Yes, Virginia, we're back for another year of the Throwing Darts. The rules are simple: I select five sides from the Yahoo! Pro Football Pick'Em game. There must be a set line for me to select the game — no picking on the low-hanging fruit, the matches that are off the board. I'll give some rationale, and I invite you to list your picks in the comments as well.
In the first year of Throwing Darts, 2010, I enjoyed a tasty 49-34 record against the number (that's 59 percent). Last year wasn't as fun, but it still landed above the .500 mark (41-39). Add it all up and it's a 90-73 mark over two years, a cool 55.2 percent. If you knew you could pick 55 percent against the number in any sport, continually, you could quit your job and do this for a living.
In other words, it's a tough racket.
When in doubt, I'm going to side towards dogs and teams that are unpopular. The game is about value. The NFL has returned more underdog than favorite winners in 11 of the last 13 seasons, though the difference was slight in many of those years.
Let's get to the clipboard:
Raiders -1 vs. Chargers: Norv Turner is just 20-28 straight up and 20-29-1 ATS in the first month of the season. And his Chargers, specifically, are a messy 5-11-1 in September on his watch (alas, they're a wrecking crew at the end of the year). Get the idea maybe Uncle Norv isn't the best coach getting ready for the beginning of the season? I see plenty of things wrong with Oakland, too, but in this spot I'll gladly fade Turner. The Chargers also have key injuries on the offensive line, at receiver (Vincent Brown is a major loss) and in the backfield (Ryan Mathews, obviously).
Texans -12 vs. Dolphins: It's rare that I'll take any favorite that's spotting double digits, but Miami looks like the AFC's worst team to me. Ryan Tannehill went to college as a wide receiver; he only threw 774 passes as a quarterback. There isn't a single playmaker in Miami's receiving corps and it just handed away a good corner in Vontae Davis. Houston doesn't have an obvious weakness on either side of the ball; the Texans can name the score here.
Buccaneers +2.5 vs. Panthers: I have a hard time taking Tampa's crash landing at face value; if ever a team quit on its head coach, it was the 2011 Bucs. Maybe Greg Schiano is the answer, maybe he isn't — all I know is this: he's not Raheem Morris (and that's a good thing). A home dog in a divisional game is always something that intrigues me.
Patriots -5.5 at Titans: Bill Belichick has been a spread-covering machine since taking over the Patriots, especially when New England is asked to make a modest number (they've clicked 61 percent of the time when favored by six or less). New England's defense should be a lot better this year (hello, Chandler Jones), and Belichick is taking dead aim at an inexperienced quarterback. Sounds good to me.
Browns +8.5 vs. Eagles: This is one of those hold-your-nose selections. It's too easy to say the Eagles merely show up on the field and name any score they want, especially when you look at what the Browns offer. Cleveland's defense was actually pretty good in 2011, finishing Top 5 in YPA allowed and permitting just 307 points despite little help from its offense. The hosts can keep things cosmetically close.
Survivor: I'm taking the Texans, and there's no way I'd consider any of the road teams.
ATS data courtesy of the invaluable Spreadapedia. Let's hear your five best selections for Week 1.