Don’t let anyone tell you that winter came early this year. In fact, by the frosty calendar that numbers our Minnesota days, winter has yet to officially arrive.
But it won’t be long. I know because a few days ago I walked into my dentist’s waiting room and confronted the horrors of life on the tundra.
The first thing that hit me was the terrible symphony of contagion. There were eight or nine people in that room. One was sweaty and pallid; another was alternating death-rattling coughs with persistent attempts to hock sputum. The third and fourth had formed a duet: he sneezed while she blew her nose.
The moribund symphony was accompanied by an epiphany: the first threshold of winter has been met. Yes, half of our brave citizens are now ill, and if that half has any say in the matter — which, sadly, many of them do — the other half will soon be afflicted.
The second infallible marker of winter arrives, of course, when the Vikings are eliminated from playoff contention. And any objective observer — and certainly those arrogant enough to consider themselves to be semi-professional handicappers — would agree that the emotional solstice awaits all of us when the Vikings take on the 49ers on Saturday in Santa Clara.
Do not mistake that declaration for an official pick. I wouldn’t bet Michael Bloomberg’s money on this game. For one thing, he needs every penny to pay for that $10 million fee required to place an ad during the Super Bowl. Oh, and our President will match that fee.
As you have by now concluded, I am the messenger of doom. So there just went two minutes of Super Bowl pleasure right down the political drain.
Nobody — right or left, rich or poor, sick or merely communicating disease — is safe these days. It’s not all bad. Coca Cola and avocados will be back, along with chips and beer and soda and ohmyGod Facebook and…what the hell? Pop-Tarts? Is nothing sacred?
The Vikings, as we all know, will not be back.
But as I was saying: no, I’m not betting on the game. The 49ers are favored by seven, which seems reasonable. I might take the Vikings if I could be sure that Adam Thielen, now suffering from a spliced ankle in addition to all the other issues that made him of questionable importance throughout the regular season, was going to be completely healthy and just plain wonderful. If he is compromised again, the Vikings will try to defeat one of the most dynamic teams in the NFL with, in effect, one wide receiver.
That’s not enough to topple the 49ers, let alone slow Nick Bosa, a defensive lineman against whom offenses generally need about a half-ton of blockers in order to fend off the steely beast.
On the other hand, there is always an “on the other hand” when you’re trying to handicap a sporting event. For example, since the current playoff formula was devised, the home team in the divisional round is 25-7. On the other hand, the home team is 15-17 vs. the spread.
Let’s face it: the 49ers are a lot better than the Vikings. On the other hand, the most recent five San Francisco games were decided on the last play. (Which was also true of the Vikings victory over New Orleans last week.)
I’m not hoarding the $1,111 in my bankroll, but I’m not just going to throw it away on a whim when I can throw it away based on my firm and generally random convictions. But because I am contractually obligated to guess at the final score, I’ll say 49ers 24, Vikings 17.
So, onto the other three games.
Tennessee at Baltimore
The Ravens are the hottest team in the NFL. But you knew that. Did you also know that the Ravens covered nine of their last ten games in the regular season? If you’re a gambler, you probably did.
Even if you never risked a buck on any sporting event, you probably know that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of the best passers and running backs in the game. History will have to decide whether any quarterback has had a better season, but Jackson is definitely in the running.
But Baltimore wouldn’t be favored by 10 if it was all about Jackson. The offense is choreographed like a Broadway musical. On any given play, you might see 11 very large men moving in synch, and that is especially true in the red zone. The Ravens have the second-best red-zone offense, while only one defense is worse than the Titans’ in the red zone.
If I was well-heeled and decided to move to Vegas so that I could focus only on sports wagering, I might put together what I would call an infinite bankroll of 50 grand. Because that bankroll was designed to last forever, I would abide by traditional bankroll management guidelines and bet somewhere between 1 and 2 percent of my stash on any one game.
But with a finite bankroll — that is a bankroll designed to last just one season — I might get loud and crazy every now and then and bet around 10 percent on a single game. That being the case, I’m going to risk a mythical $120 on Baltimore minus 10 and guess that the final tally will be Ravens 35, Titans 17
Houston at Kansas City
The Texans finally had no choice but to turn Deshaun Watson loose last week, and just barely in time, as the Texans defeated the Bills with an overtime field goal.
This week, that same version of Watson is going to have to go full throttle for at least four quarters if the Texans are going to win. Which, you might recall, the Texans did in a 31-24 defeat of Kansas City in October. But Houston had the rare services of dangerous Will Fuller that day, and it seems likely that the mostly-injured Fuller will either be absent or not completely healthy in this one. Without Fuller, the Texans, like the Vikings without Thielen, become a team with one meaningful receiver.
Chances are we won’t know the real story about Fuller until game time, and, even then, maybe only in retrospect. I like action as much as the next guy, but we’re in an information void here.
The pick: Chiefs 31, Texans 23
Seattle at Green Bay
Except for the friendly confines of the Godless tundra, I see no edge for the Packers. I almost put down a mythical $50 on the Seahawks, but then I asked myself: Do I think a Seahawks bet is worth almost half of what I was risking on Baltimore? No, with such a strong play on the Ravens, that would basically be a hedge this week, and it ain’t worth it.
The pick: Seahawks 23, Packers 20