously invincible counterpart. With the exception of the 1998 Giants, every one of those other squads had an offense that finished the season averaging more than 20 points per game. Dallas is currently fifth in the NFL in total offense and is tallying an impressive 27.9 points per outing.
An X-factor for the Cowboys offense is the health of Terry Glenn. Over the course of the past two weeks a sore quad and a gimpy knee have plagued the slippery wideout. He didn't make the trip to Arizona and will likely be listed as questionable on the injury report.
Glenn has seen his role diminish somewhat since Tony Romo has taken control of the quarterback position. However, he's still a big-game guy and a tremendous playmaker. It's tough enough to top a team like Indianapolis, and trying to do it short handed is even more daunting.
Conversely, the Cowboys should benefit from matching up against a Colts club that has been impaired by their own list of ailments. Indianapolis had 15 players on its injury report prior to a 17-16 squeaker against Buffalo last week. That list included three defensive stalwarts - Bob Sanders, Montae Reagor and Gary Brackett - that didn't suit up against the Bills.
If the Colts are without those starters again then it could be a long day for the Indianapolis D. Dallas boasts the fifth-best rushing attack in the NFL and will be squaring off with what has become a comically bad Indianapolis run defense.
Essentially, Dallas fits the pathology of a team that could be the spoiler to Indianapolis' undamaged season. They will have the benefit of a home crowd, they're playing well entering the Big Game, they have the requisite offensive firepower, and they should benefit from a favorable injury situation.
Also, the previous seven spoilers had talent but weren't great teams. Only Tennessee in 1999 and Pittsburgh in 2004 actually made the playoffs the same season as their upset. The 2006 Cowboys are 5-4 this year and aren't a shoo-in for the postseason.
There are dozens of other statistical indicators and match-ups to consider before endorsing a play on Dallas. This was just a bit of random comparative analysis that I thought you might find intriguing. I'm not proclaiming that the Cowboys are some kind of lock here to score you the Big Bucks. But what I am suggesting is that they're definitely not a Whammy.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at Robert@docsports.com. You can also purchase his picks here.