Throwing Darts: Lay the Favorite

While it's generally not ideal to take Hunter S. Thompson's timeless wave speech out of context, for this exercise I'm only looking for the final line.

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

I've had those words on my mind as I've worked through the Week 5 darts. Things have been going well to this point, maybe too well: a 5-0 showing last week, a 16-4 start to the season. The NFL isn't supposed to work this way, and anyone who analyzes and projects the NFL for a living will deal with plenty of humbling failure each and every week.

And it wasn't merely that the picks won last week, they all won with remarkable ease. The Panthers, a play I locked in on and Tweeted about five days ahead of schedule, nearly upset the Falcons and rode to a low-stress cover. The Patriots scored 52 points in Buffalo. The Niners kicked the tar out of the Jets, the Broncos embarrassed the Raiders. Minnesota didn't need the spot, besting Detroit from start to finish.

I'm experienced enough to know how rare a beat-the-traffic winning week like this is; you need to savor them when they come around. I could easily go on a 2-13 bender the next three weeks, like anyone can. The lines seem to be catching up to the teams, too; there's no more taking advantage of a misunderstood Broncos team (they received too much red ink for reasonable losses against Houston and Atlanta) or an underrated Vikings team. It hasn't been easy to settle on five selections this week.

Mind you, a confidence level going into a handicapping week is not predictive. Some weeks you love the games and land in the red; some weeks you hate the card and the ball bounces your way. I'm just glad we were able to push off strongly during what's likely the best time to take advantage of weak numbers — the first month. Now it's a matter of trying to maintain the fruits of that strong start, but the numbers seem tighter.

How's that for a soft sell? Here's the Week 5 plan; feel free to share your selections (using the line from Yahoo! Pro Football Pick'Em) in the comments. Three favorites go to post; it's uncommon for the throws to slant that way, though I did have three favorites last week as well.

Steelers -3.5 vs. Eagles: Obviously I'd prefer the number at three, but this looks like a good bounce-back spot to take the rested and healing Steelers over a Philadelphia team that might be 3-4 plays away from 0-4 (the offensive pass interference call against Baltimore was highway robbery). Pittsburgh has proven to be a resilient crew under Mike Tomlin, going 20-9 straight up (18-11 ATS) in games after a loss.

Titans +5.5 at Vikings: While Minnesota earned just props for the upset wins over San Francisco and Detroit, the Vikings didn't look so hot in the other two games (overtime win over Jacksonville, loss at Indianapolis). Tennessee's offensive line finally opened some holes last week, and Matt Hasselbeck's experience hopefully will help limit mistakes. It will be interesting to see if the Tennessee corners press the Vikings; Minnesota likes to get the ball out of Christian Ponder's hands as soon as possible. It's one thing to win as a loose underdog; let's see how the Vikings handle the burden of the favorite, spotting more than the straight-3 at home.

Bengals -3.5 vs. Dolphins: Miami's shifted into "so underrated they're perhaps overrated" mode. A win over the Raiders might not mean much; they still could easily be the AFC's worst team. Losing to the Jets, even in overtime, is nothing to brag of. Everyone points to the leaks in Cincinnati's secondary, but the Bengals are finally closing in on full strength there. And this Cincinnati offense is the best little group that no one is talking about, posting 99 points over three straight wins.

Ravens -6 at Chiefs: Give the Chiefs credit for playing maybe a quarter and a half of good football at New Orleans. Otherwise, this team has been a dumpster fire through four weeks. Baltimore was flat in the Week 4 victory over Cleveland — playing for the fourth time in 18 days — but now the Ravens are rested and ready to attack that horrendous Kansas City defense. The Ravens can beat you a number of ways on offense — Ray Rice on the ground, Torrey Smith deep, Anquan Boldin intermediate, Dennis Pitta down the seam — and while this version of the Baltimore defense has some exploitable holes, I dare Matt Cassel to find them.

Seahawks +3 at Panthers: The big story in Seattle is the underwhelming start of Russell Wilson, but there are two things the Seahawks do exceptionally well: play defense (only the Texans have allowed less points than Seattle at 58) and run the ball (Marshawn Lynch wants to punish as many defenders as he can on every run). That's the sort of profile that travels well. Losses at Arizona and St. Louis might not be as bad as we initially though; those clubs are both looking better than expected. Figure on the Seahawks shortening the game and perhaps pushing the margin off the 3/7 interval; in this type of match, any spot is appreciated.

Feedback on the Week 5 selections? I'd love to hear from you on Twitter. Use the hashtag #throwingdarts in your note.

Last Week: 5-0
Season: 16-4
2011: 41-39
2010: 49-34

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