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A friend of mine insists that when we have dinner at her favorite recherché restaurant, reservations are made for 5:00 p.m. She likes to be there when doors open, she says, while cooks and waiters still have hope.

This is precisely the feeling NFL bettors have when Week 1 comes around. Not a single car payment has been lost because of an idiot running back's fumble on the one-yard line. Winning every bet is possible; winning almost every bet is likely.

If you're betting point spreads with a bookie or sports book, you need to win 52.6 percent of the time in order to break even. Sounds so easy. And to help you make this easy money, newspapers and websites offer free expert picks, selected by professional sportswriters.

So, I have gone around and randomly selected seven columnists to see how their Week 1 Sunday went. First up is Chris Goudey, a WagerWeb.com contributing writer. Goudey writes, "Denver -3.5 at St. Louis. Denver is clearly the better team here but...there's that +3.5 we like to look for, and we have a home dog. My pick: ST. LOUIS." (St. Louis won by 8 points. Goudey went on to a respectable 7 wins against 6 losses for his Sunday; 53.8 percent.)

Next is the Associated Press, as printed in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. "Indianapolis (minus 3) at New York Giants. Peyton and Eli aren't playing against each other, they're playing against the other team's defense.... Hunch: Giants pass rush gets in Peyton's face, just as the Steelers and Chargers did last year. GIANTS 24-20." (Indy covered, the AP finished Sunday with 4 wins, 1 push, and 8 losses; 33.3 percent.)

Introducing Tim Cowlishhaw, sports columnist for the Dallas Morning News. No commentary from Tim, but he doesn't need any...the mighty Cowlishhaw went 10 and 3 on Sunday; 76.9 percent. Hell of a fine day.

Alert: In an attempt to pad his numbers, the next guy gave his picks straight up, which is a cheat, since straight up betting is far easier (Golly, will Pittsburgh beat San Francisco?) than betting against the spread.

Dan Kohn is a sports copy editor for the Appleton Post-Crescent (Appleton, Wisconsin). "The Packers have talent but lack experience. It'll be closer than people think. Packers 21, Bears 17." (Chicago won 26 to 0. Kohn lost 7 and won 6 straight up; lost 8 and won 5; 38.4 percent, when I used his numbers against the spread.)

Peter Schmuck (real name), is a sports columnist for the Baltimore Sun. "...and the big story line in Week 1 is the touchy-feely reunion of Peyton and Eli Manning on Sunday Night Football. I just want to assure you that there will be no such sentimental dreck in my weekly NFL picks..."

Pete's off to a good start with me. "Ravens at Buccaneers (-3): The Ravens haven't won a road game, I think, since sometime during the Renaissance, but a cryptic message on the back of the Mona Lisa predicts that streak will end today. Who am I to argue? Ravens." (Baltimore won 27 to 0. Schmuck finished Sunday with a gratifying 9 wins against 4 losses, 69.2 percent. Nicely done, Peter.)

From Providence, Rhode Island, I give you The Brown Daily Herald, "An independent newspaper serving the Brown University community since 1891." Sports staff writer Chris Mahr, class of '07, is making the picks.

"Game of the Week: Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers, Sunday 1 p.m. In what is arguably the most enticing match-up of Week 1, two contenders from one of the NFL's most competitive divisions will battle each other. Carolina, with a bevy of playmakers on both sides of the ball, is the pick of many a pundit to bring home the Lombardi Trophy this year. Meanwhile, Atlanta is desperately looking to rebound from a disappointing 8-8 campaign in 2005 and features the always-electric Michael Vick at quarterback." (Wordy son of a bitch, isn't he?) "Chris's pick: Panthers 30, Falcons 17." (Falcons won by 14 points. Chris went 8 and 5 straight up, and 6 and 7 against the spread; 46.1 percent.)

Finally, here is Jim Wyatt of the Navy Compass, navycompass.com, headquartered in El Cajon. The paper is distributed to SoCal Marine and Naval facilities. Wyatt writes, "Bears -3.5 (11-5) at Green Bay (4-12). During an 11-game stretch, between games 5 and 15, the Bear's defense yielded just 9.9 ppg and were 10-1 SU, 7-2-2 ATS. Instead of the rookie QB, they get back their starter Rex Grossman...

"Negatives: Six of their 11 wins, were won by a single possession or less, and they were just 3-5 against teams with a winning record. WR Steve Smith's huge game in the Playoffs exposed their weak secondary." (Despite due diligence, Wyatt had 2 wins, 8 losses and 3 very smart "no bets" on Sunday; 20 percent.)

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