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PLAYING FOOTBALL

Watching is risky business

Different stakes for different folks

The way a bettor watches a game can be quite different from how a hometown fan views the same action.

 

Monday's St. Louis-Cleveland contest offered a case in point.

The Rams, whom I had backed as 4-point favorites, led, 26-20, in the fourth quarter. Jeff Wilkins was lined up for a field goal to make it a 9-point game. St. Louis fans wanted the kick to be good, naturally. But when Wilkins missed, it made me very happy.

Why, you ask?. Isn't a 29-20 lead better than 26-20?

Not to a bettor, it isn't. If Wilkins makes that attempt, St. Louis goes into a "prevent" defense -- trading yardage for time off the clock -- and Cleveland quite possibly marches the length of the field and scores a meaningless touchdown in the final moments.

Except it's not meaningless. If St. Louis wins by just 2 points, I lose.

But ahead by 6 points as the clock wound down, coach Mike Martz's club played much tighter defense, and the game ended at 26-20.

Which is what the game-within-the-game is all about.

The plays

Green Bay at San Diego -- Packers favored by 5. Green Bay has to have a victory here. If the Packers don't bring their "A" game for this one, they simply don't appreciate their dire situation. Take the Packers for an imaginary $50.

Dallas at Washington -- Pick 'em. Again, the greater incentive should be with the visitors. The Cowboys face the possibility of falling from first place in the NFC East to out of the playoffs. Take Dallas for $50.

Seattle at St. Louis -- Rams favored by 7. The Seahawks play poorly on the road. St. Louis has a terrific home record . . . and has a chance to grab home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs from Philadelphia. Take the Rams for $100.

Philadelphia at Miami -- Dolphins favored by 2. Each team can shut down the other's passing game. So the edge might go to Miami, with Ricky Williams's ability (on occasion) to run the ball. Take the Dolphins for $100.

San Francisco at Cincinnati -- Bengals favored by 3. The 6-7 49ers aren't dead yet -- in terms of the postseason -- but they sure will be if they don't finally win one on the road. Take San Francisco for $10.

Cleveland at Denver -- Broncos favored by 10 1/2. The Browns took one heck of a physical beating from St. Louis, losing everybody but the water boy to season-ending injuries. Denver looked superb offensively in whipping Kansas City. Take the Broncos for $10.

Jacksonville at New England -- Patriots favored by 7. The Jaguars are better than many fans realize. So are the Patriots, for that matter. But I like the idea of the Jaguars getting 7, so take them for $10.

Last week: Baltimore, giving 3 1/2, defeated Cincinnati, 31-13, plus $50; Philadelphia, giving 5 1/2, defeated Dallas, 36-10, plus $100; Tennessee, giving 3 1/2, lost to Indianapolis, 29-27, minus $55; Seattle, getting 1 1/2, lost at Minnesota, 34-17, minus $55; Denver, giving 2 1/2, defeated Kansas City, 45-27, plus $100; New England, giving 3, defeated Miami, 12-0, plus $100; St. Louis, giving 4, defeated Cleveland, 26-20, plus $50; Atlanta, getting 1, defeated Carolina, 20-14, in overtime, plus $10; Chicago, getting 7, lost at Green Bay, 34-21, minus $11. Net for week: plus $289. Net for season: minus $508.

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afc east standings
  W L T Pct. PF PA
Patriots 11 2 0 .846 20.7 16.1
Dolphins 8 5 0 .615 18.5 15.6
Bills 6 7 0 .462 16.5 15.4
Jets 5 8 0 .385 18.5 19.6
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