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Thursday, October 31, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 9: Chiefs vs Bills

Kansas City Chiefs vs Buffalo Bills: KC -3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

A week ago the Chiefs were -4 point favorites for this game. For whatever reason, it reopened at -3 after Week 8.

My numbers also have KC as -4 point favorites, and when that happens for a road favorite, I have no choice but to make them a play.

The only qualifying factor that needs to be mentioned is the overall perception of the Chiefs. Everyone is expecting them to come back to earth at some point, and they have let below average QBs have solid games in back to back weeks. With a soft schedule, it's still fair to ask how good this team really is.

What to watch for

The one area where KC are sure to have some issues is up front on offense. Smith was sacked 6 times last week and Eric Fisher was bad once again. The problem is, he wasn't the only one to have a bad game.

Everything else should come as advertise though. KC will continue to go through Jamaal Charles and his lead blocker, Anthony Sherman. Dexter McCluster continues to be a strong utility player, and Smith will take what the defenses gives him everywhere else.

It's not going to be easy though. It's fair to give the Bills defense a pass last week because Drew Brees makes lots of defenses look bad at home. Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus will cause a lot of trouble in the middle and Stephon Gilmore is a guy to watch on the back end.

But like most weeks, KC is likely to come out on top thanks to their defense. They didn't dominate as much as we expected against Keenum or Campbell, but once again they face a quarterback with big question marks.

And unlike the Browns, the Bills don't have a Joe Thomas on their offensive line to keep Tamba Hali in check. The Bills OL has been a sore spot all year and now they must account for some fierce pass rushers. Houston, Poe, and Johnson are primed for a big afternoon.

Even more alarming, Thad Lewis didn't handle pressure very well last week. He was sacked four times, hit five more times, and had two fumbles and an interception. If he can't play for some reason, Jeff Tuel will get the call.

There's just not any area on offense where Buffalo rank average, let alone good.

Bottom Line

Sooner or later the Chiefs are going to lose a game. If it's going to happen in Week 9, the Bills must defy the odds and play above their heads.  But this is an uphill climb on Sunday and they don't even have an edge in the intangibles. KC rank near the top in average net starting field position, special teams, and turnover differential. Meanwhile, Buffalo's offense continue to take too many penalties, which are straight up drive killers. I'll roll with KC for at least one more week.

NFL Pick: KC -3.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 9: Chargers vs Redskins

San Diego Chargers vs Washington Redskins: SD -1 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Since last week we've seen a flip-flop of favorites for this game. A week ago Vegas had the Redskins as -1 point favorites. After another down performance by Washington in Week 8, this game reopened at 'pick em'.

Now the Chargers are the favorite at -1.  This isn't a big surprise given how the Skins folded against the Broncos, and 65% of the bets are on San Diego as a result.

What to watch for

I think it's safe to say that RG3 is not anywhere close to where he was last year. Looking back, many people (including myself) thought he would start off the season just fine, but his knee is probably months away from being "right".

In Week 8, he only had three yards on five carries. Two of them he failed to convert on third down, and the other was a fumble. Ouch. He coughed up the ball again on a sack.

Right now he's not striking fear into opposing defenses with his legs, and he's too inconsistent as a passer to carry a team to a win (at least so far).

The problems don't stop there though. He still doesn't have a reliable receiver opposite Garcon and the left side of his offensive line continues to give up a ton of pressure. The primary bright spots come from Jordan Reed at tight end, and a lethal rushing attack.

Is that going to be enough? The Chargers certainly aren't good against the run, but they've been a bend-but-don't-break unit all year. Between the 20s they allow teams up and down the field, but in crunch time on third down and in the red zone, they've come out on top more times than not.

In fact, the Chargers defense has now gone 11 quarters without giving up a touchdown. Liuget and Reyes are their best run stoppers, and they are being complimented by some unexpected sack production (14 in the last 4 games).

I think the big problem for the Skins will be when Rivers has the ball though. With Mathews, Woodhead, Gates, Allen, Brown, and Royal, there are more than enough options for San Diego to move the ball.

The Skins rank near the bottom in pass defense, drive efficiency, and red zone stops.

Making matters worse, Washington rank dead last in average starting net field position and special teams.

Bottom Line

This sets up to be a close game, but I think the Chargers deserve to be -3 point favorites. Their defense is showing signs of improvement despite its flaws and they are going up against an RG3 that isn't on top of his game.

I like Rivers to continue his bounce back season and put up enough points to pull out a win and cover. Nothing about Washington's defense scares me outside of Orakpo.

NFL Pick: SD -1.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 9: Teasers

There isn't as many great options for teasers as there was last week, but there are two that stand out to me so far.

As usual, the best options are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Crossing the key numbers of 3 & 7 offer great value.

Patriots -1 & Saints PK

Patriots -1 & Panthers -1.5

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 9: Bengals vs Dolphins

Cincinnati Bengals vs Miami Dolphins: CIN -3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Week 9 kicks off with an interesting point spread. Last week Las Vegas had the Bengals as -1 point
favorites for this matchup. After the weekend, it reopened at -1.5.  Early money quickly bet it up to -2.5, and on Tuesday sportsbooks moved it all the way to -3.

This is no surprise since 83 percent of the bets are on Cincy.

The question is if there is still any value on the Bengals?  In reality, the true line for this game was probably right when it was released. Anywhere between -1.5 and -2.5 is where it should sit, but there are two variables to consider. First, both of these teams are heading in opposite directions. Second, the Dolphins home field advantage is usually downgraded compared to the rest of the NFL.

I think an argument could be made for either team at the current number.

What to watch for

In a league of "what have you done for me lately?", Andy Dalton has answered his critics in a big way. He is coming off his third strong performance in a row. Last week all five of his touchdowns were in the red zone, as he completed 7 of 11 passes for 48 yards.

I was high on the Bengals coming into the season, but it sure wasn't because of Dalton. I'm still not sure if he's a guy who can elevate a team, rather than a guy who can run the system effectively. Three games is a very short sample size, so he'll need to replicate this kind of play later in the season when it really matters if I'm to buy in.

Another bright spot is the emergence of Marvin Jones. He is quickly becoming the answer opposite of A.J. Green. If he isn't just a flash in the pan, it is going to put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses regarding who to cover. Green is always going to draw the most attention, but now Cincy can line up in two tight-end sets, flex out Giovani Bernard, and look for Jones in one-on-one coverage. Oh, and let's not forget about the reliable Green-Ellis in the running game.

Speaking of the run game, the Dolphins couldn't stop anything on the ground last week. Patriots runners gained 95 yards before contact. The rest of the defense ranks around the middle of the pack after eight weeks of the season, but up front they aren't doing a good job stopping running backs. This is bad news if the Bengals gain a two score lead.

On the other side, the Dolphins still have issues on their offensive line despite the acquisition of Bryant McKinnie. The primary reason is the move has pushed Jonathan Martin back to right tackle. Even worse, Martin has been ruled out of this game. Look for Cincy to exploit that side of the line tonight. Tyson Clabo has been a liability for much of the year.

What Miami has to hope for is their running game continues to be productive. Ryan Tannehill is experiencing some growing pains and last week it was downright painful to watch in the second half. On 3rd down and 4th down situations, he only converted one of them. The result of the other four were three sacks and an interception. Tannehill and the passing game rank below average right now, and it's not all on the offensive line.

Bottom Line

This is going to be an intriguing game. The Bengals are hot, while the Dolphins are on a four game losing streak. Offensively, Cincy should have enough versatility in their schemes to put up some points against an average defense, and they rank near the top in the make-or-break situations (3rd down/red zone).

If Miami are going to win, or cover this game, Tannehill is going to need to step up in the big moments. The Bengals defense have had some problems in key situations this year, but they are trending upward of late.

I'm going to roll with the Bengals here. There isn't as much value as there was earlier in the week, but I like how they match up against Miami on both sides of the ball.

NFL Pick: CIN -3.

Monday, October 28, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 8: Seahawks vs Rams

Seattle Seahawks vs St Louis Rams

Market Watch

It's always interesting to see how much public perception changes with a quarterback change. A week ago the LVH had Seattle at -5 point favorites for tonight's game, but after the Bradford injury the line re-opened at -10.

Apparently, that wasn't high enough. Nobody has any faith in Kellen Clemens, and with good reason. The line has been bet all the way up to -13.5 now, and some sportsbooks went all the way to -14.

A whopping 83 percent of the bets are on the Seahawks.

What to watch for

Like most games in Week 8, this one doesn't set up to be very competitive. The Rams offense wasn't very good to begin with, and now they have a guy that nobody wants under center. To give you an idea of how bad Clemens is, he fell behind Austin Davis on the depth chart heading into the season.

So what can St Louis do on offense? Before Bradford went down, the only category they ranked above average in was red zone efficiency. Now you can pretty much throw that out the window. Seattle's defense has very few weaknesses, if any. The rate near the top in every meaningful statistic and the best is yet to come for their defensive line.

The only real shot the Rams have is if their defense can come up big. They have some nice pieces on that side of the ball and there are some signs that they are a bend-but-don't-break unit. Their stats suggest they play better as opponents reach the red zone, but I'm not sure it's going to matter against Russell Wilson and company.

The Seahawks offensive line is their one big weakness on that side of the ball, and the Rams do have some playmakers on the line. If they can cause some timely turnovers, this might be an interesting game.

Bottom Line

The question we need to ask ourselves is whether or not Seattle will win by two touchdowns. On paper, they might win by three or four, but this is a lot of points to lay against a home dog in prime-time.

Realistically, it might not matter how well the Rams defense plays because I don't know how their offense will put up enough points. They'll need a perfect storm of favorable things to go their way in this one. I'm taking a pass, but the only real option here is Seattle.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 8: Packers vs Vikings

Green Bay Packers vs Minnesota Vikings

Market Watch

Before the Josh Freeman debacle against the Giants, the LVH set the Packers as -6.5 point favorites in the look-ahead line. After the smoke cleared on Week 7 play, sportsbooks reopened this game at -10.

By midweek, it was announced the Christian Ponder would replace Freeman at quarterback, and money has slowly come in on Minnesota ever since. You can now find this line as low as -8, but some shops are still keeping it out of the teaser window at -9.

75 percent of the bets are on Green Bay, but late money might continue to push this line down by kickoff.

What to watch for

Last season no other team had more man games lost due to injury than the Packers. In September, it looked like that trend would naturally regress to the mean, but since then we've seen starter after starter go down. For this game Aaron Rodgers will be without Jones, Cobb, and Finley. On defense, they still won't have Matthews.

Still, without a handful of play-makers, the Packers continue to roll. They've not only won their last three games, but they've also covered the point spread in all of them. Guys like Jarrett Boykin and Myles White stepped right in and produced.

Green Bay boast one of the top passing attacks and their near the top of the league in drive efficiency and third down conversion percentage. The one area that they don't rate high in is red zone conversions, where they sit near the middle of the pack.

The good news for Green Bay is that the Vikings defense is below average in every meaningful category. The big surprise might be their adjusted sack rate. Coming into the season this was supposed to be a strength, but they haven't gotten any production from their pass rush. On paper, this would have been one matchup where they could have disrupted Rodgers.

On the flip side, how are the Vikings going to put up points? Adrian Peterson isn't performing like he was last year and nobody can move the ball in the air, regardless of who is taking the snaps.

Making matters worse, the Green Bay secondary is beginning to find their groove. Davon House played the majority of the snaps last week  and allowed just two passes sent his way. Morgan Burnett has been a big boost to this unit too, not only against the pass, but also in run support.

The one glimmer of hope I see for Minnesota is in the red zone. The Packers defense ranks dead last in this area so far. If Minnesota can find a way to put some drives together, they just might be able to take advantage inside the 20.

Bottom Line

In reality, the only option I would consider here would be the Packers. The Vikings are just not a team that I want anything to do with right now. The running game or pass rush isn't where we thought it would be this season. If you don't like laying more than a touchdown, the recent line movement has made the Packers a great option to throw in a teaser.

Friday, October 25, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 8

Week 7 is now in the books and favorites won the week, but just slightly at 8-7. Overall favorites are ahead 52-51-3 for the season. Overs went 8-6-1 for another winning week, extending the lead for the year at 55-49-1.  Even with adjusted totals, the scoring continues.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks once again went 1-4 ATS, and only 8-26-1 on the year.  Football Outsiders premium picks went 7-8 ATS, which brings their total to 42-63-2 for the season.

You would think that I'd take some comfort in the fact that nobody seems to be doing well this year, but it doesn't feel that way. It was more of the same script for my Week 7 picks. A clean sweep on teasers (3-0), but some painfully close losses on sides.

I just might go back and look at all the close losses I've suffered, because it seems like any game that comes down to one possession, I'm sure to come out on the wrong side of it. I don't remember going through such a stretch of negative variance before. I'm still consistently beating the closing line and getting the best numbers, but it's not translating into results (yet).

So far, the silver lining this year is the teasers. At 14-2, I'm on an unbelievable run in that area.

Survivor Pick

Week 8: New Orleans Saints

Week 7: Green Bay Packers
Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 8: Teasers (updated)

Every year there are one or two weeks in the NFL season that were set up perfectly for teasers. Week 8 is one of those weeks. Only three games on the board have a point spread within 4 points. Eight of the 13 games are set at a TD or more. Five of those eight are home favorites.

As usual, the best options are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Crossing the key numbers of 3 & 7 offer great value.

With all the options, you can mix and match whichever games you like, but this is how I've decided to play the board this week.

Chiefs -1 & Cowboys +9

Chiefs -1 & Falcons +8.5

Chiefs -1 & Patriots -1

Raiders +9 & Bengals -.5

Saints -1 & Packers PK & Seahawks -1 (10 pt teaser)


Saints -.5 & 49ers -4.5 & Seahawks -1 (10 pt teaser)

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 8: Browns vs Chiefs (updated)

Cleveland Browns vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Last week the LVH had this game as -8 in favor of KC in the look-ahead line. When it reopened after the weekend, the Chiefs were -7.5 point favorites. Right now, a lot of books are keeping it in this range, but you'll find slightly different numbers depending where you look. At Bet365, we can grab KC at -7 with a bit of extra juice. Sharp books like 5Dimes and Pinnacle have moved it all the way up to -9+ to keep it out of the teaser window.

If you can't get -7, don't hesitate to put the Chiefs in a teaser.

When the Browns have the ball

Jason Campbell has never really been better than an average starting quarterback. Yet, what does it say when he gets passed over by Hoyer when Weeden went down with an injury? Perhaps the Browns wanted to see what they had in Hoyer, because they already know what Campbell brings to the table. Either way, what we have here is a scary situation for the veteran quarterback.

The Chiefs defense rank first in the league in almost every significant category I look at. They include pass defense, sacks, drive efficency, third down, red zone, and turnover differential.  The Browns are not only below average in these areas, but they also rank high on offensive penalties. It's going to be hard enough putting up points as it is, but offensive penalties are proven drive killers.

Their best weapon, Josh Gordon, is in the middle of trade rumors. Willis McGahee has bad knees. Chris Ogbonnaya is a fullback.

They do have Joe Thomas, who is the 2nd highest graded offensive tackle, but can he block both sides of the line? Heck, even if he could, who is going to block Dontari Poe? Poe beat out Chris Myers last week, who happens to be the best-graded center in the NFL.

This won't be pretty for Cleveland.

When the Chiefs have the ball

Speaking of ugly, when is Alex Smith going to throw a touchdown pass? KC continue to rely heavily on Jamaal Charles. He not only leads the Chiefs in rushing yards, but he's also their leading receiver in most games. That changed last week as Bowe finally had a good game. They are also getting strong contributions from utility player Dexter McCluster and the reliable Anthony Fasano at tight end.

All these guys will need to raise their game because the Browns defense is capable of causing some problems.

Yet, as good as this defense can be at times, through seven weeks they rank near the bottom on third down and in the red zone. That's not the kind of production you want to see in the big moments.

Adding to the challenge for Cleveland is the fact that KC are among the best on special teams - which in turn contributes to a league best starting average field position.

Bottom Line

Kansas City have had a pretty cushy schedule this year, but they've also been one of the more consistent teams in the league. What you see is what you get.  We won't know their true ceiling until they play stronger teams, but for now it's clear what to expect against the rest of the NFL.

Unlike last week where Case Keenum came in and showed a ton of poise in a tough spot, it's very unlikely that Jason Campbell can come in and do the same. We've seen what this guy can do, and it's not pretty. If the Browns had a strong running game to rely on, I might be more cautious about this pick. Instead, this Chiefs defense is in line to pad their already impressive stats.

Offensively, it will be more of a grind for the Chiefs offense, but one area where they do hold the edge is in the red zone. As good as the Browns defense has been this year, they fold when opponents get inside the 20.

NFL Pick: KC -7.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 8: Panthers vs Buccaneers

Carolina Panthers vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Market Watch

Last week in the LVH look-ahead line, the Panthers were -4.5 point favorites. That jumped all the way up to -6.5 after Week 7 when the lines reopened on Sunday night.

I think the true line on this game was correct a week ago, but 74 percent of the bets are on the Panthers and most sportsbooks have moved it to a full touchdown.

What to look for 

The Carolina Panthers are a fascinating team. Before the season started Football Outsiders picked them as the top sleeper team to make the most improvement. I had my doubts because I'm not a fan of Ron Rivera. The jury is still out on Cam Newton as well. No other team in the league finds more ways to lose close games.

But here we are in Week 8 and the Panthers have made some strides. Even though they've faced some tough defenses, their offensive rankings are pretty good. Their third down and red zone conversion percentages are impressive. Conversely, the Bucs rank high in these areas too, so it will be interesting to see what happens in those "make-or-break" moments.

As for the Tampa Bay offense, people are still unsure about Mike Glennon. He had 23 dropbacks inside the Atlanta 40 yard line last week, but only came away with a touchdown once. This passing attack is just not good enough. They don't rank well at sustaining drives, and when they get inside the red zone they usually settle for field goals. Glennon targeted Vincent Jackson on 50 percent of his throws last week. The Panthers defense has performed well all year - especially their defensive front. With Doug Martin out, they can double up on Jackson and dare Glennon to beat them.

Bottom Line

Greg Schiano is 0-6 this season and 1-11 in his last dozen games. This is also a team that isn't very good on special teams and takes far too many offensive penalties. No matter how you cut it, these are signs of poor coaching.

There is no question that the Panthers are the better team and should be favored by more than a field goal, but they are also playing on a short week on the road.  They are the only side I'd consider here, but perhaps they are better suited for a teaser. The line is a bit too inflated for my liking and if it is close at the end, I have no trust in Ron Rivera.

Monday, October 21, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 7: Vikings vs Giants

Minnesota Vikings vs New York Giants

Market Watch

Last week in the look-ahead line, this game was set as a 'pick em'.  After Week 6 play, the Giants opened as -3 point favorites. Both teams lost, but it was the Giants who left a better impression with their prime-time effort against the Bears.  There is also injury concerns for the Vikings and a big change at QB.  I'm not so sure it justifies this much money on New York though. Minnesota has been the better team throughout the season.

70% of the bets are on the Giants, and we've even seen a move off the key number of 3. Leading up to kickoff, New York now sit at -3.5.

Bottom Line

This game puts a lot of bettors in a precarious situation. Do you want to put your trust in Josh Freeman, on the road, in prime-time, on a new team? Or would you rather trust the Giants, who rank near the bottom of the NFL in most of the relevant statistical categories?

Personally, I want nothing to do with this game. I understand the money coming in on the Giants, but I don't see any value there. In fact, if Freeman can limit his mistakes, and AP can have a nice game, I'd say the value is on the Vikings. Either way, there are far too many unknowns on both sides for this matchup, so I'll sit this one out.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 7

Week 6 is in the books and underdogs went 8-7. It is a dead heat overall 44-44-3 for the season. Overs went 8-6-1, and now 47-43-1 overall.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks are still struggling as they went 1-4 ATS, and only 7-22-1 on the year.

I had a small card in Week 6, but results didn't fall my way.  The Bears won by 6, coming up 1 point short of the line. The Saints pissed away the win, but thankfully it only resulted in a push thanks to grabbing the key number of 3 when it was available. Finally, the Colts got flat out beat by a good (and surprising) Chargers game plan.

Peaks and valleys are par for the course, and there's still a lot of football left to balance the breaks.

Refresh for all the Week 7 picks throughout the week.

Survivor Pick

Green Bay Packers

Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Friday, October 18, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Broncos vs Colts (updated)

Denver Broncos vs Indianapolis Colts: IND +7 (Bodog)

Market Watch

Last week the look-ahead line for this game was Broncos -6. After the Colts had a letdown vs the Chargers, it reopened at -5.5.  That performance, along with the return of Von Miller, has seen early money push this line all the way up to -7 at some books.

I admit that Von Miller can single-handedly transform a defense, but right out of the gate in his first game back?  Enough to inflate this line to a full touchdown on the road?  The tricky thing about Denver is how much to compensate for their offense. It's fair to inflate their point spreads, but by how much?

At the end of the day, I think this is too high. Denver should be favored, but not a full TD.

The public are all over the Broncos, with 77% of the bets in their favor.


Bottom Line

Andrew Luck didn't have his best performance last week, but he was also on the bad end of some critical drops by his receivers. I like his matchup this week, in spite of Von Miller. Lots is being made of the return of Champ Bailey too, but he had a below average game in his debut last week. Is Father Time finally catching up to him? Have the injuries slowed him down?

They might not have looked like it on Monday night, but this Colts defense has made big strides this year. Their primary weakness is against the run, so I expect Manning to hand the ball off more than one might expect.

There's a lot of emotion and smacktalk in this one, and I think this will be a competitive game in the fourth quarter. Even if Denver do take control and go up by double digits, there's a great chance for a backdoor cover here. I'll take the points.

NFL Pick: IND +7.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Texans vs Chiefs (updated)

Houston Texans vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -6 (Bet365)

Market Watch

A week ago, the Chiefs were only -3 point favorites in the look-ahead line. After Houston put up a dismal performance against the Rams, and the Chiefs covered a large spread against the Raiders, this line reopened at -5. It was immediately bet up, but it hasn't reached a full touchdown ... yet.

News out of Houston is that Casey Keenum is going to get the start this week, but I'm not sure how much we should downgrade the Texans due to that. It's not like they were getting great play from Matt Schaub. Even more concerning is that the Texans are 0-6 ATS the spread, while the Chiefs are 5-1. Sooner or later these numbers will regress to the mean.

76% of the bets are on KC thus far, and that number is sure to increase.

When the Texans have the ball

How bad have the Texans offense been? Perhaps not as bad as it seems going by the media, but when your passing attack ranks near the bottom of the league and your team has a -12 turnover differential, you can understand why they made a change at QB.

All is not totally lost though. They still feature a dynamic running game and haven't had huge trouble moving the ball between the 20s. The biggest issue is execution in the red zone, along with offensive penalties and turnovers. You simply can't win football games with that template.

Enter Casey Keenum. I really liked this kid in the preseason and he was a big reason why I rode them in almost every game during exhibition. But this is about as far away from a scrimmage as you can get. No longer will Keenum be facing backups in vanilla coverages. Instead, he's facing the fiercest defense in the NFL in a supremely hostile environment.

The quality of competition hasn't been the best, but KC have the top rated pass defense, drive stats, and third down and red zone efficiency.  Complimenting their defense is the best net average starting field position and the best special teams unit in the NFL.

Keenum is going to sorely miss Owen Daniels in this game. He still has Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, but KC is equipped to deal with this attack.

It doesn't get much better than Hali and Houston on the outside. In the middle Dontari Poe has been a beast, but Tyson Jackson and Mike Devito are playing equally well. Rookie Marcus Cooper has filled in admirably for the injured Brandon Flowers.  If Flowers can't go again this week, they should be ok with Sean Smith and Cooper.

New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has lots of toys to play with on this side of the ball and he has the luxury of loading up in coverage if he wants. With quality corners and reliable safeties, he can also bring the heat and overload the front in key situations.

Houston will need Keenum to limit his mistakes, rely on the ground game, and take what the defense gives him - which might be next to nothing. This could get ugly if they fall behind a couple scores.

When the Chiefs have the ball

In polar opposite fashion, the Chiefs are +12 in turnover differential this season. This is also in stark contrast from a year ago when they were the worst team in the league in this category. Much of that is due to a fresh start and transition to Andy Reid and Alex Smith, but all it's not all peaches and cream for this KC offense.

Last week Smith was only 14 of 31 for 128 yards and he hasn't thrown a TD pass in two weeks. When you start listing KC as touchdown or more favorites in a game, it's hard to pull the trigger with this kind of offensive production.

Thankfully, they have a guy by the name of Jamaal Charles. He not only accounts for most of the yardage, but he's the guy they turn to when they need touchdowns too. Dwayne Bowe has not looked like his usual self this year, which puts too much pressure on Smith and the other skill position players.

It doesn't help that Eric Fisher has struggled in his rookie season. Last week he gave up another sack, a hit, four hurries, and a penalty. These are drive killing mistakes that are happening far too often. Overall, the rest of the line has picked up the slack, but Fisher is really holding them back in terms of their true potential.

All this isn't to say that the KC offense is bad per say. They still rank average in all the critical categories, which is just fine if the rest of the team is playing at an elite level. If they lose Charles, it might be time to panic, but for now we should be able to expect more of the same, safe, efficient ball from this offense.

Normally, I'd be worried matching up this kind of unit against the Texans defense, but they've been a huge letdown this year. Brian Cushing returned from his concussion, but he didn't look like his dominant self against the Rams. Perhaps it was just a one week thing as he regains his focus, but if he's not playing at a high level, it has a trickle effect on the rest of the D.

They also got bad news when Danieal Manning went down with an injury. He was their most important safety, so things could get dicey on the back end with him out. Once again, they'll need JJ Watt to continue his torching pace up front.

The question is will it be enough? Even with his other-worldly play, they still rank average in pass defense and they rank dead last in red zone effiency. It's very uncharacteristic for this unit to be so bad in clutch situations, so they need to turn that trend around quick or this season will be a complete write-off.

Bottom Line

I see no reason why this line isn't a full touchdown. Even before the QB announcement I had this game circled as a potential play. Now that they are throwing in the rookie to the wolves, the Chiefs are a no-brainer play.  Statistically, KC could be as high as -10 point favorites. That's no joke.

Despite the names on the field, the cold fact is that the Texans are just not living up to their billing and now they have key injuries to deal with. The only caution here is that Houston might step up their play now that the pressure is off. With a rookie QB, the rest of the roster might feel compelled to raise their game and not get embarrassed.

In reality, Keenum couldn't come into a more difficult spot. Starting at Arrowhead against this defense? Good luck kid, you're going to need it. I'll lay the points at anything under a TD.

NFL Pick: KC -6.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Bengals vs Lions

Cincinnati Bengals vs Detroit Lions: DET -2.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Lions were -2.5 point favorites for this matchup.  After the weekend, the line reopened at the same number and it hasn't moved since.


Anytime a team sits at -2.5, and doesn't move to the full field goal, you can be sure that the sharp money likes the underdog. Perhaps they think Cincy is a better team, or maybe they don't trust the healthy of Calvin Johnson yet, but either way the Lions are being disrespected here.

CJ has been at practice all week long, which is a steady improvement over where he was in the previous couple of weeks. I have the Lions graded at -3.5 point favorites, so I'm going to take the value here and grab them below the key number of 3.

61% of the bets this week are on the Lions.

When the Bengals have the ball

Coming into the season there was a lot to like about this Cincy offense. The additions of Giovani Bernard and Tyler Eifert were supposed to make this unit a nightmare to defend. Through six weeks of the season, that hasn't been the case.

There's no question that those players have brought a new dynamic to the offense, but they haven't collectively taken that leap to that next level.

The reason is due in large part to Andy Dalton. He can run the system, but he does not elevate it. Even with a wealth of options at the skill positions, decent blocking, and a versatile scheme, he can't make this team a contender.

Offensively, they rank average in every meaningful statistical category with the exception of red zone, where they rank near the top of the league. That's encouraging, but the Lions defense is just as good inside the 20.

And speaking of that Lions defense, they not only rank high in red zone defense, but also on third down efficiency. They are solid on all three levels and their defensive front has the ability to change a game on any given down.

I had some concern about the status of Rashean Mathis and Louis Delmas this week, but both returned to practice and appear ready to go.

I don't think the Lions defense will shut Cincy down, but it's a very even matchup that should be complimented by a good home crowd.

When the Lions have the ball

The Bengals offense is very similar when you compare the weapons on Detroit. Multiple pass-catching tight ends, a stud #1 WR, and a running back who can run and catch out of the backfield.

A big difference between these teams is the guy throwing the ball. Matthew Stafford is having a nice year, and there are two primary reasons for it. First, his offensive line is much improved over last year. There were a ton of questions about this group entering the season, but they've been solid week in and week out. Helping matters is the time in which Stafford gets rid of the ball. He's still among the top three in the NFL in release time.

The other big reason is Reggie Bush. Much like CJ, as long as Bush is in the lineup, good things are going to happen.

So how do the Bengals defense matchup?

It's pretty solid group across the board and they are built very much like the Lions defense - a dominant pass-rushing front, active linebackers, and veteran savvy in the secondary.

The big problem for the Cincy defense is their red zone efficiency. They do pretty good between the 20s, but once opponents drive down the field the Bengals haven't been able to keep anybody out.

The wild card that will hold many back is the health of CJ.  Last week he plays 39 of a possible 76 snaps. He was targeted 7 times and had two drops. That's not what you expect from Megatron, but the fact that he's been in practice all week and played the game without any setbacks is a really good sign. Look for his playing time and production to increase this week.

Bottom Line

On paper, this is a very evenly matched game.  Yet, there are three reasons why I think there's value on the Lions - Cincy's poor defensive play inside their red zone, the disparity between quarterbacks, and home field advantage.  I'll lay the points.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Bears vs Redskins (updated)

Chicago Bears vs Washington Redskins: CHI +1 (Bet365)

Market Watch

When it comes to the Bears and the Redskins, it's a case of what you see is what you get. Nothing has changed from the LVH look-ahead line. The Skins were -1 point favorites last week, and they re-opened at the same number. A couple books have moved the line to a 'pick em'.

Right now, 70% of the bets are on the road team.

When the Bears have the ball

Over recent years the Bears have been a team that I've rarely backed. This is mostly due to their offense as they consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in third down/red zone efficiency. When this team needed a play, it usually came from special teams and defense.

The jury is still out on Marc Trestman, but he is finally getting some results from this unit. It helps that Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett are producing, but through six games they sit in the middle of the league in third down effectiveness, and near the very top in red zone touchdown percentage.

At the center of it is a rejuvenated Jay Cutler. He still makes mind-numbing decisions sometimes, but he is nowhere near as erratic as he used to be. He's finally playing up to the level that management expected when they brought him in from Denver.  When you add Matt Forte in the backfield and an improved offensive line, the Bears offense is one to contend with.

The Redskins must be asking themselves how to scheme things this week. They don't have quality corners on the outside so it limits their ability to load up in the box or come after the QB. If they do, you can bet that Chicago will take advantage of the favorable coverage. Even worse, when the Redskins drop back in coverage they still can't seem to slow teams down.

What Washington need most is Brian Orakpo is be a game-changer. He's far and above their best pass rusher and with him in the lineup, their defense has a fighting chance.

Last week also marked the first time all year that they didn't give up a play of 20+ yards. If they can repeat that again, Washington could pull out a win. Realistically though, this is a game that needs to be won with RG3's arm.

When the Redskins have the ball

RG3 has had a hard enough time coming back from knee surgery, but something that has complicated his comeback is inconsistent play from his offensive line. This is a unit that graded pretty well last year and all of the same pieces came back to start the year. Some regression was expected, but it's also clear that RG3's legs masked some of the defeciences, particularly at both guard spots.

However, there must be some optimism this week because this is no longer the scary Chicago defensive front that we've become so accomstomed to. Even before the injuries in the interior, this group wasn't playing as expected. The result has been a poor pass rush ranking and an even worse third down conversion percentage.

The problems up front weren't a huge problem because they had great play from the linebackers. But James Anderson has been dealing with a back injury and DJ Williams is on IR.  This week Jon Bostic will make his debut as a starter, so we'll see if he can come in and shore up the middle.  More good news comes from the practice report as both Stephen Paea and Charles Tillman look good to go for a Week 7 return.

RG3 might have some mobility back, but he continues to miss routine passes in the air. Against a struggling Dallas secondary, he was only able to go 9 of 21 for 112 yards in the second half. Surely, one of these weeks he's going to put it all together, but I dont' see it happening this week against a good Bears pass defense. Their best hope is to rely heavily on the run and be opportunistic in the pass game.

Bottom Line

Chicago gave up an alarming amount of big runs when they hosted the Giants, so I expect the Redskins to use a similar approach. The interior DL is severely depleted, and they are lucky they have two safeties who can shut it down when there's a breakdown up front. The problem is RG3 is still not close to where he was last year as a passer. His legs look better, but until he starts winning games with his arm, I'll look to fade Washington in spots like this.

Meanwhile, the Bears offense continues to hum along. They are way ahead of where they used to be under the old coaching staff, and now they have the benefit of going up against a struggling defense. To be fair, Washington's defense were not as bad last week as they were before the bye, but they have a long ways to go before they come close to what we saw last season. Cutler has too many weapons at his disposal, which means the Skins will have to pick their poison.

NFL Pick: CHI +1.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Buccaneers vs Falcons (updated)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Atlanta Falcons: TB +7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

With the Falcons on a bye last week, nothing much has changed between the look-ahead line and the opener. Both had Atlanta as -7 point favorites.

Much like Thad Lewis and the Bills, Mike Glennon is being undervalued here.  Or is it a case of overrating Atlanta?  It's likely a combination of both, but I can't justify why Atlanta is favored by this much.

So far, 54% of the bets are on the home team.

When the Buccaneers have the ball

Josh Freeman might be gone, but Mike Glennon brings a very similar skill-set to the table. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? On the bright side, the negativty and drama that came with Freeman is gone. They can move forward focusing on Glennon's development, and he can do so in a supportive environment.

The downside is he's still a work in progess. The passing game has had trouble all year playing behind an inconsistent offensive line. He does have nice receiving options on the outside, but for this offense to get going they'll need more from the run game. Thus far, they rank near the bottom of the league in run efficiency. To move the chains and help nurture a lead, they need to convert on the third and shorts.

With Carl Nicks out with another infection, the interior of the offensive line is in big trouble.

Yet, all this might be irrelevant. Let's take a look at some of the advanced stats for this Falcons defense.

Even with a quality defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, this unit has been horrific this year. They don't have much of a pass rush unless they blitz. They rank dead last in third down efficiency and pass defense. They also can't protect a lead or stop anybody inside the red zone.

The Bucs offense might be sputtering in neutral, but they should have more than enough opportunities to get going this week.

When the Falcons have the ball

Matt Ryan is on the cusp of being a great quarterback, but without protection it's hard to expect him to live up to that level. Pressure isn't going to relieved from the run game either because Steven Jackson is still banged up. On the outside, Julio Jones is done, which is almost as detrimental to the pass game as Calvin Johnson. They could take solace in Roddy White, but he's also battling injury.

This leaves an aging Tony Gonzalez and inconsistent Harry Douglas. With all due to respect to these guys, this offense leaves much to be desired with all that's going on.

It's also alarming when Atlanta's offense ranks high in third down efficiency, but near the bottom in red zone efficiency. Punching the ball into the end zone has been a problem all year long.

This is bad news for Falcons fans because the Bucs defense is no joke. They went to great lengths to shore up their pass defense this year, and so far it's worked. They might not be maximizing what Revis can do, but his presence alone has transformed the seconday into an above-average group.

They remain as stout as ever against the run, and they step up to the challenge on third down and in the red zone. Lavonte David is always all over the field and Gerald McCoy is getting a nice push up front.

Unless Ryan steps up to have one of the best games of the season, this offense is going to struggle to put up points.

Bottom Line

In terms of X's and O's, this game is a similar matchup to the Jets/Falcons from two weeks ago.  The best unit on the field is the Bucs defense, and they match up really well with this banged up Falcons offense. The difference is they had Julio Jones before. Now they don't. Roddy White is banged up, and so is Steven Jackson. Trade rumors are swirling Tony Gonzalez, and they still have issues on the offensive line.

Tampa Bay's offense isn't any better. Nor is their offensive line. The interior got exposed last week and Glennon isn't going to scare any defensive coordinators anytime soon. That said, this Falcons defense is pretty poor. They have nice raw talent in their secondary, but they are going through serious growing pains. They rank near the bottom of the league in pass defense efficiency. Even worse, this unit can't get off the field in crunch time, which is a problem that dates back to last season.

I'll grab the points in what should be a sloppy affair.

NFL Pick: TB +7.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Bills vs Dolphins (updated)

Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins: BUF +7.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

If you've ever wondered what the perception of a quarterback's worth is, look no further than this week's card. In this game, the Miami Dolphins were actually -10 point favorites in the LVH look-ahead line last week. After Thad Lewis showed he's somewhat competent, the line reopened at -7.5.

The question though is how much of a downgrade is Thad Lewis from EJ Manuel? I would concede you have to make some adjustment, but oddsmakers are inflating this line quite a bit. When you break things down, I don't think this line should be anywhere near a touchdown, let along a touchdown plus the hook.

There are some indications that this is dropping to -7, but if you shop around you can still grab the best number. Even at +7, there is some value to be had.

62% of the bets are on the Bills.

When the Bills have the ball

Like most QBs, Thad Lewis wasn't very productive when he was pressured last week. In the 11 times that the Bengals disrupted his pocket, he had four passes and completed none of them. On five of those rushes he was sacked.

We could replaced Thad's name with EJ Manuels and the recap would read the same. The question is whether this is an offensive line that is struggling in pass protection, or if they are trying to protect QBs that can't go through their progressions and hold the ball too long.

It's probably a little of both, but either way we are not talking about upper-echelon play from the quarterback here. The good news is that both C.J. Spiller and Steve Johnson were upgraded in practice after dealing with injuries. Johnson didn't even play last week, so Lewis will be happy to see him on the field come Sunday. Spiller hasn't been his dynamic self all year, but he has shown toughness in the snaps he has seen.

What it all adds up to is an average offense that has trouble in the big moments. They are among the worst in the NFL on third down, but this is typical of a young team learning to find it's way under a new coach.

For the Dolphins, it's also a question of health. Wake, Patterson, and Ellerbe are all limited in practice, but they all expect to play.  Wake's impact on a defense is well documented, but Ellerbe is a guy who can attack downhill and also sit back in coverage.

Miami would love to get Patterson back because it would give them a legitimate corner opposite Brent Grimes. After starting the year strong, their pass defense has slipped to below average. They've also had trouble getting to the QB without Wake.

If everyone can come back and play at a high level, it could be a rough day for this Bills offense, but this grades out as a pretty even matchup based on what we've seen through 6 weeks.

When the Dolphins have the ball

Miami has had a week off, but did they fix their offensive line? They've allowed 24 sacks in 5 games. This was an issue that pundits brought up when they decided to throw big money at Mike Wallace. What's the point of a deep threat if Tannehill isn't going to have time to throw the deep ball?

The problems up front has had a ripple effect on the rest of the offense. Both their run and pass efficiency are below average, and Tannehill has come back to earth after a nice start. The good news for Dolphins fans is they've done great once they find themselves inside the 20. They have one of the best red zone efficiency rankings in the NFL.

That said, the Bills defense has quietly been one of the better units in the league. They rank above average against the run and the pass, and they force more field goals than touchdowns when opponents get inside the red zone.

A lot of credit needs to be given to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine. He comes from the Rex Ryan school of "move the parts around and cause chaos."  You know that scheme is important when you have to put out a starting roster that consists of backups in the secondary.

This all adds up to trouble for Miami. They now have rising star Stephon Gilmore back in the lineup. He might not be great against the run with a club on his hand, but there's no questioning his raw coverage skills. The back end also got a boost with Jairus Byrd back from injury. He's a reliable tackler and great at identifying route patterns.

Up front, you can be sure that Mario Williams will be causing havoc in the Miami backfield. When you add Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus to the mix, you have the makings of an imposing defensive line.  In support, Kiko Alonso is making a strong case for defensive rookie of the year honors.

Bottom Line

The Miami defense, after making some nice strides in September, have fallen back to earth a bit. They do hold an edge on third down against this Buffalo offense, but other than that things grade out pretty evenly. Thad Lewis will be the wild card, but EJ Manuel wasn't setting the league on fire before he went down.

On the flip side, the Bills defense has been pretty good this year in spite of their injuries. They got Byrd and Gilmore back now, even though they are being eased back into the lineup. Look for this unit to take advantage of a shaky Miami offensive line.

Essentially, these are two evenly matched teams, which gives us some value on the dog.

NFL Pick: BUF +7.5.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 7: Teasers

As usual, the best options are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Crossing the key numbers of 3 & 7 offer great value.

Sharps books like Pinnacle and 5Dimes try to keep most games out of the teaser window, but most still offer SD -7.5 and BAL +1.5 to +2.5.

I might add 1 or 2 more in the coming days.

Chargers -1.5 & Seahawks -.5

Chargers -1.5 & Ravens +8.5

Chiefs -.5 & Seahawks -.5

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 7: Seahawks vs Cardinals

Seattle Seahawks vs Arizona Cardinals

Market Watch

Last week in the Las Vegas look-ahead line, the Seahawks were -6.5 point favorites for this game. After the Week 6 dust settled, sportsbooks reopened them at -4.5.  Early money came in on Seattle and pushed it back up to -6.5 until yesterday.  Today, we are seeing late action bring this line back down. Right now, it sits at anywhere between -4.5 and -5.5.

There's no question that the Seahawks are the better team, but it's safe to say that this is an inflated point spread. Yet, a full 70% of bets this week are on Seattle.


Bottom Line

The Cardinals put up a nice effort on the road against the 49ers last week, but things don't get any easier with the Seahawks coming to town. They are going to need a huge game from their defense to have a chance, and they'll undoubtedly need to win the turnover battle. When you put up one of the worst passing offenses against one of the best, it could get ugly.

The hope for Arizona is that they have a nice home field advantage. That becomes amplified on a short week.  If their defense can somehow keep this close going into the second half, the crowd will stay into it and they'll have a chance to cover as an underdog.

Ultimately, I would suggest to take a pass on this game because Seattle shouldn't be more than 3 or 4 point favorites. They were a nice teaser option earlier in the week, but the recent line movement has ruled that out. The Seahawks should win, but this is a tricky spot for them to cover.

Monday, October 14, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Colts vs Chargers

Indianapolis Colts vs San Diego Chargers: IND -1 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In the Vegas look-ahead line, the Chargers were actually favored -2.5. This line might be surprising now, but with the Colts taking down the undefeated Seahawks and the Chargers laying an egg in Oakland, the markets have flipped the script.

When the lines re-opened on Sunday night, this game was a 'pick em'. Almost immediately, early money came flying in on the Colts. You can find -1's if you shop around, but many books are already inching the line further to -1.5. By kickoff, I wouldn't be surprised if it went all the way up to -3, which is where my numbers have this game.

When the Chargers have the ball

You know that we are living in different times when the San Diego offensive line rank near the top of the league in sacks allowed and the Indianapolis defense has a backbone.

Having said that, the Chargers offensive line rank has more to do with the quick-release approach of coach Mike McCoy than the names on the backs of the jersey. They've been playing with a scotched-taped unit for much of the season.  For this game, they are on track to get King Dunlap back, but I'm not sure that is saying much.

They also get Ryan Mathews coming off a concussion, and they'll need him to stay healthy as the San Diego run offense continues to toil in the bottom half of the league. Either way, Rivers will continue feeding the ball in the air as Vincent Brown and Antonio Gates have been big bright spots. Now Keenan Allen is also steppin' up, which gives the Indy defense one more weapon to worry about.

Leading the way for the Colts defense will continue to be Robert Mathis. He's coming off his best performance of the season and he led the NFL in sacks heading into Sunday.

A true barometer you can look to see how much this unit has improved is how they do in "make-or-break" situations. On third down, Indy'd defense is among the best in the league. Where they continue to have problems is with their red zone defense. Still, it's a far cry from where this defense used to be.

They finally have an improving pass defense, but this will be a big test to see how they hold up in prime-time.

When the Colts have the ball

What more needs to be said about Andrew Luck?  Not much seems to phase this kid and he showed his mettle once again as he overcome a stout Seattle defense in the clutch.

How will the Chargers defend him? When the Seahawks blitzed, Luck completed 8 of 9 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. They are excellent in drive efficiency rankings, as well as on third down and in the red zone.

Even the running game is efficient when it needs to be. The flashy runs from Richardson aren't there as expected, but in short yardage situations and in times when they need to sustain a drive, they've been able to get enough on the ground.

This might also mark the game where T.Y. Hilton breaks out.  For whatever reason Darrius Heyward-Bey is still seeing more time, but if we're judging on merit, that can't last for long.

It would really help the Chargers if they still had Dwight Freeney, but his injury has left a gaping hole. Jarrett Johnson was their next best pass-rusher, but he hasn't practiced all week either. He's a game-time decision, but I'd be surprised if he was effective even if he did play. Corey Liuget had a nice game last week, but he'll need to be better against this offense if they hope to slow them down. Kendall Reyes, Larry English, and the rest of the front haven't had much of an impact.

Without pressure up front, this secondary continues to get torched. Derek Cox and Richard Marshall will be targeted all night long. This unit ranks dead last in the NFL.

This defense can't slow down drives, get off the field on third down, or stop anybody once they get inside the 20.

Bottom Line

Offensively, there isn't much Indy is doing wrong these days. They don't have the rushing numbers that you'd expect, but their efficiency is really high. Often times, it's not about how many yards you gain on the ground, but whether or not you can move the chains and chew the clock when needed. San Diego's defense is in for a long day, especially against the pass where they rank dead last in the league. Losing Freeney was a death blow.

The good news for the Chargers is their offense is much improved over last year. They can't run the ball worth a lick, but Rivers continues to put up big numbers.  Can they put up enough against this Colts defense? We'll see, but this is no longer the soft Indy D of yesteryear. With some added players and a few scheme adjustments, they now have some sandpaper to them.

NFL Pick: IND -1.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 6

With the MNF still to play, underdogs went 7-6 in Week 5.  Favorites still lead the way at 37-36-3 for the season. Overs went 7-6, and now 39-37 overall.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks are still looking for their first winning week, once again going 2-3 ATS, and only 6-18-1 on the year.

I started the NHL season hitting 67% in the first week, but my Week 5 NFL picks kicked me in the teeth. I knew the Detroit pick was in trouble when Calvin Johnson was a surprise game-time scratch. The spread got steamed 3 points, but he's probably worth more than that. Despite everyone betting down the Texans to -3.5, Schaub had other ideas. The Seahawks and Broncos were in control of their games, but credit to Indy and Dallas for not folding. Finally, the Chargers fell back down to earth, reminding us all that they are, well, the Chargers.

The silver lining is that both teasers cashed. That brings them to 10-1 on the year.

Refresh for all the Week 6 picks throughout the week.

Survivor Pick

San Francisco 49ers

Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Thursday, October 10, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Jaguars vs Broncos

Jacksonville Jaguars vs Denver Broncos: DEN -26 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This game might be the most watched blowout in NFL history and it has nothing to do with the players on the field. What should be the least interesting game on the card, suddenly becomes one of the most intriguing simply because of the point spread.

Last week in the LVH look-ahead line, the Broncos were -26.5 point favorites. When the line re-opened after the weekend, they had bumped it up to -28 or -27.5, depending on where you looked. Almost immediately, early money pushed the line back down to -26.5.

Chad Millman of ESPN did some research this week and found that the biggest point spread to date was in 1966, when the Baltimore Colts, led by Johnny Unitas, were -28 point favorites vs the Atlanta Falcons. The Colts did not cover as the final score was 19-7. However, Football Perspective had a nice article that looked at times when the "best" team has hosted the "worst" team since 1970.  The average score in these games was 36-4. In games that had point spreads, the favorite covered in 12 out of 15 of them.

So what exactly is the "right side" to have in this game? Every sharp on the planet is going to tell you it's the Jaguars. Thus far, all the big money bets have come in on Jacksonville.  Their reasoning is that this is simply too many points to give an NFL team, no matter who it is.

But to really answer this we need to provide some much needed context.

What the sharps aren't going to talk about is what has happened the last five weeks. Since the start of the season sharp money has been on the Jaguars, and they continue to lose week in and week out. Why you ask? Because every week the line is (apparently) inflated in Jacksonville's favor.

My question to them is just how much is enough points? When Jacksonville traveled to Seattle, they were -19.5 point underdogs. On twitter, Wunderdog Sports, a well known pick service, said the right side was Jacksonville, and I asked him why. He replied citing some stat that dogs historically covered large spreads.

This is part of the problem with old-school thinking. They will blindly bet these underdogs on principle, completely ignoring any X's and O's for the game in question. Even last week when the Jags were double-digit dogs against St Louis, they told everyone that was too many points.


Personally, I put much more importance on what I see on the field. When I handicap this particular game, I have the Broncos graded as -22 point favorites. On the surface that might seem like there is value on Jacksonville, but it actually suggests the right side is Denver. It is the largest point spread I've ever handicapped in all the years I've been doing this, and it's not even close.

What side is the public choosing so far? As of today, 55 percent of the bets are on the Broncos.

Bottom Line

According to Football Outsiders, the Denver offense is the second highest graded unit ever after five weeks. The Jaguars offense is the second worst graded unit ever. Overall, the Jaguars are the worst rated team ever through five weeks.

Jacksonville might very well cover this game, and you'll see all the touts waving their finger around saying "I told you so", but will it make up for their 0-5 ATS whiffs on the Jags to start the year?

In reality, I would advise to not even wager on this game.  What we are really trying to predict is how much Denver will be up by the 4th quarter, and whether or not Jacksonville's starters can outscore Denver's backups.

With all that said, I'm going to go ahead and take the Broncos simply for the fun of it.  All the X's and O's point to a significant blowout and I'm not even sure if 26 points is enough to finally get Jacksonville a cover.

NFL Pick: DEN -26.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Saints vs Patriots

New Orleans Saints vs New England Patriots: NO +3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Last week Vegas had the Patriots -2.5 point favorites in this matchup. When it re-opened on Sunday night, not much had changed. If you like the Patriots at -2.5, you can grab them for a bit extra juice. Conversely, if you like the Saints, you can grab +3 for some extra juice.

If you don't have that option, I'd still consider New Orleans because I have this game graded at a 'pick em' - even with the potential return of Gronk. He will single-handedly transform this offense, but it's not going to happen right away (at least I hope).  For now, I'm going to grab the points and ride the team already in full swing.

71% of bets are on the Saints.

When the Saints have the ball

Bill Belichick is notoriously known for taking away your best offensive weapon. The question they must be asking themselves this week is who that player might be on the Saints?  With Sean Payton and Drew Brees orchestrating things, it's never quite clear who they are going to key on for a single game.

Will the Patriots try to compensate for the loss of Vince Wilfork up front? Without him to plug the inside gaps, it has a ripple effect on the rest of the defense. Rookie DT Joe Vellano was easily shoved around in the running game last week. Reinforcements aren't on the way either. Tommy Kelly has yet to practice this week.

The good news is that the Saints run game has been brutal all season. Will that change this week? New Orleans could certainly move the ball on the ground if they committed to it, so that bears watching.

The bigger issue is which playmaker will New England focus on in the passing game. Common sense would tell us that it's Jimmy Graham. Against Chicago, he caught all 10 passes sent his way for 135 yards, and he beat six different defenders in the process. What this does is open up the rest of the field for the likes of Colston and Sproles. One guy can beat you on the outside and one can beat you out of the backfield or over the middle.

The Patriots are pretty good on third down, and among the best defending their red zone though.  This will be a fun matchup to watch, but ultimately the Saints are too dynamic to be stopped for four quarters.

When the Patriots have the ball

Gronk is officially listed as "day-to-day", but the word is that he's finally ready to return to action. Going forward, I'll be looking to make plays on New England because Gronk is going to completely reshape how this offense operates.

Guys like Welker and Hernandez were replaceable through a combination of players, but nobody can make up for the loss of Gronk. Only a few tight ends in the league can match his game-breaking receiving ability, but none of them come close to his abilities as a blocker. The issue is how much can he offer coming off this much missed time?  We won't know until we see him in action, but he's likely going to need a game or two to return to form, if not longer.

What we have left is an average offense.  With banged up running backs, they rank in the bottom third in run efficiency. Their passing game and third down percentage has been in the middle of the pack. Once they get inside the 20, they settle for field goals.

I'm not sure how much better they'll be against this improve Saints defense. New Orleans now have quality pass rushers up front with Jordan and Galette, and their overall tackling is light years better than last year. They rank in the top 10 against the pass, and they've been able to get off the field on third down.

They'll need to figure out what to do if Gronk is able to play a full game, but they should be able to limit this offense enough to give Brees and company the chance to win this outright.

Bottom Line

How impressive had the turnaround been for the Saints defense?  We all knew they would improve this year, but who thought it would happen this fast and that they'd be this good?  They have two legit pass rushers that can get after Brady and their secondary has made big strides. At the moment, Brady's passing game is average, their run game is banged up, and they are brutal in the red zone.

The Saints offense is equally inept in the red zone, and they can't run the ball either, but the passing game is off the charts. That's not to say they are going to light up the Patriots defense, because much like the Saints defense, this unit is also much improved this season.  That said, Brees, Payton, Graham, Sproles, and Colston have their mojo back. I'll roll with New Orleans with +3 points they shouldn't be getting.

NFL Pick: NO +3.

Monday, October 7, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Teasers (update)

The money train on teasers continues, now up to 10-1 on the season. As usual, the best options are games that either bring a favorite down under -3, or brings a dog up over a touchdown. Crossing the key numbers of 3 & 7 offer great value.

Sharps books like Pinnacle and 5Dimes try to keep most games out of the teaser window, but most still offer CHI -7.5 or -8.

I'll likely add one or two more in the coming days.

Bears -1.5 & Texans -1

Bears -1.5 & Chiefs -2.5

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 6: Giants vs Bears

New York Giants vs Chicago Bears: CHI -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Last week this line was -6.5 in the look-ahead. After the weekend it re-opened at Chicago -7.5. It seems to have settled at -7, but there might be some gameday movement depending on the late money.

This might seem like a lot of points to lay, but after a closer look at the Giants, it becomes very clear that this spread could very well be a double digit number.

55% of bets are on the home team.


Bottom Line

When you look at all the meaningful statistical categories for the Giants, they rank dead last in four of them. Rushing offense, third down offense, net starting field position, and special teams. On top of that, they rank near the bottom of the league nine more!  Among them are quarterback efficiency, turnover differential, and third down/red zone defense, just to name a few.  It's no wonder why this team is 0-5 straight up and against the spread.

The Bears aren't a flawless team either. On top of some injuries, there are some issues for the home team too. They're pass rush has been poor, which in turn has hurt their pass defense. And they aren't the best team on third down on either side of the ball.

That said, the Giants are traveling on a short week and given how they've played this season, I'd be very surprised if they kept this game within a touchdown. For once, the Bears don't have to rely on defense/special teams to gain them victories. Their offense is actually a strength this year.

NFL Pick: CHI -7.

NFL Preview 2013 Week 5: Jets vs Falcons

New York Jets vs Atlanta Falcons

Market Watch

In the advance line, the Falcons were touchdown favorites over the Jets, but after Geno Smith's performance in Week 4, and the loss of Santonio Holmes, the line re-opened at -7.5. Almost immediately, the line got bet up out of the teaser zone, and now sits at -9.5/-10, depending on where you look.

This line is a bit inflated, which would seemingly give some value on the Jets, but that all depends on Geno Smith.

Bottom Line

This is a game that I want nothing to do with. I took the Falcons as my survivor pick, but it had more to do with a lack of options than anything else. Jets games are difficult to handicap due to their volatile situation at quarterback. Their defense is capable of keeping them in game, and rookie Sheldon Richardson is the third best rated 3-4 defensive end behind J.J. Watt and Cam Jordan, but the one area they've struggled so far in is on third down. Some of this might have to do with the revolving door at right corner.

Meanwhile, Matt Ryan looks like a Pro-Bowler between the 20's, but he hasn't got the job done when it matters most - in the red zone. Is he no longer "Matty Ice"?  We'll need another playoff to determine that, but perhaps it's unfair to judge him too harshly while he's playing behind a struggling offensive line.

In the end, we have two badly flawed teams. In terms of value, the only side I would look at would be New York, but that would require some blind faith in Geno Smith. The big problem with that is if he gets down a couple scores. It's one thing to have a rookie QB, it's entirely different to have one that is missing weapons playing from behind. I'll take a pass.
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