Tag Archives: Falcons

Beating Vegas: Playoff Positioning

Week Seventeen of the NFL season is the trickiest of all when it comes to getting an edge against the spread.  For some teams it’s “win and you’re in” while others need help from other teams so they can get into the playoff dance.

Cleveland Browns +10.5 at Pittsburgh Steelers

Yes, this is a very predictable start for this week’s Beating Vegas.  The Steelers need to win in order to secure home field advantage but they also need the New England Patriots to lose their game against the Jets.  The last time the Steelers played the Browns,  it was week one and the Steelers squeaked by 21-18.  This loss was looked upon as a positive for the Cleveland Browns, who hung in there and made things difficult for Pittsburgh, but that premature optimism was proven to be idiotic because they are currently on a 15 game losing streak (just in case you didn’t figure it out, that means they haven’t won a game all season long).  Cleveland is in the pitts (burgh? eh. . .) and now many on this team are just auditioning to keep their jobs on the team or trying to play themselves off of it. . .  Cleveland’s one positive all year has been their rush defense but in the last two weeks, they’ve let up 4 yards per rush against Melvin Gordon and then 5.4 yards a carry against Baltimore’s Alex Collins.  Steelers running back LeVeon Bell was held to 32 yards rushing the last time he went up against Cleveland and will be looking to make his mark this week.  Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer seems to get worse every week – while hovering at the 50% completion mark with only 9 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Pittsburgh’s pass defense is ranked in the top 10 this year and will have no problem confusing  “Disheveled Kizer.”  Pittsburgh is also top ten in rushing yards allowed in the NFL so this shouldn’t be a repeat performance of week one.

The Pick:  Pittsburgh -10.5

Carolina Panthers +4  at Atlanta Falcons

This game is interesting because two other games that directly affect the Falcons and the Panthers playoff hopes are being played at the same time.  Here is the breakdown for the NFC South:

  • New Orleans wins the NFC South if they beat the Bucs or if the Panthers lose
  • The Panthers win the NFC South if they beat the Falcons AND the Saints lose
  • The Falcons get a wildcard berth if they win OR if the Seahawks (who also play at 4:30) lose.

Keeping all this in mind, the public is going to jump all over the Panthers getting points against a team that since last year’s Super Bowl has been a punchline. . . The Falcons offense, has indeed taken a step back – but remember the numbers they were putting up – it was video-game-like.  Matt Ryan is still completing passes at 65%, Julio Jones has over 1300 receiving yards and the Falcons possess the second best running back duo in the league with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman (behind the Saints).   If Coleman’s concussion symptoms linger – Freeman has proven before he can carry the load for the whole four quarters. . . the Panthers defense is what generally keeps them competitive, but they are allowing 4.1 yards a rush and let opponents throw against them for a completion percentage of 64%.  Atlanta is pretty much right there defensively with Carolina – but nobody really talks about that. . . out of these two teams, Carolina is definitely the one you don’t want to play in the playoffs because their style of play can travel well; but in this scenario the Falcons at home are the play.  Don’t be cheap though – buy the whole point and give yourself the -3, even maybe buy a point and a half.

The Pick: Atlanta Falcons -4

Cincinnati Bengals +9.5 at the Baltimore Ravens

For the Ravens it’s pretty simple – win and you’re in.  It seems almost too simple.  You beat the Bengals and you’re in though, and the Bengals at 6-9 have nothing going for them. . .nothing except playing the role of spoiler to the Ravens.  The last time these teams played was on week one were the Ravens shut out the Bengals 20-0.  The Ravens went on to shut out two more teams this year (the Dolphins and the Aaron Rodger-less Packers, big whoop) and pretty much lucked in with second year running back Alex Collins who is averaging 4.7 yards a carry.  Joe Flacco is the most underwhelming “franchise quarterback” in the NFL, and it’s been that way for about four or five years.  Sure he completes 65% of his passes, but he only averages about 6 yards a pass.  Cincy might be without running back Joe Mixon and linebacker Vontaze Burfict this week, but believe it or not, there is so much talent on both sides of the ball, it shouldn’t make a difference.  Yes, I said it, there is actual talent here.  The results don’t show it and that is why this is head coach Marvin Lewis’ last year.  Expect the leaders on this team – quarterback Andy Dalton and wide-out AJ Green to expect their teammates to send their coach out with a win, against their division rival.  This is a team with nothing to lose, getting almost ten points and in a position to play spoiler against a division rival.  Who wouldn’t love the odds here!?

The Pick: Bengals +9.5

Good Luck and Wager Wisely!

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

 

 

 

 

Beating Vegas: Follow the Road

Minnesota Vikings -2.5 at Carolina Panthers

The Vikings are still top five in the NFL when it comes to total offense and total defense.  Quarterback Case Keenum has seen his popularity go from “he should be benched when Teddy Bridgewater is healthy” to “MVP candidate.”  Although the last claim may be a reach, the first one is definitely just words put together to make an incoherent sentence at this point.  Keenum is completing passes at a rate of 67.5% – his 16 touchdowns and 5 interceptions show a competency at the quarterback position but doesn’t tell the whole story about just how affected he’s been under center.  The running backs Murray and McKinnon aren’t making defensive linemen lose sleep but they do help to maintain a balance to this offense which has helped the likes of Adam Thielen who has over 1000 receiving yards this season.  The Vikings defense is one of two who have not let opponents gain 1000 yards on the ground against them yet this season.  The Carolina Panthers though, are fifth in the NFL with 1533 yards aren’t going shy away from their offensive philosophy though. Although running back Jonathan Stewart leads the Panthers with 531 rushing yards, it’s quarterback Cam Newton’s 515 yards at a clip of 5.8 yards a carry that is the real threat in the backfield.  Cam Newton lost his favorite target, wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin to Buffalo via trade, but it seems that move has pushed the talents of Devin Funchess foward, which is what the Panthers franchise has been waiting for. The Vikings though are second in the NFL in touchdowns allowed by receivers with 12 and although this Vikings team hasn’t faced a quarterback like Cam Newton -who brings the package of “unpredictability” to the table – in the last three weeks they took care of Jared Goff and Matt Ryan pretty easily.

The Pick: Vikings -2.5

New Orleans Saints -1.5 at Atlanta Falcons

Keeping it in the NFC South, this Thursday night is a good one between the Falcons and the Saints.  The Falcons are 7-5 and in the next four weeks they must play the Saints, the Bucs, the Saints again and then the Panthers.  Getting back into the playoff picture won’t be an easy task for the reigning NFC Champs.  Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian seemed to finally have things on a roll for a few weeks but then hit a roadblock against Minnesota last week.  This week they play against a Saints defense that isn’t as good as the Vikings, but is miles ahead of what they were last year.  The Saints are holding quarterbacks to a completion percentage of 61% which isn’t too bad,  but Atlanta has been humming away at a 66% completion rate and have finally found ways to get the ball to stud wide out Julio Jones.  The story in this game will be about one thing:  which running back duo will outperform the other.  it is the Saints’ rookie Alvin Kamara (over 600 rushing yards and over 600 receiving yards)  and Mark Ingram (over 900 rushing yards) versus the Falcons’ Devonta Freeman 589 rushing yards and Tevin Coleman with 561 rushing yards.  Now, by just looking at the numbers you can tell which tandem has caused more panic to defenses throughout the league but the Saints rush defense is allowing five yards a carry while the Falcons are allowing 4.4 yards a carry.  Watch the line on this game as it gets closer to game time, if the Falcons are getting three points before kickoff, take Matty Ice and the boys, but until then. . .

The Pick: Saints -1.5

Seattle Seahawks +2.5 at Jacksonville Jaguars

Both of these teams have very one dimensional offenses;  the Jaguars try do do any and everything in their power so that quarterback Blake Bortles won’t have to throw the ball, while the Seahawks offense is – Russell Wilson.  That’s not being cute either.  They struggle to run, have no real threat in the receiving game (calm down Doug Baldwin groupies. . .) and it seems that the majority of their big plays are never scripted – they are just Wilson creating while on the run.  The Jaguars will just run the ball, and run the ball and run the ball. . . rookie running back Leonard Fournette has carried the ball more than 200 times and is averaging 4 yards a carry.  This is a testament to his ability and the offensive line because defenses are stacking the box against Bortles every single week.  Last week the stout offensive attack of the Eagles was able to take advantage of the banged up Seahawks secondary but could not get anything done on the ground.  That doesn’t bode well for the Jaguars.  The Jaguars defensively though, are one of the best units in the league and that is much due to pass defense that is as stingy as they come.  Nobody will get much done in this game.  Expect a score of 20-13.

The Pick: Under 40

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

NFC South: First Round Mock

This is a division that has represented the NFC Conference in the last two Super Bowls.  Unfortunately for the Falcons and Panthers, they ended up on the wrong side of memorable losses.  The Saints are trying to give coach Sean Payton and veteran QB Drew Brees “one more run” and the Buccaneers are a team definitely on the come up.  . .

Carolina Panthers

Finished 2016 with a 6-10 record

Def Yards: 21st  Off Yards: 19th

When you’re below average in offense and below average in defense, it’s easy to see you’re a team that has issues.   In Free-Agency they brought back defensive end Julius Peppers, who is somewhere in the range of 55-65 years old, second year man Devin Funchess’ supposed break-through season, ended up being a bust and Cam Newton was the NFL’s punching bag, literally and figuratively last season.

This is a situation in which you try to figure are you better off giving Cam Newton a chance out there, or do you start to rebuild a defense?  If you’re Ron Rivera and the Panthers brass, you’ve got to hitch your ride on Cam Newton.  Cam was the league two seasons ago and they’ve got to rebuild that confidence, because the entire team goes off of his vibes.  This is why with the 8th pick in this draft the Panthers should select Clemson wide-receiver Mike Williams.  We already mentioned the disappointing season had by Devin Funchess, but the number one option Kelvin Benjamin couldn’t record 1,000 receiving yards (that went to the tight end of the team, Greg Olsen).  Williams is a 6’3″ 205 pound man-child, who is a strong receiver who out-muscles defenders and is an excellent red-zone target.  The Panthers offense isn’t too difficult which is a perfect situation for any rookie wide-out, but Williams has the potential to be a top-10 receiver in the league, some where down the line, and he could end up being Cam’s new number one by the end of the season.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Finished With a 9-7 Record

Def Yards: 23rd  Off Yards: 18th

When your starting safety is Chris Conte, it’s pretty obvious where you should go in the first round.  Bad news is, the top three safeties might be gone by the time the clock starts ticking on the Bucs’ 19th overall pick.  Adams, Hooker and Peppers might very well be gone, which leaves the Bucs to choose from UConn’s Obi Melifonwu and Utah’s Marcus Williams.  Melifonwu is more of the physical type, while Williams is the more skill-base-type of safety.  Williams might be a bit of a stretch this early, so if this is who the Bucs want, they might try to trade further back into the first round and take him, but Williams is a player who came out of a very good defensive school, in a division that has high-powered offenses.  The Pac-12 is a conference that loves to throw the ball around and he did exceptionally well against that.  He has a great knack for being around the ball and can help a defense that gave up 250 passing yards a game last year.

Atlanta Falcons

Finished with a 11-5 Record

Def Yards:25th   Off Yards:2nd

Without depressing Falcons fans (and Patriots haters) on how the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl. . . ugh, how can we ignore that?  What a debacle.  Bad play-calling, decision-making and effort all rolled into one of the most classical “choke-jobs” in professional sports history. . . but ANYWAY. . . the Falcons have no use for drafting anything offensively, and although their defense finished 25th in total yardage, towards the end of the season, this unit seemed to be getting it altogether. . .until the end of the Super Bowl.  Getting to the quarterback is what the Falcons needed to do more of against Tom Brady and they failed.  Vic Beasley is the only consistent pass rusher on this defense and with the 31st pick of the NFL Draft, the Falcons might luck in and be able to grab Takkarist McKinley, of UCLA.  McKinley is an outside linebacker who can also play as a defensive end if needed.  He has a good burst off the line and has the ability to become a nuisance off the edge and through the gut.

New Orleans Saints

Finished With a 7-9 Record

Def Yards:27th     Off Yards: 1st

When looking at the defensive and offensive yardage rankings between the Falcons and the Saints, it’s hard to believe that one team was dominant during last season, and the other was the Saints.  Of the Saints 9 losses, only two of those games were determined by double digits, and six of those games were determined by five or less points. The Saints are painfully mediocre with a stellar offense – it’s a tough place to be. . .or even end up at, if we’re being honest.  With Brandin Cooks now in New England (where he will be an amazing addition) it only makes sense that the Saints go after the speedster out of Washington, John Ross.   Ross was the talk of the NFL Combine for running a 4.22 forty-yard-dash and he is the natural comparison to Brandin Cooks.  A small, shifty receiver, with good route running skills and the ability to stretch the field.  The Saints know that with their veteran quarterback Drew Brees, they can’t have him lack a weapon he used as often as he did last season.  If all goes well, it should be a perfect fit and the Saints would not lose a step in their offensive attack.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Super Bowl Aftermath

During the pre-game of this year’s Super Bowl match up between the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots, Troy Aikman made sure to make mention of the Falcons’ “inexperience.”

Was Aikman totally off-base?  No, but still – the Falcons were bringing to the table the league’s number one offense and the league’s current MVP, quarterback Matt Ryan.  The Falcons were also bringing to the table, a head coach in Dan Quinn who has played a part in three of the last four Super Bowls.  The same man, Quinn, who has implemented a defense, concentrated on speed and athleticism that had gotten increasingly better as the season progressed.

And “defense” was all the start of this game was about.  The first quarter ended in a tie as both defenses seemed to be up to the challenge.

Then came the second quarter. . .

The Atlanta Falcons showed the world what the youth can do.  After the defense stripped Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount of the football, the Falcons responded with two passes to Julio Jones and then they had Davonta Freeman handle the rest as the Falcons took the first lead of the game.

Late in the second quarter, the Patriots found themselves down 14-0 but putting a drive together, mostly due to three third-down holding calls against the Falcons defense.  But even when things seemed to be going their way, things went terribly awry for Tom Brady and the boys and Brady tossed an interception into the hands of Falcons corner back Robert Alford, who returned it 82 yards for a touchdown.

But something happened at halftime.  Maybe it was Bill Belichick changing up the game plan, Tom Brady remembering he was Tom Brady or maybe it was Lady Gaga’s halftime performace (I give it a 8.5 out of 10 – solid performance.)  Whatever it was, things had to change for the Patriots.

Instead of change though, it appeared to be more of the same as Matt Ryan threw his second touchdown pass and the Falcons went up 28-3.  The Patriots finally put up a touchdown before the end of the third quarter, but their kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point.  After three quarters of play the Patriots weren’t even in double-digt-points.  Total disaster for the proud Patriots franchise. . .

Let’s go back to Lady Gaga for a second.

During her stellar halftime performance she performed a medley of her songs.  Two of those songs stood out “Edge of Glory” and “Born This Way.”   Those two song titles must’ve been the reason the Patriots decided to wake up in the fourth quarter to play some football.  There is no closer “edge” to glory than being down 19 points in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl.  And the Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady is just cut from a different mold of legendary quarterbacks.  It’s something that can’t be coached up, or even explained.  He was simply “born this way.”

Tom Brady, along with running back James White, must’ve saw either fatigue or inexperience settling into this Falcons defense, because they looked flawless in execution against them.  Meanwhile, Falcons offensive coordinator must’ve had his head and heart already in San Francisco (where he accepted the head coaching position) because the play calling, which has been nearly perfect all year – became highly questionable.  The Falcons were averaging just about five yards a carry against this Patriots defense and he seemingly abandoned it.  Most questionably when it was 3rd and 1 and they decided to throw a pass from shotgun and when they could’ve controlled/killed more of the clock –  they kept on throwing it. . .

The Patriots redefined the term “stealing the momentum,” as the Falcons looked completely shell-shocked. They not only gave up 19 unanswered points in the fourth quarter – they gave up 25 unanswered points to close the game as the Patriots put up a touchdown in overtime, courtesy of James White to win the Super Bowl.

Keep this in mind.

Matt Ryan threw for 284 yards, 2 touchdowns and had a quarterback rating of 144.1.  The Falcons as a team were averaging 5.8 yards a rush and 7.5 yards a play. They even won the turnover battle (2-1).  The Falcons also had history on their side.  In the history of the NFL Playoffs, teams that lead by 19 or more points going into the fourth quarter were 93-0.   Now because of the Falcons, that record is 93-1.

But was history really on their side?

Tom Brady creates history.  Re-writes history.  Becomes history.  Embodies it.

As shocking as this incredible comeback was – this was the one team, led by this one player and this one coach – who have been incredible their entire careers together.  Achieving the impossible is well within the Patriots’ grasp.  They prove it all the time.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

 

How The Falcons Will Beat Green Bay

For the Atlanta Falcons and the Green Bay Packers, this weekend’s game either sends them to the Super Bowl or sends them home.

Coach Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers have made it to the playoffs for the last eight seasons.  They have been a model of consistency in the NFL and for all their accomplishments and double win seasons (seven of the last eight) they’ve only netted one Super Bowl win.  Nobody is saying it’s “easy” to win the Super Bowl, but a team like the Packers has set a precedent for themselves that anything less – would be a disappointment.

On the Atlanta side of things, head coach Dan Quinn has a Super Bowl win as well, but as a defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks.  He, along with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan have helped to coach up the leagues number one offensive, ringing in 33.8 points per game.  Quinn was on thin ice coming into the year, and as a defensive minded coach, fans of the dirty-birds expected something a little more south than the 25 points a game this defense gives up.  The defense has gotten noticeably better late in the year, but that includes games against Colin Kapernick and Jared Goff, so hold a torch for those numbers as much as you’d like. . .

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers brings along with him, his 40 touchdown passes on the year, but as earlier reported by Ed Werder “Jordy Nelson and Davonte Adams responsible for 26 of Aaron Rodgers 40 TD passes. Both uncertain for Sunday.”  This would be  huge blow to the Packers (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty!) but chances are, Rodgers will at least have one of the two.  Jordy is by far the better receiver who has the better chemistry with Rodgers though.   The truth is, the Packers offensive line has led the late season charge for the Packers, as Rodgers seems like he has all day to make passes lately – and even when he doesn’t – he’s in such a groove right now it doesn’t even matter. . .

Matt Ryan is having, without a doubt, the best season of his nine year career.  Posting career bests in touchdown passes, quarterback rating, completion percentage and total yardage.  The Falcons offense has been too much for anyone to handle as virtually every member of this offense is a threat to break open a big play or be a threat in the red zone (13 players in total have been on the receiving end of a Matt Ryan touchdown pass).

Both teams have been on a roll, but while the Packers are healing from the thrilling shoot-out-style victory they had last week in Dallas – the Falcons are sitting pretty after shutting down one of the most loud-mouthed teams in the NFL in the Seahawks.

The wise-guys at Vegas are treating this game like a Big12 Conference match-up and have set the over/under at 61 (ridiculous for an NFL game).

There is no doubting the firepower of both offenses, it’s all about which defense will make more stops. . .

As talented as Aaron Rodgers is, Matt Ryan is gifted in his own right and has more talent to work with.  The running back tandem of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman are true dual-threats from the half-back position, while Robinson, Sanu and Gabriel have done well for themselves being on the field with (and even at times without) the great Julio Jones at wide receiver.  Rodgers has a wide-receiver turned running back as his best player in the back field, and last week he relied on an undrafted wide-out named Geronimo Allison and Jared Cook, a veteran tight end who was released by. . . the Rams. . .yuck.

With Rodgers simply having to do everything, it will be too much to handle.  This Atlanta offense – will not – and I repeat – will not stumble against a defense like Green Bay’s that allows 4 yards a rush and allows opposing QB’s to throw at a 65% completion rate.  Not saying the Falcons defensive stats are much better – – they are just all around, a more talented team.  And that’s what it’s all about at this time in the season: the better team, not the better player. . .

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

How the Falcons Will Beat Seattle

The table has been set for the Divisional Playoffs.  For the Atlanta Falcons, fresh off of their bye-week, are to play host to the Seattle Seahawks.  The Seahawks’ wildcard win over the Detroit Lions, was less like a play-off game and more like a scrimmage.  Seattle had the privilege of playing against a quarterback like Matt Stafford, a running back like Zach Zenner and a wide-out like Golden Tate.   Now, one isn’t going to bash the three mentioned as they are all NFL talents, worthy of sporting a jersey on game-day but – they are not on the level of what Atlanta offers at those positions. 

The running back duo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman provide the most complete one-two punch an NFL backfield has to offer.  With Freeman averaging 4.8 yards a carry and Coleman averaging 4.4 – the drop off, is not noticeable and neither does it change the offensive strategy of the  Falcons.  Going against a Seattle defense that allows 3.5 yards a carry, the Falcons know they have to do more than just run up the gut against Seattle.  What is odd about Seattle’s rush defense though is that they’ve allowed 16 rushing touchdowns, which puts them in the bottom third of the NFL in that category (Freeman and Coleman have combined for 19).

The pass defense of the Seattle Seahawks looks impressive from a numbers standpoint: allowing on 223 passing yards a game, hold opposing qb’s to a quarterback rating of 84.5 and have only allowed 15 passing touchdowns against them.  Let’s look deeper into that though. . . For such a “storied” secondary – they’ve only nabbed 11 interceptions on the year.  Looking at their schedule they’ve only played four, of what you would call “top tier” quarterbacks this season in Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Matt Ryan – losing against the first two names and winning against the latter two.

The win against New England still saw Brady with a 71% completion percentage and over 300 yards passing and the win against Atlanta came after Seattle was on a bye-week.  Atlanta meanwhile was on their second away game, the previous one being a grueling win at Denver (a better defense than Seattle).  Even with that, Matt Ryan threw three touchdown passes in the third quarter (including a 30 and a 40 yard touchdown pass) but they ultimately ended up losing by two points.

Matt Ryan is en-route to being the NFL’s MVP and deservedly so.  He has posted career highs in touchdown passes (38), QB rating (117.1), completion percentage (69.9%) and yards per attempt (9.3).   Ryan finally has a supporting cast of players who have names that don’t have either “Julio” or “Jones” on their driver’s licenses.  And although Julio has had a remarkable season (over 1400 yards and 83 receptions), Matt Ryan has been putting all his guys to use.  Of Matt Ryan’s 38 touchdown passes only 6 have seen Jones on the receiving end of them.  Ryan has been able to dissect whatever his opposition throws at him in order to find the best window of opportunity.   This becomes easier for Matt Ryan against the Seahawks this time around, because of the injury to All-Pro safety Earl Thomas will be watching the game from the sidelines.

Defensively, fans of the Falcons won’t brag about it, but the bottom line is this:  the defense allows 25 points a game and they offense puts up 33 points a game – do the math.  Especially considering the Seahawks only put up 22 points a game – this plays right into the hands of Atlanta.  Falcons head coach Dan Quinn was the defensive coordinator of the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and 2014, which includes a Super Bowl win ( Super Bowl XLVIII).  If there is anyone who knows how to work the below average offensive line of the Seahawks and make Russell Wilson uncomfortable, it would be him.  Also, keep in mind, the defense has some of the main cogs that he coached, and he’s going to use that knowledge to his advantage as well.  The Falcons defense was horrific when he got there and now they are average at best, but have some nice pieces in it like Keanu Neal and Vic Beasley Jr.

At the early going Vegas has this game at a four point spread with the Seahawks being the underdog.  No doubt when this game inches closer to kick-off the spread will become shorter because the public will still see the Seahawks as they shouldn’t and still see the Falcons as the “soft” team they’ve been in playoffs before.

Times have changed.

Falcons win 29-19.

G.W. Gras

@GeeSteelio

Beating Vegas: Army-Navy

Last week “Beating Vegas” went two out of three – still above 60% for the year.  This week, with only one college game, the classic “Army-Navy Game,” we’re going to have to try our hand with some NFL action as well.  The system has been working all year at “Beating Vegas” – keep winning with us!

 

Army +6.5 vs  Navy (game played in Baltimore)

At 60-49-7, Navy is the all time leader in this rivalry, which has them owning the Black Knights since 2002. Yikes.  Last season, Beating Vegas won this game by telling folks to take the under and this year the over/under is  set at 47.  In the last four years, the highest the point total has gone up to is 41 (we should note, that the two years prior total was at 48).   The reason for this is that these two programs run similar offenses and the playbook for these teams haven’t changed for, maybe, decades.  There is also “honor” in this rivalry, so “running up the score” won’t occur much either.  The rushing statistics for both of these squads are impressive and nearly identical, except in touchdowns where Navy has scored 54 on the ground, compared to Army’s 37.  Statistically, it would appear that Army’s defense is superior to Navy’s but let’s chill out for a second – Navy has a REAL college football schedule.  Navy is in an AAC Conference that was quite impressive this year.  The Midshipmen had  impressive back to back wins against two bowl eligible teams in Houston and Memphis.  Navy has had to rely on their offense to pull them through some tough competition, while Army beat up on Morgan State and Lafayette.  They both lost in similar fashion to Air Force, Army beat Temple, Temple beat Navy, Navy beat Notre Dame and Notre Dame beat Army — what does this tell you?  Nothing.  There are no stats to help gauge where to go with this one.  Smart money has Navy still winning this game and keeping the streak alive.  On a side note, both teams will be sporting some really sick jerseys for the game.  Seriously.

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The Pick: the under at 47

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Denver Broncos +1 at Tennessee Titans

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What is this?  An NFL game?  How’d this happen?  This one has Marcus Mariota squaring off against one of the best defenses in the NFL, in the Denver Broncos.  If you’re expecting excitement – don’t.  Although, Marcus Mariota is having an impressive season so far, IF the Titans win this game, it will have very little to do with the former Oregon Duck.  The only way to beat tough defenses like this is to run the ball.  The Titans have the means to do it behind this offensive line and Demarco Murray. Murray has cracked the one-thousand yard rushing mark this year and is doing it at a rate of 4.6 yards per carry.  His back up Derrick Henry, hasn’t been used as much as many thought he’d be used this year, but when he comes in the yards per carry only drop by a tenth. . . For all the talk of Denver’s defense, they are giving up 4.2 yards a rush, pretty average by NFL standards; but they’ve allowed the fewest passing yards this year and they hold teams to a 55.3% completion rate which is best in the league.  Considering that the Titans don’t have the most elite wide outs in the world, as mentioned earlier, Mariota will have his struggles.   The Broncos offense has talent but is a struggle due to their quarterback position, regardless if it’s Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch.

The Pick: the under at 43.5

Atlanta Falcons -6 at L.A. Rams

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The Falcons had a taste of one of the NFL’s best teams last week (yes, the Chiefs ARE legit) and it was two Matt Ryan interceptions that ultimately costed them the game.   Even with that, Ryan has the best QB Rating in the league (among those who played more than 8 games. . .) and is having an MVP caliber season so far.  The Los Angeles Rams. . . are pretty much awful.  They have the NFL’s worst offense and have a rookie starting at quarterback who looks like one of the worse rookies we’ve seen start at quarterback.  Jared Goff may get lucky this week though as he’s squaring off against the worst pass defense in the league.  Teams have figured out the Rams though.  Stack the box, force their rookie quarterback to make throws to his average receivers.  Atlanta has a lot to prove and this is a soft landing spot after a tough loss.  Take this spread now before it finds it’s way to -9 before kickoff.

The Pick: The Falcons -6

Seattle Seahawks -2.5 at Green Bay Packers

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Admittedly, these are two teams and two quarterbacks I personally do-not-like – BUT – for the sake of making some coin, let’s take a look here.  Both team’s have no offense line and both defenses like to blitz.  Both quarterbacks like to throw on the run, and both offenses are plugging different guys at the running back position.  Seattle won’t get the calls they usually get in Green Bay, Green Bay gets calls everywhere they go – and surprisingly enough the defenses aren’t that much different except in one category – passing touchdowns.  The Seahawks have only allowed 11, where the Packers have allowed 24.  Things may change drastically for Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” now that All-World-Safety Earl Thomas is out for the season though. . . This is a tricky game, and Beating Vegas usually doesn’t like “tricky” but what we do love this week are overs/unders.  Aaron Rodgers will without a doubt test the middle of this secondary without the presence of Earl Thomas and Russell Wilson, who always finds pay-dirt (someway. . .somehow) will find holes against a secondary, who’s back end won’t keep up with the speedy wide-outs the Seahawks package out there.  Enjoy the fireworks.

The Pick: the over at 46.5

Four Game Teaser of the Week: Titans/Broncos under 55.5; Seahawks +9.5; Falcons +6 and Bucs/Saints over 39

 

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

2016 NFC South Preview

1. Carolina Panthers – It almost seems to easy to pick the Panthers to win this division.  How can you bet against a team that’s the reigning NFC Champs and return with the reigning MVP?  Cam Newton made the leap many of us have been waiting for and was a force all on his own last year.  Cam finished the season with 45 total touchdowns and he will need to continue this dominance for the Panthers to repeat as division champs this year.  Last year Cam was without wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and it was a blessing in disguise.  Cam was able to spread the ball around and make decent players out of dumpster fires like Ted Ginn Jr.  Expect former Michigan Wolverine, Devin Funchess to take over as the number one wide-out.  Tight-end Greg Olson, when it’s all said and done, is the most consistent and reliable target. . . Jonathan Stewart was eleven yards short of a thousand and was better than expected.  To expect anything more than eight-hundred yards out of Stewart would be lofty.  Head coach Ron Rivera’s bread and butter is the defense.   The Panthers could not agree on a contract with corner-back Josh Norman so he’ll be gone and there is a definite lack of support in that secondary.  Roman Harper took his leadership and salt and pepper hair back to New Orleans but it’s the front seven that is still the most athletic and dominant in football.  Teams will still struggle to run the ball against them, as they did last year as this defense yielded less than four yards a carry.  It will be a tougher road, but this is literally a black and blue team, who can take it as well as they can dish it out.

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Prediction: 10-6

2. Atlanta Falcons – The story here is that Atlanta actually has better talent on their roster than most of the teams they play this season.  Matt Ryan wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing him, but let’s just put it on learning a new system.  Ryan is a bright and dedicated player, he will only get better a year into this system.  The Falcons were able to run the ball last year with Davonta Freeman and the funny thing about that is he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter.  Tevin Coleman had beat him out as the starter but got hurt.  The running game and offensive line as a whole should get a lot better with the free agent acquisition of center Alex Mack who decided to not waste away his talents in Cleveland anymore. . .Defensively the Falcons should see some improvements.  Vic Beasley struggled during the year, but that’s mostly because the defense around him was pretty shaky.  Courtney Upshaw and Sean Witherspoon are some nice additions to the squad.  Ra’Shede Hageman was  dominant player in 2013 playing in the Big 10 conference and he needs to be more consistent with his play.  Hageman plays with a chip on his shoulder and fits the mold of a Dan Quinn defense.  The Falcons drafted Keanu Neal, the safety out of Florida, in the first round and that will turn out to be a nice pick for them as he plays behind one of the leagues best corners in Desmond Trufant.   Atlanta has the tools to become more dominant in this division than Carolina – but their time is not now.

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Prediction: 9-7

3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Okay everyone, you no longer need to hold your breath.  Jameis Winston seems to have taken life at the NFL seriously and is washing away the troubled image that followed him in college (somebody tell Johnny Manziel that it is possible to shape up . . .).  Tampa decided to part ways with head coach Lovie Smith, but didn’t want to shake things up too much and they promoted offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter to the position.  The Bucs must have all the faith in the world in Winston because they did little  in the off season to upgrade this offense.  Although the “little” they did was add J.R. Sweezy to an offensive line that is young and on the come up thanks to the likes of Hastings, New York product Ali Marpet who was taken in the second round of last year’s draft as a Division Three standout at guard.  Doug Martin proved that when healthy he is a top five back in the league as he finished last year with over 1400 rushing yards.  Vincent Jackson is still the veteran wide out on the team that generally goes un-noticed and forgotten in the league and if Mike Evans can stay healthy and produce, it may be Jackson’s last year in Tampa.  The Bucs drafted corner Vernon Hargreaves in the first round and he is a cover guy, always looking to force turnovers – he should show immediate impact from week one as he’s paired up with Brent Grimes in the secondary.  As long as Grimes keeps his wife off of twitter things should be okay.  Hard to have a lot of faith in the back end of that secondary when the horrible Chris Conte is there and amazingly still finds himself employed in the league.  The Bucs will have a losing record but fight until the final possession in a hand full of these games.

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Prediction: 6-10

4. New Orleans Saints – Expect a lot of 35-32 losses by this team.  They can sling it with the best of them, but they’re defense is just horrendous.  The Saints are the NFL’s version of what a Big 12 conference team is.  Sheldin Rankins, the defensive tackle out of Louisville, was a smart pick in the first round of the draft but outside of him and defensive end Cameron Jenkins, there really isn’t much to see in this front seven.  Dannell Ellerbee keeps tricking people into paying him for his “athleticism” and Nick Fairley has a good motor but zero in-game focus. Drew Brees has lost a little bit of the zip on his passes but he’ll have some nice young targets to fling the rock to.  Rookie Micheal Thomas and the game-breaker Brandin Cooks figure to be the one and two – but Willie Snead had a nice breakout season last year and gelled well with the veteran QB.   The Saints are a great team to collect guys for your fantasy football team but to see them as a contender is just a “fantasy.”

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Prediction: 5-11

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio