What To Watch For: NFL Week 1
by Robert Ferringo - 09/05/2006
(Note: this is an excerpt from an article that appears in the 9/4 edition of Winner's Edge Magazine)
Recently someone asked me what makes the National Football League so popular, and what about the sport makes it uniquely American. To me the answer is obvious: I can't think of anything more representative of our unquenchable passion for hedonistic excess and ruthless brutality than our new National Pastime. It's in our blood. It's part of The American Dream, like apple pie and atom bombs. Football is like Darwin's wet dream and each weekend you, me and 50 million of our closest friends have a front-row seat for the mayhem.
Another alluring element of The Game is the comforting sense of community that it provides. The bond of teammates is matched only by the connection between fans and followers of their team. Each weekend, friends and family gather on The Lord's Day in parking lots and bars, restaurants and man caves across this great nation to worship at the Altar of Violence and Speed. These hours are awash in food, fantasy, fast action and fanaticism. Together we celebrate the commonality of our bloodlust and adoration of Chaos.
And we love every second of it.
At this very moment, football fans across the country are pulsing with possibility. Right now, players and fans are each sitting somewhere holding onto the idea that this could be The Year. And why not? Over the past nine seasons, we've seen 14 different franchises fill in 18 possible Super Bowl slots. It's not uncommon for a club to go 5-11 one season and make the playoffs the next. The NFL is predictably unpredictable.
So sit back. Relax. Take a deep breath, and soak in the soulful sensation that comes with watching sociopathic mutants clad in polycarbonate composite helmets and high-density polyurethane shells involving themselves in fantastic collisions, choreographed aggression and amazing feats of skill. Football season is upon us. And boy are we ready!
Here are a few things to watch for this weekend as the NFL season gets underway:
Rabid Dogs - There's always one or two "shockers" that take place on opening weekend, and it usually involves a home underdog. Last year it was San Francisco and Miami. In 2004 it was Cleveland. Generally, these wins are surprising because the public still views each team through the lens of the previous season, which is always a severe miscalculation.
Houston, St. Louis, Oakland, Detroit, Green Bay and New York are all posted as home dogs in Week 1. Two of those teams will win outright. Now it's just a matter of discerning which two it will be.
Ambush in Arrowhead - Last year the New York Jets were a sheik Super Bowl pick as the season began. They rolled into Kansas City for their opener as three-point underdogs, but were hammered 27-7. Oh, and I guess the Jets came up short of that Super Bowl hype.
This year the bobbleheads in the mainstream media have crowned Cincinnati the Trendy Team. But the Bengals head to Arrowhead without their best linebacker and a quarterback who - despite his razor sharp routine against Green Bay - still has a knee about as stable as a South American government. The line opened with K.C. -4.5 but since Palmer's performance it's dipped to -3. Sound familiar?
Raising Arizona - As the sun rolls over distant sand dunes, a new day dawns in the desert. The Cardinals new home still has that new stadium smell, and the $455 million state-of-the-art arena will be christened by Arizona this Sunday against San Francisco. Interestingly, this will be the fourth different venue in which these teams have played in their past five meetings.
The Cardinals are armed with an air of confidence the organization has lacked since, well, the dawn of time. Vegas oddsmakers seem to share the optimism, posting the Cardinals as 7.5-point favorites against San Francisco this Sunday. The last time they were laying that many points Lindsay Lohan was a high school freshman with an A-cup, Al Gore was a clean-shaven vice president, and the Y2K bug was the scariest thing this side of "Mambo #5". Arizona dominated the 49ers twice last year, but hasn't covered in a home opener since 1998.
Fratricide - The Brothers Manning will light up the New York skyline Sunday night when the Giants host the Colts. This will be the first time the siblings have squared off on the football field. It also means that only one of them can choke this week.
This contest is immensely more important to New York than it is to Indianapolis. The Giants are at home, they're relatively healthy and their slate is downright cruel the first month of the season. This would be a statement game and a huge confidence builder for the G-Men and they need to play with a sense of urgency.
Also, over the last five seasons, New York is 14-2 against the spread versus teams that average more than 350 yards of total offense per game. The Colts have topped that mark in each of the last three seasons while averaging 378 yards over their past 48 games.
Full House Backfield - The NFL's most venerable matchup - Chicago at Green Bay - will mark its 171st incidence Sunday afternoon. The Packers are getting 3.5 points in Lambeau, and after their awful operation in the preseason it's likely that number will rise. With good reason. The Bears are a Super Bowl contender and have won three of the last four against their rival.
However, Chicago has had some karmic catastrophes over the past several months, not the least of which has involved its backfield. Between the Benson-Jones blood feud and Grossman-Griese conundrum, there's not a lot of certainty and stability at those two key offensive positions. And it's not as if Chicago's attack is a well-oiled machine to begin with. Further, the Bears are banged up along the defensive line, an area they figured to dominate the Packers.
Money Management - I'm excited. You're excited. We're excited. But let's not get carried away this weekend. I'm a huge proponent of taking a conservative, calculated approach to the opening games. You don't want your emotions to get the best of you, and you certainly don't want to put yourself in an early hole.
Managing your bankroll is always critical to the success of any gambler, and the industry standard is to not risk more than 10 percent of your stack on any single play. I would recommend scaling that back to five percent - or cutting your regular bet in half - for opening weekend. If you have a really good read on a game, by all means, exploit it. But don't overextend yourself and don't make yourself too vulnerable.
Questions or comments for Robert? E-mail him at email@example.com or check out his Insider Page here.