For the true — that is, feverish and perhaps unhinged — gambler, the NFL season begins with Week 3 of what we used to call the exhibition season. Those who merely pretend to be sick gamblers might say that betting on these games is stupid, but we know that your chance of covering the spread in August is exactly the same as it is in September.

As the late and legendary Oakland Raiders coach, general manager and owner Al Davis used to say: Just win, baby.

As the true gambler says: Just cover, baby.

In fact, that may well be what the son of Al Davis is saying now, because Mark Davis, who inherited the team, is planning to move the franchise to Las Vegas next year.

Week 3 of the exhibition season is when we typically get to see extended playing time for the best players. It’s a dress rehearsal for the athletes, but for gamblers it’s a form of calisthenics. We like to loosen the wallet, tighten our bankroll and get the feel of the point spread.

It was more fun, I suppose, when actual bookmakers roamed the earth. Those dinosaurs are extinct now, replaced by bloodless and often predatory websites operating offshore. Soon, those websites may be all but gone, themselves replaced by regulated, state-sanctioned betting sites. If done right, that will be a good thing.

But nothing will replace the visceral excitement I used to feel with the first NFL bet of the year.

“Hello,” the sleepy voice of my veteran bookie would say. This would be 11:01 on a Sunday morning. He’d be pretending to be phlegmatic, but I knew he felt the adrenaline coursing through his veins, too.

“This is Number 142,” I’d say.

“What’s your total, 142,” he’d respond.

“I’m at zero,” I’d say, and then it was on.

Some people find comfort in religious rituals, or, in my case, doing the same thing over and over and getting the same result. In a world of chaos, injustice and state-sanctioned insanity, I want to know that, in some form, the center can hold. And I’m not talking about an offensive lineman.

For now, I’m just hoping my bankroll will hold, as I enter my 35th year as a public handicapper.

When the actual NFL season begins, I’ll start making bankroll plays, but for now here are three contests I’m looking at. And I should add that for these mythical bets, I always use the consensus point spreads, which I glean from the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Denver at Washington (Friday): You know the Redskins are hurting when Adrian Peterson is listed as their Number Two running back. I also think it’s a bit early for Alex Smith to be clicking in a new system. As for Denver, we’re talking about an old team and quarterback Case Keenum without the tools on which he relied last year. I like this one UNDER 43 1/2.

Seattle at Minnesota (Friday): The Vikings were surprisingly bad last week, and I expect them to want to make a good impression in this contest. However, the point spread reflects that and Pete Carroll takes this exhibition stuff seriously: his exhibition record against the spread is 34-14-1. I’m taking the Seahawks PLUS 3 1/2.

The good news for Miami fans is that they’ll see a lot of their starting QB, Ryan Tannehill. The bad news is…well, you know the punch line. Miami’s stone age offense doesn’t show signs of being much better this year. Meanwhile, John Harbaugh’s love of covering the number doesn’t stop just because the game doesn’t count in the standings. This game is a pick, and I’m taking the Ravens to win.

Now, just for a cheap thrill, a baseball play: Oakland’s Sean Manaea and the Twins Jake Odorizzi have both been ordinary, but I like Oakland’s superior bullpen to prevail on Friday night. This game looks like it could be rained out, but I would expect the matchup (and my wager) to be the same on Saturday.


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