LaVar Ball’s Mouth Writing Checks His Sons’ Bodies Can’t Cash

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The National Basketball Association Playoffs are currently ongoing and, to be honest, to say that they have been a bit dull would be the understatement of the year. The two best teams in each conference – the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers with “next evolution in human existence” LeBron James and the 2015 champion Golden State Warriors with smooth-as-silk shooter Steph Curry (among others) – have literally steamrolled past their opposition, with both sides only losing one game so far (did anyone see that decimation the Cavaliers laid on the Boston Celtics in Game 2? On their home floor? That the Celts came back for a squeaker win on Sunday in Cleveland was shocking). Sometime next week, these two teams will meet for the third year in a row (never done previously) to determine the NBA Finals championship.

But the collision course these teams are on hasn’t been the big story in the Association…not by a long shot.

The NBA Draft, like its cousin with the National Football League, has become almost as big a deal as its pro football brethren. Players from around the world and the best “one-and-doners (players who went to college to meet the NBA requirement that they be one year removed from high school)” vie for one of the 60 slots (the draft is two rounds, with the first-round picks guaranteed to be on an NBA roster) in the draft. With these stakes, players are trying to make their best impressions…except for one.

Lonzo Ball is, giving the player his due, one of the better prospects in this year’s NBA draft. If it weren’t for the idiotic “one year” rule that the NBA has implemented to prevent kids from going straight from high school, it is thought that Ball would have been one of the success stories to come straight from the high school ranks. After winning several high school Player of the Year awards across the country, Ball enrolled at UCLA, looking to improve his resume with the one year he plainly told everyone he would be there for.

In his one season with the Bruins, Ball’s statistics were nice but not mind blowing. He averaged 14.6 points per game, shot 55% from the field (and 41% from three-point territory), averaged six rebounds a game and almost eight assists as a guard/forward with UCLA. The 6’ 6” Ball was duly awarded many post-season honors, including the Wayman Tisdale Award for best college freshman and was first-team All-American (the team made the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA Tournament), as he held to his promise to only stick for one year on the campus of Westwood by declaring for the draft almost as soon as his Bruins team heard the final buzzer and was defeated in the NCAA Tournament.

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With such accolades and achievements, you would figure that Ball would be the talk of the draft. Unfortunately (for him), he has been overshadowed by his father, LaVar, who will tell anyone that will listen that his son(s) (that’s right, there’s two more following Lonzo) are going to change the basketball world. What the senior doesn’t realize is that he is writing checks that none of the Ball brothers will be able to cash.

Who is LaVar Ball? A quick look at his college life shows that he was a basketball player of no renown (averaged 2.2 points per game at Washington State over two seasons in the late 1980s) and found even less success when attempts were made to turn him into a football player. Ball would play in the World League of American Football (appropriate acronym of WLAF) as a tight end. In one season, he played with the London Monarchs and found time on the practice squads of both the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers. Other than this, there was absolutely nothing that would mark him as a “game changing” athlete, although even having the proverbial cup of coffee with a professional sports franchise is quite an achievement.

Apparently, this is about the time when Ball had his epiphany, even to the point of picking his wife for the express breeding purposes of creating basketball players. Don’t believe me? Ball himself said, “I see this tall girl, very attractive, walking down a hallway and I go, ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re gonna be doing something!’ Once that was in her head, I had her. I picked a big girl who was beautiful. A big stallion.”

When’s the last time you called your significant other a “big stallion” – and you were SERIOUS about it?

This wasn’t the end of it for Ball. He’s has said that Lonzo is better than Curry, who was only the Most Valuable Player in the NBA for the past two seasons. Ball has trashed Cavaliers’ point guard Kyrie Irving for coming from a single parent home, ignoring the fact that Irving’s mother passed away when he was four. Ball has said that, in his heyday, he could beat Michael Jordan one-on-one. Ball criticized Lonzo’s UCLA teammates, saying they were “too white” to win the championship (and, forgetting the fact that his wife is white, there’s a mixed heritage to Lonzo). He’s also created the family company “Big Baller Brand” and is currently marketing Lonzo’s signature shoe to the tune of $459 (you want them autographed by Lonzo? Make it $759…) – only after the three major shoe brands Nike, Under Armour, and Adidas, turned down his BILLION dollar demands for shoe deals with all three of his sons.

Having overbearing parents in sports is nothing new. You can see it pretty much every weekend when you go to a Little League baseball game or watch Friday Night Tykes (about PeeWee football) on television. It’s when those overbearing parents actually think they are doing their child(ren) a favor by pushing them hard does it usually blow up in their faces. One only should look at the career of former quarterback Todd Marinovich – basically engineered by his father to be an NFL quarterback, to the point that the senior Marinovich said that Todd had never eaten at a McDonald’s – or the up-and-down career of tennis player Jennifer Capriati (pushed by her mother) to see the down side of these types of actions.

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There has been at least one success story. The Williams sisters, Serena and Venus, were driven by their father Richard to excel at tennis, while at the same time inciting similar vitriol from the public for comments that he made regarding taking his girls from South Central Los Angeles to the pinnacle of tennis greatness. It is arguable, however, that the Williams sisters didn’t really reach their peak form until after they removed themselves from Richard’s tutelage and began to think and act for themselves.

The elder Ball may think that he’s helping his children achieve their goals and wants to take the family along for the ride. And that is something that all mothers and fathers want to ensure for their kids. At a certain point, however, that assistance becomes an overbearing, maniacal obsession and needs to be ended. That is where the elder Ball finds himself right now.

While Lonzo may be a high draft pick in this year’s NBA draft (the Celtics have the first pick and the Los Angeles Lakers – whom LaVar Ball has said he wants all three of his kids to play for – have the second), there is still a very close-knit professional community of athletes that will not take kindly to LaVar’s statements. Lonzo, through no fault of his own, is going to be targeted by these professionals for retribution. You don’t think that LeBron James won’t light him up for some of the things that LaVar has said about him? You don’t think that Curry or his teammates, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant, won’t smoke Lonzo at every opportunity? The utter failure of Lonzo Ball – and the “Big Baller Brand” – is a very realistic possibility and it would be a warning to others coming down the road that they aren’t bigger than the game, something that LaVar seems to think his family is.

Elijah Stewart,Lonzo Ball

Where Lonzo Ball goes in the draft – publicly NBA general managers and scouts are saying that Ball’s father isn’t going to affect his draft status – is still up in the air, but even he recognizes that his father rubs people the wrong way. “My dad’s a funny guy,” Lonzo said to Bleacher Report in an interview. “People were coming up to me and saying, ‘Are you embarrassed? Your dad said you’re going to win the championship.’ No, I’m not embarrassed. I know how he’s going to act. I just go out there and play. Let him be him.” There will come a point, however, where the junior Ball – and, if not him, one of his two brothers (who haven’t done jack shit yet) – will have to tell the senior Ball when enough is enough and cut ties with him if they are to reach their true success in professional basketball, just like Serena and Venus did in their pursuit of greatness.

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Week 8 2016 NFL Predictions: Bet the Money Line or the Spread?

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As we’re getting into the heart of the 2016 National Football League season, we’ve kind of hit a lull. There’s been enough games played that we’ve gotten a feel for which teams are doing well, but we’re still too far away from the playoffs to get excited about anyone or about any games. With this in mind, let’s spend some time taking about wagering on the NFL and something that any experienced sports bettor will get asked about frequently…how do you bet the games?

There are many ways to bet an NFL game. You can strictly look at it as one entity, betting the entire game and its outcome. You can also bet the first and/or second halves individually, usually getting some derivative of what the line is split evenly. But the best way I’ve found to not only hedge some bets but also get a little more than your investment paid back is in whether to bet the money line or bet against the spread.

Betting against the spread allows you to show your knowledge of the teams and the game. For example, let’s say that the New England Patriots are a six-point favorite over the Buffalo Bills (the line this week is Pats -5.5, but I digress). If you’ve studied the teams, trends and situations that demonstrate that the game will be within that spread, then you could bet the Bills and, if they lose 23-20, then you win their bet because they were getting a six-point cushion to work with. By losing by only three points, the Bills are a winner for you!

When you bet the money line, you’re looking for the best return on your bet. You’ve seen those bets with a “plus” or a “minus” in front of them? This is the money line, where you can make some nice coin if you’re able to catch the right side of the line. If you see, for example, “+130” with a team, that means you would have to bet $100 to win $130 (or, if you make a little wager online, $1 to win $1.30). If you see “-170,” that means you’d have to bet $170 to win $100. If you can catch the underdog often enough, it can be profitable.

Unfortunately, we’re not going with too many dogs this weekend (only one). We’ve also got to get caught up on the season to date. It’s not as good as it should be at the halfway mark, but we’re working on it!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

New York Jets (-3) vs. CLEVELAND BROWNS

If there was ever a time to catch the Cleveland Browns, it is right now. The only team in the NFL that has yet to win a game, they aren’t going to be winning one this week. If the Jets didn’t have RB Matt Forte or WR Brandon Marshall and the on again/off again starter QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (now “on” again and for the remainder of the season with QB Geno Smith done for the year), they STILL would have their defense to thwart the hapless Browns. Look for this game to be won by the Jets by at least a touchdown, if not more.

Oakland Raiders (Pick ‘em) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS; OVER 49

This promises to be a shootout as both teams are lacking defense. The Raiders are going to get the nod in this game, however, because of the availability of more weapons for QB Derek Carr to utilize in WRs Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and RB Latavius Murray. On the opposite side of the ball, QB Jameis Winston is trying to make do with a fill in with RB Jacquizz Rodgers (an adequate replacement for injured Doug Martin) and only having WR Mike Evans (WR Vincent Jackson is done for the year). Looking at those lineups, you’ve got to give the edge to the Silver and Black. The defenses aren’t anything to write home about, especially the 32nd ranked Raider D so, if this goes 41-38, don’t be surprised.

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Philadelphia Eagles (+4) vs. DALLAS COWBOYS

This is a tricky game to call, the battle of the rookie quarterbacks. It’s a battle of an outstanding defense (the fifth ranked Eagles) against an excellent offense (the third ranked Cowboys). It is also a battle for first place in the NFC East, which usually brings out the best in both teams.

While QB Dak Prescott has been a diamond in the rough for the ‘Boys, QB Carson Wentz is leading the Emerald Birds very well in his inaugural season. I can see this coming down to a defensive fight, which favors the Eagles in the long haul. They may not win the game outright, but I could see a 24-23 outcome with the Eagles covering the spread.

Minnesota Vikings (-4.5) vs. CHICAGO BEARS

How anyone can pick the Bears to do anything positive of late is unexplainable. With QB Jay Cutler or without him (he’s been out the last few games), the offense has been woefully incompetent and, rumor has it, the Bears will release Cutler at the end of the season (as far as this game, it is expected Cutler will start). The former “Monsters of the Midway,” the defense of the Bears, is also a shell of itself.

The Vikings were the last undefeated team left in the NFL until last week, when the Eagles handed them their first loss on the road. Don’t expect a second one in this game. In fact, it could be a boring affair on Monday night as the Vikings look to bury their division rival Bears.

Week 4:  2-3
Week 7:  4-1
2016 Season Overall:  14-13-1

Yes, you’ll see that there are a couple of weeks off in the middle. After Week 4 – my third consecutive losing weekend of the NFL season – I decided to take a couple of weeks off to recharge the batteries. It is an important lesson that, if you are on a bad streak, you must step away and perhaps review what approach you’re taking. You might not find any missteps along the way, but the review is always helpful.

Either way, the last two weeks work out to 6-4. Not a great comeback but, hopefully, we’ve turned a corner for the season.

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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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Leicester City – The Greatest Sports Achievement Ever?

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It may not have gotten much attention here in the United States, but I certainly was keeping an eye on it over the weekend. For those that don’t know anything about football – soccer to the U. S. fan – the English Premier League’s championship was decided over the weekend. In a shocking occurrence, Leicester City – who was on the verge of relegation (re:  being sent down to a lower division of professional football in England because they finished in the bottom three of the Premier League) with seven games to go last season – completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports history in winning the Premiership this season.

How big of a turnaround was this? Here’s some stats to give you an idea. The British bookmaker William Hill had Leicester City as a 5000 to 1 shot to win the Premiership at the beginning of the season last fall (and was still around 100-1 in January when Leicester City was leading the league) and many felt that relegation was more likely for the team in 2016 than anything else. They had to make a late run last year to finish in 14th place and started this year with a new manager, Claudio Ranieri, who wasn’t exactly loved by the Foxes fandom. Additionally, in the 30-plus years of the Premier League (and in going back to 1888 with English football), Leicester City had NEVER won the top-tier football league championship; in fact, in the Premier League, no team not named Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United had won the title since 1995 (Blackburn Rovers).

The stunning turnaround by the Foxes has brought up the question by many if it is the greatest sporting achievement of all-time. While the achievements of Leicester City are up there on the ladder, there’s a whole world of instances like this to choose from.

There are plenty of individual acts that you can put up as the greatest sports achievement ever. If you look at the sport of baseball, we can go back to the legendary Cy Young’s record for most wins by a pitcher of 511. The next closest pitcher to that mark is another member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Walter Johnson, who is nearly 100 wins behind Young with his 417 victories. To get to someone from the “modern era” (let’s be kind and call that 1950), you have to go down to Warren Spahn in sixth place with his 363 wins; even Greg Maddux (355) and Roger Clemens (354), legends from my lifetime, aren’t even close (the active pitcher with the most wins? I didn’t believe it myself…Bartolo Colon with 220!).

Then there are the hitting achievements. Nobody thought that Ty Cobb’s 4191 all-time hit record would ever be touched, but then Pete Rose came along and stroked 4256 hits (best active player? Alex Rodriguez, 3082). The home run record is a bit tainted with the Steroid Era of baseball (I personally still consider Hank Aaron’s 755 the record), but thoughts of anyone touching Barry Bonds’ 762 is a fantasy (even A-Rod – or A-Roid – can’t reach it at 692). The ONE record that might stand the test of time is Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak; nobody’s come close to that since 1978, when Rose went for 44 games (most recently, Jimmy Rollins went for 38 between two seasons in 2005-06).

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Golden State Warriors

Basketball has its share of great sports achievements and, this time, there are some team acts that come into the mix. This season in the National Basketball Association, the defending champion Golden State Warriors broke the record for most wins in a season (73) that had been held by Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. The Boston Celtics’ string of eight consecutive NBA championships will never be equaled (neither will their nine titles in twelve years) and the dominance of John Wooden’s UCLA teams in the NCAA Men’s Collegiate Basketball Tournament (champions for seven consecutive seasons, ten in twelve years) is unmistakable.

Still, arguably the biggest achievements in basketball were done by individuals. Back in 1962, the legendary Wilt Chamberlain went off in an NBA game against the New York Knicks, scoring 100 points in a game that was played not in the (then) Philadelphia Warriors’ home in the “City of Brotherly Love” but in Hershey, PA. If that wasn’t good enough, that 1962 season Chamberlain AVERAGED 50.4 points per game and a stunning 25.7 rebounds per contest. It makes the recently retired Kobe Bryant’s 81-point game against the Toronto Raptors in 2006 dim a little in recollection.

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There are potentially only two things that could approach what Leicester City did this season. Once comes from the National Football League and the other comes from the Olympics.

Back in 1969, the New York Jets were a huge underdog to the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III. An 18-point underdog (the second largest point spread in the history of the Super Bowl, second only to Super Bowl XXIX, where San Francisco was favored by 18.5 points over San Diego), quarterback Joe Namath not only guaranteed that his Jets were going to win the game but then went out and dominated the event, with a late touchdown by the Colts saving them from a shutout. But were the Jets even close to a 5000-1 shot to win Super Bowl III at the start of the season? Even with a similar number of teams in the NFL/AFL at that time as the Premier League has (18 for the NFL/AFL, 20 for the EPL), probably not.

The ONLY thing that might be comparable to the achievement of Leicester City is the Team USA “Miracle on Ice,” the defeat of the Soviet Union’s Red Army team in the 1980 Winter Olympics. It isn’t that the 4-3 match in the semifinals of the Olympic hockey tournament that stands out so much – albeit it was a stunning occurrence – but in looking back at the history between the teams and the overwhelming dominance of the Soviet hockey machine, there are parallels that can be drawn with Leicester City.

The Red Machine stormed through an exhibition tour against National Hockey League teams in 1980, going 5-3-1 before crushing an NHL All-Star team 6-0 to win the Challenge Cup. Team USA, on the other hand, had a 61-game exhibition schedule against European and U. S. teams not nearly as talented as NHL squads before meeting the Red Machine on February 9, 1980. To call that match competitive would be a joke; the Soviets crushed Team USA, 10-3, and went to the Olympics as the overwhelming favorite, while Team USA was thought to have no chance of even reaching the medal round (the semifinals).

Of course, we know now how history played out. Team USA and the Soviet Union would reach the semifinals and be paired together, with the college boys from the lakes and ice rinks of northern U. S. cities and towns giving the vaunted Red Machine – technically soldiers in the Soviet Red Army but professional hockey players all – the toughest game they would receive during the Olympics. After Mike Eruzione gave Team USA the lead with 10 minutes remaining, no one in the crowd of 8500 could believe what they were seeing (believe it or not, the game was not being shown live in the U. S.). As the partisan crowd counted down the seconds – and as announcer Al Michaels would say over the tape-delayed commentary later, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!!” – Team USA would defeat the Soviet Union and, two days later, defeated Finland to win the gold medal.

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When you have to go back more than 30 years – and back to something that was geopolitically charged as well as nationalistically inspired – to find something that is even CLOSE to what you’ve done, then it is pretty special. Let’s not start worrying about how Leicester City will do in defending their championship in the Premiership next season, nor worrying about how the Foxes will do in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League that they have qualified for. Bask in the warming glow of what is arguably the greatest sporting achievement in the history of team sports, whether it is English, European or internationally.

NFL Week 17 Predictions: Final Playoff Spots Yet to Be Determined

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After four long months of football, the National Football League has not yet determined the 12 teams that will vie for the right to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl 50 a little more than a month from now. In one conference, the six teams have been determined but not their actual positions. In the other, there are still a couple of spots up for grabs, with one team guaranteed not to be too pleased when the season ends on Sunday night.

In the NFC, the six teams are set. Winning the NFC East is the Washington Redskins, while the Carolina Panthers (NFC South) and Arizona Cardinals (NFC West) will vie for home field advantage through the playoffs (they already have seized the first round byes). If Carolina wins, the road to the Super Bowl goes through Charlotte; if Carolina loses and Arizona wins, then the Cards will bring teams to the desert with home field advantage. Where it gets interesting is in the NFC North.

The Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings will meet on Sunday night on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in Wisconsin with the NFC North title on the line for the winner. That victor has the dubious task of hosting the Seattle Seahawks, the #6 seed in the NFC, while the loser would have to hit the road as the #5 seed to take on #4 Washington in the Wild Card Round (there are some permutations that see Seattle moving up, but let’s stick with this for right now). It is that classic question…do you tank a bit to get the easier game against a perceived weaker opponent in Washington or do you go all out to win the division, with the reward the two-time defending NFC champion Seahawks?

The picture in the AFC isn’t quite as clear as the NFC has become. The only thing that is set in stone is that the New England Patriots (AFC East champion) and the Cincinnati Bengals (AFC North champion) have solidified spots in the playoffs. The Denver Broncos, who currently lead the Kansas City Chiefs by a game in the AFC West, have to win on Sunday against the San Diego Chargers to lock up the division and a first round bye (the Patriots would take the other). If they lose, there is a chance that they will fall all the way to the #5 or #6 seed in the AFC.

The other division titlist is still up for grabs, too. Right now the Houston Texans have a one game edge over the Indianapolis Colts, but a loss by the Texans to the Jacksonville Jaguars opens the door slightly for the Colts to take the AFC South (if they are able to beat the Tennessee Titans). There are also two teams contending for one Wild Card, with the situation taken care of if the New York Jets simply defeat the Buffalo Bills on Sunday (the Pittsburgh Steelers, the other team vying for the Wild Card, needs the Jets to lose and to beat the Cleveland Browns if they are to be the final Wild Card team).

There are plenty of lines waiting to be written about the 2015-2016 NFL season, even on Week 17. As it is the final week of the season, putting a few bets out there (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing) is a bit more difficult, but it does give you a bit more excitement while watching the games.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New York Jets (-3) vs. BUFFALO BILLS; UNDER 41

With a win in this game, the Jets can clinch the #5 seed in the AFC. If you had said that to the Jets hierarchy prior to the start of the season that the final game of the year they would be playing to get in the playoffs, they would have been jumping for joy. Alas, a loss by the Jets to their former Head Coach Rex Ryan (and a win by the Steelers) would bump them from the playoffs.

There’s just too many injuries on the Bills side of the ball for that to happen, however. RB LeSean McCoy is out for the game, further reducing the tools that QB Tyrod Taylor has to go to on offense. The weather isn’t going to help either team (snow is predicted with the winds around 16 MPH), so we’re also taking the UNDER on this game.

Seattle Seahawks vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-6.5); OVER 47

As one of the most prolific offenses in the NFC, the Cardinals still have a chance to take down the NFC home field advantage with a win here and a loss by the Panthers. Both teams will be playing at the same time, so there will be some “scoreboard watching” done, but the Cards have the most to play for out of the two teams.

Seattle is scraping into the playoffs this year, with injuries to TE Jimmy Graham, RB Marshawn Lynch and others (Graham and Lynch are out Sunday), but QB Russell Wilson has stepped up and is playing his best football of the season. It won’t be enough here as Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has an array of weapons at his disposal (and will use them frequently) and one of the toughest defenses in the game. The Seahawks, who aren’t going to move out of the Wild Card win or lose, might just let this one go to rest up for next week’s first playoff game.

Minnesota Vikings vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (-3); UNDER 44

To be honest, neither team really impresses me, even this late in the season. Sure, Vikings RB Adrian Peterson has come back with a Renaissance season, but QB Teddy Bridgewater has been rather inconsistent behind him. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has had to deal with a rash of injuries on his offense, which brought about an inconsistent running game and a midseason swoon that nearly jeopardized their trek to the playoffs.

On what is going to be a cold night in Green Bay (temperature expected to be 23 degrees at game time tonight), the defenses are going to be what dictate the game. I personally like the Packer defense at home, even though the statistics say that the Vikings are the better defense (ranked 14th in the league against the Pack’s 19th). It could be another fluke game that’s decided by a “Hail Mary” …like the Packers have already used earlier this year.

Last Week:  3-2-1
Overall:  42-29-5

A case where just a couple of points prevented a good weekend from being a great one. The Jets and Pats eked the OVER at 26-20 (we took the UNDER at 45.5) and got a push out of the Broncos/Bengals game while missing the O/U there (picked OVER 39.5, actual 37). Hope the last week of the season is kind as we get ready to enter into the postseason.

NFL Week 16 Predictions: Let’s See…What’s This Button Do?

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Yes, it has been a bit since I’ve stepped into the aura of being the next Jimmy the Greek. Due to some familial situations and travel, have been away from the shop for a bit. That will be a rare circumstance, I can assure you, as I do find the release here to be quite good for my overall well-being.

When it comes to the National Football League season, however, there are some very serious moments on the horizon. With only two weeks left in the season, there are a host of teams that still haven’t set their plans come January 4. The problem is that, when it comes to wagering on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing), there are three different types of teams that are taking the field.

First, there’s the team with their future preordained. Think of the Carolina Panthers or the New England Patriots here. They’ve already sewn up a spot in the playoffs or, as these two teams have, clinched their division titles. Now the questions that they have to answer is how hard do they want to go over the next two weeks? Carolina, looking to keep their record unblemished, would probably like to rest QB Cam Newton, but they have to at least try for the perfect regular season; New England is still in the fight of trying to seize home field advantage.

Second, there are those teams who are scrapping for the final playoff slots. These are teams like the New York Jets, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs (in the NFC, Minnesota and Seattle have basically assured themselves of a Wild Card). Those three AFC teams are currently involved in a fight for the two Wild Card seats and one is going to be left out and steaming over a (probably) .500 Houston Texans team hosting a playoff game as a division champion.

Finally, there are the “X-factors.” These teams – basically anyone who isn’t in line for a playoff spot, meaning about half the league (15 teams with some hanging by a thread) – could go in one of two different directions. They can come out and try to be that proverbial “spoiler,” that team that is working for 2016, or they can be that team that comes out and just wants to get to the finish line with all the ligaments and bones intact.

Why are these designations important? Because you have to look at the matchup and whether you have a team that is simply looking to get to the end of the season or a team that can potentially pull off a “spoiler” upset over an overconfident playoff team. It is important to be wary of these things when you’re laying it on the line.

(Home teams in CAPS, pick in bold)

New England Patriots vs. NEW YORK JETS (+3); UNDER 45.5

This is one of the few battles on the schedule between two teams that actually have something to play for. The Jets are in that Wild Card dogfight and the Patriots are looking to hold off the Cincinnati Bengals (without QB Andy Dalton) and the Denver Broncos (without QB Peyton Manning, and perhaps for the best) to take the overall #1 seed. In the past, this has normally proven to be a competitive game and I see it going that way this time.

Pats’ QB Tom Brady is probably asking players to put their names on the front of their helmets with masking tape, seeing how he has lost pretty much all of his rushing attack to injury (the team signed RB Steven Jackson, who hasn’t played all year, to a one-year contract earlier this week). He does have TE Rob Gronkowski, but he doesn’t have either of his scat back WRs Danny Amendola or Julian Edelman. The Jets have been sneaky good this year and are in the midst of a four game winning streak. They might not win it outright, but I’ll take the points here and go for the UNDER due to injuries on the Pats side and the general plodding attack of the Jets.

Green Bay Packers vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-4.5); UNDER 51

These are two teams that are already set for the playoffs but have some other gold rings to reach for. The Packers still have a shot at the NFC North division title and the Cardinals still have a chance at getting one of the first round byes. Thus, they are going to go at it hard in the desert on Sunday.

This is one of those games that you might want to send a statement, in the Cardinals’ case, so if the Packers come back in a couple of weeks, the memory will be fresh. You might also not want to show too much to the opposition, just in case that rematch occurs and they have full tape of your schemes. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has been having some difficulties with his running game of late, while Cardinals QB Carson Palmer seems to have the Big Red Machine running well. With this in mind – and the powerful Cardinal defense looking to chew up Rodgers into little Packer sausages – I’ll take the ‘Birds but with a low-scoring affair (so there isn’t any film).

Cincinnati Bengals vs. DENVER BRONCOS (-3); OVER 39.5

Probably one of the toughest games to pick this week. The winner of this game will, in all likelihood, take the #2 seed in the AFC (there’s a whole contingency on this, but let’s save it for next week). Both teams are missing their star quarterbacks and both have had backups step up and win big games for them. The key question is who will break first and, as a result, lose this particular game.

Coming off a tough loss to the Steelers, the Broncos are now only a game in front of the Chiefs for the AFC West division crown. This, along with the strong Bronco defense that will give QB AJ McCarron fits in the Rockies and QB Brock Osweiler doing some decent things for the Broncos, gives me reason to believe that the Broncos will emerge victorious in this game. While the teams are under backup QBs, they should manage to score more than 40 points between the two teams.

Week 14:  3-2-1
Overall:  39-27-4

Not a great week of play two weekends ago, but it wasn’t a loser. Overall we’re doing OK (a 55% clip) and, although this late in the season it is virtually impossible to get over the 60% mark, I’m still looking to rack up some more positive weekends as the regular season comes to a close next weekend.

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.