Week 8 2016 NFL Predictions: Bet the Money Line or the Spread?

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As we’re getting into the heart of the 2016 National Football League season, we’ve kind of hit a lull. There’s been enough games played that we’ve gotten a feel for which teams are doing well, but we’re still too far away from the playoffs to get excited about anyone or about any games. With this in mind, let’s spend some time taking about wagering on the NFL and something that any experienced sports bettor will get asked about frequently…how do you bet the games?

There are many ways to bet an NFL game. You can strictly look at it as one entity, betting the entire game and its outcome. You can also bet the first and/or second halves individually, usually getting some derivative of what the line is split evenly. But the best way I’ve found to not only hedge some bets but also get a little more than your investment paid back is in whether to bet the money line or bet against the spread.

Betting against the spread allows you to show your knowledge of the teams and the game. For example, let’s say that the New England Patriots are a six-point favorite over the Buffalo Bills (the line this week is Pats -5.5, but I digress). If you’ve studied the teams, trends and situations that demonstrate that the game will be within that spread, then you could bet the Bills and, if they lose 23-20, then you win their bet because they were getting a six-point cushion to work with. By losing by only three points, the Bills are a winner for you!

When you bet the money line, you’re looking for the best return on your bet. You’ve seen those bets with a “plus” or a “minus” in front of them? This is the money line, where you can make some nice coin if you’re able to catch the right side of the line. If you see, for example, “+130” with a team, that means you would have to bet $100 to win $130 (or, if you make a little wager online, $1 to win $1.30). If you see “-170,” that means you’d have to bet $170 to win $100. If you can catch the underdog often enough, it can be profitable.

Unfortunately, we’re not going with too many dogs this weekend (only one). We’ve also got to get caught up on the season to date. It’s not as good as it should be at the halfway mark, but we’re working on it!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

New York Jets (-3) vs. CLEVELAND BROWNS

If there was ever a time to catch the Cleveland Browns, it is right now. The only team in the NFL that has yet to win a game, they aren’t going to be winning one this week. If the Jets didn’t have RB Matt Forte or WR Brandon Marshall and the on again/off again starter QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (now “on” again and for the remainder of the season with QB Geno Smith done for the year), they STILL would have their defense to thwart the hapless Browns. Look for this game to be won by the Jets by at least a touchdown, if not more.

Oakland Raiders (Pick ‘em) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS; OVER 49

This promises to be a shootout as both teams are lacking defense. The Raiders are going to get the nod in this game, however, because of the availability of more weapons for QB Derek Carr to utilize in WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray. On the opposite side of the ball, QB Jameis Winston is trying to make do with a fill in with RB Jacquizz Rodgers (an adequate replacement for injured Doug Martin) and only having WR Mike Evans (WR Vincent Jackson is done for the year). Looking at those lineups, you’ve got to give the edge to the Silver and Black. The defenses aren’t anything to write home about, especially the 32nd ranked Raider D so, if this goes 41-38, don’t be surprised.

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Philadelphia Eagles (+4) vs. DALLAS COWBOYS

This is a tricky game to call, the battle of the rookie quarterbacks. It’s a battle of an outstanding defense (the fifth ranked Eagles) against an excellent offense (the third ranked Cowboys). It is also a battle for first place in the NFC East, which usually brings out the best in both teams.

While QB Dak Prescott has been a diamond in the rough for the ‘Boys, QB Carson Wentz is leading the Emerald Birds very well in his inaugural season. I can see this coming down to a defensive fight, which favors the Eagles in the long haul. They may not win the game outright, but I could see a 24-23 outcome with the Eagles covering the spread.

Minnesota Vikings (-4.5) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

How anyone can pick the Bears to do anything positive of late is unexplainable. With QB Jay Cutler or without him (he’s been out the last few games), the offense has been woefully incompetent and, rumor has it, the Bears will release Cutler at the end of the season (as far as this game, it is expected Cutler will start). The former “Monsters of the Midway,” the defense of the Bears, is also a shell of itself.

The Vikings were the last undefeated team left in the NFL until last week, when the Eagles handed them their first loss on the road. Don’t expect a second one in this game. In fact, it could be a boring affair on Monday night as the Vikings look to bury their division rival Bears.

Week 4:  2-3
Week 7:  4-1
2016 Season Overall:  14-13-1

Yes, you’ll see that there are a couple of weeks off in the middle. After Week 4 – my third consecutive losing weekend of the NFL season – I decided to take a couple of weeks off to recharge the batteries. It is an important lesson that, if you are on a bad streak, you must step away and perhaps review what approach you’re taking. You might not find any missteps along the way, but the review is always helpful.

Either way, the last two weeks work out to 6-4. Not a great comeback but, hopefully, we’ve turned a corner for the season.

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Week 3 2016 NFL Predictions: So Which Is It? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

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We are only two weeks into the 2016 National Football League schedule and there’s already a few things that we can set in stone. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick could probably roll out Marcia Brady at quarterback and the team would win. We’ve seen big name pros fall to season-ending injuries (or essentially season-ending injuries, in the case of Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson), but what has been intriguing is in how a team can look so good one week and, literally seven days later, look like utter dog crap. This is what I like to call the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Effect.

In the literary classic written by Robert Louis Stevenson, a mild mannered doctor creates a drug that, upon ingestion, allows him to indulge in his particular vices without losing his station in life. While in that transformed state, however, he is a sociopath, interested in only his own pleasures and completely uncaring as to the desires or needs of others. Eventually, the transformations begin to occur without the assistance of the drug and he needs to create an antidote to prevent it from happening. It is the place where we get the term “Jekyll and Hyde,” basically a demonstration of the two extremes that can occur in one person.

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So far this season, we’ve seen these “Jekyll and Hyde” transformations go off on several occasions. Perhaps the biggest of these conversions is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their first game of the season, Bucs QB Jameis Winston (who has probably taken the award for “Jekyll and Hyde” player – we’ll get to this in a minute) blasted the Atlanta Falcons defense for four touchdown passes and a 31-24 victory over their division rival. Seven days later in taking on an admittedly energized Arizona Cardinals team (one that had been beaten by the Tom Brady-less Patriots in their season opener), Winston basically couldn’t identify his own team’s uniforms, tossing four interceptions and losing a fumble on the way to a 40-7 thrashing by the Redbirds.

The same holds true for some other teams in the NFL this season, but perhaps not to the same lengths. The Green Bay Packers had their way against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, but couldn’t muster any offense in another road game against the Vikings last week. The Los Angeles Rams have looked very Hyde-ish in two games, but they are 1-1 after holding the Seattle Seahawks (another Jekyll/Hyde candidate) to only three points last week.

Why does the “Jekyll and Hyde” Effect matter? Because it makes it very difficult to decide on whether to wager on a team or not. Which team are you going to get when you’re looking at the lines? Are you going to get the team that does the right things and wins with ease, or are you going to get the team that basically craps itself on the field and, by the midpoint of the third quarter, everyone is looking at padding their stats instead of winning the game? It usually takes about four weeks to be able to get a true feel for some of the teams but, with the “Jekyll and Hyde” teams, you’re never quite sure even after this point.

We’re going to try to avoid those “Jekyll and Hyde” teams this week, especially after the debacle that was Week 2 (more on that later). Remember, these are the insider’s best…what? Oh, OK…these picks are for entertainment purposes only!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-7); OVER 41.5

Normally I wouldn’t even look at a touchdown favorite in the NFL, let alone pick them to win the game. This is a rare circumstance, however. The Vikings have basically had the season pulled out from under them, first with the season-ending injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater and then the Week 2 “virtually all of the season” ending knee injury to Peterson. While Sam Bradford came in for Week 2 and did an adequate job, that was with the threat of a Peterson-led running game; going with a Matt Asiata/Jerick McKinnon poo-poo platter, Bradford won’t be having the same success, especially against the vaunted Panther defense.

Carolina arguably should be 2-0 at this point, with a Graham Gano missed field goal being the difference in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos and the thrashing of the hapless San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2. A second home game in a row for QB Cam Newton and Company is almost cruel for the Vikings to have to face. Look for a lot of scoring out of the Panthers, not so much with the Vikes.

Los Angeles Rams vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-5)

Remember how I said I was trying to avoid “Jekyll and Hyde?” I couldn’t help myself.

For the first time this season, the Buccaneers return to their home at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (three other teams – the Miami Dolphins, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Packers – also are making their home debuts this weekend) and that is a remedy for many ills. It should help out Winston the most, who is coming off a horrendous start against the Cardinals but has reportedly put in a solid week of work towards the home opener. Losing RB Doug Martin might be a slight setback, but look for Winston to utilize his corps of wide receivers even more.

The Rams are a perplexing team in their own right. Beating the Seahawks last week would have been impressive in the past, but only scoring nine points on three field goals doesn’t exactly tell me you have an offensive juggernaut. Then there’s that whole “West Coast team going east” bugaboo…give up the points and take the Bucs and we’ll see if we get Dr. Jekyll this time around.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+3)

I’ve seen Eagles QB Carson Wentz play two games now and am astounded at the poise presented by the rookie. Instead of just managing the game, the first-year man is making moves that even veterans don’t seem to make: audibles at the line of scrimmage, protection changes, route adjustments, Wentz is doing it all and making it look pretty easy. They’ve had it pretty easy in their first two games (against the Cleveland Browns at home and the Chicago Bears on the road last Monday night), so this will be a big test for the rook.

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Don’t take this pick as thinking that QB Ben Roethlisberger are going to lose this game. He’s still got WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams, two powerful offensive components that will be very active in this game. I just think that the Eagles will keep this closer than the three-point spread and, if they are still hanging around at the end of the game, they might be able to steal one against the men from Steel City.

New York Jets (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Jets have been another intriguing team at the start of the season. RB Matt Forte has solidified a running assault for the former Titans of New York and WR Brandon Marshall has been a reliable target for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (still finding his groove after extended contract negotiations in the offseason). The Jets racked up 37 points against the Buffalo Bills and looked to have things moving in the right direction.

Kansas City has once again been beset with injuries. RB Jamaal Charles has yet to play this season (no status for Sunday’s tilt yet) and one of QB Alex Smith’s big protectors, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, is out for the game. Like the Steelers/Eagles game, I’m not going to say that the Chiefs aren’t going to win this game, but I can definitely see the Jets keeping it closer than three points.

Last Week:  1-4 2016 Season Overall:  7-5-1

Week 2 was a complete embarrassment. Other than seeing the Eagles beating the spread against the Bears (they won outright), there wasn’t any other pick that came home. Let’s just hope that was a one-week anomaly and that the chakras have cleaned themselves!

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Week 2 2016 NFL Predictions: Don’t Fall for the Overreactions

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The first week of the National Football League season is in the books and what do we know? That’s the question that all the sports channels, whether they are on television, internet or radio, are trying to tell you. The problematic thing is that NO ONE knows anything about the NFL season at this point; to say that you KNOW anything after one week of playing either means you’ve got great insight into one team and/or you are out there breaking the legs of the players so that their season is over!

Consider this tidbit of information. Last week, the Jimmy Garoppolo-led New England Patriots went into the desert in Arizona and everyone thought they were going to be thrashed, especially after it was learned that TE Rob Gronkowski was also going to miss the game. The line was +6 and the Pats went out and blew it away, winning outright over the Cardinals.

Fast forward to this week. One of the Patriots’ arch rivals, the Miami Dolphins, are coming to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro on Sunday. The Dolphins have just come off a tough road trip to Seattle, where they put their own hurt on the Legion of Boom before falling at the end 12-10. Do you think that the ‘Fins get any love for that effort? No, they are currently a -6.5 dog to the Pats.

This is what I mean when I say you shouldn’t fall for the overreactions. It is typical that it will happen in the early part of the season (personally have always believed that they shouldn’t do a college football ranking until at least the third week of the season – then you actually know who is a contender or a pretender…are you listening Florida State?) because…well, that’s what the talking heads are paid to do…talk. Look at the Bills on Thursday night, who started off as a -3 favorite against the Jets. By the time the game started, the line had swung over to the Jets being the favorite and giving a point.

Injuries can also explain some of the swings, but it shouldn’t be that much especially if there is a quality backup. Cleveland Browns QB Robert Griffin III went down in Week 1 with a shoulder injury that has put him on the IR. Enter Josh McCown, who has been a serviceable backup/starter with NINE NFL franchises, tossed 73 TDs in his career and generally will have earned his NFL pension by the time he hangs it up. To put it bluntly, McCown isn’t a dewy-eyed rookie and there’s no reason that their opponent this week, the Baltimore Ravens, should have moved from a -4 favorite to a -6 favorite, especially with the game being played in Cleveland.

The best thing to remember is don’t fall for the overreactions. Go through your usual research and impartially analyze the information at hand. That will keep you from making ill-advised bets on the whims of the overreactions.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals did not look like the same team that made the Final Four in the NFL last year. Perhaps it is another year of age on QB Carson Palmer and WR Larry Fitzgerald, perhaps it was a defense that wasn’t ready for the Patriots. They certainly are going to have to improve on all aspects of the game (their second straight at home) if they are going to have an impact on the Bucs.

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Tampa Bay is much like the Cardinals except younger. QB Jameis Winston, RB Doug Martin and WR Mike Evans are coming together nicely and the defense, long the stalwart of the team, now doesn’t feel like it has to win every game. If the Buccaneers O-line can do the same job it did in Week 1, it could be another long afternoon for the Redbirds.

Atlanta Falcons vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (-4.5)

Again, we have a team that didn’t look very good playing at home last week (ironically against the Buccaneers) that is going to the West Coast. The Falcons are solid with QB Matt Ryan and RB Devonta Freeman, it is the defense that needs the work. Giving up four touchdown passes to Winston – who isn’t known as the second coming of Dan Fouts – is something that should have embarrassed the Dirty Birds.

It’s not going to get any easier for the Falcon defensive backs as they get another young stud of a quarterback in Derek Carr. With an arsenal that includes WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray, Carr can basically pick apart nearly any defense. The Raider D is once again a formidable force, which should give the not-very-mobile Ryan some issues. The bookies aren’t giving any respect to the Silver and Black and they may regret it.

Green Bay Packers (-2) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS; OVER 43.5

The Packers impress me this year that they will do just enough to get the job done and little more. Against the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, they didn’t cover the spread but did pull out a four-point win. This is a very similar game in that the Pack doesn’t have to wow anyone, they just have to go in and pull out the victory. With veteran QB Aaron Rodgers, that shouldn’t be a problem with the array of talent behind him.

The Vikings…ah, what could have been. Although they went south last week and beat the Tennessee Titans, the team didn’t look like the powerhouse it would have been with QB Teddy Bridgewater (out for the season – knee injury) under center. The Vikings might be a surprise and get into the playoffs with a wild card, but they’re not going to beat the Pack in this game.

Philadelphia Eagles (+3) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

The Eagles were a bit of a surprise in Week 1 with their rookie QB Carson Wentz, but it was a win over the Browns (predicted to win four games this year). The test will come when they go on the road, many said…but they didn’t expect the Bears to be this dismal, never seriously in the game against the Houston Texans on the road last week. These aren’t the old “Monsters of the Midway” and the offense is QB Jay Cutler and whomever they can find to put around him. The Eagles should come out of this game with a 2-0 record, but I’ll settle for covering the three-point spread.

Last Week:  3-1-1
2016 Season Overall:  6-1-1

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The Titans failing to cover the spread against the Vikings (Tennessee +2.5, lost 25-16) and the push by the New York Giants over the Dallas Cowboys (Giants -1, won 20-19) were the only blemishes on what was otherwise a pretty good week (and good for you if you found the Giants in a “pick ‘em” as some odds makers had it). If you can go 3 for 5 (with one push) over the course of a season, you’re going to do pretty well. Let’s see if this week holds up to the scrutiny.

Week 1 2016 NFL Predictions: Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…

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Although it has gotten to the point where it really doesn’t ever go out of season, the National Football League will kick off its 2016 season on Thursday night. That Thursday night game, which has become somewhat of a tradition in the last decade, is a special one as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos taking on the team they beat in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, in the Mile High City. With hope, it can wash away what has been another ugly offseason for the preeminent sporting organization in the intergalactic realm (we have to go there since the WWE now has a Universal Champion).

As soon as the confetti stopped falling from the sky at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the news for the NFL has been pretty bad. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the league, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, basically started the poo-poo platter of embarrassment in his sullen demeanor following the loss (you want to feel bad about something, Cam? Feel bad about the way you shafted your teammates and didn’t go all-out on that fumble when the game was on the line). He then doubled down on those actions by saying in his season-ending interview with the Charlotte media “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

That was at least as a result of the actions on the field. It became apparent that the NFL still doesn’t have a grasp on the domestic violence situation. Former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman Greg Hardy – who was paid quite handsomely last year after having his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, then laying the proverbial turd in a punchbowl with his play – lamented to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (who has become a joke as a reporter) that he was being punished and that he never hit a woman (this despite photos to the contrary). It seems fitting that, as of this moment, he is still looking for a team.

One player who isn’t, however, is New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. After receiving a slap on the wrist one-game suspension from the NFL from a domestic violence issue with his (now) ex-wife in 2015 that was later dropped, Brown was not only embraced by the Giants but re-signed to a new contract by the Giants management. Add in the substance abuse suspensions (including Johnny Manziel, now out of the NFL and looking to make a comeback; the Cleveland BrownsJosh Gordon and the Pittsburgh SteelersMartavis Bryant) and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (we’re looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be glad the season is starting.

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But Goodell at least got that criminal Tom Brady! After initially suspending Brady last year – and having that suspension overturned by the courts – the NFL and Goodell went up the appeals ladder and found a court that reinstated the four-game suspension against the New England Patriots quarterback for his part in the “Deflategate” scandal. Brady, after pausing to think about a push to the U. S. Supreme Court for a decision, decided to drop his case and take the four-game suspension, ensuring that the Pats won’t have him for the start of the year (after that, however, look out…Brady will play with a vengeance).

Thank God the season’s starting…

Like last year, I’m going to make some picks. I didn’t do badly over the course of the 2015-16 NFL season, going 56-39-5 overall. Super Bowl 50 helped to drag that down a bit as I only went 1-2 (picked the Broncos and took the points, only to see them win outright), but missed on the “straight up” pick of the Panthers and missed terribly on the “over/under” of 44 (the final score was Broncos 24, Panthers 10). Despite the problems with the actual results from the game, I nailed six prop bets on the Super Bowl, pretty good by anyone’s standards.

As we get ready to head into the new season, remember, these are for entertainment only. If you’re locale allows for, you know, sports betting, then you can do what you want. By no means should you bet on sports outside of those areas! (OK, someone has to come up with a sarcasm font!) Without further ado, here we go into the season (and we already have some results for this season, thanks to college football).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (+2.5)

The Vikings were a trendy pick this year to actually make some noise in the NFC, but that was before QB Teddy Bridgewater’s knee exploded like the Space X rocket last week. The Vikings front office has shored up the quarterback position by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t exactly had repetitions under his belt in the Vikings offense, let alone getting used to meeting his new teammates. One teammate he should get acquainted with really quick is RB Adrian Peterson, who might be in his last year of productivity and would like to see something to hang his career on.

The Titans could be one of the surprises in the AFC this year. After an up-and-down rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota is beginning to grasp the concepts of playing quarterback in the NFL and the team has actually put some firepower around him. One of the big pickups in the off-season was the Titans getting RB DeMarco Murray, back after a year wandering in the wilderness of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. A reenergized Murray – and an even more overlooked pickup in WR Andre Johnson – and the current Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could present problems for many teams.

A road team…without their starting quarterback…and the oddsmakers are favoring them? Seems as though the sharps may need a preseason of their own to get things right.

Green Bay Packers vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+5.5)

It would be easy to pick the Pack on this one – QB Aaron Rodgers has probably got his offense at its healthiest to start a season in years – but they’re stepping up in this game against a sneaky Jags team that has quietly built up a decent offensive effort. By catching up to what has been an underrated defense, the Jags should be much more competitive this year. I don’t expect the Jaguars to win this game, but I do expect them to keep it within the spread.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys; UNDER 46.5
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+6) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a great example of how much the line can swing when just one player is in the mix. Prior to Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo being injured, the Pokes were a 3.5 favorite over the Gotham Giants in their home opener. Now, with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm and Mark Sanchez (now with his fourth team in four years) backing him up, the line swung 4.5 points to the Giants. Regardless of who is playing for either team, they aren’t going to ring up points on the scoreboard, so take the UNDER.

In the second game, the game was a “Pick ‘Em” even after the suspension of Brady was announced. Then came down the four-game suspension of Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (the quarterback of the defense, essentially), which probably shouldn’t swing the line by a touchdown but did. Any team that has Bill “Dark Hoodie” Belichick as head coach, however, isn’t going to go down by more than a touchdown, thus I’m taking the Pats.

Last week:  3-0
2016 season overall:  3-0

Amid the furor of the start of college football last week, made three picks that came home strong for me. Took Western Kentucky (-16.5) against Rice and won, then made a dual pick of Tulane (+16) and that the Tulane/Wake Forest game would be under the 43 O/U (WAY under as it turned out…the two teams only scored 10 points). While we will concentrate on the NFL the rest of the season, decided to lop these three picks in to get off to a good start!

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The Degradation of Sportsmanship in Athletics

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I sat back and watched Super Bowl 50 on Sunday night – as did approximately 112 million other people – and, to be painfully honest, the game was a bit of a disappointment. Yes, I did pick the Panthers to win (more on that at the end of this essay), but it was more than that factor that caused the boredom. The game itself was more of a defensive struggle than most thought it would be. There were only two offensive touchdowns on the night (one by each team and both rushing TDs, surprisingly) and the defenses for both teams were the dominant forces. It was well deserved that the MVP for Super Bowl 50 went to Broncos LB Von Miller, who was a terror in sacking Panthers QB Cam Newton two and a half times and forcing two fumbles.

It was after the game that my appreciation for sportsmanship in athletics – at least here in the 21st century – took a further hit. In his post-game press conference, the Most Valuable Player for the National Football League, Newton, stepped to the podium to take questions regarding the game. Wait…perhaps it is better to say what he actually did. In every other game of the postseason prior to the Super Bowl, Newton had taken the time to dress splendidly following his wins, put a big smile on his face and entertain the reporters who peppered him with questions, of which he answered each with long answers that gave them and football fans additional insight into the game.

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Fast forward to Sunday night and it was like looking at another person – at least the NFL better hope so. Newton, clad in a black hoodie pulled up closely around his head instead of the splendid suits that he had worn, wasn’t standing proudly at the podium when he came to address the media following the Super Bowl loss. Slumped in a chair, gone was the glowing smile that Newton wore throughout the postseason, as were the lengthy answers for the reporters’ questions. Newton basically acted as a petulant child who, when not given what he thought he deserved, decided to pout his way through a requirement that he really didn’t want to do…and, in fact, he didn’t; Newton didn’t finish the post-game press conference, he got up and walked away while reporters continued to ask questions.

This is just the latest demonstration of the degradation of sportsmanship in athletics in the 21st century, and it also seems to be dipping down further into the amateur and even recreational ranks. Earlier this month, tennis champion Serena Williams – a living legend in a sport if there ever is one – acted as if there were about 1000 other places she would have rather been after losing the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber, where a victory for Williams would have tied her with Steffi Graf for second on the all-time list (and only two Grand Slam titles behind Margaret Court). She answered questions from journalists rather abruptly, only lengthening out her answers when it served her purposes, such as when she wanted to complain. “Everyone expects me to win every single match…as much as I would like to be a robot, I’m not,” Williams complained in the post-match news conference.

She was even worse at last year’s U. S. Open where, after being defeated by upstart Roberta Vinci and prevented from becoming the first woman to win the Grand Slam – winning all of tennis’ major titles in one season – since Graf in 1988, Williams basically slumped at the table during the post-match interview, scowling the entire time and actually said, “I don’t want to talk about how disappointing it is for me. If you have any other questions…” before storming out of the press conference early (perhaps we should call what Newton did “pulling a Serena”).

The general degradation of sportsmanship doesn’t stop there, however. Before the National Hockey League went on its All-Star break, defenseman Dennis Wideman of the Calgary Flames was knocked into the boards by a hit from a member of the Nashville Predators on January 27. As he arose and headed to the bench, he cross-checked (held his stick between his hands across his chest) linesman Don Henderson from behind in protest for a penalty not being called. Wideman attempted to say that he was “disoriented” and “never saw” the official until the last minute, but the video of him pulling back his hands and putting a little extra pop on the hit was hard to ignore. The NHL suspended Wideman for 20 games, which is currently under appeal.

This lack of sportsmanship isn’t just in the professional arena either. In September 2015 at the start of high school football season, two Texas high schoolers targeted an official – one knocking him to the ground while the other speared him in the kidneys with his helmet – for his supposed poor officiating and alleged racial remarks during the game. Investigation revealed that one of the coaches for the team ORDERED the players to go after the official; that coach resigned before any action could be taken and the players were suspended for the remainder of the season.

According to the Associated Press’ Paul Newberry, it can get worse. In 2013, a soccer referee in Utah was killed when a 17-year-old player didn’t like one of his calls and hit him with a punch; that player was sentenced to juvenile detention. Another player in an adult soccer game in Michigan killed a 44-year-old referee after receiving a red card in another altercation. That player now is serving 15 years in prison for manslaughter.

Sportsmanship is something that is critical to the conduct of sporting events and it extends to the requirements off the field, no matter how much you don’t like them or that the questions become repetitive. For interviews and dealing with fans, athletes have to be able to treat the press and their fans responsibly and with respect. To sit and act as if it is a burden to answer questions about your chosen profession – the job YOU chose to do, the one that has given you millions of dollars – or to be a complete bitch or bastard about having to be there, perhaps you should try to live among the “common people” for a bit and see how it is to live there.

An outstanding example of how to handle people and the media is tennis player Novak Djokovic. The video of him at the French Open during a rain delay with a ball boy has become famous and there are several other occurrences where “The Joker” has endeared himself to fans and the media alike. Other athletes such as Derek Jeter, Stephen Curry and others also treat the fans like gold, the media well and, win or lose, always try to respect the game.

And perhaps that is the problem with some of the athletes nowadays. They don’t respect the game that they play, they just came for the millions of dollars that it graces them with and screw any responsibility for having to actually do something you might not want to do. For some, they’re set in their ways and aren’t going to change. For Newton, he’s only 26…there’s perhaps time for him to have a change of attitude and become more of a sportsman than he showed on Sunday night.

WRAPPING UP THE NFL SEASON

Hey, at least I got the 24 points for the Broncos right! (To remind you, the prediction was Panthers 28, Broncos 24.)

There were three picks that I made for the actual game on Sunday night. The Broncos came through for me on the spread by winning outright, but the two teams didn’t even come close to going over the 44 O/U line. Add in that “straight up” pick of the Panthers and I went 1-2 to finish the season 56-39-5.

When it comes to the prop bets, I was pretty sharp there! I said to pass on the bet of whether there would be a missed extra point (there was a missed field goal but not an extra point); that the first touchdown would be something other than a passing TD (it was), the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry (-4.5) would score more points on Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder than the Panthers would against the Broncos (he did, 26 points versus the Panthers’ 10);  that Lady Gaga would go UNDER 2:20 for the National Anthem (this was a cause of some argument…some sites say it is when she ends the note on “brave” and, the first time, it was under, when she did it the SECOND time, it did go over…as always, the House makes the rules); the Golden Gate Bridge WAS shown, Mike Carey missed a replay call and the Broncos dumped ORANGE Gatorade on head coach Gary Kubiak.

That means I got six prop bets versus one on the Super Bowl itself…perhaps next year I’ll just do prop bets!

Super Bowl 50, Part Two: So Who Wins the Big Game? Depends On What the Bet Is…

SuperBowl50

After two weeks of hype, waiting, practice and some drama – people tried to turn Panthers QB Cam Newton’s “black quarterback” comments into a controversy, without much success, and the Broncos practice team player S Ryan Murphy was sent back to Denver (and will probably be cut from the team at first opportunity) after being questioned in a prostitution sting – we’ve actually come to the point where the teams will actually play the game. The Carolina Panthers, the champions of the NFC, will square off against the Denver Broncos, the victors of the AFC, to determine who will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 50th time in the National Football League’s history. The two teams that have made it this far have definitely shown they are worthy contenders for the crown.

For the Carolina Panthers, if you would have told them in Training Camp they would be playing in the Super Bowl, they would have thanked you. Coming off a 7-8-1 season – although the champions of the NFC South – the Panthers weren’t exactly scaring anyone. The team had let RB DeAngelo Williams go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, preferring to stick with Jonathan Stewart as the full-time running back, and during Training Camp lost their electrifying WR Kelvin Benjamin to a devastating knee injury. While Newton was a known commodity, it was expected that the Panthers would have some difficulties doing much of anything with a revamped offensive line, a no-name wide receiving corps and a suspect defensive unit.

For the Denver Broncos, it almost seemed as if this was their final shot. After being crushed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos came back and won the AFC West again with a 12-4 record. After taking their first round bye, however, they were upset in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year by QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This led to the firing of John Fox, the hiring of new head coach Gary Kubiak and the “now or never” approach as QB Peyton Manning entered his third year at the helm of the Broncos and they came into this season with questions lingering about his health.

As they always say, that’s why they play the game. Carolina rocketed off on a 14-game winning streak, only losing to the Atlanta Falcons on the road late in the season, before righting the ship and beating their last three opponents (last regular season game against lowly Tampa Bay and two postseason games against Seattle and Arizona) by a combined 118-49 score. Denver, despite losing Manning for more than a quarter of the year, rode the #1 defense in the NFL to a punishing victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

In taking a look at Super Bowl 50, we’re going to break down the offense, the defense, the special teams and the coaching. Then we’ll reveal our all-important pick…but be assured, there’s many ways to win on Super Bowl Sunday.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks – When it comes to the men running the teams, it is difficult to say who has the edge. Athleticism definitely would go to Newton, but experience would by far go to Manning. Both fit perfectly into their own systems, have faced adversity during the season and pulled their team through the problems. If you’re really going to get nit-picky, Manning’s been to this dance four times now (he’s 1-2 in his previous trips), while Newton is making his first appearance. By the slimmest of margins, Manning will take the edge in this category. EDGE:  BRONCOS

Running Backs – This category is a no-brainer. When Manning is on the field, the running game is somewhat of a second thought, used more as a change-up from the passing game than the “run the ball to set up the pass” style of the Panthers. The Panthers will pound a defense mercilessly, even when it doesn’t look like it is doing anything. The Panthers philosophy is that, eventually, the running game will weaken a defense after enough time that Stewart will break out on a run. Stewart, who finished the season 11 yards short of 1000 yards (and missed the final two regular season games) has been outstanding during the playoffs; expect him to at the minimum keep the Broncos defense honest by adding the potential for a running attack alongside Newton’s running and passing abilities. EDGE:  PANTHERS

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – This one is going to be a push. Manning has WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as his options but, even though he had a decent season, Thomas led the team in dropped passes, letting a ball hit the turf on roughly 5% of his targets. Newton’s favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, can be shut down if a team is willing to risk putting a defensive back on him. The Broncos may try this, but they have to be concerned that WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (who led the Panthers with 10 TD receptions) or Devin Funchess (5 TD receptions) doesn’t burn them somehow. As I said, this is…EDGE:  PUSH

Offensive Line – The Denver offensive line has been held together with baling wire and bubble gum for much of the year. The exact opposite holds true for Carolina, which has been able to have a relatively steady lineup through the entire year. This is going to benefit the Panthers greatly as the Broncos, with the #1 defense in the NFL, are a tenacious and aggressive unit who will look to pressure Newton into mistakes. Whichever side controls the game will probably dictate which way the Super Bowl goes but, for the purposes that we have spelled out here, I’ve got to give…EDGE:  PANTHERS

DEFENSE

Defensive Line/Linebackers – Both teams have front sevens that are the best in the game today. The Broncos are technically ranked as the #1 defense in the NFL, but the Panthers gave up fewer points per game than their counterparts from the Rocky Mountains. Both teams are led by a tandem of outstanding linebackers – Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware for the Broncos, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (who is expected to see a great deal of action despite having a broken arm sustained in the NFC Championship Game) for the Panthers – but it is the Broncos who have the better pass rush, sacking the opposing quarterback 59 times during the season versus the Panthers’ 44.

Defensive Backs – Counteracting the front seven is the fact that the Panthers led the league in takeaways (+20) versus the Broncos (-4). The Panthers intercepted the ball 24 times during the season versus the Broncos’ 14, with Panthers DB Josh Norman having a breakout rookie season in returning two of his four picks for touchdowns and, with teams trying to avoid him, Kurt Coleman ending the year among the league leaders in interceptions with seven. The best Bronco in that category was DB Aqib Talib, who could only pull in three on the season (although he did return two for touchdowns).

The effectiveness of Davis could very well be the linchpin of which defense will have the better success. Without Davis, the Broncos will be able to focus more on occupying Kuechly and be able to have their offense dictate more of the game. If Davis is able to play effectively, it could be a long day for Manning. Both teams, at their current strength this moment, have to be rated…EDGE:  PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is a category that the Panthers have firm control over. Ginn is the teams punt returner and he is a threat to break a game wide open at any moment with the ball in his hands. Their kick returning duties have been in the hands of Fozzy Whittaker, who averages nearly 24 yards per return. The Broncos counter with Sanders, who has more fair catches than returns this season on punts, and Omar Bolden, who has only 15 kickoff returns this season.

The kicking games rate about even, although the distance is going to be tough to judge. Denver’s kickers, P Britton Colquitt and K Brandon McManus, have the advantage of kicking in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, thus their distance statistics might not be applicable kicking at sea level in California. Carolina P Brad Nortman and K Graham Gano did outstanding jobs in 2015, with Gano especially sound at distance through the season.

The pick in this aspect of the contest will have to go to the boys from the NFC. With both Ginn and Whittaker, they possess the threats that can break the game open…the Broncos, not so much. EDGE:  PANTHERS

COACHING

There is no way to choose one coaching squad over the other in this contest. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has been to the Super Bowl as a player (he backed up John Elway in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV, all losses) and as an assistant coach (with the winning San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX and with the winning Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII), but this is his first trip as the man in charge. The same can be said for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was a part of arguably one of the greatest Super Bowl teams in history (the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears) as a player, but this is his first trip as a head coach. Thus, this is definitely EDGE:  PUSH

SUPER BOWL 50

As was stated at the start, it depends what you’re betting on as to which way to take the winner in this situation.

For some people, they want to just bet the straight game itself. I pick one team, you take the other and may the best team win. If that is the case, then I would have to say that you would have to pick the Panthers in this game. Both defenses are going to cause fits for Newton and Manning but, by the second quarter, I can see both of them beginning to figure out some things that will work. Manning might be able to get some of the passing game operational – if his patchwork line can keep the Panther D off of him long enough – and, for Newton, the Panthers might be able to start running the ball effectively enough to be able to start the freewheeling Panther passing game (it also would open up the pass/run option for Newton…look for the Broncos to play Newton for the run until he beats them with his arm a couple of times). Newton has more weapons at his disposal and a better defense, hence I believe the Panthers will take the game.

For the more traditional bettor out there, here’s how you’ve seen me put it all year:

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Carolina Panthers vs. DENVER BRONCOS (+5); OVER 44

Once Manning and Newton get things figured out, then the game will get exciting. The line originally opened up at Panthers -4 and, if it had stayed at that point, I would have taken the Panthers because I see a final of 28-24 with the Panthers winning (that would be a push, if you’re keeping score at home). That extra point going against the Panthers switches my pick to the Broncos, who I believe will cover the spread and, between the two teams, they will go OVER the 44 projected points; hell, it could be something along the lines of 38-34, even, if the offenses erupt early.

This isn’t a contradiction; this is simply a demonstration on how it depends on what your betting as to what your pick might be!

Conference Championships:  2-2
Overall Season:  55-37-5

All in all, it has been a good season. Once we add these three picks in (the straight game pick of the Panthers, the spread pick of the Broncos and the O/U), I will have an even 100 picks for the 2015-16 NFL season. I would have preferred a better record than 55% – and may earn it with the final three picks of the year – but it goes to show how difficult it is to bet any sporting contest. After Super Bowl Sunday, we will have to go into a slumber until next September, when the pigskin will come out for real once again and the prognostications will arise from their slumber…maybe for better but potentially for worse!

Super Bowl 50, Part One: Got Money Burning a Hole in Your Pocket? Here’s Some Crazy Prop Bets!

SuperBowl50

We are just a couple of days away from the spectacle that will be Super Bowl 50. The Carolina Panthers, led by their becoming-iconic QB Cam Newton and looking to finish their stupendous season with only one loss, will be taking on the Denver Broncos and the legendary QB Peyton Manning in what could be his swan song. What better way to celebrate this matchup than – racking up prop bets on things that don’t even have anything at all to do with these men, these teams or sometimes the game itself!

It is estimated that over $100 million is legally bet on the Super Bowl in Las Vegas and upwards of $3 billion worldwide on the game, legally and illegally. More than half of the Las Vegas total is on something that is called “proposition bets.” These bets aren’t your normal “point spread” occurrences or even something that might go on within the actual field of play itself. They are based on some of the activities that may or may not occur during the play of the game – sometimes not even involving the players themselves.

Prop bets come from “proposition betting” where gambling sharps would rope in rubes with a nicely set up short con, basically. In these “propositions,” the sharp would say that they could do something normally unthinkable – such as the legendary road gambler “Titanic” Thompson’s prop bet that he could drive a golf ball 500 yards (legend has it he pulled this trick against notorious Chicago gangster Al Capone). After getting people to place their bets – normally against him – Thompson would then wait until wintertime, activate the bet and go to a nearby lake, where he would indeed proceed to drive a golf ball 500 yards across the frozen surface.

Prop bets today aren’t far removed from something along the lines of what Thompson did. They sound so outlandish that you don’t think that they will happen but, if you do your homework, you can actually make some hay out of the bets. There are also those that you should stay far away from because they are an obvious setup bet. Over the next few choices, we’re going to take a look at some of these prop bets, examine them closely and try to decide whether to take a shot at them or not.

Will there be a missed extra point in the game?

Yes – +300
No – -360

(Remember, this means that, if you want “yes,” you’d have to wager $100 to win $300, for “no” you’d have to wager $360 to win $100)

This was the first year that the National Football League experimented with a longer extra point attempt. Previous to this season, all extra point attempts were from the two-yard line, resulting in a roughly 20-yard attempt for a point. In 2015, however, the NFL backed the kick spot up to the 15-yard line, making the kick a 32-yard attempt. As a result, 71 extra point attempts were missed this year, a 94.2% conversion rate (the lowest rate since 1982). Using that factor, there should be a better payout for those looking to bet the “yes” route. Add in the statistic that Graham Gano of the Panthers and Brandon McManus of the Broncos only missed a grand total of four extra point attempts between each other this year, I’d pass on this one as it isn’t likely to occur. Still, a bet on “Yes” wouldn’t be out of the question…two years ago, the Seattle Seahawks defense scored a safety for the first score of Super Bowl XLVIII, a traditional long-shot prop bet that paid out handsomely for many people for the first time in the history of the Super Bowl.

The first touchdown of the game will be:

Passing touchdown – -165
Any other – +145

The Panthers have scored their first touchdown eight times on the ground, six times through the air and two times via an interception. The Broncos have gotten their first touchdown six times via a passing play. For some reason, the odds makers are saying that the first touchdown is going to come through the air when it is slightly more likely that it will come through other means. I like taking the “any other” route with this one as Newton’s legs or a defensive TD would be a winner.

Stephen Curry (-4.5/-110) scores more points than the Panthers (+4.5/-110)

Here’s where things start to get fun. When you start throwing the results from two sports into the mix, then you really either know your stuff when it comes to sports betting or just like to set your money on fire. In this case, we will put the reigning Most Valuable Player from the defending National Basketball Association’s champion Golden State Warriors, guard Stephen Curry, and put him up against the entire Carolina Panther offense in a simple challenge:  who will score the most points?

Just a couple of nights ago, Curry went unconscious in scoring 51 points in a game, including scoring 25 in the first quarter alone. Currently he is averaging 29.8 per game to lead the NBA in scoring so, allowing for the spread, the Panthers would have to come within 4.5 points of Curry’s output against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night in Oakland. With the Thunder/Warriors game on primetime television – and the fact that Curry will be taking on two other superstars of the NBA in the Thunder’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook – I’m expecting Curry to go off in this game; take Curry and give up the points. Don’t bother about betting the money line on this one because whenever you see both sides with the same payoff, there’s no side for action.

GRAMMY Awards 2015

Length of time for Lady Gaga to sing the National Anthem:

UNDER 2:20 – -200
OVER 2:20 – +150

It wasn’t announced until this week that Lady Gaga would take on the National Anthem prior to the start of the Super Bowl and, once she was named, the wagering began on how long it would take her to sing the song. There is actually a precedent for Gaga with the National Anthem; in 2013, she performed the National Anthem in public and brought it in five seconds under the 2:20 that the line is currently set. You can also consider that, off the last ten Super Bowls played, only one (Alicia Keys in Super Bowl XLVII) went longer than 2:20 (Keys’ was 2:35).

Personally, I think that the scheduling for the Super Bowl has gotten so precise that there is no way that it will go beyond 2:20. I’d like to see a Lady Gaga prop bet on whether she’ll be dressed normally – like she was when she performed on the Academy Awards last year when she performed her stirring tribute to Julie Andrews and The Sound of Music – or whether she’ll come dressed as the Vince Lombardi Trophy. For this bet, though, take the UNDER.

How many times will the Golden Gate Bridge be shown?

OVER .5 – -400
UNDER .5 – +250

This is an intriguing bet. All the Golden Gate Bridge would have to do is show up once to either win someone a nice payday or, if it doesn’t show at all, let someone else pick up some nice green. You might think this one is a no-brainer, but some are overthinking it way too much. The game is being contested in Santa Clara, CA, at Levi’s Stadium, quite some distance from the Golden Gate Bridge, which makes some believe that the iconic span won’t be seen at all during the game broadcast. But the stadium IS the home for the San Francisco 49ers, the Super Bowl festivities for the week have consistently been focused around the Bay Area (that’s where the NFL Network and ESPN has parked their carcasses for the week) and the two teams are both staying in hotels in San Francisco. That means the stock footage shot by the CBS crew has got to have some of the San Fran surroundings in it and, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge is a part of that. If you’re going to bet this angle, take the OVER and pick up an easy payday.

Will Mike Carey be wrong on a challenge?

YES – +145
NO – -190

It is tough enough for the seven guys on the field – the officials assigned to the game by the NFL – to determine what happens in a football game, let alone the Super Bowl. In that rare case when there is a replay challenge – either called by one of the coaches or by dictate of the rules – it can be even more difficult for the replay official to make a determination of the call. That is where CBS’ replay guru Mike Carey comes into play.

Carey, a veteran official who worked one Super Bowl, has caught a great deal of grief for some missteps he has made through the season regarding review calls. With hope, there will be no need for Carey’s (or the replay official’s) services in Super Bowl 50 but, just in case there is a couple of instances where Carey is called on, let’s go ahead and pick YES here for a nice $145 score if we bet $100.

What color will be the Gatorade dump?

Orange – +125
Blue – +300
Clear – +400
Yellow – +400
Red – +600
Green – +1000
Purple – +1000

You might think that, with the Panthers favored to win the game, that a bet on BLUE would be a good call here. That isn’t necessarily the case; after winning the NFC Championship Game, the Panthers doused head coach Ron Rivera with ORANGE Gatorade. In fact, three of the last six Super Bowl winners have chosen the ORANGE bath and that seems to be the safe way to go. I’ve looked around and the one bet that I haven’t been able to find…what if, for a change, there wasn’t a Gatorade bath? I’d like to put a wager on that one myself.

And that’s the thing about Super Bowl prop bets…if you look around long enough, if you find the right spot online or you find yourself in the right locale to be able to get someone to set the bet for you personally, you can bet on pretty much anything about the game. It also gives you something to think about, especially if the game turns into a blowout (see Super Bowl XLVIII, Seattle vs. Denver, as an example).

In Part Two, we’ll actually look at the reason everyone will be tuning in on Sunday…THE COMMERCIALS!!! No, we will take a look at the game and see who will be lifting the Lombardi Trophy come Sunday night.