NFL Week #3 Picks
Colin Kaepernick wasn’t the first NFL player to commit the sacrilege of refusing to stand at attention during the playing of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
The national anthem’s first mutineer was none other than Duane Thomas, the enigmatic former star running back who played briefly for the Dallas Cowboys, San Diego Chargers, and Washington Redskins during the early 1970s.
Thomas displayed a brilliant, though disappointingly short pro football career tarnished by repeated controversies inflamed by deep personal resentment which led to his self-imposed solitude. He went an entire season, which concluded with a Super Bowl victory, without speaking to anyone including — as impossible as it seems — his own coaches and teammates. No one could figure out what went on inside Thomas’ head during those years nor knew what created such intense bitterness and personal difficulty. Inner demons perhaps. To this day, his inexplicable actions remain a subject of speculation.
One thing is certain. Thomas’ football ability was never in question. He was so talented that he won the 1970 NFL Rookie of the Year award. Despite not playing until the fifth game of a then 14-game season, Thomas still managed to lead his team in rushing yardage, leading many observers to compare his running style and enormous potential to the legendary Jim Brown.
Then, contract negotiations bogged down and things went downhill from there. More like off a cliff. Thomas held out for a higher salary (the Cowboys front office was notoriously cheap with its players at the time). At the height of Thomas’ career, he earned just $20,000 per year (equal to about $126,000 in today’s dollars when adjusted for inflation). If Thomas played in today’s NFL, he’d be earning 40 times that amount. Like most pro players of his era, Thomas was exploited physically and grossly underpaid given what owners and television networks were making, by comparison.
Had ESPN existed back then, Thomas would undoubtedly have been a heated topic of discussion. He rarely talked to the media, but when he did, his quotes were often wickedly accurate. During his bitter contract impasse, Thomas called his own press conference. There and then to a room filled with reporters watching in disbelief, Thomas called coach Tom Landry “a plastic man — actually no man at all.” Head scout Gil Brandt was branded “a liar.” Thomas had particularly harsh words for team general manager Tex Schramm described as “sick, demented, and completely dishonest,” to which Schramm later jokingly replied, “Not bad. He got two out of three right.”
One of funniest stories about Thomas occurred during his rookie season. Thomas didn’t pay any attention to protocols. He had little respect for authority. One day, Thomas wheeled into the parking lot at the Cowboys’ practice facility. He pulled into Tom Landry’s private parking space, locked his car, and then walked into the building. An equipment manager witnessed this and was startled by what he saw. He immediately ran up to Thomas and hurriedly asked, “Why did you park in Tom Landry’s space?” As though the reasoning for his action should have been blatantly obvious, Thomas snapped back, “It was the nearest one to the door. Don’t you realize it’s raining out there?’”
That was Duane Thomas.
Eventually, the Cowboys got wary of Thomas’ antics, though his unorthodox behavior never impeded his abilities on the playing field. They attempted to trade him to New England, but the woeful Patriots rejected the trade weighed heavily in their favor only a week later citing him as a hopeless troublemaker and shipped him back to Dallas. Soon thereafter, Thomas was busted on a bogus marijuana charge that still remains the subject of controversy. Drug accusations were the final straw for Cowboys management. They’d had enough. He was shipped to San Diego. The terms of the trade included even the word “unconditional,” which meant the agreement was completed no matter how Thomas acted with the Chargers.
During the pre-season, his new team’s patience would be put to the ultimate test when Thomas took the field for a home game in San Diego. He seemed totally lost during warmups. He wouldn’t practice with his teammates. He refused to go through the usual drills. Just prior to the game’s start, players lined up along the sideline for the national anthem. To everyone’s astonishment, Thomas was spotted wandering off, walking around behind the bench, staring down at the ground. No player had done that before. No athlete had ever demonstrated such a glaring disregard for an accepted tradition, Olympic medal winners Tommie Smith and John Carlos, notwithstanding.
Thomas’ career in San Diego was over almost before it began. He never touched the ball or played a single down for the Chargers.
To be clear, Thomas’ defiance of the national anthem wasn’t intended as a political statement, as is the case with Colin Kaepernick last season and current NFL players now demonstrating their solidarity by voluntarily kneeling in protest against overt racial injustice in America. Thomas’ curious actions during his flash-in-the-pan pro career are mostly forgotten.
Read more about Duane Thomas in this insightful article from Texas Monthly magazine entitled, “The Lonely Blues of Duane Thomas.”
This is the third week of the NFL regular season. I had some personal matters to take care of over the previous few weeks, which prevented me from posting my customary plays here at the site. However, I did manage to post a few short write-ups on previous Sundays at Facebook. So far, those plays have netted a small profit of $100 for the season (I lost $250 the first week and won $350 the second week). I shall go forward from this point and will keep track of all my wagers and betting results.
For the record, this will be my sixth consecutive year to do this (actually 22nd year — dating back to other posting websites). So far since posting plays here, I’ve enjoyed three winning seasons and suffered two losing seasons. The usual vig is always included in my calculations, which means the biggest winner overall has been the house. I’ve paid about $25,000 in vig. Last year, I took a small loss. That was entirely due to the Patriots-Falcons Super Bowl game which should easily have gone UNDER the total. I strongly touted the UNDER. But then the game when OVER in overtime, resulting in a painful swing of $3,150 to the negative, the difference between booking a modest win versus a small loss for the year. Stupid shit Falcons. I’m still pissed about that.
Here’s to hoping there won’t be any ranting material in 2017. On to NFL Week #3…..
Note: Lines are current as of Saturday night (taken from William Hill)
JACKSONVILLE +3.5 vs. BALTIMORE (Risking $220 to win $200)
Take the points in what should be a close, lower-than-average scoring game where the line appears to be overreacting just a bit too much to Raven’s hot 2-0 start. This game likely would have been closer to a pick ’em if Baltimore had lost the opener and been 1-1 like the Jaguars. Baltimore has played two of the most inept teams in the entire NFL so far (both Ohio teams), and should get a tougher test here on the road (in London). Jacksonville won quite impressively at Houston in the opener and was involved in a tight game last week versus Tennessee in the second half, before collapsing in the 4th quarter. This game is more probably meaningful to Jaguars here which have to look at this as a very winnable game. Some intangibles here also favor taking the generous amount points in these annual London games. Jaguars should keep this close enough to cover and certainly could win outright.
CHICAGO +7.5 vs. PITTSBURGH (Risking $220 to win $200)
Another home underdog is way too tempting to pass up, especially getting the half-point on the 7. Steelers in the Tomlin era are notorious in road games in this situation, often playing down to their level of talent. Consider the lackluster opener at Cleveland where Pittsburgh scratched out an unimpressive 3-point win. There’s not much about the Bears to inspire confidence, of course. However, they did play solid in the opener against a bona fide Super Bowl contender (Atlanta). Look for Pittsburgh to go through the motions here and the Bears to have just enough talent to squeeze within the touchdown margin.
NY JETS +6.5 vs. MIAMI (Risking $220 to win $200)
This wager is not for the faint of heart. Sure, it’s hard to bet the Jets, now 0-2 both straight up and against the spread. But a closer look at both losses showed some fight in the Jets who kept things close in both first halves. Jets were also on the road the last two weeks and now get a more comfortable situation playing at home. I watched last week’s game closely and it appears Jets players are still with the coach, so to speak, which is not always the case with losing teams. Miami is simply laying too many points here. They looked rusty in the road win versus San Diego last week (I’m not calling them the LA Chargers — not just yet), and should have lost the game had the Chargers been able to field a decent kicker. And, consider this — anyone like betting on JAY CUTLER, who is playing just his second game with the Dolphins, on the road, laying nearly a touchdown? That’s absolutely insane. Miami is the sucker play of the day in a card filled with sucker bets. It’s either the Jets, or a pass. I think there’s enough talent on this team to keep it close in a divisional matchup, so I will side with the home dog.
BUFFALO +3 (EVEN) vs. DENVER (Risking $200 to win $200)
Speaking of sucker plays…..Exhibit A: the Denver Broncos. This is a terrible bet given that it’s entirely predicated on Denver’s impressive home win versus (overrated) Dallas last week. Here’s a quintessential case of a huge emotional letdown, especially a western team flying east for an early start, against what appears to be a much-improving defense. Credit the Bills for shutting down two opponents in a row during the first two games, especially at Carolina. Denver isn’t quite the team yet with its young QB to be laying this number on the highway. Obviously, there are lingering concerns about Buffalo’s offense and whether they can score much. But young Bills are at home here and have a great chance to make a statement by beating what’s perceived to be a very solid Bronco team (I think they’re mediocre). Take the points and watch for an upset.
PHILADELPHIA -5.5 vs. NY GIANTS (Risking $220 to win $200)
Eagles come off a tough road loss but should bounce back against a team that looks totally lost at the moment, especially on offense. Giants have no running game at all. The offensive line is horrid, now to the point of being a punch line. Mediocre Eli Manning isn’t making good decisions or throws (he’s been average the last five seasons and always seems to make at least one bonehead play when a big game is on the line). And the best player on the field for the Giants (OB) still isn’t at 100 percent yet. It’s hard to see how the Giants turn things around and fix their problems in just five days following a dismal loss at home to the Lions on MNF. Coach Ben McAdoo was said to be an offensive-minded coach who would produce lots of scoring, but the Giants continue to regress under his shaky leadership. Normally, a team like the Giants would be serious worth a look getting generous points versus a division rival. But things in New York look terrible and the Eagles coming off the loss should be extra motivated this week at home in a bounce-back game after two straight on the road. Big home opener with lots of confidence and momentum favoring the Eagles. I’ll lay anything up to -6.5.
TENNESEE -2.5 vs. SEATTLE (Risking $220 to win $200)
Seahawks are another team with major offensive line issues which probably won’t get repaired in less than a week’s time. QB Russell Wilson seems to be running for his life every time he drops back to pass. Titans are improving steadily and now have enough balance to put Seattle’s solid defense to the test. I think they get their first home win here after playing Raiders tough at home in Week #1 and losing the home opener. Seattle struggled badly in an embarrassment of a win against pathetic San Francisco last week and also got shut down by Green Bay. We’ve yet to see this team in the usual form of a Super Bowl contender and the spreads are now starting to catch on to Seattle perhaps regressing towards .500. These could be two teams headed in different directions — so I’ll take the Titans laying less than a FG playing at home.
SAN DIEGO +3 vs. KANSAS CITY (Risking $330 to win $300) BEST BET
If the Chargers had a decent placekicker, they would probably be 2-0 right now. They lost two games in the closing seconds due to missing very makeable late field goals. Line is overreacting terribly here to Kansas City’s two impressive wins. Certainly, the Chiefs do deserve much credit. But these are the games where teams flying high often have a letdown, especially on the road in an unfamiliar environment (first game in Los Angeles), versus division foe. I’ll still take tough veteran Phillip Rivers over Alex Smith in a heartbeat. I also like Chargers playing their second straight week at home which promises a more rested unit, in a perfect spot to beat a team that might be a bit overconfident. San Diego has enough weapons to keep this game close, cover, and perhaps win outright in front of a non-existent void of a home crowd (one of the worst decisions in sports history to move this team to Los Angeles).
WASHINGTON +3 vs. OAKLAND (Risking $220 to win $200)
This is an absolutely ridiculous line. Sure, Oakland is 2-0 SU and 2-0 ATS and has looked very good in those two victories. But now they head east for a big SNF game against non-conference opponent loaded on offense. Assuming the home field advantage is still worth -3 points, there’s absolutely no way Oakland merits being a 6-point choice on a neutral field. I’d have this game much closer to pick ’em. So, give me the home Redskins and hope for one of their best performances of the season in a statement game that they belong as contenders in the playoff hunt.
LATE ADDITION: CINCINNATI +7.5 vs. GREEN BAY (Risking $220 to win $200)
I would normally pass on this game. However, six starters and seven players overall are listed as DOUBTFUL for the Packers and that might be just a bit too much to fade, even for Green Bay. Bengals appear hopelessly out of synch at the moment, but the added three days of prep time (they played last Thursday) gives the no excuses not to keep this reasonably close. Lone was +10 before the late news on injuries, which is still bettable so long as we’re getting more than a touchdown. It sounds crazy to try and make a case for Cincinnati here, but this is mostly an against situation with Green Bay, due to injuries and the Bengals enjoying some advantages with the rest and preparation.
ADDED THOUGHTS (OTHER GAMES):
Can’t touch the CLEVE-INDY game due to monumental QB issues on both teams, but I still have to ask — how in the hell are the Browns favored over anyone on the road? Could be worth a wager for the junkies….Thinking UNDER in the HOU-NWE game, especially since HOU can’t seem to score much and the rookie QB should struggle. NWE has botch slapped HOU around the last several meetings. Could be an opponent they take for granted — also have to like HOU defense the way they are playing, which means UNDER 45 looks like the way to go…..Leaning TAMPA -2.5 on the road, but MINN tough place to play and Bucs not quite there yet as deserving of road chalk — likely a pass….Leaning also to PHX at home versus DAL which is coming off a kick in the ass and has to play on the road again. I cringe having to wager on Carson Palmer and Cards look to be regressing, but this is the statement game for the home team so look for them to be ready.
Finally, I will close with a political statement: I’m hoping that EVERY SINGLE NFL PLAYER TAKES A KNEE THIS WEEK DURING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM in protest against the idiotic stooge of a President and his preposterous comments about the controversy. Wouldn’t that be something for owners to announce they would fire players who kneel, and then EVERY PLAYER takes a knee. Wouldn’t that be a statement for the ages. I hope it happens. Scab games in our near future?