Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Washington Redskins vs Buffalo Bills: BUF +2.5 (Pinnacle)

Coaches

This is not a popular pick if you're award of coaching trends for the NFL preseason.  Mike Shanahan is one of the most successful preseason coaches in recent memory.  He is 47-29 SU, 12-5 SU in week 1, and 42-32-2 ATS.  In 2011 he was 3-1 SU.  It's very clear that he likes to get his guys quality reps and successful results. On the flip side Chan Gailey is almost the polar opposite.  With Buffalo he is 3-5 SU, 0-2 in week 1, and 1-3 SU in 2011. 

Markets

The Bills opened as 2 point favorites, but 56% of the bets have come in on the Redskins.  These kind of line moves are not uncommon in the preseason and don't be surprised if the line moves more before game time.  Also, if we wait, we could see a +3 on the board before kickoff.  '3' is obviously a key number in football, but keep in mind that many coaches decide to go for two near the end of a game to avoid overtime.  This makes '1' and '2' much more important numbers in NFLX play.

While I do respect certain trends (especially in the preseason), I don't blindly follow them if the analysis doesn't back it up.  As it stands now I see more reasons to like Buffalo in this matchup. 

Quarterbacks

To begin with, I don't like the QB rotation for the Skins.  The Bills have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL and they also boast some of the best depth at the position.  Washington has had issues at O-line dating back to last year and they've already done significant shuffling there during training camp.  This is not an ideal situation when you have a high prized rookie starting under center.  Robert Griffin III and the starters are slated to get between 12-20 snaps before they make way for the second team.  Shanahan has thrown everything and the kitchen sink at him in camp to see what he can handle.  I expect him to have some designed rollouts and bootlegs to nullify some pressure.

After that Rex Grossman will take over and try his best with the 2nd unit, although he'll be without Josh Morgan and Tim Hightower.  He knows the offense well so this should be their best chance to secure a lead.  Helu and Royster are battling things out at the RB position and someone at WR is going to need to step up and show the staff they have something worthwhile at the position.  Kirk Cousins slipped in the draft, but he'll come in for mop-up duty in the second half. Johnathan Crompton was a practice squad player last year so don't expect much out of him.

For the Bills, I really like the veteran depth that Buffalo have at the QB position so there will be some inspired effort here.  Beyond Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen and Vince "Dream Team" Young are battling for backup duties - and likely a job.  Even Brad Smith has been getting work at QB at camp.  Collectively, each unit should have a legitimate chance to put up some points.  CJ Spiller and Tashard Choice are decent options behind Fred Jackson and there is open competition at the WR spot too.

Mismatch


On defense there are big camp battles all along the D-line thanks to some great depth.  We'll get our first look at the next "Revis" in first round pick Stephon Gilmore.  New defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt is making his mark on this defense and implementing a simplified 4-3 scheme.   They'll get to go up against two rookie QB's and a questionable O-line.  This group has a chance to be much improved this year and I expect them to come out on top vs this Redskins offense.

Pick

There is a nice buzz of optimistic hype in Buffalo this year and they feel like they are on the cusp of a winning program.  I like the depth on both sides of the ball and I'll take the points on the home team.

NFL Pick: BUF +2.5.

Green Bay Packers vs San Diego Chargers: UNDER 38 (5Dimes)

Coaches

There has been a lot a buzz about Mike McCarthy's preseason record with 'overs'.  Thus far, he is 19-5 to the over in preseason play which is certainly going to raise eyebrows for anyone looking for an edge.  However, the question must be asked - what is behind this trend?  I'm not sure anyone can pinpoint the answer, but let's agree that Matt Flynn's stellar play in a QB-friendly offense has had something to do with it.  Norv Turner is the other coach in this equation and he also boasts an impressive record on totals.  To date, he has a lifetime 36-20 record on the 'over'.

Markets

There are no surprises here.  Given the high-profile nature of these offenses and track records of both coaches, 68% of the early bets have come in on the over.  The line opened at 36.5 and it's crossed the 37 all the way up to 38 at some places. 

Quarterbacks

Unlike in years past, neither of these teams have quality depth at the QB position.  Matt Flynn set sail for Seattle, Charlie Whitehurst is out with a knee injury, and Kyle Boller retired.  Billy Volak said thanks, but no thanks to a contract offer.  

This leaves the Packers with Graham Harrell and BJ Coleman.  Pat Fitzmaurice said it best when he said " “Packer fans had better pray for Rodgers' good health.”  Coleman is a developmental late round pick facing the typical ups and downs.

The Chargers have turned to Kevin O'Connell to fill in for temporary backup duties.  This will be his 5th NFL team since 2008 and serves as nothing more than a warm body.  The QB to keep an eye on is
undrafted rookie Jarrett Lee.  San Diego feels like he's a keeper so look for him to get a lot of reps on Thursday.

Together, this bunch doesn't inspire very much confidence in the offense department.  Unless Rodgers and Rivers give them a big head start - I find it hard to believe the backups are going to go out there and put on a show.

Injuries

I have a feeling that Mike McCarthy is just going to be happy to get out of this game healthy.  19 players missed practice on Tuesday and 17 of them have been ruled out of the game.  This list includes Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley is listed as questionable.  Yet, the biggest loss could be LT Marshall Newhouse.  Given the importance of Aaron Rodgers' health, his blind side is the last position you want to be worrying about in an exhibition game.  McCarthy could pull his starters earlier than usual.

The Chargers have protection concerns of their own.  LT Jared Gaither has had back spasms and presents a challenge for coaches on Rivers blind side.

Defense

Both of these teams know what they have on offense, but this isn't the area that either team is looking to improve.  Instead, both teams are making a significant attempt to shore up the defense.  Last year both units were abysmal.  Neither team could get off the field on 3rd down in 2011 and GB couldn't pressure the QB or slow down teams in the air.  Both teams addressed this area in the draft and San Diego elevated John Pagano to defensive coordinator.   Pagano has simplified the scheme and focused the players on technique and execution.  Don't be surprised if both defenses have success against O-lines that lack depth and QB's that lack quality.

Pick

My main concern here comes with the first teamers.  After that this game should take on a much more scrimmage feel.  McCarthy could turn to the run a bit more in order to give his depleted club a chance to get off the field and he'll pull Rodgers at the first sign of problems on the O-line.  San Diego is excited to put their revamped (and healthy) offense to the test, but it will get ugly after Rivers takes to the sidelines.  I expect both defenses to win the day after the first quarter.

NFL Pick: UNDER 38

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Philadelphia Eagles: PHI +1 (Bodog)

Coaches

This prediction completes my trio of anti-trend picks for the day.  Mike Tomlin is another preseason all-star.  He is 16-5 SU, 4-2 SU in week 1, and 13-8 ATS in his preseason tenure.  On the other end of the spectrum we have Andy Reid who has traditionally been NFLX fade material.  He is 21-31 SU, 6-8 SU in week 1, and 22-28-ATS. 

However, before you stop reading, consider that Andy Reid was 3-1 SU in 2011 and he is coming back to coach this game after his son tragically died earlier this week.  Old trends are not going to apply to this game for a couple of reasons.  First, he carries a great amount of respect from his players and fellow coaches. He's not only been a good coach on the field, but he's been an excellent coach off the field as well.  His players will want to play well for him - especially in front of the home crowd.  Secondly, Reid has had an extra sense of urgency over the last couple of years.  He is very much on the hot seat this seat after falling short of the hype in 2011.  A good start to the year is something of a priority this season.

Markets

The Eagles opened up at -3, but bets came flying in on the Steelers.  This prompted a line move to 'pick em'.  However, since the untimely death of Reid's son we've seen much more balanced action.   If you shop around you can find a +1 like I've done at Bodog, but I'd feel fine taking Philly at 'pick em' as well.

Quarterbacks

Normally, it would be foolish to fade a team that had the likes of Big Ben, Byron Leftwich, and Charlie Batch in the rotation.  All of these guys know the system and should have little trouble executing the game plan.  The only problem?  Mike Tomlin has already said he knows what he has with those guys and that 4th string QB Jarred Johnson will get 'extended' playing time in the 2nd half.  Big Ben has also dealt with some minor nagging injuries in camp to his shoulder and ankle.  He won't be on the field longer than a series or two.

For the Eagles, each QB will play a quarter.  Vick in the first, Kafka in the second, Foles in the third, and Edwards in the 4th.  Edwards has the most motivation as he's on the outside looking in.  It's not easy to pick up this offense this quickly, but he brings experience to the table.  Kafka has had good reviews from camp and the backup position is his to lose.  I like how this group matches up with the Steelers.

Missing Pieces

One look at the Eagles injury report and one might get concerned about their ability to rush the passer.  Babin, Cole, and Patterson are on the sidelines, but this is going to give Philly a chance to see what first rounder Fletcher Cox has in store for 2012.  In fact, the Eagles boast some of the best depth along the D-line in the entire NFL.  This is particulary important given the current O-line situation in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers are starting David DeCastro and Mike Adams on the line - both rookies.  In addition, Pittsburgh is also without Mike Wallace (holdout) and Rashard Mendenhall (injury).   Heath Miller is also questionable for Thursday.  Tomlin has the 5th oldest starting lineup in the NFL and 9 players on the roster are over 30.  Given his statements about his QB rotation and decision to start the rookies on the O-line, I get the feel that he is focused more on evaluation in this matchup rather than results.

Pick

Under normal circumstances I would either play Pittsburgh or take a pass in this matchup.  However, I get the sense that Eagles have something to prove and extra motivation, while the Steelers are in cruise control.  Philadelphia's team depth on both sides of the ball will also be on display.

NFL Pick: PHI +1

Denver Broncos vs Chicago Bears: CHI -2.5 (5Dimes)

Coaches

There is nothing remarkable about either coach in preseason play.  John Fox is 21-19 SU, 6-4 SU in week 1, 18-21-1 ATS, and 2-2 SU in 2011.  Lovie Smith 16-17 SU, 4-5 in week 1, 15-17-1 ATS, and 2-2 SU in 2011.

Markets

This game opened up -2.5 for Chicago and we've seen a slight move towards the favorite.  You can shop around or lay a bit more juice for the -2.5 or ride -3 at even odds.  Either choice is fine, but I would rather not lay the '3' if the price is right.  Two out of every three bets has come in on the Bears thus far.

Quarterbacks

I don't think any other game is more anticipated than this one. All eyes will be on Peyton Manning as he will see his first official game action since returning from his multiple neck surgeries.  He's anxious to get that first hit out of the way, but be careful what you wish for Peyton. In all seriousness, it will be fun to see where he's at in his recovery, but don't expect to see the Peyton of old.  He will be smart and calculated with his throws and shouldn't see more than a quarter of action.

Behind Manning is where things get interesting for the Broncos. Caleb Hanie was supposed to be the number two QB, but they are hoping for anybody to step up and claim the job. So far he has struggled in camp - especially with the pass rush.  Brock Osweiler is someone they peg as the QB of the future and both will battle it out in the later quarters.  Adam Weber rounds out the rotation and hopes to improve upon his practice squad status of a year ago.  In sum, we have a whole bunch of mediocrity here with Osweiler the only guy with any real potential.

On the flip side we have some nice options from the Bears. Cutler is a happy camper after the changes they made in the offseason.  Extra attention is being paid to the O-line and the scheme will be much more QB-friendly.  Gone are the ill-advised deep drops from Mike Martz and in comes Mike Tice to handle the offense. Brandon Marshall will give him a legit #1 WR option.

After that we have some experience at the backup position with Jason Campbell and Josh McCown.  Campbell actually looked like an improved player last year before his season was cut short by injury.  He could be the best backup QB in the entire NFL.  Look for him to come out with something to prove in the preseason opener.  McCown isn't anyone to get excited about, but it's always a plus to have an experienced guy moving the chains in the second half.  Matt Blanchard is a practice squad guy who could mop things up in the 4th.  Together, there is a big advantage for Chicago under center.

Roster

Urlacher has been ruled out for the Bears and it's unsure how much time a guy like Julius Peppers will get.  The Broncos have roster concerns of their own.  Demaryius Thomas and Ronnie Hellman are both questionable to play.  Eric Decker is coming off a minor injury so his playing time could be monitored as well. 

Quarterback is not the only position where I like the depth for Chicago.  They made a nice offseason signing when they brought in Michael Bush to handcuff Matt Forte.  The Bears also boast a wide variety of decent receiving options on the outside.  Keep an eye on Ashlon Jeffery.  Offensively, there are more than enough weapons on the depth chart to put up some points.

I do like the addition of Del Rio on defense and I think the Broncos have a chance to do some damage from that side of the ball. In fact they have a decent chance to put up more points than the offense after Peyton's work is done. They will get an extra boost if DJ Williams suits up. He's a game-time decision. 

Pick

For the Broncos, I think they will be happy if Manning stays upright and gets in some quality reps.  He is in a new environment with a whole new set of receivers and coaches for the first time in his career.  Peyton is more interested in positive baby steps than making a statement to the league. 

NFL Pick: CHI -2.5