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PICKING NFL WINNERS IS A REALLY DIFFICULT TASK

SHARE PICKING NFL WINNERS IS A REALLY DIFFICULT TASK

If the 1994 NFL season has taught me anything, it's that building a winner isn't any tougher than picking a winner.

When I was a coach, I always had the feeling that I knew enough about the teams in our league that I could do fairly well in picking winners of games. This year, picking games on HBO and in The Dallas Morning News has been a humbling experience.But from what I can tell, it's a humbling experience for everybody.

In the NFL, so many games come down to a last-minute field goal or a late touchdown. When teams get leads in pro football, I think coaches tend to relax. In college, it seems like the dominant teams are more likely to run up the scores. The polls may have a little something to do with this.

But blowing substantial leads is a weekly occurrence in the NFL. The New York Jets and Green Bay Packers are examples from this past weekend.

There are two dominant teams in the NFL: Dallas and San Francisco. As for the other 26, there's really not more than a touchdown's difference among them. And even when teams are dominant, picking them against the point spread is a chore.

When we won two Super Bowls with the Cowboys in 1993 and 1994, in 15 of our 32 regular season games, we either won by no more than seven points or lost the game. The dominance we showed against Buffalo when it counted wasn't really there on a weekly basis.

On HBO, picking winners, I am 95-69 (.579), but I trail Nick Buoniconti by six games. It's embarrassing to lose to an old linebacker.

In picking against the spread in the newspaper, I'm seven games below .500 and losing to four sportswriters. That's even more demeaning.

Although I am someone who has always enjoyed casinos, I stay out of the sports books. After this season, I will continue that policy, not just because it's what the NFL wants me to do, but because it's the smart thing to do.

For what it's worth, here's my thought process as I look at this week's games:

Arizona minus-3 at Houston - Because they're playing at home and because neither team is capable of scoring too many points, I'll take the Oilers.

N.Y. Giants plus-7 at Cleveland - The Giants have all of a sudden jumped on a winning streak, sneaking past Houston and Washington. That's not much to get excited about. Cleveland is one of the AFC's better teams and should hold their own.

Dallas minus-4 at Philadelphia - I ought to kick myself for picking against the Cowboys, and the Eagles have looked awful while losing three straight. But the Eagles will play better at home and either win this game or keep it tight.

Green Bay plus-1 at Detroit - Two very unpredictable teams I'd prefer to stay away from. As atrocious as the Packers were in the second half against Dallas, they're still more predictable and more powerful than the Lions.

Denver plus-4 at Kansas City - It's tough to pick because the Chiefs are beat up right now. But they usually play well at home and I think they should win by enough points this week.

New Orleans plus-3 at L.A. Rams - These are two teams going nowhere fast. But I like the Rams at home, especially with New Orleans having played on Monday night. And Jim Everett may come back to Anaheim a little too pumped up.

Buffalo plus-3 at Miami - The big comeback in New York should give the Dolphins the boost they need to carry them right into the playoffs.

N.Y. Jets plus-2 at New England - I like Bill Parcells' teams late in the year. I think they will be strong enough to beat the Jets and stay in the AFC wild-card chase.

Pittsburgh minus-6 at Cincinnati - The Steelers' defense is capable of making all kinds of things happen. I think they will make them happen against Cincinnati.

Atlanta plus-13 at San Francisco - The 49ers are on a roll and have a tendency to murder the Falcons. I think their secondary is capable of shutting down the run-and-shoot.

Indianapolis plus-3 at Seattle - I don't like either team so I'll take the home team. As much of a football fan as I am, I'll probably forget to watch this one.

Washington plus-2 at Tampa Bay - The Bucs might still be celebrating their win over the Vikings into the weekend. My buddy, Norv Turner, needs a win in the worst way.

L.A. Raiders plus-4 at San Diego - After being disappointed by the Raiders again this past Sunday, I will make a vow never to pick them again. The Chargers have the better team, anyway.