Monday, January 24, 2011

Super Bowl XLV NFL Prediction: February 06, 2011

This is my early pick for Super Bowl XLV.  There are a variety of ways one could approach this game, but I think one could wait and get a better line than -2.5 for GB.   As I write this 55% of the early bets are coming in on PIT so we could see the line drop from here.  At the same time, GB has been a popular team with the sharps so there could be some reverse line movement up to -3. 

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Green Bay Packers: GB
Like most of you know, this is perhaps the most over-analyzed game in all of sports.  You will hear about every angle from every media outlet and by the time they blow the whistle for kickoff even casual fans will know what the subtle differences are between Dick Lebeau and Dom Capers zone defenses are.  I'm not about to break down the game in as much detail as that because you'll get enough of it over the next two weeks, but I will reveal why I like GB to win and cover on February 6th.

To begin with, it's interesting to note that this is the first time in 28 years that a favorite has opened at less than a field goal.  Also 32 out of 34 favorites have won and covered.  For some that is all the information they need to ride GB, but it's clear that the public isn't blindly betting the favorite this time around.  This isn't entirely surprising as PIT is very popular with the public, they have a great history of winning, and they are getting +2.5 points in what many see as an even matchup.  The last point is where I would disagree though.  I don't see this as even as many think so let's take a closer look at why.

Before I talk about why I think GB will win, let's focus on what PIT have going for them in this game.  It's no secret that they have the best run defense in the entire league.  Normally this would be a great advantage to have - especially in a Super Bowl.  Yet, just like CHI this edge isn't going to pay the same kind of dividends against a team like GB.  Starks has been a welcome addition to the team during the playoffs and gives GB a bit more versatility in the backfield, but this isn't where GB makes their bread and butter.  PIT's defense is also excellent in the red zone, on third down, and in turnover differential.  The only problem?  GB's offense is almost as good with their red zone/third down offense and rank just below them in the turnover category.  Therefore, I can't say that PIT's defense will have the same kind of dominant advantage in the Super Bowl that they would otherwise have against other teams.

Unfortunately for PIT fans, the good news for them ends there.  As good as PIT's defense is, the one question mark they have is against the pass.  It's not that they are bad because they aren't.  They have improved considerably as the season has gone on, but Polamalu is not playing at 100% and has been a relative non-factor in the playoffs thus far.  Yes he has two more weeks to rest and get closer to where he needs to be, but it's not going to be enough to completely shut down Rodgers.  As the saying goes, you can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him.  This is the challenge that Dick Lebeau is facing a couple weeks from now.  He is masterful with his zone blitzes and PIT have the nastiest group of linebackers in the NFL, but the important stat here is that Rodgers is number one against the blitz this season.  He is smart enough to read the coverage, elusive enough to avoid oncoming blitzers/rushers, quick enough to escape broken-down protection, and has the arm strength to deliver the ball on a dime without having his feet set.  To make matters worse, this GB offense love to play on the fast track, while PIT's defense is more suited to the elements.

The problems for PIT don't end there however.  One of the biggest areas to keep an eye on during the game is the protection that Big Ben gets.  He is also near the top in the league against the blitz, but they also give up a lot of sacks too.  Their offensive line has been hurting all year and now they will likely be without their standout starting Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey due to a high ankle sprain.  Some say he could return, but given the nature of the injury it's doubtful he could be effective.  In the betting community this is a known red flag because of how important the center position is.  Yes PIT will have two full weeks to get the backup prepared, but it's not going to make up for a season worth of experience.  Identifying coverages and making line adjustments before the snap is going to be a monumental challenge when Dom Capers is on the other sideline.  B.J. Raji has the third most sacks from the inside tackle position and the return of Jenkins has also given them a lift in the playoffs, too.  GB rank at the very top in sacks per game so Ben's escapability and decision making will be severely tested.  GB's defense are also very solid in the red zone and on third down.  PIT's offense have not been very good in these areas all year long.  Despite what they did against a tired NY defense last week, they continue to struggle sustaining drives or scoring points once they do put something together.   In fact, GB average almost a touchdown more per game than PIT off of drives of 60+ yards.  GB also complete more plays per game and take far less penalties.  

These stats might not seem like a big deal in a one game winner takes all matchup, but they often tell the story behind the story of why teams win and other teams lose.  It wasn't an accident that GB marched through three home teams to reach the Super Bowl and it won't be a case of lucky bounces when they are hoisting the Lombardi trophy two Sunday's from now.  I expected GB to be favored by at least 3 points in this one, so to get them at anything less than that is a bonus for me.  In the preseason I predicted they would lose to IND in the Super Bowl, but now that Peyton is out I believe the door is open for Rodgers and company to cement their names in NFL history.  I will confidently lay the points and side with the team that I think will be this year's champion.  Prediction: Bank Green Bay Packers.

Super Bowl XLV Update

UPDATE #3: There hasn't been much movement since the last update.  The game is only a few hours away and the line is stuck at GB -3.  You will have to pay more juice to bring it down to -2.5, but you should have already grabbed them by now if that's the side you are playing.  Amazingly, the last 50 000 wagers have not changed anything.  The bookmakers have done a great job at keeping the money split on both sides.  It should be a great game and good luck to all!

UPDATE #2:  There hasn't been a lot of line movement over the weekend, but most books are currently carrying GB -3 with + odds.   You can still buy the half point to bring it down to -2.5 at regular juice.   The last 20,000 public bets have brought down the PIT favor from 55% to 51%, so we could see GB at -3 for good.  This is a little surprising based on what we saw last week.  I'll continue to update line movement news as the week plays out.

UPDATE #1: Information is coming in regarding the early money on this game.  Of interest, the books basically had this game as a pick em during the PIT/NYJ game, but when NY made a comeback they opened the line at -2 to compensate for public perception.

At -2 a lot of sharps played GB to win, but when the line moved to -2.5 there was a lot of action on PIT.  There seems to be a lot of different opinions on this game and it's getting unusual action early on.  There have also been a lot of big wagers on the money line for both sides.  55% of the public still like GB to win and cover, but it will be intriguing to see how things shake out over the next 10 days.  Sharps will wait to see who the public take and where the line moves before they step back in.

Most of the 300+ prop bets should be put on the board on Thursday night or early Friday so I'll have a handful of those posted too.

Super Bowl XLV NFL Predictions: Team Props


I would not wager more than a half unit on any of these because at the end of the day they are just game props.  They are more intended for some fun for those that like a little bit extra on the games.  The Super Bowl is the most popular game to wager prop bets on so there are nearly 300+ to choose from. I am not suggesting betting on all of the ones listed below, but these are the ones that I can find some justification for.  Many of the other props available are nothing more than a blind coin flip.  These include everything from Christina Aguilera's hair color or how long she can hold a note during the anthem all the way to Fergie's halftime outfit or whether she'll dress like a Cowboys cheerleader.  They can all be found at Bodog.com.  
Team Props
1st team to enter the red zone: Green Bay Packers
This prop is pretty straight forward.  GB have had much more success during the season sustaining long drives.  
Specials
Total field goals in the game vs Washington Capitals goals vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Washington
Total TD's in the Super Bowl vs total goals in Washington Capitals vs Pittsburgh Penguins: Total Goals
As someone who watches and writes a lot about the NHL, I can confidently say that these two hockey teams have a much better chance at a high scoring affair than a Super Bowl shootout. 




Nielsen Ratings for the Super Bowl: OVER 46 
Last year's Super Bowl received a 46 rating, but this game should surpass that total.   Pittsburgh and Green Bay are arguably the two most public favorite teams in the NFL (sorry Dallas).  The ratings for the Championship games were through the roof and I expect this Super Bowl to set new records.
How many players will be arrested during Super Bowl week: UNDER .5 
Both of these teams are well coached and disciplined.  That doesn't mean that players won't be boneheads, but I'd be very surprised if someone went so far as to get arrested.  You must lay more juice to play the under, but it should be a solid play.
Who will the Super Bowl MVP thank first: God  
God is the clear-cut favorite in this category and with good reason.  God is mentioned after a Super Bowl game than any other major sporting event.  Chances are good the MVP will thank their lord and savor above all else.  Teammates would be a close second.  MVP's are quick to deflect the honor and praise those that helped them get there.
Who will the FOX announcers say has better hair - Polamalu vs Matthews: Polamalu 
This might seem like a laughable prop (and it is), but in almost every game either player has played this playoffs there has been a reference to their hair.  If this prop does become relevant, Polamalu will be the clear winner.




How many times will the FOX accouncers mention "lockout" during the game: OVER 1.5
I've done a few of the "specials" props this year and when FOX is involved, they usually go over the total.  This network isn't shy about addressing the topics of the day and the lockout will be a hot button issue.  It could very be the last NFL game played for some time and it will be something the commissioner discusses in his Super Bowl press conference.  I like the chances of them mentioning it at least twice throughout the broadcast.
How many times will Brett Favre be mentioned during the game: OVER 2.5
Considering that FOX is carrying the game, you just know that the comparisons and references to Favre will be mentioned throughout the game.   Possibilities include Rodgers finally escaping Favre's shadow by bringing his team to the Super Bowl, whether or not he wins one as Favre did, and how each of them performed in the big game.

Super Bowl XLV NFL Predictions: Player Props

I would not wager more than a half unit on any of these because at the end of the day they are just game props.  They are more intended for some extra fun for those that like a little bit extra on the games.  The Super Bowl is the most popular game to wager prop bets on so let's take a look at the early ones I like.   They can all be found at Bodog.com.  I will have more as they become released.

Playoff MVP
Rodgers 7/4
Jennings 12/1
Mendenhall 15/2

I picked the Packers to win the Super Bowl so I would go with these two guys.  Jennings has been on fire all post-season so he's a good underdog for the award.  If you are going with the Steelers my underdog pick would be Mendenhall.  Big Ben might receive the award because he was unfairly passed over for Holmes the last time they won it, but if PIT's offense is going to win the game it will be in big thanks to their running game.

Quarterbacks
Big Ben 12.5 Rushing Yards: OVER
Ben vs Rodgers Rushing Yards: Ben +7.5

Rodgers vs Ben Passing Yards: Rodgers -35.5
Rodgers vs Ben Pass Completions: Rodgers -3.5


As good as Rodgers is running the ball, I think Ben could be the more active quarterback here.  Take into consideration these factors:
Rodgers has been running more cautiously since his concussion.
Ben will have worse protection than Rodgers so he is more apt to leave the pocket and look for first downs or positive yardage. 
Rodgers will have a greater advantage in the passing game so he likely won't need to make things happen with his feet as much as Ben.  This is also a good reason to consider taking Rodgers in the passing game, despite the spread. 

Running Backs
Mendenhall vs Starks Receiving Yards: Mendenhall -5.5

As mentioned I expect GB to have more success pressuring Ben so I expect Mendenhall to be more involved in the short passing game and he will also be looked at as the check down receiver more than Starks.

Receivers
Jennings vs Wallace Receptions: Jennings -1.5

Jennings has been on fire all post-season.  I see no reason to shy away from him now..

Kickers
Will Suisham Miss a Field Goal
Yes 4/1

Will Crosby Miss a Field Goal
Yes 5/1

Crosby vs Suisham Points: Crosby -.5

Longest Successful Field Goal: Green Bay Packers

Both Suisham and Crosby have been good in the 40-49 yard range this year, but Suisham only has one successful field goal beyond 50 yards in the last 3 years.   Crosby averages five per season.  The pressure of completing a field goal is also much more amplified in the Super Bowl than any other game.  Look for both coaches to take their points when they can get them and go with the 3 instead of going for it on 4th down.  The chances of at least one of them missing a kick is worth the gamble in my opinion.   GB have also been betting moving the ball down the field this year and coming away with points from long drives.  Go with Crosby to get more points than Suisham. 

Specials
Brandon Jackson Rushing/Receiving Yards vs Carey Price Saves on Feb 6th: Carey Price

There are other specials available involving NBA players, but I don't follow basketball whatsover so I decided to go with the NHL prop.  Jackson's touches have gone way down since Starks has entered the mix and PIT are fantastic vs opposing running backs.  I'll roll with the safer bet and take goaltender Carey Price.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Conference Update

After many months of ups and downs we finally have our final two teams.   GB came through to make it another winning week, although they made it much more interesting than it had to be.  They really dominated the entire game, but give Chicago's defense credit for giving them a chance.   PIT man-handled NY in the 1st half, but also had to hang on for dear life in the 4th quarter.

I have already run the Super Bowl matchup through my system and I'll have the pick up as soon as the line is posted.  Before the season started I predicted the Colts over the Packers in the Super Bowl so I feel good that I got half of the equation right.

Thanks again for all the emails and congratulations to those who tailed some of my picks this year as it was once again another profitable season.  

Monday, January 17, 2011

AFC/NFC Championship NFL Predictions: January 23, 2011

I only have one play against the spread this weekend, but I will have full analysis for both games.  Write-ups posted soon.

Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears: GB -3
If you didn't pick a side in this game earlier in the week, you will notice that the betting odds have changed since the opening line.  Now GB is -3.5, but I still believe there is value to buy the half point in order to avoid the hook.  The line move was a little surprising because it takes a lot to move a game off a key number, but this is what happens when over 70% of the public like a side.  However, when I look at all the factors involved with this matchup it becomes very clear why GB is favored - they simply own too many advantages within the X's and O's.  In fact, as you will see GB is probably the worst matchup that CHI could have hoped for.

But before I get to why GB will win this game and cover, let's take a closer look at CHI's side of the ball.  One major area that they will own the edge in is stopping the run.  Unfortunately for them, GB have no interest in winning this battle on Sunday.  Running the ball is obviously important, but it is not a make or break factor for them.  The only other area that CHI have a clear-cut advantage is in the return game.  Devin Hester continues to create many sleepless nights for opposing special teams coaches and personnel, but it is possible to nullify him out of the game as well.  This is something GB would be wise to do because their cover units have not been good this year.  Most of this is due to the injuries they sustained throughout the year, but there is little they can do about that now.   Directional punting has eliminated Hester before and you can be sure that GB are designing schemes to make him irrelevant once again.  Even if he does create some favorable field position for CHI on Sunday, Jay Cutler and company are going to have a difficult time translating it into touchdowns.

A team like SEA might not have the capability to exploit the bone-headed tendencies of Mike Martz and Jay Culter, but GB certainly can.  In fact, GB's defense might be one of the leagues worst kept secrets at the moment.  Jay Cutler was sacked six times the last time these two teams met and look for him to be uncomfortable in the pocket once again.  Clay Matthews and company are going to bring the pain.  With defensive coordinator Dom Capers, it's hard to know exactly how they will attack CHI this time around, but they enjoyed a lot of success blitzing from the slot last time.  This is also a bad matchup for the CHI wide receivers.  Williams and Woodson have a clear edge here, so CHI will need to sustain drives on the ground with Forte/Taylor.   Unfortunately for CHI, there isn't a lot to get excited about there either.  Look for the Bears to continue using a lot of three wide receiver and two tight end sets to maximize Cutler's options.

However, I will be surprised if CHI can win this game with their offense.  They have not been good in the red zone or on third down all year long and this explains why they rank so low in points from long drives and completely plays per game.  Sooner or later deficiencies in these areas are going to catch up with them.  They certainly can't rely on GB taking 19 penalties like they did in their first meeting.    

To make matters worse, no one in the league seems to know how to attack Aaron Rodgers.   He is elusive, accurate, poised, and elite.  A deadly combination that opposing teams have no answer for.  Looking back at many of GB's losses, they are rarely the result of meltdowns from the quarterback position.  I expect CHI to take away the big play with their cover 2 scheme, but it doesn't seem to matter what teams do against GB.  Rodgers can beat the blitz, generate big plays, or sustain drives in the short passing game.  His wide receivers are excellent after the catch and Starks is a new addition that CHI didn't contend with in their previous matchups.  CHI are solid on defense and will make GB earn their points, but I'll be shocked if they can contain this offense for an entire 60 minutes. 

In the end CHI will have a chance and certainly keep this game competitive.  Playing on that slick surface has served them well this year and a fanatical crowd will be on their side, but this year's version of the Packers will prove to be too much to handle.  They own all the advantages in the critical categories linked to winning and the smart money is on them to continue that trend this weekend.  The Bears have been a nice story this year, but this is Aaron Rodgers time to shine and unlike last year, he is now complimented by a great defense.  Prediction: Bank GB -3.


New York Jets vs Pittsburgh Steelers: Skip it
One could pick either side of this game and have good justification for it.  Personally, I don't have a strong feeling either way, but here are some reasons why each team could come out on top.

First off, both teams are riding high after huge emotional wins in the divisional round.  I don't expect either team to suffer from a let down or overconfidence.  NY would seem to have the psychological advantage here because of the opponents they beat.  They can come into this game with very little pressure as they are once again the underdog road team.  However that advantage disappears when you consider how tough it is to come out of PIT with a win.  They have a great home field advantage with a rowdy crowd and tough field conditions. 

In the matchup department there isn't a lot to get excited about for either team.  Both defenses hold considerable mismatches in the air and on the ground.  Surprisingly, NY have the slight edge in the sack/pressure category, but not by a lot.  This is largely due to the fact that NY have a better offensive line, but Big Ben does a great job at fighting off defenders and making smart decisions with the ball.   Neither team is particularly good in red zone offense, but PIT have a much better red zone defense than NY.  This could prove to be a decisive factor on Sunday.  PIT has also been better on third down offense/defense this year, too.  Maybe one area that there is a clear advantage in will be in special teams.  NY should win the field position battle because they have the better return game with Brad Smith.  Meanwhile, PIT will probably be facing long fields when they receive the ball.

The PIT defense have the ability to completely take over this game as well.  Polamalu didn't look 100% last week, but if he is able to play he is able to be a difference maker.  Look for PIT's pressure packages to be less predictable in this game because he didn't play the first time around.  It could be even more dynamic if Aaron Smith can suit up and contribute some quality snaps.  NY will once again counter this with the short passing/run game, but I'm not crazy about Sanchez successfully executing this game plan for a third week in a row.  I really like the NY team as a whole, but their QB doesn't exactly inspire confidence from where I'm watching.  Another area of potential concern is the effectiveness of NY kicker Nick Folk.  If you are leaning with the Jets in this once, how much faith do you have in him if he lines up for a field goal?  

Perhaps one of the most puzzling areas of concern for PIT is points from long drives.  In the first month of the season they ranked near the bottom in this category, but I assumed it would dramatically improve once Ben returned.  Yet this wasn't the case.  During the course of the remainder of the season PIT only improved by a field goal per game.  They also didn't improve a lot in the completed plays per game area.   Both teams are pretty even here as well.   Both rank high in turnover differential and low in penalties per game.  

You will likely see a lot of analysis regarding their last matchup this week, but take it with a grain of salt.  Many will tell you that because of the way NY scored their points (return TD, safety, TD off naked bootleg), that it is improbable for them to execute these low percentage plays again.  However, this game is so evenly matched that it will come down to variance as the deciding factor.  The team that commits the least mistakes will win the game.  Of course this isn't rocket science, but considering that there aren't a lot of advantages for either side, this is the simple truth of who will win or lose.  Sometimes we can overanalyze a game and look for something that isn't there.  For this tilt, you could go with the underdog in a relatively even matchup and take the points or you can side with the home field advantage and ride the favorite.  I'll be enjoying it as a fan.  Prediction: Skip it.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Divisional Weekend Update

UPDATE #2: The Divisional weekend is in the books and more shocks continue to shake up the playoffs. 

CHI did what we expected them to do to an inferior SEA team.  The final score doesn't reflect what happened in that game, but I'm sure it gave a lot of people a scare as they almost got the back door cover.  The big upset of the day came from the NYJ/NE rivalry as NY punched them in the mouth early and often and NE never knew how to respond.  We lose the teaser as a result, but it was still a winning week as we head into championship weekend.

I should have picks up later tonight or early tomorrow depending on the opening lines. 

UPDATE: After getting hurt by a couple of the shocks in Wild Card weekend things got back on track as it was a clean sweep against the spread this week.

BAL had a great first half after capitalizing on some PIT mistakes, but in the end Joe Flacco played like the fraud I thought he was.  Home field and fresher legs took over the game in the second half and clinched the win. 

Matty "Ice" and the rest of ATL proved that they aren't quite ready for prime time.  The warning signs were there when they couldn't close out of the division against NO in week 16.  Rodgers played out of his mind and GB followed the same game plan as they used earlier in the season against ATL - spread the field and pick them apart. 

Looking ahead to tomorrow, we just need NE to win by a field goal to cash the other side of the teaser and I will be adding CHI/NE in a 7 point tease if the public push the SEA/CHI line to -9.5 or lower.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Divisional NFL Predictions: Teaser Edition

GB can be had for +8.5 or even +9 right now, but anything over a touchdown is worthwhile.  I'll be adding a 7 point teaser with CHI -2.5/NE -1.5 if the line in the SEA/CHI game drops below 10. 

6 Point Teaser
Packers +8 & Patriots -2.5

Monday, January 10, 2011

Divisional NFL Predictions: January 16, 2010

Seattle Seahawks vs Chicago Bears: Skip it
Chances are if this were any other top seed I would have no problem laying the points and rolling with the home team.  Unfortunately, SEA get to take on a CHI team that I have thought were overrated since day one.  That doesn't mean that they haven't improved during the year, but when Jay Cutler is your quarterback and Mike Martz is your offensive coordinator nothing is a sure thing. 
In any given game either one of them can produce a disastrous game and lose it all by themselves.

Yet, much like the NO/SEA game, CHI enter this tilt as heavy favorites with good reason.  To begin with, Lance Briggs will be in this game and that will add a whole new complexion for SEA that they didn't have to worry about the first time around.  In that game SEA beat the cover two look a few times for big plays and I expect them to challenge this defense deep again - especially if they see some man-to-man coverage.  Relying on the big play is not a formula for success against this CHI team.  Despite Hasselbeck's success down the field, they still averaged less than 10 yards per reception.  Another big difference will be Matt Forte's role.  He was factored out of the game plan in week 6 after his short TD run as Martz called 39 passing plays in the loss.  SEA did a great job limiting them to 13 points and 0 third down conversions.

On the other side of the ball, Lynch is riding high after one of the more memorable runs in recent playoff history, but he now has the reward of playing against one of the best run defenses in the league in less than favorable conditions.  I don't expect much success on the ground or in the air this week from SEA.  They might come out with a world of confidence because the entire team just won their version of a Super Bowl against NO.  Look for an emotional let down in what could turn out to be a blowout by the fourth quarter.  Despite their play over the last two weeks, this SEA team is still terrible in most of the critical categories.  However, one advantage they should have is causing havoc in the CHI backfield.  The offensive line has improved a lot over the season, but Cutler will need to hit his hot reads a few times in this game due to the pressure he'll see.  CHI own a significant advantage in this game, but laying 10 points is too much for my liking.  In reality, CHI should be favored by a touchdown.  If I see the line drop under 10 before kickoff, I'll include them in a 7 point teaser along with NE.  For now I'll take a pass.  Prediction: Skip it. 

New York Jets vs New England Patriots: NE -2.5
Is there any game on the board that is more difficult to figure out than this one?  Before the season started I picked NY to overtake NE for the division crown.  This was primarily due to the additions NY made in the offseason and the defense NE would be starting the season with.  After seeing what Mark Sanchez did in week one I went with NE the first time around.  The second time they met I switched back to my original stance and went with NY.  I'm not sure anybody thought NE would blow out NY the way they did, but give credit to Brady and company as they stamped their names as division champs with an emphatic exclamation point.  


Depite going 0-2 in this rivalry this season, I can't say I'm entirely surprised at how things have played out.  Belichick always seems to outperform his stats which makes it a little more difficult to interpret their matchups.  They have the ability to beat anybody in this league regardless of how bad their defense ranks or who is missing from their lineup.  As we break down this game, let's forget about all the trash talking going on in the media because it won't have any impact on the final result of this game. 

The last time these teams met, NE dismantled NY's man-to-man game plan on defense.  I don't think they will take the same approach in this one though.  Look for NY to clog up the middle of the field and put pressure on NE to win the game on the sidelines.  Unfortuantely for NY, there's no way they could have anticipated the production seen by the NE tight ends this year.  That will pose as a matchup problem for them and Mark Sanchez is going to need to do considerably more if they hope to keep up.  Last week LT showed they he isn't ready for retirement yet as he produced one of his better games of the second half of the season.  Greene has been a monumental disappointment this year based on expectations, so it's hard to tell how much of a factor he'll be in this one.  Rex doesn't have complete trust in him yet and turning the ball over is the last thing you want to do with Brady.  Weather will be a factor on Sunday, but Sanchez has proven that he can produce in less than favorable conditions.  He churned out good games against PIT and CHI on the road, so don't assume he'll have trouble with the elements.

Revis is playing top-notch football once again after playing catch-up all season long, but how much of that will be a factor when we don't even know who the number one receiver on NE is?  Cromartie struggles with quickness so he could be targeted quite a few times in the short passing game.  Getting to Brady will also be a problem because NY can no longer produce the same kind of pressure packages that they had last year.  You saw this last week as they dared IND to run the ball all game long.  If NY can't get some early success in this game, that psychological hurdle is going to seem like a mountain.  This game will be close if NE fall behind early, but even if they do NY will need to collectively play the games of their lives to have a chance at the upset.

Right now the line is hovering around -9 at most places, but like the SEA/CHI game it is an inflated number.  The public have done well betting NE all year long and if they want to go with them again they'll have to give up a few extra points on the line for it.  However, if you took one look at the X's and O's it would be hard not to go with NY.  They have the statistical edge on the ground, in the air, and the return game.  NE have the edge with third down/red zone offense, points from long drives, turnover differential, and penalties per game.  Yet how much of this will matter at kickoff?  Given everything that is involved with this matchup, I'll be teasing NE for the best chance to win.  Even if this game is tight at the end, who would you rather put your faith in?  Bill Belichik and Tom Brady or Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez?   Prediction: Tease NE.

Divisional NFL Predictions: January 15, 2010

UPDATE: GB can now be found at +3 so I have added them to the card for the week.  I like them in a teaser at anything +7.5 and over.

Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Penguins: PIT -3
When this game came on the board at -3.5 the majority of people were more than happy enough to take BAL and the hook.  It's not hard to blame them given has close most of the games have been between these two teams.  However, this isn't a normal game under normal circumstances.  Let's take a closer look at why PIT will come out on top.

To start with, Ed Reed returned to the team today and will be in the lineup on Saturday.  Aaron Smith's status remains up in the air.  If you are interested in trends, these teams are 3-3 against each other at home over the last 6 games, while PIT is 8-0 against divisional rivals in the playoffs, included 2-0 versus BAL.  PIT is also 8-0 in the third game of a season against the same team.  None of these factors will matter come game-day though.  The real story will come from the X's and O's and the fact that PIT is rested coming off a bye.

In their last 10 games, Flacco has been sacked 34 times while PIT lead the league in sacks with 48.   This area is perhaps the single biggest mismatch on the field .  BAL will counter with the short passing/running game to try and expose the zone defense, but how successful will that be?  We all see what someone like Tom Brady can do with that game plan, but is there a consensus regarding Flacco?  Personally, I'm not a big fan of him.  He has his moments and can play in this league, but he's not the guy I want with the ball and the game on the line despite what he did in week 4.   Flacco and the rest of the offense will be in tough this week against a defense without many holes.  Earlier in the year I would have said that PIT's defense is vulnerable against the pass, but they've improved in this area and actually hold the edge in the air this time around.  PIT's defense is also great in the red zone, on third down, and second in the league in turnover differential.  If BAL is going to win this game it won't be coming from long drives resulting in touchdowns.  They will need to collect their points where they can and rely on their defense to do the rest.  Is this formula good enough to win?   Don't count on it.

BAL's defense isn't as great as they were in recent years, but they can still get the job done.  They imposed their will on a rattled KC offense last week and took over the game in the second half.  Unfortunately for them, they must go on the road for the fourth week in a row against an offense that isn't phased by the bright lights of the playoffs.  Big Ben and Wallace will have their opportunities in the air and Mendenhall will do enough to keep the defense honest.  It won't be easy for PIT once they move the ball inside the 20, but they should be able to sustain more drives and control the clock better than BAL.  This could turn out to be the critical factor of the game given the age of this BAL team and how favorable the schedule is for PIT.

There is a lot of debate about how much the bye means this weekend because home teams do not have a great record against the spread in the divisional games.  Yet, if it was a factor this is the type of game where we would see it manifest.  As mentioned, this will be BAL's 4th straight road game while PIT is resting up.   BAL has great leadership so I don't expect them to roll over and die if things aren't going their way by the second half, but their will be extremely tested given the conditions.  I think the line would be -3 even if this was week 17.  PIT own some advantages on both sides of the ball and get to play at home.  Throw in the scheduling factor and I will gladly lay the points and roll with the Gold and Black.  Prediction: Bank PIT -3.


Green Bay Packers vs Atlanta Falcons: GB +3
The night game features two more teams that are squaring off in a rematch.  In the first meeting I went with ATL and it ultimately paid off.  However, this is no longer the regular season and the dynamics of the playoffs will put a whole new pressure on the home team favorites this time around.  In 2009, ATL beat everyone they should have beat, but lost 6 out of the 8 tough games they played.  This season, they found ways to win those tough games.  Now they sit as the number one seed in the NFC.  Surely this reversal of play should point to a probable win on Saturday night.  Yet, this is still a team that has yet to prove themselves come crunch time.  In week 16 ATL had the chance to show everyone that they are indeed ready for a Super Bowl run when their the rival Saints came to town, but they couldn't elevate their game and come out with a win despite having home field advantage.  They made uncharacteristic mistakes and couldn't cash in on the chances they did have.  For most that game is meaningless at this time, but for me it was a big red flag.  Aaron Rodgers and company will pose just as much of a threat as NO did, if not greater.

On paper, this promises to be another close affair, but ATL do not hold the same kind of mismatches that they did in week 12.  In fact, ATL's ranking in key areas has come down since their last meeting with GB.   Their red zone and third down defense has showed some significant weaknesses down the stretch despite their record.  They haven't been as efficient on third down offense either.  This is not good news when Aaron Rodgers is on the other side of the field.  In two playoff games thus far, Rodgers has put up gaudy offensive numbers.  Look for GB to attack ATL's defense with a lot of 4 and 5 receiver sets as they did in week 12.  It proved very successful for them as ATL played a lot of three-man rush formations.  It didn't seem to matter how many people were in coverage, Rodgers still found ways to drive down the field.  If ATL want to try that approach again look for one-week wonder James Starks to get more carries once again.  

The game plan for ATL should be similar to the one they had in week 12, too.  75% of Ryan's passes were under 10 yards in that game as they systematically picked apart the GB zone defense.  When you are firing on all cylinders and playing mistake-free football this formula works like a charm.  Yet, for their game-plan to work, Turner must have another big game for ATL.  In their first meeting he ran for over 100 yards as they kept the sticks moving and controlled the clock.  There should be opportunities for success in the run game, but I'm not sure it will be as much of a mismatch as it was earlier in the year. 

The problem with this game plan is it relies too much on smart play and discipline.  For most of the regular season this is exactly what ATL executed, but come playoff time, every play and every drive becomes that much more amplified.  They had the luxury of going through most of the season without any big expectations as they rose to prominence.  Now that they are the favorites and expected to win, the probability of mistakes and mental errors rise significantly.  We saw a hint of this in week 16, and I expect a similar script to play out this weekend.   

In the final analysis, both teams matchup evenly in many areas.  Across the board they are pretty evenly ranked in red zone/third down offense, points from long drives, completed plays per game, turnover differential, penalties per game, and the line of scrimmage.  ATL own the edge on the ground, but GB hold a significant edge in the air.  Ryan has a stellar record at home, but this game is for much different stakes.  I need more than home field advantage to put my faith in ATL and at the end of the day I don't think it will be enough of a factor.  I picked GB to make it to the Super Bowl this year and I don't see enough reasons to change my mind at this point.  Prediction: Bank GB +3.
 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wild Card Update

UPDATE #2: Sunday came to an early end as KC played like many expected them to.  Undisciplined play, bad coaching, and lack of ball protection turned a close game at halftime into a blowout.   It's not like KC didn't have their chances though.  The Charles fumble and failed fourth down attempt in the first half kept BAL in the game.  Good teams overcome these setbacks, but instead KC imploded. 

I haven't had a bad week like this since week 4 so I'm not going to change anything going into next week.  Sometimes things just don't work out as expected.  I'll have early picks up for the Divisional weekend up later tonight or tomorrow if I see an early line worth jumping on. 

UPDATE: Saturday is in the books and it was the day of the upsets.   I knew that the NO/SEA line was inflated, but I didn't really believe SEA could win the game outright.  That game will go down as one of the great upsets in recent history as a 7-9 team eliminates the defending Super Bowl champs.  Give credit to SEA for overcoming an early 10 point deficit and riding the electric home crowd.  The NO defensive backs got caught cheating numerous times and blew assignment after assignment.  There was some late action from the pros on SEA, but the public went heavy on NO. 

I wish I could say that the Colts fans were as enthusiastic as those in SEA because they did their usual ho-hum 'Peyton will win it in the end' routine, but they left too much time on the clock and couldn't make a stop in the second half if their lives depended on it.   The game was interesting from the standpoint that it reflected how the teams played earlier in the season rather than down the stretch.  NY committed to the run in the second half and IND suddenly couldn't contain them.  LT looked good, but the IND backs did not.  It was if the last month of the season didn't happen.

This sets us up for a rematch between NY and NE and the early line is already set at -9.   I expect KC's home crowd to have a similar impact on the game as SEA's did and at +3.5, I might make a smaller play on that.  A couple side notes for GB, too.  When Rodgers throws 2 TD's in a game they are 8-0 this season, and they haven't trailed by more than 7 points all year long.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wild Card NFL Predictions: Player Props of the Week

I would not wager more than a half unit on any of these because at the end of the day they are just game props.  They are more intended for some extra fun for those that like a little bit extra on the games.  With that said, let's take a look at the game props I like for the 1st week of the playoffs.   They can all be found at Bodog.com.


Charles 67.5 Rushing Yards: OVER
Brees 295.5 Passing Yards: OVER
Manning 275.5 Passing Yards: OVER

Bonus props
Most rushing yards in Wild Card round: Charles 5.5 to 1
Coach of the Year: Belichick 2 to 1

WIld Card NFL Predictions: Bonus Teaser

10 Point Teaser
Saints -.5 & Colts +7.5 & Packers +13

Monday, January 3, 2011

Wild Card NFL Predictions: January 9, 2011

As of now the public and the pros are unanimously going with BAL, but I like KC and the points in this one.  I'll be waiting until later in the week to get a better line than +2.5.  The GB/PHI game is also a toss up, but PHI is favored due to home field advantage so I would rather take GB in a teaser than either team in a standard play. 

Baltimore Ravens vs Kansas City Chiefs
This is a matchup that has me scratching my head.  Not because I'm not sure which side I like, but because everybody in the world seems to like BAL to win this game pretty easily.  Am I missing something?  Does BAL have the same dominating defense of years past?  Is Joe Flacco suddenly an elite QB?  Is Ray Rice running like he did last year?   I think this will be a very close game, and KC could win it outright.  People must have forgotten how much home field advantage can mean come playoff time.  Arrowhead stadium is one of the loudest in the league when their team is competitive and there is nothing in my system that suggests they won't be on Sunday. 

If you are one of those people that is so high on BAL, show me where they have a big edge in this game.  KC have the 31st ranked red zone defense, but BAL only rank 22nd in red zone offense.  Almost every other meaningful category comes out even.  Neither team owns a large advantage running or passing the ball.  Both average about the same amount of completed plays per game, points from long drives, turnover differential, penalties per game, and third down offense/defense.  I am guessing the public is persuaded by what they've seen recently.  KC played their starters against OAK but got dominated on the scoreboard.  That isn't how they wanted to enter the post-season, but let's not forget that the game meant very little for KC.  Half of them probably didn't even want to be on the field.  Coming into this game only 9 of the 22 KC starters have playoff experience compared with 19 of 22 on the BAL side, but this lack of experience will be much more noticeable on the road than it will be at home.  I'm a little surprised that KC has been given the clear underdog status, but I'm more than happy to add them in a teaser.  Prediction: Tease KC +9.

Green Bay Packers vs Philadelphia Eagles
In what has to be the most compelling matchup of the weekend is the GB/PHI game.  Much like week one, I'm not entirely sure which team will come out on top because both have the capability to go a long, long way this post-season.   On the surface many people will like GB+3 given PHI's recent struggles, but there are clear advantages for both teams.  

For GB, it starts with Aaron Rodgers for obvious reasons.  He has manufactured points and wins all year long without much of a running game to speak of.  PHI's pass rush has generated sacks and pressures all year, but they don't get to the QB as often as they'd like.  To live and die with the blitz you need good cover corners and safeties that play responsibly.  Unfortuantely for PHI, they only have half of the equation.  Samuel is an elite ball-hawk, but on the other side they don't know who to play as a compliment.  Patterson has struggled a lot in December and was recently benched in favor of nickel corner Hansen.  Neither one is going to scare Rodgers and both will be on the field against a lot of three and four receiver sets.  Mikell is ok at safety, but PHI lost rookie standout Nate Allen.  Coleman has replaced him, but he bites on too many plays and peeks into the back field too often.  PHI also rank dead last in red zone defense and 18th on third down.  GB have been in the top 10 in both categories all season long.  

Therefore the major question in this game is will Vick and company put up enough points to keep up with Rodgers?  It seems like a funny question to ask of the second highest scoring offense in the league, but there are very good reasons to wonder how PHI's offense will do in this game.  To start with, Vick has not been making as many good decisions with the ball as his hype would indicate.  As the pressure revved up down the stretch he started turning the ball over more, running after 1-2 progressions, and not staying in the pocket.  Part of this has to do with bad protection from the offensive line.  McGlynn has filled in adequately at center this season, but he has been responsible for far too many communication problems with adjustments and blitz pickups.  None of this is good news considering what stands on the other side of them this Sunday.  Mathews and his pals are likely to cause a lot of havoc in the backfield and if PHI don't get a first half lead coach Reid will likely go pass-happy to try and get it back.  They would be wise to give the ball to McCoy as many times as possible, but that might be asking too much.  When the pressure is on Reid and Vick digress and rely on their instincts.  


The last glaring problem for PHI is that they rank 30th in the league in penalties per game.  Therefore if things don't go as scripted for them the wheels on this Vick ride could come spinning off rather quickly.  Having home field will help a lot and PHI usually do well in the playoffs, but they might be facing their toughest test on Sunday.  In fact, I might even go as far to say that the winner of this game will be playing in the Super Bowl, but for now I'm content to take GB in a teaser.  Prediction: Tease GB +9. 

Wild Card NFL Predictions: January 8, 2011

Right now you can get IND at -2.5, but I like them up to -3.   NO should be favored big in their game for obvious reasons, but the current line is inflated so I'll be laying off that game.  I'll have full write-ups for both games soon.

New York Jets vs Indianapolis Colts: IND -2.5
This game is the one clear-cut matchup where I like a side.  This is not a good situation for NY to be in because their defense is not playing as well as they did last year.  Peyton eventually figured out what Ryan was trying to do and put the game away in the second half.  The other bad news for NY is that IND has finally discovered a running game and have played much better against it over the last few weeks.  IND is on a four game winning streak, but has anybody noticed?   I picked them to win the Super Bowl at the start of the season, and I know that nobody wants to play them at this time of year.

Statistically, NY have the edge on the ground, but as I mentioned it might not be as much of a factor as it would have earlier in the year.  LT is clearly not the same runner that he was in the first half of the year and Greene hasn't proven that he can reliably carry the ball without fumbling yet.  If NY want to win this game they will need to do so on the arm of Mark Sanchez.  How many people are confident he can do that?  Ok so the talent might be there, but is the consistency?  I do not see NY having a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter which means that Sanchez is going to have to make plays in a do-or-die situation in a hostile environment.  I'm not sure about you, but that thought doesn't inspire confidence from me. 

This doesn't mean I think IND will roll over them.  Outside of Freeney and Mathis, IND haven't been able to get to the QB as much as previous seasons.  They also don't have as good of a turnover ratio as they normally do.  However, IND have the advantage in almost every other key category.   This NY defense has looked abysmal many times this year and even in the big games.  This unit walked into Chicago a couple weeks ago in need of a win and they allow Cutler to put up four touchdowns in the air.   Despite the injuries this year, Peyton has managed to keep his offense near the top in red zone/third down offense, points per game from long drives, and completed plays per game.  IND is also a very disciplined team.  They rank 5th in the league in penalties per game and these small details become very important come playoff time.  NY is 24th in the NFL with penalties, are horrible in the red zone, and average on third down.   Championship teams are rarely this bad in these categories.   We are once again hearing a lot of big talk from Ryan about winning this game and going all the way, but too bad for him and their fans we've heard it all last year.  Prediction: Bank IND -2.5.

New Orleans Saints vs Seattle Seahawks
Yes ladies and gentlemen, a nine-loss team is hosting a playoff game.  We'll leave that debate to the pundits, but the relevant stat for us is how SEA lost those games.  In every single one of them they lost by double-digit points.  Many people will look at this matchup and assume the same will happen as the defending Super Bowl champs come to town.  However, let's take a closer look so I can state why I won't be adding this game to my weekly card.
First of all, no one knows what to expect from the Seahawks.  Any so-called expert that says they do is lying.  STL was clearly the better team this year, but they found out that the 12th Man of SEA is a serious factor.  I'm not going to say SEA win this game because it's clear they are outmatched on paper, but they can definitely be disruptive enough to make it interesting for a while.  The longer SEA is within a score, the louder this stadium will become.  

No one knows yet who will start at QB for SEA, but I'm not sure it will make any difference.  If Hasselbeck was that much of an upgrade over Whitehurst, this game wouldn't be on the board yet.  Instead Vegas released their odds for this game at the same time as the rest.  At the time I'm writing this, 69% of the public are still laying the 10.5 points and riding the favorite.  If it dropped below 10 I'd consider it, but to hope for an 11 point win from the road team in the playoffs is asking a lot - even if it is the lowly Seahawks.  Once again, the only clear advantage SEA will have will be on special teams, but will good field position be good enough to cover?  Possibly.  A good return or stop on a kickoff or punt return invigorates the crowd.  Heck if Washington returns one for a score we might have a ball game.   

Unfortunately for SEA fans, hoping for a special teams bonanza is wishful thinking given who the opponent is.  Brees has thrown more picks than usual this year, but he will have more than enough opportunities to build up a nice lead this week.  Their offensive line does a good job and with Bush back in the fold they are able to scheme pre-snap at full capacity.  Defensively they should be able to create a couple turnovers and blitz at will.  The SEA running game is a threat to nobody so look for Gregg Williams to dial up some exotic looks for the QB.  

Both teams have pretty even stats in their red zone offenses/defenses, but a significant mismatch will be on third down.  It's not a coincidence that most of the playoff teams rank high in these areas, but SEA are in the bottom third on both sides of the ball.  Staying on and getting off the field will be a large storyline on Saturday.   This stat also helps explain why NO have twice as many points per game from long drives than SEA this year.   They also average 10 more completed plays per game - critical to dictating play and winning the time of possession.   I really like NO to win this game along with the rest of the world, but giving up 10.5 points is way too much.  Prediction: Skip it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Week 17 Update

UPDATE #2: Sam Bradford showed that he's not quite ready for prime time yet, but he didn't get much help from his supporting cast.  Give credit to the lowly Seahawks for pulling out an ugly win.  Week 17 was an ugly week all around for a lot of people - myself included.  Thankfully, rosters and motivation return to normal next week in what should be an exciting week of sudden elimination.

UPDATE #1: The regular season is almost in the books.  Things started off good with OAK, but it soon turned sour as CHI decided to give GB a go and try to knock them out of the playoffs.  I'm pretty shocked they would leave their starters in the entire game and they are lucky to not walk away with any significant injuries.  IND prevailed on the last drive to give us a push on the teaser.  NYG decided to give us the loss by letting Grossman score a garbage TD at the end of the game.

The public consensus picks had another losing day, but it is a fitting end to what was another horrible season for the squares.  The Hilton consensus picks had a big day and depending on the night game, they might end the season above 50%.

I have STL tonight in what should be a compelling game, even if it is a battle of the bottom-dwellers.

I will have my full season review up during the week and I'll have playoff picks posted for Wild Card weekend tomorrow.  I might include write-ups for all the games even if I don't have a play on them.

It was my fifth straight profitable season and thanks once again for all the emails.   Let's keep it going for the playoffs....