GELFAND: Good Gamblers Know It's All About How You Start (Week 1 NFL Picks)

Mandatory credit: Chris Pedota/ via USA TODAY NETWORK

Outside my cramped home office, nature lives in far more harmony than we humans. A well-nourished doe munches on what remains of my hostas. Oh, well. A few yards away, a rabbit helps himself to my creeping charlie. Plenty more where that came from. A white squirrel pays no heed to either, because the acorns are plump with nourishment.

It’s the best time of the year for flora and fauna alike, which only makes sense. It seems almost a shame to focus on something so petty as football — well, actually, betting on football — but living without the fuel of anxiety is a taste I’ve never been able to acquire.

Besides, sports fans and gamblers alike tend to mistakenly believe that the beginning of a sporting event, or a season, is just a prelude. It is not.

I learned most of what I know about sports betting at racetracks. I was 22 years old when I witnessed my first race, at the old Arlington Park just outside of Chicago. At first I was frustrated by the realization that I could spend a lifetime trying to figure out how to master the ponies. Soon, I became enchanted — OK, obsessed — with the realization that I would never master the ponies.

But one thing I did figure out: although clumps of neophyte fans would crowd the apron next to the finish line, the race was generally decided by the first 70 yards, not the stretch run.

It’s all about pace, setting the tone, leaving rivals with the diffidence that comes with thinking you’ve got to get away from the game plan in order to avoid disaster.

Same thing for gamblers. This is more than just Week One. You get frustrated early, you might not get your game back all season. Pretty soon you’re borrowing heavy cash in a doomed effort to recoup your losses with a huge Super Bowl bet. And the fourth quarter and the 11th Chapter seem to emerge as one.

Each year, I start with a mythical bankroll of $1,000 and wager equally mythical money each week. The idea is to start small, but still bet something of substance. It is a racetrack aphorism that you have to make at least one bet every day because otherwise you could be walking around lucky and not know it. And besides, I believe I have a few insights, even in this almost unfathomable Week One.

So here are my wagers for the first week of the interminable NFL season. I use the consensus point spreads, which I get from the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The lines are locked in as we tape the Minnesota Line weekly podcast.

About that podcast:  Sam Ekstrom, Colton Molesky and I make our weekly picks, talk trash and bemoan bad beats. Colton and I also go head-to-head each week, playing the role of each other’s bookmaker. Nothing but love so far, but it can’t end well.

The picks:

Pittsburgh at Cleveland: I’m glad I locked in the over-under line early, because it’s been in free fall since it became apparent late in the week that Le’Veon Bell is unlikely to play. My thought here is that I’m not expecting the lame Browns offense to get much better, at least not at first. Beyond that, the technical trends: the Steelers went under in eight of their first nine games last year, while the Browns have gone under in 11 of their last 12 home games. Steelers 23, Browns 17 — Under 45 1/2 for a mythical $50.

Baltimore at Buffalo: Nathan Peterman is back, and he’s better than ever. Great marketing slogan, huh? Well, he is back, but maybe not for long before Josh Allen steps in. Last year, as a rookie, Peterman played sparingly but did average 5.1 yards per pass attempt and tossed two touchdown passes and five interceptions. In his defense — or maybe not — he did give up all five interceptions in one half. Coach John Harbaugh has been sleeping in his office since March, so I think he’ll have this team at a fever pitch for a few weeks before they all burn out. Ravens 23, Browns 10 — Baltimore minus 7 for $30

San Francisco at Minnesota: The Vikings are now America’s Team. If a guy was a cynic, he might say they’re America’s Over-valued Team, but I’m not into that kind of negative thinking. The point obtains, however: the public has been kept alive for the last four years, just knowing that Zimmer was going to keep covering (44-21-2 vs. the spread in his four years here). Logic, which doesn’t always work these days, says that you’re paying an inflated price to support the home team. As for me, I’ve been getting a bargain…and losing. Vikings 21, 49ers 20 — Niners +6 1/2 for $30

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Mandatory credit: Chris Pedota/ via USA TODAY NETWORK

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