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 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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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.