NFL Week 9 Predictions: Teams Already Blowing Up To Rebuild For Next Season

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Although technically there are no teams eliminated from playoff contention yet, there are a couple National Football League franchises that have begun to blow everything up in looking towards next season. This may sound weird only nine weeks into the season but, by using the last half of the 2015 season as a way to look over their current personnel, many teams will have a head start on knowing what they need to look for come the 2016 NFL Draft or free agency. Sure, these teams may miss not being around for the playoffs, but they’ll be able to rebuild quicker and be more competitive in the future through blowing apart any semblance of a team that will contend this season (at least that’s the theory).

The latest team to go about waving the white flag for 2015 is the San Francisco 49ers. Mired at 2-6 and in the basement of the NFC West, the ‘Niners traded away arguably one of their best assets, TE Vernon Davis, to the Denver Broncos this week for basically a bag of Ramen noodles. After trading Davis, Head Coach Jim Tomsula, despite feverishly backing him all season, benched starting QB Colin Kaepernick in favor of QB Blaine Gabbert, who last started a game in 2013 with the powerful perennial contenders the Jacksonville Jaguars. After the defections from their defense during the offseason, the players on the offense who left (Frank Gore, wherefore art thou?) and these moves by the front office, the surrender banner is up in the City by the Bay.

That banner is also flying on the shores of Lake Huron. The Detroit Lions (1-7, last in the NFC North) fired several offensive coaches prior to their trip to London to play the Kansas City Chiefs and, upon their return, cleared the front office last week by getting rid of General Manager Martin Mayhew and President Tom Lewand. Following the bloodletting, Owner Martha Firestone Ford ironically said the team wasn’t “giving up” the season, a statement that ranks up there in truthfulness right alongside “I have complete confidence in my Head Coach.” The only thing they’ve got left to cut is players and more coaches, with Head Coach Jim Caldwell’s seat perhaps the hottest of them all.

The reason we bring these situations up? If you’re betting on the games (you know, if you live in an area where that kind of thing is legal), you always like to know when teams are just trying to get through the year, pick up that paycheck each week and look to either getting ready for next season or getting away from the team they are on. There’s are several other teams that might fall into this list in the next couple of weeks (Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers…we’re looking at you, guys), but always try to keep a pulse on what the mental state of a team is like when looking over the lines.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Green Bay Packers vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (+2.5); OVER 46.5

It was amazing to watch that game last week between the Packers and the Broncos and watch as the Broncos defense completely stifled Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers. Here was a two-time NFL Most Valuable Player being completely stuffed by the Broncos, throwing for only 77 yards FOR THE ENTIRE GAME. While the Panthers don’t have (we think) the same defense as the Broncos, they are going to be scouring that Bronco/Packer game film to find some tricks to use against the Pack again.

I really don’t see how the Packers, on the road for the second week in a row and coming off a devastating loss, are favored heading into this game. Sure, the Panthers allowed a sputtering Indianapolis Colts squad back into their contest on Monday night before eking out a win to go 7-0, but the ‘Cats ruled the game for the most part on both sides of the ball. With QB Cam Newton getting more comfortable with his receiving corps, TE Greg Olsen doing a Southern impersonation of Rob Gronkowski and RB Jonathan Stewart continually and consistently pounding the ball on the ground, this should be a game that the Panthers win outright.

Oakland Raiders vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-4.5); UNDER 48.5

The Raiders have been gaining respectability over the past few weeks and, if you can believe it, are currently battling with the New York Jets and the Steelers for the two playoff spots in the AFC (if the playoffs started today). This would be a good time for them to pull out a victory, on the road at Heinz Field against the men from Steel City, and improve their chances for making the playoff for the first time since 2002.

Something is going to have to give in this game. Will Raiders QB Derek Carr and rookie WR Amari Cooper be able to run roughshod over a Steeler D that resembles more of an “Aluminum Foil” Curtain than Steel, or will a rested QB Ben Roethlisberger (back from his injury and working off the rust last week) and WR Antonio Brown bring the firepower back to the Steeler passing game while RB DeAngelo Williams picks up the slack after the season-ending injury to Le’veon Bell? My pick goes to the Steelers, who battled the AFC Central leading Cincinnati Bengals all the way to the end in a 16-10 loss and showed they might not be a team you want to sleep on for the remainder of the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7.5); OVER 48

What the hell happened to Saints QB Drew Brees last week? His historic performance (505 yards, 7 TDs) against the New York Giants (in the third highest scoring output in regular-season NFL history, 52-49) might signify that the Bayou Boys may have started to wake up from their early season slumbers. That has probably come at a good time as Carolina (undefeated) and the Atlanta Falcons (6-2, two games ahead but lost the first meeting with the Saints) were threatening to run off with the NFC South.

The Titans aren’t exactly going to throw any fear into the face of Brees or the Saints. Although their defense is holding teams to 22.7 points per game (expect the Saints to have that in the first half on Sunday), Titans QB Marcus Mariota has cooled off after his quick start and the offense is only mustering up slightly more than 18 points a game. Firing former Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt during the week also isn’t going to make for a well-rehearsed game plan, so expect the Saints to administer another drubbing.

Last Week:  3-3
Overall:  25-14-2

Another grotesque weekend in breaking even. Despite being Nostradamus on the Seattle/Dallas game (nailing Dallas plus points and the under), I crapped the bed the rest of the way. Only the low scoring 49ers/Rams game eked me out a .500 weekend as everything else went wrong. The record looks good for the overall year, the past couple of weeks needed some work; we’re going to get that started this week.

NFL Week 6 Picks: Trends Aren’t Necessarily Something to Follow

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In the National Football League, there are some trends that occur in betting that amateurs usually get caught up in (you know, if you’re in an area where you can legally place a bet on a sporting event). Everyone loves to take a team coming off a bye week, figuring that the extra rest will have recharged the batteries of the squad and have them fresh for the first game back from the bye. As of 2013, teams coming off the bye week won 53.4% both straight up and against the spread, not as much as you might think.

One trend that does have some legs for some reason is the West Coast team traveling to the East Coast for a game. According to a study in 2013, since 2005 a West Coast team that traversed the continent to play on the East Coast had a record of 44.57 against the spread, a winning percentage of .436. If the teams were traveling to the Central Time Zone, they also had a horrible win rate against the spread, 37-44 (.457). Going to the Mountain Zone, the West Coast team was a bit better off, going 22-10 (.688).

While the average person might say “AHA!” and run with this, you still have to do the math. The West Coast teams are the Oakland Raiders (putrid for much of the last decade), San Diego Chargers (42-38 over the past five years), San Francisco 49ers (three outstanding seasons between 2011-13 with an 8-8 slate in 2014 and a 6-10 record in 2010 and dismal results prior to 2010) and the Seattle Seahawks (23-41 between 2008-11, 36-12 between 2012-14). As you can see, the teams who make up the “West Coast” franchises have had long stages where they weren’t exactly the best team to be making a difficult trek across the country to play the games. Basically, whenever you see someone spouting about a “trend” that always has to be followed, you have to put your own analysis to the test before you jump off the diving board.

This week in the NFL is a tough one, with several games that could go either way. There are some good choices, however, if you’re brave enough to take the risk (home team in CAPS, pick in bold).

Arizona Cardinals vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (+4); UNDER 45

Here’s an example of one of those trends that has actually been scientifically proven. When a dome team goes to play an outdoor team in conditions where the temperatures are around 40 degrees, the dome team only wins the game about 20% of the time. The forecast for Heinz Field in the Steel City on Sunday is for temps to hover around 44 degrees with a gusty wind knocking the chill down to 39 degrees. Although Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has some experience playing in these conditions (he played college ball for the University of Pittsburgh), the Cardinals are that dome team that will have problems with outdoor games.

I also like the Steelers in this game because they seem to have figured out that running the ball with RBs Le’veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams might be a good way to operate the offense while QB Ben Roethlisberger is out and Michael Vick (still dangerous, by the way) is under the center. If the Steelers are able to control the pace of this game, they’ll stay close to the Cardinals and keep it under 45 total points for the game.

Chicago Bears (+3.5) vs. DETROIT LIONS; UNDER 44

This is the game that will be on the NFL Sunday Ticket bar televisions in Hell. Both teams are downright ugly and it is stunning as to why. The Lions aren’t exactly bereft of talent with QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, but they are the only team in the NFL so far this season without a win. The Bears have had some injury issues, but that doesn’t explain why they are averaging slightly more than 17 points per game and seemingly have begun the “fire sale” to gut the team and rebuild for the future. The Bears have shown that, on occasion, they can stop an opposing offense, thus I’ll take the former “Monsters of the Midway” and go UNDER in what will be a torturous affair.

Miami Dolphins vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (-2); UNDER 43.5

After their game two weeks ago in the United Kingdom, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin. Whenever you are firing your coach four games into the season, that isn’t going to bode well as to your chances for the remainder of the year.

Still, we see a couple of the “trend” theories playing out here. The line originally opened at Titans (-3), so that has closed up a bit (perhaps because of the “bye week” trend?) and the O/U was set at 45.5. It’s now dropped to 43.5 as some weather conditions have arisen that could cause some issues for the teams (“warm weather” team playing in bad conditions?). The Titans are going to bring a good game against the ‘Fins, with the Titans averaging 25 points per game and QB Marcus Mariota looking very solid behind center, thus they get the pick.

Last Week:  5-0-1
Overall:  19-8-2

SO CLOSE to perfection last week! The only pick missed – and technically not missed but a push – was the Seahawks losing to the Cincinnati Bengals by three, the exact spread of the game. This week’s going to be a bit tougher to fade, but we’ll see what happens.

Are You Ready for Some Football!?!? How About Fantasy, Sports Betting…

If you’ve been in a cave for the past six months, you might not realize that the National Football League is about to start its 95th season of action tonight. Over the next six months, the 32 teams in the NFL will battle it out for supremacy in what is the biggest professional sports league in the United States. It will also bring about more wasted time in with the activities of fantasy football and sports betting thrown into the mix.

It hasn’t exactly been the greatest of years for the NFL. The end of last season was scarred by “Deflategate,” the accusation that the now-Super Bowl champion New England Patriots (after one of the stupidest calls in NFL history by Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll) used deflated footballs to win the AFC championship over the Indianapolis Colts, and the resulting investigation. After a few months, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed down massive fines against New England and, in his boldest move, suspended star quarterback Tom Brady for four games for his “part” in the scandal.

The “Deflategate” game continued through the summer and virtually up to tonight’s first event of the season, the tradition clash between the defending Super Bowl champion (New England, in this case) against a potential challenger to their crown (the Pittsburgh Steelers). After failed settlement talks, a judge stepped in and struck Brady’s suspension, allowing the four-time Super Bowl champion to start the season. All of this “action” off the field continued to hide the other issues facing the NFL, including concussion protocols, drug, alcohol and physical abuse situations from players and the problems with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between the league and the players.

The result of all this turmoil? Nobody is probably more ready for the season to start than Goodell.

Goodell is in the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position in the NFL. He is hired by the owners to protect the integrity of The Shield, but it is tough to do that when the people who hired you fail to have your back. New England owner Robert Kraft came just short of demanding Goodell’s head on a truncheon over the “Deflategate” controversy and, if you add in the vehement anger of the players over some of Goodell’s decisions, you wonder why the man wants to continue as the Commissioner of the league. There is but one reason:  $44 million in salary paid by the league to Goodell in 2013; you can be sure that it hasn’t gone down because of his “bad leadership.”

Anyway, Goodell and the rest of the NFL would like you to know that the first game of the season is tonight. The Steelers come into Gillette Stadium to face the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots and Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters and other sports bars across the United States will be bustling with activity (and just wait until Sunday, when those bars will explode). There are several ways to look at the game:  through the eye of Fantasy Football, through the world of sports betting and through the activity of being a fan.

The Thursday games, since the NFL expanded their schedule a few years ago to include at least one per week, have been plagued by many problems since they started (quality of the games, the quick turnaround from playing on the previous Sunday bringing the potential for more injuries, etc.). As a result, the Thursday game in all three scenarios is affected; fantasy players have to make sure their lineups are set (instead of waiting until Sunday), sports bettors have to take into account the short layoff in their bets and fans have a game to watch and a day still left in the working week, so they can’t stay up too late to watch whichever game is playing.

Since it’s the first game of the season, this Thursday’s tilt between the Steelers and the Patriots won’t be affected by any “short turnaround” curse. Fantasy players will definitely look to have certain players – Patriot players Brady and Rob Gronkowski on one side of the ball, Steelers players Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown on the other – in their lineups to get off to a good start for the weekend. Fantasy players will want to know that Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell won’t be in the lineup (one game suspension for marijuana usage from last season), but DeAngelo Williams, over from the Carolina Panthers, is a nice backup to have on the team.

Williams won’t be enough to pick up the slack on the scoreboard for Pittsburgh, however. Brady, after everything that went on with the “Deflategate” scandal, is coming out in “Fuck You” mode for the entirety of the season and that starts tonight with a whipping of the Steelers. The line on the game opened with the Patriots a 2.5 point favorite, but that was before Brady was cleared for the game. Now the line sits at Patriots -7, so it may be tempting to take Pittsburgh; keep away from that temptation, take the Patriots and give up the points but take the UNDER on the 50.5 O/U.

As far as being a fan, there’s no better time than the start of the season in any of the major professional sports leagues. Everyone starts out 0-0 and the hopes and dreams are there for every team to make the playoffs at the minimum and the Super Bowl at the max. With this in mind, I’ve looked it over and these are the teams that should make the playoffs for each conference:

NFC:  Philadelphia (East), Green Bay (North), New Orleans (South), Seattle (West) NFC Wild Cards:  Arizona, Dallas NFC Champion:  Seattle

AFC:  New England (East), Cincinnati (North), Indianapolis (South), Denver (West) AFC Wild Cards:  Pittsburgh, San Diego AFC Champion:  Indianapolis

Super Bowl 50 Champion:  Seattle

Maybe I’ll try to throw some picks your way over the coming four months (you know, if betting on games was LEGAL or something) and maybe we’ll check this out again come January 2016 when the playoffs roll around. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the game, intoxicated by the fantasy aroma or have a few ducats riding on the game, the NFL is back and the game is on!