09/23/2010 2:19PM

Too early to count out Vikings, Cowboys


LAS VEGAS – If you listened to the NFL recap shows last Sunday and Monday – or to talk radio during the week – I’m sure you heard the annual discussion about how unlikely it is for teams that start 0-2 to make the playoffs. And if you missed it then, you’re sure to hear it again this weekend as teams prepare to play their third games.

The conversation goes something like this: “Since the NFL went to its current playoff format in 1990, out of 169 teams to start the season 0-2, only 22 – or 13 percent – have made the playoffs.”

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This is getting even more play than usual this year because the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings, two teams that were among the preseason favorites, have stumbled out of the gate.

However, in citing the above stats, there’s one point that all the commentators seem to leave out, namely that most of the times when a team starts 0-2 it’s because they’re not very good and weren’t given much of a chance to make the playoff anyway. In addition, since there are multiple teams always starting 0-2 (an average of just more than four per year per conference), if the good ones turn it around, they’ll more than likely be battling for one of the last playoff berths, skewing the numbers downward even further. So if you look at it that way, 13 percent is actually encouraging for the Cowboys and Vikings.

Besides, if you followed soccer back in June, you surely heard that no team had won the World Cup after losing its first game. This was pointed out in light of pre-tourney favorite Spain dropping its opener to Switzerland, and all the experts spouted that stat as why Spain couldn’t go all the way. But they did. Again, it’s true that most of the time the teams that start 0-1 aren’t good enough to win it anyway while the top contenders usually win their opener, but it’s certainly not impossible for a good team to overcome once put in that rare position.

Same thing here.

And the future-book odds reflect that. Even though they’re both 0-2, the Las Vegas Hilton has only raised the Cowboys and Vikings to 20-1 to win the Super Bowl, which is 9.5-1 if you were to bet them both ($100 on each would cost $200 and bring back $2,100 if one was to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy for a net profit of $1,900). That’s pretty close to the overall odds of a team pulling off the feat as either would become the fourth team – joining the 1993 Cowboys, 2001 Patriots, and 2007 Giants – to do it.

Back to the betting board

I went 1-2 in this space last week as I won with the Bears over the Cowboys (thankfully that was the headline game) but lost with the Cardinals and Giants. That was more than a little disappointing as underdogs were 10-5-1 on the weekend and that usually bodes well for my selections, but I’ll try to find the right dog this week.

Falcons +4 vs. Saints

The defending Super Bowl champs are 2-0 but they’ve been doing just barely enough to win and are 0-2 against the spread. The Falcons lost their opener 15-9 at Pittsburgh – which is no shame with the way the Steelers’ defense has looked – but then recovered nicely with a 41-7 rout of the Cardinals. They weren’t even slowed when starting running back Michael Turner went out with an injury as his backup Jason Snelling (actually the third-stringer as Jerious Norwood also was out) ran for 129 yards and caught five passes for another 57 yards and scored three touchdowns. That’s the sign of a good team when it can plug in backups and not miss a beat. Add in the fact that the Falcons always play the Saints tough on the road (21-4 against the spread in 25 meeting in New Orleans) and you have a live underdog.

PLAY: Falcons for 1 unit.

Lions +11 vs. Vikings

As stated above, I’m not giving up on the Vikings’ chances to turn around their season, but I’m not going to avoid betting against them before they work out the chinks in their armor and when the line dictates. Here, they’re favored by double digits and the line has been climbing for some reason. No complaints here as I’ll take the Lions, who are 0-2 in the standings but are 2-0 against the spread as they nearly beat the Bears in Week 1 and then rallied to get in the back door versus the Eagles last week. They’re a young team, but Shaun Hill has filled in nicely for the injured Matthew Stafford and running back Jahvid Best and receiver Calvin Johnson are potent weapons. Until the Vikings’ offense gets back on track, they shouldn’t be laying this many points to anyone.

PLAY: Lions for 1 unit.

Jets +2 1/2 vs. Dolphins

A popular pick to win the AFC East this year, the Jets rebounded from a Week 1 loss to the Ravens by taking out the Patriots last week. This week they try to move atop the division by taking on the 2-0 Dolphins. As great as Darrelle Revis is, the defense actually played better without him last week and should shut down the Dolphins this Sunday night in what should be a low-scoring battle. The Vikings were able to run on the Dolphins’ defense last week (they got in trouble when they insisted on passing too much as Brett Favre threw three interceptions and had a fumble recovered for a Miami TD) and the Jets should do the same as they grind out a victory.

PLAY: Jets for 1 unit.

Last week: 1-2 for a net loss of 1.2 units (based on risking 1.1 units to win 1). NFL season record: 5-2 for a profit of 2.8 units.