Week 3 2016 NFL Predictions: So Which Is It? Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

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We are only two weeks into the 2016 National Football League schedule and there’s already a few things that we can set in stone. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick could probably roll out Marcia Brady at quarterback and the team would win. We’ve seen big name pros fall to season-ending injuries (or essentially season-ending injuries, in the case of Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson), but what has been intriguing is in how a team can look so good one week and, literally seven days later, look like utter dog crap. This is what I like to call the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde Effect.

In the literary classic written by Robert Louis Stevenson, a mild mannered doctor creates a drug that, upon ingestion, allows him to indulge in his particular vices without losing his station in life. While in that transformed state, however, he is a sociopath, interested in only his own pleasures and completely uncaring as to the desires or needs of others. Eventually, the transformations begin to occur without the assistance of the drug and he needs to create an antidote to prevent it from happening. It is the place where we get the term “Jekyll and Hyde,” basically a demonstration of the two extremes that can occur in one person.

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So far this season, we’ve seen these “Jekyll and Hyde” transformations go off on several occasions. Perhaps the biggest of these conversions is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In their first game of the season, Bucs QB Jameis Winston (who has probably taken the award for “Jekyll and Hyde” player – we’ll get to this in a minute) blasted the Atlanta Falcons defense for four touchdown passes and a 31-24 victory over their division rival. Seven days later in taking on an admittedly energized Arizona Cardinals team (one that had been beaten by the Tom Brady-less Patriots in their season opener), Winston basically couldn’t identify his own team’s uniforms, tossing four interceptions and losing a fumble on the way to a 40-7 thrashing by the Redbirds.

The same holds true for some other teams in the NFL this season, but perhaps not to the same lengths. The Green Bay Packers had their way against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 1, but couldn’t muster any offense in another road game against the Vikings last week. The Los Angeles Rams have looked very Hyde-ish in two games, but they are 1-1 after holding the Seattle Seahawks (another Jekyll/Hyde candidate) to only three points last week.

Why does the “Jekyll and Hyde” Effect matter? Because it makes it very difficult to decide on whether to wager on a team or not. Which team are you going to get when you’re looking at the lines? Are you going to get the team that does the right things and wins with ease, or are you going to get the team that basically craps itself on the field and, by the midpoint of the third quarter, everyone is looking at padding their stats instead of winning the game? It usually takes about four weeks to be able to get a true feel for some of the teams but, with the “Jekyll and Hyde” teams, you’re never quite sure even after this point.

We’re going to try to avoid those “Jekyll and Hyde” teams this week, especially after the debacle that was Week 2 (more on that later). Remember, these are the insider’s best…what? Oh, OK…these picks are for entertainment purposes only!

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-7); OVER 41.5

Normally I wouldn’t even look at a touchdown favorite in the NFL, let alone pick them to win the game. This is a rare circumstance, however. The Vikings have basically had the season pulled out from under them, first with the season-ending injury to QB Teddy Bridgewater and then the Week 2 “virtually all of the season” ending knee injury to Peterson. While Sam Bradford came in for Week 2 and did an adequate job, that was with the threat of a Peterson-led running game; going with a Matt Asiata/Jerick McKinnon poo-poo platter, Bradford won’t be having the same success, especially against the vaunted Panther defense.

Carolina arguably should be 2-0 at this point, with a Graham Gano missed field goal being the difference in Week 1 against the Denver Broncos and the thrashing of the hapless San Francisco 49ers at home in Week 2. A second home game in a row for QB Cam Newton and Company is almost cruel for the Vikings to have to face. Look for a lot of scoring out of the Panthers, not so much with the Vikes.

Los Angeles Rams vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-5)

Remember how I said I was trying to avoid “Jekyll and Hyde?” I couldn’t help myself.

For the first time this season, the Buccaneers return to their home at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa (three other teams – the Miami Dolphins, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Packers – also are making their home debuts this weekend) and that is a remedy for many ills. It should help out Winston the most, who is coming off a horrendous start against the Cardinals but has reportedly put in a solid week of work towards the home opener. Losing RB Doug Martin might be a slight setback, but look for Winston to utilize his corps of wide receivers even more.

The Rams are a perplexing team in their own right. Beating the Seahawks last week would have been impressive in the past, but only scoring nine points on three field goals doesn’t exactly tell me you have an offensive juggernaut. Then there’s that whole “West Coast team going east” bugaboo…give up the points and take the Bucs and we’ll see if we get Dr. Jekyll this time around.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (+3)

I’ve seen Eagles QB Carson Wentz play two games now and am astounded at the poise presented by the rookie. Instead of just managing the game, the first-year man is making moves that even veterans don’t seem to make: audibles at the line of scrimmage, protection changes, route adjustments, Wentz is doing it all and making it look pretty easy. They’ve had it pretty easy in their first two games (against the Cleveland Browns at home and the Chicago Bears on the road last Monday night), so this will be a big test for the rook.

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Don’t take this pick as thinking that QB Ben Roethlisberger are going to lose this game. He’s still got WR Antonio Brown and RB DeAngelo Williams, two powerful offensive components that will be very active in this game. I just think that the Eagles will keep this closer than the three-point spread and, if they are still hanging around at the end of the game, they might be able to steal one against the men from Steel City.

New York Jets (+3) vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Jets have been another intriguing team at the start of the season. RB Matt Forte has solidified a running assault for the former Titans of New York and WR Brandon Marshall has been a reliable target for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (still finding his groove after extended contract negotiations in the offseason). The Jets racked up 37 points against the Buffalo Bills and looked to have things moving in the right direction.

Kansas City has once again been beset with injuries. RB Jamaal Charles has yet to play this season (no status for Sunday’s tilt yet) and one of QB Alex Smith’s big protectors, OL Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, is out for the game. Like the Steelers/Eagles game, I’m not going to say that the Chiefs aren’t going to win this game, but I can definitely see the Jets keeping it closer than three points.

Last Week:  1-4 2016 Season Overall:  7-5-1

Week 2 was a complete embarrassment. Other than seeing the Eagles beating the spread against the Bears (they won outright), there wasn’t any other pick that came home. Let’s just hope that was a one-week anomaly and that the chakras have cleaned themselves!

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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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Super Bowl 50, Part Two: So Who Wins the Big Game? Depends On What the Bet Is…

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After two weeks of hype, waiting, practice and some drama – people tried to turn Panthers QB Cam Newton’s “black quarterback” comments into a controversy, without much success, and the Broncos practice team player S Ryan Murphy was sent back to Denver (and will probably be cut from the team at first opportunity) after being questioned in a prostitution sting – we’ve actually come to the point where the teams will actually play the game. The Carolina Panthers, the champions of the NFC, will square off against the Denver Broncos, the victors of the AFC, to determine who will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 50th time in the National Football League’s history. The two teams that have made it this far have definitely shown they are worthy contenders for the crown.

For the Carolina Panthers, if you would have told them in Training Camp they would be playing in the Super Bowl, they would have thanked you. Coming off a 7-8-1 season – although the champions of the NFC South – the Panthers weren’t exactly scaring anyone. The team had let RB DeAngelo Williams go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, preferring to stick with Jonathan Stewart as the full-time running back, and during Training Camp lost their electrifying WR Kelvin Benjamin to a devastating knee injury. While Newton was a known commodity, it was expected that the Panthers would have some difficulties doing much of anything with a revamped offensive line, a no-name wide receiving corps and a suspect defensive unit.

For the Denver Broncos, it almost seemed as if this was their final shot. After being crushed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos came back and won the AFC West again with a 12-4 record. After taking their first round bye, however, they were upset in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year by QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This led to the firing of John Fox, the hiring of new head coach Gary Kubiak and the “now or never” approach as QB Peyton Manning entered his third year at the helm of the Broncos and they came into this season with questions lingering about his health.

As they always say, that’s why they play the game. Carolina rocketed off on a 14-game winning streak, only losing to the Atlanta Falcons on the road late in the season, before righting the ship and beating their last three opponents (last regular season game against lowly Tampa Bay and two postseason games against Seattle and Arizona) by a combined 118-49 score. Denver, despite losing Manning for more than a quarter of the year, rode the #1 defense in the NFL to a punishing victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

In taking a look at Super Bowl 50, we’re going to break down the offense, the defense, the special teams and the coaching. Then we’ll reveal our all-important pick…but be assured, there’s many ways to win on Super Bowl Sunday.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks – When it comes to the men running the teams, it is difficult to say who has the edge. Athleticism definitely would go to Newton, but experience would by far go to Manning. Both fit perfectly into their own systems, have faced adversity during the season and pulled their team through the problems. If you’re really going to get nit-picky, Manning’s been to this dance four times now (he’s 1-2 in his previous trips), while Newton is making his first appearance. By the slimmest of margins, Manning will take the edge in this category. EDGE:  BRONCOS

Running Backs – This category is a no-brainer. When Manning is on the field, the running game is somewhat of a second thought, used more as a change-up from the passing game than the “run the ball to set up the pass” style of the Panthers. The Panthers will pound a defense mercilessly, even when it doesn’t look like it is doing anything. The Panthers philosophy is that, eventually, the running game will weaken a defense after enough time that Stewart will break out on a run. Stewart, who finished the season 11 yards short of 1000 yards (and missed the final two regular season games) has been outstanding during the playoffs; expect him to at the minimum keep the Broncos defense honest by adding the potential for a running attack alongside Newton’s running and passing abilities. EDGE:  PANTHERS

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – This one is going to be a push. Manning has WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as his options but, even though he had a decent season, Thomas led the team in dropped passes, letting a ball hit the turf on roughly 5% of his targets. Newton’s favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, can be shut down if a team is willing to risk putting a defensive back on him. The Broncos may try this, but they have to be concerned that WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (who led the Panthers with 10 TD receptions) or Devin Funchess (5 TD receptions) doesn’t burn them somehow. As I said, this is…EDGE:  PUSH

Offensive Line – The Denver offensive line has been held together with baling wire and bubble gum for much of the year. The exact opposite holds true for Carolina, which has been able to have a relatively steady lineup through the entire year. This is going to benefit the Panthers greatly as the Broncos, with the #1 defense in the NFL, are a tenacious and aggressive unit who will look to pressure Newton into mistakes. Whichever side controls the game will probably dictate which way the Super Bowl goes but, for the purposes that we have spelled out here, I’ve got to give…EDGE:  PANTHERS

DEFENSE

Defensive Line/Linebackers – Both teams have front sevens that are the best in the game today. The Broncos are technically ranked as the #1 defense in the NFL, but the Panthers gave up fewer points per game than their counterparts from the Rocky Mountains. Both teams are led by a tandem of outstanding linebackers – Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware for the Broncos, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (who is expected to see a great deal of action despite having a broken arm sustained in the NFC Championship Game) for the Panthers – but it is the Broncos who have the better pass rush, sacking the opposing quarterback 59 times during the season versus the Panthers’ 44.

Defensive Backs – Counteracting the front seven is the fact that the Panthers led the league in takeaways (+20) versus the Broncos (-4). The Panthers intercepted the ball 24 times during the season versus the Broncos’ 14, with Panthers DB Josh Norman having a breakout rookie season in returning two of his four picks for touchdowns and, with teams trying to avoid him, Kurt Coleman ending the year among the league leaders in interceptions with seven. The best Bronco in that category was DB Aqib Talib, who could only pull in three on the season (although he did return two for touchdowns).

The effectiveness of Davis could very well be the linchpin of which defense will have the better success. Without Davis, the Broncos will be able to focus more on occupying Kuechly and be able to have their offense dictate more of the game. If Davis is able to play effectively, it could be a long day for Manning. Both teams, at their current strength this moment, have to be rated…EDGE:  PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is a category that the Panthers have firm control over. Ginn is the teams punt returner and he is a threat to break a game wide open at any moment with the ball in his hands. Their kick returning duties have been in the hands of Fozzy Whittaker, who averages nearly 24 yards per return. The Broncos counter with Sanders, who has more fair catches than returns this season on punts, and Omar Bolden, who has only 15 kickoff returns this season.

The kicking games rate about even, although the distance is going to be tough to judge. Denver’s kickers, P Britton Colquitt and K Brandon McManus, have the advantage of kicking in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, thus their distance statistics might not be applicable kicking at sea level in California. Carolina P Brad Nortman and K Graham Gano did outstanding jobs in 2015, with Gano especially sound at distance through the season.

The pick in this aspect of the contest will have to go to the boys from the NFC. With both Ginn and Whittaker, they possess the threats that can break the game open…the Broncos, not so much. EDGE:  PANTHERS

COACHING

There is no way to choose one coaching squad over the other in this contest. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has been to the Super Bowl as a player (he backed up John Elway in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV, all losses) and as an assistant coach (with the winning San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX and with the winning Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII), but this is his first trip as the man in charge. The same can be said for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was a part of arguably one of the greatest Super Bowl teams in history (the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears) as a player, but this is his first trip as a head coach. Thus, this is definitely EDGE:  PUSH

SUPER BOWL 50

As was stated at the start, it depends what you’re betting on as to which way to take the winner in this situation.

For some people, they want to just bet the straight game itself. I pick one team, you take the other and may the best team win. If that is the case, then I would have to say that you would have to pick the Panthers in this game. Both defenses are going to cause fits for Newton and Manning but, by the second quarter, I can see both of them beginning to figure out some things that will work. Manning might be able to get some of the passing game operational – if his patchwork line can keep the Panther D off of him long enough – and, for Newton, the Panthers might be able to start running the ball effectively enough to be able to start the freewheeling Panther passing game (it also would open up the pass/run option for Newton…look for the Broncos to play Newton for the run until he beats them with his arm a couple of times). Newton has more weapons at his disposal and a better defense, hence I believe the Panthers will take the game.

For the more traditional bettor out there, here’s how you’ve seen me put it all year:

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Carolina Panthers vs. DENVER BRONCOS (+5); OVER 44

Once Manning and Newton get things figured out, then the game will get exciting. The line originally opened up at Panthers -4 and, if it had stayed at that point, I would have taken the Panthers because I see a final of 28-24 with the Panthers winning (that would be a push, if you’re keeping score at home). That extra point going against the Panthers switches my pick to the Broncos, who I believe will cover the spread and, between the two teams, they will go OVER the 44 projected points; hell, it could be something along the lines of 38-34, even, if the offenses erupt early.

This isn’t a contradiction; this is simply a demonstration on how it depends on what your betting as to what your pick might be!

Conference Championships:  2-2
Overall Season:  55-37-5

All in all, it has been a good season. Once we add these three picks in (the straight game pick of the Panthers, the spread pick of the Broncos and the O/U), I will have an even 100 picks for the 2015-16 NFL season. I would have preferred a better record than 55% – and may earn it with the final three picks of the year – but it goes to show how difficult it is to bet any sporting contest. After Super Bowl Sunday, we will have to go into a slumber until next September, when the pigskin will come out for real once again and the prognostications will arise from their slumber…maybe for better but potentially for worse!

2015 NFL Postseason Picks, Conference Championships: My First Super Bowl Bet and What is the “Back Door?”

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We’re only two weeks away from the 50th rendition of what was originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, meaning we have a whole afternoon of football this Sunday to decide the two teams that will represent the conferences that have descended from the lineage of that first game. Now the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference make up the National Football League and the Super Bowl has become a cultural phenomenon, nothing like that first game that was played so long ago. It makes you think back about your first experiences with the game…

My first experience with betting the Super Bowl came when I was in the Marines in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Chicago Bears had dominated everyone that year, coming to the Louisiana Superdome to take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX with a swagger that everyone knew was just going to crown them the champion. Thus, many were trying to find angles to bet the game and a gunny I worked with found one with me. He wagered that the Bears’ RB Walter Payton would fumble within his first ten carries for $20, a bet I willingly picked up knowing Payton’s abilities to protect the ball.

Gathered around the Enlisted Club at the Marine Barracks, we started watching the game and, sure enough, Payton would fumble on his ninth carry of the game. As I handed over the $20 to the gunny, I asked him how did he know such a bet was going to come through. He replied that, knowing how many times Payton had carried the ball since his last fumble and knowing his fumble frequency (how often he fumbled the ball), his computations were that Payton was due for a miscue such as that. And that, my friends, was my first experience with statistical measurements being used against me in a betting atmosphere.

Which brings us to something that has saved my…let’s say account…on a couple of occasions over the past couple of weeks, having a “back door” cover bets. The “back door” cover is one that comes through after it is previously thought that the game is a foregone conclusion. All we have to do is look at two games over the past two weeks to see perfect examples of this type of action.

In the National Championship game, Alabama scored with only 1:07 left in the game to take a 45-33 lead over Clemson, which was more than enough to cover the seven-point spread that the sharps had put out against the Tigers. Within 55 seconds, Clemson drove the length of the field to score a touchdown to bring the score to 45-39 and, after kicking the extra point for the 45-40 final score, had achieved the “back door” score that shifted an estimated $10 million in bets from one side (those that had chosen Alabama -7) to the other (Clemson +7).

It happened again last weekend in the Pittsburgh Steelers/Denver Broncos game. The Steelers, a 7.5-point underdog in the game, were down 10 points with 53 seconds to go in the game. Driving mightily, the Steelers drive stalled out and, knowing that one of their two scores needed to be a field goal, sent kicker Chris Boswell onto the field. His third field goal of the day made the score 23-16 – bringing the score under the spread – and, after the onside kick failed and a kneel down by Broncos QB Peyton Manning, another few million dollars shifted hands (by scoring a field goal, it also kept it under the O/U, another good thing for me especially).

These “back door” covers are lovely when they work in your favor (you know, if you’re in an area where you can bet on these types of events), but they are the most gut wrenching thing that can happen when it works in the other direction. To have a sizeable bet turn on a simple play that has no ramification on the overall game is perhaps the most indignant situation a bettor can find themselves in. This is why the late, great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra probably said, “It isn’t over ‘til it’s over” rather than anything associated with baseball.

(Home team in CAPS, picks in bold)

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New England Patriots (-3) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; UNDER 44.5

There is a myriad of reasons that I would rather see the Denver Broncos defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday, but the problem is that they are all sentimental ones. This will probably be the last time that Peyton Manning will have a shot at the Super Bowl – if he plays next year, it is going to be with a team that has far less talent and far less chance at getting to this pinnacle of success. The general arrogance of the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady do not lend themselves to being the team that is “liked” (as a fan of the New York Yankees, trust me, I know how this looks). Finally, it would be great to see Brady pout his way off the field – as he is wont to do when he loses – and Manning be able to graciously say “you know, he’s one of the greats, he’ll be back here” despite the fact that Brady’s only a couple of years younger than Manning.

Here’s the problem:  the Patriots are in much better shape, health-wise, than the Broncos. Despite backing into the home-field for this game, the Broncos are just too beat up to do much with it against a Patriots team that used the last few weeks of the regular season to get some guys rested up. Instead of having to fight to the end just to win their division (as the Broncos did), the Patriots were able to rest some players, lose their final two regular season games against divisional foes YET STILL GET THE #2 SEED after winning their division. Now that they’re in the AFC Championship Game, that’s where they will see it will pay off.

The Patriots won’t dominate this game by any stretch of the imagination, but they will do just enough to be able to cover the spread and punch their ticket to try to defend their Super Bowl title. Because of the weather conditions, however, it isn’t going to be an offensive showcase. Take the Patriots, give up the points and go with the UNDER in a game that is looking to be 24-17.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Arizona Cardinals vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-3); UNDER 47

Strangely enough, these two teams met last year in the playoffs. This time around, however, it is for the NFC Championship, a much different circumstance than that game last year.

Last year the Cardinals, a team that was down to its fourth quarterback after starting QB Carson Palmer and his backup Drew Stanton were knocked out for the year three-quarters through the season, limped into Charlotte for the Divisional Round of the playoffs and put up next to no effort against QB Cam Newton and the Panthers. The depleted Cardinals were only able to generate 77 yards of offense, lost the game 27-16 and had to be left wondering what might have been without the rash of injuries that beset the team.

Flash forward to…well, tomorrow, and they might get their answer. The Cardinals are healthy this year and it shows. Palmer and the Big Red Machine have the best offense in the NFL and can strike through the air (2nd in the league) or on the ground (8th in the league) The problem is they are running into a Panthers team that is also markedly improved over the team that went 7-8-1 in the league last season, starting this season 13-0 before finishing the year with the best record in the NFL at 15-1. Their offense is nothing to sneeze at (11th overall in the NFL) and their defense can also stop someone (6th in the league).

The Panthers have been able to prepare for playing on the cold grounds of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where Winter Storm Jonas has just ravaged the area (and weather on Sunday could play a factor). The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely got into town on Friday night and may have had the chance to have a walkthrough on Saturday as North Carolina isn’t used to having to deal with winter weather. Due to the travel issues and the cold weather game (remember, Arizona is a dome team), I am taking the Panthers here, but it is going to be a defensive fight and way UNDER the O/U.

Last Week:  5-3
Overall:  53-37-5

Remember how we were talking about the “back door” above? That Steelers “back door” was the game that gave me a winning weekend. Without that field goal, it’s just another “meh” 4-4 slate that helps nobody but the cage collecting the juice. With only four potential bets this weekend, it would be great to sweep the board.

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

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

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

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

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Week:  4-2
Overall:  48-35-5

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

NFL Week 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 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.