Thursday, August 29, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Week 4

Week 3 is almost in the books and it was officially "regression to the mean" week. Not much went my way and even in hindsight I wouldn't have changed any of my picks. Pats starters had four turnovers in a half, the Panthers scored on four returns, and guys like Alex Tanney and Ryan Griffin led the way for unexpected covers. Go figure.

Week 4 won't see any starters so it will be the backup show. Picks might be few and far between, depending on coaching information later in the week. More importantly, preparation for Week 1 of the regular season is in full swing. Check back for updates and refresh for all this week's picks.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Raiders vs Seahawks

Oakland Raiders vs Seattle Seahawks: SEA -7 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The Seahawks opened at - 6.5 earlier this week, but that hasn't scared off bettors or sharps. The line has moved to a full touchdown and there are even some shops that are attaching extra juice to that now.  Will late money come in on the Raiders?  +7 for a preseason game is enticing, but who in their right minds wants to bet against the Seahawks at home under any circumstances? Especially on a train-wreck organization like Oakland? To no surprise, 73% of the bets are coming in on the Hawks.

Coaching

Pete Carroll is now an amazing 20-12 straight up in the preseason, 22-9-1 against the spread, and 10-1 during his time in Seattle. His full roster competition mantra is well documented and his desire to win every game is the worst kept secret in the betting community.

Dennis Allen might want to win these games, but he doesn't have the roster to make it happen. He's just 3-4 against the spread and 2-5 straight up thus far. 

Carroll's Seahawks have beaten the Raiders in the final NFLX week for two years in a row, 20-3 in 2011 and 21-3 in 2012.

Quarterbacks

All the attention is on the Oakland QB position and with good reason. Matt Flynn has taken 7 sacks and is responsible for 3 turnovers in 3 preseason games. Now he might have to stand on the sidelines and watch his job slip away to Terrelle Pryor ... in Seattle no less.

Why is everyone so excited about Pryor? Well beyond his athleticism and highlight reel plays, his mobility offers much more protection against a porous offensive line than Matt Flynn does. Yet, what are we to make of his production when it's come against a really poor Chicago reserve unit?

Pryor's stats through 3 games are 14/24 for 190 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. Nothing special. His real damage comes outside the pocket where he is 11 for 83 rushing yards and a TD.  Overall he has 26 points on 10 drives. 

But how will Pryor do in the pocket? He still struggles to go through his reads. If his first option isn't open, his instinct is to run. I'm not convinced he's ready to take over an NFL team on a full time basis and he'll have a much stiffer test up in Seattle than he did in last week's game. 

McGloin will try to fend off rookie Tyler Wilson in the second half. One of these guys will be destined for the practice squad. Most likely Wilson.  McGloin hasn't looked all that great though. He's 15/28 for 238 with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions.  Wilson has only attempted 6 passes, completing 3 for 28 yards.

The big advantage comes with the Seattle rotation.

Tarvaris Jackson is 14/19 for 238 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Brady Quinn is 14/23 for 162 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions. 

If Pryor can't take a lead into halftime or at least keep it tied, I don't see how McGloin or Wilson outperform whoever Seattle has under center in the second half.  

Loose Ends

The Raiders offensive line has been horrendous. Now they'll be starting a rookie at left tackle, Manelik Watson. He's never played this position before as he spent all his time at right tackle in college. Bruce Irvin missed a lot of the preseason, so he'll get extended action. Also keep an eye on Benson Mayowa off the edge. Even though Seattle's starters are banged up on the DL, I don't see how the Raiders can prevent pressure from entering the backfield.

Seattle's #2s are a really good group compared to most around the league, especially in the secondary with guys like Maxwell, Lane, and Thurmond.

The Seattle QB's should have some time to find their receivers in this game as the Raiders DL is porous. They only have 3 sacks in 3 games using lots of young guys and cheap free agents.

With a 7 point spread it's unlikely to come down to a field goal, but it helps that Sebastian Janokowski is out with an injury.

RC Christine Michael has186 yards and 1 TD on 27 carries. He also has a reception for 25 yards.

Bottom Line

Laying a touchdown in the preseason is a bit silly. Normally I'd stay away from a number like this, but I'm going to ride the Seahawks train to the last stop.  I'm not sold on Pryor and I think things get bleak after he leaves the game. Given his offensive line, I think his only option is to keep this game close with his legs. 

I'm gonna trust that Carroll continues his exhibition mojo and walks away with one last cover before we give way to the regular season. It's also a big boost that this game is played in Seattle. The 12th man might not be as loud as they usually are, but they'll be into the game early. If Seattle can prevent a hot start, their chances to cover should go up dramatically.

NFL Pick: SEA -7.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Texans vs Cowboys

Houston Texans vs Dallas Cowboys: HOU -2.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Houston opened as -3.5 point favorites at 5Dimes, but that was seen as too high and quickly bet down to -2.5. There hasn't been much movement since.  57% of bets are on the Cowboys so far, but I don't see any reason for money to come in on that side. 

Coaching

Jason Garrett has split his NFLX finales in his short coaching career.  Gary Kubiak has a pretty good overall preseason record, but he's just 3-4 in Week 4 games.  Not much really stands out for either coach, but what is worth noting is that this the Cowboys fifth preseason game due to the Hall of Fame Game.

Quarterbacks

Kyle Orton isn't expected to play much in this game, if at all. If he does see some time it will be your typical Kyle Orton performance. 4/6 for 46 yards and either an efficient scoring drive or awful interception. Through four games, he's 16/21 for 157 yards, 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

The real focus will be on Alex Tanney. He joined the team at the start of training camp without much expectations. He managed to play well enough to surpass Nick Stephens, who got cut when the team trimmed down to 75 players.

So far he's 23/42  for 246 with a touchdown and interception. He had a nice drive to finish out the Bengals last week and a good drive against the Cardinals too. The problem, like most inexperienced quarterbacks, is that he's had some really spotty play as well.  He's expected to get most of the action, if not all of it against the Texans.

The news is a whole light brighter for Houston. Like the Bengals, the Texans opened with two solid wins before falling short in the dress rehearsal games. Despite the loss last week, Yates and Keenum both looked good.

Keenum will be starting this game and playing the entire first half.  Through three games he is 34/50 for 354 yards, two touchdowns, and no picks.  Some are even playing up this game as a battle for the backup position, although that is a bit of a stretch. Instead, Keenum's strong play has ensured that he'll be on the roster when the final cuts are made. Keenum also grew up in Texas, so he's excited play well, prepare as the starter, and start the game.

In the second half, TJ Yates will close things out. He is 27/39 for 308 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. He's been crisp and efficient in leading this offense.

Bottom Line

It's highly unlikely that there are many mysterious for Garrett to figure out. Since this is the fifth preseason game for the Cowboys, I'm sure he knows what he has on his roster. He's giving Tanney the opportunity to see what he can do, but I wouldn't be surprised if Garrett ran the ball a lot and went through the motions.

That's not to say that this is a more meaningful game for the Texans, because it's not. However, when you consider the QB mismatch and the fact that this is game 5 for Dallas, Houston is the logical play.

NFL Pick: HOU -2.5.


NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Colts vs Bengals

Indianapolis Colts vs Cincinnati Bengals: CIN -3.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The Bengals opened up as -3 favorites at -120. It's slowly creeped towards -3.5 all week and some books have moved it there now with the regular -110.  As mentioned all preseason, the 3 hasn't been nearly as important as it is in the regular season. Through three weeks of NFLX, only one game has finished by a 3 point margin. 51% of bets are currently on the home team. 

Coaching

Last week I tried to buck the trend that had Marvin Lewis going 2-8 in dress rehearsals, but they ultimately came up short as Alex Tanney closed out the game with a last minute drive. In contrast, he has a 7-3 record in Week 4 NFLX games.

There isn't a lot of history to rely on for Chuck Pagano as he's only coaching his second preseason of his career.

Quarterbacks

The driving force behind my Week 4 picks is the quarterback rotations.  There isn't any reliable way to
handicap third stringers and bubble players at the tail end of the exhibition season, but we can count on lots of missed assignments and mistakes. This favors quarterbacks who can move the chains with their legs and have experience running an NFL offense.

Enter Josh Johnson and John Skelton. Johnson is mobile and athletic and he's familiar with Gruden's system. So far this preseason he's 20/36 for 208 yards, 2 touchdowns to 1 interception, and has 105 rushing yards on 10 carries. Skelton is 9/14 for 131 yards and 1 touchdown pass.

Meanwhile, things are pretty bleak for the Colts. Their offense looks good when Andrew Luck is under center, but Matt Hasselbeck and Chandler Harnish have combined for six points of offense in the second halves this preseason.

Hasselbeck is a veteran who knows how to move the ball, but he's also not interested in taking any hits at his age either. Against the Giants he simply chucked and ducked to avoid a hit, which resulted in an awful interception.

Hasselbeck is 15/27 for 172, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions.  Harnish is 16/38 for 121 yards and an interception.

Bottom Line

I've been a big supporter of the Bengals since the start of camp, not only for the preseason but also the regular season. I like their coaching staff and the quality depth they've developed throughout the roster.

The Colts defense has looked good for a couple of weeks in a row, so I don't think it will be a cake-walk by any means, but the Colts offense without Luck doesn't scare anyone. TY Hilton is a bright spot though.

Even with the chalk, this game is at home for Cincy and they have capable QB depth to pull out this win and cover.

NFL Pick: CIN -3.5.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions: Week 3

Favorites covered 10 of the 16 games. Totals went 8-8. Overall, favorites are now 17-16 ATS and overs are 20-13. It's interesting that the totals were raised so high, but still split the week. It's hard to draw conclusions from such a small sample, but the increase in preseason scoring seems to be here to stay.

In the regular season, roughly 15% of games are decided by 3 points. The next most frequent number is 7, which accounts for 9.5% of games. Through two weeks of the preseason not a single game has been decided by 3, and only two by 7.  The most frequent deciding number has been 4 (six games), followed by 5 (four games).

Check back for updates and refresh this page for all Week 3 picks. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Saints vs Texans [UPDATED]

New Orleans Saints vs Houston Texans: HOU -2.5, O43.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The Texans opened as -2.5 point favorites with a total of 43.5, and there hasn't been any movement on either. Given all the higher totals we're seeing, I'm a little surprised this one isn't a little higher. 59% of the current bets are on Houston.

Coaching/Motivation

Sean Payton said the starters will play a half - and maybe into the 3rd quarter depending on how the snap count is. Payton's record in the preseason hovers around .500.

Gary Kubiak has basically said the same thing for his starters. His record against the spread over the last 2+ years is 8-2. Overall he's 17-10-2 ATS. Much of his recent success can be credited to Wade Phillips though. Ever since he took over this defense, the Texans have enjoyed great balance on both sides of the ball.

Quarterbacks

There's not much to say about Drew Brees that people don't already know. He's capable of torching defenses regardless of how they defend him. This will be a stiff test for a Texans D that struggled against elite QB's in 2012.

Things get interesting after that though. Seneca Wallace has been released after his abysmal performance against the Raiders. This leaves Luke McCown as the backup for the second half. He had a really strong performance in Week 1, but I'm not gonna get too carried away with that. He hasn't thrown a TD pass in a meaningful game since 2007 and what does it say about him that they brought in Seneca Wallace in the first place?

Matt Schaub's challenges have been well documented. His troubles in the big game are a concern that will come to the forefront at some point, but this is only Week 3 of the preseason. He should be able to operate this offense without much trouble against a Saints defense going through a transition.

I really like the backup situation in Houston with both T.J. Yates and Casey Keenum having back-to-back strong games. They've provided some nice secondary scoring in the second half and I expect more production against iffy Saints backups in this one.

What to watch for ...

All indications are that Arian Foster will be ready for the regular season, but it's been a peculiar injury and something worth keeping an eye on. In his place Ben Tate will get the bulk of the carries with Deji Karim spelling him.

Antonio Smith and DeAndre Hopkins are notable guys missing for the Texans. Hopkins might hurt them more as Houson were hoping he'd provide a legitimate threat opposite of Andre Johnson.

The Saints have their own questions at WR as Colston made the trip, but isn't sure if he'll suit up. It would help Houston if he was on the bench, but Brees has a multitude of weapons at his disposal.

Most people are wondering who will step up and provide some pressure for this defense, and by early indications that person will be Cam Jordan.  Unless Rob Ryan unleashes an aggressive pressure package on Sunday, he's the one guy who could disrupt the backfield.

Beyond that are a lot of unknowns. The Saints linebackers are easily the biggest weakness and the secondary is coming off of a horrible season. So far they've faced the Chiefs and Raiders, so this game will be a much better barometer.

Speaking of pressure, if Houston do have any success sacking Brees look for it to come from his blindside. The LT spot is a big question mark and the Texans have an array of weapons to send his way.

Bottom Line


New Orleans are going to continue with some growing pains on defense as they adjust to Rob Ryan's new scheme, and there is still a lot to figure out on that side of the ball.

Kubiak has a lot of guys who are familiar with his system and they should be able to take advantage. And as much as I like the Texans defense, Drew Brees can put up points against anybody. I see a lot of points in this game.

NFL Picks: HOU -2.5, Over 43.5.

Friday, August 23, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Falcons vs Titans

Atlanta Falcons vs Tennessee Titans: ATL -2.5 1stH (5Dimes)

Market Watch

First half lines are released a day or two before with lower limits. It opened at -2.5 for Atlanta and there hasn't been any movement. With no new information likely to come, I don't expect any movement here.

Coaches/Motivation

Mike Smith is a great coach to fade during the preseason. He's only 7-15 straight up and 8-11-3 against the spread. However, a closer look reveals that the majority of these losses are accumulated in the less meaningful weeks. In the dress rehearsal Week 3 game, he's 4-1.  With only a half of football to worry about, I expect a strong effort from the Falcons starters.

Mike Munchak is a coach that bettors were keeping an eye on this preseason because he went 6-2 straight up in his first two seasons. Yet, he's 0-2 this year and I think it's more of a function of the team he has on the field rather than his desire to win. This week he said they aren't going to try and do a lot of things. All preseason he's been more interested in getting his starters more snaps to build some chemistry on his revamped offensive line. He's taking the same approach this week, and he's hoping to find a starting center to anchor things.

Quarterbacks

We are only looking at the starters here.

The rap on Locker heading into this year was how much trouble he has progressing through his reads, getting panicky in the pocket, and questionable accuracy. It's hard to draw any conclusions after two games because his weapons are limited, there have been some drops, and his offensive line is in flux.

That said, he still doesn't appear to have the kind of moxy or polish needed to be "the answer" for the Titans. He has a lot more to prove and the Falcons defense will be a tough challenge. Mike Nolan knows how to confuse young quarterbacks and he has a firm grasp on his roster after installing his scheme last year.

Matt Ryan made some huge strides last year, but he's also looking to get comfortable with some new pieces on his own O-line. He lost two longtime guys up front, as well as RT Mike Johnson to injury a couple weeks ago. On the bright side, he's an established starter with a wealth of weapons around him. The up-tempo offense they play also protects against a lot of potential problems up front.

What to watch for ...

The first team offense has been pretty brutal for Tennessee. They've yet to produce a touchdown and Bironas missed three field goals last week.

The Titans defense isn't one with a lot of difference makers. Now they'll have to face Atlanta's no-huddle offense with guys like Julio Jones and Steven Jackson.

CJ and Shonn Green give Tennessee some options on the ground, but they could really use a guy like Kendall Wright on the outside. He's sitting out with an injury.

Speaking of CJ, this will be the first time the Falcons D will face a runner with speed this year. This will be a test and MLB Akeem Dent will be a guy to keep an eye on.

One big question mark for the Titans is in their secondary. Alterraun Verner gets the start for the first quarter opposite of Jason McCourty, but Tommie Campbell comes in for the second quarter. The Falcons have the weapons to exploit these matchups.

Roddy White is out, but Tony Gonzalez will make his preseason debut.

Tennessee is missing four of the starting front seven players on defense. Tackling was already an issue for this group in the previous two games, so the woes could continue again here.

Bottom Line

It's always a risk with first half picks. A fumble or pass interference call could be the difference, but I like the advantages for the Falcons on both sides of the ball. They have less injuries, a better QB, and play much more aggressively on offense.

The Titans are a run based team trying to break in an overhauled O-line. On defense, they are missing a lot of starters and have an unsettled secondary. On top of all that, they don't even have a reliable kicking game.

Barring a big surprise, I see Atlanta's first-teamers taking a lead into halftime.

NFL Pick: ATL -2.5 1st H.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Bengals vs Cowboys

Cincinnati Bengals vs Dallas Cowboys: CIN +3 (Bodog)

Market Watch

This line opened at -3 for the Cowboys and there hasn't been a whole lot of movement since. Some sharper books are bringing it down off the 3, but you can still find it if you shop around. If that's not an option, I'd still go with +2.5 since there hasn't been a single game decided by 3 points this preseason. It's just not the same key number that it is in the regular season.

Coaching/Motivation

There is an alarming stat here that could scare off a lot of people. Marvin Lewis is 2-8 in Week 3 of the preseason. Normally I would say that this is a clear indication that Lewis just isn't interested in winning the dress rehearsal game, but given the quality depth that this particular Bengals team has, I'm less concerned about history.

Jason Garrett has only been a head coach for a couple of seasons, but there isn't any clear pattern either way. He's lost a dress rehearsal and won one. Overall he's 6-5 straight up, and 4-7 against the spread.

Quarterbacks

If you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know I'm not that high on Tony Romo. I give him credit for putting up great stats in the regular season, but his problems in the clutch are well-documented.  This preseason he only has three points in five possessions.

Behind him is Kyle Orton. He's a decent backup option, but he must do all his work with his arm. He's not going to lead a drive down the field with his feet if the pressure comes (and it will) or a play breaks down.

I really like the Bengals QB situation. Andy Dalton still needs to raise his game and prove he can win some big games, but he's more than capable of leading some scoring drives.

Josh Johnson began 2013 with a great camp and has continued that strong play throughout the preseason. He had a couple snafus last week, but he still managed to put up 14 points during his time in the game.  What makes him especially good in the NFLX is his ability to scramble for first downs and escape pressure.

Finally, John Skelton might be the best third option in the NFL. Brian Hoyer or Brady Quinn might have something to say about that, but Skelton is still fighting for a place on the roster and should be ok if he sees any mop-up time.

What to watch for ...

A.J Green might play a series or two. Lewis might decide to be cautious and keep him out, but if he does play it will give Dalton a great option on the outside. It also helps that Claiborne is scheduled to sit out.

Mike Zimmer has been ultra-aggressive with his pressure packages through two weeks in the preseason. This is bad news for Romo and Orton. In fact, Cincy might be able to get pressure by just rushing four given how dominating their defensive line can be.

Making matters worse for Dallas is the injury situation on their offensive line. Doug Free is great at right tackle, but in this game he's playing at right guard for the first time. A rookie is starting at center and a guy who specialized in basketball in college will start at right tackle.

Murray is expected to see more snaps in this game. Dallas will need him to have some success on the ground to keep Cincy's defense honest and relieve some pressure off of Romo.

Bottom Line

I understand this is the dress rehearsal game and the Cowboys are at home, but I don't see many clear advantages for them to justify this point spread. I'd say the Bengals have more quality depth at the QB position and in many key areas such as offensive/defensive line.  Despite Lewis' record in these games, I think this Bengals team is ready to buck that trend.

NFL Pick: CIN +3.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Eagles vs Jaguars [UPDATED]

Philadelphia Eagles vs Jacksonville Jaguars: PHI -3 (5Dimes)

Market Watch

This game opened with the Eagles as field goal favorites, but it didn't take long until early money camepouring in on Philly. We are now seeing -3.25 across the board, but I expect more line movement here before kickoff.

Depending on what side you like, you can get a more favorable number thanks to the juice. If you like the Eagles (like I do), you can have -3 for -125. Want the Jags? You can get +3.5 for the same price. Even if this went to a full -3.5 (like some books have now), I'd still make this a play.  If it gets to -4, I'd have to take a pass.

Coaching/Motivation

Neither coach have a historical NFLX coaching pattern to look at, but it's clear that expectations for these organizations are drastically different this year. Everyone is 0-0, but "hope" is not really a word anyone in Jacksonville is using with a straight face for this year.

Quarterbacks

Gabbert is out, which leaves Jacksonville with bleak (or even bleaker) options at QB. Henne, Scott, and Kafka make up the rotation.

Last year Henne had some really strong games, but it eventually went downhill. His completion percentage plummeted and he threw too many interceptions. He had the third highest hit/sacked rate per pass attempt.

Scott is a run-pass threat, but dropped out of the draft due to size and durability issues. Kafka once excited fans in Philly for a time, but it's not the first time that they over-hyped a backup QB in that market. He was cut by the Patriots in favor of Tim Tebow. Enough said.

Mike Vick was named the starter for the season and is set to play the entire first half, maybe more. Nick Foles is a quality backup and should have favorable matchups in the second half.

What to watch for 

The Jags OL and DL are still big problems and they are badly outmatched in this area against Philly. Andre Branch has been a big disappointment this camp/preseason and they don't really have a reliable pass rush threat outside of Babin. Just 2 QB hits and 2 sacks, both of which came near the end of the game vs Jets.

The Jags have some promise in the secondary, but they are extremely young and have some growing pains ahead of them. How will they cope with this fast-break offense? Panthers defensive tackle Star Lotulelei admitted he got tired against the Eagles' offense.

Cecil Shorts will return and join Justin Blackmon on the outside. This is great news for Henne, but he won't have Lewis at tight end or Forsett behind MJD. For an offense sorely lacking in weapons, it's not good when half of your options are on the sidelines. MJD is only expected to play a quarter.

Herremans and Peters are returning to the offensive line. This should be a big strength for the Eagles this year and these guys will give them a big edge on the line of scrimmage.

Bottom Line

There are a lot of unknowns about the Eagles this year, but luckily for us they meet up with the lowly Jaguars on Saturday for the "dress rehearsal" game.

I don't like either of these defenses, but I'm not sure that's going to matter much in this one. With Philly's fast-break offense, there are sure to be some points on the board. This leaves us with the question of whether or not the Jags offense can keep up?

NFL Pick: PHI -3 (-125).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Seahawks vs Packers [UPDATED]

Seattle Seahawks vs Green Bay Packers: SEA -2 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch 

This line opened at a variety of numbers between -1.5 and -3. The consensus number seems to be -2 right now, but you can pay more juice and grab -1 (-130) if you want. I don't think it's with the extra 20 cents in this particular case so I'm just fine taking -2. To no one's surprise, 70% of the action has come in on the the Seahawks. News regarding the starting playing time could move this line in the next day or so, but I don't expect any surprises.

FULL ANALYSIS 

Bottom Line 

Pete Carroll is a beast in the NFLX season and 9-1 ATS in his last 10. Mike McCarthy has a winning record in dress rehearsal games, but let's keep in mind he faced the hapless, uninterested Colts a couple times when Peyton was there. He also had the preseason all-star Matt Flynn backing up Aaron Rodgers. Those days are over as we now have scrubs behind Rodgers. I expect Green Bay to be competitive for the first half, but after that Pete Carroll's coaching emphasis on winning will take over and he has better backup QB's to get the job done. I like Seattle to continue their preseason hot streak.

NFL Pick: SEA -2.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Panthers vs Ravens [UPDATED]

Carolina Panthers vs Baltimore Ravens: BAL -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch 

The line opened at -3, but there are signs that this number could move. I'd be surprised if money came in on the dog unless John Harbaugh shocks us with some unexpected lineup news. It's still early, but so far a whopping 81% of the bets have come in on the home team. As we know, the '3' isn't a key number in the preseason so I won't be shocked if we see some movement on the Ravens leading up to kickoff.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line 

This is a point spread I just don't understand. All things being equal, the Ravens have an advantage with their starters in the first half, and an even bigger one in the second half. They also have a coach with a track record for winning these dress rehearsal games, get to play at home, with a clear agenda to put up some points on offense.

The Panthers do have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball, but I'm not sure they can just flick a switch on offense and suddenly turn it around. Their coach is curiously detached from the obvious pressure he's facing and their backup quarterbacks leave a lot to be desired.

NFL Pick: Ravens -3.

Monday, August 19, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Patriots vs Lions [UPDATED]

New England Patriots vs Detroit Lions: NE +2.5 (Pinnacle) +.5 1stH (5Dimes)

Market Watch

This is a very curious point spread. What's even more interesting is that we've seen a line move from the opening -1 for Detroit to -2.5. Yet, when we check the Sports Insights tracker, 70% of the bets are on the Patriots. So what gives? Let's unpack this game and see what's going on here.

Coaching/Motivation

There's a perception out there that Bill Belichick doesn't take the dress rehearsal seriously. They will point to the fact that he's 6-7 straight up in Week 3 games, and over the last five years he's 0-5 against the spread.

However, taking a closer look three of those five games were within a field goal, one of them Tom Brady didn't even play, and in another he was knocked out at halftime due to an injury.  So let's calm down with the "fade Belichick in dress rehearsal" talk shall we?

There's also no question that Jim Schwartz has traditionally liked to win in the preseason. I've pointed this out many times in my preseason picks, but something might be amiss this year. I'll get into that in a minute, but for now it is worth noting that Schwartz is 13-5 SU, 12-6 ATS, and 3-1 in dress rehearsal games.

Quarterbacks

One reason why the Lions have been so good in the preseason is due in large part to their history of quality backup quarterbacks. Shaun Hill is one of the best for the role he plays, but he's missed practice all week due to an injury no one knows anything about. Will he play in this game? He might, and if he does it will alter how strongly I feel about this play.  That said, it is a red flag when a guy sits out practice without any reason from the coach. This is the preseason after all, and Schwartz has never been a guy to play coy during exhibition season.

The problems might extend beyond the backup situation for Detroit though. I like Stafford, but when CJ or Bush is off the field, he hasn't looked comfortable one bit this preseason. The first team offense has produced just two field goals on seven possessions. He looks rushed and his footwork hasn't been good.

For New England, no one is quite sure what Belichick has planned. He said the starters can be expected to play into the third quarter, but he might also pull Brady after one series and call it a night. The good news is Brady has played into the third quarter in each of the last three seasons. He was knocked out of the game at halftime four years ago, and didn't play five years ago. In two of the last three years, he even went into the fourth quarter.

Assuming Brady plays a similar length in this one, it's doubtful we'll see much of Tim Tebow. Ryan Mallett is still a guy in need of experience and he should be just fine running this offense in the second half.

What to watch for ...

...Calvin Johnson. He was quoted in the press this week that he is planning on playing. The Patriots are preparing as if he's gonna play, but Jim Schwartz was non-committal.  The thing I'm skeptical about is why risk playing him for extended reps if there's even a chance at a setback? He missed both practices this week, so I'm not sure he's going to play. Local beat reporters in Detroit have expressed similar doubt. Looks like CJ won't play, so I like the value on the first half play as well. He's widely regarded as the most influential non-QB player on a team (minus AP), and when he's out of the game the offense just isn't the same.

Detroit cornerbacks. If there's a weakness in pass defense, you can be sure Brady is going to target it. Beyond Houston, there isn't a lot of reliability in this secondary. Bill Bentley got torched in the first preseason game and now has Rashean Mathis breathing down his neck.

Offensive line. For the Lions, the right side of the line is a big question mark.  They are happy to have some running back depth in Bush, Leshoure, and Bell, but the O-line has not opened up enough holes in the run game and if CJ is limited, the pressure on Stafford and company revs up another notch. Heck, even Riley Reiff at left tackle is a question mark. The Patriots have shown a nice pass rush this preseason.

Brady's protection. Two years ago the Lions harassed Brady all night long on route to a nice preseason win. It's going to be a serious test for this offensive line because the Detroit D-line is about the only thing that has been consistent through two games. If Brady does get time though, the back seven for Detroit are suspect in their tackling with many blown assignments - just as they were last year.

With Amendola unlikely to play, it opens up an opportunity for Julian Edelman.

Bottom Line

Worst case scenario? CJ and Shaun Hill are healthy and produce, and Tim Tebow plays extensive reps in the second half. A more realistic scenario? Schwartz holds one (or both) of those guys out for precautionary reasons and Tebow sticks on the bench. Assuming this game plays out as expected, I see some nice value with the Patriots getting points as a dog. The Lions have the ability to pull out a win, but I see enough problems/injuries to bet against it.

NFL Pick: NE +2.5 (+100).

Saturday, August 17, 2013

NFL Preseason 2013: Week 2 Predictions

Week 1 of the NFLX is in the books. Underdogs went 10-6 ATS including the HOF game, while overs went 12-5.

Over the last 10+ years, average scoring in Week 1 of the preseason hovered around the 35 point range and many of the totals on the board this year reflected that.

In that same time span, scoring averages hover around the 37 point range in Week 2 as starters get more time on the field, but this preseason books have opened 13 of the 16 games at 40+.  Was this an overreaction to all the Week 1 'overs', or are they correctly adjusting for this new passing league?  The answer likely lies somewhere in between.

Check back for updates and refresh this post for all Week 2 picks.

Friday, August 16, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Broncos vs Seahawks [UPDATED]

Denver Broncos vs Seattle Seahawks: SEA -4.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This line opened at -3.5 at most books and even with the possibility that Denver starters could play the whole first half, money continued to come in on the home favorite. Sometimes the books are stuck between a rock and a hard place in the preseason.  Some places even moved the line up to -5 and it wouldn't surprised me if it went even higher.

Coaching/Motivation

John Fox has a long history in this league and there hasn't been any specific trends that jump off the page at us. He's 24-21 straight up, 21-23-1 against the spread, and 22-22-1 over/under.  He's 1-1 SU and 0-2 ATS in dress rehearsal games so far with the Broncos.

Pete Carroll's preseason success is well-documented now, with a 18-12 SU and 20-9-1 ATS record.  Last year proved that it doesn't matter how much you are getting paid or where you were drafted, he's going to play the best players. This emphasis on camp/preseason competition seems to translate well to games.

Quarterbacks

In Week 1 I played the 49ers at home against the Broncos, partly due to the Denver QB rotation. That part of the equation checked out fine, but the SF offense that didn't show any moxy either. This week will be a little bit different as Fox said the starters will play into the 2nd quarter, or maybe the half, depending on how the game is going. This tempted me to consider a 1st half play on the Broncos, but I think the mismatches in the second half provide us with better value.

Brock Osweiler is mobile enough to escape some breakdowns and he has a good arm. His problem continues to be accuracy. More and more young quarterbacks are expected to be ready for the NFL quickly, but Osweiler simply isn't one of them. Zac Dysert is a 7th round rookie with a decent arm, but the knock on him is his pocket poise. That's not really a weakness you want to have when you are taking snaps behind reserve offensive lineman.

The QB situation for Seattle couldn't be more opposite. We all know what Russell Wilson can do, and behind him is Tavaris Jackson and Brady Quinn. T-Jax was not good in Minnesota and didn't play last year, but he's experienced and in a good situation in Seattle. He looks like the clear front-runner to win the backup job. Brady Quinn is a capable backup and his type of game is perfect for our purposes. He doesn't take a lot of chances. Instead, he gets impatient in the pocket and checks down a lot.  He should be able to fair well against Bronco backups.

Noteworthy

It's hard not to like this Seahawks team. They are one of the youngest rosters and finally have some stability after some monstrous turnover in recent years. There is good quality depth all throughout the roster and many of them believe they have a legitimate chance at playing time under Carroll's philosophy.

For Denver, it will be fun to watch their first string offense go to work in a hostile environment against a good defense. Even with the second half advantages, I wouldn't bet against Denver as 4.5 point dogs if Seattle didn't have what it took to counter their starters.

On defense, Von Miller is the name that's in all the headlines this week. He made the trip to Seattle and is expected to play, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was a late scratch or took limited reps. Usually one defender isn't going to make that much of a difference, but his presence drastically alters the makeup of their starting crew.

Bottom Line

There is not a lot of mystery to this pick. Pete Carroll has a stellar preseason record in his career and he maintains a spirited atmosphere whether his team is rebuilding or contending.

The Broncos will put up a good battle in the first half while the starters are in there, and may even lead at halftime, but the quarterback/overall depth really favors the Seahawks in the second half.  Give me the home team (+ the 12th man).

NFL Pick: SEA -4.5.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Dolphins vs Texans [UPDATED]

Miami Dolphins vs Houston Texans: HOU -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This game opened up with the Texans as -2.5 point favorites. It didn't take too long until it was bet up to -3, but we are even seeing some -3.5's on the board. I'm not sure why this line isn't a bit higher given the matchup and the various factors involved, but we could see some more movement on gameday.

Coaching/Motivation

Last season Joe Philbin coached his way to a perfect 0-4 straight up/against the spread record. So far this year he's 1-1, but it's too early to say he's changed his mindset.

Gary Kubiak has shown a much greater propensity to win games in the exhibition season. He's 17-12 straight up and 16-10-3 against the spread.  Over the last two seasons he's 6-2 ATS and 4-0 in the opening two weeks. He's done a great job building a winning culture in this organization (even if they do choke down the stretch). Even last week when all indications were that he was going to mail it in vs the Vikings, they found a way to stay competitve and seal a victory in the 4th quarter.

Quarterbacks

Of course one of the reasons why Houston did come out on top in Week 1 was due in large part to their QB situation. Matt Schaub is the clear starter (at least for this year) and behind him is a quasi-QB competition with two solid options.

T.J. Yates has made pretty good strides in his young career thus far. He has experience under his belt and knows this offense well. He continues to make questionable reads at times, but it's good to know he's getting the third string role in this game. If things get dicey and they need a drive or two, he can deliver.

The wild card is Case Keenum. He's had a really strong overall camp and had a really good performance against the Vikings. Kubiak is giving him backup duties in this game to push forward his development. He's not really going to challenge Yates for the backup role come the regular season, but a couple more good outings could make it a more serious topic of conversation.

The Dolphins are set with their top two options. Tannehill had a better rookie season than expected and will look to build on his progress this year.  Matt Moore is only 28 and has 25 starts to his name, but he seems to have settled into a role as a career backup. He could've gone to a handful of other teams with unsettled starters, but decided to resign with Miami.

There are two primary issues with this group heading into this game. First is the third QB spot. Pat Devlin is out, which means Aaron Corp will get the call to wrap things up. He did not look good in practice this week.

Noteworthy

The other main issues is how Tannehill will handle snaps behind a shaky offensive line. I still don't understand the decision to sign Mike Wallace and let Jake Long go. It doesn't really matter how much of a deep threat Wallace is if Tannehill doesn't have time to get him the ball. In fact, last season Tannehill ranked 29ths out of 29 quarterbacks when faced with pressure.

Jonathan Martin is going to square off against J.J. Watt. Yet the problems don't end there. All of the Texans starters on defense are slated to play, with the exception of Ed Reed. This is bad news for Miami offensive line and everyone else on that side of the ball.  That needs to improve if Miami expects to compete with above-average teams.

For the Texans offense, continue to keep an eye on DeAndre Hopkins. This kid has serious game and could push for rookie of the year consideration if he can take advantage of favorable coverage opposite Andre Johnson. The Dolphins have revamped their secondary and this will be a great test for them. I really like Brent Grimes, but Dimitri Patterson and Richard Marshall are still question marks.

3rd overall pick Dion Jordan has not been practicing and is unlikely to start.

Bottom Line

I really like the changes the Texans made this offseason. They come into this matchup with greater overall depth throughout the lineup - especially at the QB position.

The injury to Pat Devlin could very well decide this game in the second half as T.J. Yates is more than equipped to win that battle. I like the offensive line of the Texans much more than the Dolphins too - which should be a contributing factor with how these QBs perform.

I'll gladly take Kubiak at home.

NFL Pick: HOU -3

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Vikings vs Bills

Minnesota Vikings vs Buffalo Bills: BUF -3 (5Dimes)

Market Watch

This line opened up at Buffalo -3, but it was immediately pushed up to the -3.25 range. You can grab the dog at +3.5 with a bit extra juice (-125) or you can lay the favorite at -3 for the same price.

Coaching/Motivation

Leslie Frazier's preseason coaching record is 6-7 straight up and against the spread.  What stands out is his demeanor to open the preaseason. He didn't seem to care much at all about the result in game one, and he continues to preach his evaluation approach for Week 2.

Meanwhile, new Bills head coach Doug Maronne is "hungry to get better as a team". It's not uncommon for the new guy in town to want to change the culture of an organization, but the Buffalo organization really believe that this regime change is different.  He had an inspiring start to the preseason, and kicking things off at home could maintain that culture change momentum.

Quarterbacks

Part of the excitement in Buffalo surrounds their top pick, E.J. Manuel. Most scouts like him because he's
intelligent with great size and physical tools. He had a bit of a shaky start vs IND, but he bounced back strong and hit all nine passes in the two-minute drill.

He won't get the start though because Kevin Kolb gets that role this week. He'll see between 10-20 snaps. If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that I'm not a fan of this guy. He's too inconsistent, holds the ball too long, and doesn't have ideal pocket awareness. He also can't seem to stay healthy (this time he slipped on a rubber mat).

So why do I like him in this spot? The simple answer is ... his job is on the line. With a guy like Manuel breathing down his neck, this game could be his biggest opportunity to win over coaches, teammates, and fans. It might all become a disaster if he tries to force too many balls, but on the bright side he is getting the chance to play with the starters.

For the Vikings, things are not so good. The starters are expected to go into the second quarter and the spotlight is squarely on Christian Ponder. His difficulties are well-documented (especially with his deep ball), but the thing that concerns me about Ponder this preseason is what can he do without Adrian Peterson?

Behind Ponder is Matt Cassel. Normally it's good news when you have a backup with starting experience, but I'm not sold on Cassel in any role. The majority of his yards last week came after the catch, he looked skittish in the pocket, and had a questionable interception.

Rounding out the rotations for both teams are a couple of unfamiliar names.

For Minnesota, McLeod Bethel-Thompson is an undrafted player who spent time in the arena league and UFL. Not good.

For Buffalo, we have Jeff Tuel. Against the Colts he had over 200 yards passing and two touchdowns. He completed his first nine passes and looked decisive on the field. I'm not going to get carried away with this performance, but for a third stringer you have to like those numbers.

Noteworthy

One key area to watch for the Vikings will be their secondary. They are taking a pretty big risk with rookies Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson in starting roles. The learning curve for rookie cornerbacks is usually a steep one.  Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this week that they are looking to go deep in this game to utilize their speed. Minnesota's rookies will be tested.

The Bills coaches asked their offensive linemen to lose weight in the offseason to prepare for more no-huddle and zone blocking schemes. Adding E.J. Manuel to the mix will further enhance their plan, so I'm interested to see what the Vikings do to counter this.

Without AP in the game to keep the defense honest, look for new defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to be aggressive with some pressure. He's looking to transform this unit into a more attacking 3-4 scheme and he has some quality pieces to work with.

Bottom Line

There is legitimate reason for optimism in Buffalo these days. There is a new set of innovative and aggressive coaches looking to change this program around. They also have a nice quarterback competition for the starting job. When you look for all the ingredients for a side in a preseason game, this one checks off most of them. I'll lay the points with the Bills.

NFL Pick: BUF -3.

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Raiders vs Saints

Oakland Raiders vs New Orleans Saints: NO -6 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The line in this game opened at -6 and we haven't really seen much movement since. Some books have pushed it to -6.5, but the real question is where it will go on game day? It's hard to imagine a late push on the Raiders, but -6 is high for a preseason game so keep an eye on things leading up to kick off.

Coaching

Not much stands out when you look at the coaching records of these coaches in the preseason (at least for the first two weeks). Sean Payton is 16-15, while Dennis Allen is 2-3.

Motivation

When it comes to motivation, there are some things that stand out for each coach though.

Dennis Allen doesn't believe in resting or protecting his stars. He might want to rethink that philosophy once he sees his offensive line in action on Friday, but his old school approach is unique in today's day and age.

Sean Payton is much more traditional in his approach. He's 6-1 in the Week 3 dress rehearsal and 1-6 in the throwaway Week 4 games.  This week he's said that he wants his team to play much faster and efficiently than Week 1. He also told his team that this is an important game for a lot of players - especially at the backup quarterback position.  I expect them to have a much better outing this time around on both sides of the ball.

Quarterbacks

Speaking of backup quarterbacks, the Saints have a competitive battle going on for the right to prep behind Drew Brees.  In Week 1 Luke McCown had a strong performance while Seneca Wallace was sidelined with an injury. This week, Wallace will get most of the backup reps and the pressure is on to match or exceed McCown.

For the Raiders, things get a little bit more interesting. Matt Flynn gets the start, but there are a wide range of opinions of how he did last week. Some say he showed good command of the offense and created some movement down field. Others (including myself) weren't wearing rose-colored glasses. I wasn't that impressed, but it's tough to draw any conclusions either way on such a small sample.

Behind him is Terrelle Pryor. Everyone is excited about his ability to run a read-option type offense, but let's not get carried away just yet. He has no notable experience and a long ways to go before he's ready.

Some even think that Matt McGloin should be ahead of him on the depth chart. McGloin has separated himself from rookie Tyler Wilson, who people are labeling as the most disappointing rookie in the division.

Will it matter?

Whoever is under center for Oakland will have to do it with a really iffy offensive line in front of them. Jarde Veldheer, their best lineman, was lost this week to a triceps tear. This puts the entire line in a bind. Alex Barron is set to replace him, but he hasn't played since 2010. That tells you everything you need to know about their other options - John Wetzal, Willie Smith, and Menelik Watson. All of these guys would be major liabilities at left tackle.

Defense anyone?

The problems for the Raiders don't stop on the offensive line or wide receivers. They are planning to use nine new starters on defense this season. Due to massive turnover and cap trouble, they found as many cheap veterans as they could find to fill the rosters spots. Their best hope is not to embarrass themselves this year.

If Drew Brees, Seneca Wallace, and Sean Payton were looking for an opportunity to make some progress, look no further than this group of Black and Silver.

Having said that, it's not all peaches and cream for New Orleans. They have their own set of defensive issues as well. The Saints defense was so bad last year it's not even worth rehashing. With Rob Ryan in town, it's a fresh new start and a whole new scheme.  The good news is they are bound to improve on this side of the ball. The bad news is we'll see some growing pains in this game.

Bottom Line

Some of the worst NFL teams sparkle in the preseason, but I'd be surprised if that was the case in this game. The Raiders simply have too many problems in too many areas on both sides of the ball. The Saints don't have a great pass rush, but it shouldn't be too difficult to disrupt this hapless offensive line and make life difficult for the Oakland QBs all night.

Drew Brees should be able to put a couple scoring drives together and Seneca Wallace is experienced enough to move the chains during his extended playing time.

It's a lot to lay 6 points in the preseason, but I see more than enough good reasons to do so.

NFL Pick: NO -6.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Lions vs Browns

Detroit Lions vs Cleveland Browns: Over 41.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

When lines were released earlier this week it didn't take long for people to take the 'over'. An opening line of
40.5 has been pushed up to 41.5, and there are some signs that this number could go higher before we reach kickoff.

Who do people think will win this game? The game opened as a 'pick em', which means the Browns are not being given much credit for playing at home. In fact, a line like this suggests that the Lions are the team to beat here, but essentially this one comes down to a coin flip.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell might not leap off the page at you, but at least this has "competition" stamped on the surface. Weeden certaintly won't want to have a dud of a game to breath any life into the media. It also helps that they have a strong offensive mind in Norv Turner leading the way this year.

The quarterbacks for Detroit should also have ample opportunity to take their shots downfield against a highly suspect Browns secondary. The Lions like to win these games and put a high premium on execution, while the Browns are a young team with a new coaching staff looking to improve.

What it all adds up to is a nice situation to bank on the 'over'.

NFL Pick: Over 41.5 (-105).

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Panthers vs Eagles

Carolina Panthers vs Philadelphia Eagles: Over 42 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch 

The Philadelphia Eagles opened as -3 point favorites a few days ago, and we haven't seen much movement on either side since. The total opened at 42.5 and it remains in that range depending on where you look. Right now, the consensus line sits at 42.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line 

In Week 1 we saw 12 of the 17 games go over the total. Was this an anomaly or a trend? The books aren't taking any chances as most of the totals for game two were set at 40 or more. Over the last 10 years, Week 2 preseason scoring hovers around the 37 point range.

In this game they've raised it a full five points. Yet, once we look at how bad the secondaries are for these teams and combine that with their offensive strengths, it's easy to see that this game could feature a lot of points. The Eagles are especially attractive for an 'over' play as they are soley focused on scoring fast and often on offense, and still finding their footing on defense. Keep a close eye on them going forward.

NFL Pick: Over 42 (-110).

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Falcons vs Ravens

Atlanta Falcons vs Baltimore Ravens: BAL -4.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch 

In Week 1 of the preseason, most home teams were given the obligatory -3 points and the market adjusted itself afterwards. However, now that we've seen these teams in action, the markets look dramatically different for Week 2.

In the case of the Falcons and Ravens, Baltimore opened up at -4.5 home favorites due to Atlanta's lackluster effort against Cincinnati. Some thought this was a bit of an overreaction as we saw the line dip to -4 for a day or two, but the line has resettled as -4.5 as we speak. There are some hints that more action will come in on the Ravens as some -5's are popping up on the board.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line 

When you favor a team by more than a field goal in a preseason game there better be a good reason for it. In this case there are multiple good reasons at work. The coaching styles are significantly different and Mike Smith just might become an automatic fade the way Tony Dungy was in Indianapolis.

On top of that, the quarterback rotation and offensive line situations favor the Ravens. Even if we had to lay a touchdown in this game, I might have considered it.

NFL Pick: Ravens -4.5 (-102).

Friday, August 9, 2013

NFL Preseason 2013: Week 1 Predictions

Week 1 of the NFLX is upon us with a slate of games ahead.  The preseason is filled with opportunities as coaches tell us their plans and quaterback/roster depth is on full display.

Check back for updates and refresh this page throughout the week. All Week 1 picks will be posted here.




NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Jets vs Lions

New York Jets vs Detroit Lions: DET -3 1st H (5Dimes)

Market Watch

The opening line on this game had the Lions favored by -4.5 points. That is quite a high line for a preseason game and when you see a team favored by more than a field goal, there better be a good reason why.

I am picking the Lions in this game, but only for the first half. The quarterbacks that will take the field in the second half (for both teams) are simply too sketchy.

The line has since come down to -3.5, and it might come down more before kickoff, but I feel much better about sticking with the -3 first half line.

Coaching

A big reason to like the Lions in this spot is thanks to the approaches these coaches take in the preseason. Jim Schwartz likes to win these games for whatever reason as his 12-4 straight up and 11-5 against the spread records indicate.

Rex Ryan has a dismal 6-10 straight up record and he's 7-9 against the spread.

Quarterbacks

The other reason to love the Lions in the first half is what's going on at the QB position. Usually a quarterback battle is a good thing for these games, but not when your name is Mark Sanchez. He has his moments, but let's face it, the guy isn't very good.

In relief, Geno Smith is not backing down from the challenge and openly proclaiming his chances to win the starting job with the media. You have to like his confidence and he has a strong arm to go along with his athleticism, but he's a rookie and not experienced facing NFL defenses in live action.

Meanwhile, Matthew Stafford knows how to move the chains and put points on the board. He's only going to be in for a couple of series, but behind him is what many consider the best pure backup quarterback in the league (ignoring prospects). Shaun Hill knows this offense and should feel right at home taking snaps to finish out the half.

The Jets do have the better defense, but when it's a question of Sanchez/G Smith vs Stafford/Hill, I know who I'm banking on.

Motivation

Both coaches are experienced with their respective clubs, but they also have different approaches to the exhibition season. When the Lions were winning, Schwartz won preseason games. When his team had a down year, he still won preseason games.

Rex Ryan doesn't appear to care about results and he's a perfect 0-4 in preseason openers during his time with the Jets.

Keep an eye one ...

The Lions running back battle. Reggie Bush was a nice addition for the type of offense the Lions like to run, but there is quality depth behind him, too. Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure are battling it out for playing time behind him, and both can produce.

"Megatron" vs "Megacorner". At least that's the way Rex Ryan put it. Calvin Johnson will be going against Antonio Cromartie, and don't be surprised if they rotate in their number one pick Dee Milliner, too.

Bottom Line

I don't often play first half lines because of the variability involved. One kick return, pass interference, or fumble could be the difference. But this is a quarterback/coaching matchup that I can't overlook. I don't know what will happen beyond halftime with names like Simms, McElroy, Moore, and Lewis, but I do like all the factors that favor the Lions in the first half.  It also can't hurt that they're at home.

NFL Pick: DET -3 1st H (+100).

Thursday, August 8, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Cardinals vs Packers [UPDATED]

Arizona Cardinals vs Green Bay Packers: ARI +3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Last week the Green Bay Packers opened as -3.5 point favorites vs the Arizona Cardinals. Early action even moved it up to -4 at one point, but since then we've seen a clear move on the road dog.  While I would love to have the extra line value, the late line movement is due to recent information. I still like the play at +2, but obviously not as much as +3. As it stands now, 60% of the action is still on the home team.

Full analysis 

Bottom Line

Mike McCarthy is not dealing from a position of strength with his QB depth. His record in NFLX openers the last few years might be indicative of a cautious approach. McCarthy is also 0-3 in his last three preseason openers.

Digging deeper, he's 10-4 in weeks 2 and 3, but 4-10 in weeks 1 and 4. On the flip side, I really like the QB depth for the Cardinals and Bruce Arians' is a new coach trying to instill a "culture change". I'll take the extra points and see how it shakes out.

NFL Pick: ARI +3 (-101).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Seahawks vs Chargers

Seattle Seahawks vs San Diego Chargers: SEA -1 (-125) (5Dimes)

Market Watch

The Seahawks opened as -2 favorites and it's since been bet up to -2.5.  Why would I lay the extra juice to bring it down to -1?  In the preseason, 3 is not the key number that it is in the regular season. Most games don't end with a margin of three points for the simple reason that teams like to avoid overtime at all costs. Instead, coaches will go for a 2 point conversion, placing much more value on the 1 to 2.5 range.

Coaching


Not much is known about Mike McCoy because he's a first time head coach, but Pete Carroll has been around the block a few times.  He's compiled a 17-12 SU and 19-9-1 ATS record.  Impressive. What has he done more recently? How about 7-1 over the last two seasons.  His O/U record sits at 16/13.

Quarterbacks

The other primary advantage I see in this matchup is at the QB position. After Russell Wilson, Carroll has two guys who can move the chains in the second half of the game with Brady Quinn and Tavaris Jackson. Both guys can look outright ugly at times, so nothing is a sure thing, but you always have to favor their chances when they get to go against the backups.  It also helps that Carroll encourages competition, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey or salary attached to it.

The Chargers have more of a hit and miss situation. I don't expect to see Philip Rivers much, which leaves the majority of the reps to Charlie Whitehurst, and youngsters Brad Sorensen/Nathan Enderle.  Whitehurst is your prototypical inconsistent backup. Last NFLX he came in and threw two nice touchdowns in his first game, but followed it up with stinkers the rest of the way.

Motivation

Normally, you'd give the edge to Mike McCoy in this situation. There's a lot of pressure on the Chargers to turn things around and new head coaches like to set a new tone and "winning culture" in camp and preseason.

That said, Pete Carroll's M.O. has always been competition. Whether the Seahawks are established as a playoff caliber team or not, Carroll likes his roster to compete for spots because nothing is guaranteed on his watch. This permeates all the way down to the fringe players, so I don't expect Seattle to go through the motions.

What to watch for ... 

Robert Turbin is nursing a foot injury, so we'll get to see extended action for second round pick Christine Michael, sixth round pick Spencer Ware, and second year player Derrick Coleman. All three have showed promise in camp, so the competition here should be interesting.

The Chargers have already had injury problems at the wide receiver position, so Keenan Allen gets a prime opportunity to show his stuff. Manti Te'o has had an up and down journey en route to the NFL and this will be the first time we get the chance to see him against some pro-level players.

Bottom Line

Buying the Seahawks down to -1 virtually make this game a 'pick em' and I like Seattle to walk away with a win. Carroll's track record combined with the advantage at QB make the Seahawks a clear pick to come out on top.

NFL Pick: SEA -1 (-125)

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Broncos vs 49ers

Denver Broncos vs San Francisco 49ers: SF -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

The 49ers were given the standard 3 points as the home favorite in this game, but it opened at +100. Since then, we've seen a move to the regular -110.  I agree with this move once you take a closer look at what will be on the field in the second half.

Coaching

John Fox has a long history in the league and his overall preseason record is 23-21 SU, 20-23-1 ATS, and 22-21-1 O/U.  More recently, he's a similar 4-4 during his two years in Denver.

In Jim Harbaugh's two seasons he's 5-3 SU, 5-3 ATS, and 3-5 O/U.

Quarterbacks

The big advantage for the 49ers in this game is who will be under center while the 2nd and 3rd stringers are on the field. John Fox no longer has Caleb Hanie to throw out there to move the chains as he's going with Brock Osweiler and a couple of rookies in Ryan Katz and Zac Dysert.

Don't expect to see Peyton Manning long. He could be out of the game after one series.

Meanwhile, things are a lot more interesting for the Niners.  After Kaepernick's one or two series, there is a QB battle going on between Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien.  This is not a clash of the titans because neither are going to scare opposing defenses, but they should be able to move the chains against backups and young players.

Motivation

Neither team has anything to play for than the other, but neither coach has a history of tanking these games either.

Keep an eye on ...

A.J. Jenkins. Last year's first round pick is due for a lot of playing time with Crabtree's injury and he has a lot of motivation to separate himself from the guys behind him. The 49ers really need a legit second receiver opposite of Boldin, so this is a great opportunity for the kid.

The 49ers will also be looking to see where Nnamdi Asomugha and Tramaine Brock fill in at cornerback. It's a nice problem to have and both could cause some problems to the inexperienced Bronco quarterbacks.

For the Broncos, Montee Ball highlights the offense as he's in a position battle with Ronnie Hillman.

Bottom Line

With the starters playing so few snaps in this game, the bulk of the action goes to the backups. Usually in the preseason, much of what we see is based on a coach's objective along with the guys under center.  Osweiler might be making strides in non-contact practices, but the Broncos backup QB rotation is fade material until we see otherwise.  The 49ers have a nice QB competition going on, less injuries, and greater overall depth.

NFL Pick: SF -3 (-110)

NFL Preseason Predictions 2013: Bengals vs Falcons [UPDATED]

Week 1 of the NFL preseason kicks off on Thursday and two teams expected to make strong playoff bids this year are the Cincinnati Bengals and Atlanta Falcons.  Let's take a closer look at who has the edge in this preseason tilt.
Cincinnati Bengals vs Atlanta Falcons: CIN +3 (Bodog)

Market Watch

The opening line for this game is pretty much the same as what we see across the board right now. The home team Falcons were given the obligatory -3 line, but when you factor in the juice it really sits at -2.75. Depending on where you look, you'll see -3 (+100) or -2.5 (-120).  The total opened at 37 and there hasn't been any move on that either.

Bottom Line

It's hard to overlook the Bengals as +3 point underdogs in this game when you consider Mike Smith's recent preseason records and his focus on evaluating young players.

The Bengals also boast a much deeper and experienced trio at quarterback. Finally, keep an eye on the Cindy depth in this game, especially names like Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard, along with their very deep defensive line and secondary.  
Pick: Bengals +3 (-120).

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: NFC Divisional Winners and Season Win Totals [UPDATE #2]

Divisional odds and season win totals were released back in May. There has been some early movement on those lines, but there is still some value to be found.

I'll be adding more for each conference throughout the week, so check back here for updates.


NFC North


Under 7.5 (-155) (Bodog): Without question, the most deserving team of an "overrated" tag would be the Minnesota Vikings. Last season they defied the odds and made a December sweep to clinch a playoff berth. Adrian Peterson recovered much faster from his knee reconstruction than anybody expected and maintained an elite level of play throughout the season. I'm not doubting his ability to remain a monster out of the backfield because he certainly could put up great numbers again in 2013, but the law of averages dictates otherwise. Most backs who have the kind of season he does, usually see their numbers dip the following year.  
Of course one thing that could prevent that from happening is an improvement in his supporting cast. Greg Jennings was brought in to give Christian Ponder a legitimate weapon outside. Cordarrelle Patterson might turn out to be another draft day gem on the opposite side. Matt Kahil should take another step forward over at left tackle. However, what we're all left wondering is whether or not Ponder can take the next step in his development.
It's too bad we didn't get to see him in the playoffs last season because that could have told us something more about his value in the clutch. Instead, we have to base our projections on what we've seen so far. In short, I'm not a fan. Without an adequate deep ball, Ponder is limited to a short passing game attack that is prone to error. It's always extremely costly to bank on a young franchise QB and miss, and this is what the Vikings could be facing in the not-too-distant-future. 
Defensively, things are pretty much the same with the exception of some nice draft day pickups. Xavier Rhodes and Josh Robinson should mesh well with Chris Cook and soften the blow of the departed Antoine Winfield.  Desmond Bishop (if healthy) will fit in nicely alongside the versatile Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway. And Everson Griffen is a rising young player who should benefit from playing on the same front as Jared Allen. 
The problem is the Vikings will continue to tread water unless Ponder takes his game to a new level. A good offense and defense only goes so far in this league. Making matters worse, the Vikings face one of the toughest schedules in the entire NFL. When you add it all up, 'under' 7.5 wins is a solid bet, despite the extra juice. 
Over 10.5 (-110) (Pinnacle): As was the case with the Houston Texans, the Green Bay Packers just might be the most underrated team in this division. How is that possible you ask?  Let's just forget about what happened in the playoffs last year for a moment.  When it comes to the NFL, it's all about parity. A remarkable number of teams go up or down their win total by four or more games each season and there is consistent turnover in who makes the playoffs each year. Yet, over the past four years, the Green Bay Packers have remained an elite team with no signs of slowing down.
In fact, no other team in the league had more man games lost due to injury in 2012 and still the Packers finished as a top five team. Of course it helps to have one of the top QB's in the league, but it's really a true credit to the scouting and coaching staffs. To overcome that many injuries means you must have a lot of quality depth. 
It is scary that the Packers lost Bryan Bulaga at left tackle to an ACL tear. This is not good news when your offensive line had the third most blown blocks leading to sacks last year. It's also bad news if Marshall Newhouse is the man to replace him. He was a flat out liability. Regardless of how things shake out on the line, it helps to have one of the most dynamic collections of skill players lining up around them. Greg Jennings can talk all the smack he wants to in the media, but Rodgers will do just fine without him when you have names like Nelson, Cobb, and Finley to throw to. Now they've added Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin via the draft. Good luck opposing defenses!
On defense, things are just as bright. It's true that Dom Capers didn't prepare enough for the read-option offense in the playoffs last year, but let's remember how many injuries was dealing with too. That's not to give him an excuse, but Capers is still one of the top defensive minds in all of football. And he has a wealth of pieces to work with again this year.
Datone Jones was added in the middle to compliment Ryan Pickett. B.J. Raji will need to have a rebound season, but they are equipped to deal with whatever comes up the gut. Clay Matthews is as good as they come rushing the passer and Nick Perry might be ready to give them a legit force on the other side. If he can, Capers will have a whole new set of expanded options to play with.
A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones have limitations, but things are extremely secure behind them. Casey Hayward, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, and Davon House make up one of the deepest secondaries in the NFL. When you throw in Morgan Burnett, Jerron McMillian, and M.D. Jennings, it's an embarassment of riches. 
The injuries will be down this year and the Packers face an average schedule.  The only thing preventing them from another division crown and double digit winning season would be an injury to Aaron Rodgers. Even with a line move from 10 to 10.5, I like this organization to stay a top five team. 

Read more: NFC North analysis.

NFC West


Under 7.5 (-105) (Bodog): The interesting stat that pops out about the 2012 St Louis Rams is their record against the top tier teams. They finished 3-4-1 against playoff teams and snatched wins against the Seahawks and 49ers within the division. The problem for 2013? There are far too many young players at critical positions. 

Steven Jackson has finally moved on and they lost a real gem in Amendola. The good news? They drafted a stud in Tavon Austin in round one of the draft. The question is whether or not he's enough to make up for all the inexperience in the receiving corp. The potential is there for a more explosive unit, and the offensive line should be improved with the addition of Long, but realistically, there is too much age on the line and not enough experience at the skill positions.  
There are just as many polarizing issues with the defensive side of the ball. The front seven can be a formidable force, especially with the likes of Laurinaitis, Brockers, Langford, Quinn, and Long. Adding first round pick Alec Ogletree can't hurt either. The issue is whether or not they can cover up the holes that killed them in 2012. Finnegan and Jenkins shored up the pass coverage, but the safety play was abysmal and not much was done to improve it. Six of the seven safeties on the roster are undrafted. They couldn't stop the play-action pass in 2012 and look for more of the same this season. 
I wouldn't even bother looking at the odds to win the division, but there is definitely some value in fading their season win total. I'm surprised that the win total was set at 7.5 and I'm even more surprised that money is coming in on the 'over'.  I think the Rams are another year away from making that next jump in their development. Under 7.5 wins is a solid pick. 
Read more: NFC West analysis.

NFC East


Under 8.5 (-128) (Pinnacle): The Dallas Cowboys might be "America's Team", but the glory and fame attached to that moniker are nothing more than ancient history at this point.  Their schedule isn't particularily difficult this year, but they better hope that they don't face a do-or-die final game. They've lost their final make-or-break game in each of their last two seasons.
A series of bad drafts and bad trades have left this roster riddled with question marks. The right side of their offensive line is still an issue, the running game lacks dependability, and Tony Romo still goes back and forth between Pro Bowl wizard and head-scratching choker. Will they see any improvement by taking the bulk of play-calling duties out of the hands of Jason Garrett?  
Morris Claiborne should be much improved in his sophomore year, but they have a long ways to go before they improve a porous pass defense. The safety position is a revolving door of ineptitude. The front seven does have players that should excel in Monte Kiffin's cover-2 scheme (Ware, Spencer, Lee, and Carter) but there wasn't a huge upgrade in talent on this side of the ball. 
Jerry Jones is due for another disappointing season and I think the sportsbooks were overly generous setting their season win total at 8.5 wins. I agree with the market move to fade them. 'Under' 8.5 is a solid play. 

Over 8 (-135), to win the division (+254) (Pinnacle): I am not that surprised that the Cowboys are a bit overrated heading into the season. They are a very 'public' team that casual fans like to bank on, but what does surprise me is the undervaluing of the Washington Redskins. 
As long as Robert Griffin III can regain his health and stay on the field, this team is primed for a nice step forward towards a division crown.  Highlight reel plays aside, the impressive aspect of RG3's 2012 was his play within the pocket.  He was equally effective whether he was under center, in pistol, or out of the shotgun.  The scary thing is he was even better when when opposing coordinators decided to blitz him. He graded out with the highest efficiency rankings in the league when facing five or more rushers (Football Outsiders). 
The news is even better on defense where they get Orakpo and Carriker back from injury. Kerrigan, Jenkins, Cofield, and Fletcher round out a dynamic front seven. The real question marks are in the secondary, where DeAngelo Hall remains a liability. Thankfully, they still have Josh Wilson and drafted three defensive backs in the draft. 
Look for more big things from the Shanahans in 2013 and a potential rise to the top in the division. I like the odds to win the division as well as the value with the 'over' for their season win total of 8.
Read more: NFC East analysis.

Read more: NFC South analysis.