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 11 Predictions: What The Hell Happened?

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If you were watching the National Football League last weekend, you had to feel like you were in the Twilight Zone. Just about the time that you thought that you had the inner workings of the season down, it became Bizarro World (also known as Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ daily existence). Just take a look at some of the finishes from last week and you’ll see what I mean.

The Detroit Lions beating the Green Bay Packers IN LAMBEAU FIELD? The Washington Redskins crushing the New Orleans Saints? The lowly Kansas City Chiefs knocking off the (then) undefeated Denver Broncos ON THE ROAD? I could go on, but you’re getting the gist. It was an ugly weekend last week to try to pick games.

You will see these types of weekends once or twice during an NFL season. The unfortunate thing is it completely screws up any logic you have on your wagering (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing). Still, we have to soldier on and hope that the craziness of Week 10 doesn’t rear its ugly head again this week.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Indianapolis Colts vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (-3); OVER 47.5

The Falcons are vying for one of the two Wild Card positions in the NFC and, as such, they cannot overlook a Colts team whose only hope of making the playoffs rests in their winning the division (the Colts are leading the AFC South despite their 4-5 record). Unfortunately for the Colts, they are coming into the Georgia Dome to face a team that is coming off a bye week. It isn’t going to be a pretty sight.

Falcon RB Devonta Freeman looked to be hitting the wall in his last game (this is his first year as a starter), so the week off had to give him a much needed recharging. With QB Matt Ryan and WR Julio Jones also needing a bit of refreshment, the bye week came at a perfect time for them to make a charge towards the playoffs. The Falcons defense should have a pre-Thanksgiving feast with QB Andrew Luck on the bench due to injury and a geriatric Matt Hasselbeck lining up under center for the Colts.

They may not catch the Carolina Panthers for the NFC South divisional crown, but they are in great position to capture a Wild Card. They need this win against the Colts to keep that drive going.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-4); OVER 48

If this game had been played a week ago, I would have been on the Bengals. The powerhouse offense of QB Andy Dalton, WRs A. J. Green and Marvin Jones and RB Giovanni Bernard looked to be unstoppable…that is, until they ran into the Houston Texans and sputtered in a Monday night game 10-6. Now, I’ve got to go with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have been thoroughly challenged over the course of the season, winning a shootout with the Seattle Seahawks last week (39-32) with a defense that is currently holding teams to 20 points a game. Only once has someone come into University of Phoenix Stadium this season and beaten the Cards (that was the St. Louis Rams) and the Cards offense has scored less than 20 points exactly once this season. Put those facts together and I see the Cardinals winning a shootout in the desert by a touchdown.

Buffalo Bills vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-7); OVER 47.5

The Patriots are one of only two undefeated teams left in the NFL (the other is the Carolina Panthers) and there is nothing to make anyone think that they won’t be undefeated after this game. QB Tom Brady is still on his “Fuck You” Tour 2015 (remember, they had one of these back in 2007 after the “Spygate” situation) and the rest of the team seems to be following their leader. Add in the fact that one of the arch-enemies of the Patriots – Bills Head Coach Rex Ryan – is standing on the other sideline and this one is going to be a bloodbath quickly.

With the vitriol that the Pats already have for Ryan and the Bills, you can add in one more. At this time, the Bills are in the playoffs as the second Wild Card team (behind the Pittsburgh Steelers) and it would potentially make Head Coach Bill Belichick crack a smile to whip the Bills and put a dent in those playoff aspirations. There is pretty much nothing that is going to put a loss on the Patriots’ schedule in this game.

Last Week:  3-3
Overall:  31-20-2

For the fourth consecutive week, we haven’t been able to break the .500 mark. After a week like last weekend, however, I’ll take that. There was so much chaos that sometimes you’ll take a .500 week amid the carnage and walk away alive. Looking to make some ground this week because the playoffs are approaching. Once teams start locking up playoff slots, then the betting options start to dry up.

NFL Week 3 Picks: Injuries, Bad Starts Having Huge Impact on Games

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There are two things that are having a huge impact on the betting of the games for the National Football League this weekend (you know, if you’re in a location that allows for that type of thing). First off is the number of organizations that are sitting at 0-2, normally an indicator that there are problems for a team. In the AFC, there are three teams that have dropped their first two tilts (surprisingly the Indianapolis Colts are in this boat with the Baltimore Ravens and the Houston Texans) and, in the NFC, five (a sixth, the New York Giants, pulled out of the ranks of the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and the surprise team, the Seattle Seahawks, with their win on Thursday night over Washington).

The reason for the concern about these teams making the playoffs? In the last 25 years, there have been 125 teams that have started the season 0-2. Of that massive group, only three of them have been able to reach the playoffs and the last one, the San Diego Chargers, did it in 1998. As you can see, there is some reason for concern among the fan bases of these teams if not the locker room and the front office. A third loss by these teams may mean an early end to their hopes for at the minimum making the playoffs.

The second thing that is affecting games at this early mark of the season is injuries. Three star quarterbacks will be on the bench for their team’s games on Sunday, uncommon in this day and age of protecting the quarterback at all costs. Dallas Cowboys QB Tony Romo will be gone for at least the next eight weeks; the Bears will be without the services of Jay Cutler and Saints QB Drew Brees will miss his first game ever during his tenure with the team this weekend. With two of those teams without their star wide receivers also (the Bears without Alshon Jeffery and the Cowboys without Dez Bryant), it is difficult to take those teams in their upcoming games…but it isn’t impossible.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Atlanta Falcons (-1) vs. DALLAS COWBOYS; UNDER 44

These two teams come into the game holding 2-0 records. Not surprisingly, the game was a pick’em when the lines opened up following the Week 2 games. For it to have only swung one point on the board (the O/U has stayed constant) indicates that the sharps thought this one was going to be a close one from the start.

Without both Romo and Bryant, I don’t see how the Cowboys can do anything in this game offensively. Backup QB Brandon Weeden has lost his last eight starts (no victories since 2012) and the Falcon defense will be jamming the line to cut off the running lanes for RBs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. Even TE Jason Witten and WR Terrance Williams will have difficulty getting anything going without Romo around. IF – and that’s a mighty big IF – the Cowboy defense performs over its head, the ‘Boys may steal this one…but I’m not expecting it.

Chicago Bears vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-14); OVER 43.5

What if you were the team that suffered perhaps the WORST loss in Super Bowl history only seven months ago? What if you came out of the gate with one of the star members of your “Legion of Boom” defense holding out for more money and your star QB happily sitting on his pile of cash while the team stunk up the joint in two road games? Wouldn’t you be a little upset? That’s going to be the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and it isn’t going to be pretty for whoever faces them.

That task, alas, goes to a Chicago Bears team that is also 0-2 but has no good mojo going for its side. Both QB Cutler and WR Jeffery are going to be at least sitting on the sidelines for the game (if not sitting back in the Windy City) and their backups aren’t exactly going to frighten anyone. QB Jimmy Clausen has exactly 11 starts in the NFL under his belt, while WR Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson have been battling nagging injuries of their own. While RB Matt Forte is averaging 101 yards per game rushing, he isn’t going to be seeing those holes with the “Legion of Boom” back in force.

New Orleans Saints vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-8); UNDER 43.5

The Saints weren’t exactly setting the world on fire in their first two games this season, a loss at Arizona (nothing to be embarrassed about) and at home to Tampa Bay (led by rookie QB Jameis Winston). Their rushing game is nonexistent, with neither RB Mark Ingram nor Khiry Robinson having 100 total yards rushing two games into the season. Brees was doing his usual, averaging 305 passing yards per game, but he’s going to be the one counseling backup QB Luke McCown on what to do against the Panthers D this weekend.

This isn’t going to be a shootout, though, as some of the games have been in the past. In their previous two games, the Panthers have gone UNDER in both games (29 total points against Jacksonville, 41 against Houston). QB Cam Newton is doing just enough to get the job done, an amazing feat considering he’s still introducing himself to some of the wide outs on the team. If all else fails, however, Newton can chuck the ball to TE Greg Olson or hand it off to RB Jonathan Stewart. Those are pretty good safety valves to have on your side.

Last Week:  4-1
Overall:  8-3-1

If it wasn’t for the factor that the New England Patriots beat the O/U on their own against the Buffalo Bills last week (the line was 44 and we went UNDER; the Pats racked up 48), we would have been able to book a perfect weekend. Those weekends are few and far between in the betting world – it would have been nice to rack up one of those already for the 2015 season. Maybe this will be the week we can put a zero in the loss column.