Tuesday, September 4, 2012

I've probably sent out half a dozen different links over the last couple of months about the benefits of teaser strategies. The latest one sums up the approach nicely and can be read here. If you aren't familiar with these bets, or question their popularity, just watch the point spreads each week and keep an eye on spreads around the key teaser numbers of '1' and '9'. This prevents bettors from teasing teams through the '3' and the '7'. 

For Week 1, sharp sportsbooks like 5Dimes and Pinnacle are keeping the following teams out of the "teaser window" by adjusting the juice rather than the number. They include Eagles -9, Buccaneers +1, Steelers +1, and until today, Lions -9 and Saints -9.  However, if you shop around or stay patient, these teams are prime candidates for a 'tease'.

With that, these are the teaser options I like for Week 1. I might be adding more as the week unfolds.

UPDATE: Last pick of the week is another teaser.

New Orleans Saints -1.5 & Baltimore Ravens -.5

Today we got news that the bountygate decisions have been reversed in an appeal.  Money immediately went to the window and added onto the Saints. We've seen some whacky line movement on this game as the original -9.5 got bet down to -7 (for who knows what stupid reason), but now it's come off the 7 and headed back out of the teaser window.  By adding New Orleans into a third teaser I'm essentially putting down 6 units on them which registers as a big play, but it reflects my degree of confidence that they win this game straight up.  Will Smith is reportedly going to play, but Jonathan Vilma will sit.

The Ravens are a team that I've been contemplating for over two weeks.  Part of me wanted to take them on the spread, but my system has them graded out as 5 point favorites and 6 point favorites after factoring in the injuries. This makes them a nice fit for a teaser.

Breaking down this matchup I see three main advantages for the Ravens.

Multifaceted

Let me go on the record for the 100th time - I'm not a big fan of Joe Flacco.  I think the kid is good, but he's not great.  Cam Cameron and company are looking to change that this year by expanding Flacco's influence in the offense, but for now I'd need to see it for an entire year before I'm sold.  It's nice to see him rip it up in the no-huddle in the preseason, but let's not get carried away yet.

On the bright side, he has Ray Rice, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta as safety valves.  The O-line is solid, but nothing spectacular so it's vital to have options underneath and out of the backfield when defenses tighten up.  I don't expect to see a lot of two-tight end or three-receiver sets, but that could change this year.  Either way, I like the ability of this Ravens offense to attack you in a multitude of ways.

Mike Zimmer has coached up an underrated defense and put them on the rise in the NFC North.  The issue in this game is they'll be without their best pass rusher Carlos Dunlap.  On top of that, their secondary comes into the season with questions.  Dre Kirkpatrick was taken to be the future, but he's on the shelf.  Nate Clements, Terence Newman, Leon Hall, and Pacman Jones are other names on the list.

Really?  That's a lot of former first round talent that never really lived up to their potential.  A lot of these guys also missed significant time in training camp/preseason. I think the D-line has a nice rotation and there is potential at linebacker, but who is going to step up and be the leader here?  Is anyone going to be a game-changer?  The "collective effort" routine leaves me skeptical this time around.

More Protection Issues

On Wednesday night we all saw what a bad interior O-line looked like. Tony Romo was rushed repeatedly and although it didn't change the outcome of the game or result in a bunch of sacks, it was a factor that Romo had to adjust to.  There was also an inordinate amount of pre-snap penalties.

The situation could be even worse in Cincy. The starting center Kyle Cook was lost and guess who replaced him?  Nobody.  That was the one position where the Bengals didn't have any sort of reliable depth.  They signed Jeff Faine off the street and he has some knowledge of Gruden's offense, but let's not kid ourselves.  Inserting a center from the waiver wire at this point of the season is a cause for concern.

As if that wasn't bad enough they are starting a rookie at right guard and the replacement for Andrew Whitworth leaves a lot to be desired.  AJ Green is a fantastic weapon and Jermaine Gresham has big potential, but the downfield passing game could be compromised with these O-line issues.

Andy Dalton played way above expectations last year and has great confidence, but he needs to do more than one big preseason pass to prove he has the arm strength to stretch a defense. According to Football Outsiders, most of his problems last year came when he threw outside the numbers.  Expect to see Gruden call more quick-step drops and rollouts to compensate for the O-line issues and lack of arm strength.

I'm not saying the Ravens defense is going to dominate this game because I have serious questions on that side of the ball. There's no Terrrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnson is gone, and Ray Lewis lost weight so he didn't have to come off the field in nickel situations (even though he should).  I expect teams to take advantage of these issues, but not Cincinnati.

Haloti Ngata is going to be a big load to deal with up front and should be able to free up a lot of space to stop the run and blitz if needed. The secondary got torched early in the preseason, but don't expect to see a repeat of that in this game.  With some game-planning and a full lineup I expect this group to be just fine, if not very good.

Prime-Time Lights

If there's one significant problem I have with the Bengals is that they didn't win a single big game last year.  What was their record vs playoff teams in 2011?  0 and 3000?  Someone is going to have to show me how they will take that next step this year.

With a depleted O-line and best pass rusher on the injured list, I don't see it happening in Week 1.  There weren't any significant free agency signings to get excited about and I'm not sure Kevin Zeitler and Mohamed Sanu are going to take the team to new heights this year, either.

They might get a backdoor cover or keep it tighter than it should be, but winning this game straight up?  I'd say slim to no chance.

NFL Pick: NO -1.5 & BAL -.5

New Orleans Saints -1 & Philadelphia Eagles -2.5

I have a full write-up on the Eagles/Browns matchup here.

For the other matchup, there's a few key advantages I like in favor for the Saints.

Home Field Advantage

For the most part, I grade home field advantage a bit less early in the year compared to later, but there are exceptions. The Saints have arguably the best home field advantage in the NFL and it should be amplified on Sunday because it's the home opener, they enter the season with a chip on their shoulder, and replacement referees should favor heavy passing teams at home..

Pick Your Poison

The Redskins front seven is pretty solid (especially at linebacker), but the questions surround the secondary. Jim Haslett is a high stakes gambler and guys like DeAngelo Hall and Cedric Griffen can be high risk, high reward. Hall was burned repeatedly last year and single-handedly cost them a couple games. Cedric Griffen is a better zone player, which is something Drew Brees can pick apart.

I fully expect Brees to take advantage of this group given his ridiculous set of weapons at his disposal. Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram, and Pierre Thomas is as good as any backfield in the league, and Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson, and Lance Moore can hurt you from anywhere on the field.  Haslett would be wise to tone down his aggressive scheme against these guys, but it's not a question of how to stop them, but if they can contain them.

Welcome to the NFL Rookie

RG3 opened some eyes with his impressive touchdown scoring drive in Week 1 of the preseason, but he followed it up with some very uneven play in the subsequent games. The good news for him is he won't be facing the New York Giants version of Steve Spagnuolo's defense. The Saints simply don't have the personnel to rush four and leave seven in zone coverage.

Complicating matters is the health of the starters. Curtis Lofton and Jabari Greer are on pace to play, but both have injuries that tend to linger (high ankle sprain and groin).  David Hawthorne might play too, but he's more on the "questionable" side.

The bad news for RG3 is the fact that coach Spags is bringing a significantly more balanced and shrewd scheme to the table. In previous seasons defensive coordinator Gregg Williams deployed a much more aggressive approach that put too much pressure on the cornerbacks.

Instead, Spags will pick his spots where to blitz, which will leave RG3 throwing into zone coverages. I don't think the receiving options are good enough to bail the rookie out and it's a tough assignment to take on for your first career NFL start.

Compounding the problem for RG3 is the very real possibility that the Saints carry a lead into the second half. This is where a coach like Spags excels. You can expect to see a lot of confusing looks and pressure coming from unorthodox places which could have RG3 forcing balls in all the wrong places.

I realize this is the NFL, a new season, and anything can happen, but let's get real here. The Washington Redskins are going to need a long list of improbable events to happen for them to pull off the upset. That's something I'm willing to bet against.

NFL Pick: NO -1 & PHI -2.5.

New Orleans Saints -1 & Detroit Lions -1

I really wanted to pair the Lions with a tease on the Chiefs, but I can't pull the trigger with the injuries on defense and no Hali. Instead I'll double up on the favorable line move with the Saints.

As for Detroit vs St Louis... it's pretty dark in the room when you seem like the only one supporting a team, but I maintain the Rams will be much improved in 2012.  Having said that, Week 1 is not a matchup that favors their strengths. The current -7 line is where I thought it should be to begin with - and also a perfect spot for a teaser.

Pressure

A big problem for the Rams in 2011 was their pass protection. Those questions linger this year with questions at LG, RT, and to a lesser extent, LT. Week 1 will mark the first time they play together as a unit. That's not what you want when guys like Cliff Avril, Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanen Bosch, and Nick Fairley on the other side.

Corey Williams and Willie Young are nothing to sneeze at either as this line comes at you in waves. Sam Bradford has to prove he's improved with his decision-making and getting the ball out quicker for success. They'll also rely heavily on the run game to nullify the rush.

Offensive Philosophy?

I think the Rams receivers are an underrated group. Danny Amendola is a reliable route-runner and pass catcher, Brandon Gibson has potential, and Steve Smith might regain his form. There is also hope on the horizon with their youth movement - Lance Kendricks, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, and Austin Pettis.  They have some high hopes for Steven Jackson, Isaiah Pead, and Daryl Richardson out of the backfield, too.

The problem is Jeff Fisher wants to have a run-heavy attack and that kind of philosophy might not work against the high-flying scoring machine in Detroit.  In order for the Rams to win this game straight up, they'll need their defense to limit what the Lions do on offense.

Up front, Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, and Chris Long can do some damage. This will be their best hope in slowing down the Lions. James Laurinaitis is a game-changer at the next level, and Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins can shut things down at the back. That's the good news.

The bad news is their depth - especially in the secondary. After the starters, who starts in the nickel and dime packages?  The Lions love to spread you out and pick you apart. Not many people talk about this, but Mathew Stafford threw for 5000 yards last year. Calvin Johnson is uncoverable.  Brandon Pettigrew is primed for a big year and complemented by Tony Scheffler. Nate Burleson and Titus Young can take advantage of favorable matchups. The running game is bleak, but Kevin Smith can mange his role in spot-duty while Mikel Leshoure sits out with a suspension.

The offense doesn't rely on dozens of trickeration formations to confuse you. For the most part, they line up and just beat you with execution. 

Continuity vs Change

At the start of the preseason, coach Jim Schwartz said they could line up on day 1 of August and call an entire game. There is so much continuity on both sides of the ball that there isn't much of a learning curve going on in this program. In stark contrast, Jeff Fisher is at the beginning stages of implementing his approach.  This factor might be overblown, but the Lions are going to feel much more comfortable in those 'make-or-break' moments - and they're at home.

It wouldn't shock me if the Rams cover the spread, but winning straight up is a tall task given the mismatches.

NFL Pick: NO -1 & DET -1.

The rest of my Week 1 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.