Week 4 2016 NFL Predictions: Is it Parity or Bad Football?

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With the close of this weekend, we will have reached the end of the first quarter of the 2016 National Football League schedule. The number of well-known pros that have been injured in just the first few weeks of the year, including Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, J. J. Watt and Jamaal Charles (who is supposed to make his season debut this week), has been unprecedented, but it is also (along with the preseason injuries and suspensions) making many ask an important question – is it parity between the teams in the NFL or is it just bad football?

Back when he was the commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle didn’t like the fact that a handful of teams – like the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers – dominated the pro football landscape. His thought was to see all teams finish as closely together as possible – hell, Rozelle thought that, in a perfect season, all the teams would finish 8-8 – something that Rozelle called “competitive balance” or parity. Over the years, there’s been situations where it has come close to that – recall the 2011 Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. There’s also some occasions, though, when it is just bad football and the 2016 season may be one of those deals.

A look at the standings is an opening salvo for this discussion. At this time, only five teams – the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and two surprises, the Teddy Bridgewater-less Minnesota Vikings and the Carson Wentz rookie-led Philadelphia Eagles – are undefeated. On the other side of the spectrum, there are four teams – the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns – that haven’t won a game as of yet. Of particular interest, however, are the 11 teams that have only one win after three games this year (and a twelfth team, the Miami Dolphins, went to 1-3 with a loss on Thursday night). Of course, this does leave the 11 teams that are 2-1, but none of them have been particularly powerful in reaching that record.

While you mull those numbers, take a look at the NFC West, where the Los Angeles Rams and the Seahawks are tied atop the division with a 2-1 record, despite the fact that neither team is averaging more than 20 points a game (Rams are averaging 15.3 points, Seahawks 17.3) or the fact that the Seahawks pounded the Rams to start the season by the score of 28-0 and have done little since. This type of situation can also be seen in the AFC South (the Houston Texans atop the division despite averaging 14 points per game) and in the AFC North (the Ravens are averaging 19 points per game).

In an era when the offenses have carte blanche to do whatever they please with opposing defenses, quarterbacks are flinging the ball like it’s an Arena Football League game and the running backs have become an afterthought in the offense (the leading rusher in the league is the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount, who is averaging just under 100 yards a game; even the Atlanta FalconsDevonta Freeman, currently the fifth ranked running back in the NFL, is averaging less than 90 per contest (88.3), there should be some signs of dominance by teams (and maybe we’re seeing that with the Patriots). Instead, right now perhaps we’re watching the fruition of Rozelle’s “any given Sunday” dream, where parity is the rule and boring football becomes the norm.

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After this week, maybe some of these trends will be changed. But it will be a tough weekend for the prognosticators to find good value or good bets to take.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold.)

Seattle Seahawks vs. NEW YORK JETS (+2)

This is a game that could be greatly affected by two things. One, the weather conditions expected at game time – rain and wind on the Meadowlands plains – are going to favor the running game, admittedly a rarity for the 2016 NFL. In that parameter, the Jets have the player to keep an eye on. RB Matt Forte, no longer wanted by the Bears (and you know they wish they had kept him now), is the sixth ranked back in the NFL and, along with his pass catching abilities out of the backfield, provide headaches to an aggressive defense such as the ‘Hawks. Two, Seattle comes east for a 1PM game, traditionally believed (and statistically true) to be a detriment to the West Coast team.

The Seahawks aren’t aided by a gimpy QB Russell Wilson being under center, but that is offset by Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is having confidence issues and isn’t playing well. This could be like the Seahawks’ season opener – when they won 12-10 over Miami – at which point it’s a push. I can see, however, the Jets perhaps taking this one outright.

Carolina Panthers vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (+3)

This is a juxtaposition game, one where you would expect the two teams to be switched. The defending NFC champion Panthers have been in some doldrums to start the season, surprisingly getting manhandled at home by the Vikings last week. Teams seem to be focusing much of their attention on league MVP QB Cam Newton in particular, forcing him to make decisions that take the ball out of his hands and force someone else to beat them. The Falcons are flying high right now, scoring almost 35 points per game and sitting atop the division.

Most telling in this game will be whether the Panthers defense can come to life on the road. They’ve been a bit silent early in the season and, with the ‘Birds making the scoreboard look like a pinball machine, they are going to have to staunch QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and Freeman early and often. They’ll also have to hope that Newton will figure out what’s going on or they’ll be going two games back of Atlanta way too early in the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. HOUSTON TEXANS (-4); UNDER 40

You might wonder why I’m taking the Texans, who haven’t exactly stunned anyone to this point in the season and especially after losing their defensive superstar Watt for the season. While I do like QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray for the Titans, they still don’t have enough to overcome a Texans defense that will be looking to show that they are more than Watt. Don’t expect this to be an offensive juggernaut, though. Both teams are averaging 14 points per game, so a 17-10 win out of the Texans wouldn’t be abnormal.

New York Giants (+4.5) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings should be one of those teams that is beginning to change minds, especially after losing so many key players so early in the season. They’ve been able to overcome those issues, though, even to the point of beating the defending NFC champions last week on their home turf.

Win this week and I’ll believe you.

The Giants have quietly put together a 2-1 record, QB Eli Manning is doing a quietly excellent job and the triumvirate of WRs Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and the rejuvenated Victor Cruz are quietly rambling all over the field making plays. The Giants ARE on the road this weekend so I don’t expect an outright win, but I do expect them to keep this game closer than the spread is saying.

Last Week:  1-4
2016 Season Overall: 8-9-1

Another week that was abysmal and saved only by the Eagles thrashing of the Steelers…perhaps I should just bet them for the rest of the year? A two-week losing streak is bad enough. It is time to turn it around and get back on the positive side of the ledger.

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NFL Week 13 Predictions: IF The Playoffs Started Today…

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We’re reaching crunch time of the National Football League season. Technically no one has been eliminated from the playoff race as of yet – even the Tennessee Titans at 2-9 still have a mathematical shot at a Wild Card spot, one that could come through if everyone else passed out in front of them and couldn’t complete the season – but the top of the standings are beginning to get a bit clearer. If the playoffs started today, it is clear that the paths to the conference championships will go through Foxboro and Charlotte.

American Football Conference

Even though they were knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten in a stunning game against Denver last week, the New England Patriots have a comfortable schedule coming up. A home game against Philadelphia, a road trek against an improving Houston Texans squad, a home game against Tennessee and a roadie with the New York Jets will take them through the remainder of the month, with one win guaranteeing them the AFC East title. If they are able to sweep those four games (which will be tough with the team roster looking like a MASH unit), they should lock up home field for the playoffs.

After the Pats, the Denver Broncos and the Cincinnati Bengals are fighting it out for the two slot. The key game here will be on December 28 when the two teams meet in the Rocky Mountains. Both teams have similar schedules down the stretch, so the winner of this game is probably going to be your second seed and the loser the third seed. The final division winner will come down between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston, who play on December 20; your winner in that game wins the division.

As far as the Wild Cards I’d love to take the Jets, but they have a brutal stretch of games (New York Giants, Tennessee, at Dallas and New England over the next four weeks) so I have to count them out. Likewise for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have back to back games at Cincy and at home against Denver. I see the Kansas City Chiefs and the loser of the Indianapolis/Houston game on December 20 getting the Wild Card bids.

National Football Conference

Basically running away and hiding from the division, the Carolina Panthers are the lone undefeated team left in the NFL, one year removed from winning the NFC South with a losing record (7-8-1). They have a two game edge over the Arizona Cardinals for the top slot in the NFC, but there is some concern that the Panthers may not drive to the end of the season. With their next win, the Panthers will win the division crown to lock up their playoff slot (which could occur today) and some rest might be in order.

The Cardinals have their own concerns for the second slot on the ladder. The Minnesota Vikings are lurking one game back at 8-3 and will probably decide the second slot when they play this Thursday night in the Desert. Whoever comes out the winner in that game will take the second seed in the conference. The final slot will come out of the NFC East, which is a cesspool. Right now, the Washington Redskins (yes, that team) has somehow worked its way into the lead. Although they are tied with the Giants right now and only a game ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles, the ‘Skins have the easiest trek the remainder of the way; let’s give the East to Washington because whomever it is coming out with that title will lose to the Wild Card team they play.

One of the Wild Card slots is firmly determined. The Green Bay Packers might be a sneaky and dangerous team if they can get in through the Wild Card (and, at 8-4, still have a shot at the division crown). Whoever doesn’t win the NFC North will be one of the Wild Cards. The second slot will come down between two dangerous teams, the Atlanta Falcons and the defending two-time NFC champion Seattle Seahawks. Of those two teams, Seattle has the easiest schedule (the Falcons still have the Panthers twice on their board), so put in the dangerous ‘Hawks as the sixth seed.

We’ve still got a month of the season remaining, so this situation will be in flux. Right now, let’s take a look at this week’s games and some of the options you might have on the board (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally bet the games!).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (+3); OVER 45

These two teams will play each other twice over the next five weeks and it could determine the playoff fortunes for one of the squads. The Raiders are building a young, strong offense behind QB Derek Carr, RB Latavius Murray and WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree. The Chiefs may have a way to shut down the Silver and Black, however, with the 10th ranked defense in the NFL.

You have to be able to score, however. Chiefs QB Alex Smith has watched as his weapons have dropped away during the season, first RB Jamaal Charles and then RB Charcandrick West. Add in the factor that TE Travis Kelce is nursing some injuries and I don’t see how the Chiefs can mount any offensive attack against the Raiders, who definitely aren’t being shown any respect with their home game.

New York Jets vs. NEW YORK GIANTS (+2.5); UNDER 46.5

Both teams in this game need the win to keep the embers of a chance at the playoffs alive. The Giants also still have the potential of winning the NFC East in their sights and winning this game would keep them in that mix. The odd thing about this game is that it started out as a “pick ‘em” and has swung those 2.5 points in just a few days; I don’t see why that has come about.

To be fair, QB Eli Manning has been doing it with smoke and mirrors for the last couple of years in reality, but it is something that he’s become used to. The Giant defense has been stout but will face some challenges from the Jets passing game and especially WR Brandon Marshall. It will definitely be a slugfest and, with the Giant fans holding the “home team” edge for this game, I see them willing the Gotham City Giants to a slim win over their housemates in the Meadowlands.

Dallas Cowboys (+3.5) vs. WASHINGTON REDSKINS; UNDER 41.5

Sure, I know that QB Tony Romo was absolutely crushed by the Panthers defense on Thanksgiving Day and is done for the year. I also know that the ‘Pokes will have had 11 days to prepare QB Matt Cassel for this game, which might be the closest the Cowboys will get to anything with a playoff feel in 2015. Add in the fact that the ‘Skins now have the burden of playing as the favorite – instead of the underdog role that they relish – and I see Dallas pulling off a major upset here, just to make the NFC East a bit more convoluted.

Week 11:  1-4-1
Overall:  32-24-3

Not going to lie to you, after the performance in Week 11, it was best that I took a week off on Week 12. When your analysis of the action isn’t exactly working, it is best to step away from the fray for a spell until you’ve righted the chakras. This week, the chakras seem to be aligned and things should get back on track.

NFL Week 1: Tread Lightly When Looking at the Picks

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One of the things that I’ve always liked about the National Football League is the ability to bet on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can LEGALLY place a bet). The added attraction of laying down a few dollars on the game adds a little extra exhilaration to watching live or on television. And just think of how someone feels when a 155 pound kicker is lining up a 50-yard field goal to cover that spread for them?

Betting on the first couple of weeks of the season is extremely difficult, however. Basically you have the information from last season, a month of practices (usually without pads in the 21st century version of the NFL), four exhibition games where the starters seldom see the field (a reason they should cut the exhibition season to two or three games rather than its current setup) and your own gut as to how you determine your wagers. For those that like a little more information before they actually get into the game actively, it is a time to tread lightly.

But hey, you’re not that person, are you!?!?! You SNEER in the face of trepidation! You DIVE right into the deep end, right!?!?! With this in mind (and a little more explanation than on Thursday with the Patriots game…more on that at the end), here’s a few picks you might want to take a look at (remember, all picks are for entertainment purposes only!):

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Cleveland Browns (+3.5) vs. NEW YORK JETS

The Jets are truly in a whirlpool of a disaster. After firing last year’s head coach Rex Ryan (who immediately landed on his feet with the conference rival Buffalo Bills), it was supposed to be a year of rebuilding for the Jets with reserved optimism. Then QB Geno Smith got his jaw broken by a teammate (who now is with the Bills, oddly enough), the team failed to rebuild with the right pieces and the wheels have fallen off even before the first game of the year.

Cleveland isn’t without its drama, either. The constant slurping of now-backup quarterback Johnny Manziel seems to have subsided for now (that is until he’s thrust into the starting lineup in the middle of the season) and starting QB Josh McCown actually has some weapons around him. RB Isaiah Crowell and WRs Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe are going to give McCown some good offensive options and the defense for the Browns is sneaky-good.

How the sharps came up with New York as the favorite in this game is beyond me. The line actually has had the Jets as the favorite from the start, even moving it from -2.5 to its current level. Thanks for the early Christmas present!

Carolina Panthers (-3) vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS; UNDER 40.5

Even though they snuck into the playoffs last season with a losing record (7-8-1), the Panthers actually became the first team to ever repeat as division champion in the NFC South’s history. The team is a solid one, even with the loss of RB DeAngelo Williams to the Pittsburgh Steelers during the offseason and WR Kelvin Benjamin to injury during training camp. QB Cam Newton, fully healthy for the first time in a couple of years, still has RB Jonathan Stewart as his fallback and, as always, TE Greg Olson will be his security blanket.

Different season, same team for the Jacksonville Jaguars. They signed a big free agent during the offseason but it was a fucking TIGHT END, former Denver TE Julius Thomas, who will be out with an injury for the opening game of the season, naturally. QB Blake Bortles will be running for his life from the Carolina defense and LB Luke Kuechly for most of Sunday afternoon.

This isn’t going to be an offensive show, however. Take the under on this game as Carolina, with its ball control style of offense, will probably win a 21-10 or 24-13 type game (in other words, nothing spectacular).

New York Giants vs. DALLAS COWBOYS (-6); OVER 51.5

There is a big bandwagon with the New York Football Giants for some reason this year. QB Eli Manning (how difficult is it to believe that he has more Super Bowl rings than his brother Peyton?) is talking all the right talk, but you have to put some guys around him to get the job done. That job is going to be more difficult this Sunday with WR Victor Cruz out for the game with injury.

Speaking of bandwagons, have you met the Dallas Cowboys? It seems every year is supposed to be “the year” that the Cowboys break out and return to their prominence (even though that “prominence” was over 20 years ago). QB Tony Romo is expected to take the team to the “Promised Land” while the defense “squashes” everything in its path.

This is a tough game to pick, but the Cowboys and Giants always get up for each other. I’m going out on a limb with both of my picks here as I believe that the Cowboys are going to look for an early season statement both to the NFC and their opponents in the NFC East. Nothing would say “dominance” like a win against the Giants by more than a touchdown. It is going to be an entertaining game as they will go up and down the field, thus I’m also taking the OVER on the game.

Current Record:  1-0-1

We nailed both sides of the equation with our picks on Opening Night. The Patriots 28-21 victory over the Steelers pushed the spread (Patriots -7) and the 49 total points scored was barely under the 50.5 over/under (O/U) line set. Let’s see how long we can keep the unbeaten streak alive…when it comes to sports betting, the longer it goes, the better!