Sunday, September 29, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 4: Dolphins vs Saints

Miami Dolphins vs New Orleans Saints

Market Watch

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Saints were -5 point favorites. Despite the Dolphins win over the Falcons, sharps were more impressed with the Saints win at home over the Cardinals. The line re-opened at -6 and it's been bet up to -6.5/-7 throughout the week.

That said, it's important to note the line hasn't gone all the way up to -7 (yet). If it does, you can be sure that sharp money will come back on the Dolphins at that number.

74% of the bets are on the Saints.

FULL ANALYSIS 

Bottom Line

Can Tannehill continue to lead the way behind a leaky offensive line? Will the running game find any consistency? Can they stop Cameron Jordan?  The Saints defense will have a huge lift from a wild dome crowd in prime-time. It could be tough for this offense, especially if they are forced to play from behind.

For the Saints, it's likely going to be business as usual. Sean Payton and Drew Brees usually find a way to put up points, and all of their key players are healthy.  I expect Brees to take full advantage of the Wake injury, and he'll be looking Nolan Carroll's way early and often.

I think this is a pretty accurate point spread, which makes it a great option for a teaser. Teasing the Saints down from -7 to -1 essentially makes this a 'pick em'.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 4

Favorites flipped the script in Week 3 and finished 9-5-2 ATS.  Favorites are now 23-22-3 ATS for the season. Unders finished 9-7 (25-23 on the year). Football Outsiders was 6-9-1 ATS (17-29-2 on the year). The top five LVH SuperContest consensus picks were 0-5 ATS (2-12-1 on the year).

Thankfully, I was able to escape the slaughter this week finishing 3-2 on sides and 2-1 on teasers. The Packers game was the primary letdown after leading 30-14 in the 2nd half. Their last four possessions went INT, INT, fumble (TD), turnover on downs. Just terrible.

Refresh for all the Week 4 updates.

Survivor Pick

Denver Broncos

Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts


NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Patriots vs Falcons

New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons: NE -3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Last week the Falcons were favored -1.5 in the LVH look-ahead line. After the Week 3 games,
sportsbooks didn't really know what the line should be. It ranged from Patriots -1 to Falcons -1. Ultimately, (like most opening lines) the early sharp money told them what to do.  Money came in on the Falcons and the general public agree.  65 percent are on the home team. Currently, the Falcons are -2.5 point favorites.

The primary factor that held this point spread in limbo all week was the status of Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola.  Neither player traveled with the team, so both are officially "out".  Will this push the line to +3 by kickoff? Stay tuned.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

Julio Jones is the big X factor in this game. With so much attention being paid to him, it allows the Falcons to exploit other areas of the field - especially out of the backfield passing game. That said, Ryan isn't getting great protection, Gonzalez is old, and White is hobbled. I think the Patriots can disrupt this offense.

Tom Brady and his receivers aren't firing on all cylinders, but they made important strides last week against a tougher defense. Atlanta have some playmakers on this side of the ball, but at the end of the day their rookie corners are still raw. Opportunities will be there, so it's up to Brady to capitalize.

If this line hits +3 before kickoff, I won't even hesitate in taking them. At +2.5, the Patriots are a great teaser option. UPDATE: line has began to move, and multiple +3's are available offshore. I've added it to the Week 4 card.

NFL Pick: NE +3.

Friday, September 27, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Ravens vs Bills

Baltimore Ravens vs Buffalo Bills: BAL -3 (Bet365)

Market Watch

This has been a very curious point spread to watch.  In the LVH look-ahead line last week, the Ravens were -3 point favorites at EVEN money. After the weekend action, Pinny re-opened them at -5. Other books opened them at -3.5. Either way, early sharp money came in and immediately bet them down to -3.

Can someone explain this to me?  Much like the 49ers, I think the Ravens are being undervalued a bit here. I do agree that this is not the best "situation" for them. They are coming off a big home win and now travel to face a lesser opponent, but the X's and O's are too lopsided to pass on this.

72% of the bets are on the Ravens.

When the Ravens have the ball

Ray Rice has been the focal point of the Ravens offense for a long time, but he's a game-time decision this week. Rice is expected to play barring any set-backs, but I still expect Pierce to be the guy. Will it matter?  Not a whole lot. Rice and Pierce are both averaging less than 3 yards per carry this year.  Part of this is also due to dreadful run blocking, especially by the outside tackles.

The good news is the Bills are only 2nd to the Jags in rushing yards allowed. Making things worse, Alex Carrington is out, their 2nd best run stopper.

In the passing game, there isn't a lot to be optimistic about for Flacco and company. They really miss Pitta, Boldin, and Jones. Stokely, Clark, and Brown are ok at best. Torrey Smith is on an island without much support. Last week they relied more on splash plays than anything else, but they did play the Texans defense so I won't hold too much against them there.

Flacco isn't getting a lot of help from his offensive line either. Yanda, Oher, Gradkowski, and McKinnie have all struggled this season. This is the area the Bills defense will attack. If they are going to win this game, they'll need to dominate the line of scrimmage.

But the reason I like the Ravens to win this side of the ball is thanks to the injury situation in the Bills secondary. They'll be without Gilmore, Brooks, and Bryd.  McKelvin is the only good cover corner they have left, but he's "questionable" with an injury. I'd say he's more doubtful than questinoable, and even if he does play I don't expect him to be that effective.

This leaves guys like Justin Rogers and Jim Leonhard in the back. Both guys have been torched by lesser quarterbacks than Flacco. Rogers gave up six receptions on eight targets last week for 247 yards. Leonhard gave up seven completions on eight targets, along with two touchdowns.

If the Ravens passing attack ever had a chance to turn things around, this is the opportunity to do so.

When the Bills have the ball

Things are just as bleak with the Buffalo offense. EJ Manuel is a bright spot ... for the future. Last week against the Jets defense he got sacked eight times. Four of them were Manuel's fault as he held onto the ball too long looking for receivers. He looks extra cautious in the pocket and it's resulted in too many negative plays. He was only able to connect on deep balls once out of eight tries and was very inaccurate for much of the day.

Indecisiveness is not a trait you want to have against this Ravens defense. It also doesn't help when the offensive line gives up that many sacks, along with 16 QB hits.  They were also suspect in run blocking, allowing 12 tackles for a loss. Colin Brown has been especially embarrassing up front, and now he has to line up against Haloti Ngata. Good luck!

At the skill positions, they are missing Marquise Goodwin. They still have Stevie Johnson and CJ Spiller though.

But where will they attack? The Ravens defense hasn't given up a touchdown in two games. Daryl Smith is playing like a Pro Bowler at linebacker. Suggs, Dumervil, Ngata are beasts up front.

Lardarius Webb has been outstanding since his rough start in Denver. Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham aren't setting the world on fire, but both are very capable of slowing down this Bills passing game.

Bottom Line

Whenever I'm presented with a short favorite on the road that has mismatches on both sides of the ball, I'm usually going to take them. I like the long-term direction of this Bills regime, but right now they are facing some growing pains. EJ Manuel is still figuring out the position, and now he's tasked with overcoming one of the hottest defenses in the league. If his offensive line was playing better, I'd give them a much better chance, but that's not the case.

Defensively, the Bills are relying on backups to stop the pass. That's not a formula for success, even if the Ravens offense is average. I think Flacco can do enough to exploit those matchups on the outside. Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine wants to play an aggressive scheme that relies on cover corners, but he's not able to deploy that approach with these injuries. He stuck with it last week and got burned badly.

I'll lay the 3 points and ride the road favorite.

NFL Pick: BAL -3.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Teasers

It's been a great start to the season on teasers with a 5-1 record. The one that pops off the board right away for Week 4 is the Colts.

Many books have put the Colts out of the teaser window at -9 or higher, but many books have dropped it down to -7.

It's never smart to load up on one team in teasers, but it would be a monumental upset if the Jags top the Colts. Football Outsiders have them ranked as the worst team in the last dozen years, and only one team has ranked worse through three weeks in the last 25 years.

UPDATE #2: Adding NE after new line movement. Also adding the Saints at home in prime-time. Odds from Bet365.

Colts -2 & Texans +9

Colts -1 & Patriots +7.5

Colts -1 & Saints PK

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Steelers vs Vikings

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Minnesota Vikings: PIT -1 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In the Vegas look-ahead line, this game was a 'pick em'. After the weekend, it re-opened at -1 in favor of the Steelers. The primary thing to note here is that there is no built-in adjustment for home field advantage. The Vikings are the home team only in name. Instead, this line is a pure reflection of how these teams stack up.

Many sportsbooks have begun to adjust the line to -1.5, but I'd still pick them at that number if I had to. If you shop around, -1 is still available.

UPDATE: If you like the Steelers to win this game like I do, you better not wait. The latest word out of London is that Christian Ponder is dealing with a rib injury, and there's a chance that Matt Cassel could play. Some books have pushed the line to -2.5, and I wouldn't be shocked if it went all the way to -3.

52% of the action is on the Steelers, but I expect that to go up before kickoff.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

Pittsburgh have had a rough start to the season. The good news is they get Le'Veon Bell back for this one and Heath Miller has a game under his belt. Those are two big weapons that Big Ben didn't have a couple weeks ago. They'll also have the benefit of going up against a really banged up and suspect Vikings back seven.

For the Vikings offense, there isn't a lot to be excited about. Adrian Peterson gets his Pro Bowl fullback back in the lineup, but will it be enough? The offensive line has stunk and Christian Ponder has shown very little sign that he's ready for the next step. The situation is even worse if Matt Cassel gets the start. The Steelers defense might not be what it once was, but I'm not sure it has to be in this matchup.

I'll back Pittsburgh to get their first win on the season in the backyard of London, England.

NFL Pick: PIT -1

Monday, September 23, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Colts vs Jaguars

Indianapolis Colts vs Jacksonville Jaguars: IND -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

In a surprising plot twist, there is some unexpected line movement for this game. But to start with, this line was Colts -7 in the LVH look-ahead line last week. It re-opened at -8, and many books had it at -9 or higher (some still do). Yet, as I type this -7's are being put up on the board at places like Bet365, CRIS, Bookmaker, etc.

I'm not sure if people like that Blaine Gabbert is starting this week, or that they think this is a "letdown" spot for the Colts. Perhaps it's a little of both.  Either way, I have no problem taking the Colts at a touchdown, especially after you consider that the Jags don't have much of a home field advantage.

86% of the early bets are on Indy.

When the Colts have the ball

As usual, the offensive line is often overlooked unless it's doing something wrong. In this case, the Colts OL deserves some attention. Going up against a vaunted SF front seven they only gave up a single sack, despite missing two opening-day starters. Most importantly, Luck's blindside has been consistently protected by Anthony Castanzo. Adding to Luck's protection is the savvy play of Ahmad Bradshaw, who is one of the more underrated offseason signings. Finally, Pep Hamilton's scheme that puts more of a premium on a balanced, spread-out attack also insulates Luck.

So how will Jacksonville pressure the QB? We've been asking this question for quite some time, and without a solid secondary it's going to be hard for them to generate push up front. In Seattle, Bradley was able to compress the field with press-man corners on the outside. He simply can't do this with this personnel in Jacksonville.

Against Seattle, they tried to stack the box and stop the run but LBs Geno Hayes and Russell Allen were horrible in that regard. What's worse, is it opened up huge opportunities in the passing game.

The Jags aren't good enough to stop Indy's offense when they are healthy, but youngster Dwayne Gratz,and Alan Ball are banged up. Dwight Lowery has a concussion. 2nd round pick John Cyprien has graded worse with each passing game. Essentially, things are a mess on this side of the ball.

Look for Hamilton to continue with a balanced approach, with Bradshaw and Richardson splitting the load in the run game. Wayne, Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, and Fleener should have ample opportunity to make big plays.

When the Jaguars have the ball

Blaine Gabbert is set to start. During his time off, did he improve his lack of awareness and toughness in the pocket?  Did he realize that he stares down receivers? What about his happy feet in the absence of pressure? Has he finally figured out how to make pre-snap adjustments?

I think what Gabbert is more worried about is who he's going to pass to. Justin Blackmon is still out due to suspension, and Cecil Shorts hasn't been involved in the offense until late in the game.  Instead, they are asking guys like waiver-wire pickup Stephen Burton to get it done. And rookie Ace Sanders. The only good news in the passing game is they should get Marcedes Lewis back this week.

On the ground, there are even more questions. Is MJD healthy? He doesn't look fresh. This week, Gus Bradley said they are going to look at changing the blocking scheme from man to gap. The run blocking has been brutal so far. First round pick Luke Joekel looks very much like a rookie.

The Colts brought in a bunch of players that were better fits to run their atypical 3-4 scheme, and the results have been pretty good so far.  They aren't anywhere near a top flight defense, but they aren't the soft, bottom-of-barrel unit that we've been accustomed to either.

I would get into the specific matchups more, but it's clear that the Jaguars are their own worst enemies at the moment. If they don't stop themselves, I don't think it should be too difficult for the Colts to come up with some stops. That should be enough to let Luck and company build up a lead.

Bottom Line

This is a big number to be laying on the road for a divisional game. That said, who in their right mind wants to touch Jacksonville right now?  Many cappers jumped all over the Jags with that huge spread in Seattle and got burned.

There is a lot to like about this Colts offense, especially after the acquisition of Richardson. He should be more productive with another week under his belt. They should be able to move the ball on the ground or in the air - against what many consider one of the worst secondaries in the league - and that was before the loss of Dwayne Gratz. Now their only good defensive back, Dwight Lowery, is on the shelf with a concussion.

For Jacksonville, the news of Blaine Gabbert returning does nothing for me. Even if he does improve the offense, I don't see how they keep up with the Colts.

NFL Pick: IND -7.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: Giants vs Chiefs

New York Giants vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -4* (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This is one strange point spread. In the look-ahead line out of Vegas, the Chiefs were -4 point favorites. The line was slightly adjusted when it re-opened at -4.5, but sharp money has come in on the Giants.

UPDATE: Just as I was posting this, Pinny moved this line to -4 to fall in line with the rest of the board. Personally, I grabbed it at -3.5, but I'm still going to recommend it at the current number.

I tweeted this out earlier today, but what was with all the bets coming in on New York in Week 3? Granted, the blowout was surprising, but outside of Eli Manning and that receiving group, there isn't a lot to like about this team.

75% of the early action is on KC.

When the Chiefs have the ball

First of all, let's start with the big negative about this KC offense - Eric Fisher. Against the Eagles he allowed a sack, a hit, and two hurries. He was also flagged for two penalties. He's the fifth lowest right tackle in the league according to Pro Football Focus, and he's been equally inept in pass protection as he is in run blocking.

The good news is the Giants defensive line isn't what it used to be. It wasn't any good last year either, as both Tuck and Pierre-Paul had down years. Now without Umenyiora, they're waiting for someone to step up. Thus far, it hasn't happened.

Beyond that, they have one of the worst groups of linebackers in the league.

Yet, their worst problem is the pass defense. Amukamara hasn't developed as hoped, and he can't stay healthy. Corey Webster isn't the same as he used to be, and he's still injured. Stevie Brown, their big bright spot, was lost to injury before the season. The only positive in the bunch has been Aaron Ross.

So how do the Chiefs want to attack this unit?  The same way they've been playing through three weeks. They'll continue to rely heavily on Jamaal Charles and take opportunities in the passing game as they come. Alex Smith is frustrating to watch because he rarely takes any chances. Last week, Smith only completed one pass beyond 10 yards. In 47 dropbacks, he only attempted four such passes.

But it's exactly this kind of cautiousness that is a big reason for the 2013 turnaround. The turnover differential has been a huge bonus this season.

Fasano is still banged up, but they do have a full compliment of receivers in Bowe, Avery, and McCluster. The Giants will likely double Bowe, so Avery might be in for another big week.  His speed has added a new dimension to this offense.

When the Giants have the ball

The Giants are in the bottom five in the NFL in sacks given up. The Chiefs are in the top five for sacks. Tamba Hali is second in the NFL in QB disruptions. Justin Houston has been just as terrorizing on the other side. Dontari Poe has been a beast to handle in the middle.

Eli has fantastic weapons at wide receiver, but how much will that matter if the can't get any protection? Eli looks shell-shocked after three weeks of the season. He was sacked seven times last week, six of which came by the second quarter. He saw pressure on 45% of dropbacks. In those 14 plays he took seven sacks, scrambled once, and had six throws - one of which was completed and one intercepted.

Will Beatty and Justin Pugh were pylons on the outside. Center David Bass and RG Chris Snee missed practice on Wednesday. David Diehl just practiced for the first time in five months. In the nutshell, the offensive line is a complete disaster right now.

The Giants would be wise to lean more on the run game, especially after David Wilson looks a bit better recently. Yet, the Chiefs defense has great run stoppers. Derrick Johnson is excellent on the second level, and Eric Berry is an excellent in the box defender.

The slim glimmer of hope for the Gmen is the health of Brandon Flowers. He's sitting out practice after aggravating his knee and his status is up in the air. The problem is Sean Smith is an excellent one-on-one corner and Dunta Robinson was a nice offseason pickup.

If the Giants offensive line wasn't so bad, I'd likely take a pass on this game, but with the current state of affairs I don't see how Eli will have enough time to sustain drives and put up enough points to cover this line. There's simply too much pressure on him to carry the team, and that's compounded by a defense that can't shut things down on the other side of the ball.

Bottom Line

The Chiefs do have some injury concerns this week, but they should be healthier for the Giants than they were for the Eagles. It helps that they had extra days to rest and prepare.

Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense certainly isn't anything to get excited about. That said, they continue to be efficient and take care of the ball. Not much about the Giants defense scares me, so I like KC's early season success to continue.

The big advantage I like is when the Giants offense is on the field. The offensive line has been a problem all year and now they have to go up against some deadly pass rushers. Bob Sutton is sure to scheme some pressure blitz packages that will give Eli trouble. New York couldn't take advantage of a porous Panthers secondary, and now they face a group that can matchup against most receiving groups in the NFL.

Adding in a wild Arrowhead stadium, and I see no other option than the Chiefs here.

NFL Pick: KC -4*.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 4: 49ers vs Rams

San Francisco 49ers vs St Louis Rams: 49ers -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Last season, the 49ers were -7.5 point favorites when they traveled to St Louis. Last week in the Vegas look-ahead line, the line was -4.5. After the Colts put a whipping on them, the line re-opened at -3.  It's hard to imagine getting better value on what most consider one of the best teams in the NFC.

You're going to hear a lot of people say this is a "trap game", but there's no denying that this is an enticing point spread. I did not expect this to drop all the way down to the key number of '3', and I think this is a good opportunity to take advantage of public perception.

80% of the bets are coming in on the 49ers.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

There's no question that the 49ers offense is experiencing trouble, primarily in the passing game. Yet, even before the season this was expected. Kaepernick doesn't have a lot of experience under his belt and his wide receivers lack quality depth. The bigger concern should be on defense where they've lost difference makers on all three levels - Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, and Chris Culliver. There are legitimate questions on both sides of the ball going forward.

That said, what we do know is there is still a ton of talent on this roster and it's held together by one of the best coaching staffs in the league. Vernon Davis is also expected to play. He's not only Kaepernick's most comfortable go-to receiver, but he's a great blocker in the run game, too.

Equally important, the St Louis Rams are going through a very difficult transition in their rebuilding project. The youth at the offensive skill positions is really hurting their consistency, and the defense has surprisingly regressed.  They've been torched in the air and the ground, so the 49ers should be able to rebound from a couple of poor showings.

NFL Pick: 49ers -3.

Prop

Team to make the longest FG: STL (-130) (Bet365)

NFL Preview 2013 Week 3: Raiders vs Broncos (update)

Oakland Raiders vs Denver Broncos

Market Watch 

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Broncos were massive -16 point favorites. The line re-opened at -14.5, and it's hovered around that number ever since. A few sportsbooks are offering -14, but most places fall between -14.5 and -16.

It's not shocking that 72 percent are on the Broncos right now, and I'd be surprised if sharp money came in on the underdog unless it hit -17.  Many cappers got burned blindly betting on the Jaguars and even more got smoked fading the Broncos in Week 1 and 2. In fact, this is one of the least picked games in this week's LVH Supercontest.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line 

Stranger things have happened in the NFL. If Oakland can get some timely turnovers on defense, and win the time of possession with a clock-eating run game, they just might cover this point spread. In reality, this game could get ugly before halftime. The Ravens and Giants have much better rosters, but both got wiped off the field once Peyton figured things out.

I'm going to take a pass on this game, but the only side I'd consider is the Broncos. Until I see otherwise, they are not a team I want to fade - even if I had more than two touchdowns in my back pocket.

Player Props (Bodog)

Pryor O52.5 rushing yards


Sunday, September 22, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 3

Two weeks of the NFL season are in the books and I don't know too many people who have escaped the carnage. Footballs Outsiders (54.4% ATS lifetime) has started 11-20-1 ATS. The Vegas SuperContest consensus picks are 10-21-1 ATS (top five consensus picks are 2-7-1 ATS). Dogs lead the way through two weeks at 17-14-1, but just slightly.

Both teasers hit in Week 2. In fact, teasing favorites +6 points have now gone 24-6-2 this year (80%). I might increase my plays in that department given how many close games there are. Cincy came up short on the total, but I don't play many of them due to the adjustments made by the books. Thus far, totals are split right down the middle at 16-16 over/under.  Picks against the spread have been tough going so far.  The non-covers are not what bothers me though. What is frustrating is how these picks are losing.

KC, NO, and CHI all won, but didn't cover. Thus far, 23 of 32 games have now finished within one score, and being on the wrong side of them is hard to stomach. In one score games I'm 1-7. Can I get some positive variance please?  Given the small sample size, I can only assume (and hope) that this evens out over the course of the season.

For Week 3 I'll be adding picks throughout the week. Refresh for all the updates.

Survivor Pick

Seattle Seahawks

Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Bears vs Steelers

Chicago Bears vs Pittsburgh Steelers: CHI -2.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

I'm not going to mince words about this pick. Laying points with Jay Cutler on the road in Pittsburgh in a spotlight matchup makes me nervous. I've seen him self-destruct too many times in games like this. I've also seen the Steelers rise up and snatch a victory when they have no business even being in the game. Yet, unlike last week, I like the point spread in this game.

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Bears were favored by -2.5 points. When the dust settled on Monday night, it re-opened at -2. Essentially, perceptions haven't changed. The Bears are clearly the better football team right now, but sportsbooks and bettors aren't willing to take that next step and make them full field goal favorites on the road (yet).

This could change given the fact that this is a prime-time game on Sunday night, but I imagine if this hits 3, the pros will come in and take the Steelers as home-field dogs.

To no one's surprise, 83% of the early action is on the Bears.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

First of all, the Bears offensive line has only given up one sack this year against two highly regarded defensive lines. In contrast, their own defensive line only has two sacks to it's name.  What kind of world do we live in??

In all seriousness, despite the lack of production from the Bears defensive front, the talent is there to get the job done. It's far too early to raise red flags unless their drought continues into October. The same can't be said for the Steelers defense though. They themselves have no turnovers to speak of and only one sack. This is a problem that goes back to last season - with largely the same cast of characters.

Cutler is in a new system he likes with better protection and better weapons at the skill positions. The opposite rings true for the Steelers offense. Injuries and free agency have left them depleted, and there's far too much pressure on Big Ben to do it all himself. And let's not even talk about Todd Haley's bizarre play-calling.

With a better offense and a better defense, the obvious pick here is the Bears. I do have reservations, but the mismatches on paper outweigh all the situational variables/intangibles for me.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Teasers

So far I'm to a good start with teasers at 3-0 and it's no wonder given how many close games there have been this year.  There's a few that jump off the board at me for Week 3, and it's better to lock them in now before early money pushes them out of the teaser window. (odds from Bet365)

Lions +7.5 & Falcons +8

Lions +7.5 & Patriots -1

Vikings -.5 & Patriots -1

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Packers vs Bengals

Green Bay Packers vs Cincinnati Bengals: GB -1 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Packers were -1 point favorites. After the weekend, it has re-opened at -2. Some sharper books prefer to keep short favorites out of the teaser window, so they offer it at -1 with a bit of juice. Like the Texans, I'll take that option this week.

Some handicappers will tell you that short road favorites are prime candidates to fade, but some sportsbook directors will tell you otherwise. Due to the built-in home field advantage factor, they have no choice but to offer top teams at a small price. It gets even more interesting when a public team hits a smaller market like Cincinnati.

The Bengals don't have a great home field to begin with, and the Packers are a team that travels well. ESPN's Chad Millman wrote an article on this not too long ago.

So far, 91% of the early bets are on the Packers.

When the Packers have the ball

Aaron Rodgers put up 480 yards of passing on Sunday, and 335 of that came in the first half along with three touchdowns. But let's take a closer look at this. To start with, the Redskins defense played atrocious. They were not good to begin with, but they missed a ton of tackles too. This contributed to lots of YAC for the Packers WRs. 280 of the 480 yards came after the catch.

McCarthy also put Rodgers in a good position to make plays by getting the ball out of his hands quick. In 33 of his 46 dropbacks, he got the ball out within 2.5 seconds. This takes a lot of pressure off a questionable offensive line.

Yet, the offensive line did it's part too. They consistently beat the Redskins up front and plowed the way for a 20 carry, 132 yard rushing game for Starks. With Eddie Lacy dealing with a concussion, this production couldn't have come at a better time.

But the Bengals defense isn't the Redskins defense. Their front seven is much more dominating and they'll give this offense a lot more problems in both phases of the game. Michael Johnson is only second to Robert Quinn in terms of outside rushers through two weeks, and he has guys like Dunlap and Atkins to compliment things.

The issue for Cincy is whether or not they can create turnovers. They might be able to disrupt Rodgers on a few drives and sack him a few times, but they won't get pressure on every play. As Green Bay continue to prove, they know how to compensate for a weak O-line. With a combination of savvy coaching and all-world play from Rodgers, they'll get the ball in the hands of these receivers and let them do their thing. This is a monumental test for Leon Hall in the slot, and Terence Newman/Adam Jones on the outside. They won't have to be outstanding for the entire game thanks to the pressure up front, but they'll need to be at their best in those big moments when Rodgers does get time.

When the Bengals have the ball

There's no way to sugarcoat this - this is a huge, huge test for Andy Dalton. His playoff flops are excusable if he can take his game to the next level this year, but is anybody buying in yet?  I really like what Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard bring to the offense, but they'll need to put up close to 30 points in this game to pull out a win.

LT Andrew Whitworth will need to continue his strong play on Dalton's blindside to keep Clay Matthews at bay. Bernard and Green-Ellis will need to produce enough in the run game to keep the Packers offense off the field. And A.J. Green will need a monster day on the outside.

For all this to happen, Dalton has to be better with the deep ball. He was only 3 for 17 on passes that went beyond 10 yards.  On 46 attempts, he only completed 56% of those passes. Essentially, Cincy have to win this game on efficiency. Dalton doesn't elevate this system, he simply runs it. His athleticism is limited and the arm strength isn't the greatest.

Against a lesser opponent, this systematic formula would be a lot more effective. Against an elite team like the Packers it's not going to be enough.  I still maintain this is an underrated defense in Green Bay. They are multifaceted, young, and athletic.

Bottom Line

As much as I like the direction Bengals are going in, I don't think they are quite ready to knock off an upper-echelon team like the Packers. With Rodgers, you don't have to worry about him being overwhelmed on the road. You can also count on him to overcome a good defensive line. This offense is healthy and can put up points against anybody.

Meanwhile, Andy Dalton will be facing a challenging defensive coordinator for the second week in a row in Dom Capers. Can he take his game to the next level? Possibly. He certainly has the weapons to do so. Yet, Dalton is still in the "prove it" phase .Until I see him defeat one of the elite teams, I'll fade him at a number like this.

NFL Pick: GB -1 (-120).

Monday, September 16, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Texans vs Ravens

Houston Texans vs Baltimore Ravens: HOU -1 (-123) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

There isn't a whole lot of mystery to this point spread. The look-ahead line was -1, and that's where it re-opened on Sunday night/Monday morning. Since then, we've seen a steady stream of early money come in on the road favorite, as most books are pushing it up to -2.5. I'd be surprised if it went all the way to -3, but if you like the Texans you might not want to wait.  If I had no choice, I'd go ahead and lay the -2.5, but I chose to pay a bit extra juice to essentially make this a 'pick em'.  Consider it a knee-jerk reaction to all the razor thin non-covers from the first two weeks.

Two injuries that could affect the line are both Andre Johnson and Ray Rice. They will be late week decisions, but I think both will play. AJ had no lingering symptoms today and reading between the lines of what coach Kubiak said, it seems like a green light pending any setbacks. Ray Rice is "day to day" and they are "optimistic" and "confident" in his status.

68% of the early bets are coming in on the Texans.

When the Texans have the ball

What do we make of this Texans offense through two weeks?  More importantly, what's going on with Matt Schaub? We can look at his play through two weeks with both lens. On one hand he hasn't played very well when facing pressure and he's made some really bad throws that led to deficits in both weeks. Yet, in both games he's led dramatic comebacks for to snatch undeserving victories. On Houston's last three possessions in Week 2 he was 9 for 17 for 175 yards with every completion going for a first down or touchdown. The jury is still out on Schaub, but the good news is he has new toys in his arsenal.

DeAndre Hopkins had a coming out party of sorts, and all the attention and hype is well deserved. He finished up catching seven of 13 targets for 117 yards and a TD, including the game-clinching score. He did seem to have a communication problem with Schaub that led to the pick-six, but what was most impressive was how he rebounded - especially with Andre Johnson going out with a concussion.

The other guy worth noting here is Keyshawn Martin. He not only has the second most kickoff return yards this year, but he came up with big catches in the passing game. He's a pure catch-and-run artist from the slot. If AJ is out for Week 3, it should bump Lestar Jean's snap count up and I'd be ok with that. Even without AJ, the Texans have better pass-catching weapons than the Ravens - which includes Owen Daniels. And speaking of tight ends, the Ravens have given up a combined 10 catches for 256 yards and two touchdowns to Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron.

The other area that the Texans have the advantage is on the ground. Arian Foster and Ben Tate combine for a formidable one-two punch. Foster is getting around two-thirds of the snaps, but Tate is making the most of his touches too.

The best chance the Ravens have on Sunday is their pass rush.Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are leading the way, and Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones are also in on the action.  Their chances for more success could also improve with All-Pro LT Duane Brown fighting a turf toe. He's a game time decision.

Finally, much like the Lions, I'm nervous about the Texans kicking game. Rookie kicker Randy Bullock is 1 for 5 this year. Once again, let's hope the game doesn't hinge on his success in the final moments.

When the Ravens have the ball

Despite some of the issues with the Houston offense, they are first-world problems compared to what the Ravens are facing. Much like Schaub, Flacco has struggled badly when facing pressure this year. But the problems go further than that. There's no legitimate deep threat with Jacoby Jones on the shelf. Flacco went 0 for 6 on passes of 20+ yards and 2 for 13 on those passes for the season. Without Jones, defenses are allowed to double up on Torrey Smith.

At tight end, things are just as bleak without Pitta. There are simply too many dropped passes in this pass-catching group and the inconsistency is disrupting the offense.

What's worse is the running game and the poor run blocking. Yanda was the only player to have a decent game vs the Browns. As a whole this line is struggling pretty bad, and now they face a Houston defensive front that is going to swarm around the ball from start to the finish.

Baltimore used to be able to rely heavily on Ray Rice to spearhead the offense, but he hurt his hip and is questionable for this game. Even if he does play, he hasn't been very effective this year. Backup Bernard Pierce has been the better runner picking up hard-fought yards - especially in the red zone.

Bottom Line

If Andre Johnson sits, that will give a big boost to the Ravens defense. However, the Texans still have weapons in the air and on the ground. The bigger question will continue to swirl around Matt Schaub, who seems to have a heavier monkey on his back this year. The Ravens defense is above-average, but that's more than I can say about their offense.

I've never been a big fan of Joe Flacco. He shut me up in the playoffs en route to a championship, so I give him kudos for that, but in the regular season he's never really broke through to that "elite" club. Now with weak options at the skill position, he's struggling to get the job done. I think his struggles will be on display once again against this Texans defense.

NFL Pick: HOU -1 (-123).

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Lions vs Redskins

Detroit Lions vs Washington Redskins: DET +1.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

This line was a strange one. In the LVH look-ahead line, the Redskins were -3 point favorites. Pinnacle re-opened the Lions as -1 point favorites, despite nearly everyone else coming out with a new line of -1 in favor of Washington. I think Pinnacle had the right line all along, as I don't think the Skins can be favored with the way they are playing. I'll gladly take the extra point an a half and ride the dog. Early betting action is split with 53% on the Redskins so far.

When the Redskins have the ball

Week 2 is often harder to predict than Week 1.  Many make the mistake of overreacting, but there's also the real danger of underreacting. We don't know what's what until the games shake out, but I was fairly confident in fading RG3 after what I saw on opening night. I played the Packers on the side, put them in two teasers, and took Rodgers in a prop. This week I'm doing the same thing with the Lions. Now there's no question that the Lions are not the Packers, but they aren't favored by a touchdown either.

RG3's struggles are well-documented. What I do want to highlight is that he only attempted one pass beyond 20 yards and it was incomplete. He was only under pressure on 10 plays, and he struggled on those plays too. It's a positive sign that he's been able to rebound with big numbers in the second halves, so I don't expect him to lay a total egg again in Week 3, but I don't see the Lions defensive line making life easy on him either. Adding insult to injury is that Washington receivers have a league leading 10 drops through two games.

LT Trent Williams was able to contain Clay Matthews for the most part, but the Redskins offensive line has a lot more to worry about with the Detroit defensive front. Ezekiel Ansah had a big game against Arizona in both the run and pass game. Nick Fairley has returned to practice, which would make this interior rotation downright scary. Rounding things out is Ndamaukong Suh. Through two games, he's the top rated DT by PFF. Against the Cardinals he had five pressures and two hits. He also had two big stops in the run game.

Overall this front seven have been good on third down and in the red zone - areas that usually lead to wins. I say usually because they contrasted that effort with more dumb penalties. That's just life when backing the Lions, but I still feel good about Delmas and Houston in that secondary. The big cause for concern is at the second corner position as Darius Slay was benched for the second straight game. Rashean Mathis has taken over and only allowed three completions on nine targets for 28 yards.

My only big concern about backing the Lions in this spot is the kicker - David Akers. I have no idea why on earth they signed this guy to begin with, but he might be one of the biggest chokers in the league. If this game comes down to his leg, I won't even have the stomach to watch.

When the Lions have the ball

One of the big keys that had me on Detroit in Week 2 was the addition of Reggie Bush. So what happens? He didn't play in the second half and the offense stalled with only 90 yards after halftime. He's so good on screens and underneath routes that he can score from anywhere on the field. It also takes attention away from Calvin Johnson.

For this game, I'm going ahead as if Bush will sit. There's a chance he plays, but I don't think he's going to be a make-or-break factor like he was last week. The Arizona defense is much more dynamic on all three levels than the Redskins unit.

With a sputtering offense, the Redskins defense is being asked to do way too much. They had a bad secondary to begin with, but now it's just being exploited. To be fair, they faced Chip Kelly's offense without knowing what to expect, and then followed that with the Packers. This test shouldn't be as difficult, but they are going to have a hard time covering these receivers.  They've also been missing way too many tackles. In the Green Bay game, they missed 16!

Reed Doughty and Josh Wilson missed five each. Even the reliable London Fletcher had problems getting off blocks. Is Father Time finally catching up to him? David Amerson was flat out picked on, giving up 126 yards on four catches. He also had two missed tackles and a key offensive holding penalty.

Up front, what was considered a huge question mark and potential liability is slowly turning into a positive. The right side of the offensive line had a strong game in Week 1, and in Week 2 it was LT Riley Reiff and center Dominic Raiola who put on a clinic. Through two weeks, Stafford has been pressured a league low 22.9% of the time.

Bottom Line

It was very frustrating watch the Lions self-implode on Sunday to put the Arizona offense in a position to score multiple times in the second half. I know that is the inherent risk of taking the undisciplined Lions, and having Bush on the sidelines only rubbed salt in the wound.

That said, I like Detroit's offense to move the ball in Week 3 even if Bush sits out as they go up against one of the worst secondaries in the NFL. On the other side of the ball, I have no problem fading RG3 until I see him produce when a game is on the line. Now he'll have to do it against one of the toughest defensive lines in all of football.  The mismatches favor the road dog here on both sides of the ball. A rebound win from Washington wouldn't shock me, but I have no choice but to fade them until I see otherwise.

NFL Pick: DET +1.5.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 3: Chiefs vs Eagles

Kansas City Chiefs vs Philadelphia Eagles: KC +3.5 (Bodog)

Market Watch

Last week the line for this game had the Philadelphia Eagles at -5 point favorites. Once the final whistle blew on Sunday's games, Vegas re-opened the Eagles as -3 point favorites, but with extra juice. Some sportsbooks opened with the Eagles at -3.5, and there are some places that still have the hook.

54 percent of the bets are on the Eagles so far.

The question we always have to ask ourselves was whether or not this was a fair line move? The trouble is, this is a tricky game to handicap. Both teams have great balance, but of a different kind. Philly is boom and bust, with a high flying offense, but very shaky defense. The Chiefs aren't as lethal offensively, but they are efficient. On defense, they are equally adept - creating lots of matchup problems for opposing quarterbacks.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

Due to the short week, most Thursday night football games are sloppier than usual. If this is the case again in this game, the advantage goes to the Chiefs. I think they have enough difference makers on the defensive side of the ball to disrupt the rhythm and timing of Philly's go-go-go offense.

On the flip side, the Chiefs offense is tailor-made to take care of the ball and eat up clock with a run-based, ball possession scheme. We saw some of the Eagles defensive growing pains on full display in Week 2 - especially in the secondary.  I'll take the hook and bank on an underdog cover in Andy Reid's return to the city of brotherly love.

NFL Pick: KC +3.5.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 2: Steelers vs Bengals

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Cincinnati Bengals

Market Watch

Last week, the Bengals were -3 point favorites in the LVH look-ahead line. After the disaster in Pittsburgh, it  re-opened at -6! Usually, we'd see some buyback on the Steelers because they are one of the most 'public' teams in the NFL, but they looked so brutal that the money continues to come in on the Bengals.  Right now, 70 percent of the bets are on the home team.

The current line is -7, but you can find -6.5 if you shop around. I'd say this is a pretty accurate line when you consider the injuries for the Steelers, but I'm not sure if a play on the Bengals is a no-brainer.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line

Everyone is high on the Bengals this season. Unlike some of the other teams around the league, Cincy is fully deserving of the hype. They are now taxing defenses by using a majority of two tight-end sets, and they have the second best wide receiver on the outside. Their defensive line is going to give the Steelers front some trouble, and Big Ben is already feeling the effects of a limited receiving core. Wallace is in Miami, Miller is still on the mend, and there is no running game in sight.

Having said all that, let's consider three key factors. First, it's never a good idea to count out Roethlisberger. Second, Dick Lebeau's schemes can give any offense problems. And finally, the Steelers were embarrassed in Week 1. Now they must bounce back on national TV in prime-time under the bright lights. We should see their very best effort in this spot.

As much as I like the Bengals, and the mismatches in their favor, I'm going to pass at this number. If you like the Bengals and bank on them to cover, I'm certainly not going to argue against it. Instead, I'm going to stay conservative and tease them down to -.5 /-1, essentially making it a 'pick em'.

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 2

With the Monday Night Football games in the books the final tally for Week 1 was 7-8-1, with the dogs coming out on top.  'Unders' were 8-2 in the early Sunday games, but totals finished 8-8 for the week.

Heading into MNF I thought I avoided the widespread carnage, but the Skins flopped against a well-oiled Eagles machine and despite beating the closing line by 2.5 points in the Chargers/Texans game, I got hooked with the half point. -3 was available in August though, which highlights the importance of getting the best of the number.

For Week 2, I'll be adding picks throughout the week. Refresh for all the updates.

Survivor Pick

Houston Texans

Week 1: Indianapolis

NFL Preview 2013 Week 2: 49ers vs Seahawks

San Francisco 49ers vs Seattle Seahawks

Market Watch 

To nobody's surprise, this game opened at -3 and it has stayed there for most of the week. In the advanced line, it was also -3 so not much has changed. Most people grant 2.5/3 points to the home team for home field advantage, but the Seahawks can easily be given four points based on the 12th man. On this logic, it means that Vegas have the 49ers slightly higher in their power rankings.

It's too early to say which team is better, but a legitimate case could be made for either club. 65 percent of the bets are coming in on the 49ers.

On a side note, the "12th man" will attempt to beat the Guinness World Record for crowd noise. The record sits at 131.76 decibels. Many sportsbooks are offering this as a prop bet. "No" is -200, while "yes" is +150.

FULL ANALYSIS

Bottom Line 

Even without Browner, I like the Seahawks secondary better than the 49ers. If Wilson can get some decent protection and bide some time with his legs, there will be opportunities down the field. That is a big "if" though. On the flip side, Seattle need to figure out a way to make Kaepernick uneasy in the pocket, but stay disciplined enough to limit his runs.

Essentially, this game should be won in the trenches. That's usually the case for most games, but it's even more paramount in this matchup because neither team will give up a lot. This is one area where the 12th man could be a decisive factor. Ultimately, I'm going to pass on this game, but the only side I would look at are the Seahawks. Fading them at home is never a good idea - no matter who they are playing.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Player Props & Team Totals

I would not wager more than a half a unit on any of these plays because at the end of the day player props
carry a large degree of variance. I include them more as fun for those looking for some extra action on a game. (Bet365)

Player Props

Rodgers O295.5 pass yards
L McCoy O105.5 rush yards
PHI/SD: longest TD O48.5 yards
Pryor O68.5 rush yards

Team Totals

Bengals O23.5

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Teasers

There's one teaser that really jumps off the board for Week 2. It's the Packers and the Bengals. They both face inferior opponents (on paper) in their home openers. They also hold key mismatches at key positions. I might add another before Sunday, but for now this is one I feel good about locking in.

For more on teasers, check out this article by Justin Zovas over at Todd's Take.

Packers -1 & Bengals -.5 (Bet365)

Redskins vs Packers

Steelers vs Bengals

Packers -1 & Texans -2.5 (Bet365)

Friday, September 13, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Broncos vs Giants

Denver Broncos vs New York Giants: DEN -4 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In Week 1 nearly every handicapper I saw, and every bettor proclaiming themselves "sharp", were on the Ravens. Nothing on paper suggested that Baltimore was a good play, so people just went ahead and bet the defending champs on the assumption that "over a touchdown" was too many points.

So now the prevailing thought this week is that because the Broncos were so good in prime-time, and the Giants were so bad on a national stage, it's best to go ahead and bet the Giants at an inflated number of +5.5. Heck, they even bet this all the way down to +4.  Once again, they are putting their money in a depleted dog against Peyton Manning and the Broncos.

Is that wise? After looking at the X's and O's, I don't want my money anywhere near the Giants this early in the season, especially against what could be the best team in the AFC.

In the advanced line, the Broncos were -3 point favorites. They re-opened at the aforementioned -5.5, but now it sits at -4. I waited all week for this number and I'd be very surprised if it moved any further. Let's go ahead and buy back the better Manning at a reasonable key number.

63% of the bets have come in on the Broncos.

When the Broncos have the ball

The Denver offense was already lights out good after 2012. In the offseason they added Welker, Ball, and Dreessen. Coming into the season, it was thought that Dreessen's presence alongside Tamme would take a lot of pressure off of the rest of the lineup. Defenses wouldn't know whether to play base personnel or switch to nickel. Now with Julius Thomas bursting onto the scene, it's even scarier proposition.

So without tripping all over ourselves talking about the greatness of Peyton Manning, let's instead ask ourselves how the Giants defense is going to stop them. Can they? At best, can they limit the points put on the board?

I just don't see how that's possible. The secondary had questions coming into the season, and now they are without Prince Amukamara. Standout safety Stevie Brown was already lost for the year before the regular season. This leaves a downward trending Corey Webster, an aging Aaron Ross, journeyman Ryan Mundy, and mistake-prone Antrel Rolle.  Not good.

On the second level, the G-men have what many consider one of the worst set of linebackers in the NFL. I'm not ready to go that far, but there's no doubt this is a below-average group. The Cowboys took advantage with Jason Witten in Week 1, and the Broncos boast much more threatening options in the mid-level passing game.

Finally, the Giants bread-and-butter pass rush is on the verge of being a distant memory. Jason Pierre-Paul didn't look so great against Dallas, but it's fine to give him a pass considering his rust from surgery. That said, he didn't have a good year in 2012, so is he ready to just transform into a dominating presence in Week 2. Their best hope is Justin Tuck, who had a strong opening game with a sack and three hurries. Otherwise, this group still lingers in "prove it" mode.

I don't see how the Giants are going to make life miserable for Peyton. He's too smart and plays behind a very good offensive line. This is going to put way too much pressure on the back seven to lock things down.

When the Giants have the ball

The best news to come out of Week 1 was the dynamic display of weaponry at the wide receiver position. When Cruz and Nicks are healthy, New York's passing game is top notch.  Now Reuben Randle seems on the verge of a breakout too. There's no doubt that he's going to face favorable coverages all year at the number three spot.

If the Giants are going to cover this number, their best shot will come with a shootout. Yet, for that to happen they need Eli Manning to limit the mistakes and raise his game. He's certainly capable of that, but all three of his Week 1 interceptions came without pressure. He's usually a guy who makes reckless mistakes only when he's under duress.

And speaking of pressure, he's going to need much better protection up front. LT Will Beatty gave up two knockdowns, six hurries, and a penalty. Chris Snee gave up two sacks and three hurries. The rest of the line was average at best. Even without Von Miller, the Broncos do have hope in the pass rush with Shaun Phillips and Derek Wolfe. Phillips had 2.5 sacks in Week 1.

Denver also have the option to mix things up and counter with sub-packages, disguises, and tricks - something they did with great effect in 2012.  If Denver get a lead, this defense likes to come after you.

Luckily, the Broncos hedged in their secondary by signing DRC. They knew that Bailey was aging and could be on the verge of a decline, or be prone to injury. With him out, Denver will continue to be strong, especially with veteran Mike Adams and Rahim Moore at safety. Adams can line-up anywhere and do a wide range of duties. Tony Carter and Chris Harris were excellent last year, so they are in good shape at cornerback. Duke Ehanacho was the biggest surprise after spending most of last season on the practice squad. He had 12 tackles and 11 solo.

In essence, this is where the Broncos can make some ground. If they are going to win and cover this number, they need to win the battle of the air - and they have a decided advantage on both sides of the ball in those areas.

Bottom Line

This is primarily a passing league, and offense is a better predictive measure of wins and losses than ever before. Both teams struggle in the run game, and it would be a surprise if that was a huge factor on Sunday.

Simply put, I like Denver through the air on both sides of the ball. I have great respect for Eli and his wide receiver weapons, but I think the Broncos have enough in the secondary to make some stops. Conversely, I don't see how the Giants are going to stop Peyton. He's had more time to prepare, and a much better supporting cast around him.

My only real concern would be the possibility of a backdoor cover at the end of the game, but I'm willing to take that risk.

NFL Pick: DEN -4.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Redskins vs Packers

Washington Redskins vs Green Bay Packers: GB -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

In the LVH look-ahead line, the Packers were listed as -6.5 point favorites over the Redskins.  After the MNF game, the game reopened on the other side of 7, at -7.5. Sharp books like Pinnacle and 5Dimes continue to keep it out of the teaser window, but you can shop around for -7's (Bet365, CRIS, Bookmaker, etc).  I don't think this line adjustment was enough based on what we saw from RG3.

Two out of every three bets are coming in on Green Bay.

When the Packers have the ball

What more needs to be said about Aaron Rodgers?  He was his normal dynamic self in Week 1, going 3 for 6 in the red zone for 25 yards and three touchdowns.  Jordy Nelson looks healthy, and Randall Cobb is primed for a big game. Finley hurt his toe against he 49ers, but he finished the game and should be good to go.

The other encouraging sign is that McCarthy returned to Eddie Lacy in the second half of the game. After an early fumble, there was the fear that he'd get sit on the bench for the rest of the contest. The production wasn't anything to get excited about, but he did show glimpses of what he's capable of. As long as he holds onto the ball, his presence is going to add a scary element to this Green Bay offense.  The only downside is, much like Rodgers, he'll likely have to create a lot of yards on his own given the shoddy offensive line ahead of him. The upside is he'll almost always face six and seven man fronts as defenses key in on the passing game.

Washington is fortunate to have a healthy Orakpo and Carriker back. Along with Kerrigan, Fletcher, and Riley, there's some nice difference makers in the front seven. We can go ahead and throw Week 1 out the window, because they had the unlucky task of trying to figure out Chip Kelly's offense on the fly.

What the Skins should be more focused on is what's going on in their secondary.  It was their biggest problem in 2012 and there's no reason to believe it won't be a liability in 2013. DeAngelo Hall is better at running his mouth than he is covering receivers, and Rambo and Biggers struggled badly at safety in their first starts. A healthy Meriweather would help, but when is that ever going to happen?

Unless the Skins can dominate the line of scrimmage, the defensive backs are in for a long, long day. With a full roster of health at the skill positions, the Packers offense is ready to roll.

When the Redskins have the ball

In hindsight, picking Washington to cover against Philly doesn't look so good. No one really knew how RG3 would look after reconstructive knee surgery, and the Eagles were a mystery on both sides of the ball. While I still believe the Skins will return to form at some point this year, the big question is ... when?

RG3's struggles on MNF are well-documented, so I won't rehash much of that. Instead, let's focus on the Packers strategy to defend him.

After spending a lot of the offseason designing ways to stop Colin Kaepernick, the one thing that they rolled the dice on was his arm. By ambushing the QB from the edge, the 49ers rarely used the read-option at all. Instead, they transferred the option to the play-action passing game, where Kaepernick completed 8 of 10 passes for 122 yards, and two touchdowns. Last year, the Skins used play-action on 42% of their snaps - the most in the league.

The problem for Washington is RG3 is not Colin Kaepernick right now. Nor does he have Anquan Boldin. Last season RG3 was capable of killing defenses with his arm, but that was when his run-option was a lethal threat. The trust in the knee just isn't there yet, which is normal for someone who is only 8 months removed from surgery. Even when he loosened up in the second half, most of it was designed around the short-passing game.

To do damage against the Packers, they'll need a much better game from Morris. Yet, based on how the Packers are approaching the read-option, it's questionable how much room there will be for that plan to work. Ultimately, they'll need RG3 to play much better in the air.

And despite the number Kaepernick put up, I'm not that down on the Packers secondary. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap and give credit to an all-world performance. They do miss Casey Hayward in the slot, but Williams and Shields are good on the outside. They also missed Morgan Burnett last week, but he was back at practice on Wednesday. If he can't go, they'll have to rely on Jerron McMillian again, who did not have a good game vs the 49ers. Either way, this unit should be able to rebound in front of their home crowd against a less threatening passing attack.

The other bonus this unit has going for them is the monster that is Clay Matthews. Now healthy, he had three pressures, a sack, and five stops in the run game in Week 1.

Bottom Line

Barring some kind of miracle, Rodgers should be able to put up 30+ points in their home-opener. If they decide to load up in coverage, Eddie Lacy could be in for a big day. Either way, Jim Haslett will need his whole bag of tricks, and top-end execution to stay in this game.

Nobody is quite sure what RG3 has for an encore, but I'm going to be really surprised if he suddenly finds his form (and legs) of a year ago. He will have opportunities in the vertical passing game based on how the Packers are defending the read-option, but it's also possible that Dom Capers switches things up if he sees that RG3 isn't much a run threat.  Either way, I'm confident the Packers defense is up to the task.

NFL Pick: GB -7.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Vikings vs Bears

Minnesota Vikings vs Chicago Bears: CHI -6 (Bodog)

Market Watch

The look-ahead line for this game was -6 and it re-opened at -6.5/-6 after Sunday's action. Since then, it's hovered around these numbers, even dipping to -5.5 for a few minutes before being bet back up. Unless late money comes pouring in, I don't see this hitting a full touchdown. If anything, there might be some dog support the other way.  75% of Week 1 games were decided by 7 or fewer points, so if you're going to lay chalk with a bigger favorite, you better have some good reasons for it.

62% of bets are currently on the home team.

When the Vikings have the ball

If this were last year I'd stay far away from this game, but two things from Week 1 stood out to me. First of all, is the question marks surrounding Christian Ponder. His struggles are well-documented, but the alarming stat that leaps off the page is all three of Ponder's interceptions came under pressure.  Two of the three interceptions came when he was facing an eight man box. Four times he had 3rd and 1 and three of those plays resulted in an incompletion, a sack, and an interception.

These kind of numbers are just not going to get it done in the NFL - especially for a third year player.

Of course it's only one game, but the Bears defense is going to pose a bigger problem for him than the Lions.  He already has problems throwing the deep ball, the I don't expect much success in this area against a cover-2 scheme. The Vikings are geared towards winning now though. Will they push his development and ask him to do more, or will they continue with the short-area, bootleg, dump-off stuff?

They are so supposed to be good up front, but Matt Kalil  and John Sullivan had really poor games. According to PFF, it was the worst pass-protecting game of Kalil's career so far.

Adding Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson is supposed to open up the passing game, but Patterson only saw five snaps and most of the production went to Jerome Simpson.  AP only gained 15 yards on 17 carries after his big opening run. Leslie Frazier said he wants to get Patterson more snaps this week, but based on his tepid introduction to game action in Week 1, I'd be surprised if he was much of a factor.

They still have lots of time to start clicking, but I don't see it all coming together against this Bears defense.

The secondary consists of Tillman, Jennings, Conte, and Wright. This group of playmakers allows them to do so much with the front seven. Peppers, McClellin, Wootton, Paea, and Melton are all disruptive. Behind them, Briggs and Williams are solid in support. It's going to be all hands on deck around the line of scrimmage, and I'd be shocked if Ponder suddenly breaks out.

When the Bears have the ball

The other thing that stood out to me in Week 1 was the play of the Bears offensive line. On paper, you would've thought that the Bengals ferocious defensive line was primed for a big day. Yet, the rookies on the right side held their own and Cutler wasn't even sacked once. This doesn't mean that everything is fixed in Chi-town, but it's a really great sign that they accomplished this against one of the best DL's in the league.

With better protection, Cutler had his third best performance since joining the Bears. On deep balls beyond 20 yards he was 3 for 3, and passes over 10 yards resulted in 9 for 12. He was under control and accurate.

The jury is still out, but this could turn out to be a nice offense with Marshall, Jeffery, M Bennett, and Forte. Last year, Cutler didn't have a reliable pass-catching tight end, or a number two receiver to count on.

The good news for the Vikings is they should get back Kevin Williams. His presence in the middle is going to bounce Forte outside a lot more. They also have Allen, Robinson, Griffen, and Floyd to rotate up front. If Minnesota want to keep this game close, this is the group that needs to have a big game.

Unfortunately, there are problems behind them. Greenway had big problems against the Lions, and there were some questions about him heading into the season. Erin Hernderson also had a bad game, and he might lose his job at middle linebacker if he continues to make mistakes. Forte and Bennett could do some damage in this area of the field.

First rounder Xavier Rhodes had a pretty good start to his rookie season. He didn't do anything special, but he didn't make any big mistakes either. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson round out a pretty good set of cornerbacks.  It should be a good matchup as they try to figure out how to defend Marshall, and also account for Jeffery's vertical game. Jeffery will face favorable coverage all year, and he had a career high 5 catches in Week 1, including 8 targets.

Bottom Line

The last time the Vikings won at Soldier Field was 2007, and it took 224 yards on the ground from AP. Granted, most of those games are irrelevant, but Ponder fared no better last year when they lost 28-10.

For this game, the two obvious keys to the game will be the Vikings DL vs the Bears OL, and Christian Ponder vs an All-Pro Bears secondary. AP will get his yards, but at the end of the day they need Ponder to step up. I have serious doubts whether or not Ponder is ready for that next step in his development, and Week 1 wasn't a good start.

Meanwhile, the Bears OL might be on the verge of the improvement.  I'm cautiously optimistic about this Cutler-Trestman combination, and I'm willing to roll the dice on a Week 2 win and cover. At worst, I expect the Bears defense to dominate the day.

NFL Pick: CHI -6.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Lions vs Cardinals

Detroit Lions vs Arizona Cardinals: DET PK (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

In the Vegas look-ahead line, the Lions were -3 point favorites in this game at even money. It re-opened on
Sunday at 'pick em'. I'm not quite sure why they made the readjustment, but I expect this line will creep back up to -3. In fact, some shops have already begun to move the line as there are -1's and -1.5's popping up. I'd play this at anything under -3, and even at -3 I'd consider it.

When the Cardinals have the ball

I'm not a fan of Carson Palmer. I'm even less of a fan with him behind a poor offensive line. Granted, he's an obvious upgrade than what the Cards had the last couple years, but can he justify all the hype about Arizona? I don't see it that way. Furthermore, if it wasn't for a great hustle play by Tyrann Mathieu to save a sure TD by Cook, and a fluky pick six by Dan Williams, this game would've been much different.

What I do like about the Cards offense is the trio of studs at the wide receiver position. We all know about Larry Fitzgerald, but Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts made a statement in Week 1. This week, they'll be drooling to line up against rookie Darius Slay, who had a rough start to his NFL career. Ponder went 4-6 for 75 yards against the kid, and he got benched. Schwartz said he will continue to start, but this will be one advantage for Arizona to keep an eye on.

The problem I still have is the pairing of an immobile QB and a decrepit offensive line. The entire OL graded out negatively, both in pass protection and run blocking. Levi Brown gave up five pressures at left tackle, and Eric Winston gave up five at right tackle. Is it any wonder that the ground game struggled?

Ok, the Rams front is one of the best, but the Lions are equally dominant up front. Suh avoided a suspension, so he'll be a disruptive force inside with Nick Fairley. The rotation of Willie Young, Jason Jones, Ziggy Ansah, and Israel Idonije is scary on the outside. Not only did this group make Ponder's life miserable, but they completely shut down AP after his one breakout play.

It also helps to have veterans Tulloch and Levy at the second level. Both guys are liabilities in space, but they won't have to worry about covering Rob Housler. He's doubtful with an ankle sprain.

Another reason why I don't fear this Arizona offense that much is the presence of Louis Delmas and Glover Quin at the safety position. When Delmas is healthy, this is a different defense. He cleans up a lot of the mess when things break down up front and he's a rangy defender in coverage.

When the Lions have the ball


Stafford gets a ton of crap from critics. Some of it is warranted (like his record against playoff teams), but for the most part he's a prolific passer with scary weapons at his disposal.  He kicked off the year with a bang, totaling over 350 yards in the air, two touchdowns, and an interception that wasn't his fault. He was also robbed of another TD due to the ridiculous "possession" rule. Against pressure he was 6-11 for 70 yards.

Yet, the best news just might be the performance of the offensive line. They have three new starters and they looked like a cohesive unit. If they can continue this play it's going to be hard to stop this offense. It helps that Daryl Washington is not gonna be in the lineup for Arizona, too. They still have Darnell Dockett and Calais Campbell to contend with though. With Dan Williams gobbling up space in the middle, this will be a good test for the O-line.

But the thing that makes this offense truly dynamic is the addition of Reggie Bush. I've been critical of him in the past, but he's a perfect fit for this scheme. Megatron always commands ridiculous attention on the outside, and this is going to open up the field for Bush. We saw immediate results in Week 1 as Bush put up 101 yards receiving and 90 yards rushing. Combined with Joique Bell, they had 51 yards after contact, too.

There's no doubt that Todd Bowles is losing sleep trying to figure out how to counter these guys.  Burleson and Pettigrew are both disappointing players, but they also have the ability to win favorable matchups. They'll see a lot of that this season if everyone stays healthy.

The Cardinals only sure thing in the secondary is Patrick Peterson. He's already one of the best, so he should be going up against CJ on the outside. After that, it's a bit of a crapshoot. Jerraud Powers and Antoine Cason need big games.

Bottom Line

A lot of people are high on the Cardinals coming out of the preseason. I'm not one of those people. Do I like their defense? Yes. But I'm still not convinced it's going to be as good as it was under Ray Horton. I also like it much better with Daryl Washington in the lineup. I think they'll give Detroit some problems, but Reggie Bush is exactly what this offense was missing when Jahvid Best had to retire due to concussions.

On the flip side, there's no doubt that Palmer is an upgrade at QB, but he's immobile and behind a very suspect offensive line. Not a good combination when he's about to face a dominant defensive front for the second game in a row. I also like this Detroit secondary much better with a healthy Louis Delmas and free agent addition Glover Quin. The home crowd will certainly help the Cards, but none of them can pass protect. Give me the Lions.

NFL Pick: DET PK.