Beating Vegas: Super Bowl Deluxe Edition

It’s been fun here at “Beating Vegas” all football season.  We finished about 10 games over 50% so all in all, not a bad season.  Now it all comes to the end with the biggest sporting event of the year – the Super Bowl.  The NFL’s most valuable and exciting player, Cam Newton on one side and one of the NFL’s most recognizable celebrities, Peyton Manning, on the other.   Vegas knows that this is their last chance to bank on football action for at least six months and they like to throw EVERYTHING at you.  The trick is to not bet all over the place, but to use your head and think logically – eh, forget logic, it’s the Super Bowl – it’s a time to let loose, drink, eat and have fun – BUT, here is my advice to you on those prop-bets and the game itself.

Total Receptions By Ronnie Hillman:

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Yeah, this is a weird and random place to start but it could  be easy money come Super Bowl Sunday.  Ronnie Hillman is the smaller speed back, that shares the Broncos back field with the more physical CJ Anderson.  Hillman has more of the game breaker speed in him, but he is prone to injury and is known to fumble.  Anderson though will have his hands full trying to run the ball all day against a Panthers defense that allows less than four yards a carry.  The Broncos will look for ways to get the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands quickly all game and they will look to slow down the Panthers’ blitz attacks.  Screen passes and check downs in the direction of Ronnie Hillman will help the Broncos in achieving that.  The over/under for total receptions by Ronnie Hillman is set at 1.5.  Hillman is dangerous in open space and his speed is deadly once he takes off.  Take the over – it’s probably the easiest bet of the day and the payout is at +155. 

 

Total Field Goals Scored By Broncos:

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The Denver Broncos have a three and out percentage of 26.13% and that number should be there or even worse against one of the NFL’s best defenses in Carolina.  The Broncos are not a high octane offense anymore due to Manning’s declining ability as a quarterback and Kubiak’s predictable, conservative offense.  The Broncos won’t get cute on fourth down when in the Panthers territory and they have a lot of faith in their kicker Brandon McManus who was perfect kicking from 20-39 yards this season.  From 40-49 yards out he was 5-8 and from 50 yards are more he was 5-7.  Points will be hard to come by for Denver but getting at least three field goals should be possible.  The over/under is 2.5 with a payout of +340 and that’s definitely worth the shot, at least for a small dime, for more than three times the payout.

What color will Beyonce’s footwear be when she comes on stage for the halftime show?

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If your “guy” has this prop bet, consider these lines: Black: 3/2, Gold/Brown: 5/2, White: 11/14, Silver/Grey: 19/4 and any other color: 7/1.   Beyonce is a diva.  Beyonce is a trendsetter and (much like myself) a “walking fashion statement.”  Last time she performed at the Super Bowl, she had on black boots.  She wouldn’t be caught dead wearing something similar at the same function a few years later, so scratch that.  She probably won’t match up with Coldplay’s bland attire and she might want to separate herself from Bruno Mars, who is pretty unpredictable.   To prove her “queen” like ways, I expect her to go with something flashy and at the same time classy which is why the Silver/Grey line is more to my liking here.

How many times will “dab” or “dabbing” be said by the announcers during the broadcast?

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The over/under for this line is 2.   Phil Simms and Jim Nantz are probably the most out of touch guys to ever call a football game.  Sometimes they don’t even know what’s going on during a football game so do you really think they have a chance to know about anything in pop-culture?  If it wasn’t for the commercials, I’d watch this game with the mute button on.  Take the under and good luck to us all having to deal with these two lame asses. . .

Super Bowl MVP:

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There are only two names to look at here, Cam Newton who is the favorite at -145 and Luke Kuechly who is a long shot at +1400.  Cam is the obvious choice because the offense runs through him, he is dynamic and the NFL is more likely to give quarterbacks the credit for a win, than anyone else.  Luke Kuechly is an interesting name though, especially considering the payout.  This game has a slight chance of being a low scoring defensive battle or a high chance of being a blowout in favor of the Panthers.  Either way, Kuechly is a player who finds himself around the action and the football often.  If the defense is all the way dominant, it will be mostly because of his doing.  Eight tackles, coupled with a forced fumble, recovered fumble or interception might be enough for a defensive player to become MVP of this game, and who would be more likely to achieve that than Kuechly?

The Super Bowl Line:

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The Carolina Panthers are a six point favorite in this game against the Denver Broncos and if you’ve read this article, you can guess where this paragraph will lean. . . Peyton Manning is a fraction of what he once was and against this secondary, he might be in for one of his worst performances since.  . . the last time he played in a Super Bowl.  Manning has never been a “big game” quarterback, even in his prime, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone to see him struggle in this one.  Denver’s defense will be on the field for most of the game and have their back’s up against the wall a lot.  This works in favor for a Carolina offense that likes to be physical.  Cam is a difference maker, and there is really no way to coach how to stop him, because even he has no idea what he’s set to do at any given moment.  Carolina and Denver may be close in the first half, but in the second half Carolina pulls away and wins by at least 15 points.

The Pick: Carolina -6

 

Hope you guys have enjoyed “Beating Vegas” this football season.  We’ll be back next year and continue our winning ways here.  Thank you for checking back each week and as always: “GOOD LUCK AND WAGER WISELY!”

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Reasons Bears Fans Should Be Rooting for The Panthers

When your team doesn’t make it to the Super Bowl, you ultimately still have to take a side.  It’s the biggest sports event of the year, why would you just watch it emotionless or even not watch it at all?  As football fans we wait all year for the football season to start and whether or not your team made it to the big show or not, you put in a season’s worth of debates, views and emotion – you have to find a place and ultimately pick a side in the Super Bowl.

For Bears fans, the expectations were low entering this season.  It’s a rebuild.  You accept the team for what they are, hope they put up a fight week to week and pull off an upset or two.  We knew as Bears fans we wouldn’t be gearing up for a Super Bowl in February, but here are five reasons why Bears fans everywhere should be excited for and rooting for the Carolina Panthers to destroy the Denver Broncos on February 7th 2016 . . .

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  1. Ron Rivera – This one is the most obvious.  Rivera was part of the one Super Bowl winning team the Bears ever had.  He one that Super Bowl under the great Mike Ditka, who at the time is one of two players to have coached and played for a Super Bowl winning team (the other being Tony Dungy).  Rivera can join that group as only the third to accomplish that feat with a win against Denver.  During the season, Rivera compared this team to his ’85 Bears team and saw the similarities through and through in terms of character and playing style.  He even mentioned how going undefeated meant something to him because the Bears missed that opportunity in their Super Bowl year.  Although this Panthers team didn’t go undefeated, they do stand a chance to win the biggest game of the year.

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2 . Charles “Peanut” Tillman –     Very few Bears players in recent years have been more appreciated and adored than Tillman.  In his prime he was one of the NFL’s toughest and best cornerbacks, he terrorized defenses with his “Peanut Punch” tactic in forcing fumbles, his charity work is recognized year to year and he is a true leader on and off the field.  Due to an ACL injury in week 17, Tillman will not be playing in the Super Bowl, but he was definitely a reason why they’ve gotten to this point.  Bears fans everywhere should rejoice and be in the corner of Tillman to be on a Super Bowl winning team – even if it isn’t for the Bears.

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3. Greg Olsen – The Chicago Bears drafted Olsen in the first round of the 2007 draft (31st pick).  When Mike Martz became the offensive coordinator for the  Bears, he deemed that Olsen would not fit into the offensive scheme.  Fans of the Bears argued that when you have a talent like Olsen, you make sure you fit your system around his talent.   In an article for 247 Sports, Brian Jones writes about this and has an interesting quote from Olsen: “There’s no worse feeling then not being able to play up to your potential.”   Olsen, even after his departure with the Bears has appeared a class act and always recognizes that the Bears ultimately gave him his first shot in the league.  Much like Peanut Tillman, Olsen is one of the NFL’s “good guys” and it’s hard to root against him.  He has excelled in Carolina and become a Pro Bowl player working with his quarterback Cam Newton.  He’ll definitely be a key in the Panthers winning the Championship come Super Bowl Sunday.

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4. Jared Allen – Allen’s time with the Bears was short.  He signed with the Bears in 2014 after being a pain the Bears side for years as a division rival with Minnesota.  Allen signed on because he fell for the “okey doke” just like Bears loyalist did.  He felt that in 2014, he was signing with a team headed in the right direction for a Super Bowl run.  .  . Then the roof caved in on what was one of the most embarrassing seasons in Chicago Bears history.  Early this season, under new head coach John Fox, the Bears asked Allen to move to outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme and Allen tried his best to fit in, but it just wasn’t working.  The Bears did Allen a solid and traded him to Carolina for a conditional sixth round pick.   Nobody was sure how his foot injury would hold up going into the Super Bowl, but in recent reports he has been a full participant in practices and will surely be seeing snaps as an edge rusher.  His time was short, but he believed in the Bears and he was with us to help bring himself and Chicago a championship.

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5. Peyton Manning – Obviously, never was a Chicago Bear BUT — it was his Indianapolis Colts team that beat us in Super Bowl XLI.   If Manning wins this Super Bowl against Carolina, he becomes the only quarterback to start and win a Super Bowl for two different teams.  That means the Bears will be tied to this for eternity.  The MVP of that game was Manning and for all things considered when looking at his stats (25-38, 247, 1td 1int) it wasn’t as if he killed the Bears defense.  The Bears had a 100 yard effort by running back Thomas Jones, and an opening kick off by Devin Hester – but we all know that ultimately that game was decided by arguably the worst quarterback to ever start in a Super Bowl – our man, Rex Grossman.  Peyton already has a Hall of Fame career, and when his playing days are done, he’ll be on TV for the rest of our lives – he ultimately already won at the game of life – no need for us to cheer on the guy, who beat us when we last had a chance to win it all. . . .

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

“ANTI” Album Review

Rihanna is the unofficial princess of Roc-Nation.  She has come a long way since being featured on the Memphis Bleek song “The One” back in 2005 and now for over a decade, Rihanna has been a fixture in pop music, pop culture and has even set herself apart from other fashion icons of the present day.  Over the last few years, she’s pushed the envelope in what should be accepted in today’s pop-music standards, whether she’s being sexually explicit or just exemplifying her “IDGAF” attitude in the public eye.  Being the workhorse she is, “ANTI” is album number eight for Ri-Ri and she is projected to kill it in the streaming and radio play numbers.

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Early rumors had people believing Kanye West was to be the producer of Rihanna’s next project, but maybe somewhere between working on his new album “Waves” and beefing with Wiz Khalifa and a few females on twitter, Yeezus may have his hands full at the moment. . .  Never-the-less,  the album was not short of any recognizable producers as everyone would like to have a piece of the pie if Rihanna is releasing new work.

Boi 1da produced the first single off of “Anti” entitled “Work.”  The song features Drake, but unfortunately it’s the singing Drake – you know the one where he sings like goat with his nose stuffed – yeah that Drake.   Needless to say he adds nothing to a record that comes off as a lazy, lackluster radio single that can hypnotize the already brainwashed fans of today’s popular music.  When a hook’s lyrics are “Work work work work work work / He see me do mi /dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt dirt/so me put in / work work work work work work,”  it’s enough to make you want to give up listening to music altogether. . .

At least DJ Mustard came into the frame on “Needed Me” and even tweaked his typical sound to give the song a slight dub-step feel to it.  Rihanna is on her “bad bitch” tip here, as she tells a former lover that she is unlike anything else he’ll ever get in life.  The song itself is only three minutes and twelve seconds long but for some reason needed ten writers. . .  The collective effort is a home run though as Ri-Ri completely defecates on the feelings of a man: “But baby, don’t get it twisted/you was just another n*gg@ on the hit list/Trying to fix your inner issues with a bad bitch/Didn’t they tell you I was a savage?” 

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Rihanna seemed to have a thing for shorter than usual  songs, maybe trying to target today’s music audience which is infamous for having short attention spans – as she only spends a little over two minutes on the tracks “Higher” (produced by NO I.D.) and “Yeah, I Said It” (produced by Timbaland).  While “Yeah, I Said It” is a snoozer – “Higher” shows a side of Rihanna which is very much as vulnerable as she’ll allow herself to be and musically taps into more of a classical sound.  The track is guided by a light piano and an array of strings.  The song bares Rihanna in a drunk state calling on an ex-boyfriend who she misses and is aware that she’s calling him in what is probably not her most flattering of moments: “I hope I ain’t calling you too late, too late/You light my fire//Let’s stay up late and smoke a J/I wanna go back to the old way.”

The “throwback” sounding Rihanna sound does not miss on “Anti” and she continues this on the tracks “Love On the Brain” and the album’s final song “Close To You.”  Producer Kuk Harrell’s name appears most in the production credits and he lends a hand on both tracks which captured a more stripped down Rihanna than we’re used to.  The sound to “Close To You” is  reminiscent to the production that was the backbone of Meghan Trainor’s breakthrough album “Title,” which was tailored with a “doo-wop” feel to it.  The strength of Rihanna’s commercial appeal will hopefully stream this kind of music into the mainstream. . .

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. . . That’s not to say she has strayed away from the commercial sound that has made her the hit maker she is.  She pleases her day-to-day fan base with “Desperado” and “Kiss It Better” – both which are sure to receive heavy spins on the radio.  “Desperado” displays her at her most comfortable on “Anti”: “Desperado, sitting in a an old Monte Carlo/We’ve both had our hearts broken/ take it easy. . ./I’m not trying to go against you. . .”   “Kiss It Better” is backed by a 1980’s synth sound and she rides the track as smooth as an Iroc-Z with the top down on a summer evening. . .

Rihanna’s efforts are never lack-luster and although at times she pushes the “bad bitch” routine a bit much on the album throwing in an “f-word” where it really isn’t necessary here and there – it’s not enough to detract from what she’s doing here.  She is continuously setting herself apart from the rest of the flock in mainstream music and the chances she took on this album were very strategic and for the most part, she nailed it.

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Cam Newton: More Than Just a Road to the Super Bowl

At 26 years of age, Cam Newton has come into his prime in his professional football career.  When he was drafted as the first overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Carolina Panthers were hoping they cashed in on their “franchise quarterback” and they definitely did.  This season is a special season for Cam Newton though.  In all areas of life, Cam has certainly come of age, professionally and personally.

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This season Cam has established himself as the NFL’s most valuable and entertaining player in the league.  During this campaign he has led the Carolina Panthers to their second ever Super Bowl appearance and he has also witnessed the birth of his first child, a son he named “Chosen.”  This is a fairy tale like season for Cam and the Panthers but the road to getting here has had many ups and downs for Newton.

After being recruited by the University of Florida as a five-star recruit, he won the role of back up quarterback job behind Tim Tebow and when he got his chance to start the 2008 season, he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him (medical redshirt).  In that same year Cam was arrested for the purchase of another student’s stolen laptop computer.  Cam didn’t make himself look  innocent in the situation considering he tossed the computer out of his window in his attempt to not get caught with it.  After that, Cam found himself at Blinn University, a junior college where he led Blinn to the Junior College National Championship and put himself back into the focus of the recruiting plans for division one schools.  This is when the University of Auburn stepped in to win the services of Cam Newton.

Once at Auburn, he lit the world on fire.  He was destroying SEC defenses week to week.  The most memorable performance of his  was being down 24-0 to the mighty Alabama Crimson Tide defense, and he willed a comeback victory to seal the SEC Championship.  Even then, when things seemed to be approaching an undeniable climax, there was a cloud that hovered over Newton’s head.  Talk came about that his father was trying to talk Mississippi State into “buying” his son’s services for a certain price (rumored over $120,000).  In a weird turn of events Cam Newton was suspended for the National Championship Game by the NCAA but soon after called off the suspension.  .  . Cam won the Heisman Trophy (beating out Andrew Luck) and won the National Championship with Auburn.

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Cam had a ridiculous start to his professional career, breaking 9 rookie records and earning himself a Pro Bowl bid.   It was at that Pro Bowl though, where players and NFL personnel alike were turned off by Cam Newton’s pri-madonna like ways.  This was only assumed to an even greater scale in his second season, where the sophomore jinx was evident and Cam appeared more like an isolated brat on the sidelines then the man-child the NFL wanted him to represent.

The following three seasons showed a maturity in Cam Newton though.  He helped lead the Panthers to three straight playoff appearances and instead of relying purely on his athletic ability to win games, he put in the work and became better as a quarterback.  This season was the apex of him putting together his abilities as a quarterback and one of the NFL’s most gifted athletes.

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He has embodied what the NFL’s future should become.  A leader with a grin from ear to ear that can light up a stadium.  A player who can entertain the fans with gestures (whether to cheers or jeers) but at the same time will bear down and sacrifice his own body if needed just to get that extra yard.  The NFL playing field has become Cam’s personal playground and keeping that “playground” mentality as a focus for his brand, the younger fans are captivated by him.  That captivation is a product of what  he’s doing on the field or even how he engages with the kids in the stands and how he embraces every moment with open arms.

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Cam Newton has taken on a lot of criticism, some was deserved and some wasn’t.  He has made it easy for him to be hated and at the same time made himself out to be loved.  Cam has taken his game to the next level and raised the bar for the future of the NFL.  Now he is set to play against the best defense in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and set to go against another quarterback who in his prime, raised the bar for the future of quarterbacks in the league in Peyton Manning.  Everything about these two quarterbacks is different – except for the fact they both possess commercial appeal to sell anything from pizza to yogurt.  This is a shining moment for Cam Newton to continue his path to football immortality and more importantly to do it his way.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Entry Nineteen

Every week during the football season, “The Heartthrob” G.W. Gras will be giving out his college and professional football “best bets” against the spread.  The wise guys in Vegas live comfortably – it’s time we all get on their level.

Judging Last Week: Last week was all kinds of weird.  Lost one and pushed the other two.  That’s just a non-eventful day of nothing but lows.  Let’s see if we too can “push” through this week and come out on top, as we usually do on Beating Vegas by taking action on the NFL Conference Championship games.

New England Patriots (-3) at the Denver Broncos

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This match-up has not been friendly to the team that travels in recent history.  In the last five meetings between these two squads, the road  team has gone 0-5, straight up and against the spread.  In the fictional “quarterback vs quarterback” world, Brady has bested Manning with an 11-5 record.  Don’t be a clown and base your wager on that silly tidbit of knowledge though.  The facts here are that Peyton Manning for all of his accolades and career records has pretty much been “okay” in the playoffs.  Even during his Super Bowl run of the 2006 season he threw only  three touchdowns and seven interceptions.  Considering that now Peyton is going up against a very underrated Patriots defense and Peyton’s arm strength is just about the equivalent to a big bowl of jello – what do the Pats really have to worry about?   The Broncos have a waste of two good wide outs in Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryous Thomas; and are relying on a two back running game that doesn’t exactly put the fear of God into opposing defenses when they hear the names “Ronnie Hillman” and “C.J. Anderson.”  What the Broncos do have is the NFL’s best passing defense and the league’s third best rushing defense.  Denver will surely try to put the heat on Tom Brady and this much maligned Patriots offensive line as the Broncos also had an NFL best with 52 recorded sacks.  The problem with that attack is that Brady gets rid of the ball quicker than most and blitzing leaves the gaps open for the Patriots’ drag, slant and seam routes all day long.  The bye-week seemed to do Brady good as he looked sharp in his game against a good Kansas City Chiefs defense.  Not counting Brady’s six scrambles out of the pocket (one which resulted in one of his famous goal-line touchdown dives), the Patriots only ran the ball 8 times and they seemed fine with it.  The Broncos defense will stay strong against the Pats for a while, but the Broncos offense is gross.  Peyton Manning’s career should end with a loss to the Patriots and hopefully it does because the last time we saw Peyton in the Super Bowl. . . aye.  . .

The Pick: Patriots -3

Arizona Cardinals (+3) at the Carolina Panthers

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If Cam Newton didn’t have the season he’s having, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer would be in talks for NFL MVP along with Tom Brady.  No question.  BUT, we don’t live in a world of “maybes” and Cam Newton is treating the NFL, like he treated the SEC in his Auburn days: The NFL is Cam’s Playground.  He has a way of improvising, an undeniable leadership and the ability to make things happen with a very, very thinly talented offense.  Aside from tight end Greg Olsen, his best option is running back Jonathan Stewart.  The defenses are evenly matched but each defense has to deal with their own issues.  For Carolina, they shouldn’t under estimate the abilities of Arizona’s running back David Johnson, who has an NFL leading 9 touchdowns in road games this year.   Johnson may have started as number three on the depth chart this season, but Arians has had him involved in this offense since week one, so there should be no “rookie gitters” coming from the multi-purpose back. Arizona also boast one of the best wide receiver trios in the league with the speedy John Brown, the (still) under-rated Michael Floyd and the veteran Larry Fitzgerald, who showed in the over-time win last week against Green Bay that if you sleep on him, he can still hurt you.   For Arizona their defense is just as complete as Carolina’s but the loss of safety Tyronn Matthieu is one that they can’t make up for.  His versatility and overall skill has him already mentioned as a top three safety in the league, and his ball hawking ability and presence on the line of scrimmage will be missed (and needed) against Cam Newton. . .  This will be a tight game but three points may not be enough to lean to the visiting team in this one.

The Pick: Carolina -3

 

As always, good luck and wager wisely!

P.S. There will be no “Beating Vegas” article up next week, because everyone knows when it comes to the Pro Bowl you either take the “over” or find something better to do with your time than waste it on that non-sense.  “Beating Vegas” will return the week of the Super Bowl for the final entry of the year though, giving you an in-depth analysis on the Super Bowl game and of course, the ever popular “prop bets.”

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Entry Eighteen

Every week during the football season, “The Heartthrob” G.W. Gras will be giving out his college and professional football “best bets” against the spread.  The wise guys in Vegas live comfortably – it’s time we all get on their level.

Judging Last Week: If not for a backdoor touchdown scored by Clemson, we would’ve split the games last week.  Instead we got our first losing week in about a month and a half.  Although, I will say this: The playoffs will not count against my winnings for the entire football season.  There was a healthy plethora of games to pick from week to week, and now with the NFL playoffs, it’s slim pickings on how you want to wager your money. . .

 

Green Bay Packers (+7) at the Arizona Cardinals

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Last week, the Packers made fools of everyone who believed that the Washington Redskins would skate away with a convincing win.  Now a Packers team that feels good about itself is going back to a place where they felt their worst all season long.  Back in week 16 of the season, the Packers visited Arizona and were destroyed by the  Cardinals 38-8.  The Packers were sacked 9 times in the meeting and to say their offense was suffocated by the Cardinals defense is an understatement.  Carson Palmer and the Cardinals offense found themselves in prime field position for most of the game.  It was 31-0 in the third quarter and the game was over.  This time around, Green Bay’s offensive line has a renewed brand of confidence after handling the Redksins defensive front (albeit after giving up a safety) and revenge will be key for the Packers in this one.   The thing about the Cardinals is that they are coached by a man who some say is the smartest/best coach in the NFL in Bruce Arians.  Arians saw how his defense dominated in that last meeting and will find different ways to attack.  Green Bay’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, has abandoned the pocket frequently this season and one should expect that trend to continue.  Green Bay will stick around in this one with Arizona pulling it off in the end.

The Pick: Arizona -7

Kansas City Chiefs (+4.5) at the New England Patriots

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Kansas City pretty much had an unofficial bye-week in the first round of the playoffs and now they go against Tom Brady and the Patriots.  The Patriots and the NFL Playoffs go together like Bill Cosby and . . . nah, I won’t go there – The Patriots and the NFL Playoffs go together like peanut butter and jelly (boring, yet safe).  New England has an ambiance about them which many perceive as arrogance but if you’re the Patriots, you’ve earned the right to be arrogant . . . and hated.  The Kansas City Chiefs are allergic to losing as they have knocked out 11 straight victories since last losing to the Vikings on October 18th.  The Patriots needed the bye-week in the Playoffs after suffering back to back loses to division rivals the Jets and the Dolphins.  Both of those games should raise flags for the New England faithful because both of those teams they lost to, play a physical brand of defense  – and one team, in the Dolphins, doesn’t blow you away offensively and against the Pats, they seemed to do enough to win.   The Patriots are hurting offensively, with an offensive line that is underwhelming and outside of Rob Gronkowski, no real threat to worry about for an opposing secondary.   Tom Brady is a legend and it’s hard to count against him, especially in the playoffs – but the Chiefs are on a tremendous winning streak and are getting points against a New England team that is favored because of their legacy and not of what they presently represent.

The Pick: Kansas City +4.5

 

The Pittsburgh Steelers (+7) at the Denver Broncos

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It was only four weeks ago, that the Steelers were a seven point dog to the Broncos, except last time it was the Steelers that were home, and it was the Steelers who not only covered the spread but won the game outright (as predicted by yours truly here).  Things are different this time around.  Steelers’ running back Deangelo Williams is highly unlikely to play due to injury, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is day-to-day with a shoulder injury and wide receiver Antonio Brown is under the NFL’s concussion protocol.  With those three weapons in doubt, things look very grim for the Steelers.  The Steelers’ best-case-scenario would be Brown being cleared to play, Roethlisberger playing through discomfort and Williams still being sidelined.  That even seems tough to swallow, especially when going against this Denver Broncos defense.  The offense of the Broncos will be led by Peyton Manning, but this isn’t the Manning we’re used to seeing, this version of Manning still spends a half hour calling audibles at the line of scrimmage, but to ultimately throw a duck towards the sideline or check it down to the nearest receiver.   Safe to say, Rothlisberger  will force himself out on that field and he may not look much better than the previously mentioned Manning.  .  .  this is how we’re doing the pick for this one:

The Pick(s):  If Antonio Brown and Rothlisberger play, take the Steelers +7; If either one of them are not available, they won’t move the ball against Denver, so take Denver -7.

Hope you guys got that!  And as always, Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

“Darkest Before Dawn” Album Review

Officially titled “Darkest Before Dawn: The Preview” – this release is the set-up for the release of Pusha T’s third studio album due out later this year entitled “Darkness Before Dawn.”  Now at the age of 38, Pusha-T has found himself to be “re-discovered” in the hip hop community.  Without getting too much into Pusha-T’s history, let’s just say as a member of the two man group the Clipse, he’s been in the game since 1997.  After a long run of solo features and successful mixtapes – he released his first solo album “My Name is My Name,” in 2013.   After hearing “My Name is My Name” people wondered why it took so long for someone of such vast storytelling ability, lyricism and personality to come up in the game as a solo artist.  Maybe, Pusha himself needed to fine tune his style before flooding the street with his work.

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Pusha has established himself as one of the best to speak about the drug game.  His metaphors and word play dip in and out of his flow as effortless as George Jung went through customs.  On the intro of the album, he goes right into his comfort zone: “I speak to the trap lords/And n*gg@s with their hands in the white like blackboards/I done been black balled/ and never gave f*ck ’cause I’m Jack Frost, of sellin’ that blast off.”

Pusha-T is accompanied by producer extraordinaire Timbaland a few times on this album and on “Untouchable” we see, what would be in Timbaland’s world, a more stripped down version of his production.  The Notorious B.I.G sample, steers the track in a direction of defiance which is the key to Pusha-T’s character throughout his career.

Pusha-T’s lyrics and vocal tone are consistent throughout the album and so is his flow.  This would get tiring for most listeners but it seems Pusha (and/or his team) recognize this and have disguised his consistencies as an artist with insane production.  Some of these beats sound like the type most artist wouldn’t touch because they sound a little too weird, or awkward, but Pusha never loses command over these beats, like the one produced by Timbaland called “Retribution.”  Here Pusha is able to keep cadence with a skipping snare drum accompanied by a slight high hat.  It’s a credit to his talent as an artist to never lose himself on a track like this: “Monte Carlo nights,/let her throw the dice/play in paradise/all i know is white, get the powder gone/Bitces love to shop, levitate the mall/Mattress full of money, let it break the fall.”    

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“Got ‘Em Covered” is another Timbaland assisted track which sounds similar to Jay-Z’s “Squeeze First” and Pusha shows a short tribute to the rap god by delivering the line of “I keep cash, case Feds connect me/ Case kids kidnap me, kids can get back me.”  Pusha keeps the drug talk going like a pro but the feature of Ab-Liva does nothing to the track and makes the listener kind of wish there was more Pusha, or that the track ended after the second verse. . .

A feature that does not disappoint at all is that of one Beanie Sigel on “Keep Dealing.”  It was great to hear production by Nashiem Myrick who most remember from the glory days of Bad Boy Records, when they had the “Hitmen” production team.  Pusha does not slack at all when given the cold production behind him: “The Robb Report of the snort/ kings hold court/ lawyers get bought/ palms get greased when them cases get fought/ no felony, what the f*ck you tellin’ me/ reduced to simple assault, reduced to a simple hush hush. . .”   Not to be outshined, Beanie Sigel (sounding a little different now) handles the third verse with authority: “Reporting live from the project benches/ Hella ‘caine, dope in cellophane, dirty syringes/Heron zombies, street walking on three-week binges/Clientele look like the “Thriller” vid in 3D lenses.”    This track leaves the listener wanting more music by this duo, and even for Beans to come back on his own. . .

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Back to King Push though – he is in his element on “Crutches, Crosses,Caskets.”  He has a way of standing out in the rap community and on this track all he “sees is victims.”  He sees himself as a stand up dude, who can’t play games with the young rappers of today.  He’s all about the action and not the “flashy things.”

“M.P.A” is a weird track in the sense that when you read the track listing it reads produced by J.Cole and Kanye West; and featuring Kanye West, The Dream and A$AP Rocky — that will get any rap fan thinking to themselves “Oh sh*t, this is gonna be some fire,” but ultimately its just a regular rap song.  There is nothing special on production, The Dream offers vocal on the intro, while A$AP and Kanye only share there voices on the hook.  Once again – not a bad song – just disappointing, considering everything that’s behind it.

Pusha ends the album perfectly and on a conscious note with “Sunshine.”  Pusha steps out of his slick talk and speaks to the listener about issues currently in America.  He speaks of police abusing power and the struggle of getting one’s voice heard, when it seems nobody cares. “Sunday to Sunday, Pastor only want one day/Grandma praying someday/ But God can’t hear it over gun play/ Woo! still a target, but the badge is the new noose/ yeah we all see it, but cellphones ain’t enough proof/so we still lose.”

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The only problem Pusha-T presents with “Darkest Before Dawn” is that he has just lifted the expectations for “Darkness Before Dawn.”  Easily, one of the rap game’s premier talents of today, Pusha-T proves that being a late bloomer is better than never blooming at all.  Let’s embrace it while he’s obviously in a zone right now that very few will be able to match today.

Rating: 8 out of 10

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Entry Seventeen

Every week during the football season, “The Heartthrob” G.W. Gras will be giving out his college and professional football “best bets” against the spread.  The wise guys in Vegas live comfortably – it’s time we all get on their level.

Judging Last Week: I have no problem being wrong about USC last week because I’m pretty sure 95% of America was with me on that one. . .

The Division 1-AA Championship Game:

Jacksonville State (+4) vs North Dakota State:

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Despite two close wins against Chattanoga and a near upset of a “then ranked” Auburn team in over-time – The Jacksonville State Gamecocks have been winning with ease week to week.   They caught the attention of the college football world in that game against Auburn, in which they exposed what the Auburn Tigers really were and we were introduced to senior quarterback Eli Jenkins.  Jenkins is a true dual-threat quarterback who has thrown for over 2700 yards and rushed for over 1000.  Jenkins along with stud running back Troymaine Pope (average 8.4 yards a carry and over 1700 rushing yards) lead a Gamecocks offense that is putting up 41 points a game.  The North Dakota State Bison have been the most popular team in Division 1-AA because of their recent run of dominance and because of the seemingly annual trip ESPN’s College Gameday makes out there to show love to the Bison.  The Bison have a very blue collar way of going about their business – they make minimal mistakes on offense and play hard nosed defense.   Both of these defenses allow less than 3.5 yards a rush and both defenses keep opponents throwing at a 50% completion rate.  This is a tricky one  because one group of people will see how Jacksonville State almost beat an SEC team in Auburn, while the other half will see a North Dakota State team which has been the media darling for the better part of five years.  The line is right where it should be, but bet on the defenses in this one.

The Pick: Take the UNDER at 58

The Green Bay Packers (+1) at the Washington Redskins

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It may sound crazy, but although the Kansas City Chiefs are on a ten game winning streak, the hottest team in the league just may be the Washington Redskins, who are currently riding a four game winning streak.  The Redskins won the nearly laughable (and collapse-able) NFC East and are at home to one of the league’s most storied franchises, the Green Bay Packers, who are anything but “hot” entering the post season.  The funny thing about Green Bay, is that even in a “sub-par” season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has still thrown for 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions in a season, where he struggled to find help from his supporting cast.  The offensive line disappointed many and the wide receiver core showed how “regular” they can be without Jordy Nelson out there.   Running back Eddie Lacy has been “okay” as of late, but with only 743 rushing yards on the season and only three touchdowns by way of the ground – it’s easy to tell that the hefty tailback has been running to IHOP more than to the end zone this year. . . Luckily for Lacy, Rodgers should find some spots in a Washington secondary that has given up 30 touchdowns this year, so it’s very likely that the running attack will be rarely displayed from Green Bay.  The Washington Redskins quarterback, Kirk Cousins is one of the better stories of this year.  He’s taken shots from the media and has looked at times – flat out, awful – as a quarterback, but something clicked in him this year and he has stood out as one of the better passers in the second half of the season.  Cousins leads the NFL in completion percentage at 69.5% and was 10 yards short of throwing for 4000.  He’s looking better in the pocket now and has a healthy Desean Jackson to help stretch the field.   Jordan Reed is a top five tight end who the league, who is a match up nightmare for any defense.  The Packers are by no means going to get blown out, which is why Vegas has them as a slight underdog.  Vegas is also betting that people will fall for the allure of the Packers over the Redskins, who up until this year have been one of the NFL’s punchlines.

The Bet:  Washington Redskins -1

Kansas City Chiefs (-4) at the Houston Texans

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This will be a defensive battle in the state of Texas, and if you’re trying to find out which team has the better defense, you’d be splitting hairs to do so.   Alex Smith is one of the most under appreciated players in the NFL, but he keeps throwing at high completion rates and he keeps NOT turning the ball over.  Oh yeah, remember when he didn’t throw a touchdown pass to a receiver all of last year?  Well that all changed once they gave him a receiver to spread the field with in Jeremy Maclin.  Maclin turned out a 1000 yard season with seven touchdowns and is still a dynamic play maker.  After stud running back, Jamal Charles went down for the season, coach Andy Reid was able to find life and stability in his backfield with Chacandrick West and Spencer Ware.   Meanwhile, the Texans haven seemingly used five different running backs this year who all pumped out average numbers, but it doesn’t matter because they will find ways to get the ball in wide out Deandre Hopkins’ hands as much as possible.  Hopkins is one of the most “un-coverable” guys in the league, who has a combination of speed, athleticism and hands that makes any quarterback comfortable tossing the ball up in the air.  Brian Hoyer will be that quarterback, and after starting, being benched and starting again – he’s got to be happy that he’s a division winning quarterback with one of the best tools in the league to play with.   This game will be a chess match for all four quarters, as both teams are coached extremely well and for the most part are evenly matched.  Take the home team with the points though, especially because nobody has been enamored with the Texans this year.

The Pick: The Texans +4

If You Must: Even if you don’t watch/like college football, how are you going to NOT watch the National Championship.  The Clemson Tigers have finally made it over the humps that have stumped them in the past and are the number one ranked team in the country and even with that, they are underdog to Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.  Clemson has speed and spread formations that have given Saban’s teams fits before, but Saban is too smart to be beat by the same tricks again.   Clemson’s Deshaun Watson is a smart quarterback and a “gamer” who won’t be intimidated by the Crimson’s Tides blitz packages – expect Clemson to slow down the blitz with screen passes and quick slants early.  Alabama is driven by the playing style and over-all “awesomeness” of Heisman Trophy Winner, Derrick Henry but the Tide are actually a pretty well balanced offense.  On average, Alabama puts up 208 rushing yards and 214 passing yards a game.  This should an interesting match up because Clemson can defend both the pass and run very well.  Alabama makes it impossible to run against them, and if Clemson has to be one dimensional the whole game, it won’t bode well for them.  Clemson will get some scores in because they have way too much talent but in the end, Alabama -7 might be the way to go. 

Not enough to make me want to play with the lines this week to throw in a “teaser of the week” but as always, Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio