Friday, September 28, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 4

A couple things on the replacement ref saga.  Their influence in favor of the home teams is currently up in the air.  Going into Week 3 they had called 23% more penalties against road teams, up from the 7% average. Yet, the results of Week 3 didn't see any correlation with that, making Week 2 an anomaly on the schedule (so far). 

What I'm personally interested in is how the passing game is affected once the regular refs come back.  The replacements have no idea how to enforce illegal contact/defensive holding and defensive backs are getting away with a ton.  If it was up to me I'd eliminate the illegal contact rule until the ball is in the air (much like college).  I like the battles that take place forcing receivers to earn the advantage rather than just running free past five yards. We'll see how it shakes out.

Week 3 Recap

Regardless of what happens in the Monday night game, it will be the second straight losing week for me. Unlike a lot handicappers out there, I don't deflect the blame, cry about refs and bad beats, or pretend losses didn't happen.

UPDATE: I'm sorry, but you can disregard my last statement.  Not sure I've ever seen officiating that bad in my entire life.  If you watched the 4th quarter of the Packers/Seahawks game, nothing more needs to be said. 

It's hard to regret the Panthers pick since I gave it out before the big line move, and I would pick the Lions again, too. The Redskins was a bad pick and I shouldn't have faded the Falcons given how they are playing this year. The Steelers pick is debatable, especially when you look at Big Ben's numbers and how many points they put up. 

The good news is I started this way in 2010 and finished almost 60% ATS.  The bottom line is I came out of the gate a bit too aggressive this year.  I turned too many leans into picks, so I'll be picking more selectively the next couple of weeks.  I'm really in no mood to post up my first losing season.

Week 4 Picks

Titans vs Texans

Redskins vs Buccaneers 

Bengals vs Jaguars

Seahawks vs Rams

Raiders vs Broncos

Teasers

Team Totals

Props

Following from Bodog, Pinnacle, or 5Dimes.

G Little O35.5 rec yards
L McCoy O22.5 rec yards 
D Jackson +12.5 rec yards vs Cruz 
Bears/Cowboys O3.5 FGs
A Jeffery U3.5 receptions

Sacks
Seahawks/Rams O5.5
Giants/Eagles O4.5
Bears/Cowboys O5.5 

Survivor Pick

58% of the weekly poll put their faith in the 49ers and Saints in Week 3, and the majority of survivor pools out there are reporting that roughly 90% of the entrants have been eliminated.  There was no obvious pick on the board, but if I could pick the Texans every week I would. I went with the Bears, but their offense certainly didn't inspire a lot of confidence in the win.  Beyond the Bets have more information and strategy here, and TeamRankings have in depth analysis here.

Survivor Pick: Baltimore Ravens

Week 3: Chicago Bears
Week 2: New England Patriots
Week 1: Houston Texans

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 4: Team Totals

As with the sides, I'm taking a more focused approach on totals this week.  All numbers from 5Dimes.







Lions O25.5

It wasn't that long ago that Detroit was favored by more than a TD in this game.  The Vikings D is grading out well within the stats, but consider that they have played the 49ers, Colts, and Jaguars.  Not exactly high-powered offenses.  I think there is value here, especially with the possibility of a running game in LeShoure.

Falcons O27.5

I don't think the Panthers will be as bad as they were vs the Giants, but they don't match-up very good against this Atlanta offense.  They don't have enough difference makers up front to disrupt Matt Ryan, nor the cover guys to keep White and Jones in check.  I'm surprised this number isn't higher.

Chiefs O21.5

If KC actually played to their potential, the team total should be 24 at minimum.  Instead, the Chiefs are getting dog status here which brings their team total down. I'm not going to throw in the towel on this team yet and I think there is value on this number.

Broncos O27.5

The Raiders come into this game with possibly the worst secondary in the NFL. This is a secret to nobody.  As mentioned in my write-up, Denver has played three pretty good defenses thus far.  I find it hard to believe they'll struggle as much offensively in this spot.

Bengals O23

The Jags defense has been one of the most disappointing units this season.  Last year it was what they hung their hat on. Combine that with a passing offense on the rise, and it's hard to pass up a total of 23.  I like Cincy to win the game, and that includes covering this number.

Packers O30

Much like the Broncos, the Packers have faced good defenses this year - 49ers, Bears, and Seahawks.  Ouch!  So take the early season offensive numbers for GB with a grain of salt.  What better remedy than a porous Saints defense facing 0-4?  Packers roll.

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 4: Raiders vs Broncos

Oakland Raiders vs Denver Broncos: DEN -6.5 (Pinnacle)

Markets

Back in the offseason, Cantor threw up the obligatory -7 on this game in favor of the Broncos.  That made sense given all the turnover in Oakland combined with the addition of Peyton Manning.  Even after two weeks of the season, the look-ahead line remained the same.

However, this week the game re-opened at -6.  Bettors immediately recognized that was a bit short and bet it to -6.5.  Now as we get closer to game-time a lot of books have pushed it all the way to -7.  I like this at anything up to a touchdown, and you can always throw it in a teaser.

Strength of Opponent

If you rely on stats like I do, you'll know that most of the September numbers are skewed quite a bit.  First, the sample size is small. Second, it's hard to weight the rankings based on opponent without knowing the contenders from the pretenders.

Without adjusting for the opponent, I have the Broncos graded as six point favorites.  Yet, there's a stark difference in the schedules of these two teams. Both have played the Steelers, but the Raiders had the Chargers at home and Dolphins on the road. Conversely, the Broncos played the Falcons on the road in prime-time and the Texans at home.  Those very well might be the two best teams in the NFL at the moment.

Once you factor this in, the Broncos grade out over a touchdown on the line.  Peyton is still throwing ducks past 20 yards, but he's going to be more comfortable each and every week and finally gets to play against a below average secondary. 

Despite playing three tough defenses, the Broncos still rank in the top half of the league in key statistical categories (passing yards, drive success rate, third down/red zone percentage).  The Raiders rank in the bottom half in those same areas.

They were hoping to get a lot more production from their D-line this year and the lack of pass rush has only exasperated the problems on the back end.  They signed Andre Carter this week and it's possible he suits up, but I wouldn't expect an extensive role this early.

Late Surge a Sign of Things to Come?

I took the Steelers last week and felt pretty good about the pick for most of the game. Then everything that could have gone wrong, did.  The Raiders scored 13 unanswered points in a 4th quarter momentum swing and won the game outright.

The problem here is it happened at home and they benefited from a timely turnover as Pittsburgh was marching down the field.  I'm not sold on Palmer yet. His pass-catching weapons aren't going to scare anyone. They lost Darrius Heyward-Bey to a nasty concussion, so there will be a four WR rotation this Sunday.  Denarius Moore, Rod Streater, Derek Hagan, and Juron Criner.  Enough said.

If Oakland wants to keep this close, they'll attack Denver's depleted linebacking crew on the ground.  Nate Irving, Joe Mays, and DJ Williams are out of the lineup.  Keith Brooking needs to step up here because they only have rookies in reserve. 

The other challenge facing the Raiders e is the long field they'll be facing for most of the game. Oakland rank near the bottom of the league in average net field position.  Hoping that Palmer can consistently put together mistake-free drives is asking a lot in this spot.

Bottom Line

A lot of people are going to stay away from this game. Peyton Manning was once an automatic bet by the public, but that trust has waned.  McFadden seems poised for a big game given the Broncos injuries on defense.  And the Raiders are not going to be intimidated by a divisional rival, either.

Yet, I can't ignore how bad this Raiders team really is. They've been plagued by injuries at both the receiver spot and cornerback all season. Palmer is still getting used to the WCO and the defense is lacking the kind of personnel needed to make this multi-scheme system work.  The Broncos finally get a break in their schedule and should be able to take care of business.

NFL Pick: DEN -6.5.

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


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 4: Redskins vs Buccaneers

Washington Redskins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TB -2.5 (5Dimes)

Markets

The offseason line had the Bucs favored by one. The look-ahead line was -2.5.  After Week 3, not much has changed.  A lot of books are preferring to set the game at -3 at even money, but you can grab -2.5 for a decent price.  I still like the play at -3 because I think it should be closer to -4.

QB Inconsistency

Neither one of these QB's are going to win any awards for their play anytime soon.  RG3 is dynamic and deadly in the red zone, but he was just 3 for 8 on third down resulting in just one first down. The problem is he doesn't have the best weapons around him and he's still susceptible to normal rookie mistakes.  Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, and Santana Moss are average at best, which is why most of RG3's targets went to Fred Davis over the middle.  Pierre Garcon might return, but don't expect a huge surge in offense if he does. 

The good news is even after Trent Williams went down with an injury, RG3 still managed to put up 24 points on offense including 85 yards rushing.  The asterik here though is he did it against a subpar Cincy defense.  Also, if Williams can't go or is limited with his bone bruise, the Skins O-line could be in trouble once again with Jordan Black covering RG3's blindside.

Things might be even worse for Josh Freeman.  He continues to show the kind of inconsistency that plagued him last season.  On third down, he turned the ball over twice and only converted one pass for a first down.  Just the week before he put up over 200 yards passing including long touchdowns to Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

What to expect this week?  Your guess is as good as mine, but the promising thing is he's going up against a hapless secondary and questionable pass rush.

Defense: Advantage Bucs

It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Bucs struggled offensively against the Cowboys.  That was a tough spot to be in after their devastating loss in New York the week before, and Dallas have a pretty good thing going on with their defense. Thankfully for them, the Redskins are not yet on the same level as the rest of their division. 

Last week I raised questions about the Skins secondary, but I thought they'd be able to do enough collectively on defense to limit Dalton/Green. The Bengals proved that those concerns were legit as they completely shredded Washington's defense all day long.

The only heartbeat on this Skins defense is at linebacker with Riley, Kerrigan, and Fletcher.  Yet, much like the Panthers, a good set of linebackers can only do so much if they can't get QB pressure up front or cover anybody at the back.

I'm not saying the Bucs are going to post huge numbers on Sunday, but they should be able to put up some points and rely on their defense.

Losing Adrian Clayborn was a blow and I'm not sure how they are going to replace him.  Da'Quan Bowers is already out, so they are running low on quality reserves.  Michael Bennett has done a great job filling in, and Gerald McCoy is providing a strong push in the middle, but this is something to keep an eye on going forward.

The good news is the rest of the defense is stepping up to the plate.  Last week I said the Giants game was misleading because the Bucs played great on D for three quarters before all hell broke loose.  Lavonte David doesn't come off the field and is already the anchor over the middle.  Without him, I fear what this linebacking group would look like.

On the back end is where I expect the biggest mismatch of the day to be.  Eric Wright and Aqib Talib have done a great job this year against three pretty high powered offenses.  Yes the wheels did fall off for one quarter, but Wright was off the field and Eli took advantage of their cover one scheme in the hurry-up no huddle.  That is not about to happen with this Skins offense.

I don't really trust Ronde Barber in coverage anymore, but with Mark Barron roaming the field in the other safety spot, this secondary has a chance to be very good.

Bottom Line

When I update my power rankings next week, I can't imagine these teams being too far away from each other.  Yet, it's hard to think that the Redskins are the better team right now given the discrepancies on defense.  The Bucs have shown a tough attitude on that side of the ball and look much better than they did last year.  I like them to win this game by more than field goal as long as Freeman can spit out an average performance.

NFL Pick: TB -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.

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 4: Bengals vs Jaguars

Cincinnati Bengals vs Jacksonville Jaguars: CIN -1 (Pinnacle)

Markets

There really isn't a lot to mention here.  The Bengals opened as short favorites in the offseason and have remained there all the way through the look-ahead and opening lines.  A large amount of public bets are coming in on the Bengals, and it's hard to blame them given what we've seen thus far.  I like the pick at anything under a field goal.

The Lesser of Two Evils

I have to say, I've been very disappointed with the Jaguars this year.  I really expected more from their defense.  It's still early and there's time to turn it around, but at the moment they have nothing to hang their hat on.

They can't stop the run, defend the pass, pressure the QB, or stop people on third down.  This is very concerning especially when you consider they've played the Vikings and Colts - not exactly two high-powered offenses.

Daryl Smith is still out, but they did get Derek Cox back.  That should help the secondary, but I doubt it's going to be enough to slow down Andy Dalton and the high flying Bengals passing attack.

I can't believe I just said that, but Dalton might have had his best game as a pro last week.  Football Outsiders have done extensive research on what years quarterbacks make the most progress and they found that year two is really the only year that there is a consistent improvement.  I think we are seeing the fruits of that as Dalton has been lighting up secondaries all season.

And it's not just AJ Green.  Last week I questioned whether or not guys like Armon Binns and fantasy revelation Andrew Hawkins can keep up their production, but it seems like everybody is getting in on the action.  Let's also not forget about Jermaine Gresham over the middle. Collectively, these guys are hauling in everything thrown their way which is something that didn't happen last year.  As a result, Dalton's completion percentage is among the league's best.

It's still too early to crown Dalton with the "arrived" status, but it sure looks like he's on the right path.  They still need to improve on third down and red zone efficiency, but I think they'll get their chance this week against an underacheiving defense.

One Step Forward, One Step Back

This applies to both Blaine Gabbert and the Bengals defense.

Let's start with the good news.  Gabbert has yet to throw an interception this year.  If you watched him last year, you'll know how much of an improvement that is.  Unfortunately, the bad news is he hasn't developed enough as a passer to convince us he's ready for prime-time.  In back to back weeks, he didn't produce a single first down in 15 consecutive drop-backs.  Ouch!

Even with MJD producing good numbers, this offense is near the bottom of every single meaningful statistical category.

The same can be said for the Bengals D.  They also rank near the bottom of nearly every statistical category.  Last week they got to RG3 quite a bit and the return of Carlos Dunlap certainly helped that, but take it with a grain of salt thanks to the Trent Williams injury.   Having said that, Dunlap did have a sack and a forced fumble.

Even though the Jaguars are hoping to get Bradfield and Britton back on the O-line, the addition of Dunlap makes everyone on the D-line better.  If Cincy win this battle up front, it will be curtains for Gabbert and company.

The bad news for Cincy are the injuries to Hall and Clements on the back end.  This was a secondary that was already below average, so Gabbert will definitely have his chance to show us what he's got.  He might have to do it without Laurent Robinson due to a concussion, so keep an eye on that on Friday's injury report.  The challenge is clear though.  If the Jaguars want to believe in Gabbert this season, this is the week that he needs to make some progress.

Bottom Line

This isn't a game that I anticipated getting involved in a few weeks ago, but the Jaguars are simply not the team I want to get behind right now.  I've been hella impressed with Dalton's progression the last couple of weeks and I think he puts up enough points to keep this out of reach.  MJD can only do so much.

NFL Pick: CIN -1.

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 4: Teasers

Atlanta Falcons -1 & Green Bay Packers -1.5

Falcons

Atlanta is a team that is getting a lot of national publicity with their 3-0 start.  In betting circles, they are just as hot with their 3-0 ATS record.  Yet, the one thing holding me back from playing them straight on the spread this week are some numbers on defense.

Despite the final scores, the Falcons D ranks below average against the run, on third down, and in the red zone.  All of these early numbers must be taken with a grain of salt due to sample size and quality of competition, but I'm going to wait a little bit longer before I completely buy into this team.

Week 3 aside, this Panthers offense certainly is capable of putting up monster numbers.  If they ran the ball down the Falcons throat and hit them a few times on play action, I wouldn't be surprised. I also wouldn't be shocked if they marched down the field and put up a garbage TD for a backdoor cover.

Yet, when capping this game it's impossible to ignore what the Falcons have done on offense this year.  I held out some hope that the Panthers D could make some incremental improvements on defense this year, but so far that appears unlikely even though they have a nice trio of linebackers in the middle.

Matt Ryan is on fire and they rank near the top in drive stats, third down, and red zone.  On top of this, they rank much better than Carolina in starting field position, and special teams.  I think the new coordinators deserve a lot of credit for coming in and improving the little things that cost them so many games last season.

Teasing them down to what is essentially a pick em is a no-brainer.

Packers

Without question, the Packers got robbed.  You gotta give Mike McCarthy a ton of credit for changing up the offensive game plan at halftime and completely taking over the game.  That is what great teams do and I'm surprised that the game was that close to begin with.

The most overlooked aspect of the Packers over the last couple weeks is how dominant their defense has been.  This is the primary reason I like them to get back on track this week against a struggling Saints team.

The one questionable area could be against the run, which is something I expect New Orleans to focus on.  The problem with this approach is the Saints are going to have a tough time staying within one score going into the 2nd half.

At this point, the jury is still out on Drew Brees and the Saints passing attack.  Thus far they've been pretty average.  For most teams, the numbers would be ok, but this offense is not firing like it was last year. I'm not sure if it's one particular thing, but Sean Payton, the O-line, and Brees all deserve some blame here.

One could argue the same thing for the Packers, but let's remember who Green Bay has faced thus far - 49ers, Bears, and Seahawks. Those are three pretty good defenses.  I fully expect the Packers to get back to some of their high-flying ways against a defense that has no idea what they are doing.

I'm not sure if Rodgers and company cover the spread, but I find it hard to believe they lose outright to a team that is in free-fall.

NFL Pick: ATL -1 & GB -1.5.

Denver Broncos -.5 & Green Bay Packers -1.5 

Raiders/Broncos analysis here.

NFL Pick: DEN -.5 & GB -1.5.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 4: Seahawks vs Rams

Seattle Seahawks vs St Louis Rams: STL +3 (Bodog)

Markets

This is perhaps one of the most intriguing match-ups on the board this week.  The books had the Seahawks as slight one point favorites before the season, which is a credit to both teams for living up to early season expectations.  The look ahead line favored Seattle by -2.5, and the current line is in the same range depending on the book and the juice. If you shop around, you can grab a +3 out there, but a lot of books are keeping it out of the teaser window for the time being.

Seahawks Aren't Very Good Coming off a Loss

Sorry, I couldn't help myself.  Joking aside, it's no secret that the Seahawks are a different team on the road than they are at home.  In fact, they are among the most divergent teams when you compare them home and away.

Conversely, while the stats might not show it, the Rams are also a better team at home than they are on the road.  This dichotomy should work in our favor this week, especially when you consider the chaos that ensued on Monday night.  I can't see how the Seahawks bring the same intensity on the road vs a team like the Rams.

NFC West = best defenses in the NFL?

During MNF, I saw Adam Caplan talk about the NFC West potentially having three of the top five defenses in the NFL.  While that may be true, I can't possibly ignore how much the Rams defense has improved as well.

In fact, I really like this matchup against the Seattle offense.  Something that has been kind of lost the past three weeks is the relative ineffectiveness of Russell Wilson.  Don't get me wrong I think the kid has skills and I really like how he carries himself for a rookie, but the kind of impact that people have expected just hasn't been there.

If Marshawn Lynch isn't busting through the line on a consistent basis, this offense doesn't move the ball very well.  The suspect weapons on the outside was one of my preseason concerns for this team, and they'll have a tough time against two very good corners in Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins.

The one area that the Rams D does need to improve is in the red zone, but Seattle has been even more inept in that department. 

One big news item that is flying under the radar this week is the possible (and probable) debut of prized rookie Michael Brockers.  The first-round pick could add a huge boost to a D-line already loaded with talent.  The line only has four sacks to its name thus far, but sacks only tell part of the story.  They had 10 pressures on Cutler last week thanks in large part to Quinn, Long, and Langford.  Adding Brockers to the mix could pay immediate dividends on Sunday.

The Sky is Falling for the Rams Offense?

I'm not sure why the Rams offense is getting so much negative press.  Is there anyone out there that expected them to have a great day against the Bears defense on the road?  Granted, they got thoroughly outplayed, but this offense is a work in progress and despite their good play in the first couple of weeks, the O-line still have issues to sort out.

Given the injury situation up front, you can expect more of the short-passing game against a very good Seattle defense. Amendola has been just as good, if not better, than he was before his nasty injury last year and provides the perfect safety valve for Bradford.  Also, Fisher will continue to feature a heavy run game with the 1-2 punch of Jackson/Richardson. 

Without question, it's going to be a grind, but I really don't see a lot separating these two offenses right now.  I would even say that the Rams could be better on that side of the ball with the growth of Bradford.  Last week aside, he did have two 300+ yard games in the first two weeks.

Bottom Line

On a neutral field I would have the Seahawks as the better team, but this spread is telling us that they are a full six points better.  I disagree.  I think there is some value on the underrated Rams against a team coming off an emotional home win (loss). 

NFL Pick: STL +3.

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 4: Titans vs Texans

Tennessee Titans vs Houston Texans: HOU -12 (5Dimes)

Markets

The offseason line was Houston -7.5.  The look-ahead line last week was -10.5.  After another impressive win over the Broncos it re-opened at -13 this week.  It was initially bet down to -11, but today money is coming back on the Texans.  And with good reason. I have the Texans favored by 15 points in my system, which is a rarity in the numbers that I use.  I would set this line at -13.5 at the minimum, but more likely -14.

NFL Rewind

If you have access to this service, please go back and watch the Lions vs Titans game.  The entertainment value alone will be worth your time.  If you can't watch it, I'm certain it will be replayed on the NFL network on Tuesday.

The main takeaway from that game is two-fold.  One, the Titans had a handful of freak touchdowns.  Two of them came on special teams (hello Music City Miracle Part II).  Another few came on long touchdown passes off of broken coverages (and 1 unbelievable catch).

Second, many of the same problems that existed on Tennessee before the game were still there on display on Sunday.  They went 0-2 in the red zone, couldn't run the ball, and couldn't stop Detroit's offense with any sort of consistency whatsoever.

If you think they are primed for repeat performance against the Texans, you're either a Titans fan or living in some parallel universe I'm unaware of.

Are the Texans Too Much for Vegas?

I've made well over 250 documented picks ATS over the last couple of seasons, and I've very rarely taken a team favored by double digits.  This league is too unpredictable to take that chance.  Beginning last year, we've also seen that no lead is safe.  Even the Texans had the game against the Broncos well in hand, but a late turnover sparked a two touchdown comeback from Peyton and company.

Yet, I really don't think Vegas can get a handle on this Texans team.  I certainly haven't been right about every team this year, but I've been right on the money with Houston. I might sprain my shoulder patting myself on the back, but it's taken three weeks for the rest of the league to catch up.

Last year, when healthy, the Texans were steamrolling teams and winning ATS at a fantastic rate.  So far this season, there's very little reason to believe that's about to change anytime soon.  People saw how the Dolphins hung with them for a while in Week 1, but they eventually broke though and blew them out.  Sharps expected a tough game in Jacksonville, and the Texans smacked them around too.  Finally, people anticipated a challenging road game in a tough road spot at Mile High.  It really was no contest.  That's what elite teams do - they blow out the teams they are supposed to and come out on top in the tougher matchups. 

The bottom line is the books can't set a line high enough without heavy money coming in on the underdog.  Some sharps fade a double digit favorite blindly on principle.  Personally, I'm not scared by the -12 one bit.

X's and O's

If you rely heavily on the fundamentals like I do, you'll see very little reason to support the Titans here.  The Texans have massive mismatches on both sides of the ball.

To begin with, the Titans are not going to keep Houston out of the end zone.  Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty couldn't stop Calvin Johnson, and they won't be able to stop Andre Johnson either.  With so much attention being paid to him and Arian Foster/Ben Tate, guys like Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter will be wide open on numerous occasions.

In fact, you could put any name on the back of the second receiver jersey and get decent production.  You saw that last week against the Broncos when Kevin Walter was often waiting for the ball with 5-10 yards of open space around him.

The Titans couldn't stop Mikel LeShoure either.  If he can rack up over a hundred yards on the ground, imagine what the Texans backfield can do?  Houston is going to once again have their choice in the air or on the ground.  Even good defenses have a hard time figuring out what the Texans are doing off the snap, so the Titans are certainly in for a long day on that side of the ball.  This unit is giving up almost 40 points per game and I don't think they are about to turn it all around against the best team in football.  If they were going to show a spark, it would have came in their home-opener.

On the flip side it could be even uglier.  If Chris Johnson can't accumulate over 30 yards against the run-susceptible Lions, he has very little chance of breaking out against this defense. Through three weeks, he's averaging 15 yards per game.

This puts all the onus on Jake Locker.  I'm sorry, but I don't give a crap what he did in Week 3, because he's not going to find receivers ridiculously wide open in Week 4.  The pressure up front is going to come early and often.  If Locker throws less than two interceptions and one forced fumble, I'll be genuinely surprised.  It also doesn't help that Kenny Britt and Jared Cook left Sunday's game with injuries.

I could go through the long list of defensive standouts for Houston, but JJ Watt deserves special mention here.  He's been an absolute menace this season, and a lot of it has come with regular four man rushes.  If he keeps this up, the defensive player of the year award isn't out of the question. Amazing.

Bottom Line

I know 12 points is a lot to lay here, but unless we see another freak game from the Titans, I don't see this being close at all.  Their only hope is the Texans have an uncharacteristic letdown and they win the turnover battle. This is the NFL, so anything is possible, but if Houston doesn't win by at least 20, I'll be surprised. Look for another dominating victory on Sunday, and quite possibly a blowout.  Ride the Texans until further notice.

NFL Pick: HOU -12.

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

Replacement Refs from a Betting Perspective

To begin with, let's just put the Packers/Seahawks fiasco aside for the moment.  The bigger issue for bettors is what to do, if anything, going forward.  The situation can basically be broken down in two ways.  Are the refs giving bettors any kind of advantage?  And are they creating too much randomness into the game?

Are the Replacement Refs Giving Bettors an Edge?

The jury is still out on this one, but based on three weeks of data the answer is inconclusive.  Mike Colbert from Cantor Gaming said last week that the situation could be a concern at some point.  This was coming off a week where home teams absolutely obliterated the the board going 14-2 straight up and 11-4-1 against the spread.

Home Field Advantage

After Week 2 it seemed to make sense that home teams could be getting a partial advantage.  At this point referees were calling more penalties on road teams, but after Week 3 those numbers have regressed to the mean.

Another area of interest are the prime-time games since the spotlight is extra bright on these officials.  In 10 games, road teams have been flagged 84 times compared to 70 for the home teams.  Yet, the correlation with penalties is marginal at best.  Home teams are 7-3 SU.  Favorites are 6-4 ATS.  In reality, home teams should be 6-4 and favorites 7-3 if we grade the Packers/Seahawks game correctly.

Overall, home teams are only 25-22-1 ATS with the majority of those being home underdogs (13-6 ATS).   The fact that underdogs are leading the way early in the season should be a surprise to no one and shouldn't have anything to do with officials.

Totals

More scoring is nothing new. We saw the big increase in passing last year and it's continued into this year.  At the start of the year I assumed that heavy-passing home teams would benefit the most from replacement officials, but again the results are mixed.  Unders are leading the way at 25-22-1.  Clearly the books have adjusted their totals enough to account for the increase in scoring.  This leads us to the types of penalties being called.

Penalty Trends

Through three weeks, the replacement refs are calling 18 more penalties per week over last year's average.  There is heavy variance with these totals (and all these numbers), so it's hard to jump to any conclusions, but some tentative trends do emerge when we look at what types of calls are being made.

Offensively, pre-snap calls are down on average (illegal shifts, substitutions, formations, motions).  Not a single ineligible downfield pass has been called either.  These aren't called very often in general and someone could legitimately argue statistical variance, but it makes sense that replacements would miss these calls given the nuances of the rulebook and speed of the game.

The one offensive category that is called much more than usual is offensive holding.  Replacements are calling 8.3 more of these per week.  This falls in the category of "subjectivity", but we don't know if players are trying to get away with more, resulting in more penalties, or if the refs are exercising stricter judgment.

Defensively, things are even more divergent.  Pass interference calls are averaging 20 per week, up from 12.1 in 2011.  Defensive holding, illegal contact, and roughing the passer averages are also on the rise.

Personal foul calls are actually being called more than twice as often as average.  Up to 7.7 per week from 3.5.  Finally, not a single taunting call has been made through three weeks. On average, you can expect at least one of those calls per week.

Has Referee Variance Reached the Tipping Point?

Since there appears to be no tangible trends for handicapping purposes (yet), the question I have is whether or not the refs are accounting for too much randomness within the games? 

If you rely heavily on fundamentals like I do, you know that offense, defense, special teams, home field, turnovers, etc all equal "X" in determining the outcome of a game, but how much of a percentage do the replacement refs make up?

Stats like third down/red zone percentages are crucial in determining wins and losses and there's very little doubt that referees are affecting drive outcomes on a consistent basis - whether it is bad calls/non-call or spotting of the ball.  The problem is there is no way to quantify it.

What I do know is that these refs are impacting games substantially and it's pure luck whether we are on the right or wrong side of it.  I respect cappers like Steve Fezzik and Teddy Covers, but both of them have downplayed the significance of the replacements essentially saying they are no different than the regular officials.

With all due respect, that is total nonsense and it just doesn't pass the smell test.  Every fan can see that and if you have any doubt, go back and watch an officiated game from previous seasons.  The difference is night and day.  You can't sit there and ignore the dozens of mistakes that are occurring each week due to incompetence, not knowing the rules, and the influence of players, coaches, and fans.

It's quite possible there these refs are introducing so much random variance that we shouldn't be betting on these games at all, but you're not going to hear that from a tout or bookmaker.  They want your money and generally, bettors want to give it to them. Take what they say with a grain of salt.

Bottom Line

There's no question that the players and coaches are taking advantage of the situation.  Players are taunting, holding, and hitting more liberally, while coaches are busy berating and belittling the refs non-stop.

The replacements are missing a lot of the by-the-book procedural calls that an experienced ref would pick up, and exercising over-compensation on judgment calls that revolve around the ball.

The problem for bettors is the only consistent trend that has emerged is one of inconsistency.  The sample size is far too small to draw any firm conclusions based on the data we have.

I had a discussion with Beyond the Bets about the issue and we both concluded that "ref research" is likely fruitless at this point since it could all be moot a week from now anyways.

My personal opinion is that the refs are impacting the games much more than anyone in the betting industry will readily admit.  I was already going to be more selective with my picks because I started the season a bit too aggressively, but in light of the ref fiasco, I'll also be reducing my unit size until things return to normalcy - which is hopefully soon!

When games are close, I want to hold my breath because of what the offense or defense might do, not what calls will be made or missed by officials fired from Lingerie Football. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 3

NFL Picks 2012: Week 3 Predictions
Before I get to Week 3, I'd just like to pass out my condolences if you had to suffer through the Monday Night Football game watching those replacement officials like I did.  Handicapping aside, I cannot wait until things get back to normal.  Last weekend was just atrocious officiating across the board.

Week 2 Recap

If you bet on every single home team in Week 2, you made a small fortune. Home teams finished 11-4-1 ATS. If you were like me and picked five road teams, you didn't do so well.  Final tally was a forgettable 2-4-1 ATS.  Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, and Chicago all came up short.  Even though sharp money came in on three of those teams and closed at a worse number, the spread never factored into the scores. On the bright side, team totals finished 6-4.  I'll be playing a bunch of those again on Wednesday.

Week 3 Picks

Giants vs Panthers

Texans vs Broncos

Bills vs Browns

Bengals vs Redskins

Falcons vs Chargers 

Lions vs Titans 

Steelers vs Raiders 

Packers vs Seahawks

Team Totals 

Teasers

Props

Following props from 5Dimes and Bodog.

LaFell O3.5 receptions
LaFell O58.5 receiving yards
G Olsen +18.5 receiving yards vs Bennett 
P Manning U245.5 passing yards 
A Brown O75.5 receiving yards
J Finley O49.5 receiving yards
Nelson -20.5 receiving yards vs Rice

Survivor Pick

No matter what survivor pool you reference, it seems like the average number of people who took the Patriots was right around 40%.  That's also how many people picked them in my weekly poll.

The toughest part of those pools is surviving the first month as we try to figure out what's what. Beyond the Bets did a story on big favorites and found that on average, 1.5 favorites of -13.5 or more lose straight up per season.  This year, it happened in Week 2.  If you are among the 60% that survived, big kudos to you.  Beyond the Bets has updated information and strategy here.

Survivor pool pick: Chicago Bears

Week 2: New England Patriots
Week 1: Houston Texans

Saturday, September 22, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 3: Packers vs Seahawks

Green Bay Packers vs Seattle Seahawks: GB -3 (5Dimes)

Markets 

I think I might be missing something here.  The early line on this game was Packers -6.  The look-ahead line last week was -5.  Now it's moved all the way down to a field goal at most shops.  I understand the Seahawks play well at home, but how many extra points on the line are we talking about here?

Strength vs Strength

First off, I'm a big fan of the Seahawks defense. We all know they have a stacked secondary, but with or without Greg Jennings, Green Bay still have Jordy Nelson, Jermichael Finley, James Jones, and Randall Cobb.  The scary thing about these guys is that a few of them are still improving and have their best days ahead of them.

Let's break this down a bit further and see what we're looking at on Monday night.

The key that can break the back of any defense is the ability of Finley.  Like all athletic tight ends, defenses must decide if they are lining up as a wide receiver or as a regular tight end.  What can make this so difficult is the base personnel that Mike McCarthy puts out there.  If he lines up in a two-tight end set, Seattle won't always have the option to cover Finley as a receiver.  The great thing about this Green Bay system is how often their alignments create mismatches for Rodgers.

Even when a play breaks down, Rodgers often buys enough time to find the open man or he simply runs to the sidelines to pick up the first down.

So let's not be so quick to mistake the Seahawks' defense for the 49ers.  The name to watch here is K.J. Wright.  He's getting a lot of early season praise for his aggressive approach, but he's far from a polished pass defender this soon in his career.  It will be interesting to see how they account for Finley in this game, but linebacker is the area you want to attack on this defense.

Up front, the Packers O-line is healthy and more than capable of pass-blocking but whatever shortcomings they do have is often masked by Rodgers escapability in the pocket.  If Seattle wants to win this game, they'll need Mebane, Branch, Irvin, and Clemons to bring their 'A' game.  I really like the potential of this group, but whether it's the short passing game or Rodgers' legs, it's hard to contain this offense for 60 minutes.

Marshawn Lynch to the Rescue?

The game plan for Seattle is no secret.  They have the 49ers game on tape and I'm sure they believe they have the roster to replicate it on Monday.  This is a good news, bad news situation.  The good news is Russell Wilson's feet are going to help keep the edge-rushers honest.  If Clay Matthews, Nick Perry, or Erik Walden crowd the line they'll need to maintain gap integrity and not over-pursue.

The bad news for Seattle is Matthews is healthy this year and probably one of the more instintive rushers in the league.  With BJ Raji disrupting the interior pocket, the Packers should be able to keep contain more times than not.

Russell Wilson Ready for Prime-Time?

The other bit of bad news for Seattle backers if the uncertainty at QB.  If you were unfortunate enough to have the Panthers on Thursday night you'll know that a home dog crowd isn't much of a benefit if the QB plays like crap.  Wilson deserves a ton of credit for how quickly he's risen to the top of the food chain, but he's never been in a spot like this before.

If Rodgers comes out and puts up a 10 point lead, can Wilson keep up?  Is he going to lead them down the field and win the game in crunch time?  I'm not saying he can't, but you never really know how the bright lights will affect a young player until they get out there.

Bottom Line

Last week we saw the Cowboys as three point favorites in Seattle and they started the game by spotting the Seahawks 10 points within the first five minutes.  Despite this, they were still very much in the game at the start of the second half.

I don't expect the Green Bay to spot Seattle a two-score lead before they break a sweat, and even if they do get down, I know they won't respond the way the Cowboys did.

I'm not going to get caught up if this is a square play or a sharp play.  All I know is this line has moved 2-3 points since it was originally put on the board and now we can take the Packers on the key number of three. That's the kind of value that I don't like to pass up.

NFL Pick: GB -3.


Friday, September 21, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 3: Steelers vs Raiders

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Oakland Raiders: PIT -3.5 (5Dimes)

Markets

The early line in this game was Steelers -3.  Last week's look-ahead line was -3.5. This week it opened at -4, but has been bet down to -3.5.  That's a curious move, but I'm sure sharp money is looking at this as a tough spot for Pittsburgh - who haven't done particularly well traveling out West.  I thought there was some merit to that thought and when you combine the injuries to James Harrison and Troy Polamalu, I didn't want to get involved in this game.

Then I got a tweet from Raider fan Jasen,
I didn't even want to look at this game unless the line hit -3, but I decided to go back and take a closer look.  Sometimes we out-think ourselves with that half point hook, but after reviewing this game again I'm going to go ahead and lay the points here.

Could the Raiders have the Worst Secondary in the League?

I already had questions about Shawntae Spencer and Ron Bartell entering the season, and now with both on the sidelines I have very little doubt that Big Ben is poised for a big day.  Now the Raiders are rolling with Pat Lee, Joselio Hanson, and even Michael Huff at cornerback!  Good grief.  Hanson is best suited for the slot, but even there he hasn't been good for the last couple years.  He got cut this year in favor of a rookie.  This is a secondary that made Ryan Tannehill look like a seasoned pro.

The only hope the Oakland defense has is if they can make it a miserable day for Big Ben.  I certainly don't think Pittsburgh's O-line is anything special, but Ben has been killing people on third down this year with his ability to buy time and keep plays alive.  If those Raiders corners have to cover for more than three and a half seconds they are done.  They might be done even without the extra time since Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, and Emmanuel Sanders will be coming at you at every angle.

The worse news is the Raiders can't even stop the run this year.  They made Reggie Bush look like Barry Sanders and if that continues the Steelers will be able to dictate on offense without much of a push-back. 

Heath Miller practiced healthy which is a big boost given how important he is to a Todd Haley offense.  He rarely comes off the field, if at all.

Carson Palmer, Really?

If you're a Raider fan, let me get my apologies out of the way up front.  I'm sorry, but this guy flat out sucks.  Is he capable of having a good day?  Sure.  Want to part money on it?  I wouldn't think so.

I thought Oakland would be more competitive simply having a healthy Darren McFadden, but he can't get going behind a disappointing offensive line and no one is respecting the passing game.  This is allowing defenses to crowd the line and stop the dynamic back.

Last week the Steelers proved that you don't need all-pros leading the way to slow down a putrid passing attack, and I expect more of the same this week.  I trust Dick Lebeau to scheme this Raiders offense into tough situations and likely a few mistakes.

Carson Palmer just isn't a good fit for the West Coast Offense right now.  His wide receivers don't scare anyone and remain inconsistent.  Palmer isn't very smooth out of the pocket, and he still tries to fit too many balls into tight coverages.  Even if they do manage to make this a knock-down-drag-out fight, I have little faith that Palmer is going to lead them to a winning drive - or a backdoor cover for that matter.

Bottom Line

This is a complete fade of Oakland.  Things aren't all perfect in Pittsburgh, but they should have enough to get a healthy lead in this one given their large advantage in the air on both sides of the ball. Look for more growing pains for Raider-Nation until further notice.

NFL Pick: PIT -3.5.

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 3: Teasers

Chicago Bears -1 & Dallas Cowboys -2

Who Can Protect?

A lot of the focus in the Rams vs Bears matchup will focus on the offensive line.  Both teams will have full-blown liabilities at left tackle.  Rodger Saffold remains out for the Rams and J'Marcus Webb got embarrassed on national TV.

What's going to make it a long day for both units is not only the questions up front, but also who will be rushing the passer.  Henry Melton, Julius Peppers, and to a lesser extent Shea McClellin will be comin' hard on Sunday.  St Louis will counter with the likes of Robert Quinn and Chris Long.

I have to give credit to the big men for the Rams because they performed much better than anyone thought vs the Redskins, and managed things well vs a more imposing Lions rush.  The problem is the Bears present much more of a challenge because of their ability to maintain coverage down the field.  If that O-line has to block for more than 3 seconds, Bradford could be in for a long day.

Making matters worse is the questionable status of Steven Jackson.  He's dealt with injuries before, but if he can't go they'll be relying on rookies Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead.

I like Bradford and think he has an underrated set of receivers, but he'll need to play mistake-free ball this week and continue hitting with the short-passing game to grind out a straight up win.

Ready for the Next Step?

Another glaring thing that stands out to me after two weeks has been the Rams production in the red zone.  The mark of a good team is one that limits drives to field goals, and punches it in when they get inside the 20.  Thus far, St Louis has struggled on both sides of the ball.  That isn't about to get any easier vs a stout Bears defense that is fully healthy.  They will also need to contend with Michael Bush now that Matt Forte is out.  This was an underrated offseason pickup and it should start to pay immediate dividends this weekend.

I really like the improvements the Rams have made this year, but this will be the second time that I pick against them in a teaser.  With guys like Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins holding things down on the outside, they might be able to hang around and make a game of it, but it's asking a lot for them to waltz into Chicago and beat the Bears on grass.  This will be their first test outside of a dome, but I don't like how their offense matches up.

Road Warriors?

NFL Picks 2012: Buccaneers vs Cowboys
In the other matchup I really like the advantages that the Cowboys hold in this game.  To begin with, the Bucs are in a tough spot here.  After blowing a great effort in New York, they must travel down to Dallas for the home opener in Texas.  I was lucky enough to hang on for the cover with Tampa Bay last week, but by teasing Dallas down the Bucs will need to walk away from this with the straight up win (or lose by 1).  

Misleading Box Score?

Part of the reason I liked the Bucs last week was because of their secondary.  Yet, when Eric Wright left the game in the second half it was Brandon McDonald who got abused on the outside for a bunch of yards.  Give the Giants credit for taking him to town, but I don't think the final score was a total indictment of the Bucs defense overall.

If Tampa expects to win this game they'll need a much better pass rush from their front four and much better coverage from their linebackers.  DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten should have much better opportunities than Miles Austin and Dez Bryant.  It could also be another feature game for Kevin Ogletree.  At the same time, if the Bucs can't contain the run game or limit Witten's ability underneath, the pressure on the secondary could prove to be too much.  I like the additions of Mark Barron and Lavonte David, but they have a tall task on Sunday.

New Secondary Gets Another Test

Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have done a great job through two weeks.  They frustrated Eli Manning all day and forced Russell Wilson to play efficient ball.  This week they'll have a beast of a task trying to slow down Vincent Jackson.  Josh Freeman is doing his best Philip Rivers impersonation and just throwing up a lot of jump balls for VJ, and he's coming down with the ball more times than not.

The issue here is how long that will continue.  It's going to help that Gerald SenseBaugh is likely out, but Freeman will need to resist the urge to throw up the 50/50 balls given how smart and athletic the Cowboys corners are.  Freeman is also going to have a challenge staying upright with DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge on third and longs.  So far this season the Bucs haven't done very well on third down and they've been even less successful in the red zone.

I don't think the Bucs are going to win these key battles on either side of the ball this week, but they might keep it close. Ultimately, I like the Cowboys to bounce back this week and get back on track in front of the home fans.

NFL Pick: CHI -1 & DAL -2.

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

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 3: Team Totals

NFL Picks 2012: Week 3 Team Totals
It's still very early in the season, but after skipping 'totals' for 2011, I've gotten back into it to try and capitalize on all this scoring.  So far 13-8 is a good enough reason to continue with them.

My approach is pretty simple: target the short underdogs and mid-range favorites as I see the most value in this window.  I've back tested some data over the last couple years and it appears to be a profitable way to go.  It's still a very small sample size, so I still use a bit of caution with my unit sizes.

The replacement refs also continue to throw more pass interference flags than regular refs and road teams are being penalized significantly more than usual as well. Coincidentally or not, all four of my team total losses last week came from road teams and all six of my wins came on home teams.  Anomaly?  We'll find out more this week.

With that, here's what I like for Week 3.  The rest will be added as they become available.  All odds from Pinnacle and 5Dimes.

Panthers O24.5 
Bears O24.5
Chiefs O21
Redskins O26
Lions O25
Eagles O23
Colts O22
Chargers O25.5
Patriots O23.5 
Packers O24

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 3: Bills vs Browns

Buffalo Bills vs Cleveland Browns: BUF -2.5 (5Dimes)

Markets

Before Week 2, the Bills were favored by three over the Browns.  After the weekend, it opened at the same number.  The surprising thing is we've seen a move off a key number mid-week.  This is enough for me to add it to the card.  If you don't have -2.5, the half point is now affordable in the drop-down menu. If that's not an option, you need a new sportsbook.

The line move could be a clear sign that sharp money isn't sold on the Bills yet.  Is one hyped-up home opener win enough to justify them as field goal favorites on the road?  I'd say no, but there are other reasons to support the pick.

Two Teams Searching for an Identity

In Week 1, Brandon Weeden looked like he belongs in the Arena League, while Trent Richardson seemed rusty coming off a knee operation. The following week, both looked like pro-bowlers.

The same can be said about the Bills.  They got scraped off the mat in New York, only to turn around and paste the Chiefs into the cement.

Week 3 should tell us a lot more about the direction of both teams going forward.

Pressure, Pressure, Pressure

When it comes to evaluating Weeden, the truth probably lies somewhere inbetween the first two games.  Line him up against a suspect secondary and give him time to throw, he's going to make some completions.  Pit him against a relentless D-line and an aggressive secondary and he'll fall back to earth.

The Bills defense resembles more of the latter.

I said last week that the play of their D-line is going to determine a lot on the scoreboard this year, and they stepped up huge and harassed Matt Cassel for most of the day.  They were particularly impressive on third and long.

The Browns have a couple nice pieces on their O-line in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, but both guards are shaky and they put a lot on the shoulders of second-round pick Mitchell Schwartz.

I expect some rookie mistakes from Weeden on Sunday because Stephon Gilmore and Aaron Williams is a much bigger challenge than what the Bengals secondary offered.  The Browns would be wise to have a run-first approach and hope Richardson can have another great performance.

C.J. Spiller + Ryan Fitzpatrick = What?

I had questions about whether or not Spiller could maintain his Week 1 performance and hold up enough in pass protection, but he answered the bell with flying colors.  Ryan Fitzpatrick wasn't asked to do a lot, which is ideal considering how maddening inconsistent he can be.

I don't expect the same dominating performance as Week 2 because this isn't an amped up home-opener, but the Browns defense isn't going to strike fear in anybody without Joe Haden and Phil Taylor.

Yes, they've gotten some sacks from unlikely places, D'Qwell Jackson is flying all over the field, and they've been quasi-competitive in back to back games, but banking on that to happen week in and week out is asking a lot.

Andy Dalton made it look quite easy in the air and the final score was much closer than what took place on the field.

Fool's Gold?

The primary reason I'm not buying into the Browns is their play in key situations.  When a drive has been on the line, or they are in the red zone on either side of the ball, they have failed more times than not.

Until they begin to improve on 3rd down and in the red zone, I'll continue to fade the Browns if the point spread is right.

Bottom Line

The Browns are outmatched on both sides of the ball, which means winning by three shouldn't be too much to ask from the Bills.  This is a big test for Buffalo and we'll find out a lot about their character and ability to win games they should win.  If they come up short in this spot, it could be a long, painful season the rest of the way.

NFL Pick: BUF -2.5.

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 3: Bengals vs Redskins

Cincinnati Bengals vs Washington Redskins: WSH -3 (Pinnacle)

Markets

If I told you that both of these teams have been overvalued in the line would you believe me?  The look-ahead line had the Redskins favored by four points, which isn't a surprised given how both teams looked in Week 1.  Washington re-opened as -3.5 favorites, but was subsequently bet down to -3.

I think the Skins were overvalued after all the RG3 hype in Week 1, but after seeing the Bengals for another week, I think the Skins are once again being under-valued at -3.  I would set the line closer to -5.

Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and who?

I'm not going to get carried away and completely write-off the Bengals, but when you look at their current roster, there are so many question marks across the board.

Yes, Armon Binns and Andrew Hawkins have stepped up and taken advantage of favorable coverage opposite of Green, but how reliable are they going forward?

Jermaine Gresham could have more opportunities over the middle without all-pro Brian Orakpo in the lineup.  BenJarvus Green-Ellis could have a good day with Bernard Scott on track to return.

Yet, the issue is this offense will likely have to carry the team for the entire game for a win - and they'll have to do it behind a suspect interior O-line.

The Skins have their own questions on defense though.  Much is being made about the injuries, but Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston should be able to replace Adam Carriker up front just fine.  The big blow is Orakpo.  The good news is Ryan Kerrigan, London Fletcher, and Perry Riley still provide an impressive set of linebackers in the middle.

The real test will come in the secondary where I'm not sold on Cedric Griffin, DeAngelo Hall, and DeJon Gomes.  Brandon Meriweather might return and Josh Wilson is questionable with a concussion, but neither is about to shut things down on their own.

RG3 Hype Out of Control?

Here's what I'll say about RG3.  The kid is an outstanding athlete, but he's not about to put up the numbers that Cam Newton did a year ago.  Part of the problem is he's passing to a bunch of number two receivers.  It would be nice to have Pierre Garcon in the lineup, but I don't see him as a number one yet anyways.

Having said that, the real benefit that RG3 is going to bring to this offense is two-fold. First, defensive ends and outside linebackers must respect his ability to break contain which will open up lanes for Alfred Morris.  We've already seen the production in the run game through two weeks.

The second direct advantage comes in the red zone.  I expect the Skins to be improved in this area simply due to RG3's ability to make plays happen with his feet.  We saw a glimpse of this last week vs the Rams when they thought they had the play locked down before RG3 tucked it in and ran in for a TD.

Defense Anyone?

Even better news is this Cincy defense is not playing anything like they were last year.  That's not a good sign when you consider how little all-pro talent is on their roster.  Carlos Dunlap should return this week which should be a big boost to the line, but the back seven has been downright atrocious after two weeks.

Outside of Rey Maualuga in the middle, the linebackers are a liability.  The secondary is filled with a bunch of former first round talent, but none of them have stepped up and proven they can be consistent.  Last week they made Brandon Weeden look like a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.  That's pathetic.

If the Bengals don't take a significant step forward on defense this week they'll be relying too heavily on Dalton to put the game on his shoulders and win the game with points.  That's something I'm willing to bet against.

Bottom Line

The Skins opened the season with two games on the road and showed they can be a competitive bunch against middle-of-the-road teams.  When you consider how much excitement there will be in their home-opener, I really like the value at -3.

I don't think betting the Bengals on the road is going to be a profitable venture this year unless they make a dramatic turnaround on defense.  That's a lot to ask this soon in the year.

RG3 will continue to be up and down as the season unfolds, but he's dynamic enough to give subpar defenses some fits in coverage and in the run lanes.

NFL Pick: WSH -3.

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


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 3: Lions vs Titans

Detroit Lions vs Tennessee Titans: DET -3 (5Dimes)

Markets

Amazingly, the Titans were actually short favorites in this game in the look-ahead line, but now the Lions are field goal favorites.  Early money has confirmed the move and some places are even taking it off the 3 as I write this.  I don't expect the -3 to be available the rest of the week.  If I was setting this line, I'd have the Lions favored by 4 at the minimum.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back?

Last year the Titans were one of the pleasant surprises of the season.  They seemed to be a team on the rise and sharp money bet the 'over' on their season win total for 2012.  Personally, I wasn't sold before the season and I'm even less sold after two games of the schedule.

When you take a closer look at their success last year a few things stand out in the stats.  They were amazing in their red zone efficiency, both on offense and defense.  They were also near the top of the league in special teams and offensive line blocking.

Fast-forward to present day and we aren't seeing anything close to that production this year.  In fact, they are not only worse after two games, but they are near the bottom of the league in those categories. They also rank really low on third down on both sides of the ball.

With no Marc Mariani and an unpolished Jake Locker, things could get even worse as the season unfolds.

Ready for Prime-Time?

I have the spotlight on two positions here.

1) Quarterback

I agreed that it was time to go with Jake Locker this year, but not because I thought it would make them better this season. I thought it was the right move for the long-term.  The problem is he didn't do a single thing in the preseason or training camp to earn the job and he sure doesn't look ready to handle the starting quarterback duties just yet.

There are some promising signs though.  He is very good outside the pocket.  The athleticism alone is going to put pressure on defenses and keep plays alive.

The downside is he is so erratic. You never know if he's going to hit a receiver 25 yards down field on the numbers, or sail it 10 yards high into the arms of a defensive back.  And it happens far too often.

2) Cornerbacks

The Titans made a pretty bold move by letting Cortland Finnegan walk this offseason.  They showed a lot of faith in Alterraun Verner and Jason McCourty.  It could work out in the long-run, but I haven't been impressed thus far.  I'm also not convinced there is much quality depth at the position either.  This week they have their work cut out for them as Matthew Stafford and company are no doubt going to go after them.

Rushing Advantage...Detroit?

Who would have thought that we could be debating whether or not the Lions have a better rushing attack after two weeks of the season.  I do admit that I bought into the offseason hype about Chris Johnson.  He came into camp in great shape, a better attitude, and flashes of what could be in the preseason.

Part of the problem is that the Titans have faced two pretty stout front sevens so far and it didn't help that they fell behind by double digits in both contests either.  Having said that, is there any reason to believe they are about to break out the dominating ground game anytime soon?  Can they flip the switch and overwhelm the Lions?

We'll find out on Sunday because the Lions aren't the greatest defensive team, but I don't think they are as bad as advertised either. Yes they have big problems in their secondary thanks to injuries, but their front seven hasn't been a huge liability either.  The defensive line is still a beast to handle and I expect them to keep Locker on the run this week.

Perhaps Chris Houston, Louis Delmas, or Bill Bentley return this week, but we won't know more until later in the week.

The guy who will be back is Mikel LeShoure. He will be a welcomed addition and a nice compliment to Kevin Smith.  I liked what I saw of LeShoure in the preseason and I think he could go a long way in providing a bit more balance for this offense.

Bottom Line

This isn't a ringing endorsement of the Lions, because they clearly have some issues, but this is more of a fade of the Titans than anything else.  Outside of Kamerion Wimbley, there isn't much to get excited about on their defense.  The offense doesn't inspire much optimism either.  It might not be pretty, but I like the Lions to put up enough points for the cover this week.

NFL Pick: DET -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 Predictions 2012 Week 3: Falcons vs Chargers

Atlanta Falcons vs San Diego Chargers: SD -3 (5Dimes)

Markets

The look-ahead line for this game had the Chargers -2.5.  It re-opened today at -3 and we've seen money come in on them all day.  There is a bit of extra juice attached if you want to lay the field goal now, which means we might see a move off a key number if the money keeps coming.  I would take a pass on it at anything over a field goal.

Flying Under the Radar

The Falcons might be getting all the headlines with their impressive 2-0 start, but the Chargers are also undefeated without anyone taking much notice.

A lot of people brushed off the Chargers Week 1 win over the Raiders because of the long-snapper issues on special teams, but I didn't feel that way at all.  I thought their defense smothered the Oakland offense and if it wasn't for some off-throws from Rivers in the red zone, it would have been a blowout.  They followed it up with a complete domination of a subpar Titans team and appear to be hitting on all cylinders early in the year.  How often have we said that about a Norv Turner team?

Don't look now, but San Diego is rising up the power rankings and could cement themselves on the relevancy-meter with another win this week.

Injuries/Suspensions?

I have to say that I'm a bit surprised at how meaningless some key injuries/suspensions have been in the opening weeks thus far.  Last week KC got back Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers, while Buffalo lost Fred Jackson and David Nelson, but it meant nothing on the field.  The Falcons lost Brent Grimes and Christopher Owens, but still picked off Peyton three times in the first quarter.

This game features more headlines in this category.  Ryan Matthews is expected to play and San Diego will welcome his ability to make people miss and burst in the open field.  The only problem is he'll probably be back on the trainer's bench by halftime.  The other big question is whether or not oft-injured Antonio Gates will suit up.  Keep an eye on whether he practices on Friday, but the good news is Dante Rosario finally capitalized on his athletic ability and gave Rivers an option in the red zone.  He'll have a tougher time lining up vs Sean Weatherspoon and Stephan Nicholas though.

On the flip side we have the DUI from Michael Turner.  It's not like he was producing much when he wasn't drinking, but Matt Ryan has been deadly on play-action this year as defenses continue to respect the run.  We'll see if he gets any discipline as the week unfolds, but Atlanta's offense is better off with him in the lineup than without.

Devil is in the Details

One of the less publicized issues facing both of these teams heading into 2012 was their putrid third down defenses.  Both teams made a concerted effort to upgrade the personnel and both replaced their defensive coordinators.

After two weeks?  I'm less impressed with the Falcons D.  Sure Mike Nolan has done a good job scheming his guys and providing confusing looks for opposing QB's, but they still rank near the bottom of the league on third down. This is something that will continue to be monitored until they prove that they have actually improved in the make-or-break moments.

As mentioned, Grimes is out and Chris Owens suffered a concussion vs the Broncos.  Look for Rivers to be a much different test for this secondary as they rely much more on the vertical passing game than the Broncos. They also scored 5 touchdowns in 6 red zone trips making Week 1's struggles seem like a distant memory. 

Test of the Season

Hey I'll be the first to admit that I've bashed Matt Ryan over the last 12 months.  He didn't win a single big game last year and didn't look too comfortable running a vertical offense or when he faced pressure.  The stats didn't lie and neither did the eye-ball test.

This game will be his toughest test so far.  KC was defensively inept and Denver didn't spend much time in the backfield either.  San Diego will change that.  They didn't get a sack on Jake Locker, but if you watched the game they were harassing him all game long.

The Chargers are using a nice blend of youth and vets in a heavy rotation of personnel. Atlanta might counter with some hurry-up no huddle to limit that, but it won't be an easy chess match to win.  Guys like Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram, along with new coordinator John Pagano, have rejuvenated this unit and so far it's paying off.

Bottom Line

By no means do I think this will be a cake-walk because the Falcons have proved to be a solid team through two weeks, but this week they walk into a hornet's nest coming off a short-week.  I'm rolling with the San Diego "Super" Chargers.

NFL Pick: SD -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 Predictions 2012 Week 3: Texans vs Broncos

Houston Texans vs Denver Broncos: HOU -1 (Pinnacle)

Markets

The look-ahead line for this game had the Texans as short favorites, and after Week 2 not much has changed.  I was hoping for a Broncos cover on Monday Night Football, not only because I picked them, but also for some value on Houston in Week 3.  I don't see this line hitting the magical '3', but it will be interesting to see what it closes at.

Home Field Advantage?

Week 2 saw an astonishing 11 teams cover the spread after splitting Week 1 going 8-8 ATS. Was it also a coincidence that the replacement refs had a horrible weekend?  The jury is still out on what the specific impact these officials are having, but I saw many 50/50 calls go in favor of the home team this week.  I'm not saying they decided any games, but the unpredictability of their ability to control and call a game is getting more concerning.

Last weekend could have been an anomaly, but one thing I do know is if you like a road team in Week 3, you better be sure of your advantages.  The fact that the Broncos enjoy an inflated home field advantage playing in the thin air of Mile High should tell you just how much I like this Texans team.

Super Bowl Bound?

So far there are a couple teams that I was very wrong about.  KC Chiefs for example.  However, one team I appear to be spot on with is the Houston Texans.  I picked them before the season to win the Super Bowl and placed them at the top of my power rankings before seeing a single snap.

I realize it's only been two weeks, but I saw much of the same domination last year before they suffered some huge injuries to key players.  The Texans beat up on much inferior opponents, but that's what top teams are supposed to do so I'm not going to take anything away from their victories thus far.

Defense Wins Championships?

Since the Broncos don't face the 49ers this year, chances are this will be the toughest defense Peyton Manning sees all year.  On one side he will see Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin behind him.  On the other side he'll see JJ Watt and Brooks Reed.  These guys play relentless football and come at you on every down.  The scary thing is they can often get pressure without bringing extra guys.

Over the middle they'll have to deal with Brian Cushing.  Even their reserve guys can make plays. Whitney Mercilus was taken in the first round and is coming in as a pass rushing specialist. 

If Peyton is going to play the underneath game with Stokley, his tight ends, and McGahee, it's going to be tough-sledding for every yard and every first down.

If he wants to attack them vertically, the news might be even worse.  Danieal Manning and Glover Quin are as versatile as they come. They can make tackles in the run game, line up at cornerback, or roam free and patrol centerfield. On the outside is Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson. This group doesn't get as much national attention as they should, but they are a great backbone of what is already a formidable front seven.

Manning will have a game plan and using a lot of base two-tight end sets is going to give him an advantage on the snap, but as we saw vs the Falcons, it's not a well-oiled machine just yet.  If they hope to win this game, they'll have to do it playing smart and efficient ball (and not turn the ball over 4 times in the 1st quarter).

Can Anybody Stop Foster and Tate?

When you line up Denver's defense against anybody, I'm going to like their chances at slowing them down. They did a pretty good job against the Steelers in Week 1 and weren't' terrible vs the Falcons either.  The one question that I do have is how they are going to do in make-or-break situations.

The true identity of a team comes on third down and in the red zone.  So far this Broncos D has had trouble in these areas.  I don't put too much into that yet because Big Ben knows how to get it done when things are on the line and they were repeatedly put in bad spots with Peyton's turnovers vs Atlanta, but things aren't going to get any easier with Houston on deck.

Matt Schaub isn't about to win any passing titles or lead the league in touchdowns, but he doesn't have to.  He's in the perfect scheme that allows him to pick his spots and win on play-action.  When you have guys like Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the backfield running behind a dominant offensive line, the QB is going to have his choice over the middle with Owen Daniels or on the outside with Andre Johnson all day.

I expect the Texans to continue with their no-huddle power running game on Sunday and put a lot of pressure on the coverage units.

Bottom Line

I've seen a lot of power rankings out there that have the Texans number two behind the 49ers.  When you look at the Super Bowl odds you'll see the same thing.  It's good to see Houston get their respect, but make no mistake about it - this is the best overall team in the NFL right now.  I would also take them to beat any team in a straight up pick em on gameday - including Week 3.

NFL Pick: HOU -1.

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