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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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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2015 NFL Postseason Picks, Divisional Round: What Does That Bye Week Do?

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The first round of the National Football League postseason is in the books and the games had a bit of everything for the fans. Fluke missed field goal to snatch victory away from your favorite team? We see you over there shaking your heads, Vikings fans. Inexplicable mental meltdowns letting your arch-rival get into position for a chip shot field goal? Put your hands up, Bengals fans. The other games…not really worth mentioning as they were beat downs. But it is a new week and it is time to ask that question…just what was that bye week that the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals fought the entire season for worth?

Since 1990, when the NFL went to the 12-team format for the playoffs, the teams that took the #1 seed in the NFC or the AFC went on to win the Super Bowl on 11 occasions, with last year’s Patriots team the last to pull off the trick (and the Seattle Seahawks the year before the last NFC team to do it). The news isn’t quite so good when it comes to the #2 seeds, however; on six occasions, the #2 seed from the NFC or the AFC has been able to reach football’s ultimate prize. If you do the math, that means that the odds are pretty good that we should see a #1 or #2 seed win the Super Bowl.

So which ones will get there this year? And which ones won’t? That’s not the object when it comes to betting on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing). The object is to put the best bet down that you can and, with the way some of these games are looking this week, there should be a decent shot at making some money.

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-5); UNDER 43

The Patriots needed the week off more than they might have led the nation to believe, with WR Julian Edelman banged up but healthier now and another week of recuperation for WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski, who is still nursing a bum knee. It also gave QB Tom Brady a bit more time to shake off some nagging injuries that had plagued him. But just when things were going well for the Pats, the midweek incident regarding DE Chandler Jones and his hospitalization – for what? That’s the $64,000 question (it is rumored to have been synthetic marijuana that caused a bad reaction, not an overdose) – seems to have caused some consternation for Dark Hoodie (head coach Bill Belichick) and the rest of the Empire.

The Chiefs are just glad to have reached this point, especially with their #1 WR Jeremy Maclin expected to have little to no impact on the game due to leg injuries suffered in the win over the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. QB Alex Smith has carried the team, without star running back Jamaal Charles and now Maclin, about as far as he can; it would take a Herculean effort from both sides of the Chiefs – offense and defense – for a miracle to be pulled out at Gillette Stadium.

Expect this game to be one where the weather has a tremendous effect on how the play is conducted. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 30s with light rain all through the afternoon, making moving the ball through the air difficult. Coming into the Patriots’ lair and beating them is difficult under the best of conditions, thus I am going to take the Pats but also the UNDER in the game.

Green Bay Packers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS; OVER 49.5

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has already stated that this will not be a repeat of the two teams’ most recent game. In Week 16, Rodgers had arguably his worst week as a professional football player when he fumbled twice, had an interception and was sacked nine times as the Cardinals undressed the Packers 38-8 in front of a national television audience. The beating was so thorough that, the very next week, the Pack went out and lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings to lose the NFC North division title but still sew up a Wild Card berth.

That seems to have worked out well for Rodgers and the Packers, however. They seem to have righted the ship in thumping the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins 35-18 in the Wild Card round last weekend, while the Vikings are now sitting at home after their debacle against the Seahawks at home. The big question now is can Rodgers back up his words that this will not be a repeat of the game just three weeks ago.

The defense of the Packers will definitely have to find some answers against the #1 offense in the NFL. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has Big Red running on all cylinders at this point in the season, averaging 30 points a game and racking up 408 yards in total offense. It isn’t just about the offense with the Cards, however, the defense is second against the pass and eighth against the rush (just ask Rodgers about that pass rush, too). I think that Rodgers and the Packers will keep it closer this time, they just won’t be able to pull off the win in a game that will be a shootout.

Seattle Seahawks vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-1.5); UNDER 44

Something’s got to give here. These two teams look very similar on paper…they like to run the ball, have excellent quarterbacks who like to pass the ball but aren’t afraid to take off on the run and strong defenses who will punish the opposition. So who is going to be able to impose their will in this game?

The two teams met earlier this year and it was a barnburner. Seattle led for most of the contest but Panthers QB Cam Newton led his team to touchdowns on their final two possessions to take a 27-23 victory in the Pacific Northwest back in October to preserve what was then a still-unbeaten season. This time around, due to the Panthers’ #1 seed and the Seahawks’ unlikely victory over the Vikings last week, the game will be at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC, where rain is expected with temperatures in the 30s.

After sitting out the game against the Vikings, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch is expected to be back on the field for the Seahawks and they could use him, especially with TE Jimmy Graham out. The Panthers are at full strength for the fight and they will need everyone for the battle. This is one game that I wouldn’t be surprised to see go either way (in fact, if it isn’t down to a “pick ‘em” by game time on Sunday, I will be surprised) but, due to the defensive strength of each team, it will be UNDER 44 points for both teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+7.5) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; UNDER 40

Call this one “The Game That Might Have Been If It Weren’t for Injuries.” Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who has been sitting since it seems the middle of the season with his plantar fasciitis injury – and with QB Brock Osweiler doing a fine job in his absence – will be under center when the team takes the field at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday, but the big question will be just how healed is the future Hall of Famer. The Steelers defense may not be the “Steel Curtain” of old, but they will pursue the veteran Manning and it might be something that has an effect on the game.

Oh, wait…this would be true if the Steelers offense didn’t resemble a M*A*S*H unit. After the brutal hit from Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict that knocked his head into the Ohio River, Steelers WR Antonio Brown will be out for Sunday’s tilt with a concussion, joining RBs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the sidelines and marking the first time in playoff history a team will be without its leading rushers and receiver for a playoff game. QB Ben Roethlisberger might have been able to overcome this problem but, due to another hit from Burfict, his throwing arm is being held on by baling wire and bubble gum; a simple breath from Broncos LB DeMarcus Ware might send Big Ben to the sidelines.

There is a huge chance this game will be played between Osweiler and Steelers backup QB Landry Jones, especially if the defenses get to the fragile Manning and Roethlisberger early. With this in mind, it is going to be a close game, the Steelers will cover the spread and might steal it, and the score will be UNDER the 40-point line (think 17-14 or something like that).

Last Week:  4-2
Overall:  48-35-5

Nailed the Seahawks/Vikings game to start off 2-0 and picked right with Green Bay in a pick ‘em game (don’t even ask about the O/U). When it came to the National Championship, I was one of those that was the beneficiary of that “back door” touchdown at the end by Clemson; instead of going 0-2 on that one, that late touchdown allowed me to cover the spread and split (missed the OVER/UNDER badly!). With four games this weekend, it will be a chance to really make some moves!

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 5 Picks: Some Weeks Betting ISN’T A Good Idea

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We’ve past the quarter pole in the 16-game race in the National Football League and there have been a few things established to this point. Don’t bet against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots; the NFC East is wide open, with three teams at .500 and the fourth only a game behind them; there is no dominant team in the NFC yet, and there are some weeks you shouldn’t be betting the games (you know, if wagering on sporting events is legal in your area)!

There are several games on today’s schedule that have seen big swings in their opening lines or have such a wide spread it is difficult to decide which end of the game to take. For example, the Buffalo/Tennessee game started out with the visiting Bills the favorite, giving up three points to the Titans and rookie Marcus Mariota. Then injuries to Bills RBs LeSean McCoy and Karlos Williams were announced and the line swung all the way over to a “pick ‘em” game.

Another good example is the New England/Dallas game. With the Patriots giving up nine points and on the road, the thought might be to take the Cowboys. With the ‘Boys’ depleted resources after the injuries to QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant and the continued lackluster performance of backup QB Brandon Weeden and the rest of the ‘Pokes, however, maybe the sharps got this one right.

Normally it is a good idea to sit out weekends like this, but there are a couple of nice opportunities out there. Coming off a nice Week 4 performance, looking to continue the run.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Chicago Bears (+9) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS; UNDER 45

Neither of these teams has shown themselves to be an offensive juggernaut, especially the Bears with the injuries they’ve had. Both are “run first” oriented offenses that look to establish their big stars, Bears RB Matt Forte and Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, and both have solid defenses that will look to stuff those running games. As such, it’s going to be a low-scoring affair and closer than the nine points that the Chiefs are giving up. Especially with QB Jay Cutler back under center, take the Bears and the under for a nice pickup.

Seattle Seahawks (+3) vs. CINCINNATI BENGALS; OVER 43.5

Even though Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch is out for the game, I still like the Seahawks on the road in Cincy. QB Russell Wilson has plenty of other options to work with, including TE Jimmy Graham and WR Doug Baldwin, and should be able to put up some numbers against the Bengal D. The “Legion of Boom” looks like it is returning to form after the comeback of DB Kam Chancellor, also. With both teams combined averaging over 50 points per game, the OVER is also a good pick here.

Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) vs. DETROIT LIONS; OVER 46

Even though they burned me last weekend (more on that in a bit), I am going to take the road-favorite Cardinals in this game. Averaging 37 points per game, the Cardinals are coming off a shocking loss to the St. Louis Rams and looking to take their frustrations out on someone. Their victim this week, the Lions, have yet to win a game and, even with WR Calvin Johnson and QB Matthew Stafford, are only averaging 14 points per game this year. It could get ugly quickly in the Motor City, not only in this game but also in the front offices of the Lions over the next couple of weeks; to say that Lions head coach Jim Caldwell’s seat is a little warm would be a huge understatement.

Last week:  4-1 Overall:  14-8-1

The only thing that kept me from a 5-0 weekend were those previously mentioned Cardinals. Although we got the O/U right in that Cardinal/Ram game, the stunning straight up upset out of the Rams knocked off the 7-point favorite Arizona. That was the only blemish on what was otherwise a really good weekend.

Fantasy Sports…It’s Skill! It’s All Skill!

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The upcoming National Football League season is nearly upon us and we all know what that means. No, it doesn’t mean 16 (or more, counting the playoffs) weekends of watching grown men pound each other into a stupor over an inflated pig’s external organ, trying to push through the armada defending a goal to score the ultimate victory. It means that we get to choose up players and try to prove to our friends and loved ones that we know more than even the best NFL general manager through the machination known as Fantasy Football.

Sure, there are other sports that have their fantasy seasons. The origination of “fantasy” sports can be traced back to the end of World War II, but many believe the true version of fantasy sports began with what was called Rotisserie baseball in the mid-1970s. Owners, playing through the entire season, would choose a roster of players from the actual Major League Baseball teams. The owners would then earn points on how their players performed and, at the end of the year, the champion would be crowned through who earned the most points. The idea of fantasy baseball took off in the early 1980s with players starting to pick up on the intricacies of the game and media outlets offering in-depth box scores on the games that were played (can you even imagine sitting down with a prehistoric computer – or, worse yet, a pen and paper – to compute the fantasy scoring for a league?).

If there was a major professional sport that thrived under the advent of Fantasy, however, it was professional football. With teams playing once per week, Fantasy players could choose up teams and compete against each other on a weekly basis rather than just the season as a whole. Although baseball might have borne the fantasy game, it was football that truly lit the spark.

In 2014, Vox.com estimates that the yearly revenues generated from fantasy sports was $1.4 billion in the United States and that is probably on the conservative end. Pro football heavily dominated the breakdown, generating over 36% of the action, while baseball took up the second place slot with almost 19% (surprisingly, auto racing was the third-most “fantasized” sport, according to Vox). The companies that were benefitting the most from the activity were such industry powerhouses as Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS, who operated their own fantasy leagues for both fun (re:  no cost) and for profit (entry fees paid back to players), not to mention the individual professional sports leagues operating their own Fantasy games.

2014 was also about the time that the phenomenon known as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) came about full bore. With DFS, baseball now had its little niche in the fantasy world that had pretty much been taken over by professional football and other sports could pick up on some of the glory that the NFL got from its one game a week schedule. While DFS has been an activity that many have gotten into as an extension of yearly fantasy sports, it has also drawn the attention from law enforcement and the politicos.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was written to shut down the financing of online gambling transactions (think of online casinos, bingo and online poker), but there were several segments of the gaming industry that were excluded from the law. Horse racing (as a carrot to the horse racing industry in the United States), lotteries and fantasy gaming, then in its infancy online. With that carve out from the UIGEA, the DFS sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are quite pleased to let everyone know that it is “legal” to play. Lawmakers will be rethinking this strategy but, with so many of the professional sports leagues and mainstream media involved in the game, it is highly likely they won’t touch it.

The reasons for fantasy sports – and horse racing along with it – receiving the legislative exemption is because many consider both activities to have a “skill” element that raises it above the bar of luck-based gambling (such as casino games that include poker). This skill element allows for a player, through knowledgeable study and examination of the variables of the game, to pick a better team (or a better horse) than someone who simply walks in off the street and tries to play the game. Which makes the results from my Fantasy Football draft on Sunday a good testing ground.

In previous years (and we’re talking for about a decade here), I pored over Fantasy Football magazines, ESPN.com, NFL.com and several other outlets looking for that edge in the fantasy game that would drive me to a championship. Alas, over the years I have only captured one championship, which pushes me to compete even harder and drink even harder when I’m sweating Marshawn Lynch having to make up a 25 point deficit on Monday Night Football. Those years I didn’t win, I would think that I had the “greatest team ever assembled” until they came crashing down in a heap at the bottom of the standings.

This year, I’d gone through the preparations but I’ve gotten a bit wiser about the proceedings. While I can research the players and teams from here until the Super Bowl, I am not Peyton Manning; I cannot have an effect on the outcome of the games because I am not out on the field performing the activity. Nowadays, I head into my fantasy draft looking to have fun and, if possible, win some extra cash, but not to put myself through Hell in doing so. Then the following happened, which is where the experiment will begin.

On Sunday, I was settling in to get ready for my Fantasy draft when my lovely wife said she needed to get some more clothes for her position as a professor at a major university. The best mall is a 45-mile drive from our home, hence we and our son hopped in the car and headed over to let her shop. After three-plus hours of shopping (and our son’s multiple rides on a carousel in the mall and ice cream bribery) and a dented credit card, we returned home with several outfits for her and me wondering how my Fantasy draft had gone.

With the fifth pick in the first round, I was able to pick up Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles through the auto-draft procedures (when someone isn’t physically able to make the picks, sites will pick the best available player for the absent owner) and it only got better from there. In Round 2, it was Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A. J. Green; Round 3 was a little weak in Chicago Bears wide out Alshon Jeffrey, but the next two rounds were golden.

Round 4 was nice in that it gave me a versatile but injury-prone running back in Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers, but it was Round 5 where I made my biggest steal. With a four-game suspension hanging over his head, everyone in our league had passed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and my computerized picker was able to snap him up without hesitation. Even if Brady is out for those first four games (and after getting a solid backup in the Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler), he’s worth having for that “Fuck You” mentality he’s going to have for the remainder of the season (and whenever he starts playing, he’ll have that “Fuck You” mentality after all he has been through).

Overall, the automated draft picked out a team (my team isn’t creatively named, the “Southern WarLordz” but it’s a visual image that is threatening) that looks to be pretty solid and, with Brady, potentially one with a sneaky chance of winning the title. If it is the case that I should win this year’s championship, then the bullshit of fantasy sports being a “skill” activity would be shot down as anyone who lets the auto-drafter pick for them isn’t using any skill at all in their attempt at winning. I guess we will see how it plays out over the season…in the fantasy world, at least.