NFL Divisional Gambling Thoughts

Football-and-Cash

Let’s see if we can make some money this weekend

So I recently became a parent for the first time which is why I’ve completely slacked off on writing. Now, the kid’s home from the hospital and I’m figuring out a sleeping pattern so it’s time to get back on the horse. There’s no better time to do that than during the NFL playoffs – my favorite time of the year. Wildcard weekend was awesome and got me psyched for the next round. If I wasn’t paranoid about the ability to actually get my money from online sports books, or if I lived closer to Vegas, here’s how I’d be spreading my money around on these four NFL games…

New Orleans at Seattle
The first game of the weekend is one of the hardest calls for me. I see the Seahawks pulling this one out but the spread is 7.5 at most books and that half point makes it tricky. I can see this game being a back and forth affair with Russell Wilson making a clutch TD drive at the end to win it by 7. The smart (read: boring) play is probably to take Seattle and lay the 7.5. But over the years the Saints have been my greatest gambling friend, winning when they’re supposed to lose and vice-versa, and me being the only person to recognize the trend. Then again, there’s not quite enough “no way the Saints can win” mojo for me to feel comfortable. I tend to be more of a “value” gambler so I’d probably avoid the spread and instead take the Over (46). I see this one being either a shoot-out or a blow out in which case Seattle’s D scores 2 TDs by themselves and Pete Carroll will absolutely run up the score at home. If you’re the gunslinger type just take the Saint’s money line (+310) and enjoy the ride. Just be prepared for the 2 minute warning when the Saints are up by 1, Seattle has the ball at mid-field and suddenly Wilson avoids a sack and scampers out of the pocket… (Gulp!).

Indy at New England
Love this game. LOVE IT. Normally I’m a huge Belichick/Brady guy, especially in the post season but… the Colts are getting a gift touchdown in this one. Repeat: they are giving Andrew Luck a free TD, the guy who just came back from a 28 point deficit against one of the best defenses in the league. And the Patriots patchwork defense just lost another starter. You look at their defensive line-up and the most common thought is: “who the hell is that guy?” Can New England win this thing? Sure, absolutely, but it’s going to be a nail-biter. The fact that this Pats team finished 11-5 is a miracle; Belichick is a coach of the year candidate in my opinion when you look at the middling talent on his roster. Well, except for the fact that they only played 3 good teams all year (DEN, NO, CAR). The simple fact is, for all of Brady and Belichick’s brilliance there just isn’t enough talent on that team to blow out these Colts. This game is decided by 3 points or less. Take Luck and the free 7 and sleep well on Saturday night.

San Francisco at Carolina
This is probably the toughest game on the slate. These teams are essentially mirror images of each other: Electrifying mobile QB with rocket arm, stifling defense, power running game, mediocre receiving corps that focuses on strong TE play. About the only imbalance I see is the coaching, I trust Harbaugh more Rivera, though ever since the emergence of “River Boat Ron” I’m not as sure. Vegas basically agrees; Carolina is a 1 point underdog at home. Now for gambling math purposes that means SF is a 3.5 point favorite, which if Carolina was getting 3.5 actual points at home I’m all over that – I love post season home dogs – but since a playoff game can’t end in a tie this is essentially a “pick ‘em”. I don’t see a huge home field advantage for Carolina; I mean the Niners just won at Lambeau where there is a true home advantage. Do we really think guys like Harbaugh, Kaepernick and Frank Gore are intimidated by the fans in Carolina? (Exactly.) So if you’re betting this game straight just take whoever you think will win, (I say the 49ers) better yet just take the money line since that 1 point will probably be meaningless. For even better value take the Under (42). Each defense is more dominant than both offenses and the last time these teams faced off they couldn’t score 21 points combined, let alone a piece.

San Diego at Denver
This game is no picnic but I’ve got to go with Denver even though they are giving 9.5. I see Peyton Manning missing out on the Super Bowl yet again; I just don’t think it falls apart this week. The Chargers have had a great run but they just don’t have the weapons to keep up and I think Manning will be on a mission. Plus most of the lines I’ve seen have you laying -120 (aka double vig) to take the Chargers +9.5 – no thanks, give me even money and I’ll be happy needing a TD plus a FG to win. If you want to play the hero than take SD straight up (+330) and hope for a Peyton choke job.

No matter what happens this weekend just remember, when it comes to NFL playoffs, we are all winners. Enjoy the games.

Why the Read-Option Won’t Last

This, right here, this is why…

russell-wilson-rocked-1

Getting clocked is also an “option”

On Sunday Night Football two of last year’s exciting read-option quarterbacks faced off against each other in one of the most anticipated games of the season. I’m sure most people expected a dazzling display of offensive firepower. The game was indeed exciting but for a much different reason. Seattle and San Francisco have probably the two best defenses in the NFL and it showed. After racking up 34 points and almost 500 yards of offense last week, golden boy Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers barely cracked 200 yards and only managed one field goal. Seattle’s offense fared a bit better but it should be noted that three of their scoring drives started inside the opponent’s 30 yard line. (Translation: D-Fense!)

So what to make of the upstart Read-Option offense that is supposed to revolutionize the league? Both Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson obviously ran into a wall of great defense this week so it’s hard to say for sure but there was one telling play that reminded me of why I’m a firm believer that the Read-Option is just another fad that won’t stick around. Check out the above gif again. On that play Wilson hands the ball off to Marshawn Lynch for a nice gain, however the QB then gets drilled by linebacker Ahmad Brooks. During the broadcast NBC’s Al Michaels was a bout to throw a fit over the lack of a penalty flag until co-host Cris Collinsworth pointed out that the hit was totally legal. After handing the ball off, Wilson stays hunched over as if he still has the ball and starts to make a move to run. Brooks has every reason to believe the QB is now a runner and is justified in hammering him. This is exactly how the read-option is designed to keep defenses off balance, by having to account for an extra runner in the back field. (And it worked, on that play since Brooks is so focused on containing Wilson, the next closest defender is a full 10 yards away from the actual ball carrier.) This is also exactly why coordinators won’t be using it for very long.

For the past ten years the NFL has done everything it can to protect QBs from getting roughed up – changing rules and stiffly enforcing penalties and fines. Part of the reason for the read-option’s early success has been gun shy defenders. Pass rushers have been systematically trained, through negative reinforcement, not to touch quarterbacks these days; Anything slightly resembling a late hit would cost you 15 yards and $25,000. That created just enough hesitation for fleet-footed QBs like Kaepernick, Wilson and Washington’s Robert Griffin to break for daylight and big gains. Well, many defensive coaches have decided that ring of safety that has been protecting QBs is no longer in effect. And they are correct to do so, if teams want to turn these guys into running backs then they are going to take the type of pounding running backs endure. The average career of a quarterback in the NFL is 6.6 years (provided they don’t wash out immediately) for running backs that number is only 2.5, that is a huge difference and that difference is almost certainly due to the number of hits a running back takes. Considering how hard it is to find a decent QB, let alone one that can carry your franchise to a championship, do you really want to knock 3 years off that guy’s shelf life?

Leading up to the season the big question sports networks have been asking is: How are defenses going to stop the read-option? Well the answer is real simple: pummel the quarterback. Last year’s R/O poster boy, RGIII, ended his season with knee surgery and the same fate awaits Wilson, Kaepernick or some other QB that tries to become a part-time running back. The only way the read-option will continue in the NFL is if the league decides to let offenses have their cake and eat it too by changing the rules yet again to protect running quarterbacks. I wouldn’t rule this out since the goal seems to be to have football scores resemble NBA scores. If that happens I will be forced to figure out a new way to spend my autumn Sundays. Maybe I’ll turn to the EPL? Nah, I’ll just drink more heavily.