Five Things: Super Bowl LIII

Joe Nicely discusses his ‘Five Things’ for Super Bowl LIII

Welcome to the Super Bowl LIII edition of Five Things! You can probably guess from the title that I’m going to discuss five things worth keeping an eye on during Sunday’s big game. The wait for the Super Bowl has been long enough, so let’s dive in!

 

1. Bill Belichick’s Genius vs. Sean McVay’s Genius

What we’ve got ourselves here is a real “genius off” between these two coaches. There’s a definite Darth Vader (Belichick) vs. Luke Skywalker (McVay) vibe going on with these two football Jedi masters. Belichick is 66-years-old and has won five Super Bowls as the head coach of the Patriots, while McVay is only 33 and appearing in his first Super Bowl in just his second season as the Rams head coach. There’s a real “circle of life” feel to this matchup and it’s absolutely perfect. Belichick is the old grizzled veteran trying to win one last championship (though he’d probably tell you he’s nowhere close to finished) and McVay is the insultingly young prodigy that’s trying to prove that he’s ready to take his rightful place as the best. Belichick is a defensive genius, McVay is an offensive genius…it’s all straight from a Hollywood script.

 

2. Tom Brady vs. Aaron Donald & Ndamukong Suh

Speaking of Hollywood, let’s talk about the QB that looks like he walked straight out of central casting. Tom Brady has already cemented his legacy as one of, if not the best, quarterback of all time. Brady will face one his biggest Super Bowl challenges yet in the form of L.A.’s menacing duo; Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh. Donald is the most dominant defensive player in the NFL, he logged 20.5 sacks this season and wreaks havoc on opposing offenses. We know that Bill Belichick is terrific at scheming an opposing team’s best player out of the game…enter Ndamukong Suh. Once considered “the next great defensive linemen”, Suh has gradually turned into a mercenary, that’s really good instead of great, and willing to play for the highest bidder from year-to-year. If Belichick takes one of these guys out of the game, Brady will still have his hands full with the other one.

 

3. Maroon 5 vs. Cultural Backlash

We are in an age where who isn’t doing the Super Bowl halftime show is cause for an uproar*. The performance has somehow turned into a referendum on who does or doesn’t support Colin Kaepernick’s case against the NFL**. In this current political and cultural climate that is so highly influenced by race, the NFL made the absolutely tone-deaf decision to hire perhaps the whitest band ever to perform the halftime show…in Atlanta, the hip-hop capital of the south. So now we have a Maroon 5 backlash brewing, which is a really strange sentence to type when talking about an extremely inoffensive rock band. Adam Levine seems like a decent dude (especially for a celebrity) and probably just wanted to play the Super Bowl because Prince did it once. Should the NFL have went a different direction on the halftime show? Probably. Is it something to get all worked up about? Hell no!

*Give me a fuckin’ break.

**Seriously…give me a fuckin’ break.

 

4. Todd Gurley vs. C.J. Anderson

Yeah, I’m aware that Gurley and Anderson are on the same team, but this is one of the most fascinating situations that I’ve seen in a long time. Gurley was arguably the MVP of the league this year. The dude ran for 1,251 yard, logged 59 catches for 580 yards, and scored 21 touchdowns…a pretty nice little season. During the course of the year, Gurley understandably got nicked up and was rested by the Rams for the last two games of the regular season. L.A. signed free agent RB C.J. Anderson off the street and he’s been a revelation. The human Teddy Ruxpin racked up 297 yards rushing and 2 TDs while filling in for Gurley in the Rams last two regular season games and a funny thing happened on the way to the Super Bowl…the Rams have basically stuck with Anderson over their franchise player. The castaway back has outsnapped, and frankly, outplayed the MVP candidate in the playoffs and it’s not been particularly close: Anderson has 39 carries to Gurley’s 20. The interesting question is will Sean McVay be willing to continue riding Anderson and keep Gurley off the field in the biggest game of the year?

 

5. Tony Romo’s First Super Bowl

With the NFL’s broadcast partners rotating the Super Bowl from year to year, who’s calling the game is usually a minor story. This year is a little different, as we are in the midst of “Romo-Mania”. The former Cowboys QB gave the best playoff performance of his career (on or off the field) in the AFC Championship game. Romo’s enthusiasm for the KC vs. NE game was infectious and he was up to his old “calling out plays before they are ran” tricks. While a cardboard cutout would have been an upgrade over Phil Simms (Well Jeeemmm), Romo has massively exceeded anyone’s expectations. He’s been so sharp when it comes to playcalling, that there are whispers that teams have legitimate interest in him as a coach or coordinator. With Romo’s CBS contract up soon, the popular ex-QB appears to be in a position to command John Madden-type money and a great Super Bowl performance will cement his place as the best in the booth going forward.

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Five Things: What To Watch This Weekend

With the Super Bowl over a week away, The Combine’s Joe Nicely offers five ways to get your sports fix this weekend.

Thanks to the NFL’s constant attempt to make itself feel important, we don’t have a Super Bowl to watch until next weekend. Next week we’ll get the ridiculous “Media Day” and non-stop TV coverage of the upcoming big game…basically a week-long NFL commercial. So, what is a football-starved sports fan supposed to watch this weekend? Here are five things that will help tide you over until Super Bowl Sunday.

1. College Basketball: Kentucky vs. Kansas (Sat. 6:00 PM)

We all know that the NCAA basketball regular season is just about jockeying for postseason position. The big boys are trying to play their way into a high seed for the NCAA Tournament in order to make their championship road as easy as possible when March rolls around. The #9-ranked Kansas Jayhawks head to Rupp Arena to face the #8-ranked Kentucky Wildcats this Saturday for what may well be a Final Four preview. This game features two perennial national powerhouse programs that have championship aspirations this season. I really like that it’s at Rupp Arena instead of being one of those chickenshit “neutral court” games. The best thing about college sports is the amazing atmosphere and “Big Blue Nation” will be fired up for this one.

 

2. Men’s Tennis: Australian Open Final – Novak Djokovic vs. Rafa Nadal (Sun. 3:30 AM)

I’m not a big tennis fan, but this is a clash of the titans matchup between Djokovic and Nadal, two of the game’s all-time greats. We’ve been living in what is perhaps the “Golden Age” of the men’s game with these two players and the great Roger Federer constantly battling for supremacy over the last 10-plus years. This will be the 53rd career matchup between Djokovic and Nadal, but just their second meeting at the Australian Open, with their first duel, a five-set marathon in the finals, becoming an instant classic. They have 31(!) combined grand slam titles and Djokovic is trying to win his record-breaking seventh Australian Open title. Both men are still playing at a world-class level, but we have to wonder how many more of these Djokovic/Nadal/Federer grand slam final matchups we will have a chance to watch.

 

3. PGA Golf: Farmers Insurance Open (Sat. and Sun.)

While I don’t watch much tennis, I actually am a big golf fan and this should be a great tournament to watch this weekend. The Farmers has the best field of players we’ve seen in 2019 and is being held at a really fun Torrey Pines golf course that will host its second U.S. Open in a couple of years. Tiger Woods is making his 2019 debut and has won at Torrey eight times in his career. It’s always fun to see the best golfers in the world doing battle on a challenging golf course. Torrey Pines has an amazing par-5 finishing hole that has water in play and always makes for riveting TV. Jason Day won last year’s epic tournament on the SIXTH(!) playoff hole.

 

4. NBA Basketball: Golden State Warriors vs. Boston Celtics (Sat. 8:30 PM)

After a couple of lackluster starts, both of these teams are coming into this possible NBA Finals preview in hot form. Golden State has ran off nine straight wins and is looking like the unbeatable juggernaut we all thought they would be. DeMarcus Cousins made his Warriors debut a few nights ago and makes their starting lineup look even more unfair than it already did. It seems like a different player leads the Warriors to victory every night. The Celtics got off to a sluggish start this season and the mediocre play lasted a lot longer than anyone thought possible. Boston appears to have things heading in the right direction, winning seven of their last 10 and five straight. Kyrie Irving is a one-man whirlwind and Boston is one of the few teams with roster talent that is in the same ballpark as the Warriors.

 

5. NFL Football: Pro Bowl (Sun. 3:00 PM)

I don’t watch the NFL Pro Bowl. It’s undoubtedly the worst All-Star game in any of the major sports, but yet the NFL refuses to let it die the death it deserves. Major League Baseball can give us amazing hitter vs. pitcher matchups and I’m always down to watch NBA players team up and do some awesome dunks…but football just isn’t a sport that lends itself to an exhibition game. NFL players don’t have guaranteed contracts and you can’t blame them for not wanting to play in this game. About the only thing that makes this farce watchable is the fact that you can bet on it. Do yourself a favor and take the Over…you have to be a little dead inside to bet the Under in the Pro Bowl.

 

 

Five Things: NFL Conference Championship Games

Joe Nicely examines five things to keep an eye on in Sunday’s NFL Conference Championship games.

What’s up Combiners? We’ve got a pretty damn exciting Conference Championship Sunday coming up. For the first time in a long time, it feels like we are actually getting to see the four best teams fighting for trips to the Super Bowl. There is a common theme this year, as all four teams have great QBs that direct high-powered offenses. Let’s take a look at five things to keep an eye on this weekend.

1. The Saints Run D vs. The Rams Rushing Attack

In the words of the great Gorilla Monsoon, this is a true “unstoppable force vs. immovable object” matchup. We don’t normally think of the Saints as a defensive team, but as the season has progressed, that’s surprisingly what New Orleans has morphed into. Beginning in Week 10 of the regular season, the Saints defense had an amazing six-game stretch where the held opponents to just over 12 points per game! The New Orleans run defense has been nearly unbreachable and finished the season ranked second in the league in yards allowed per carry.

On the other side of this matchup is a downright dominant Rams offensive line. Linemen are the unsung heroes of the NFL and this unit has shined throughout the season. We all know that Todd Gurley is a generational talent, but this line has helped C.J. Freakin’ Anderson rush for 422 yards and four TDs over L.A.’s last three games.

The battle at the line of scrimmage may very well determine the outcome of this game. New Orleans won round one, holding Gurley to just 68 yards rushing when these teams met in Week 9 of the regular season. If the Saints can contain Gurley (and Anderson) again, they might be marching to another Super Bowl appearance.

2. Bill Belichick vs. Patrick Mahomes

It’s probably not fair to boil any matchup down to a head coach vs. a single player, but this will be an interesting chess match between these two. Belichick obviously has numerous strengths as a head coach, but perhaps his best quality is his ability to take away an opponents best player. In Sunday’s AFC Championship game, he will need to figure out a way to slow down KC’s Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes has been a revelation this season and has played at an MVP level. He can make throws that boggle the mind. His arm is so amazing that his very high football IQ is often forgotten about, but his ability to read and process information will be put to the test by the defensive looks that Belichick throws at him this Sunday. He shredded the Pats when these teams met in Week 6 of the regular season, throwing for 352 yards and four TDs in a loss at Foxboro.

This is nearly as much about Andy Reid’s ability to adapt as it is Mahomes’ play. The offense that Reid has imagined for years has become a fully-formed entity this season. He took a major chance by letting Alex Smith walk and Mahomes has repaid his belief in spades.

3. Marcus Peters vs. Sean Payton

This is a situation that you will hear the media talking about in the lead-up to this game. There were some strong emotions flowing from both L.A.’s Marcus Peters and New Orleans coach Sean Payton after the first meeting between these squads back in Week 9. Peters was absolutely TORCHED by Saints WR Michael Thomas, to the tune of 12 catches for 211 yards and a TD. Payton decided to add a little insult to injury after the game and Peters…didn’t take it well.

While the matchup against Peters and Thomas is highly anticipated, it’s one we won’t actually see much of on the field. L.A.’s veteran CB Aqib Talib was injured the first time these teams squared off, but will be ready to go this Sunday. The Rams will try to get Talib on Thomas as often as possible in this one in an attempt to avoid the Peters vs. Thomas matchup.

4. Kansas City & New England Offenses vs. The Weather

Earlier in the week the expected game-time temperature in Arrowhead Stadium was around -5 degrees with snow. The forecast has improved throughout the week and the game-time forecast is now for a “balmy” 20 degrees.

We all know how weird the weather can be, so we probably won’t know exactly what type of conditions these teams will be facing until the game starts. This is an interesting story line to keep an eye on. Both of these teams are known for their explosive offenses and frigid weather could impact this game in a major way.

These units do most of their damage through the air, but both have ground games that can be effective. Rookie Sony Michel gives New England a legitimate between-the-tackles threat that they’ve lacked over the past couple of years and Kareem Hunt’s replacement Damien Williams has played very well for the Chiefs. It could come down to which team adapts to the weather best.

5. Rob Gronkowski vs. Time

New England’s Rob Gronkowski is one of the greatest tight ends to ever play the position. However, years of injuries have taken their toll and Gronk is currently just a shell of his former self and it’s not hard to notice that he’s laboring out on the field this year.

Despite his reduced explosiveness, Gronk is still a huge wild card heading into this matchup. KC has been destroyed by opposing TEs and allowed the most touchdowns in the league to the position this season. Gronkowski himself racked up 97 yards receiving against the Chiefs back when these teams met in Week 6.

So, even though I’m pretty sure that Gronk is being held together with popsicle sticks and duct tape at this point, he could still have a huge impact in this game. He’s had a string of difficult matchups, but this will be Gronk’s most favorable spot since he went for 107 yards and a TD against the Miami Dolphins in Week 14.

It will be interesting to see if Gronkowski has enough gas left in the tank to help the Patriots reach one more Super Bowl. At the very least, he’s a huge X-factor in this matchup.

NFL Conference Championship Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Conference Championship.

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (8-2-1) with our two-team teaser of the Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints. Recommending exotic wagers isn’t something that I often do, but the Divisional Round featured an interesting dynamic that we don’t often see. The general public found themselves on all four road underdogs, while most of the wise guy money poured in on the favorites. The unusual dichotomy of the bet splits presented a unique opportunity to tease the Saints and Chiefs to around a pick’em in both contests.

It is rare to see the public backing the underdog team(s), but the AFC/NFC Conference Championships are beginning to take an identical shape to last weekend. At the time of writing this article, 51 percent of the spread bets and 59 percent of the moneyline wagers are coming in on the Los Angeles Rams over the New Orleans Saints, and while it isn’t as extreme as the first game, the New England Patriots are getting slightly under 50 percent of the spread wagers and nearly 60 percent of the moneyline bets.

The Los Angeles Rams vs. the New Orleans Saints (-3.0) has seen some interesting movement to begin the week. The Saints quickly jumped up to -3.5 within a few hours of the market opening but some public money has sent this line back down to -3.0 at most books. The total has stayed around 57 points all week and is a challenging market to enter. I lean towards the under being the “right” side, but offensive fireworks could ensue, especially from New Orleans.

I think Los Angeles could find themselves in an awkward position this week, one in which they aren’t able to get their ground game going against the Saints’ third-ranked defense in rushing efficiency. Without the ability to get a tempo set on the ground, the Rams’ passing offense could also struggle. If you take away the Week 11 shootout against Kansas City and the meaningless game during Week 17, Jared Goff has been brutal without wide receiver Cooper Kupp. From Weeks 1-10, Goff averaged 313.4 yards, throwing for 22 touchdowns and committing only six total turnovers with Kupp available. But in Weeks 12-16 and the Divisional Round, he has averaged 225.6 yards per game, which includes a total of two touchdowns and nine total turnovers. I think this game could turn ugly quickly and believe the Saints will win going away.

New England Patriots vs. Kansas City Chiefs (-3.0): O/U 56.0

In what has become a yearly tradition, the second-seeded New England Patriots will take part in the AFC Championship game for the eighth consecutive season. However, their opponent and venue will be unique. For the first time in Chiefs franchise history, the AFC Championship game will be held in Kansas City. It will also be the first conference title game held outside of New England, Denver or Indianapolis in 15 seasons.

New England has had an up-and-down year, going 8-0 at home but only 3-5 on the road. Those splits are not necessarily uncommon for an NFL team, but the lack of success outside of Foxboro is alarming. The Patriots graded out slightly worse in offensive success rate during their games on the road, but the biggest issue has been their defense. At home, New England ranked 13th against the run and fifth against the pass. Conversely, though, they rated just 28th in success against the run and 18th against the pass in games outside of Massachusetts.

The general public can be forgetful with their recollection of a season. I know we have seen the Patriots pull Houdini-esque escapes year after year, but their regression has been ignored after the thorough thumping they put on the Los Angeles Chargers. I did think New England looked good against the Chargers, but a lot of that had to do with Los Angeles being in a terrible position. The Chargers looked like a team on fumes, which would make sense given the fact that they were playing their third straight road game and second straight early game on Sunday.

The Patriots should be given credit for taking advantage of an ideal situation, but let’s pump the brakes when it comes to forgiving their backslide this year. Rob Gronkowski has been virtually non-existent for the team since Week 14 and has only caught five passes in the Patriots’ last four games. He isn’t right physically, and the team doesn’t have many weapons to turn to after Josh Gordon’s suspension. Julian Edelman and James White are the only two players producing as of late, and a two-man show will not get the job done against a prolific Kansas City offense.

Bill Belichick is a mastermind when it comes to taking away what you do best, so Chiefs running back Damien Williams will need to be productive to open up the passing game for Kansas City, but it is difficult for me to imagine that the Patriots will have enough firepower to keep up in this battle. New England may be able to dictate some of the early proceedings, which could result in this game being slightly lower scoring than the public is anticipating, but I’d imagine that we see the Chiefs find some rhythm and eventually pull away late.


Rowdy Bold Prediction: Kansas City 31 – New England 23

Recommended Bet: Kansas City (-3)


Bet of the Week Record : 
(8-2-1)

NFL Divisional Round Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Divisional Round

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (7-2-1) on the season with a Dallas Cowboys moneyline winner over the Seattle Seahawks. While the Cowboys were safe in the closing minutes of the game, many spread bets were decided in the final minute. The Seahawks were without placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, who hurt his thigh at the end of the first half on a long field goal attempt. You never quite realize just how important a kicker is to a team until you see that most units don’t have anyone else that is capable of making a kick on the entire roster.

After the Seahawks scored with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter to get the game to 24-20, they decided to go for two and not kick the extra point to make it a field goal game. Naturally, Chris Carson rushed up the middle for a successful two-point conversion, and the game ended 24-22. At the time I released my article, the Cowboys were down to -1.5 or less at all books, but many Cowboys wagers throughout the week laid -2.0 for a push or even -2.5 for a loss. The number did jump slightly back up right before the game on Saturday, but the moneyline recommendation required only five to 10 cents of extra juice and kept us safe.

The Divisional Round is unusual for a few reasons. There appears to be some recency bias attached to the teams that were able to advance last weekend. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t the right side of the contest, but the public has backed every road dog for the four-game slate. More often than not, that usually is a recipe for disaster, but your average bettor has been successfully hitting underdog wagers for the past few weeks and will look to continue the trend.

The Dallas Cowboys vs. Los Angeles Rams (-7) will give us a stylistic mismatch that both teams will need to exploit to be successful. The Rams will have a chance to overwhelm a slightly overrated Cowboys defense that ranks just 27th in the league in success against the pass. That statistic will surprise some, but they have allowed 49 percent of passes to grade out successfully. On the flip side, the Cowboys will try to defeat the Rams through a ground-and-pound mentality. Los Angeles is 28th against the run, and Ezekiel Elliott will need to come up huge for Dallas to have a chance. I am afraid that if the Cowboys get behind early, Dak Prescott will struggle to keep them in the game against such a high-powered opposition. For that reason, I think we see the Rams win and cover.

And the Los Angeles Chargers vs. New England Patriots (-4) provides one of the more difficult handicaps that we have this week. The math points to the Chargers being the right side, but the personnel advantages, experience and home-field advantage should favor the Patriots. I think these two units are more similar than they are different on the playing field so these edges that the Patriots have could loom a little larger than usual. We are probably looking at around a one-score game for the majority of the contest, but Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is in way over his head against Bill Belichick and could find his conservative play-calling to be the teams undoing. It is a challenging game to handicap all together and might be one that I avoid entirely. Still, though, I think the Patriots will find a way to win and cover, most likely due to egregious coaching mistakes from Lynn.

Bet of the Week:

If you thought last weekend got weird with a moneyline wager, you are in for a treat during the Divisional Round. I’d consider myself pretty reserved when it comes to unconventional wager types. It’s not that I am unwilling to think outside the box, but I do fit into a particular stereotype of trying to find value more naturally.

However, with the overreaction and recency bias that the industry has experienced this week, I think we have a unique opportunity to attack the slate from a different angle. The Saints, Chiefs and Rams all make a compelling case to be added to a two-team six-point teaser. I could justify any combination, but for the sake of the article, I will be going with the Chiefs and the Saints. By teasing the Chiefs to +1 and the Saints to -2, you should be looking at a -120 wager. If you are unfamiliar with how teasers work, both games will need to win for the bet to be graded a winner. If one of the plays pushes, the wager will be classified as no action.

Indianapolis faces a tall task of being asked to go on the road three weeks in a row to advance to the AFC Championship. Their Week 17 game in Tennessee can be considered a virtual playoff game since it was a win or go home situation for both themselves and the Titans, and it takes a lot of energy, both mentally and physically, to get ramped up for three huge contests.

Most people that are backing the Colts see a team that has won nine of their last 10 regular season games after beginning the year 1-5. And while there is no doubt that the Colts are improved and healthy, there is an underlying story worth mentioning. If you exclude the first six weeks of the season for Indianapolis, they have faced the easiest schedule of opposing offenses and the leagues easiest schedule in passing attacks. In those games, the Colts ranked 19th in success rate against the pass.

Indianapolis plays zone on defense about 75 percent of the time, and there are a few things that can break apart that style. A speedy wide receiver to stretch the field would be one. Tyreek Hill is most likely the fastest player in the NFL, so the Chiefs have that handled easily. The second thing would be a versatile tight end. Athletic tight ends that can cause mismatches are a killer to the zone. Travis Kelce is arguably the most diverse and skillful player at the position. And last, but not least, a quarterback comfortable in play-action situations. Patrick Mahomes operates out of play-action 27 percent of the time, averaging 8.6 yards per play. Both of those two statistics equate to top-five in the league.

As far as the Saints game is concerned, During the last three starts of the regular season, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles transformed the offense away from their run-first mentality and into one of the more efficient passing attacks. They held a 48 percent passing success rate from Weeks 15-17, good for 11th best in the league and increased their explosive passing by over one percent, rising from 21st overall to 10th.

The issue when breaking down statistics from a short duration of time is that some incongruities can start forming. Foles beat a Washington Redskins team in Week 17 that had nothing to play for and a Texans team that was trending towards being the worst passing defense in the NFL between Week’s 14-17. The Rams performance does deserve some credit, but all three scores were from running the football, and as we described earlier, the Rams are ranked just 28th in efficiency against the run.

Aside from all the givens of where Philadelphia could or should struggle, the most significant liability remains their pass defense. Their winning streak has masked the fact that they are grading out 30th in the league from Week’s 11-17 in success rate against the pass, allowing 7.6 yards per attempt. The Superdome is a quick building to play inside, and the already suspect secondary should get lit up by Drew Brees and company. I don’t like pinpointing the game in Week 11 that saw the Saints beat the Eagles 48-7 at home, but I do not see there being some massive difference with Nick Foles under center instead of Carson Wentz. I doubt we are looking at a 41-point encore, but this has the chance to get ugly again.

Rowdy Bold Prediction:

Kansas City 38 – Indianapolis 24 

New Orleans 34 – Philadelphia 17


Recommended Bet: Two-team six-point teaser (Kansas City +1 with New Orleans -2) 


Bet of the Week Record : 
(7-2-1)

NFL Wild-Card Round Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for the Wild-Card Round

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. After a long season, the playoffs are finally upon us! We finished the regular season with a (6-2-1) record but did suffer a brutal loss during our last article in Week 16. The New York Jets +3 over the Green Bay Packers looked like a foregone conclusion with the Jets leading 35-20 in the fourth quarter, but a combination of boneheaded penalties from New York mixed with a ridiculous performance by Aaron Rodgers forced the game into overtime. Naturally, the Packers received the opening kickoff in extra time, and the rest was history.

If you are going to bet sports, you need to have an extremely short memory. A single bet should never make or break you (assuming you are following proper bankroll management), and these are situations that we need to brush off and quickly forget. When you let a bad beat linger in your mind for too long, that is when you stop accurately accessing lines the way they need to be broken down.

The Wild-Card round of the playoffs features four quality matchups on Saturday and Sunday. Early money has driven the Indianapolis Colts from +2.5 to +1 at most books, with the over/under bouncing back and forth between 47 and 49. I believe the Colts are the right side of this contest and did fancy over 47 when the line first opened up, but this game is going to come down to how the Indianapolis offense decides to attack the Texans defense. If they take an approach of trying to beat Houston with their run game and attempt to set the tempo with running back Marlon Mack, it could turn into a long Saturday for Colts money and over bettors. However, if they let Andrew Luck open up the playbook and come out with an aggressive approach, the Colts and over should both materialize into prosperous wagers.

The Los Angeles Chargers (+2.5) and Baltimore Ravens (-2.5) just missed out on being my main breakdown of the week. Outside of any statistical mismatches being included, the Chargers got the worst luck of the draw of any organization in the playoffs. There 12-4 record would have won any other division in the AFC, but instead, they are forced to travel on the road to take on a robust, hard-hitting Baltimore team. To make matters even worse, the NFL scheduled them as the early game on Sunday morning, which has historically been a massive disadvantage for west coast teams traveling on the road. I am aware that the Chargers have won their last four games that have kicked off at 10:00 PT or earlier and that they are 7-0 this season in games held outside of Los Angeles, but this is an extremely difficult stylistic matchup for the Chargers. Can they win? Of course. But it is going to take a gritty effort. I will be laying the 2.5 points with Baltimore but do hope I am wrong for the sake of my Chargers futures wager that I placed before the season started.

And the Philadelphia Eagles (+5.5) versus the Chicago Bears (-5.5) is our last game that will be played on Sunday. The total currently resides at 41 points, and I think we are in store of a low-scoring affair. Nick Foles leading the Eagles back into the playoffs is why we watch sports, but I can’t help but feel like the magical run is going to come crashing down against the NFL’s best defense. If you exclude Week 17’s performance against the Washington Redskins, Foles has the Eagles grading out 17th in the league in success rate passing during his previous two starts — which includes a Week 16 game against the Houston Texans that rank 22nd in defensive efficiency against the pass. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is a liability for Chicago, no doubt about it, but this probably won’t be the game that he stunts the Bears progression in the playoffs. I look for Chicago to hold Philadelphia in check and most likely cover the 5.5 points while staying under the total.

Seattle Seahawks (+1.5) versus the Dallas Cowboys (-1.5) O/U 43.0

Our bet this week brings us to Arlington, Texas for a repeat of Week 3’s showdown between the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. During the early season confrontation, the Seahawks captured a 24-13 home victory. Russell Wilson led the way for Seattle with a 109.8 passer rating, adding 192 yards through the air, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 61.5 percent completion rate was 4.1 percent lower than his season average, but he was his usual game-managing self during the win.

I don’t want to get too hung up on a Week 3 meeting because both of these teams are completely different than they were to start the season, but there are a few points of emphasis that I would like to make. Seattle rushed for 113 yards as a team, but it did take them 39 carries (2.9 average) to eclipse the 100-yard mark. Most of the team’s success starts with their ground-and-pound mentality, but Dallas featured the fourth most efficient rushing defense in the NFL in 2018, and they were able to slow down a lot of what Seattle was attempting to do.

None of this may have registered on the scoreboard, but that had more to do with Dallas’ horrific passing attack in the game. Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott finished the contest 19-for-34, throwing for 168 passing yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. The two interceptions proved costly, but they weren’t the only blunders that the offense had on the day.

While Dallas did bludgeon the Seahawks on the ground, gaining 8.7 yards per carry en route to 166 total yards rushing, Ezekiel Elliott committed a pivotal fumble in the second quarter that stunted a Dallas drive in Seattle territory. Those three crucial turnovers negated the fact that Dallas outgained Seattle in yardage by eight yards (303 to 295) and averaged nearly a full yard more per play.

If we fast forward to the present, there are a few additional alarming signs for the Seahawks. They have been impressive this season on offense, ranking eighth in total offensive efficiency and 12th in success rate rushing the football, but the team is just 24th overall in the league in success rate passing, recording a successful play only 44 percent of the time. The reason for the disparity in efficiency versus success has a lot to do with the explosive plays that Seattle has been able to connect on this season. The Seahawks rank 8th in the league in explosive rushes and 10th in passes. Being dependant on big-plays isn’t necessarily a negative, but the Cowboys rank inside the top-six when it comes to preventing long plays of any kind. Without the ability to convert lengthy runs or passes, Seattle could find themselves in trouble if they fall behind early.

The biggest knock on the Cowboys this year has been their inability to pass the football. Through 16 weeks, they ranked 27th in efficiency through the air and 20th in success rate. However, when you condense the statistics to include only Week 9 through Week 16, which is when the Cowboys acquired wide receiver Amari Cooper, they are 7th in the NFL in passing success rate. The one noteworthy thing to mention is that Cooper has performed better against man-to-man defenses than zone, and Seattle plays zone primarily. It isn’t a deal-breaker by any means since Seattle’s secondary isn’t the “Legion of Boom” that they once were under players such as Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas, but it does present an additional caveat to consider.

Russell Wilson shouldn’t be counted out of this by any means, and there are undoubtedly multiple paths to victory in this tough matchup for both units. But I just think that Dallas has a substantial chance to control the tempo if they can limit their turnovers, and Elliott has a huge possibility to feast against a weak Seattle run defense. I don’t love the fact that some considerable Seahawks money has taken this from -2.5 to -1.5, but it has given us a better price, and I do believe we will see some sharp money come back in on Dallas as the game gets closer. With the moneyline currently sitting right around -120, I think that is probably the best way to play this game as of right now.

Rowdy Bold Prediction: Dallas 27 – Seattle 20

Recommended Bet: Dallas Moneyline 


Bet of the Week Record : 
(6-2-1)

NFL Christmas Wish List: NFC Edition

Joe Nicely dives into what should be on each NFC team’s Holiday Wish List.

Happy Holidays! Thanks for joining me here at The Combine! You hopefully had a few presents under the tree this year and, just like you, your favorite NFL team probably has some wants and needs on their Christmas wish list. Let’s check out what each NFL team should be asking for this year!

NFC NORTH

Chicago Bears: The Bears have had a wonderful Christmas this year, having won the division championship for the first time since 2010. Chicago has received a couple of huge gifts already this season, in the form of first-year head coach Matt Nagy and superstar linebacker Khalil Mack. The Bears would love to receive another gift as they head into Week 17…they need a win and a Rams loss to clinch the No. 2 seed in the NFC.

Minnesota Vikings: The Vikes have a simple Christmas wish, they need a win against the aforementioned Chicago Bears in Week 17 to sneak into the playoffs. The Vikings headed into the season with lots of hype, but have disappointed to this point. Kirk Cousins and crew can still salvage the season with a win over the Bears. As we all know, anything can happen in the playoffs, but Minnesota needs a little holiday magic to get in the tournament.

Green Bay Packers: It has been a rough year for the Pack. Green Bay will be sitting at home staring at the fireplace when the postseason rolls around. Aaron Rodgers and company have a new coach at the top of their wish list. Things ended rather abruptly with longtime coach Mike McCarthy and the cheese heads would do well to ask Santa for a home run hire this offseason. While Rodgers himself is probably still wishing for the return of Jordy Nelson.

Detroit Lions: Things got off to a rocky start in Motown under first-year head coach Matt Patricia. He did improve Detroit’s perpetually poor defense, but Matt Stafford and the usually-dependable offense pulled a baffling disappearing act over the second-half of the season. I don’t know if Santa will bring Golden Tate back, but the Lions need some major help at receiver and should also pray for the health of rookie RB Kerryon Johnson, who flashed some superstar potential in his limited playing time this season.

 

NFC SOUTH

New Orleans Saints: After a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota in the playoffs last year, the Saints have come back with a vengeance in 2018. New Orleans has almost everything a team could want; a hall of fame QB, talented offensive players, and a defense that can hold its own. The Saints have already secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The only thing they can ask Santa for is a second Super Bowl win.

Atlanta Falcons: You have to wonder how many more lost seasons Atlanta will suffer through. With Matt Ryan and Julio Jones in their prime, the Falcons need to win now. The organization will be sending up prayers for a healthy 2019, as they struggled with a ridiculous amount of injuries this season. Head coach Dan Quinn would be wise to put a new offensive coordinator on his wish list with Steve Sarkisian continuing to flounder in his second year on the job.

Carolina Panthers: The Panthers will obviously be praying for quarterback Cam Newton’s shoulder this holiday season. Newton has labored to throw the ball downfield for much of the season and was shutdown for Carolina’s last two games. If Carolina let Cam make this wish, I’m sure we would see an upgraded offensive line before the kickoff of the 2019 season. Newton has been stuck behind a leaky o-line for most of his career and needs jolly old Saint Nick to send some pass blockers to Charlotte.

Tampa Bay Bucs: Similar to Tennessee and Miami in the AFC, Tampa Bay needs some clarity at the QB position. The organization faces a crucial decision in the upcoming offseason. The Bucs must decide if Jameis Winston is their quarterback of the future or if it’s time to cut ties with a player that has been slightly above average on the field, but has displayed horrible decision making off it. Tampa must also decide what to do with head coach Dirk Koetter, who has underachieved since getting the top job.

 

NFC EAST

Dallas Cowboys: Some wishes have worked out well for Jerry Jones and the ‘Boys. High-risk, high-reward draft picks Jaylen Smith and Randy Gregory are finally paying off and a mega-trade for Amari Cooper is looking much better than it did two months ago. What the Cowboys do need is some postseason momentum. Dallas hasn’t logged a win in the playoffs since the 2014 Wild Card round. They should ask Santa for a long overdue playoff win.

Philadelphia Eagles: Philly might have used up all their holiday mojo last season, when the long-suffering franchise won its first world championship of the Super Bowl era. That drought was ended by backup QB Nick Foles, who has the Eagles on the verge of a playoff appearance since once again stepping in for the injured Carson Wentz. While Wentz is the more talented player, perhaps the Eagles should wish for a extra-long recovery time that leaves Foles in the lineup well into 2019.

Washington Redskins: Shewww…where should I start? Though he catches tons of flack, head coach Jay Gruden has actually done a respectable job since taking the reigns of this dumpster fire. Washington fans should ask Santa for owner Daniel Snyder to sell the team. The revolving door of general managers, along with Snyder’s own ridiculous methods, have made it almost impossible for the ‘Skins to have any level sustainable success on the field.

New York Giants: The Giants need to take a page from the cowardly lion’s playbook and ask for some courage. There comes a time in every child’s life when they have to part with their favorite “blankie” and the Giants must find the courage to part with theirs…quarterback Eli Manning. With electric young players like Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley, the Giants need to embrace a youth movement and let their Super Bowl hero ride off into the sunset.

 

NFC WEST

Los Angeles Rams: In a season that’s been mostly smooth sailing, the high-flying Rams have hit a bit of turbulence over the last few weeks. Road losses the Saints and Bears are nothing to be ashamed of, but a home loss to the Nick Foles-led Eagles and an injury to franchise RB Todd Gurley have to be raising Sean McVay’s blood pressure. The loss of Cooper Kupp has hurt this offense and a defensive unit that everyone thought would come around hasn’t yet. The Rams hope to find a healthy Gurley and some defensive cohesion in their stocking.

Seattle Seahawks: Coach Pete Carroll has the Seahawks heading into Week 17 at 9-6, but this season might the most impressive accomplishment of his career. Seattle is in the playoffs, but should have asked Santa for home-field in the postseason. The Seahawks style of play doesn’t travel as well as some and they face a road contest either at Dallas or Chicago, depending on Week 17 results. Neither will be easy, but we’ve seen Russell Wilson pull off holiday miracles before.

San Fransisco 49ers: After a splashy offseason, the Niners’ regular season was pretty much over as soon as it began. Franchise QB Jimmy Garoppolo went down in Week 3 with a season-ending injury and RB Jerick McKinnon never even made it to Week 1 after signing a huge free agent deal with the Niners. The organization seems to be in good hands with GM John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan, but they sure could use some holiday help with their injury issues as they head into 2019.

Arizona Cardinals: For a team that was regularly competing for the postseason under coach Bruce Arians, the Cardinals have looked like an expansion team this season. First-year head coach Steve Wilks might not get a second year and the Cardinals seem to be either extremely young or extremely old at almost every position, with only misused RB David Johnson truly in his prime. Arizona might want to ask Santa to bring Bruce Arians out of retirement in hopes of rejuvenating this lifeless team.