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Beating Vegas: Ironclad Locks

Alabama -4.5 at Auburn

This scene is all-too-familiar.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that Auburn was a slight home underdog to the number one team in the nation, Georgia and came up not only covering, but winning. . . and winning BIG.  Once again the table is set up in a very similar fashion.  These two teams have offenses and defenses that are in the SEC’s top three and this will be the eighty-first meeting between these two teams, in a rivalry known as the “Iron Bowl.”  Whoever wins this game will get to play Georgia for the SEC title, which in turn helps to solidify a spot in the College Football Playoff.     Even looking at it by position: Quarterback, Running Back, Wide Receiver – they are pretty much even throughout.  Auburn has a history of being the home dog that ruins things for Alabama.  This year, there is added incentive as they not only can play the role of “spoiler” but also help themselves in getting closer to the title of “Champion.”

The Pick: Auburn +4.5

Florida Atlantic -21 at NC Charlotte

Well, well, well. . . we finally get to talk about a game that includes the name: Lane Kiffin.  Kiffin took the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic, in hopes to jump-start his career as the head guy.  Kiffin and the Owls had a rough go of things starting out the season 1-3 but now the Owls are winners of seven straight games and this is much do to them becoming the tenth-best rushing attack in college football.  Running back, Devin Singletary (possibly the best running back you never hear spoken of) has racked up 24 touchdowns, averages 6.6 yards a carry and is looking to add to his 1524 rushing yards.  Considering how the Charlotte 49ers are allowing nearly 200 yards a game on the ground at a 4.5 yard clip – it’s lunchtime for Singletary and this Owl offensive line.   Last week against this defense Southern Miss running back Ito Smith racked up 3 touchdowns and 153 yards.  Charlotte can run the ball pretty well, but have red-zone issues like very few do in college football.  Speaking of the red-zone, Kiffin’s Owls have a 95% success rate of scoring when they get in the twenty yard line while the 49ers ALLOW opponents to score 92.11% of the time.  Something else that may interest those looking to wager on the side of Florida Atlantic: Lane Kiffin isn’t shy when it comes to pouring it on, embarrassing opponents and proving a point.  You want that kind of coach when covering a three-touchdown-defecit.

The Pick: Florida Atlantic -21

Texas Tech +8.5 at Texas

Head coach Kliff Kingsbury is the cool-kid-in-school.  Even at a school where he is nearly twenty years older than most of the students – Kingsbury is still the king of cool.  Unfortunately for him, his good looks and charisma may be cooling off with the Texas Tech faithful.  The Red Raiders are currently 5-6  with all of their wins coming against below-average competition (sorry, Houston but it’s been a down-year for you guys and you know it).   When your defense allows a 65% completion percentage and 4.3 yards a carry, that just means the offense needs to carry all the weight.  For all that matters, the offense does try and it shows – the Red Raiders have the the 8th most passing yards in college football, along with fifth highest pass completion percentage at 68.9%.  Those numbers will be put to the test by a Texas Longhorns defense holding opponents to a 59% completion percentage and 3 yards per rush attempt.   Texas has shown improvement from the previous two seasons and have competed in games that last year would’ve been completely lob-sided.   Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger will get the start for the Longhorns and although he isn’t the most polished passer, he is a dual threat QB who should give the Red Raiders defense fits.  Texas Tech will struggle to get their offense off the ground in this one.  And for four quarters of football, this defense will get worn down and give up the big plays to the Longhorns.

The Pick: Texas -8.5

 

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

 

Beating Vegas: Beardown

Green Bay Packers +5.5 at Chicago Bears

As a die hard Chicago Bears fan, I entered this season with very minimal hopes and realistic expectations.  At the mid-point of this season, all isn’t awful for the Bears, but they sure do have a lot more work to do.  Currently the Bears offense is – predictable, to say the least.  With rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky being handcuffed by play-calling and a lack of options to throw the ball to, the Bears are attacking via the rushing game. Running back Jordan Howard is third in the NFL in total carries (behind Zeke Elliot and LeVeon Bell) and is fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (662).  He is the bell cow for this offense and with Mitchell Trubisky throwing for less than 50% of his completions, expect this trend to continue.  The strength of this Bears team lies in their top ten defense.  This is a great thing for fans of the Bears to see as they know the key to any success this franchise has ever had – stems from a strong defense.  This week the Monsters of the Midway face their hated rival, the Green Bay Packers.  Quarterback Brett Hundley has been more underwhelming than Trubisky and although his completion percentage is 1.2 points below sixty-percent – don’t be fooled.  He’s averaging five yards a pass and has a touchdown/interception ratio of 1:4.  Yikes.  Defensively, the Packers are allowing 357 yards a game, which puts them in the bottom twenty-five percent of the NFL.  Both teams will run very vanilla offenses, the Bears may try to open things up more than the Packers actually.  Regardless, this is the first time since 2008 that the Bears are actually favored to win over the Packers.  Five and half points (with the trending arrow moving upwards) is just a weird number, but 38 as the over and under is a good one.  This game will see a lot of three and outs and a lot of kicks.  Bears may pull it off, modestly.

The Pick: The Under 38.5

Houston Texans +11 at Los Angeles Rams

One thing we all can agree on is this:  The Houston Texans are pathetic without Deshaun Watson under center.  The Texans options are quarterback are Tom Savage, who’s awful; Josh Johnson, who we vaguely remember as awful and TJ Yates, who is “eh.” It’s not even about the Texans losing their quarterback, the whole organization seems to have lost any inspiration, and that is not ALL on coach Bill O’ Brien.  O’Brien is in the middle of a firestorm that involves his players not being happy with remarks made by the team’s owner.  This is the total opposite of what’s going on in L.A. with the Rams.  For years, the Rams have pretty much been a door-mat in the NFL.  First year coach Sean McVay has transformed this team into the league’s number one scoring offense, averaging 32.9 points per contest.  Houston’s defense may struggle with the Rams’ aerial attack and their run defense will get their best challenge of the season going up against running back Todd Gurley.  Gurley has the fourth most rushing yards in the NFL with 686.  The total balance on offense will be too much for Houston to keep up with for four quarters especially because the Texans offense will most likely throw up uneventful three-and-out drives and turn over the ball at least twice.

The Pick: Rams -11

New Orleans Saints -3 at Buffalo Bills

Buffalo at home is always a tough sell on the sharpest of betters.  The weather is miserable and visiting teams are bored because there is nothing to do there.  This year’s Bills team is in the middle of the debate of “contenders or pretenders” especially after getting smacked up by the Jets on national television last week.  The Bills don’t run the ball exceptionally well but they also don’t throw the ball exceptionally well – but they force the issue with the run as their 250 attempts, with an average of 3.7 yards a carry, prove.  NFL pundits have been drooling over the defense of the New Orleans Saints, saying that this defense is the reason why they have a record of 6-2.  When you look at the numbers though, you ask yourself: Really?  A defense that gives up 4.7 yards a rush and a completion percentage of 60% sounds pretty average. . .even to some below-average. For the Saints though, it’s all about one defensive stat: Points Per Game.  This defense is only allowing teams to average 19 points per contest which goes really well when you have an offense that is constructed so perfectly.  Head coach Sean Payton has leaned on a two-running-back attack where Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram are relied on heavily throughout the game.  The Saints have an offense that is top ten in rushing and passing and going against the Bills defense on the road will be one of their tougher test this year.  A final score of 27-18 is totally believable in the favor of the Saints.

The Pick: Saints -3

Good Luck and Wager Wisely

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

 

Beating Vegas: Gonna Fly Now

Denver Broncos +7 at Philadelphia Eagles

The Denver Broncos trot cross country into the City of Brotherly Love, where the Eagles have been flying high this season.   The Eagles’ offense is one of the NFL’s best and Carson Wentz is the reason why. Only in his second season under center and Wentz’ name  is on the short list of those being mentioned in the MVP race.   The Eagle’s leading rusher is LaGarrette Blount who is averaging 4.7 yards a carry, but things may be changing now that they’ve acquired former Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi this week via trade.   One wouldn’t be “reaching” by saying maybe Ajayi was acquired for this match up against Denver because the Broncos rush defense is the best in the league, holding to opponents to 3 yards a rush and 73 yards on the ground per contest.  Things don’t get much easier tryin to air it out against the Broncos either.  When a secondary has Chris Harris Jr and Aquib Talib it’s no surprise to see they’ve allowed the second fewest receiving yards in the NFL, behind Jacksonville.   The issue for Denver will be the offense as this will be Brock Osweiler’s first start of the season.  The last three years have been a roller coaster of sorts for Osweiler: 2015, was the back up in Denver when the team won the Super Bowl; 2016 signed with the Texans for a contract that guaranteed him over $35 million; 2017 was traded to the Browns, who released him before the season started and was picked up by the Broncos to be the back up quarterback to Trevor Siemian.  Siemian had to be benched but make no mistake Osweiler is awful and if he’s “better” than Siemian that’s like saying you’d rather be “nicked” than “scratched.”  The Eagles pass defense isn’t terrific, but their play up front will put unwanted pressure on Osweiler who will be forced to make throws.  Eagles edge out a close cover 17-7.

The Pick: Philadelphia -7

Detroit Lions -2 at Green Bay Packers

I have a tradition on Monday Night Football.  Pretty much the tradition is, I have a couple of beers with my dad and we watch the game.  Yes, we flip to Monday Night Raw during commercial breaks, but that’s neither here nor there.  I look forward to watching Monday Night Football because just for that night I pick one of the two teams and become a fan of theirs for the next three hours.  This week, two teams I detest in the NFL are playing against each other:  The Lions and the Packers.  Terrific. . . All of trends point in Green Bay’s direction: Lions have lost 25 of their last 26 at Lambeau Field;  straight up and ATS the Lions are 1-4 in their last 5 games and Green Bay is 6-2 ATS in their last 8 games at home.  61% of the public’s money is going on the Detroit Lions, mostly because people have given up on an Aaron Rodgers-less Packers squad.  That’s understandable but why would anyone be confident putting their money on an entirely healthy Detroit Lions squad?  Three of Detroit’s four losses came at under 5 points; and two of their three wins came against two trash-cans disguised as football teams in the Giants and Cardinals.  Bottom line is – when something good is expected out of Detroit, they don’t carry through.  We all know Matt Stafford doesn’t beat teams with a winning record and for what it’s worth the Packers are 4-3, with a head coach you can put in the top five of the league every year against a coach in Jim Caldwell who looks like he’s waiting for a bus to pick him up on the sideline.  Home underdog, with a smart coach, after a bye week.  Gimmie dat.

The Pick: Green Bay +2

Atlanta Falcons -1.5 at Carolina Panthers

Here is one of those games where the actual line means nothing because we are looking at the point total, which Vegas has set at 42 total points for this NFC South match-up.  The Falcons offense is a shell of what it was last year.  When you factor in that the personnel is the same, it comes to the departure of offensive coordinator  Kyle Shanahan who left to take the head coaching job at San Francisco.  Falcons coordinator Steve Sarkisian came with some baggage and it looks like by the end of this season, he’ll be packing those same bags when he gets shipped out of town.  Last season this Falcons team was number two in the league in total offense.  At the mid-point of the 2017 season they are currently ranked 9th.  Now this offense will go up against the Carolina Panthers defense which is the second best against the pass and against the run is allowing an impressive 3.8 yards a rush.  The Panthers offense lives and dies with quarterback Cam Newton who is a freak of nature and a once in a lifetime kind of athlete but he is also an emotional diva.   Chances are we’ll see more of the latter this week because the team was apparently shocked that the Panthers front office decided to trade wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills earlier this week.  This is a team already short on receiving targets and although Benjamin wasn’t great he was someone Newton had developed a chemistry with over the years.  The Falcons defense isn’t terrible and that might be just enough for this low scoring affair.  Falcons will probably edge out the Panthers 17-13.

The Pick: The Under at 42

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Going Wild in Southern Cal

Arizona +7 at USC

The Arizona Wildcats go into the home of the USC Trojans this weekend and this is a battle between two quarterbacks who have been on a very different road in getting to this point of the season.  The Trojans’ quarterback Sam Darnold was the pre-season Heisman favorite, with a lot of NFL scouts touting him as the best signal caller in the nation, who was supposed to lead the Trojans to the playoff this year.  The Trojans are currently 7-2 with a middle of the pack defense and an offense, that although is putting up  33 points per game – was expected to do even better.  Darnold is having an okay season throwing 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions (second most in the Pac-12).  The real answer to this offense’s success has been running back Ronald Jones who is 112 yards away from a thousand yard rushing season and is averaging 6.7 yards a carry.  Jones is the fifth best -statistical – rusher in the Pac-12 conference – one spot above him though is Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate.   Tate in just six games has accumulated 960 rushing yards and averaging nearly 14 yards a rush.  Coach Rich Rodriguez’ offense doesn’t look to throw the ball much but if they do Tate is netting a completion percentage of 68.7%.  The other ball carriers on this team average at least 5 yards a carry (all four of them).   The Wildcasts defense stepped up when they went against another highly touted Pac-12 quarterback in UCLA’s Josh Rosen and forced the quarterback to toss 3 interceptions.  Arizona is playing very well as a unit as Tate is proving to be right there with Bryce Love as the best players in the Pac-12 conference.  USC is playing with hurt pride and defending their undefeated home record this week.  Arizona’s wins have either come in blowouts or by thin margins while USC has proven to be mostly unreliable so far this year.

The Pick: Arizona +7

Rice +10.5 at UAB

It was only a few years ago that the University of Alabama-Birmingham ended their football program.  They figured it was costing them too much money to be competitive and decided to pull the plug.  2017 became the “the year the Blazers come back.”  Many figured it would remain to be a bottom dweller.  History proved it was never a good program anyway so after being dead for two years, they would definitely be a door-mat to anyone who stepped to them.  Funny how things turn out, huh?  Currently UAB is 5-3 and knocking on the door of becoming “bowl-eligible.”  The Blazers offense is predicated off of the success of their ground game and running back Spencer Brown who is averaging 5.6 yards a carry and has a total of 909 rushing yards so far this season.  Quarterback AJ  Erdely has been efficient as well, throwing nine touchdowns and only 2 interceptions but more impressive than that are his 10 rushing touchdowns this season.  This isn’t a surprising stat when you realize that UAB’s scoring percentage in the red zone is 87%, which ranks them higher than Penn State and Louisville’s red-zone attacks.  This will be key when going against a Rice red-zone defense that is allowing opponents to score 89% of the time. (And just to see the other side of things: UAB’s red zone defense 70% sandwiched between the likes of Ohio State and Alabama while Rice’s red-zone attack scores 71% of the time which knocks down the Owl’s chances of scoring to a 49% in the red-zone.) The Rice Owls have been on the wrong side of lob-sided scores all season and stand at 1-7 so far this year. The offense is ranked 229th in total yards, 251st in passing yards and 116th in rushing yards.

The Pick: UAB -10.5

 

Virginia Tech -2.5 at Miami

Here goes one that the “sharps” are big on.  Getting Va Tech under a field goal, while you can.  There are many reasons why.  First one, as we saw last week, Miami will just let any team hang with them.  Even teams they should blow out by a large amount like UNC or Duke.  Yes, we all saw that ridiculous touchdown that put the Seminoles away, but in truth – Florida State is in a down year, with injuries and inexperience stripping them of reinventing their dominant looking selves.  Miami is a good team.   A marginally good team.  They’ve been “bleh” against the spread and they are usually given too many points because they are such a large “public” favorite.  Virginia Tech has a quarterback in Josh Jackson who goes under the radar and it’s a crime.  Jackson is completing 62% of his passes with 17 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions. Behind his is a running back committee of Travon McMillian, DeShawn McClease and even Coleman Fox — they all are racking up over 4.5 yards per rush between them.  Miami is mediocre when it comes to stopping the rush (allowing 4.1 yards a carry) but are stingy when it comes to letting ball carriers get into the end-zone, allowing only 3 rushing touchdowns so far this year.  Miami pass defense has looked great this year, holding opposing quarterbacks to 50% completion percentage but look at the competition and you’ll see why.  The number is perfect where it’s at right now and if it goes up to 3, you shouldn’t hesitate to buy the half a point.  This will be a close one but in the end, Virginia Tech has the better pass defense, the better rush defense and the better quarterback.  Don’t fall for the hype.

The Pick: Virginia Tech -2.5

Four Team Teaser of the Week: Wisconsin -1.5; South Carolina +35.5; Purdue -2 and Baylor +4.5

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

Twitter @GeeSteelio

New Niners Era

When John Lynch was introduced to the world as the new general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, most of the world kind of shook their collective heads, or just let out a collective “huh?”  There was good reason for that at the time.  When he retired from the game that saw him as a nine-time Pro-Bowler in 2008, we saw him for just about the next nine years being a color commentator for FOX.   Last time we saw somebody do something similar to this was the disastrous Matt Millen to the Lions ordeal.   Matt Millen was viewed much like Lynch is – a smart player on and off the field, has an eye for talent, so on and so forth. . .

Lynch is different though.  For the 49ers sake, he must be. 

Lynch knows what it takes to build a Super Bowl team because he was on one in 2002 with the Bucs.  He knows what kind of personalities will work with each other, the necessity of comradery in the locker room and of course, the kind of coach needed.  This is why the hiring of Kyle Shanahan should have come as no surprise.  Much like John Gruden, Lynch’s head coach during his day’s in Tampa Bay – Gruden is an offensive minded coach, who is a “quarterback – whisperer” of sorts – much like Shanahan.  Shanahan’s demeanor can at times remind folks of Gruden as many have mentioned how Shanahan’s ego is a bit, well – out there.

The “Great Heist of the 2017 Draft” was a perfectly drawn up by Lynch and his associates, who pretty much “hood-winked” the Chicago Bears into trading then two third round picks (one of which is for 2018) and a fourth round pick – and only moved down one spot.  Lynch was able to get the player he wanted originally in Stamford defensive linemen Solomon Thomas.  They also traded back into the first round to select Alabama line backer Reuben Foster.  His initial draft was a success with a focus on the defense – Ahkello Witherspoon is an athletic 6’3″ cornerback out of Colorado and in the seventh round they may have found a steal in safety Adrian Colbert, who ran a 4.38 in the combine.  If Colbert, may be a steal, Lynch’s fourth-round pick, running back Joe Williams out of Utah is definitely a steal. 

Remember, this is only the draft.

Lynch, decided to keep a focus on the side of the ball he’s most familiar with. .  Lynch, 45, years old isn’t too far removed from a “rougher” NFL but has also seen the transition of, let’s just say a “different” NFL.  Shanahan has developed successful offenses in this NFL and truth be known, it’s easier to get an offensive system in put then it is for defense.  Sure, this season is pretty much a wash for San Francisco – you’ll see a lot of Carlos Hyde and you should see a lot of the rookie Williams as well.

Let’s look at the rest of this division for a second.

The Cardinals: They have talent, but last year was a bit scary to see if you’re a Cardinals fan.  Things just weren’t working out well for them and it’s apparent Carson Palmer is on the wrong side of 37. . .

The Rams: Are terrible.

The Seahawks: Let’s be honest.  Aren’t they just a ‘tad-bit’ over-rated these days.  Nobody is scared of the Legion of Boom like they used to be, and with rumors circulating that Richard Sherman was on the trading block, it seems Seattle isn’t too fond of it either.  All of their young talent that helped build that team up under Pete Carroll (including coordinators) have gone off for bigger paychecks.  The NFC West is their division by default.

Okay, back to the Niners.

Looking ahead to 2018, the 49ers will have money to spend and there are free agents who might find it intriguing to land in San Francisco.  It’s already been mentioned that Kirk Cousins will run to San Fran once his time is done in Washington, but another option might be New England’s Jimmy Garappolo.  Wide receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Terrelle Pryor are both playing on one-year “prove you’re real” deals and they could both be pleasant options as well.  There are a couple of veteran offensive linemen available in 2018 who might want to play in a Shanahan offense  – Johnathan Cooper, Nate Solder and Greg Robinson to name a few.

Remember, in the NFL, fortunes can flip within a year in any given division.  Seeing already how the 49ers are positioning themselves, it would not be hard to believe, if in three years – maybe even two – the NFC West belongs to the gold-diggers out of San Fran.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Silver and Black Beast

Marshawn “Beast Mode” Lynch announced his retirement the same day as Super Bowl 50 back in early 2016.  He left behind a legacy of being bruising-back, with a very specific personality.  His final season though in 2015, was one to be forgotten.  A sports hernia injury limited him to half the season where he had his lowest yards per-carry average in five seasons (3.8 ypc) and when he did return in the playoffs, he was held to 20 yards rushing by the Carolina Panthers.

He has sat out an entire year after this and now is ready to play again.  And he wants to play for his hometown team, the Oakland Raiders.  Alrighty then. . .

The Raiders are in need of a running game.  One would guess that the current starter is Deondre Washington, who ran for over five yards a carry on limited opportunities behind Lativius Murray.   Although the Raiders organization likes Washington, they are a team that feels they can challenge the Patriots in the AFC – and a healthy Marshawn Lynch just might be what pushes them ahead.

Lynch and the Raiders have apparently come to an agreement and it’s all pending a trade with the Seahawks, who still own Lynch’s rights.

If the Raiders aren’t going to have to shell out a lot of dough for Lynch, it’ll be worth the gamble.  Lynch provides them a strong running game as well as a tough and veteran presence in the huddle.

There are a few red flags though when considering this move.

The most obvious is that Lynch’s running style is violent and after years of running as hard as he does, are we to believe that a 30 year old back, who is a year removed not only from the game of football but also a sports hernia injury, can be the player he once was?   And even if he is that  guy on the field – remember the mention earlier of his specific personality?

Lynch is on another planet.  He gives the media a hard time and is pretty much a loner.  His playing style goes in contrast with his personality – he does not exhibit the “brute” type of energy off the field.  He is more of a recluse, who tells corny jokes while staring at the floor.  For a team like the Raiders, it’s obvious they all gel together.  From Derek Carr all the way down, the culture has been remixed in Oakland and everyone is feeling good about themselves.  Lynch could potentially throw a wrench into that harmony.  As stated by Matt Calkins of the Seattle Times, Lynch was integral to building the culture in Seattle and “that gave him locker-room clout that might not await him in Oakland.”

The Oakland Raiders averaged 4.4 yards a carry last year, and know that in order to maintain the success their offense had this year, and to maintain the progression of their young quarterback Derek Carr they would like to keep that the same, or obviously, get better.  If Lynch has at least one more good run left in him, it will turn out to be an upgrade for a team that already boast one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

NFC North: First Round Mock

This is a division that just tears at my soul. . . as a Chicago Bears fan, it hurts to see all other three teams in this division have some kind of potential or hope.  All the while, the Bears fumble through their seasons as if they have just learned the sport. . .

Green Bay Packers

Finished with a 10-6 record

Def Yards:22nd    Off Yards: 8th

The Packers pass defense ranked 28th in the league giving up 248 yards a game, but that stat is misleading because the Packers rush defense was so good, teams usually had no other option but to throw the ball against them.  Their 17 interceptions on the year proves that their defense was up to the challenge and their 40 sacks last season were the sixth highest total by any team in the league.  Green Bay might just fine tune this defense up a bit and do it with some home good cooking.  Wisconsin’s T.J. Watt is another one of these athletic linebackers who can play in or out.  He has his brother’s knack for swatting passes if he can’t get to the quarterback and is playing to make a name for himself.  The in-state talent would fit in great here and there is no “becoming accustomed to the weather” type of scenario for this former Badger.

Minnesota Vikings

Finished With an 8-8 Record

Def Yards: 3rd   Off Yards:28th

No team was smacked back down to reality faster than the Minnesota Vikings last season (eh, maybe the Eagles too. . .).  They started the season 5-0 and only managed to win 3 more games after their bye-week.  Adrian Peterson is gone so they signed Latavius Murray to the squad, who is mediocre at best.  Unfortunately, the Vikings traded their first-round pick for quarterback Sam Bradford last season.  It looked like a thing of genius early, but then it just looked like Sam Bradford. . .

Detroit Lions

Finished With a 9-7 Record

Def Yards:18th    Off Yards: 21st

For quarterback Matthew Stafford, he had his first taste of life without Calvin Johnson.  He threw 8 fewer touchdowns, but he made the playoffs – so it depends on what you’re looking for, I guess.  Maybe a running game would’ve helped out – because the two-headed monster of Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah is more like a sleeping dragon. . .that sleeps. . . and sleeps. Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey may be exactly what this team needs to get a ground game going. McCaffrey is a true dual-threat back, who has the ability to break a big play from anywhere on the field.  He is a smart player, who is patient in waiting for his blocks.  He should amount up to what Abdullah was supposed to be. . .

Chicago Bears

Finished With a 3-13 Record

Def Yards: 15th   Off Yards:  15th

The Bears did a good job drafting last year.  They scooped up Leonard Floyd in the first round and he showed flashes of his pass rushing ability frequently last year.  Cody Whitehair proved to be a starting offensive lineman in this league, drafted to be a guard and became the day one center for the Bears; and Jordan Howard, the fifth round running back out of Indiana ran for over 1300 yards in his rookie campaign.  The Bears won 3 games though. . . if the Bears enter next season healthy they actually do have some skill and size on both sides of the line of scrimmage – receivers and secondary players though . . .they might be the worst in the league at both of those positions.   The Bears haven’t had a good safety since Mark Carrier left the team in 1996 (sorry, Mike Brown fans) – LSU’s Jamal Adams is a safety that can be an All-Pro for many years to come.  Besides having excellent instinct on the ball, he is an aggressive player, who can line up in the box and also cover down the field in man coverage.  If the Bears are ever going to make strides in this secondary, getting a player like Adams is the perfect place to start.

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

James “Do’h” Lan

One must give the New York Knicks credit.  For a team whose record is 23-33, which makes them the fourth worse team in the Eastern Conference; for a team that has a team president who looks uninterested in the job and  a star player who’s future with the team is in limbo – they keep themselves as popular as the Warriors and the Cavs.

How do they achieve this?  The answer my friends is one word: Chaos.

The owner of the Knicks, James Dolan is worth somewhere near the $1.5 billion dollar mark.   Too bad the dollars don’t add up to wins for the Knicks though. This franchise has been a comedy of errors since the turn of the century.  There is a healthy-chuckle of names that have been tied to the Knicks and massive amounts of dollars wasted: Allan Houston, Isiah Thomas, Larry Brown, Jerome James, Eddy Curry and most currently Joakim Noah.

Let’s not ignore the presence of the Zen-Master, Phil Jackson though.  In 2014, Dolan gave Phil Jackson a five-year, $60 million dollar contract to become president of the New York Knicks (this is an executive position Phil Jackson has never held in his lifetime).  It is now early 2017 and it’s safe to say this Phil Jackson experiment is a disaster.  Phil Jackson lives in a past where he believes his fabled “triangle-offense” is the only way this Knicks team can succeed.  He goes on twitter to childishly “sub” players and fans alike.  And his huge ego has made him now, cower away from the podium where he used to be at his most comfortable.

Jackson has an on-going beef with star Carmelo Anthony (who Jackson re-signed to the team in 2014 to a five-year deal).   Although Dolan said he would let Phil Jackson run this team and he (Dolan) would not interfere at all – rumor has it that Dolan’s one request to Phil Jackson was to re-sign Carmelo Anthony.  Jackson has never hid his criticisms of Anthony, and this year with talks of trying to trade Carmelo, while pretty much throwing him under the bus for this season – Knicks fans and players are now tired of the Jackson-routine and have favored with Anthony (even if trading him actually makes more sense than holding onto him.)

As if this wasn’t enough – oh yeah, remember they are 23-33, Derrick Rose “no-showed” for a game,  Joakim Noah is awful and their young star Kristaps Porziņģis is out there trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents – here comes the Charles Oakley thing.

As we all know, on February 8th, Charles Oakley got into a scuffle of sorts with security at Madison Square Garden, was escorted out and arrested the same night. Of course there are conflicting sides to this story.  The Knicks released a statement saying  Oakley “came to the game tonight and behaved in a highly inappropriate and completely abusive manner,” while Oakley said he “was minding his own business when he was confronted by Madison Square Garden Security, who asked why he was sitting so close to Dolan.”

Charles Oakley is a legend in New York.  And although Oakley admitted he was wrong for putting his hands on someone else (because he was wrong about that, lets not lose sight of that) – isn’t it strange that he had to buy his own ticket to watch a Knicks game.  Oakley is revered in New York as a player who gave 100% every night.  A player that would thrown his body on the line for a teammate, loose ball or anything that would benefit his team.  Seeing their “hero” getting thrown out of MSG, while watching their beloved Knicks during another struggling season became a boiling point for fans.

Dolan did not help matters, after it was confirmed that Oakley had been banned from MSG by accusing Oakley of being an alcoholic and an overly aggressive person: “He may have a problem with alcohol, we don’t know,” said Dolan, a recovering addict. “Behaviors of being physically and verbally abusive, those are personality problems (New York Post).” 

This statement coming from a guy who went to a drug rehabilitation center to take care of his demons in 1993.  And this, coming from a man who in 2015, responded to an angry fan who wrote a letter about his frustration with the Knicks with statements like “root for the Nets because the Knicks don’t want you” and even said in his letter that the man was probably an “alcoholic.”

And not for nothing, maybe someone should check the temperature on Dolan’s sobriety after offering Phil Jackson that team-president job. . .

According to ESPN, forces are trying to reconcile this beef between Dolan and Oakley.  Dolan has made a very obvious attempt at being a “good guy” with former players by having former Knick Lattrell Sprewell sit next to him court side for the Spurs-Knicks game last Sunday at the Garden.  Sprewell spoke with the media after in what seemed like a very “prepared” speech which spoke highly about how he’s been treated as a former player.

Knicks fans aren’t dumb enough to fall for such a transparent ploy.

According to ESPN’s Ian Begley  there is “some momentum toward a resolution” between Oakley and Dolan, thanks to recent conversation between both sides.”  This would be good, if it’s resolved quickly, but even then – we all saw the true nature of James Dolan.  And what the world has witness in the last week about Dolan is what New Yorkers have known for far too long.

G.W.Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Bye-Week

First off, I want to apologize for not being able to post “Beating Vegas” last week – I had to fly down to South Carolina unexpectedly to witness the birth of a baby boy (Congrats to J & J).  If we’re using the “honor system” here, Beating Vegas would’ve went 2 and 2 last week, winning with Louisville and Air Force and losing with Colorado and West Virginia.  The Patriots didn’t play and that’s pretty much my NFL lock for every week of this season, so since they didn’t play on Sunday, it’s fitting that last week was my bye-week.

Michigan -20.5 at Iowa

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Iowa is playing host to Michigan who is ranked #2 in the nation at the moment.  It’s a prime time game and with teams being upset left and right, this could be Iowa’s one shining moment in an otherwise forgettable season for the Hawkeyes. Truth is though, the odds are stacked against them – in a very unfavorable fashion.  Usually night-home games go in the favor of the host, but Iowa has been bad on their home turf – losing to North Dakota State, Northwestern and Wisconsin.  Iowa has really taken a turn for the worst this year.  The offensive line has given up 24 sacks this year and their offensive numbers are misleading (60% pass completion, 4.3 yards a rush,  26.6 points per game) because they ran up the scoreboard against hapless opponents like Miami (Ohio), Iowa State  and Purdue.  Three times this year they’ve only scored 14 points in a game, and two other times were held to double digits.  Newsflash: 14 points will NOT beat Michigan; and putting up 14 against Minnesota and Rutgers is something a JV high school team should be able to do.  Michigan is allowing only 10.7 points a game,  and have only allowed 1250 yards through the air and less than a 1000 yards on the ground so far this year.  Albeit, Michigan is “kinda-sorta” flying under the radar with their questionable strength of schedule – this Iowa team is pretty much like any other team Michigan has exposed early and dominated.  This one might be the game to lay down something on the first half and the game.

The Pick: Michigan -20.5

UNC -11 at Duke

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There are a lot of double digit road favorites this week (as we see with our previous pick) and this one totes around one of the premier quarterbacks in the nation, Mitch Trubisky.  Trubisky is averaging 300 passing yards a game, has tossed 19 touchdowns to his 2 interceptions and is completing passes at a rate of 70%.  This Duke defense though is only allowing teams to complete 50% of their passes against them and have nabbed seven interceptions this season.  This is the same Duke defense that gave Heisman favorite Lamar Jackson and the Louisville offense fits a few weeks ago. . . Both of these defenses can’t stop the run, and Duke edges out UNC slightly on the offensive side of the rushing game.  Duke verses UNC is one of the most classic rivalries in all of sports, and although it is mostly noted as being a basketball rivalry, it’s a rivalry none-the-less.  Duke is a double digit dog at home against a team they hate, and on paper, they have what it takes to at least not get blown out – that’s enough for me.

The Pick: Duke +11

Utah -5.5 at Arizona State

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Last time we had Utah in Beating Vegas, they covered as a 10 point home dog to Washington; this time around they are a road favorite against the Sun Devils.  Utah is a throwback football squad that stick to what they do well, which is play defense and run the ball.  As a team, Utah is averaging 4.6 yards a carry and their lead back Joe Williams averages 6.3 yards a carry.  This offensive line takes pride in the run game and are able to get leverage against most defensive fronts.  Arizona State’s rush defense though is only allowing 3.5 yards a carry this season.  Impressive when looked upon at first, but do a little more research into this and you’ll find that most of their opponents come with aerial attacks, oh and Arizona State is dead last in the Pac 12 in pass defense this year letting up nearly 400 yards a game and 26 aerial scores.  Utah is third in the Pac 12 in rush offense, behind Oregon, who ran for 245 yards against this Sun Devil’s rush defense.  Oregon’s offensive line isn’t nearly as disciplined, strong or flat out – as good – as Utah’s so expect the Utes to have their way offensively against Arizona State.

The Pick: Utah -5.5

Four Game Teaser of the week: Northwestern -1.5; Wake Forest +46.5; Michigan -8.5 and Colorado State +16

 

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Let’s Not Over-React

About Last Week:  Oh Seattle. . . Russell Wilson seemed out of sorts last week and that Cincinnati / Purdue game made us sweat it out, but we got that “under.”  When it came to Louisville clearing sixteen at Syracuse – it really doesn’t get much easier than that. . . Seriously, keep checking this column and mybookie.ag every week so you can beat the NCAA and NFL Lines. . .

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Tennessee Titans +6.5 at Detroit Lions

After being up 21-3 and  then having to edge out a win 39-35 against the Colts, the Lions should be counting their blessings.  The Colts don’t have much depth, neither do the Lions, so on paper it should have been a close game anyway.  Vegas has the Lions as a one touchdown favorite against a team that should be making strides this season.  Minnesota’s offense didn’t do much against Tennessee’s defense (the Titans even held the unstoppable Adrian Peterson to an abysmal 1.9 yards a carry) as the offense had to settle for four Blair Walsh field goals.  Marcus Mariota’s costly two interceptions turned into defensive touchdowns which made the difference in the game.  This time around, Mariota plays against an easier defensive opponent and a team, in the Lions who never knows how to put anybody away.  Expect the Titans to mix in Derrick Henry a little more with Demarco Murray early to see if they can have the same amount of success that Frank Gore had last week (4.2 yards a carry) against Detroit.  They may want to ease Mariota into the game and keep an overly anxious Matt Stafford on the sidelines.

The Pick: Tennessee Titans +6.5

 

Atlanta Falcons +4.5 at Oakland Raiders

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The Oakland Raiders gave us a gutsy and exciting game last week against the New Orleans Saints, but all was not to be celebrated.  The Raiders came into this season ranting and raving about a defense that was ready to take on the world, but Drew Brees and the Saints threw the ball all over the field on them, leaving it up to Derek Carr and the Raiders offense to carry the load.  The good news is, Carr looks totally in-sync with Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree – the chemistry from last year, just seems to have gotten better.  The Falcons have a top flight wide-out in Julio Jones there is no doubting that, and they even have two talented backs in Coleman and Freeman – but that offensive line is still an issue.  Matt Ryan has slid down to  be the fourth best quarterback in the NFC South (remember class there are only four teams in the division).   If the Oakland Raiders are truly back in the picture as a team that matters, beating an average at best team at home by a touchdown should be a requirement on their resume.

The Pick: The Raiders -4.5

 

Houston Cougars -9 at Cincinnati Bearcats

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To be honest, there was some wavering on this one.  And the golden rule should be – if you’re not sure, stay away – but it’s a Thursday night game and we all can’t avoid a little college football action in the middle of the week. . .  The Bearcats have found a better look in their offense with Hayden Moore at quarterback but the competition has been way below average.  The Ohio-Valley Conference was represented by Tenn-Martin and the Bearcats struggled for a half and couldn’t stop the run.  Then they beat the worst team in the Big 10 by 18 points. . .  Meanwhile, Houston has showed off a tough defense in both of their wins, one of those wins was the season opener in which they were in control against Baker Mayfield and that Oklahoma Sooner offense.  In just two games, the Bearcats have three 100 yard rushers (and one 80 yard rusher) and will be able to eat the Bearcats offensive line all day.  History shows that in the last three years the winner of this game has been decided by 7 points or less, but this is a huge year for Houston and they are looking to make examples out of teams that are clearly not in their league.  This game has a lot of the Louisville / Syracuse feeling from last week and we saw what the better team did in that one. . .

The Pick: Houston -9

Western Mich  -3.5 at Illinois

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Year in and year out, Western Michigan has an impressive and very un-noticed team.  Welcome to the glory of the MAC Conference.  Western Michigan comes complete in their passing attack and their ground game. Senior wide receiver Corey Davis is having a nice start to the season snatching seven catches a game and already racking up 220 yards in his two games.  This will prove to be a problem on the Illinois defense as Lovie Smith still hasn’t learned that the Cover-2 base defense just isn’t a good idea anymore.  Watching Illinois, they leave the middle of the field open all day long – this is what helped get Lovie fired as head coach of the Chicago Bears.  The Illini are giving up 440 passing yards a game and expect that trend to continue.

The Pick: Western Michigan -3.5

South Florida Bulls -14.5 at Syracuse Orange

Syracuse was just embarrassed on national television last week (as was predicted here on Beating Vegas) and now they are a double digit home dog.  The Regular-Joes will ride the favorite in this game because of what they saw.  But it’s all about what they don’t see.  South Florida was able to open the season to beat up on Towson and Northern Illinois, while Syracuse had one cup cake opponent and then a monster in Louisville.   Syracuse’s problem isn’t moving the ball, it’s finishing drives and they are going up against a defense that hasn’t been tested yet.  Syracuse has a fast paced offense led by quarterback Erik Dungey, who is flying under the radar now, but is one of the more exciting quarterbacks to watch play.  Syracuse may not win this game, but they definitely won’t get blown out either.  The Bulls may get winded early and have to muscle a win out of this one.

The Pick: Syracuse +14.5

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If You Must: Take Memphis at home -20 against the visiting Kansas Jayhawks.  If this was basketball, Kansas would be  a road favorite by at least 7 or 8, but in the world of football, Kansas has won six road games since 2011 and haven’t really been trending upwards in the last two years.

Four Game Teaser: Saints/Giants Over 40.5;  Cardinals +5.5; Panthers -1.5 and Ohio State +10

 

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio