Saturday, November 30, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 13: Bengals vs Chargers

Cincinnati Bengals vs San Diego Chargers: CIN +1 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

This is one of the more puzzling point spreads on the board for Week 13. Last week LVH set this game as a 'pick em'. When the lines reopened on Monday, Cincy were -1 point favorites. Since then, money has come in on the Chargers and they now sit as -1 point favorites.

So what has people on San Diego? I'm not quite sure because there isn't much to suggest they should be favored in this spot. I like the value in this game, and if the Bengals reach +1.5 or higher, I'll be adding them in a teaser as well.

Bottom Line

This game has playoff implications for both teams, so we don't need to worry about motivation in this one.

The primary reason why I like Cincy in this game is due to the Chargers defense. There isn't a single area on that side of the ball that anyone can have confidence in. Andy Dalton might not be the quarterback that most expect him to be, but he's good enough to manage the offense to a win. The Chargers simply don't have the guys they need to matchup one on one, nor do they have a pass rush that scares anybody. Granted, some of that is due to injuries, but the lack of quality depth is alarming.

Jay Gruden will have his choice whether he wants to attack on the ground or the air, and he's had an extra week to prepare.  They can exploit the Chargers outside with Green and Jones, or tear it up on the ground with Bernard and Ellis.

If San Diego hope to win this game, they'll need Rivers to be on his "A" game for four quarters. I don't doubt his ability to do so, but he won't have the luxury of facing a weak defense this week. The Bengals haven't been as dominant on that side of the ball as they should've been this year, but they have been sneaky good for most of it.

What it all adds up to is some nice value on the Bengals.

NFL Pick: CIN +1.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 13: Rams vs 49ers

St Louis Rams vs San Francisco 49ers: SF -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

"Sharp" bettors have been completely torched this season, but what I like about them is they do drive line movement. Last week this line as set at -9.5 in the look-ahead line. When it reopened on Monday, it was -7.5. It sat in the teaser window all week long, but they've finally jumped on the extra points and moved the line to -7 at some books.

I think Vegas had it right last week when they had it close to double digits. If you can get -7, you're getting some value for this game.

Bottom Line

The 49ers have been more inconsistent this year that we thought they would be, but they showed the football world that they're more than capable of taking care of business when they smoked the Redskins.

I have to give the Rams some credit for how they've played of late. They lost Sam Bradford and had virtually no hope to make the playoffs this season, but even with a journeyman quarterback they've surprised some people with upset wins.

I don't expect that to happen this week, nor do I expect them to keep this within a touchdown. I think the only chance they have is if Long and Quinn dominate the 49ers offensive line from start to finish. If this game was in St Louis, that might be a possibility, but they won't have any crowd advantage aiding them in San Fran.

The 49ers can win and cover this game doing what they do best - running the ball, taking shots in the air when they are open, and grinding down opposing offenses with their defense.

Zac Stacy has been one of the biggest catalysts behind the Rams recent surge, but is he going to lead the way against the likes of Willis, Smith, Brooks, and Bowman?  What if the Rams fall behind? Is Kellen Clemons going to lead them back?

For St Louis, they'll need a perfect storm of events to cover this game, including some splash plays from Tavon Austin. I'll go ahead and bet against that happening.

NFL Pick: SF -7.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 13: Dolphins vs Jets

Miami Dolphins vs New York Jets: MIA +2 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Usually when a team is a -2.5 point favorite and it doesn't go all the way to -3, there's a good reason for it. This is once again the case for the Dolphins/Jets matchup.

A week ago, the Jets were -2.5. The books reopened them up at -2 after Week 12, and some early support moved it back to -2.5. Since then there hasn't been much to report.  The current line sits somewhere between -1 and -2.

Realistically, this game should be a 'pick em', and one could even argue the wrong team is favored.

Bottom Line

Most of the AFC is just terrible, so this game actually has some meaning to it. However, deciphering which team has the advantage can be a challenge. The Dolphins offensive line is a serious liability and the Jets have the ability to exploit it. On the other side, Geno Smith has been the worst graded quarterback in the entire NFL.

The best New York defenders are all on the defensive line, which is bad news for Miami fans. Yet, the good news is they get Pouncey back, and Tannehill has been more efficient than one would expect at getting the ball out quickly and accurately. It would help if we knew what to expect from the Dolphins running game, but they have shown signs of life this year. They'll also have a chance to take advantage of a highly questionable Jets secondary if they can find the time to get the ball down field. Finally, the Jets red zone defense has been piss poor all year and they continue to trend downwards.

Complicating matters for New York is what to do on offense. Geno Smith continues to be a turnover machine, which only puts more stress on the defense. On top of this, Holmes and Kerley are questionable to play. If Smith has any hopes of moving the ball, he'll need to focus on the middle of the field and resist the urge to force balls where they don't belong. If this season has told us anything, chances are that Smith will make more than his share of mistakes. The Dolphins aren't great on defense, but they should be able to hold their own in this matchup.

Miami is an ugly team to back, especially on the road, but this is just as much a fade of Geno Smith as it is a play on the Dolphins.

NFL Pick: MIA +2.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 13: Buccaneers vs Panthers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Carolina Panthers: CAR -7 (Bet365)

Market Watch

If you've ever wondered how much public perception factors into an NFL point spread, look no further than this Week 13 game. In the LVH look-ahead line, Carolina were -11 point favorites. Then the Bucs upset the Lions and the line reopened at -9.5 on Monday. Since then, we've seen even more support for Tampa Bay. The current line sits at -7 at most shops, but some smart books are still keeping it at -7.5.

I realize that Tampa Bay have won three straight and haven't thrown in the towel yet, but in reality this line should be closer to double digits. I believe the books had it right the first time, so I'm more than happy at taking this value.

Bottom Line

Mike Glennon has won offensive rookie of the month honors and Bobby Rainey has been a nice surprise, but this will be a monumental test. Even without Charles Johnson, this defense boasts the likes of Hardy, Kuechly, and Lotulelei. Amazingly, the Panthers have surged near the top of the rankings in every meaningful defensive category. That includes run/pass defense, adjusted sack rate, drive efficiency, third down/red zone, and turnover differential.

On the flip side, things are almost as bright for the Panthers offense. I don't like Ron Rivera and I'm still skeptical of Cam Newton, but the numbers don't lie. They have one of the best run games in the NFL, convert drives into touchdowns at a really high rate, and take a really low number of offensive penalties. McCoy, David, and Revis will need to have standout games to slow Carolina down, but I'm willing to bet that doesn't happen.

I expect the Panthers win streak to continue and I'll go ahead and lay the touchdown.

NFL Pick: CAR -7.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 13: Teasers (update #1)

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

More teasers will be added throughout the week.

Lions PK & Cowboys -2.5

Most sportsbooks are still posting a -9 for the Cowboys game, but -8.5s are popping up. The look-ahead and opener were both -9.5, so it should fall in the teaser window (-7.5 to -8.5) before kickoff.

Adding

Panthers -1 & Patriots -1

49ers -2 & Dolphins +8.5

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 13: Thanksgiving Day

Green Bay Packers vs Detroit Lions

Market Watch

There was no look-ahead or opening line for this game due to the uncertainty surrounding the Packers  quarterback situation. Now we know that Matt Flynn will be under center and he gets to face off against the team that made him rich. It seems like a long time ago now, but in 2011 he put up six touchdowns against the Lions. He's bounced around the league a lot since then though, and don't hold your breath if you're hoping for a repeat performance.

After Flynn was announced, sportsbooks made the Lions -6 point favorites. We've seen a move to -6.5, and I won't be surprised if this doesn't close -7 by kickoff. 71 percent of the bets are on the home team.

Bottom Line

Despite what happened the last two weeks, this is not an inflated number. The Lions should be touchdown favorites. They match up really well in all the key categories and still rank among the best in the league in all the "make-or-break" areas on both sides of the ball (third down/red zone).  When you add the discrepancy at quarterback and home field advantage into the equation, the only side to consider here are the Lions.

Delmas, Quin, and Johnson should be good to go, and Burleson has a week of action under his belt. Detroit have also been fantastic versus the run this year, which is the one area where the Packers thrive thanks to Eddie Lacy.  Green Bay get Sam Shields back, and that should help a struggling secondary, but is it enougth to stop this Lions passing game?

If Green Bay can win the turnover battle and keep Matt Flynn upright, they'll have a chance to cover this number. In reality, this is Detroit's game to lose. I'd consider playing them at anything under -7, but an even better option is to pair them in a teaser with the Cowboys - essentially asking them to win the game straight up.

Oakland Raiders vs Dallas Cowboys

Market Watch

There isn't a lot of respect for the Oakland Raiders for this Thanksgiving game.  The look-ahead and opening lines both had them as 9.5 point underdogs. With less than 24 hours until kickoff, we've seen some slight support for them as the line has now moved to -9, and there are even some -8.5s popping up.

Where will this line go? If the sportsbooks were smart, they wouldn't drop it below -9 so they can avoid the teaser window, but if it does continue to drop, don't hesitate to tease the Cowboys under a field goal.

59 percent of the bets are on America's Team.

Bottom Line

As usual, there are lots of problems with the Oakland Raiders. The offense is inconsistent, they take too many offensive penalties, can't sustain drives or protect the quarterback, and sit near the bottom of the league on special teams. They do hope to get Darren McFadden back though, so there's that.

On the flip side, things aren't all peaches and cream for the Cowboys either. They're defense has been bad all season and Sean Lee and Morris Claiborne won't play. The most concerning areas are on third down and in the red zone. When the Cowboys defense needs to get off the field, or keep an opponent out of the end zone, they falter. They are fortunate to be playing the Raiders this week, because most competent offenses make them pay.

Once again, Dallas will rely heavily on their offense to win this game and keep them atop of the NFC East. The Raiders defense have actually been pretty strong on third down this year, while the Cowboys offense has struggled in this spot. What will help Dallas though is the discrepancy in special teams.

Not many teams have a better average starting field position than them this year, so look for the Cowboys to have a distinct advantage at the start of each drive. Tony Romo and company have also been excellent at converting red zone chances into touchdowns. This is not a strength of the Raiders defense either.

Due to the improvement that Matt McGloin has brought, I think the true line on this game should be -7. I wouldn't feel comfortable playing Dallas at anything higher than that, but teasing them down to under a field goal looks like a great option.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs Baltimore Ravens

Market Watch

This is the most difficult point spread to decipher on Thanksgiving Day. Last week Las Vegas had the Ravens as -3 point favorites, and it reopened at the same number after Week 12 action. At the moment, the line sits somewhere in between -2.5 and -3, depending on where you look.

By the numbers, the Ravens deserve to be favored by more than a field goal. I would say that -3.5 or -4 would be right, but the situation becomes more complicated once we factor in how the Steelers have played over recent weeks.

The sharp money is going to grab the Steelers at +3, but I wouldn't blame anyone for taking a long look at Baltimore -2.5, too.

The bets are pretty much split down the middle with 51 percent on Pittsburgh.

Bottom Line

It should be clear by now that the Ravens have a home (4-1) -road (1-5) dichotomy this season. When you add the fact that this is a short week, that home field advantage should be amplified a bit more.

But the trouble we have is what to do about the Baltimore offense. They have been completely inept on that side of the ball for most of the year. Conversely, the Steelers defense has had major struggles as well. Pittsburgh has shown signs of life on defense of late, but the opponents haven't been noteworthy either. I expect an even matchup when those units faceoff.

The deciding factor of this game will be what happens when Big Ben has the ball. Last week they simply took advantage of turnovers and ran the ball moderately well. It's encouraging that they've improved on third down recently, but there is still a lot of mediocrity to this offense. The offensive line is still a huge issue, especially with Marcus Gilbert at right tackle.

The Ravens defense is the only standout area for either team. They should be able to get some pressure on Ben and disrupt enough drives to give their offense a chance. There is no obvious weak link and they are second to none inside their own red zone. No other defense forces more field goals than the Ravens.

If I had a lick of faith in Joe Flacco and Ray Rice, I'd roll with the Ravens in this spot. Since I don't, I'm going to take a pass on what should be an ugly game.

Monday, November 25, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 12: 49ers vs Redskins

San Francisco 49ers vs Washington Redskins

Market Watch

Depending on how your weekend went, you may or may not want to bet this game. If you do, there's no excuse for not getting the best number for either side. If you liked the 49ers, you should be sitting with -4. If you are on the Skins, you should have +6 (and possibly better).

A week ago this line was set at -4 in the look-ahead. When it reopened after Week 11, it was -5.  Early action came in on the 49ers and it was sitting at -6 by midweek. The line proceeded to go back down until it reached -4 on Sunday.

Today, it looks like people are banking on the 49ers to either salvage their weekend or enhance it.  The best price is -5 at Pinnacle, but most shops have -5.5. If you like the dog, you can grab +6 at some square books.

78% of the bets are on the 49ers.

Bottom Line

I could delve into the X's and O's for this matchup, but that hasn't meant much when it comes to Redskins games this season. When there appears to be value on them, they lay an egg. When the chips are stacked against them, the find a way to cover.

On paper, Washington (surprisingly) match up pretty well with the 49ers. Both QB's have underacheived, but they aren't terrible. They can both run the ball with aplomb too. Washington actually have a better third down rate this season, but each team does a great job punching the ball in for touchdowns when inside the 20.

The big differences come in pass defense, red zone defense, and special teams - all of which favor the 49ers. The question is whether or not San Fran can take advantage? The 49ers passing game hasn't been as effective as last season. Injuries haven't helped, but we expect more from Kaepernick. Special teams account for about 1/7th of a game, but it can be very random game to game (especially in prime-time).

Statistically, there is value on Washington in this spot. I would set this line at SF -3, and -3.5 at the most. Not to oversimply things, but the winner of this game will likely come down to who plays better at QB. Given how inconsistent each side have been this season, I can't pull the trigger for this one.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 12

Week 11 is almost in the books, and favorites lead the way 7-5-2 with the MNF game pending. Overall, favorites are slightly ahead 79-76-5 for the season. Overs are 9-5, which brings the season total to 86-71-2.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks were coming off their first winning week, but sit 0-3-1 for Week 11, with New England +2.5 pending. They are now 15-37-2 on the year.

My Week 11 picks weren't much better. The Chiefs, Chargers, and Redskins all came up short in the final minutes. That brings my record to 5-18 in games where the spread was decided at the end of the game. I have no way of explaining that. I keep waiting for those to even out, but we're already in Week 12.

Even more bizarre was the straight up loss by the Texans against the Matt McGloin led Raiders. That blew up both of my teasers for the week. This after getting the line at -7 and -7.5 before it was steamed to -10 on the weekend. Go figure.

I'll be adding Week 12 picks throughout the week, so refresh for updates.

Survivor Pick

With the exception of the Texans, every decent option for survivor pools came through in Week 11. There are lots of good choices in Week 12 if you're still alive.

Week 12: Detroit Lions

Week 11: Arizona Cardinals
Week 10: Tennessee Titans
Week 9: Dallas Cowboys
Week 8: New Orleans Saints
Week 7: Green Bay Packers
Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Saturday, November 23, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Broncos vs Patriots

Denver Broncos vs New England Patriots: DEN -2 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Looking for an interesting point spread in Week 12? Look no further than the Sunday Night Football game between the Broncos and the Patriots. A week ago Las Vegas had the Broncos as -3 point favorites. After the dust settled on the weekend, sportsbooks reopened them at -2.5. 

There hasn't been much movement ever since. If the line goes to -3 you can be sure that a lot of sharp money will come piling in on the Patriots. With the line under a field goal, most of the bets are coming in on the road team (63 percent). 

Keep an eye on

Last week was a big test for both of these teams. The Broncos were going up against the best defense (on paper) and came away with a convincing win. Even if they lost they probably would've stayed at the top of most offensive rankings, but there is not many teams have been able to shut down Peyton Manning this year.

I don't expect that to change much on Sunday night. We can talk all day about what Peyton's history is in colder weather in New England, but keep in mind the Broncos defense is much better than what he had in Indy. 

So how do the Patriots stop him? They've resembled a bend-but-don't-break unit all year. Between the 20s they are terrible on third down, average against the run, and slightly better than average against the pass. Once opponents reach the red zone, the Patriots rank in the top 10 and usually force field goals. Under normal circumstances, that would go encouraging. However, they've been trending down over recent weeks, and injuries are piling up. 

The most concerning area is in their secondary where their top three cornerbacks are all banged up. The key guy is Talib. When he's off the field, it has a trickle down effect on the rest of the defense. He didn't finish the game last week, and only time will tell how effective he will be on Sunday. The Patriots are never up front about their injury list.

For Denver, Wes Welker is listed as probable, so he should be primed for a big game against his former team. Julius Thomas is more of a question mark, and his absence would make life a lot easier for the Pats. Either way, I see a big advantage for Denver's passing game - especially if Talib can't go.

Even more concerning for New England could be what happens in the fourth quarter. If they are trailing, it might be tough for them to get the ball back. They are so decimated in the middle of the defensive line that Denver should be able to make enough successful runs to keep the clock running.

If the Patriots are going to win this game, they'll not only need a great game from Brady, but also from their special teams. The good news for them is they've ranked near the top of the NFL for special teams all year. This has given them one of the better average starting field positions too. 

Most of the focus will be on containing Von Miller. He picked up right where he left off before his suspension. In only four games, ProFootballFocus has him graded as the best outside linebacker in the league. For this game, he gets to line up opposite backup tackle Marcus Cannon. There's no doubt that New England will do things to give that side help, but Miller can be used in a variety of ways - primarily as an inside blitzing joker. 

It should also be no surprise that the Broncos pass defense has gradually improved since Miller's return. They might not be an elite secondary, but it's hard to judge just how good this unit can be since Miller and Bailey have missed so much time. Brady has also picked up his play over recent weeks, but their offense isn't upper-tier either.  

Now that Gronk is fully back, the Patriots do have a whole new set of options when they snap the ball though. His most underrated skill is his blocking ability, so I wouldn't be surprised if New England went for some power football in this game. The Chiefs abandoned their run game much too early last week, but I'd be surprised if Belichick made the same mistake.

Bottom Line

I don't think there's any debate that the Broncos offense have the upper hand in this game. The big question is what happens when Brady has the ball. Do they go hurry-up and limit Miller's impact on the game? Or do they grind out the clock and keep Peyton off the field?  

Whichever direction the Patriots go, I think they're going to come up short. They're too injured on the defensive side of the ball and I need to see more from their offense before I fully buy in.  Give me the Broncos at anything under a field goal.

NFL Pick: DEN -2. 

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Teasers (update #2)

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

Cowboys +8.5 & Colts +8.5

Cowboys +8.5 & Steelers +8.5

Adding

Saints -2.5 & Colts +9

If you only have Saints -9 or Colts +1 available, I would go ahead and pay -120 for a 6.5 point teaser.

Adding

Lions -1.5 & Steelers +7.5

Thursday, November 21, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Cowboys vs Giants

Dallas Cowboys vs New York Giants: DAL +3 (-125) (Bovada)

Market Watch

If there's one game on the board this week that is skewed due to public perception, it's this one. Count me as one of the people who haven't bought into the Giants turn-around this season. Have they won some games? Yes. But who have they beaten? Anybody worth mentioning?

A week ago Vegas had this game at -1. With another Giants win under their belts, they reopened them at -2.5. We haven't seen much movement since because books know they'll get a ton of Cowboys action if they move it to -3, but if you shop around you can get that key number.

Square shops are a must for line shopping, which is precisely the reason why I like Bovada so much. For a bit of extra juice, we can get some value on the dog.

As of today, 55% of bets are on the home team.

Keep an eye on

The Giants opened the season with six straight losses. Now they've put together four straight wins. With the exception of the Eagles, none of those wins came against winning teams. In fact, all of the opponents looked downright awful.

Therefore, it's no surprise that the Giants are trending up in some of the key statistical categories. Defensively, they've improved against the run, the pass, and in the red zone. Offensively, things are not as good. The only area they've shown a noticeable difference in is on third down. It's encouraging that Eli and company have done well to move the chains, but they still have problems punching the ball in the end zone (against poor red zone defenses).

So how should we handicap this game? The Giants have gone from brutally bad to average over the last month, but how much credit should we give them when they haven't beaten a legitimate team?

That's not to say that the Cowboys are a good litmus test, because they're no better than average either. That said, the Cowboys have been much more consistent this year than the Giants. This is also a divisional game, so I'd be shocked if New York were able to win this game convincingly.

If the Gmen are going to win this game they'll need big efforts from Tuck and JPP.  Both were abysmal to start the season, but they've shown signs of life in the recent win streak. Yet, there is a difference between playing good and dominating (like expected).  The Cowboys offensive line isn't anything special, but they aren't the big liability that people thought they would be coming into this year.

On the flip side, the Cowboys need much better play from their secondary. In fact, they need better play from their entire defense. They do get Ware back, so that should pay immediate dividends. It will also help out a pass defense that needs all the help it can get. Cruz has been the go-to guy for the past month, and Dallas can't afford to let him have his way all afternoon.

It would also be nice if Romo doesn't blow the game in the final minutes. I rarely bet on Dallas because I have no faith in them if the game is close, but this team is very quietly 7-3 against the spread this year. Usually point spreads are inflated for the Cowboys because they are still a 'public' team.

Bottom Line

I didn't go into the X's and O's for this game as much as I usually do. The first meeting between these two was a wild affair with tons of yardage and turnovers. It's difficult to decipher the current Giants due to their schedule, but I haven't seen anything from them that scares me off of this play.

Despite their own issues, I still have Dallas ranked higher in my power ratings. I expect them to win this game outright, so even at +2.5 I'd still take the Cowboys. If you don't have the option to get +3, wait a little bit to see where the line is moving as the weekend approaches.

NFL Pick: DAL +3.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Jets vs Ravens

New York Jets vs Baltimore Ravens: BAL -3 (-120) (Bet365)

Market Watch

When it comes to predicting a Jets game you might as well try betting on what the weather will be for the Super Bowl too. All year long they've looked great for one week, only to follow it up with an egg. Theoretically, that means they should be in line to win and cover this week.

So why am I betting on the Ravens? Well, the easy answer is what the numbers suggest. The line on this game shouldn't be anywhere near a field goal if the first 11 weeks have taught us anything.

Last week the look-ahead line was -3.5. It reopened at -3, but was quickly bet back up to -3.5. Today, we're seeing some movement back the other way. You can grab -3 for a bit of extra juice. I see this as a bargain because if anything, I'd expect this line to move even further in favor of Baltimore.

As it stands now, 73% of the bets are on the home team.

Keep an eye on

On the surface, this isn't a game that I would normally get involved with. I've avoided Jets games all season and the Ravens are a complete mess offensively. That said, they do hold enough advantages to warrant a play this weekend.

To start with, Baltimore have a distinct home-road dichotomy this year. They are 3-1 at home, but only 1-5 on the road. The same could be said for the Jets who are 4-1 at home, but 1-4 on the road. These kinds of trends are hard to explain, but for whatever reason it's a strong factor for this matchup.

The question I need to ask myself is whether or not the Ravens can put up enough points?  Their running game has been downright awful. Ray Rice isn't what we expected, the offensive line has been average at best, and Joe Flacco doesn't win too many games on his own anymore. He has lost important weapons this year, but when you're the reigning Super Bowl MVP and being paid as one of the tops QBs in the league, we expect more production.

The thing we can be optimistic about is some of the troubles the Jets are having. Thus far their corners have not been playing up to par and their pass defense as a whole is mediocre. In the last few games they've trended downwards in the make-or-break moments - both on third down and in the red zone. Finally, the Jets have the league's worst turnover differential in the NFL, so Flacco and company could have one or two short fields to work with.

And speaking of turnovers, that brings me to the biggest reason why I like the Ravens this week - the NY QB situation.

Just how bad is Geno Smith? Granted, he's had a few nice games this year, but for the most part he has been a disaster. Last week he was so bad that he got benched in the fourth quarter for Matt Simms. The areas that are the most alarming are not even the turnovers. All young quarterbacks are going to make mistakes and throw some ill-advised passes, but he was just 3 for 17 on intermediate passes last week. When he faced pressure he went 1 for 7. On those plays he was intercepted once and sacked four times.

The Ravens defense might not be as fearsome as they were earlier in the year, but do they have to be? Ngata hasn't been practicing and Smith and Webb have been limited, but there are still enough pieces on this unit to make life miserable for New York's offense.  Baltimore's D rank near the top in stopping the run, sacking the QB, getting off the field on third down, and forcing teams to settle for field goals inside the 20.

The problems don't stop there for the Jets offense. Not only do they have problems driving the field for points, but they can't block very well and they take far too many offensive penalties. This makes life much easier on a defense that doesn't need any. Nick Mangold was one guy who was supposed to keep things stable on this side of the ball, but he's gone from one of the better centers in the league to one of the worst this season.

Bottom Line

I'm surprised that this number is as low as it is. It's always a big risk betting Jets games, whether it's for or against them, but I feel pretty good about fading them in this spot at this number.

I don't have much faith in the Baltimore offense either, but at least they have some guys who know how to play in this league. They should be able to do enough with the help of the home crowd and a strong defense.
I would even lay the -3.5 if I was forced to, but it's nice that -3's are available. Gimme the home team.

NFL Pick: BAL -3.

NFL Preview 2013 Week 12: Saints vs Falcons

New Orleans Saints vs Atlanta Falcons

Market Watch

At the start of the season I don't think anybody would have predicted that the Saints would be as high as 10 point favorites over the Falcons for this game. Atlanta are playing at home and have a healthy Matt Ryan, but nobody out there have any faith in them.

This game was -6.5 a week ago in the advanced line, reopened at -7 after the weekend, and got bet up to -9/-10 soon after. We are seeing some last minute line movement as -8.5's and -8's are now popping up.

There aren't many teams that the public love as much as the Saints. Perhaps the Seahawks and the Broncos, but with 80 percent of the bets on New Orleans this week, it's safe to say that the 2012 season is nothing more than a distant memory.

Keep an eye on

The Falcons defense showed promising signs out of the gate in 2012, but faded during the second half of the season before they finally wilted in the playoffs versus Seattle. They revamped the secondary and brought in Osi Umenyiora, but not much has changed. In fact, the numbers suggest they've regressed even further.

They are near the bottom of the league in sacks and pass defense. These two usually go hand in hand, but it's not a good combination to have when you're facing Drew Brees and company. Even worse, they can't even do the fundamentals right as they've missed 32 tackles over the last three games.

The scary thing for Falcons fans is that the Saints have started trending up in the categories that were struggling earlier in the year; rushing and red zone efficiency.

It would be encouraging if the Falcons defense had one strong area to hang their hats on, but they don't even have that. They can't get off the field on third down, and can't stop anybody once they get inside the 20.

The Saints offense usually goes through the trio of Graham, Colston, and Sproles, but Sproles is questionable for this game. If he can't go that could give Atlanta some hope, but Sean Payton is a master at scheming new ways to move the chains.

So maybe Matt Ryan can orchestrate enough offense to keep up with Brees? Normally I'd say that's a decent bet, but without Julio Jones it's going to be an uphill battle all night. Ryan did have a great start in the first half of the season, but lately his production has fallen as he puts more on his shoulders. He's forcing too many balls and heaving desperation passes to compensate for the rest of the roster.

Games are rarely won and lost with a rushing attack anymore, but it would help immensely if Steven Jackson could get going. If he can produce some first downs, it would take a lot of pressure off of Ryan and could give this offense a fighting chance. Will this happen? Perhaps. The offensive line has been much better at preventing sacks than opening holes for the running game this season, but this is the one area where the Saints defense has been vulnerable.

The good thing for the Saints defense is that they've been pretty great in every other area. They are one of the top units against the pass, getting off the field on third down, and sacking the quarterback.

Looking at the peripheral stats, the news doesn't get any better for Atlanta. They rank near the bottom in starting average field position, while the Saints rank among the best. The Saints offense also take a really low number of penalties, so they aren't about to shoot themselves in the foot. Finally, the Falcons are one of the worst teams in terms of turnover differential.

Bottom Line

When all is said and done, I think the only thing the Falcons can hang their hat on is the fact that this is a divisional game at home on a short week. Is that enough to take the points and hope for an unlikely cover? That's not something I want to do.

The current point spread is an accurate reflection of where these teams are.  It's still too many points to be laying for a road game though. I'd love to take New Orleans at -7, but it's highly unlikely we'll see that number by kickoff. Instead, I'd recommend to throw the Saints in a teaser.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 12: Chargers vs Chiefs

San Diego Chargers vs Kansas City Chiefs: KC -4 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

What do people think of the Chiefs after they couldn't cover a +8.5 point spread in Denver last week? Apparently, not as bad as one would think. Two out of every three bets this week are on them again for Week 12.

Then again, this could be just as much of a fade against the Chargers as it is an endorsement for KC. Ever since the bye week, San Diego haven't delivered on their early season success.

A week ago, this line was -4.5. If KC would've covered against the Broncos, you can be sure this line would be closer to a touchdown. Instead, the line remained the same when it reopened on Monday. It might have been even less if San Diego covered against the Dolphins.

In reality, we are getting some value on this spread. The Chiefs have been great at home all year. The true line for this game should be -6 at the minimum. There are a lot of -4.5's out there now, but Pinnacle has made the move to -4. I expect other books to follow suit, but even -4.5 is worth a play.

Keep an eye on

The KC offense. One might look at this game and be concerned about Alex Smith keeping up with Philip Rivers. Normally, I'd share the same concern, but the Chargers defense can't stop anybody this year.

They rank dead last in run defense, and near the bottom against the pass, drive efficiency, and third down. They are technically near the middle in red zone defense, but they are trending downwards over recent weeks. Last week, their defense had 12 missed tackles in total. Anytime you hit double digits, there is reason for concern.

Add it all up and you have a lot of reason for optimism if you're the KC offense. Last week Andy Reid let Alex Smith throw the ball beyond 10 yards, and if it wasn't for four drops he would've ended the day with some really nice numbers. Perhaps they were just surprised that the ball was coming to them that far down the field, but I still like Bowe, Avery, McCluster, Fasano as wideout options. They also have Charles as a lethal pass-catching threat out of the backfield.

There isn't one area of strength of the SD defense, so if the Chiefs can't put up points this week, it will squarely be on them.

The real magic though, should take place when the Chargers have the ball. I've liked what they've done all year, but this is going to be a different kind of test. The Broncos found ways to put up points, but Peyton Manning can do that to anyone and they had the luxury of playing at home. Even then, it wasn't like he exposed the Chiefs defense. They had more than enough stops to give their team a chance.

I don't see Rivers having the same kind of success. San Diego have done a great job at getting the ball out quick all year, but last week the injuries on the offensive line finally caught up with them. They will try to play the short-drop game again, especially after seeing how well it worked for Peyton, but it would take a minor miracle to shutout this KC pass rush for a second straight week.

Hali, Houston, and Johnson will be difference-makers in this game. The only question is how much?

Bottom Line

If this game was in San Diego, I might reconsider this pick, but I think the home crowd is going to be a big factor and it should allow the KC defense to do what it does best.

I've backed the Chargers in recent weeks, expecting their offense to compensate for their defensive woes. It hasn't worked out, and I don't think this is the week they turn that around.

NFL Pick: KC -4.

Monday, November 18, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 11: Patriots vs Panthers

New England Patriots vs Carolina Panthers

Market Watch

Last week the advanced line on this game was a 'pick em'. New England didn't play in Week 10, but the Panthers upset the 49ers in San Francisco. That prompted a line shift when lines reopened on Monday, which saw Carolina as -2.5 point favorites. Not much has changed since then, but some sportsbooks are putting up -3's.

What should the true line of this game be?  By the numbers, the Panthers should be favored by more than a field goal. By situation, the current line is where it should be. When you give Bill Belichick and company an extra week to prepare and make them an underdog, you have to account for that.

68 percent of bets are on New England.

Keep an eye on

When we take a closer look at the ratings, it's surprising that Cam Newton and the rest of the Carolina offense are ranked higher than the Patriots in every meaningful category. The Panthers rank near the top in rushing, drive efficiency, third down conversions, and red zone offense.

Defensively, the Patriots don't match up very well. Due to injuries, their run defense has taken a big hit and they continue to trend in the wrong direction. They acquired Sopoaga to help shore up the middle, but how effective will that be against a team loaded with running options?  Newton, Williams, and Tolbert can hurt you in a variety of ways. With Mayo out, Spikes, Ninkovich, and Jones need to have big games.

On the back end, Dennard is out, and Talib and Arrington are listed as 'questionable'. I expect the latter two to play, but how healthy are they? The most important player here is Talib. If he can play without any setbacks, they have a good shot at slowing down the Carolina passing game. Since acquiring him, no other player has made as big a difference in the secondary.

On the other side, the Patriots got a boost in practice when Vereen returned from injury. Their running game was efficient without him, but with him back on the field New England can scheme a more balanced offense. And they will need it because there aren't too many weaknesses in this Panthers unit. From the start of the drive all the way down to the red zone, Carolina's defense make you earn every yard and every point. Perhaps the scariest thing is they continue to rise in the rankings for third down and red zone stops.

A key matchup to look for will be in the trenches. Solder has been great at left tackle and Mankins has been solid at guard, but beyond that it's a guessing game. Will backup right tackle Marcus Cannon be able to handle Charles Johnson?  Along with Hardy, the Panthers throw one of the best pass rushing duos at the quarterback. Once you add Star Lotulelei to the mix on the inside, it can get very dicey for opposing quarterbacks in a hurry.

Gronkowki's return has done wonders for Tom Brady, and you can be sure he'll be targeted early and often - especially if Brady is getting pressured early on. Carolina can counter with Kuechly and Davis over the middle. Combined, they've shut down both Vernon Davis and Tony Gonzalez in recent weeks. Gronk is on another level though, so this will be an intriguing matchup.

When we take a closer look at the peripheral stats, there is not much of an advantage either way. Both teams rank near the top in average net starting field position, offensive penalties, and turnover differential. The Patriots are the top ranked special teams unit in the NFL, so if this game comes down to a play in this area they could hold the edge.

Bottom Line

At the start of the week I was leaning towards the Panthers. There is no doubt that they should be rated higher in the power rankings and they have home field advantage. However, you have to respect what a bye week can do for a team like New England. Coaching makes a difference in this league and a veteran team is getting time to rest up.

You also have to take into consideration that this is a prime-time game. The Panthers went on their win streak after they were dismissed early in the season. It's one thing to play great when the pressure is off, but now they are expected to win on a national stage. I'm not sure they are ready to play that role. Conversely, how often do we see New England as an underdog? It's always enticing to consider the Patriots when they are spotted points.

Since a strong case could be made for either side, it's probably best to sit this one out entirely.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 11

Week 10 is in the book, and dogs took the week at 8-6. Overall, favorites are slightly ahead 72-71-3 for the season. Overs/unders split the week at 7-7, which brings the season total to 77-66-2.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks had their first winning week of the season with a 4-1 record. They are now 15-34-1 on the year.

My Week 10 was up and down at 2-3 ATS and 1-1 on teasers. Given my record in close games this year, I was not surprised the Redskins (top 10 in red zone offense) failed to tie it up against the Vikings (bottom 10 in red zone defense) when they had first and goal at the end of the game. Then I thought my luck was turning around when the Bengals tied it up on the fluke play of the year, but they coughed up the win in OT. Brutal.

I'll be adding Week 11 picks throughout the week, so refresh for updates.


Survivor Pick

I have to give big props to the people that voted for the Giants (poll leading 30.43%) in the survivor pool last week. As you can see from WagerMinds tweet, the majority of players out there (myself included) decided to fade the Jaguars. It helped Jacksonville that Locker was injured, but I'm not sure they would've won that game even if the injury didn't happen.


Week 11: Arizona Cardinals

Week 10: Tennessee Titans
Week 9: Dallas Cowboys
Week 8: New Orleans Saints
Week 7: Green Bay Packers
Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Friday, November 15, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 11: Chiefs vs Broncos

Kansas City Chiefs vs Denver Broncos: KC +8.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

You want an interesting point spread? Look no further than this one for Sunday Night Football.

Last week in the LVH look-ahead line, the Broncos were -7.5 point favorites. When the lines reopened, it was still -7.5.  Some sportsbooks opened it higher at -9 to avoid early teaser plays. Ever since, we haven't seen much movement one way or another. -7.5's are out there, but you can also grab +9 for extra juice (-130).

The big question is where the line will go on the weekend?  I could see it going either way. It wouldn't surprise me if sharp money came in on the Broncos and pushed the line all the way up to +9.5 or +10. It also wouldn't shock me if the Chiefs got more of the action and we see move down to -7.5 or -7 across the board.

But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this line is that 64 percent of the bets thus far are on the Chiefs.

When the Chiefs have the ball

Let's get the easy analysis out of the way first.

When it comes to the KC offense, what you see is what you get. Alex Smith is going to be efficient and take what the defense gives him. He has some decent options in the air with Avery, Bowe, Fasano, and McCluster.

But most of the offense will continue to flow through Jamaal Charles.

There are two potential problems here for each team. First, the Broncos defense matches up evenly in almost every critical category. This means KC might have too much trouble sustaining drives and putting up enough points on the board. Yet, it could also mean that they can do just enough to execute a productive game plan.

I see two positives for KC's offense. One, Alex Smith has looked good in pressure situations this year. By pressure, I mean he's been able to sustain some drives and run out the clock in the fourth quarter. Two, a run-orientated offense can keep Peyton Manning off the field and give him less drives to work with.

Of course, the biggest issue might be how they handle Von Miller. If he lines up opposite Eric Fisher, KC will have no choice but to provide some help on that side of the line.

When the Broncos have the ball

But let's get real. This game is going to be ultimately decided when the Broncos have the ball.

We have a top ranked offense going against a top ranked defense. Which side has the advantage? It's hard to say because both units pass the eye test and the advanced stats don't reveal too many revelations either.

Curiously, the Broncos have faced the 2nd easiest defensive schedule. Their biggest test? It was probably when they went into Indianapolis. By rankings we could say Baltimore, but keep in mind the Ravens had a lot of new pieces that they were integrating and it was a tough spot to open the season in Denver.

The list of defenses the Broncos have faced include the Jaguars, Raiders, Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys, Chargers, and Giants.

Conversely, the Chiefs defense has faced the easiest offensive schedule in the NFL so far. The hardest offense they faced were the Cowboys, and they only allowed 17 points in that matchup. Their list of offensive opponents include the Jaguars, Eagles, Giants, Titans, Raiders, Texans, Browns, and Bills.  Many of those games featured second or third string QBs as well.

Therefore, nothing in the hard stats is going to tell us much. Each team ranks at or near the top in every meaningful category.

What I do know is the Chiefs have the personnel to give Peyton and company a lot of problems. In the secondary Flowers, Smith, and Cooper make up a formidable trio. Flowers has Pro Bowl pedigree and Smith and Cooper are among the top ranked cornerbacks according to ProFootballFocus.  Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson grade well in pass coverage and should be able to limit the damage down by Denver tight ends.

Up front, Dontari Poe has been a beast in the middle of the line. He's played 94 percent of the defensive snaps this year and will disrupt the inside run game. On the outside, it doesn't get more fearsome than Houston and Hali, both of which are among the top ranked 3-4 outside linebackers. Along with Johnson, these three linebackers don't come off the field either, which is a credit to their abilities in both phases of the game.

Peyton Manning has been sacked 8 times in the last three games, compared to 6 times in the first six games. He's fumbled the ball from blindside hits in each of those three games as well. Peyton did return to practice on Thursday and Friday, but high ankle sprains tend to linger and can be easily aggravated.  So if there's a matchup I like, it's in the trenches when the Broncos have the ball.

Bottom Line

Is it possible that Denver get out to a two score lead and never look back? Absolutely. The lack of faith in KC's offense is the biggest reason why this spread is over a touchdown.

However, when you look at how the Chiefs matchup on paper on both sides of the ball, there's no rational reason why they should be this large of an underdog.  By my numbers, the Broncos should be around a -5 point favorite, which gives us value on the road team.  I would play this at anything +7.5 or better.

I don't know if KC can win this game, but I do think they can stick around and make it hard enough on Petyon Manning to keep it within striking distance. Give me the underdog.

NFL Pick: KC +8.5.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 11: Teasers (update)

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

Texans -1 & Cardinals -1

Adding

Texans -1.5 & Seahawks -6

I strongly considered playing both of these teams on the spread because I think there is a legitimate chance of a blowout in both games.  Instead, I'll make life easier and throw them both in a teaser.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 11: Chargers vs Dolphins

San Diego Chargers vs Miami Dolphins: SD -1 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

Why is this line not -3 at the least? The Chargers are the better team, the Dolphins home field advantage isn't worth as much as most NFL teams, and Miami didn't respond very well to all the controversy surrounding the organization. San Diego also got a break when the game was moved to 4PM EST. The whole "west team playing out east" is overrated to begin with, but the time change certainly can't hurt.

A week ago this game was a 'pick em' on the LVH look-ahead line. It reopened at -1 after Week 10 action and it's bounced around in this area ever since. Most sportsbooks have it between -1.5 and -2, but sharper books like Pinny and 5Dimes are keeping it out of the teaser window, which gives us a bit of extra value on the Chargers.

Keep an eye on

Against the Bucs, the Dolphins only managed two rushing yards. That's amazing. They'll be thankful that they get to face the Chargers defense though. They've been god awful trying to stop the run all season. ProFootballFocus has Liuget and Reyes as two of the worst run stopping defenders in the NFL at their positions. Jarret Johnson has been strong in this area, but he hasn't had much support around him and he's questionable to play.

But for Miami to win this game, they'll have to win the battle in the air on both sides of the ball. There might be too much pressure on the young Tannehill in this situation. With all the negative mojo going on, the QB is the guy who should step up and lead the team out of trouble. He showed some glimpes last week, but it wasn't nearly enough.

The Chargers give up a ton of passing yards, but surprisingly they are a pretty solid unit when push comes to shove. Their third down and red zone ranking are above average. They might not pass the eye test when we watch them, but they do have some fight in them during the bigger moments.  The Dolphins offense haven't been bad in these areas, but they also have a problem that should tilt things in San Diego's favor ... blocking.

San Diego don't have the personnel to exploit Miami's front, but they haven't been terrible in the sack department either. The Dolphins blocking is just horrendous, so this is a prime opportunity for San Diego's D to build some confidence.

On the other side, San Diego's offense hasn't been as good since coming out of the bye, but all the pieces are still in place. Keenan Allen vs Brent Grimes should be a good matchup, but look for the Chargers to target other areas of the field.

Miami still can't stop the run and they are vulnerable in the middle of the field. All the usual suspects will be involved in moving the chains - Mathews, Woodheed, and Gates are nice options to exploit the underneath areas.

Bottom Line

As we stand now, the Dolphins defense isn't as good as they looked in September, and the same goes for their offense. The OL is still a monster problem and Tannehill is still struggling to take that next step.

Rivers and company should be able to put up enough points for the win and cover. Their defense is a liability, but Miami is their own worst enemy of late.

NFL Pick: SD -1.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 11: Redskins vs Eagles

Washington Redskins vs Philadelphia Eagles: WSH +4.5 (Bet365)

Market Watch

Based on this point spread, it appears like the Chip Kelly/Nick Foles love-fest is in full swing. Honestly, this is a line I simply don't understand. Sure, the Eagles beat up the Raiders and were in full control of the Packers over the last two weeks, but let's not get carried away.

While the Redskins might not be a great road team (1-4), the Eagles are even worse at home (0-4). When nobody expects anything out of the Eagles (which is typically on the road), they excel (5-1). Now expectations are raised and everybody looks for them to not only beat a division rival, but beat them by more than 4.5 points?

I'd be shocked if this line moved further than -5. In fact, I would like to think that money will come back in on the Redskins at this number.

Last week the line was set at -3, but after another Skins loss and another Eagles win, it reopened at -3.5.

The betting community isn't as confident as the linesmakers though. 53% of bets are on the Skins.

UPDATE: just as I was posting this, the line continued to move towards the Eagles. 5Dimes is even putting up a -5.5, but most are hanging -4.5/-5. I suggest to wait to see how far it goes, but I see value at +4 or higher.

Keep an eye on

I don't know how much time I should spend analyzing the X's and O's of this game. If you've bet on either of these teams this season, there's no question you walked away frustrated at some point. Inconsistency has plagued both of them all year long.

Last week I took the Skins to cover against the Vikings. Everything went as expected until they came out for the second half. Granted, the home team is going to gain a boost from the short week and crowd support, but by no means does it justify a complete double-digit collapse.

Before the Oakland game, the Eagles were a bona fide mess on both sides of the ball. Coming into this game they have seven glaring problem areas on paper. Their offensive line hasn't blocked well at all and they've had trouble finishing off drives in the red zone. They're pass defense ranks near the bottom of the league. Their defensive drive efficiency has been terrible, especially on third down. Finally, opponents have a high touchdown conversion rate when they enter the red zone.

Two good performances by Foles washes all that away?  Of course it helps to have an MVP-worthy Shady McCoy in the backfield, but even he hasn't been as dynamic as he was earlier in the year.

This doesn't mean that the Skins are without flaws either. RG3's struggles are well documented and their defense continues to underachieve. They can't stop the run or keep anybody out of the end zone. They also have one of the worst special teams units in the league, and subsequently have one of the worst net average starting field positions. When your opponent is consistently starting drives further up the field than you are, bad things are sure to follow.

All that said, the two areas that swing things in Washington's favor are in the trenches and in the make or break categories.

Bottom Line

If Philly come out and handily win this game, I'll accept the loss. That said, I still see a lot of red flags for the Eagles and they are dealing with a lot of banged up bodies on both sides of the ball.

Both teams have been extremely inconsistent this year, but I believe 4.5 points is too much for an Eagles side that haven't covered at home in forever. I'll take the dog at this price.

NFL Pick: WSH +4.5.

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 11: Lions vs Steelers

Detroit Lions vs Pittsburgh Steelers: DET -1 (-120) (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

So at what point did the betting world think that the Steelers should be a respected team? Last week I highlighted a tweet that outlined how Pittsburgh have been the third worst team in the NFL since Week 11 of last season. Yet, this is a point spread that can't even make it to Lions -3.

The strange thing is this line was Detroit -2.5 last week in the LVH look-ahead line, before the Steelers beat the Bills. It reopened at -3 after the weekend, but early money quickly brought it back down to -2.5.

Some books are keeping this game out of the teaser window at -1 for a bit of extra juice, but most shops have it at -2.5. There is value on anything less than a field goal, and even at -3 I would probably play this.

79% of the bets are also on Detroit thus far.

Keep an eye on

The troubling downward trend for Big Ben on third down continued last week. He did go 5 for 9 for 82
yards and four first downs, but he also took four sacks on those plays. Ben's elusive and lethal threat on third down is not showing up with any sort of consistency in 2013. The Lions defense also happen to be one of the best units in the NFL in this area, and there are no signs that that will change anytime soon.

The Steelers are going to have their hands full against a disruptive defensive line. The sacks haven't been there (yet), but the pressure has. Last week Young, Fairley, and Suh made life miserable for both Chicago QBs. It's no secret the Steelers have offensive line issues, so this will be a featured matchup on Sunday. It doesn't bode well given the fact that Ben holds the ball too long and isn't shredding would-be tacklers like he used to.

The running game has picked up with Bell in the backfield, but Tulloch is coming off a fantastic game at middle linebacker and should be able to make some stops. Complicating matters, Heath Miller hasn't played very well since returning from injury - especially in run blocking.

Even worse, the area that seems the weakest for the Steelers is on the other side of the ball. The Lions have had one of the better red zone offenses all year and Stafford kept that trend up last week going 3 for 5 inside the 20 for 23 yards and three touchdowns. It's one thing to shut down E.J. Manuel and company, but this Lions offense is a whole other story.

Who cares if Polamalu, Clark, Taylor, and Gay had great numbers against the Bills. How will they shut down Calvin Johnson?  Is there enough speed on the Steelers defense to contain Bush out of the backfield?  Can they generate enough pass rush to disrupt Stafford's timing?

The answer to these questions is a resounding "no". Other than the magic of Dick Lebeau, I don't see how Pittsburgh win with this defense. They might be able to scheme their way to success against lesser offenses, but this week they will need to pick their poison, and they don't match up well in any area.

Bottom Line

Pittsburgh do have home field advantage, and they will win this game if Big Ben improves on third down, they win in the trenches on both sides, and Calvin Johnson sits out.

That's a lot of "ifs". Give me the Lions in one of the better value bets on the board in Week 11.

NFL Pick: DET -1.

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 11: Colts vs Titans

Indianapolis Colts vs Tennessee Titans: IND -2.5 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

How much is Jake Locker worth?  Last week the advanced line at LVH actually had the Tennessee Titans as -2 point favorites for this game. After Week 10, the line reopened at Colts -2.5.

There was a slight move to -3 during the week, but most sportsbooks are keeping this at -2.5.

85% of the bets are on Indianapolis.

Keep an eye on

For what it's worth, I don't think Jake Locker is worth a 4.5 swing in the point spread when Ryan Fitzpatrick is your quarterback. Not because Fitzpatrick is that good, but because Locker wasn't exactly tearing up the league when he went down with his injury. Locker was a below average QB before he went down and wasn't playing up to the level he reached before his previous hip injury. When he left the game against the Jaguars, the score was 13-0 in favor of Jacksonville.

For the Titans to win and cover this game, they'll need to do it on the backs of their defense. Outside of Alterraun Verner, it's largely a no-name group, but they have had some success this year. Their primary strength is getting off the field on third down, where they rank in the top 10. Verner helps lead an above average pass defense, and this will be an area to watch. The Colts are still figuring things out without Reggie Wayne.

That's the good news for the Titans defense. The bad news is they haven't been able to stop the run all year. While Indy isn't known for their ground game, they do rank really high in run efficiency. Part of this is thanks to the legs of Andrew Luck, but it should be noted that quality is much more important than quantity when we talk about rushing the football.

The other area the Titans have had trouble with on defense is keeping opponents out of the red zone. It's good that they limit those opportunities with good play between the 20's, but it's demoralizing to be a bottom tier team in the money area. The Colts have ranked high in these make or break situations all year, but that does change with Wayne out of the mix.

When the Titans have the ball, it's uncertain what they will get with Fitzpatrick as a starter. He was ineffective in his two starts this year, but those came against the Seahawks and Chiefs - both excellent defenses. The Colts defense isn't up to that standard as they rank average against the pass, run, and red zone defense. Like the Titans, they also rank high on third down so the Titans will need to figure out how to put Fitzpatrick in good situations for those critical downs. Last week he was great on third down, but the Jaguars defense makes everybody look good.

It would really help their cause if they had a better run game. The offensive line was supposed to be an area of strength after they invested so heavily in it before the season, but both the line and the running attack have been below average through the first half of the year.

Neither team has a significant advantage on the line of scrimmage, but the Colts do have an edge in the peripheral stats. The Colts offense is one of the least flagged units in the league. This is an area that is often overlooked, but there is nothing more detrimental to a drive than penalties. The Titans also rank near the bottom of the league on special teams. This aspect of the game only accounts for a small part of an outcome, but in a league of inches it could be important when a small point spread is on the line.

Bottom Line

Both of these teams had really ugly losses last week. Luck is still navigating his way without Wayne, while the Titans are stuck with a journeyman backup QB. Of the two, I think the Titans loss was more concerning going forward. The last time I checked, they don't have a Tavon Austin on their roster either.

Normally, the favorite would be inflated in this spot. In this case it is not. If it were, the Colts would be -3 point favorites at the minimum. Despite the risks that road favorites face on a Thursday night game (hello Bengals and Redskins), the Colts are in a good position to win and cover this game. I'll lay anything less than a field goal.

NFL Pick: IND -2.5.

Monday, November 11, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 10: Dolphins vs Buccaneers

Miami Dolphins vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Market Watch

Last week the Miami Dolphins were -3.5 point favorites in this game, but that was before the Jonathan Martin story broke. When it reopened after Week 9 action, it was set at -3. That number didn't last very long as early action took it down to -2.5, where it has stood all week.

The interesting thing here is that this line has crossed the key number of '3' since last week, but people remain split on which side has the value. Betting is split down the middle with 51 percent on the home team.

Keep an eye on

There are many times when a "situation" will alter the lens we have on the X's and O's of a game, but the bullying controversy is a unique one. In the end, it might not matter how these teams matchup because no one is quite sure how the Miami Dolphins are going to respond. Some think that the team will come together and it will result in an inspired effort. Others contend that this was a major distraction and is sure to have a negative effect on their play on the field.

When we do look at the numbers, the Miami Dolphins are the slightly better team, but not by as much as one would think.

Defensively, the Bucs matchup well across the board. The most productive area of Miami's offense has been their running game, led by Lamar Miller. This is also the main strength for Tampa Bay's defense.  Their pass defense hasn't been anywhere near what they hoped it would be after acquiring Darrelle Revis, but the same could be said for the Bucs passing game with the underwhelming Mike Wallace and up and down Ryan Tannehill.

Where the Bucs will want to attack is up front on the offensive line. Drama aside, this is a unit that's given up 35 sacks so for this year. The problem is there hasn't been much pressure for Tampa outside of Gerald McCoy.

On the other side, it might be somewhat surprising, but Mike Glennon is a higher rated quarterback than Tannehill since taking over as the full time starter. He had a real strong game last week in Seattle until the second half rolled around. After the first drive of the second half, he didn't complete a single first down with his arm.

The Dolphins defense has been average in most of the critical categories, but they've been poor against the run. Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler have been a big disappointment in this regard. No one expected Tampa Bay to be good on the ground after losing Doug Martin for the year, but Mike James has come out of nowhere to give them a burst. As long as the game is close, this will be a featured matchup.

Bottom Line

On paper, there's no reason why the Buccaneers should be 0-8 this season. There is more than enough talent on both sides of the ball to win a game in this league. Could this be the game where they put it together?

Personally, I have no idea how the Dolphins will react to all the controversy. This is a game they should win, but I can understand why people grabbed Tampa at +3 when it was available. They are a winless team on national TV and playing at home against a team in the news for all the wrong reasons.

I lean towards the Bucs in this spot, but it's never a good idea to take +2.5 when +3 was previously available. I would sit this one out.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013: Week 10

Week 9 is in the books and with the Bears cover, dogs took the week at 7-6. Overall, favorites are ahead 66-63-3 for the season. Overs continue to reign supreme and went 7-5-1 for another winning week, which brings the season total to 70-59-2.

The Las Vegas Supercontest top five consensus picks lost again with a 1-4 ATS record. They are now 11-33-1 (25%) on the year. Football Outsiders went 5-8 with their picks, and now stand at 55-76-2 (41.5%) on the season.

We just passed the midway point of the NFL season and it's been a strange first half of the season to say the least.  To illustrate I came across this tweet by Football Outsider's Scott Kacsmar,
The timing of this couldn't have been more appropriate as I lost two more close games in Week 9, both in overtime.

I went back through all my picks for the regular season and found that in 17 of them, either team could have legitimately covered the spread in the final few minutes of the game. In those picks, my record is 4-13.  That is a really low sample size so variance is inherently high, but to say that I've been on the wrong side of the coin-flip outcomes is an understatement.

Also, I've only been on the wrong side of line movement 6 times in 46 picks. I beat the closing line in 28 of them. So it hasn't been an issue of finding value and beating the market either. But the only thing keeping this a profitable season at this point is the 20-4 record on teasers.

We'll see if the bounces return my way in second half of the season, but so far the sportsbooks are on pace for a phenomenal season.

I'll be adding Week 10 picks throughout the week, so refresh for updates.


Survivor Pick

If you're still alive in a survivor pool, it means you avoided the New Orleans Saints disaster in Week 9. They were among the top 3 picks along with Seattle and Dallas. The latter two barely escaped too, but somehow found a way to pull it out. Options are getting slim..

Week 10: Tennessee Titans

Week 9: Dallas Cowboys
Week 8: New Orleans Saints
Week 7: Green Bay Packers
Week 6: San Francisco 49ers
Week 5: Atlanta Falcons
Week 4: Denver Broncos
Week 3: Seattle Seahawks
Week 2: Houston Texans
Week 1: Indianapolis Colts

Saturday, November 9, 2013

NFL Preview 2013 Week 10: Cowboys vs Saints

Dallas Cowboys vs New Orleans Saints

Market Watch

For the Sunday Night Football matchup, there aren't a lot of mysteries to be found. Last week the LVH had the Saints as -7 point favorites in the look-ahead line. It reopened at at -7 on Monday and we've only seen a small move down to -6.5 during the week.

65 percent of bets are on New Orleans, and it remains to be seen whether there will be any last minute line movement.

Keep an eye on

With Darren Sproles, Jimmy Graham, and Marques Colston all expected to be in the lineup on Sunday, Drew Brees will have his full arsenal of weapons available. This is a problem for the Dallas Cowboys defense which ranks as an average unit in most key categories.

A closer look at the Cowboys defense reveals a lot of good mixed in with some bad. Although they rank near the middle of the pack against the run and the pass, they've been near the bottom of the NFL in drive efficiency and red zone defense.  This is amplified when you consider the Morris Claiborne injury. The trickle down effect has moved Orlando Scandrick to the outside and B.W. Webb in the slot. Scandrick has been great this year, but opposing quarterbacks are targeting Webb and you can be sure Brees will do the same.

Up front, Everette Brown looks like a nice steal from the rival Philadelphia Eagles, and they'll also have DeMarcus Ware in the starting lineup. If they have any hope of keeping this Saints offense in check, they'll need to win the line of scrimmage.

But the Saints always play better at home and that should be on full display under the prime-time lights.

The inconsistencies continue for Dallas on the offensive side of the ball. Tony Romo overcome his last minute meltdown reputation last week, but the Vikings only rushed three on the final drive which made life easy on the controversial QB.  Dez Bryant has been a beast for most of the year, but he continues to nullify his potential with bonehead mistakes. Last week he had two big drops and two penalties.

If the Cowboys want to keep up with Brees, their best bet would be to run the ball. This is the primary weakness of the Saints defense, but it's not something that Dallas are very committed to.

The peripheral stats don't reveal any edge for either team. Both teams rank high in average net starting field position and turnover differential. Home field advantage should be amplified for New Orleans though. They've yet to lose at home, while the Cowboys are 1-3 on the road.

Bottom Line

Against the Jets, the Saints defense regressed. They had a number of blown assignments and missed tackles. According to ProFootballFocus, they averaged eight missed tackles per game in 2012, but only 4.1 per game this year (before last week). I expect them to clean up their act with the whole nation watching, which means New Orleans should be in a great position to win this game.

I think the current point spread is exactly where it should be, which means it's a good idea to take a pass on this one, but it does make the Saints a great teaser option for Week 10.