Friday, August 31, 2012

NFL 2012 Super Bowl Prediction

After picking the Packers to make and win the Super Bowl in 2010 I couldn't have been more off last year with my "Chargers over Packers" prediction. You kind of have to make the playoffs to win the Super Bowl huh?

I add these picks more for fun as I don't put a lot of value in Super Bowl futures. Most fans want to lay a wager on their favorite team or hope for some value in a team off the radar.  There are great hedging opportunities if you can get it right, but for the most part the sportsbooks clean house on this bet.

So despite the fact that this is a prediction sure to go wrong, these are my teams for the 2013 Super Bowl..

Houston Texans (+1200 Bodog) over Green Bay Packers (no value)

This will be the third straight year I pick the Green Bay to reach the Super Bowl, but I assure I am not a "Packers fan".  They are simply the no-brainer pick to come out of the NFC. If their defense can get close to the middle of the pack look out.

Last year I had the Texans as my AFC "sleeper" pick thanks to the expected improvements on defense and if it wasn't for injuries, they very well could have made it.  This year their projections are off the charts in most of my power rankings categories.  I also think the AFC is going to be an easier road than the NFC, so a winner from this conference should be a little easier to forecast.

Sleeper Picks

AFC

Kansas City Chiefs (+6230 Pinnacle)

Don't look at me like that. Yes, I said the KC Chiefs.  This pick is more about value than anything else.  As the Giants proved last year, and the Packers the year before that, just getting in gives you a fair chance at going to the big dance.  Cassel doesn't need to be great, he simply needs to feed the vast array of weapons around him and let his defense do the rest.

NFC

Detroit Lions (+3200 5Dimes)

I wanted to go with the Eagles here because they could theoretically grade out higher than the Packers "if all goes well".  However, there isn't enough value on their odds to add them as a "sleeper.  Instead I'll go with the Lions for the 2nd straight year.  We all know how great their offense is, but this year their D-line should be even better than the previous two seasons.  This can go a long way in helping out a suspect secondary and get them to February.

Want to see if your Super Bowl predictions pan out in person?

Our friends over at Project Point Spread have a great pick em contest running this year.  If your picks are better than the rest you'll win tickets to Super Bowl XLVII.  Best of all it's free to join - and around here we like 'free'.  Best of luck!

NFL Predictions 2012: Season Props

Prop bets are the most neglected options on the board, but if you play fantasy football or happen to be an advanced stats junkie then there is lots of value to be had.  Even if you just follow the sport closely, common sense should be enough to stick it to the books on more than enough props throughout the season.

Everybody approaches these differently. Generally I suggest to reduce your unit size due to the high degree of variance from prop to prop, but occasionally a prop is so badly priced/set that is pays to treat it like a regular wager or more.

Last season, in addition to game props, I included season long props and smashed them out of the park.  I'll be adding more as books release them leading up to the start of the season. Without further ado, let's take advantage of some favorable lines.

Following props are from 5Dimes.

Team Props  

Oakland Raiders to finish last in AFC West
This pick is a no-brainer for me.  Unless Rivers, Manning, or Cassel suffer a serious injury I see very little chance that the Raiders finish above any of those teams.  Their primary weaknesses in the air on both sides of the ball is unforgivable in today's NFL.

Player Props

Ryan +1.5 TD passes vs E Manning
P Manning -.5 TD passes vs E Manning

Two fades on Eli Manning here. The Giants have the single hardest schedule in the NFL this year.  Matt Ryan is scheduled to do a lot more downfield passing this year.  Peyton has looked like Peyton thus far.

Stafford +1 TD passes vs Brady
Tom Brady is playing behind the most concerning O-line in a long time. Stafford not only has a ton of great receiving options, but they are just as reliant on the pass as the Patriots. Lions are set for a monster year offensively.

Foster -2.5 rushing TD vs Turner
C Johnson +.5 rushing TD vs Turner
S Jackson +2 rushing TD vs Turner
R Rice -1 rushing TD vs Turner

Across the board fade on Michael Turner this year. He not only has a ton of carries on his body, but the coaches have openly told us they are going to reduce his workload this year in favor of more passing under Dirk Koetter.  Foster's and Rice's production is a given assuming they stay healthy, CJ is poised for a bounce back year, and SJ will be featured quite a bit under Jeff Fisher. In fact Fisher said they will run the ball regardless of how many are in the box.

Following props from Bodog.

Total Starts

R Wilson O10.5

Passing Yards

P Manning U4250
E Manning U4300
Luck U3750
Gabbert O2800
Sanchez U3200
Palmer U3700
A Smith U3300
Freeman O3750

Receiving Yards

T Gonzalez U725.5
White U1100.5
Boldin U850.5
Charles O325.5
Bush U325.5
D Moore U850.5
Heyward-Bey U950.5
Maclin O950.5
Crabtree U850.5
F Davis U850.5
S Moss U700.5
Garcon U975.5
Amendola O650.5
S Smith U1100.5
LaFell O700.5
Olsen O550.5

Receptions

Welker U105.5

Rushing + Receiving TDs

L McCoy O14.5

Receiving TDs

J Jones O8.5
Wayne O6.5
C Johnson O12.5
Maclin O6.5

Rushing TDs

A Rodgers O3.5
Luck O2

Rushing Yards 

R Rice U1250.5
F Jackson U1050.5 
Forte U1050.5
McGahee U900.5
Foster U1300.5
Charles O1000.5
Bush U875.5
Bradshaw U1000.5
Green U1050.5
Lynch U1000.5
C Johnson O1150.5
Ridley U850.5

Interceptions

Claiborne O2.5
T Williams O3.5
D Rogers-Cromartie O3

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: 49ers vs Packers

San Francisco 49ers vs Green Bay Packers: GB -5 (5Dimes)

Markets

The Packers opened at CRIS as -6.5 favorites, but sharp money recognized the over-inflation and bet it down to -5.   The question is, what is the 'right' number for this game?  You're unlikely to find a consensus, but based on my formula the current line is about right.

So why would I like the Packers if the line is correct?

Are the Packers the new Patriots?

First, it's quite possible that the Packers are becoming "spread-proof" in the same way as the New England Patriots.  During their Super Bowl season they went 9-7 ATS.  Logic would dictate that they would be far overpriced in 2011 and not offer much value. Yet, they did one better and finished 11-5 ATS last season - despite being a public team, a defending Super Bowl champion, and a weekly shaded line. On top of this they did it with arguably the worst defense in the NFL. 

Perception vs Reality?

There are two divisive minds regarding the 49ers. Some look at Jim Harbaugh's coaching ability, an intact defense, and crown their 2011 season as legit.  As such you'll see them in the top 10 of most power rankings out there.

On the other side, you'll have people like me who don't have them anywhere near the top 10Football Outsiders is projecting them for a 7 win season!   For the 49ers I made conservative downward adjustments to reflect natural regression to the mean. 

In Offense We Trust

According to Football Outsiders, "offense is the most consistent phase of a team from year to year and offensive performance is easier to project than defensive performance".  Conversely, defensive performance and special teams (especially) are much more inconsistent from one season to the next.

This is a bad omen for the 49ers and puts the Packers in a much more favorable position in this matchup.  We've already seen the 49ers first-team defense get beat by Matt Schaub and Peyton Manning this preseason. I realize exhibition means nothing and neither of those games involved game-planning, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wasn't happy and offered no excuses for the poor play.

In fact, if you take a closer look at the numbers you'll see that the 49ers defense was merely average on third down last year - the "make or break" identity of a team.

I don't think anybody is going to look at Aaron Rodgers and his sick collection of receiving options and say that they are due for a regression. We know Green Bay is going to put up points in Week 1 - the question is can the 49ers control the clock and improve on offense?

Key Matchup

Last year the 49ers lined up in a two tight-end set 43% of the time which made it hard to defend the run.  On first down, they ran the ball 57% of the time. Everyone assumes they were a great rushing team in 2011, but in reality they were not as successful in key situations as you would think. Now reports out of camp say that Harbaugh wants to add 4-5 passes per game. I don't think that's a good idea with Alex Smith under center.

In 2011, the Packers lined up in their make-or-break nickel 2-4-5 package 61% of the time.  In this set they aren't as susceptible to the run - especially with Charles Woodson in the lineup. The big problem comes with the Desmond Bishop injury. AJ Hawk will be on the field more and they'll be relying on Nick Perry to get some pass rush opposite of Clay Mathews.

The good news is there is a lot of quality talent on this defense that includes BJ Raji, DJ Smith, Morgan Burnett, and Tramon Williams. With Dom Capers calling the shots, it's hard to imagine this defense is as bad as last year. They are more than capable of becoming an opportunistic middle-of-the-pack D and should be able to handle a 49ers offense that is still looking for respectability. 

Bottom Line

In short, the 49ers defense is good, but they don't have the D-line that the Giants have. I also think the Packers defense will improve more in 2012 than the 49ers offense will. If San Fran fall behind by double digits, it's going to be hard for Alex Smith to navigate a comeback. Relying on turnovers and special teams got them far last year, but that kind of fortune doesn't usually carry forward. I'm fading the 49ers in 2012 and it starts in Week 1.

NFL Pick: GB -5.

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




NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: Team Totals

NFL Picks 2012: Week 1 Team Totals
Prior to starting this blog I used "traditional" methods to pick totals (mostly 'unders'). Yet, over the past couple of years those methods became outdated and I scrapped them entirely (sometimes the best bets we make are the ones we don't make). I still pick my spots and have success with them in the preseason, but during the regular season I've stayed away.

Last season, most of the sharp money pounded the 'unders' in Week 1 and 'overs' responded by going 12-3-1.  Ouch!  Beyond the Bets posed the question whether or not 2011 was an "outlier".

This season the average Week 1 total is just under 44 and most of the early action has come in on 'unders'.  Why?  Perhaps sharp money thinks that the bookmakers have over-adjusted.  Or maybe they think that 2011 was an outlier thanks to the truncated offseason. The answer is probably a combination of both.

After reviewing some data over the past couple of years, I've identified what could be the early stages of a worthwhile "trend".  The sample size is still on the low side, but the rationale is tied to the offensively-orientated rule changes, increased emphasis on passing, statistics compiled by The Football Outsiders, and scoring results from the past couple seasons. I'm adding the following team totals for my Week 1 picks to see how it shakes out.

Lions O27.5
Packers O25
Eagles O24.5
Texans O26
Ravens O23.5
Saints O29 
Chiefs O20.5
Buccaneers O22

If things stay true to the last couple seasons, more of these should hit than miss and I'll explain my rationale in more detail going forward. If you're going to hop on board consider treating them like props and reducing your unit size (especially if you're looking for some extra action). 

All team totals are from 5Dimes. The rest of my Week 1 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

NFL Power Rankings 2012: Season Preview Edition

2012 NFL Preview: Power Rankings and Ratings
After a full training camp and preseason, the following rankings have been adjusted accordingly.  There weren't huge changes, but some teams deservingly went up or down the list.

The core of the ratings are based on statistical projections in 20 critical categories. Everything from personnel/coaching changes, player projections, past performance, continuity, training camp reports, and preseason indicators are factored in.  This ensures a good balance of objectivity and subjectivity across the board.  Each category crosses a notable threshold in statistical ratings and the size of each group will change as data accumulates.

With so many questions for each team, expect significant changes after 2-4 weeks of the season.  I'll update the ratings on average once a month to reflect an acceptable amount of data, but I might do an extra update midway through September after we get an initial look at real performances/results.
With that, let's see which teams are trending where as we head into the regular season - and if you disagree with something, you know where to find the comment box...

Monday, August 27, 2012

NFL Preseason 2012: Week 4

NFL Picks 2012: Preseason Week 4
Week 3 of the preseason was a ho-hum 4-4 affair. I expected more from KC, but picking against Russell Wilson probably wasn't smart. I think everybody was letdown by DET. Got unlucky with HOU and my JAX pick was a bit too ambitious even though all the late money steamed the line to +4.5.

It's shaping up to be a less profitable NFLX than the last two years, but the most important thing is not to start the season at a significant deficit. Week 4 is made up of largely backups (unless you're St Louis), so picks might not come until the final 24 hours before kickoff as we wait for information from coaches.

I'll be rolling out the rest of my Week 1 picks soon. After training camps and three weeks of the preseason I have a pretty good grasp on who I like and don't like heading into the season.  The Week 1 lines are pretty sharp as is given how long people have had to pound them into shape, but I still see potential value on the board.  I'll also have updated power rankings posted this week as well.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Jets vs Eagles

New York Jets vs Philadelphia Eagles: PHI -4 (5Dimes)

Coaches

Usually when you look at preseason matchups, coaching records become very important.  Most of the time it is an overall reflection of how coaches go about the exhibition season.  Due to this, many people have blindly faded Andy Reid over the last couple of seasons, but they've also lost a lot of money doing so.

It's always important to consider the context of each season and each matchup before blindly following a trend.  Reid is not only undefeated this preseason, but he's won 5 straight NFLX games and 6 of his last 7.  A lot of this is due to increased depth throughout the roster - especially at QB.

I'm glad to say I've been on the winning side of most of those recent victories and I look for another one on Thursday.  Last season, Reid led the Eagles to a 24-14 win in Week 4 against the same Jets.

Markets

Given the performance of Nick Foles this preaseason, combined with the ineptitude of the Jets offense, money came flying in on Philly when lines were posted on Monday.  Now that we know the QB rotation, cooler heads have prevailed and we've seen buy back on the Jets.  The current line has settled in at -4.

Quarterbacks

Reid has told the media that Nick Foles will start and play the first quarter.  I don't need to spit out his stats this preseason because everyone knows he's been fantastic as a rookie.  Now that's not to say it will automatically continue, but he's riding hot right now and should be ok on Thursday since he won't be facing the Jets starting defense.

Trent Edwards will play the final three quarters which is actually a good thing for us.  So far this preseason he's 32 of 48 for 292 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions.  Pretty good stats, but he's been largely overshadowed by Vick's injuries and Foles rise up the depth chart.

Meanwhile, there is no Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow for the Jets.  That could actually be a bad thing given how poorly they have played, but Greg McElroy will get the start and play most, if not all, of the game for New York.  He did pretty well in the preseason last year, but this year's he's barely played at all.  Normally you would like his chances against backups, but the Eagles defense has quite a bit of quality depth so it's not going to be a cakewalk. 

Pick

Andy Reid knows how to coach quarterbacks and he's fortunate to have quality depth this year.  Trent Edwards is auditioning for a job somewhere else and he'll want to finish things up on a positive note.  Rex Ryan and Tony Sparano aren't showing anybody anything this preseason, including their wild cart formations.  By resting both Sanchez and Tebow, it's clear they are working hard on the Buffalo Bills, not the Philadelphia Eagles.

NFL Pick: PHI -4.

The rest of my Week 4 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Saints vs Titans

New Orleans Saints vs Tennessee Titans: TEN -4 (Pinnacle)

Coaches

Not a lot to report here. Last season Mike Munchak won his final game of the preseason.  Joe Vitt is in his first tour at the top and stands at 2-2 this year.

Markets

The Titans opened at -3, but it took a while before the information trickled in. Given the latest reports, it's no surprise that heavy money is coming in on the home team. The line sits at -4, but a look around the neighborhood will show you it's even higher at some places.  I think the line should be around -6.5 or -7 and I won't be surprised if it keeps going in that direction. 

Quarterbacks

The most surprising news to hit the wires is that Jake Locker is scheduled to play into the second quarter on Thursday.  Last year Munchak pulled Hasselbeck just after one series.  It's uncertain whether or not Matt Hasselbeck will see any playing time after Locker departs, but Rusty Smith will see the field at some point in the game. He's never been a guy anyone raves about, but he's familiar in his role and should be able to do a respectable job.

For the Saints, Drew Brees and the starters have been ruled out - including Darren Sproles.  Chase Daniel is definitely a guy who can move the chains, but last year Sean Canfield played the entire 4th game for the Saints.

Looking Ahead?

One thing I'm taking out of the news this week is where these head coaches are looking forward to.  Keep in mind this is the 5th game of the preseason for New Orleans, so it's safe to assume they know what they got and they know where they are going.  When you add in the fact that they're schedule was displaced thanks to Hurricane Isaac this week and it's safe to assume that it won't be "business as usual".

Conversely, when you come out and say that your starting offense is going to play close to a half in the final preseason game, it's obvious that Mike Munchak and company are looking for some positive gains heading into Week 1 of the season.

Pick

My analysis is really as simple as that.  I think we have two teams on two different pages to close out the preseason and it should pay dividends on the scoreboard.

NFL Pick: TEN -4.

The rest of my Week 4 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: Jaguars vs Vikings

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Minnesota Vikings: JAX +4.5 (Pinnacle)

UPDATE: MJD has reported the Jags (no surprise because these guys don't pass on game checks), but the jury is out how that will impact this game, if at all. We've seen many running backs hold out of camp and suffer for it early in the season.  At the end of the day though, getting a premier player can't be a bad thing. We've already seen a reaction in the market with the line moving to +4 and +3.5. 

Markets

Yesterday, Steve Fezzek tweeted the following:

If I'm the first one to show any interest in this game, so be it.  I fail to see why the line is set at -4.5 and it's even more puzzling why the line has stood there all preseason.  I suspect people want no part of a game that comes with so many unknowns, but despite the questions, we should be fairly optimistic and confident in one aspect of this game - the Jaguars defense.

Questions, Questions, Questions.

Handicapping matchups on paper is always a tricky venture heading into a season because no one is quite sure how the 'question marks' on each team will play out.  For the Jags we have the MJD holdout, the Blaine Gabbert pass-happy feet situation, and the enigma otherwise known as Marcedes Lewis. Beyond that no one is quite sure if Jacksonville will be able to the sacks/pressures needed from their D-line and their O-line have more appointments with the medical staff than Mike Vick.

Yet, the questions are just as significant for the Vikes. Adrian Peterson is reportedly going to play, but his effectiveness will be hindered coming off major knee surgeries, rehab, and lack of playing time.  Christian Ponder is way ahead of where he was in his rookie year, but it hasn't translated to the field yet. Outside of Percy Harvin there isn't a lot to get excited about at wideout - especially with Jerome Simpson out for the opener.  The secondary is young and Chris Cook is just getting back from a preseason concussion.

Mismatches

Sometimes when we have undervalued dogs it isn't a matter of favorable mismatches, but a lack of mismatches for the other team. Pick apart this matchup and show me one area where the Vikings have enough of an advantage to warrant this spread.  If you want to tell me that Jared Allen is unblockable and that he will wreak enough havoc to render Gabbert completely ineffective, ok.  I'll give Allen his due, but I don't think Gabbert is the same timid QB that we saw last year.

I'm not declaring he's about to lead the Jags to an 8-8 season, but he's shown enough improvement to give this offense a chance.  With a full offseason of OTAs and training camp, the coaching has made a difference.  Marcedes Lewis off-field problems are a thing of the past and Justin Blackmon adds a legitimate raw threat on the outside. 

Currently there is no MJD, but I'm sure the bookmakers created this line under the assumption that he'd be back. Now it's looking that there is a real possibility that he won't be and even if he does he won't be in game shape. The good news comes two-fold: 1) Rashad Jennings has looked real good in camp and in the preseason and 2) the running game is much less important in today's NFL than before.

The common myth is that teams need the running game to set up the pass, but in reality the stats suggest the complete opposite. Statistically, the pass sets up the run once teams have the lead. What is much more important than compiling 100+ rushing yards is running the ball effectively in critical situations - primarily getting first downs to sustain drives and run the clock.

I've made significant adjustments to my handicapping formula over the last few seasons to accommodate the heavy shift towards passing.  Not having MJD isn't good given how good he is rushing, pass catching, and blocking, but he's not going to cripple Jacksonville like some talking heads say he will.

Not many teams were hit as hard by the injury bug a year ago as Jacksonville and they still managed to have a dominant defense both against the pass and the run.  Now that they are healthy, I see this as their biggest weapon heading into Minnesota in Week 1.  Andre Branch is raw and still learning, but he's the kind of added punch they need up front.  The secondary should give Ponder some concerns and Paul Posluszny is a beast in the middle. 

Bottom Line

Is it risky putting faith into the unproven Blaine Gabbert and MJD-less Jaguars?  Sure.  But this pick is based on the trust in their defense and a complete fade of the Vikings.. It's my opinion that the Vikings have more critical questions on both sides of the ball than the Jaguars.  If I were setting this line I'd have Minnesota favored by 2.5 points.  I'll take the bonus points above the critical 3 and ride the road dog here.

NFL Pick: JAX +4.5.

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


NFL Fan Picks: Carolina Panthers vs Pittsburgh Steelers

My apologizes for the late pick, because I should have posted this up this morning. This is a guest post by CC. He has provided us with a "pick of the week" all preseason long.  Want to submit your best pick?  Send me a prediction along with a short write-up and I'll feature it on the site.

Last week I finally found some success with my pick of the week as the Steelers outshone the Bills to bring me to 1-2 on the year. I’m not a huge believer in betting on Week 4 of the preseason but as always; if there’s an edge…take it!

Carolina Panthers vs Pittsburgh Steelers: PIT -3.5 (5Dimes)

This write-up will be much shorter than my others as there is simply not as much available information leading up to Week 4 compared to the other games of the preseason. My philosophy here is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This pick is based more on psychological factors than anything else. Imagine being a young Steelers player trying to crack the 53 man roster which gets named virtually after this game against the Panthers. You are sitting in the locker room and Mike Tomlin is pacing the room in front of you, giving a passionate spiel about how proud the Pittsburgh franchise is and what an honour it would be to make such a team. “This organization holds more Vince Lombardi trophies than any other, and you all have the chance to be a part of the next Championship run!” I’ll tell you this; I’d be amped and ready to perform at home in front of the Pittsburgh faithful with a roster spot on the line.

There is a reason that Tomlin is 5-0 in Week 4 preseason games and 18-6 overall: he cares about winning. Another reason is the play of veteran backups such as Charlie Batch at QB. Yeah the guy is old, but he’s reliable.

On the other hand, we have Carolina who will want nothing more than to finish the game quickly and start prepping for Tampa Bay in Week 1. Rivera is 3-4 in preseason games and lost his only Week 4 matchup last year. He has hinted that his starters will probably not play (I wouldn’t risk Cam Newton either) or will see minimal time. At QB, this leaves us with the ever-declining Derek Anderson who struggles to hit open receivers even in ‘Walk-Through’ practices and Jimmy Clausen who will still be having nightmares of the Black and Gold defence that crushed his manhood 2 years ago in Pittsburgh.

Overall

Lay the points here and finish the preseason with some extra cash in your pockets.

NFL Pick: Steelers (-3.5)

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: Eagles vs Browns

Philadelphia Eagles vs Cleveland Browns: PHI -7 (5Dimes)

Markets

When the Eagles opened as -8 favorites on the road in the dog pound my eyebrows were raised.  I wasn't surprised they were heavy favorites, but I was surprised that they were listed over a touchdown without anyone having seen a snap yet.

Fast forward to the current state of affairs.  Both teams have shown us that they are likely going down the road as advertised.  My updated power rankings are coming out soon and the Browns will still be near the bottom of the league while the Eagles will remain as true contenders.

If you shop around you can now find Philly at -7, but most books are keeping them out of the teaser window and listing them at -9 or higher.  My suggestion is play them as touchdown favorites or tease them down if you can only get -8.5 to -7.5.

Mismatches

Let's cut right to the chase. This Eagles defensive line is not good - it's great. The matchup with the Browns O-line isn't going be an extreme mismatch, but if you're a Browns fan, the writing is on the wall. Trent Richardson is apparently on pace to play Week 1 and they'll need every bit of his talents to counter the wide-9 approach Philly take on defense, but he's a rookie and can't be relied upon to pick up extra rushers on passing downs.

When you have a guy like Brandon Weeden who is coming from a shotgun college offense and trying to assimilate him into a West Coast offense - there are going to be growing pains. Against largely base personnel and vanilla schemes in the preseason, he hasn't looked great.  Greg Little and Mohamed Massaquoi clearly have the ability to play in this league, but neither of them are burners who are going to consistently beat man-to-man coverage. Josh Gordon has had an impressive camp and preseason and could figure into the picture here.

Yet, when you add it all up there is nothing about this Browns offense that is going to scare the Eagles - or anyone for that matter.  They are average-below-average across the board and must put it all together to overcome one of the most aggressive defenses they'll face all year.  The Eagles D-line is going to roll two sets of starters wave after wave and rely heavily on DeMeco Ryans and the safeties to gobble up anything that comes through the gaps.  Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rogers-Cromartie both have a year under Juan Castillo's system under their belts and should be a lot more comfortable in their 2012 roles - especially DRC who moves from the slot back to his natural outside CB position.

Things aren't any brighter when the Philly offense comes on to face the Browns defense. Yes Joe Haden is a dynamite talent at the back, but the Browns pass defense stats were kinda skewed since so many teams ran right over the front seven last year. Phil Taylor and Chris Gocong are out with injuries and Scott Fujita isn't eligible to return until Week 4.  LeSean McCoy can take advantage of this front via the ground or the air and he'll be one of the key components keeping this defense off balance.

The wild card is obviously Mike Vick. There is always the risk of injury and turnovers and he's never really lived up to the level that he displayed to win the starting job two years ago. Luckily for him there is so much talent around him that it takes a catastrophic performance to mess things up. Jeremy Maclin is ready for a break out season and Desean Jackson is paid and happy on the other side. 

Home Field DIS-Advantage?

Unless you have your own set of home field advantage rankings it's not easy to determine just how much to handicap for location of venue. The standard philosophy is to give the home team 3 points on the spread, but a recent analysis I came across has challenged this assumption. They found that early in the NFL season, home field is worth considerably less than later in the year. This isn't ground-breaking information, but the raw data suggests that home teams shouldn't be given more than 2 points in the first month except for specific teams.

Another article I read indicated that 'public' teams traveling to smaller markets or perennially poor teams venues should be given particular focus. You can read the full article by Chad Millman from ESPN here, but the Eagles at the Browns qualifies as one of those situations. Philadelphia fans travel really well and will be in full force at Cleveland in Week 1. 

Bottom Line

It might seem crazy to lay this much on a road favorite to open up a season, but I believe -7 is the magic number to pull the trigger here.  For the Eagles, both sides of the ball have continuity entering the year and we'll finally begin to see the potential they were supposed to have last year. The Browns simply have too many young pieces at key positions and not enough quality depth to stay within striking distance for an entire 60 minutes.

NFL Pick: PHI -7.

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


NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Ravens vs Rams

Baltimore Ravens vs St Louis Rams: STL -2.5 (5Dimes)

Coaches

John Harbaugh is a nondescript 2-2 in the final week of his preseason career.  Going back, he has not played his starters much at all and uses it primarily to evaluate his backups and roster depth - like most coaches.

On the other hand, Jeff Fisher openly told us last week that he is not treating Week 4 like a traditional preseason week. His starters will go into the second half because he wants to use this game as their official "dress rehearsal".

Markets

The game opened at pick em to today and money has been coming in on the Rams ever since. The line is now at -2.5 and it won't be long until it hits the 3. Does it cross the 3?  It's possible given the game plan, but I would take St Louis at -3 or below.

Quarterbacks

As someone who has been extremely optimistic about the Rams this year, they did not put up the kind of performance I had hoped for when they took on the Cowboys last week. Sam Bradford was a woeful 6 for 17 and a measly 64 yards. That's not what you want to see from your franchise QB looking to put past failures behind him.

Kellen Clemens has been pretty solid this preseason putting up a combined 18-25 for 136 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

For the Ravens, expect to see either Curtis Painter and/or Tyrod Taylor.  They are both very inconsistent and contrasting quarterbacks.  Painter has been described as downright "awful" in training camp and practices, but then the bright lights turn on and he transforms into Dan Marino.  In Week 1 he through three touchdowns and no interceptions. After Week 2 his completion percentage was 50% as he went 10 of 20 and 17 of 34 overall.  Then last week he led a quick drive for a touchdown completing all three passes.

Tyrod Taylor is just as inconsistent in the air. Through three games he is 23 of 48 for a woeful 32% completion percentage. Instead, Taylor does most of his damage on the ground where he has racked up 135 yards on 16 runs - which is more a product of his inability to develop as a reliable pocket passer. 

Loose Ends

Normally we need to take a grain of salt when it comes to what Fisher feeds us through the media. He has a history of outlining one plan and going with another on gameday.  The same could happen again this week, but so far the games have played out as he intended this preseason. 

Another benefit for the Rams is they have a lot of camp battles and young players at the offensive skill positions. Isaiah Peed and Daryl Richardson should get a lot of work at running back as they try to carve out a role for the regular season. The saga at the wide receiver position continues as well.

Janoris Jenkins is pencilled in to start opposite Cortland Finnegan and didn't look good against the Cowboys. In fact, tackling was pretty atrocious across the board for the Rams defense. A better effort should be forthcoming.

Pick

I think it's a good idea that Fisher wants to give his starters extensive action heading into the season. There's always the risk of injury, but he is trying to build a program from the ground up.  If they can't build a sufficient lead against backups then it could be another gut-wrenching season for the Rams.  I like them to get some confidence going at home and a win to close out the preseason.

NFL Pick: STL -2.5.

The rest of my Week 4 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

Friday, August 24, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: Seahawks vs Cardinals

Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals: SEA PK (5Dimes)

Markets

The Cardinals opened as slight -1.5 favorites, but there has been a steady trickle of money on Seattle ever since the preseason started. Now that we've had three weeks to see both teams, the game sits at pick em.  I expect this line to move more and I won't be surprised if the Seahawks finish as field goal favorites.

Holes in the Cardinals (N)O-line

When I wrote my team previews back in July the biggest caveat I had for the Cardinals was their O-line. It was decent in run-blocking in 2011, but the pass blocking was atrocious. Not much has changed.  Making things worse is the loss of left tackle Levi Brown.

Poor Ken Whisenhunt can't even evaluate the quarterbacks he has because they are on the ground or on the run more than the pocket. And just when we thought Kevin Kolb had separated himself with a touchdown drive against the Titans, he opens the next half with a pick six.

When you look at who is better against a pass rush, John Skelton was the 26th rated QB against pressure in 2011 and Kolb was 30th. This isn't a good sign going forward.  They have some nice pieces around them - especially in the running game - but I'm not sure it will make a difference at the end of the day.

In fact, when I look up and down the Arizona roster there is quite a bit to like on both sides of the ball. Beanie Wells seems injury prone, but he's effective when he's on the field. Ryan Williams could (and should) overtake him as the starter and LaRod Stephens-Howling is dynamic on third down.

Everyone knows what they have in Larry Fitzgerald, but it's Michael Floyd who people are excited about now. In time he's going to form an excellent one-two punch on the outside.
It's just a shame that the entire deck of cards is on the verge of imploding due to the guys in the trenches.

Most of the damage will come from a highly touted Seahawks defense. They have the potential to be something special this year and they didn't do much in the preseason to think any different. They have aggressive cover corners on the outside in Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman and possibly the best pair of safeties in Eark Thomas and Kam Chancellor. 

Chris Clemons is going to wreak havoc up front and he's complimented by a group of guys that aren't household names, but they could be soon. Don't be surprised if you hear the names Greg Scruggs, Bruce Irvin, Jaye Howard, and Jason Jones on September 9th. This is a deep and talented collection of linemen.

In Flynn Wilson We Trust

I'll be one of the first to admit that I wasn't very optimistic about the Seahawks offense heading into training camp. I like Matt Flynn, but I looked around and didn't see a quality supporting cast.
Pull out the eraser because how fast things can change in the Not For Long league.

Russell Wilson had an outstanding preseason and gave Pete Carrol no choice but to hand him the starting job. Looking at it a little closer, it's not only the receivers that will benefit from Wilson at QB, because when you have a QB who doubles as a running threat, the defensive lineman are kept honest and must protect the backside lanes.

This can open tremendous opportunities in the run game as we've seen in other similar situations (Vince Young and Chris Johnson, Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, etc). Marshawn Lynch will be the direct benefactor, but Leon Washington and rookie Robert Turbin will also contribute.
Sidney Rice headlines the options on the outside, but Braylon Edwards played well enough to earn a roster spot and Golden Tate is expected to do more this year.

Outlining this offensive attack is important because the Cardinals actually have a very underrated defense. I was surprised when Russell Wilson picked apart the Chiefs defense (even if it was vanilla and missing some pieces), but I'll be even more shocked if he's able to waltz into Arizona and do the same.

They have two dynamic playmakers in their secondary in Adrian Wilson and Patrick Peterson. Adding William Gay could make this a formidable set of defensive backs. Ray Horton runs an aggressive scheme so it won't be a cakewalk for the Seahawks offensively. Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell headline up front and will test the Seahawks O-line.

Bottom Line

A few weeks ago I would have sided with the Cardinals if I was forced to make a pick.  I realize the preseason is meaningless and nobody is game-planning, but it doesn't take any particular football savvy to recognize the problems Arizona have on offense.

It doesn't matter if the skill positions are loaded with pro-bowlers - if you can't protect the quarterback and that guy can't compensate for the pressure - then they are going nowhere fast. Seattle's defense should prove too much and give them enough opportunities to win the game outright.  If you're on the same page as me, grab them now before the line moves more.

NFL Pick: SEA PK.


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

NFL Preseason 2012: Week 3 Predictions

NFL Picks 2012: Week 3 Preseason Predictions
Week 2 of the preseason is in the books as the Eagles get the (ugly) cover for a 5-3 winning week.  Picks on sides haven't gone according to plan yet, but looking back I'm not sure I would've made any changes. Sometimes that's how things shake out.  

Week 3, otherwise known as the regular season "dress rehearsal",  is just around the corner. However, keep in mind that backups will be coming into the 3rd quarter for most teams and finishing off all the games in the 4th. Be careful not to assume that the top teams are going to go out there with the full intention on winning the game. It might be a regular season tune-up, but the games still don't count and coaches will continue to implement ulterior objectives.

Lines are up and they should settle in over the next 24 hours. We've already seen some action on sides and the 'overs' are getting hit across the board.  I should have some picks up over the next day or two, but I'm also looking ahead to Week 1 of the regular season, season win totals, and an updated set of power rankings - all of which will be posted over the next week.



NFL Fan Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers vs Buffalo Bills

This is a guest post by CC.  He will be posting a "pick of the week" all preseason long.  Want to submit your best pick?  Send me a prediction along with a short write-up and I'll feature it on the site.

Last week wasn’t pretty for me as my ‘Pick of the Week’ (the Bills) fell short for the 2nd straight time. You now have two options; start fading me if you think I flat-out suck or hope that I turn it around starting this week. I’m going to vote for the latter as I know my winning ways will come back to me sooner or later.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Buffalo Bills: PIT PK (Pinnacle) 

No, this isn’t just a revenge pick against the Bills for burning me last week. Having watched both the Steelers and Bills play this preseason, it is evident that the Bills need the next two weeks if they are going to be ready for the opening round of the NFL. The Steelers, on the other hand, look far more settled and go into this ‘dress-rehearsal’ on the back of a hard-fought win over the Colts.

Coaches 

This is where I’ve found my main edge in this matchup with Tomlin going up against Gailey. Tomlin is 17-6 SU in the preseason and 4-1 in Week 3. You can just tell as he paces the sidelines, that these preseason games mean a lot to him. Winning is a habit in Pittsburgh and this week should be no different. Gailey is just 3-7 in preseason contests and continues to focus on improving certain aspects of his team from week to week rather than winning the game. He is 2-0 in Week 3 but these wins came against Marvin Lewis and Jack Del Rio who are/were not strong preseason coaches from a winning percentage standpoint.

Steelers

It’s time for Todd Hailey to open up his offensive playbook this week and look to introduce a few quality plays for Big Ben to go deep. Mike Wallace is missing again but the Steelers still have some talented receivers to target including Brown and Sanders. Heath Miller has not caught a pass all preseason, so look for him to be a bit more involved this week. Knowing they can throw the ball, the Steelers have focused on the run this preseason, choosing the ground route over 56% of the time. I expect this to change a little this week as the team prepares specifically for their opposition for the 1st time all preseason. The Vikings burned the Bills secondary with the big play last week and the Steelers may well do the same. Not much to say defensively for the Steelers. They appear hungry with the Broncos postseason loss still motivating them as a unit. They were stiff against the run last year (9th in the league), which matches up well against the Bills’ biggest strength.

Bills

I still think the Bills can have a solid season but they need to show more on Offense. The problem with the Bills in the preseason is that their strength (running the football) in the regular season doesn’t crossover well to the preseason. Nobody wants to pound the rock again and again with their most valuable offensive pieces in games that don’t count. Without Jackson and Spiller touching the ball on a regular basis, this offense doesn’t have much punch. The Bills lack playmakers on the outside with Stevie Johnson serving as the only real deep threat. This group is solid on defence and I don’t think we’ve seen the best from their defensive line. Maybe once the real stuff starts we will see the likes of Mario Williams take over a game. Nevertheless, they will pose a good test for Pittsburgh’s talented but relatively inexperienced O-Line. Cornerback Terrence McGee looks set to make his return to a secondary that has shown youthful mistakes in the first 2 weeks. It is these rookie mistakes that have cost the Bills so far.

Overall 

Mike Tomlin loves winning preseason games. Chan Gailey does not. With both groups of starters expected to play into the 3rd quarter, I expect the Steelers to gain ascendancy, as they look the sharper of the two units at this early stage. And, if my pick comes down to a nail-biting 4th quarter finish, Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch shouldn’t let me down as Pittsburgh’s backup QB. Take the Steelers on the road.

NFL Pick: PIT PK.

CC is an up and coming handicapper with a focus on American sports.  He covers NFL, NBA, MLB and more - with a winning overall record across sports. You can follow all his plays on Twitter @CCPicks.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Seahawks vs Chiefs

Seattle Seahawks vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC +1 1st Half (5Dimes)

Coaches

Last week I talked about how much the Chiefs players were buying into Romeo Crennel and that it was a good time to ride them in the preseason. Well the Rams came out inspired and won the first half.  All I will say is I still like what I'm reading from the KC beat writers this week. This is an entirely different team with Crennel at the helm and I expect a good effort in their Week 3 dress rehearsal.

If you're a Seahawks fan you could probably say the same thing. Pete Carroll has Seattle buzzing with two good young quarterbacks one-upping each other quarter after quarter. So far Carroll has two nice wins under his belt this preseason and might walk away with another one in KC.

Markets

Books opened this at pick em, but everybody is riding the Seahawks wave once again. Seattle are now 3 point favorites despite being the road team. For our purposes, I'll gladly skip the Ricky Stanzi and Brady Quinn show and take the +1 first half line.

Quarterbacks

Despite the sharp money and what we've seen in the first two weeks, I'm sticking with KC for another week in large part due to the decision to play Russell Wilson with the starters.I know he's been good, but don't lose sight that he's done it against second and third string players. We all saw how the Titans defensive backups looked against Ryan Lindley.

I want to see how Wilson does against what I think is one of the better defenses in the NFL this week. I'll be extremely surprised if he can match anywhere close to the numbers he's put up so far. You can be sure he's never faced a duo like Tamba Hali and Justin Houston before.

Also, this isn't an offense loaded with dynamic playmakers. Through two games their leading receiver is a rookie running back. Sidney Rice is on pace to get some action, but I don't expect him to finish the half after coming off offseason surgery.

Granted, Matt Cassel isn't the next coming of Joe Montana, but the weapons around him are loaded. The strength of the Seahawks defense is in the secondary, but Brian Daboll's offense can attack you from anywhere on the field.  The running game is capable of taking over a game and they can also hurt coming out of the backfield. Dexter McCluster is an x-factor, Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki are money over the middle, and Jonathan Baldwin is another option on the outside. Dwayne Bowe will make his debut after a holdout, but Crennel will probably only play him a series or two.

Pick

I might be alone with this pick, but I'm a big believer in what KC has going on this year. It didn't work out last week, but this game isn't on the road. If it were in Seattle I'd likely take a pass.

NFL Pick: KC +1 1st Half.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Falcons vs Dolphins

Atlanta Falcons vs Miami Dolphins: ATL -3 1st Half (5Dimes)

Coaches

Mike Smith doesn't have a very good overall NFLX record. With his two losses this year his total drops to 6-12. Thankfully for our purposes, the only relevant stats that I'm looking at is the first half results from the previous two games.  In games against the Ravens and the Bengals, the Falcons went into halftime with a convincing lead.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins have gotten completely owned in both of their preseason games so far. The Buccaneers made quick work of Miami's starting unit and it wasn't much better when they faced Cam Newton and company either. Coach Joe Philben has told the media that they were primarily focused on the passing game in those games and that they will return to a more balanced attack when they host Atlanta.

Markets

The Falcons opened at -1 favorites and that was quickly pushed to -3 with early money.  If I was setting the halftime line, I would have Atlanta favored by more than a field goal as the second half matchup is a wash.

Quarterbacks

Matt Ryan has a gotten a lot of slack over recent years for his inability to be a difference maker in the big games.  Count me as one of his critics, but it's obvious the guy has the necessary tools to succeed.

Now he has another elite wideout in Julio Jones to lean on and so far the new Dirk Koetter offense has been a big hit. Ryan is 27 of 34 for 329 yards and two touchdowns through two games and don't be surprised if we see another repeat performance against a Dolphins secondary still looking to prove themselves. 

Atlanta was in the red zone three times vs the Bengals and only ran the ball once. Koetter told the media they already know what Michael Turner and company can do on the ground. Right now, it's all about synchronizing the downfield passing attack. I don't expect that to change in this game and Ryan says they are focusing on improving the red zone efficiency.

The Dolphins would just be happy if they could get in the red zone, let alone worry about converting touchdowns. Miami's starters have been outscored 24-0 in the first quarters of both games this preseason. It doesn't seem to matter if it's Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill. There is nobody reliable to throw to.

This week we'll get another look at Tannehill as he's been named the teams starter going forward.  I really don't like his chances throwing into a trio of Brent Grimes, Dunta Robinson, and Asante Samuel.  Returning to the run game is a good idea and will give them their best chance to put up some points.

Loose Ends

Cameron Wake should be in the lineup for Miami which would be a huge boost to their pass rush assuming he plays the half, but they'll still be without their force in the middle - Karlos Dansby. Normally I would call this a push, but Atlanta's O-line has looked leaky. This could pose some problems for Ryan. 

But speaking of a pass rush, Ron Edwards and Peria Jerry looked real good against Cincinnati last week. If these two can keep it up the Falcons might be able to finally get off the field on 3rd down this season.

Pick

Just like the Green Bay pick, sometimes the analysis is pretty straight-forward. The Falcons starters have looked great so far and they have more than enough talent to move the chains. It's pretty clear the new blood at the coordinator position has given the team some added juice and pop.

I would like to say the same thing about Miami, but they just don't have the talent to put it all together right now. The best I can say is they have some pieces to work with going forward. Perhaps they get off to a good start and carry it through to the half, but I'm betting against it.

NFL Pick: ATL -3 1st Half.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Packers vs Bengals

Green Bay Packers vs Cincinnati Bengals: GB -1.5 1st Half (5Dimes)

Coaches

Mike McCarthy's overall preseason record isn't anything to get excited about one way or another, but this season has been unique. First, he doesn't have Matt Flynn to lead the backups anymore, and second, his team has been ravaged through two games. However, the team is finally healthy and put together much better practices this week.  He said the starters will play the first half.

On the other end we have Marvin Lewis. Out of all weeks to fade Lewis in the preseason, it's Week 3 where he sports a 2-7 SU overall record.  Lewis said that they aren't treating this like a typical "dress rehearsal" game due to the injuries they've sustained in the first two games and that the starters will get the same amount of snaps as last game (about 3 series).

Markets

The Packers opened as -2.5 favorites and we saw some early money come in on their side. You'll find -3 across the board with varying juice, but for our purposes we only need to look at the first half lines.  GB opened at -1.5 for the half, but I won't be surprised if that heads towards -3 by kickoff.

Quarterbacks

Aaron Rodgers and Andy Dalton are the only relevant names here. Rodgers told the media they want to focus on red zone efficienty, converting third and short, and sustaining long drives on Thursday.  I'm not sure about you, but that sounds just fine to me. I like the Cincy defense, but they'll have their work cut out for them regardless of the Packers game plan. Jermichael Finley and Greg Jennings will be back in the lineup giving Rodgers two more premier pass catchers to choose from.  UPDATE: Finley has been ruled out. 

I think Dalton will have some success too, especially with AJ Green to throw to, but he'll need to put on a show if he's to keep up with Rodgers for an entire half.  Jermaine Gresham and BenJarvus Green-Ellis aren't expected to play.

Loose Ends

This game will also mark the debut and return of Cedric Benson.  Publicly he said he wants to stick it to the Bengals, but these things don't really matter once the ball the is snapped. The good news is Rodgers will have someone semi-reliable to hand off to on running downs.

Carlos Dunlap is also out for the Bengals which gives Rodgers one less thing to worry about.  He just got his left tackle back Marshall Newhouse last game, so I'm sure he's happy that things are aligned in his favor in the trenches.

Pick

It remains possible that the Packers just go through the motions for the third straight week, but with the turnaround in health and extended playing time, I'm not going to pass up the opportunity to ride Green Bay for the first half.  It's become an almost yearly tradition to fade Lewis in week 3 of the preseason and 2012 is no exception.

NFL Pick: GB -1.5 1st Half

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 1: Dolphins vs Texans

Miami Dolphins vs Houston Texans: HOU -8 (Pinnacle)

Markets

At the time of this write-up 79% of public bets are on the home team and lots of early money has moved the line from -6.5 through the 7 all the way to -8 (or higher depending where you shop).

By posting this pick now I've already broke two of my own rules.  First, I usually wait until Week 3 of the preseason is over so I can ensure there aren't significant and/or cluster injuries.  Second, I could have had this line at -7 just a couple of weeks ago.  One thing that you won't find me do very often is lay over 7 on a favorit. That said, I think this line should be -10 at the minimum. I still see value here.

Mismatches

Some people have legitimate concerns about the depth at WR (especially if Andre Johnson goes down), but Kevin Walters is fine in a supporting role and Lestar Jean has emerged during the preseason as a up-and-coming option at the 3rd spot. 

Beyond that, what we have is great overall talent and depth throughout the lineup. The biggest mismatch I see here is the advantage the Texans will have in the air on both sides of the ball. It's a big year for Matt Schaub, but he should start the season with a full arsenal of healthy weapons. The Dolphins defense was alright last year, but they didn't make any significant changes in their secondary - an area that was merely average.  Look for them to get burned on more than one occasion as the Texans have the kind of balance on the ground to keep the back seven honest.

New Miami defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle has brought in his 4-3 scheme and the players said all the right things in camp, but their test right out of the gate is a monumental one.  They didn't really do much in free agency or the draft to upgrade this side of the ball.  Getting by with the status quo might be fine vs other teams, but on the road against what could be the best AFC team?  I don't like their chances.

The only hope I see for Miami is with their ground game, but even that is up for debate. I've never been a fan of Reggie Bush outside of a speciality-type player.  He did prove me wrong last year producing more than I thought he would, but they open the season against one of the most balanced and suffocating defenses in the entire NFL. 

Beyond the Bets did a piece on the 15 rookie quarterbacks to start since 2006 and found that they are 55.4% ATS to date. Not bad if your name is Matt Tannehill, but this is probably the worst possible situation to open a season of all the rookies this year. We all know he has virtually nobody to throw to. Davone Bess, Brian Hartline, Legadu Naanee?  I'm sorry, but that's simply not good enough for 'make-or-break' situations.  Their only chance is to capitalize on good fortune and the short-passing game of Joe Philbin's WCO.  Tannehill is going to have a lot o fun figuring out Wade Phillips scheme. Pre-snap it's a 3-4, but post-snap it can resemble a 4-3. 

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the Texans D produced the most pressure of any team in 2011.  I see no reason why that won't continue in Week 1. They picked up in the preseason right where they left off.

Reason to Pause?

I look up and down the Texans roster and my only concern is on the right side of the offensive line. Yet, during Gary Kubiak's tenure in Houston, the O-line has been a significant strength so I have trust that they'll once again shore up the losses of Eric Winston and Mike Brisiel. That said, they ran to the right side 235 times last year so all eyes will be on their approach in 2012.

Bottom Line

I have the Texans rated very high on my personal power rankings and the Dolphins are near the bottom. Two of Houston's strengths are in the air on offense and defense, while these are the two biggest problem/question areas for the Dolphins.  In today's NFL, that is a bad combination and mismatch to have.  The Texans own advantages in other aforementioned areas too, but I'm going to be very surprised if Miami can keep this game within single digits.  I'm also not worried about a potential backdoor cover.  The offensive arsenal just isn't there yet.

NFL Pick: HOU -8.

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

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Cardinals vs Titans

Arizona Cardinals vs Tennessee Titans: TEN -3 (5Dimes)

Coaches

Last week Mike Munchak's crew took care of business and made easy work of a Tampa Bay team still trying to figure things out. This week, Munchak brings his 4-2 NFLX record home to host the beleaguered Arizona Cardinals.

From what I've seen so far, Mike Munchak is a coach that is highly respected within his locker room. Last year we had local beat reporters say that players would "run through a brick wall" for him.  We've all heard that cliche` before, but there's no reason to believe the Titans are content after one successful season.

For Arizona, coach Ken Whisenhunt carries a 8-14 SU record in the preseason and Week 3 of 2012 presents another challenging test.  He's been very public about his objectives this week as they try to figure out an identity on offense.  This is going to be easier said than done and despite his best intentions, he can only work with what he has on the field.

Markets

The Titans opened as -4.5 point favorites, but that has quickly been whipped into shape. The line currently sits at that magical '3' mark, which is exactly what I was waiting for before I released this play.  It might be wishful thinking we could get a better number than that, but I feel comfortable locking in on that number.  Right now, 56% of public bets are on the Titans.

Quarterbacks

You would be hard-pressed to find two other teams in the NFL that have had higher profile training camp battles at the QB position.

Let's tackle the Cardinals first.  John Skelton is slated to get the start with the first-teamers, but coach Whisenhunt has stated that Kevin Kolb could get reps with the first team as well.  I'm not sure it's going to make much of a difference though.  Last week Kolb was called out by Oakland DT Tommy Kelly who said he was "skittish and scared".  Kolb obviously took exception, but Kurt Warner has come out and said he's seeing the same things from him that he saw last year.

I have to agree with that statement. In my Cardinals season preview I said that I expected Kolb to improve this year and be better than people expected. My only caveat was that his O-line could become serviceable and not be the issue it was last year.

Epic fail on that front. Making matters worse is the loss of LT Levi Brown. As if this sadsack unit needed more bad news, but that's exactly what they got. 

Ryan Lindley rounds out this QB group, but I don't anticipate him being a significant factor if he does get playing time.

On the flip side, the Titans have put the QB debate to rest and gone with Jake Locker. I was probably not the only one surprised when I heard this news given his subpar play last week against the Buccaneers. Yet, here we are with another young QB taking over the reigns.

I do agree with the move, even if Matt Hasselbeck is better-equipped to lead them in the short-term.  Everyone likes Locker's skill-set, but his erratic nature still gives people pause.  He is scheduled to play into the 3rd quarter before giving way to the veteran.

The reason I like this situation is because there isn't going to be a big motivation dropoff from these two.  Locker was named the starter coming off a bad outing and has more than enough motivation to justify the move - especially in front of the home crowd in the "dress rehearsal" game.

Hasselbeck is a great team guy and very supportive of Locker, but he's also fiercely competitive.  You can be sure that he's going to go out there and continue to do his thing. I'm sure he's now playing with a chip on his shoulder and this should translate well on the field.

Loose Ends

The best chance the Cardinals will have in this game will come from their running game.  Beanie Wells is on schedule to return in this matchup and along with Ryan Williams they should be able to alleviate some of the pressure on the QBs.  I'm a fan of both backs, but I'm not sure it's going to be enough to mask the problems on the O-line.

The Titans wreaked havoc on the TB quarterbacks last week, so there should be more opportunities this week to press Skelton and Kolb into some negative plays.  At the end of three quarters, TB had -13 passing yards and 39 yards overall.  Ouch!

Chris Johnson also got going in what was a rare chunk of preseason action for the former All-Pro. Reports from camp said he was primed for a return to supremacy this season and he showed us a glimpse of that possibility last week.

Pick

Both teams have precarious QB situations, but it's much more unsettled on the Cardinals side. Whisenhunt seems much more focused on trying to get one of his QBs to play well and not trying to get them killed in the process. The mismatches in favor of the Titans defense could make this an ugly affair for Arizona fans.  I like the direction and stability from Munchak and they should wrap things up on a positive note on Thursday night.

NFL Pick: TEN -3.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Jaguars vs Ravens

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Baltimore Ravens: JAX +7 (Pinnacle)

Coaches

Picking against a guy like John Harbaugh in the preseason hasn't been a profitable venture during his time in Baltimore. He enters this week with a 12-6 record SU and 3-1 record in Week 3.  However, this preseason we've seen plenty of coaching trends not go as plan either - Mike Shanahan, Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid to name a few.

One of our objectives in NFLX handicapping is deciphering coach-speak. Are they maintaining their philosophy of years past?  Are they giving the media one message and delivering another on gameday?  With Harbaugh it's tough to tell at this point, but based on early results and his response in the media - he doesn't seem to care one iota about what's taken place so far. 

Meanwhile, Mike Mularkey isn't shy to said what his mandate has been this preseason.  He's had his team in full-pads for as much time as the CBA allows for it in order to instill a different mindset this year. The Jaguars are coming off a horrible season and his primary goal is to generate a sense of confidence going forward.  Through two games, the vibe around the team is a positive one.

Markets

I was surprised to see the Jaguars open at +7 underdogs this week.  I had all my notes ready for a write-up last week as I really wanted to play them against the Saints, but once I saw their O-line situation I had no choice but to pass.  Hindsight is always 20/20, but it makes no sense to undermine the Jags this much.  Right now two out of every three bets are coming in on Jacksonville.  Trend-wise, in Week 3 NFLX action since 2000,  underdogs are 55-37 (59.8%) ATS when getting +3.5 or more points.

Quarterbacks

There are scouts and analysts out there that I respect. One such guy is Adam Caplan. Early in training camp he said Blaine Gabbert still looks jittery in the pocket and that it's a mental issue that hasn't gone away.  I haven't seen what he's said since, but Gabbert looks like a completely different quarterback this year.  Last week he put up a couple of touchdown drives, wasn't sacked, and looks in command of the huddle.  This after putting together a nice touchdown drive in Week 1 vs the Giants.

This is not only encouraging because they so desperately need him to develop, but he's doing it behind a severely banged up offensive line.  Improved confidence and composure in the face of pressure is often what makes or breaks a young quarterback going forward.

Behind him there is even better news. If this game is going to be decided by backups then the Jags have two QBs fighting it out for the number two spot. Chad Henne is more than capable to move the chains - even if he hasn't looked great thus far.  Pushing him is Jordan Palmer. A year ago he didn't look like he belonged in the NFL in any role, but through two games he's provided late touchdown producing drives.  No matter which one (or both) is in against the Ravens, I like their chances to secure the cover (or get it through the backdoor).

For Baltimore, there isn't much to say about Joe Flacco that we don't already know. He's played solid through two games and is taking a more involved role in the offense this year. The problem comes when he leaves the game. Tyrod Taylor has had his fair share of struggles with most of his production coming with his legs. Curtis Painter did throw for 3 touchdowns against the Falcons, but he's been downright awful in practice often throwing more passes to the defense than his receivers.  Neither have got much help from backup running back Bernard Pierce either. Hence, I give the slight edge to the Jaguars in the 4th quarter.

Loose Ends

One thing to keep an eye on here is the Jaguars WR position.  Baltimore's secondary has been shredded by top recievers (109 yards to Julio Jones and 111 yards to  Calvin Johnson) through two games. Justin Blackmon had a nice debut last week against the Saints and he could surprise again this week. Laurent Robinson was supposed to be their number one receiver, but he didn't even get a pass his way last week.  Both guys should have opportunities in Week 3.  The Jags have also had nice production from Rashad Jennings in MJD's absense.  The run game hasn't been a concern so far.  

Pick

I might be on an island here seeing as though there hasn't been any line movement on the dog, but I'm not about to pass up a point spread of this size in the preseason given all the variables in play.  It's entirely possible that the parade comes to a crashing halt this week, but I picked the Jaguars to win over 5 games back in July and I think they are still undervalued here in this spot.

NFL Pick: JAX +7.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Texans vs Saints

Houston Texans vs New Orleans Saints: HOU +3 (5Dimes)

The Houston Texans definitely aren't your front page headliners right now, but they should be.  I might have the Patriots ahead of them in the offseason power rankings, but don't be surprised if you see a swap when I update them next week.

Coaches

Historically the Houston Texans under Gary Kubiak have done a good job piling up preseason wins in the first three weeks before they pack it in for the final game.  Based on his comments to the media thus far I see no indication that he's about to take a different approach anytime soon. 

Kubiak has already said he wants his starters to play three quarters against the Saints on Saturday and for someone like me that's music to my ears.  From top to bottom you'll have a hard time finding teams with more quality on both sides of the ball.  

For the Saints, interim Joe Vitt is still a wild card at this point, but he did play Drew Brees and company longer than people expected last week against the Jaguars.  It's safe to say we can expect at least a half out of the starters and to see Chase Daniels at some point in the 2nd half.

What might be more important is the approach taken by new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.  He drew praise for his impact on this largely no-name unit in camp and through the first two preseason games, but things came crashing down last week against the Jaguars.  The first-team secondary got picked apart and their overall tackling was atrocious.  Chalk it up to normal preseason peaks and valleys, but you aren't going to find that kind of letdown on the Texans side of the ball.

Markets

CRIS opened the Saints as 4 point favorites on Monday, but that was immediately snatched up by early money. Right now you can get the Texans at +3 at even money, but the public bets are coming in on the Saints. 

Quarterbacks

As much as I love the Texans roster, I'm not about to say that Matt Schaub is comparable to Drew Brees, but I do think that Schaub will have the advantage here. Andre Johnson is back in the lineup and made a cameo last week.  I expect him to see more action this week against a vulnerable Saints pass defense.  Lestar Jean is emerging as the leader for the 3rd WR spot.

After Schaub takes the bench I'm more than comfortable with TJ Yates coming in to mop things up in the 4th quarter.

The Texans have a scary looking crew on defense and they've yet to give up to give up a touchdown this preseason. I don't expect them to shut Brees out, but they should be able to get enough pressure to limit his damage. Chase Daniel is someone I like a lot coming on in relief, but I think his matchup with Yates is a wash given the limited time they'll have on the field.

Loose Ends

The area that the Texans D want to focus on is their run defense. The Saints have capable guys coming out of the backfield and their O-line is very adept at run blocking.  All the attention will be on the air attack, but I think the ground game is something worth watching.

The other impact player to watch for Houston is return specialist sensation Trindon Holliday.  He has touchdown returns in back to back games and should be in the mix for more big plays in this game as well. At the very least, he should put the Texans offense in favorable field position once or twice.

Also don't forget about Ben Tate - who is possibly one of the better backups in the league at the moment.  The right side of the O-line is still being evaluated, but both he and Foster have the ability to move the chains regardless of who's ahead of them.

Unfortuantley for the Saints, their own front seven will be significantly undermanned heading into this game.  Chris Champerlain, Curtis Lofton, and David Hawthorne are all out with injuries which prompted a trade with Seattle for Barrett Ruud.  Those linebackers join Jabari Greer on the sidelines giving coach Spags much less to work with.  The Lofton injury will especially hurt in the middle.

On offense, the Saints are likely to be missing Darren Sproles once again and rookie WR Nick Toon isn't expected to play either. 

Picks

I realize that Drew Brees will be on the field for what could be three quarters and I understand his level of dominance at home, but this Texans team is a well-oiled machine at the moment. They don't have many significant injuries outside of JJ Watt and there is simply too much talent and depth to ignore.  If the Saints were healthy and stable in their coaching ranks I would likely take a pass, but given the current situation I like Houston in this matchup.

NFL Pick: HOU +3.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2012: Panthers vs Jets

Carolina Panthers vs New York Jets: CAR +3 (Bodog)

Coaches

Ron Rivera doesn't have a shining preseason record in his short coaching stint, but let's keep in mind what he was working with when he took over the ship last year.  Fast-forward one calendar year and you have what is probably one of the most potent offenses in the entire NFL.  His 2-4 SU record is nothing to be concerned about as this Panthers teams is on the right track heading into the season.

Meanwhile, we have Rex Ryan at the helm for the Jets.  He might say all the right things to the crazed media in New York, but on the field his team is 0-2 to start the preseason with almost no offense to speak of.  His historical NFLX record is now 6-8 SU and 7-7 ATS. 

Markets

This line opened at NYJ -3, but we've seen steady action on the Panthers. Right now you'll have to shop around and lay a bit of juice if you want CAR +3, but keep in mind that '1' and '2' are quasi-key numbers in the preseason, so don't be scared off if you can't snag a '3'.  I like Carolina to win this game straight up, so any points I can grab along the way is a bonus for me. UPDATE: Just as I posted this Pinnacle moved CAR to +2.5, but +3 can still be had at Bodog

Quarterbacks

I was hoping I could somehow skip this section of the write-up and you wouldn't notice because I really have no appetite whatsoever to talk about the New York Jets QB situation. If you've followed this blog for any amount of time you'll know what I think of Mark Sanchez.  He was drafted with premature expectations and got carried along by a top-rated defense during his early years.  I'm not saying the guy shouldn't be in the league, but I don't think he should be a starting quarterback under any circumstances.  Through two preseason games Sanchez is 13-17, 80 yards, 1 INT, 5 sacks.

And as if that wasn't bad enough, the Jets have another overrated quarterback who is nothing more than a neon-flashing lights gimmick machine.  If you are a Jets fans I do apologize because it's nothing personal, but Tim Tebow absolutely sucks. I know "sucks" isn't the most insightful commentary you've ever read, but his numbers speak for itself.  After two games, Tebow is 9-22, 96 yards, 1 INT, 4 sacks.

Enough said?

Picking our spirits up is the Cam Newton.  Is there another QB in the league that people are more excited to see this season?  I'm not sure he can top his sensational rookie season, but given the running game he has at his disposal and the flexibility of his legs, I'm not sure how many people are going to stop this offense in 2012. Of course when you have a guy like Darrele Revis one should pause, but the only way I see Newton's offense slowing down is if they stop themselves.  The running backs and Steve Smith get all the attention, but don't sleep on guys like under-the-radar Brandon LaFell and soon-to-be-breakout star Greg Olsen.

The key to the equation will be the O-line - primarily at both guard spots. If they can hold up, look out.

Backing up Newton is Derek Anderson. As a starter I'd be ripping him like I am the Jets QBs, but as a backup he can go in there and be a servicable player.  He's been solid all throughout camp and that's carried into the games so far.

Loose Ends

The test for the Panthers will be on the defensive side of the ball.  No matter how good the Jets defense is, I expect the Carolina offense to put up points. The only question is whether or not their defense can improve on what we saw last year.  There are still problems on that side of the ball and there aren't many indications that things are fixed after two preseason games. On the bright side, they might get outside linebacker Thomas Davis back, but Jon Beason is likely being saved for the regular season.

They will get a great opportunity this week going up against a weak offensive line.  In two games the Jets have given up 12 sacks.  Their offense is the only unit in the league not to produce a touchdown yet this year, and Santonio Holmes (rib, back), Jeremy Kerley (hamstring) and Chaz Schilens (ankle) - are hobbled with injuries. 

Pick

I realize the pressure is on in New York to produce a good result here, but I'm just not seeing many positives for the Jets here.  The off the field circus seems to be the only thing people care about and all signs are pointing to an implosion this season.  In Carolina, all the road signs are pointing up and last week we saw a glimpse of how lethal this offense can be.

NFL Pick: CAR +3.

The rest of my Week 3 predictions are here, or you can find all my 2012 predictions on the home page main menu.