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Throwing Darts: Barking with two big dogs

Scott Pianowski
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A dog day afternoon (USAT)

Handicapping in the NFL is often a case of going ugly, taking the side no one else really wants to take. This will be one of those weeks.

Hello, Jacksonville. What's happening, Oakland?

I understands the mismatches at play this week. No one gives Jacksonville a chance at Seattle, and no one thinks Oakland can hang with Denver. I'm not disagreeing with that theme. But when the lines get gigantic in the NFL, you're getting extra value on the underdog. The linemakers realize the public doesn't want to saddle up on a crummy team, so you receive an extra bump for the privilege.

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Let's go to the ledger, courtesy of the Spreadapedia database. If you had backed every underdog at plus-15 or more since 1978 (that's the full history of the database), you'd be 60-47-3 against the number. That's very good.

If you push the minimum to plus-17, your record is now 27-16-3 ATS.

If your starting point is plus-18, you're now 16-5 versus the spot. You get the idea. Those opportunities don't show often, but they've been reliable.

In the case of the Raiders, we might be talking about an underrated team. Oakland nearly won at Indianapolis and it was impressive in last week's dispatching of Jacksonville. Denver is an obvious juggernaut, sure, but -15 is a difficult hill to climb in the NFL.

With the Jags, we're hoping for a choppy game, maybe the Seahawks coming out a little flat after last week's emotional demolition of San Francisco. And if the Seahawks take the Jags behind the woodshed, okay, fine. It's just one loss. But in the long run, you want to be taking the big spot, not laying it.

So our first two picks in Week 3 will be Oakland +15 and Jacksonville +19. The other three are below; as usual, we draw the lines from Yahoo Pro Football PickEm:

• Vikings -6 vs. Browns: It's a little tricky to spot a thick number with the Vikings, given the limitations of Christian Ponder. And Cleveland's defense has been very good through two weeks, especially against the run. But Brian Hoyer might not be ready for an NFL starting assignment and the Browns have all sorts of moving parts on offense this week. Thinking Minnesota will get some points (or at least a few short fields) from its defense, we'll part with the six.

• Steelers +2.5 vs. Bears: Desperation is a great motivator in the NFL, and I expect Mike Tomlin to have his crew ready for this prime-time home game. Jay Cutler usually throws a ball or two to the other guys and I don't see any major problems with Pittsburgh's defense (old secondary to the side). The Steelers do have a lot of offensive issues, but Heath Miller's expected return helps.

• Rams +4 at Cowboys: Back to the well with the Rams, a team that really hasn't played a complete game yet. Mostly this is a statement of how I don't trust the Cowboys at home or as favorites. The Pokes are 13-21 against the spread in Jerry World, and if you focus on games where they've laid more than three points, the ledger is 9-16 ATS.

Last Week: 2-3
Season: 3-7

2012: 50-33
2011: 41-39
2010: 49-34

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