This heading is pretty standard this week, and should remain so, barring some big blog changes, which I don't foresee.
Week 2 Recap and Lessons Learned: I think this section was a nice little addition to week 2's MegaBlog, but it's really as much about forum participation as my own work.
For me, I learned that the game that I based a good deal of my week 2 predictions upon was a complete disaster, and that was the Panthers/Giants game back in week 1.
Initially, I watched parts of that game, and read the box score in great detail, and it seemed that if Carolina could decrease turnovers and stay close, they should be able to continue having success on the ground.
What I failed to realize was that Matt Moore wasn't just "off" in week 1 -- he's off, period. Tampa Bay was able to load up to stop the run, force Moore into tough spots, and after building a lead, Carolina was unable to smash anyone on the ground.
Of course, upon watching that Carolina/Tampa Bay game, it became pretty clear that not only are the Panthers quietly becoming one of the worst teams in the NFL, but the Giants were not even remotely close to as good as they looked in week 1. They were not a team that "forced" turnovers, but merely the lucky recipient of an incompetent opponent, in Carolina. So, the Giants went into Indy and got smashed.
What did everyone else learn from the week 1 to week 2 transition?
1) NFL -- Much like the last couple weeks, I'll be featuring a Sunday ALL ACCESS PASS, and more like the first week, this one is going to hammer-dunk. Too much overthinking in week 2 kept us from a big weekend, and it's time to get back to the basics: ADD ALL ACCESS PASS to CART
2) CFB -- Like last week, I will be selling just my CFB TOP PLAY, and every other CFB play will be 100% FREE! I maintain that no one on this planet gives away more FREE STUFF (blogs, podcasts, plays, leantrackers...I mean, that's how it's done!) than I do, and I'll take that statement to the grave. Thus, ADD the CFB GOW to CART
3) MLB -- Top Plays on Tuesday and Wednesday (and possibly Thursday and Friday) will lead into more FREE MLB work on the weekend! Stay tuned.
Sports Wagering: NFL
Tennessee Titans @ New York Giants (-3.5) with a total of 43;
I'd say it's pretty safe to assume that a good deal of this game hinges on the playing status of Vince Young. I've been digging, and I still haven't been able to definitively say that he's going to be the starter. He should be, regardless of what we saw against Pittsburgh in week two. Vince Young looked hung over for that game, but on a week by week basis, he gives the Titans a much, much better shot to win, especially against a completely incompetent defense like the one he should see here in New York. Of course, thanks to both teams looking stupid in week 2, there isn't a ton of value on either side. I will admit, and I think most will agree, Tennessee looks like a nice value at +3 or higher. Still, I will also admit that I want to see how New York plays at home against a better opponent. The Titans aren't the best in the business, but they're a heck of a lot better than the Panthers. Because, let's be honest, we don't know that much about the Giants yet. And that, right there, is what's keeping me from making a strong statement about this game. We've seen the Giants slaughter a terrible team at home, and get pummeled by a good team on the road. Let's see how the Giants play against a good team at home, and against a crummy or middle-tier team on the road, and we'll have a better grasp on whether New York is just bad all over, has a home field edge, or maybe just got picked apart by the best QB in the League in week 2.
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots (-11) with a total of 43;
Trent Edwards was removed as the starting QB for Buffalo, and a tumbleweed blew through the arena. Why? Because Ryan Fitzpatrick is basically the same guy in a different jersey! Fitzpatrick can probably take a few more shots downfield, but he's also going to take more sacks and make more mistakes. The end result is that Buffalo is still one of the worst 3 teams in the NFL, and the opening line of -11 was too low. Of course, this line has bounced quickly to -13 at the fair books, and as high as -14 at the square books. I must say, though, that New England's loss to the Jets might actually be the only thing keeping this line from hitting 14. Considering what we've seen from Buffalo so far (that they're terrible), and what we've seen from Tom Brady and New England (they appear to still be a team much happier at home), a 2-TD win really isn't that much of a stretch. Let's approach this one in reverse. What is it going to take for Buffalo to stay within 2 touchdowns? I would claim that Buffalo is going to need to force some turnovers, but on the road, and off that tough game in Green Bay, the Bills are going to be seeing two of the most accurate QBs in the League on back-to-back weeks. I believe Buffalo has a decent pass defense, but there are so many holes, and the offense has the ball so very little that it's almost like a matter of time before they get gashed. The Green Bay defense is better than the New England defense, though, so Buffalo might actually put up 10-17 points. Make of all that what you will, though I believe strongly that Buffalo will become a huge value play when they head home and take on a weaker opponent.
Cleveland Browns @ Baltimore Ravens (-10) with a total of 38;
This is another game where two teams are coming off what you might call a poorer than average performance. The Browns had a nice shot to capitalize on a Kansas City team that was riding a tad high, and the Ravens had a chance to get revenge from last year's failures against the Bengals, and both came up short. So, does either team really have much value? Well, Baltimore's defense, as it turns out, is still decent. Cincinnati just could not punch it into the end zone, but Joe Flacco insisted on turning the ball over constantly in a very ugly offensive performance. Without all those key mistakes, that game goes differently. Cleveland, meanwhile, is still a team with a long way to go. Seneca Wallace couldn't get the job done (surprised?), and there's little hope that starting QB Jake Delhomme would perform much better. This Baltimore defense could cause quite a few turnovers if Delhomme is in there, and that's horrifying. My take is that the Cleveland defense is my point of question. Are they as "middle of the road" as they appeared in the first two weeks? I really believe this defense has a long way to fall, but I just don't know when it's going to happen. There's probably a little bit of value with any team catching double digits, but I don't trust either team to consistently play well enough to get my money. The total, meanwhile, would seem to indicate that the Browns aren't going to score at all, and that's a possibility, but short fields could contribute to over 20 points for the Ravens. This one does have a shot at sneaking Over, but again, the complete lack of definitive knowledge about the Browns makes this game, to me, nearly unplayable.
Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a total of 34;
Regular season totals aren't going to get a whole heck of a lot lower than this one, and it raises the question of, "Is this one of those games where oddsmakers simply could not make a total low enough?" My take is that yes, that is indeed the case. If Pittsburgh can completely dominate the high octane Atlanta offense in week 1, then roll into Tennessee and make Vince Young look like he was hung over, well, I'm a believer. This defense can lock down, flat out. I said it in a previous blog, but Troy Polamalu is absolutely huge for them, not just because he's a tremendously skilled football player, but he's their leader and the brains of the defense. Tampa Bay will score between 10-15 points, max. Can Pittsburgh score, though? The Tampa defense has actually looked marginal in the first 2 weeks, and Charlie Batch is a 4th string quarterback. FOURTH! Pittsburgh is going to run, run, and run some more, and hope to break one or two long runs to set up field goals. This total is low for a reason, and the spread is horrifying to me. Can anyone truly win this game by more than a couple points, given the total? Without getting into the skill set of Josh Freeman and what Tampa has accomplished in the first 2 weeks, let's just simplify this game to the point that you either play the total, or play nothing at all. Combining Pittsburgh's marquee defense with the complete lack of confidence in the starting QB has created a sort of wash of handicapping value.
Cincinnati Bengals (-3.5) @ Carolina Panthers with a total of 40;
This game is one of the easiest on the entire board to handicap. Simply put, after the public saw Cincinnati take care of Baltimore, and saw the Panthers lay a truly royal-size egg against the Buccaneers in week 2 on the heels of a dismal performance in New York in week 1, there is NO betting value on the Bengals. You don't need to look past that opening number. The Panthers as a 3.5-point home dog to a 1-1 team? I am by no means suggesting that Carolina is the play, as this team is going to the backup QB (Jimmy Clausen), which means they're grasping at straws. Clausen couldn't be a whole lot worse than Matt Moore, so I don't know that his insertion changes the handicapping a great deal, but again, fading a team off 2 of the ugliest losses that any teams have incurred thus far is a long term recipe for disaster. How far does the line need to be inflated for Cincinnati to fail to cover? Well, that's a question for those betting on this game. I'm inclined to see how Cincinnati performs in a little bit of a letdown spot, and how the Panthers respond after opening the year looking like the worst team in the League. This is a stellar watch-and-learn game, so don't just write it off because the betting value is "screwball." Watch the game, learn from the plays and the results, and we'll have some key info heading into week 4 on these two teams.
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints (-4.5) with a total of 50;
First off, that is a very high total, and I think right off the bat, you can get the idea that just about everyone expects some sort of shoot-out. New Orleans' defense looked pretty good in week 1, but Minnesota's lackluster play in week 2 may have revealed the New Orleans defense to be more lucky than good. They promptly went into San Francisco and got run all over, only surviving because San Francisco can't field a punt, and can't keep Brees from going 40 yards in 30 seconds to set up a game-winning partially-blocked FG. Atlanta, meanwhile, went from getting completely shut down in their opener in Pittsburgh (against, arguably, the best defense in the NFL) to dominating the Cardinals at home in typical Matt Ryan-era home-dominant fashion. I believe both teams will find a way to score, and in terms of what to expect from the Falcons, I think you have to look at last year's home/road split as an indicator that they're just not as confident away from home. Also, in terms of perception, Atlanta is coming off a win by nearly 40 points, and the Saints looked pedestrian on Monday Night Football. Not surprisingly, this line has dipped to 3.5, but I do NOT believe that to be sharp money-related. That's a perception dip, and if you wonder why, just look around. Everywhere, folks are saying that they'll "never back the Saints again." A rash, and probably foolish move, given what we know about line movement based on perception.
San Francisco 49ers @ Kansas City Chiefs (Pk) with a total of 36;
We go from a game with a total of 50 to a game with a total of 36, and the funny part is that neither of these teams is known for their defense. Considering the Niners are a team with a fairly high-octane offense that likes to spread the field, and the Chiefs are a team that appears to be built on the big play (at least in the early going), seeing a number that low is awfully suspicious. I'm not touching the total with a 10 (or longer) foot pole, but I do believe that the low total gives us an indication of how the game is going to be played. The Niners do have a solid linebacking corps, and considering the line move on this game was a quick shift to Niners by a FG, it seems likely that they'll hold the Chiefs in check. That being said, I'm not convinced San Francisco does much scoring, either. They have been turnover machines in the first 2 weeks, and though you can sometimes overcome those cardinal sins at home (they still lost), committing turnovers on the road will fire up a crowd and an opponent, and we saw how the Seahawks took quick advantage of the Niners' issues. I don't believe San Francisco turns it over 4 times. Maybe 2. But again, you look at this opening line, and it is filled with information. As far as perception goes, the Niners covered on Monday Night Football, and looked like a very good team in doing so. Most people see them as a team that wins that game without the turnovers, so I believe people will bet San Francisco in this spot. For whatever reason, despite opening the year 2-0, the Chiefs still aren't getting any respect, but anyone that saw their home opener saw how crazy that stadium can get...almost like a College atmosphere, and they have a legitimate shot at winning this game, or covering at the very least.
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings (-10) with a total of 42;
This game might be the biggest head-scratcher for me on the entire card, just in terms of what the line means. Not because I don't understand how the Vikings could open up as a favorite to the Lions, but moreso because the Lions are actually the "public" choice in this game! Yes, the Lions, over Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson and the Vikings. It's mind-boggling. And despite that, the line has actually crept up to 11 at a number of books. That subtle line move makes me think that this is the week the Vikings put some of the pieces together. Detroit's defense is atrocious, as we saw in week 2. Even if Favre is still looking old and slow, Peterson will gash that defense, and Favre will move the ball. Minnesota's defense is still very good, and Detroit's offense is going to face its first "true" test. From a perception standpoint, the Lions have covered both games so far, so I suppose anyone that bet on them is continuing to do so, and anyone that bet against them is probably flip-flopping. Minnesota, meanwhile, pushed in the opener, and then absolutely stunk it up against the underrated Dolphins in week 2, so this is going to be their first "easy" game. My biggest fear with this game is that the line is in that high-for-a-reason category, where it's a big spread and getting bigger even though Minnesota has looked pretty darn bad so far, and Detroit has looked like a team with a ton of heart. That total, to me, looks pretty accurate, especially if Minnesota takes this one 28-14.
Dallas Cowboys @ Houston Texans (-2) with a total of 46.5;
This is panic time for the Cowboys. If they fall to 0-3, that almost puts a lid on the season before things could even get started. And I know people are going to yell at me for making that sort of claim, but teams just don't come back from that, especially not teams that have shown a significant lack of clutch ability. The question then becomes why this line is so low. Well, I admit, the first thing I thought when I saw this line was that Houston should be someone's Game of the Year. The Texans have been nearly unstoppable on offense, and have been doing just barely enough on defense to get them a pair of wins to start the year. Yeah, they got a little lucky last week with the Skins missing a game-winning FG, but the big home win over Indy was certainly a nice way to start the year. Here's the issue with this game. Even a public team like the Cowboys gives bettors a breaking points, and we're awfully close to it, if not there. Folks are losing faith in Dallas after seeing how bad they played against the Bears at home, and the Texans have looked like one of the top 3 or 4 teams in the NFL through the first 2 weeks. When it comes to a betting card, throwing a "public" play on there every so often isn't necessarily a bad idea, but in terms of value, MOST of it is gone on the Texans' side. They still look like a nice bet, and some of that is because the Cowboys, no matter how terrible they play, are still going to draw a decent amount of money, but if this line was set in week 1, the Cowboys would likely have been a slight road favorite. To think that we've lost 3-6 points of value in the first 2 weeks makes it tough for me to get truly excited about fading the 'Boys again. And in terms of the total, the Texans first 2 games are giving some value on the Under, while the Cowboys very low and very high totals from the first 2 weeks are having almost no impact. I'm not sure there's enough to play on, but just sort of a jumping off point for a totals discussion.
Washington Redskins (-5) @ St. Louis Rams with a total of 38;
Speaking of the Redskins, since both of the teams in the game above have played these guys...now Donovan and co. head on the road for the first time. To me, that's a time to strongly consider passing on a game and seeing how a team performs away from home. We have so little to work with in the NFL, in terms of stats and trends, that when perception can't really dictate a play, that's when you really need to take a long, hard look at a game, see how the teams play, get some better data on different scenarios and how the teams handle them, then move forward. The Rams are absolutely a work in progress. They were competitive with the Cardinals, who aren't very good, then competitive with the Raiders (on the road), who are also an improving club, but not at all good, yet. This should be the Rams first good opponent, and even that is a little bit of a stretch. This line has come down though, which is a tad surprising to me. I know Washington blew that game with Houston last week, but I think they've looked pretty good in the first 2 weeks, while the Rams haven't looked that good, at all, though I suppose they did cover by a point in week 2. This line might be the "potential trap" of the week, since it's coming down despite the Redskins being the big-time public club and no real prominent perception angles forcing the line down. I also haven't heard of any life-altering injuries on the Washington side that could contribute to the line coming all the way down to 3.5. The rather low total is about what I expected, considering we know Washington can score, and we also know that they can put the clamps down on offenses that don't feature Andre Johnson. Very tough game, in my opinion.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) @ Jacksonville Jaguars with a total of 44;
Here's a fun one, and I'm not sure the perception angles are completely clear. On the one hand, Philadelphia has made the move to Michael Vick as the starting QB, which you know is drawing boatloads of attention to that side, and drawing additional public money. In that same vein, the Jaguars played a bad game in San Diego, but also one of the unluckiest games I've witnessed, as Garrard repeatedly had tipped passes result in interceptions. I obviously don't have the stats, but I have to believe that the percentage of tipped balls that result in interception is considerably lower than what we saw in San Diego. So, that should create value on the Jags, right? Well, Philadelphia is also drawing some criticism from the talking heads for their flip-flopping ways, and I wonder if that isn't tempering the positive mojo that Vick's performances in the first 2 weeks has created. On top of that, the Eagles didn't actually cover last week, despite Vick's tremendous effort, and their defense looked downright terrible against a Detroit offense without its starting QB. I have to believe that it does decrease the Jags' value, but it does tell us something that this is the same line the Eagles had before Stafford was ruled out in Detroit. Is that just line inflation, or is that a sign that the Eagles are actually going to play a strong game? Maybe a little of both.
Indianapolis Colts (-5.5) @ Denver Broncos with a total of 48;
Is it interesting that this line hasn't budged? I actually don't think so, as both of these teams put a beating on their opponents in week 2. I would have expected a slight shift towards Indy, considering their game was the Sunday Night Football NBC National broadcast, and Peyton just dominated the Giants, but with both teams coming off big wins, it's not that insane that the line hasn't really moved. Also...*sigh*...I hate to get into this, but there was indeed a death in the Broncos organization over the course of the last week, and as much as it's somewhat tasteless, we absolutely have to consider it before making a play anywhere on this game. How will the team respond? At press conferences, everyone looked absurdly broken-up, so it's clear that this kid had a strong relationship with the coaches and his teammates. Do they dedicate this game to his memory? Do they play with heavy hearts? The tragic situation really makes for a volatile outcome, one way or the other. I'd be very curious to hear what everyone else thinks about how a team responds to this type of awful occurrence. I think there are different schools of thought, and while I might believe that Denver comes together as a team, I'd love to hear why folks feel otherwise. Also, it's worth noting, from a matchup perspective, that Denver got some key turnovers from Seattle last week en route to that blowout win, and the Colts just crushed the Giants, who, for some reason, didn't really try to run the ball for more than a few minutes of the game.
San Diego Chargers (-4.5) @ Seattle Seahawks with a total of 45;
This game is a perceptionist's gold mine! The Seattle Seahawks, in particular, have been a complete Jekyll and Hyde case so far this year, pummeling the Niners at home before going into Denver and getting absolutely waxed. So, what's the deal? Is this team just going to be solid at home and terrible on the road? Possibly. Let's also remember that it was over 100 degrees and a mile high for their first road game, and with all the offseason coaching and personnel changes, it seemed likely that Seattle would have a letdown game somewhere in the early going. But, taking a closer look, we've basically seen the two extremes with this team. At home, they forced the Niners into all the mistakes, and capitalized on turnovers to blow out a team that was probably a hair better than them. On the road, they moved the football early, and then turned it over in the red zone (twice, I believe). So, if we see a Seahawks game where they don't have an extreme turnover edge or disadvantage, how will they play? My take is that they would play pretty close to where this line opened, maybe just a hair better. San Diego is a public team, and thanks to their blowout win over the Jags at home, this line has made a few small jumps up to 5.5 or 6. San Diego is not as bad as they looked in KC, and not nearly as good as they looked at home, and if Ryan Matthews is going to miss much time, or play hurt, that makes them significantly more one-dimensional, despite the strong play of that bowling ball Tolbert last week. In terms of perception alone, this line, where it sits now, is probably off by 2 points, maybe 2.5. The total, to me, is nearly indecipherable, given how both teams have been in games where turnovers have pretty much dictated the rather extreme outcomes.
Oakland Raiders @ Arizona Cardinals (-4) with a total of 40;
Let's answer the questions first. Yes, the Raiders are better NOW with Gradkowski at QB. And no, the Cardinals are not as bad as they've looked in their first 2 games. Believe it or not, the Cardinals are probably the value play in this one. We saw what Oakland was able to accomplish on the road in their opener, and it took a heck of an effort by the backup QB, as well as the defense, to get a home win against another of the NFL's dregs, the Rams. The Cardinals are rapidly making their way into that irrelevant category, but on a talent scale, this is a home game that Arizona should win. It's their home opener in the 3rd week, they're coming off getting completely embarrassed by the Atlanta Falcons, and most bettors have abandoned ship on that train wreck. The Raiders, meanwhile, seem to be a team that folks are now thinking about backing. They got steamrolled in the opener, just barely failed to cover (but won) at home in game 2, and thanks to how bad the Cardinals have looked, the Raiders are actually the public's preferred choice, the lesser of evils. I believe home field is being overlooked a bit, and since Arizona has yet to get out in front of their rather relaxed, yet accepting home crowd, I think folks have forgotten that Arizona rarely ever looks good playing on Eastern time. Don't be surprised if Arizona takes out some aggression on a Raiders team that is going to be flailing, looking for offense. My only wish would be to have seen the Raiders dominate game 2, which would have created a hair more value on Arizona. As it stands, this is a weird chalk to lay. The total, as a short footnote in this paragraph, looks low, but if you look and see what these two teams have done offensively in the first 2 weeks, you can certainly understand the number. I wouldn't play a total in a Cardinals game until we see how they perform at home.
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins (-1.5) with a total of 35;
We have officially found our game where the public is almost perfectly split between the two teams. That means we probably have less to cover, in terms of perception, but it can't hurt our cause to see why the public is torn. The Jets are getting public love because of a nice home win over Tom Brady and the Pats, as well as all the media attention and the marquee playing level of their defense. The Dolphins are getting love because of a triumphant road win over the Minnesota Vikings, led largely by their defense. What's the common denominator? Both teams win with defense. That raises the question of whether both teams are just going to try to smack the other in the mouth until something breaks, or if one of the teams is going to take some shots downfield to try to steal a score. My assessment would be the former. Both teams trust their defenses above all else, and both realize that the one way they can truly lose this game is to turn the ball over in a bad spot. Let's be real, here. The Dolphins aren't exactly high-octane. They struggled to score against both the Bills and the Vikes, so they're probably not going to do a ton against the Jets. The Jets, too, looked downright miserable on offense against the Ravens, and then picked on an aging Pats defense. Sanchez is going to have to deal with a much tougher defense this week, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him go back to tons and tons of checkdowns and conservative play, leading to a battle of field goals. The timing of the game makes me think the Dolphins will get a nice little home field edge, but in terms of inherent line value, this one is almost right where it should be. Plays in this game should be made because of a matchup or situational edge, of which there are a few.
Green Bay Packers (-3) @ Chicago Bears with a total of 45;
Please, please, please be careful with this one. The Packers look fairly invincible right now, but this game has all the tell-tale signs of the Monday Night home dog. The public loving the road team, the Bears still not getting a ton of credit despite being 2-0 (since most of the attention is going to Calvin Johnson's "dropped" pass, and the Cowboys' team-wide issues), Green Bay beating the living daylights out of Buffalo after covering in their opener on the road, the short road favorite line that isn't moving. If you want to talk about a line that screams to be cautious, this really is that line. Plus, Chicago put up huge offensive numbers last week, and Green Bay has done that in both games, yet this total is only a hair over the total midpoint for most NFL games. This game is going to be competitive, and based on those factors above, Chicago has a nice shot to win this game outright. In terms of built-in line value, Green Bay's monster start to the year is certainly keeping this line nice and high, but Chicago's solid play isn't letting it climb up where Bears-backers would want it to go. I believe this line does make a move north at some point, though I can't promise that it won't get creamed right back down near a FG. All that being said, the line, perception, and situational notes make this game seem like it's going to be a good one, and Green Bay's defense can be beat by a good offense (as we saw in week 1).