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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

NFL Christmas Wish List: AFC Edition

Joe Nicely explores what each AFC team should have on their Christmas lists this year.

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!

AFC North

Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens have kinda already had their wishes come true, as Lamar Jackson has stepped into the starting QB role and has them on the cusp of winning the division as we head into Week 17. Baltimore’s Christmas wish would probably be for a time machine to stop themselves from giving Joe Flacco such a massive contract. Look for the Ravens to right that wrong this offseason and send Flacco and his huge paycheck packing.

Pittsburgh Steelers: I guess the wish that immediately comes to mind, is that the Steelers could’ve used Le’Veon Bell this season…but truth be told, Pittsburgh’s numbers from the RB position are perfectly fine. What the Steelers should ask for is the ability to closeout games, as they’ve recently blown second-half leads against the Raiders, Chargers, and Saints. Pittsburgh is also being haunted by the season-opener, a game in which they totally gifted the Cleveland Browns a tie.

Cleveland Browns: The lowly Browns have already received a huge gift in the form of rookie QB Baker Mayfield, who has lifted the Browns from winless in 2017 to a respectable 7-7-1 this season. Cleveland made a smart move by running Hue Jackson out-of-town early this season. What the Browns need from Santa Claus is a home run coaching hire this offseason. The Cleveland job is more desirable than it has ever been, as they have a nice young core of players on the roster. Now, they just need to get this hire right.

Cincinnati Bengals: Like the Browns, we expect the Bengals will also be hiring a new coach when the season is over, so they could definitely use some holiday magic during that process. While a new voice in the locker room might help Cincy, their true wish for the new year will be health. The Bengals are entering the final week of the season without Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and Tyler Boyd…and that’s just on offense. Cincy has some solid pieces on both sides of the ball, but was never really able to get them on the field together for much of the season.

 

AFC SOUTH

Houston Texans: The AFC South wish list is all about the quarterbacks and the Houston Texans should wish for the continued health of theirs. Drafting Deshaun Watson has proven to be a game changer for the Texans. After a sluggish start to the season with Watson returning from a major injury, the Texans ran off nine straight wins once the second-year QB knocked the rust off. Besides being the answer to Deandre Hopkins’ prayers, Watson offers Houston a chance to both win now and feel great about the future.

Indianapolis Colts:  The pair of Andrew Luck and Frank Reich might as well have big red bows on their heads. The hiring of Reich and return of Luck from a scary injury, have turned around the Colts’ fortunes in just one season. While the Colts should be thankful for what they have, it wouldn’t hurt for them to ask the big guy in red for another explosive player to pair with Luck and T.Y. Hilton on the offensive side of the ball. Maybe Santa will bring the Colts a very special Bell via the free agent market this summer.

Tennessee Titans: The Titans have to be thankful to be in a position to make the playoffs with a win in Week 17, but their wish list should have one thing at the top…clarity. Tennessee is in sort of a middle-of-the-road purgatory. They aren’t bad enough to tank, rebuild, and get a high draft pick, but they also aren’t good enough to realistically compete for a Super Bowl. This mediocrity is best exemplified in QB Marcus Mariota. Like the Titans franchise itself, Mariota looks amazing at times and pedestrian at others. This is when he’s able to actually stay on the field. With his rookie contract winding down, Tennessee will need to make a difficult decision regarding what to do with the injury-plagued Mariota.

Jacksonville Jaguars: What a difference a year makes. The Jags were a half of football away from playing in the Super Bowl last year, but have looked downright ugly in 2018. The Jaguars made their bed with QB Blake Bortles this past offseason and have spent the entirety of 2018 tossing and turning in it. The Christmas wish for the Jags is simple…please bring them a quarterback. With a talented RB in Leonard Fournette and a defense that could still be great, Jacksonville management can’t allow this possible window of success to close.

 

AFC EAST

New England Patriots: It would probably be greedy for the Patriots to ask for much this Christmas, but despite all the franchise’s success in the past, both the present and future are looking a little bleaker than usual. With Josh Gordon gone, Rob Gronkowski looking human, and Tom Brady on the downside of his career…the once explosive Patriot offense appears to be stalled out. If New England hasn’t already used all of it’s Christmas wishes, the Pats should cross their fingers for an injection of young talent. The New England dynasty is showing the ill-effects of years without a high draft pick that would infuse the roster with a young star.

Miami Dolphins: Like the Tennessee Titans, the Dolphins are mired in mediocrity. And like the Titans, Miami has been tied to an oft-injured QB. Ryan Tannehill has missed 25 regular and post-season games since injuring his knee in December of 2016 and is due to make a salary that would make him the sixth-most expensive quarterback in the league in 2019. This for a Dolphins organization that is already in ugly salary-cap shape. Miami needs a Christmas miracle in the form of a young and cheap QB.

Buffalo Bills: It’s kind of hard to believe that the Bills were in the playoffs last season. The Bills have continued to play hard for coach Sean McDermott during what amounts to a “soft reboot” this season. Buffalo drafted a very talented, but very raw quarterback in Josh Allen. The Bills also have an exciting, young defense led by budding star Tre’Davious White. You can’t put time in a bottle, but that’s what Buffalo needs this Christmas; time for this raw, but talented group to grow up and reach its potential.

New York Jets: Todd Bowles probably hasn’t gotten a fair shake as the head coach of the Jets. He took over Rex Ryan’s defensively geared roster in 2015 and finished 10-6, but hasn’t won more than five games in a season since. I say that Bowles hasn’t gotten a fair shake because the Jets offensive roster has been a dumpster fire for his entire tenure. With the draft pick of QB Sam Darnold, New York appears to have an offensive centerpiece to build around, but it’s fair to wonder if Bowles is the right coach to guide this ship into the future. Perhaps the Jets can find the next Sean McVay under their tree this Christmas.

 

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs: The Chiefs’ cup overfloweth this year, so they are looking for more of a Christmas bonus, than a Christmas miracle. Kansas City probably wishes Santa could go back in time and make Kareem Hunt less of an idiot, but that’s probably a stretch, even for jolly old Saint Nick. The best gift for this talented Chiefs team would be a win in Week 17 that would clinch home-field throughout the playoffs. Playing at Arrowhead would give Kansas City a big advantage in the post-season.

Los Angeles Chargers: Christmas thoughts and prayers up for Philip Rivers’ wife, who is pregnant with the couples NINTH CHILD! We all know how expensive kids are, so maybe the Chargers should wish for Rivers and his beautiful bride to continue adding to the family. The more children that Rivers has, the longer he will have to play for the Chargers.

Denver Broncos: Ugghh…John Elway has earned the benefit of the doubt, but the Vance Joseph/Case Keenum experiment has been a bust. The Broncos still have unbelievable talent on defense and two exciting rookies on offense in Phillip Lindsay and Courtland Sutton, so there’s no need to panic. Elway has engineered quick turnarounds before, he just needs to reach into his mile-high Christmas stocking and pull out a shiny new head coach/QB combo to get things back on track.

Oakland Raiders: We round out our holiday wish list with the team that needs a Santa’s sleigh packed full of goodies. The Raiders probably have a very long list of wishes this Christmas, but perhaps the most important one isn’t the most obvious… the Raiders need a home. After bouncing between Oakland and L.A., and now being Las Vegas bound, Gruden and his elves need a place to settle down for a nice winter’s nap. With their whereabouts unknown for next season, the Raiders will have to make do with their plethora of upcoming draft picks. Perhaps when they get settled into their new Vegas digs in 2020, the Silver & Black will be ready to head in the right direction.

 

 

NFL Week 16 Bet of the Week

Spencer Aguiar digs into his top rowdy bet for Week 16 of the NFL season

Welcome back to The Combine Sports and another edition of the Bet of the Week article. We increased our record to (6-1-1) on the season with an excellent 41-17 Minnesota Vikings (-7) victory. Laying a touchdown worth of points isn’t one of my favorite betting strategies, but sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone when value presents itself.

We were also able to provide winners on our two other recommendations of the Indianapolis Colts -3 over the Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers +6.5 over the New Orleans Saints. While those aren’t graded towards the official “Bet of the Week” yearly record, they were winners for anyone that chose to follow the picks.

With Week 16 upon us, I know I sound like a broken record here, but man, this is a brutal betting slate. It makes me wish I didn’t call some of the other weeks a struggle to handicap because this card is appalling. The Los Angeles Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens under 45 points was one of the plays that intrigued me, but it dropped nearly 3.5 points before I could get the article posted. If you can find under 21.5 in the first half, that is probably the way to play the game now, but even that number appears to be gone.

With a couple of days left in the week, it looks like the public is coming in on the Redskins, Chargers, Cowboys, Falcons, Vikings, Bears and Chiefs. I think the opposite side can be argued in most cases, but a lot of those games still present uncertainty. The last couple of weeks in an NFL season will always become difficult because of the lack of motivation some of the eliminated teams will exhibit. It is tough to tell what we should expect, and that backs us into a corner when trying to handicap these contests.

Green Bay Packers (-3.0) versus the New York Jets (+3.0) O/U 47.0

In what has become one of the stranger matchups of the week, the (5-8-1) Green Bay Packers will go on the road to face the (4-10) New York Jets. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was initially ruled out for the game after suffering a groin injury in Week 15’s loss to the Chicago Bears, but after experiencing some backlash for quitting on his team, the 35-year-old has now been ruled active for Sunday’s proceedings.

The loss of Rodgers initially sent this number on a five-point swing in the Jets favor, going from +3 to -2, but it has settled back into its initial price at most books of +3 with the news of Rodgers being active. One of the most interesting things to me is that although a five-point shift is a lot, it never crossed a key number after moving off plus-three. As an example, a movement from -3 to -8 would have a lot more substance than a move from +3 to -2. In our hypothetical situation, you sail past three significant numbers (minus-3, minus-6 and minus-7.) However, in the actual movement of the bet, all we saw was that the price was driven off +3, transferred through 0 and stopped before it reached three on the other end. The only significant move was the move off of three and even going through 0 doesn’t do all that much.

I know that may sound like useless information, but I always find movements interesting because they tip the hand of the sportsbook in a lot of ways. Once you figure out what the public side of the game is going to be, you can start gauging the risk that casinos are willing to take based on their movement. Books never want to find themselves in a situation to be “middled” (landing between the opening number and the closing number), and if they think they are on the right side of a game, you won’t see them budge all that much.

Sadly, that still doesn’t quite tell us exactly where this number is heading and what the casinos will need with a 50/50 split at many books right now. I do think that some signs point towards them liking the Packers with the number failing to get to Green Bay +3 when Rodgers was ruled out initially, but in the same breath, I don’t think much can be taken from it because he was announced back in so quickly, and the number was hovering in a dead zone price wise.

Breaking down a game goes a lot further than movements and bet slips, and there are a few things that stuck out to me from a statistical and matchup perspective. It is always interesting when you start breaking down a game in a more in-depth fashion and find potential matchup advantages that you would never have expected. On the season, the Packers rank fifth in the NFL in offensive success rate running the football at 53 percent but grade out just 18th in the league when it comes to success rate passing at 45%. Defensively, the Jets are 11th in the league in success against the run at 46 percent and fourth in the NFL against the pass at 44 percent. I know Rodgers has been playing injured practically the whole season, and the team is 5-8-1 for a reason, but I was surprised to see just how much the Packers have struggled through the air on the year.

While the early-season injury hasn’t helped Rodgers and his new groin injury will only make things worse, a lack of support on offense hasn’t made it any easier for the two-time Most Valuable Player either. Wide receiver Davante Adams has been brilliant, but outside of Adams and the emergence of running back Aaron Jones in Week 8, other Packers players have offered very little help.

Unfortunately for Green Bay, Jones suffered a sprained MCL in Week 15 against the Chicago Bears and was just placed on the injured reserved list for the rest of the season. I know we live in an age where running backs mean nothing to the point total, but the loss of Jones will be significant now that more of the burden is going to be placed on an injured Aaron Rodgers. Backup running back Jamaal Williams has proven that he can’t handle a full workload, averaging 3.7 yards on 98 carries this season. It seems likely that the Packers will attempt to get Williams going early in the game, but he has looked mediocre all year and has been limited with a toe injury himself.

To make matters even worse, the Packers will be without their second-best wide receiver Randall Cobb and offensive tackle Jason Spriggs. The loss of Spriggs will be negated if Bryan Bulaga can play — which appears like it will be the case, but the team will be left with zero depth outside of Alex Pankey. Rodgers has been hit the third most in the NFL during the last eight weeks, and even though the Jets only rank 24th on the year in sack rate, they rank top-three in QB hits, QB pressures and sacks the last four weeks. A lot of that damage came against Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson in Week 15, but the Jets are playing tough and have not given up on the season.

Since Week 11, the Jets rank fourth in the NFL in success against the pass and 14th against the run. The Packers in the same time frame are 32nd against the pass and 12th against the run. Kenny Clark, a key figure of the Packers front-four remains out, and the potential lack of pressure to Jets quarterback Sam Darnold would help the rookie to settle into the game.

After nearly a month without Darnold in the lineup, he returned to face the Buffalo Bills in Week 14, throwing for 170 yards to go along with one TD and one INT. And last week, he put together a 253-yard performance against the Houston Texans, converting on two TD passes with no interceptions. Small sample sizes need to be taken with a grain of salt, but in the last two weeks, the Jets rank 10th in passing success rate and appear to be trending in the right direction.

Some might view Rodgers giving it a go on Sunday as heroic, and others might think it is dumb to put your injured franchise player into a game that doesn’t matter. You can make the argument for either, but I can’t seem to figure out what the motivation is for Green Bay in this game. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks of our era, but even Batman needs Robin from time to time. I am not overly enthusiastic about the selection and still don’t entirely trust the Jets, but I struggle to find a single playmaker on the Packers outside of Davante Adams this week. I would tread lightly on the play if you do place a wager, but there is enough pointing in the direction of the Jets being the right side. I’d anticipate that this number should trickle back down as the week goes on and would jump on three before it does start to decrease.

Rowdy Bold Prediction: New York 23 – Green Bay 20

Recommended Bet: New York (+3)

Bet of the Week Record : (6-1-1)

 

 

Talented & Troubled: A Josh Gordon Timeline

With the news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football, Joe Nicely takes a look at the troubled star’s career timeline.

Today’s breaking news that Josh Gordon will be leaving the New England Patriots and football to focus on his mental health, might signify the end of his career. Gordon’s talent has made coaches and fans drool for years, but his troubled life off the field has kept him from ever reaching his full potential on it. At the time of this writing there are conflicting reports as to whether Gordon might potentially be facing a suspension for substance abuse from the NFL, but it’s fair to wonder what’s led to this drastic measure. The 27-year-old seemed to finally be in a good place both off and on the football field in New England, but bailing on a perennial Super Bowl contender just as the stretch run is coming up, will make it hard for Gordon to get another shot in the NFL. No one has had more “second chances” than Josh Gordon, but this might have been his last one. Let’s take a look at the talented, but troubled receiver’s career timeline.

Middle & High School

Born in Houston, Texas, Gordon’s troubles started as far back as we can document. In an interview with GQ, he admitted that he began using Xanax, marijuana, and codeine in middle school. He was expelled from two different middle schools for stealing. After receiving a basketball scholarship to a private Houston prep school, Gordon was kicked out for marijuana use in 10th grade. He eventually landed at Houston’s Lamar High School, where he starred in football, basketball, and track…all while increasing his drug and alcohol use. Gordon also began selling drugs in high school and was involved in numerous illegal activities, which led to a felony credit card theft charge when he was 17-years-old.

College

Gordon was recruited by several Division I programs, but his main reason for choosing Baylor University was an odd one…his probation for the credit card theft wouldn’t allow him to live outside the state of Texas.

After flying under the radar his freshman year, Gordon would soon find himself in trouble during the middle of his sophomore campaign. In October of 2010, police officers found Gordon and a Baylor teammate passed out in a car at a Taco Bell drive-thru with multiple bags of marijuana. The teammate, Willie Jefferson, was kicked off the team by then-coach Art Briles, while Gordon was only suspended. He went on to play 13 games in his sophomore season, flashing his speed and talent while recording 42 catches for 714 yards and seven touchdowns. At this time, Gordon was also selling drugs at Baylor. Not your run-of-the-mill dimebag operation either, as he admits he was bringing in around $10,000 a month from selling drugs while at Baylor.

Gordon was suspended indefinitely in July of 2011 before the start of his junior season. The suspension was due to multiple failed drug tests. In August of 2011, Gordon transferred to the University of Utah, where he tried cocaine for the first time and began using Adderall on a daily basis. He never played a down for the Utes and declared for the NFL’s supplemental draft in 2012.

NFL

Gordon was selected in the second round of the NFL’s 2012 supplemental draft by the Cleveland Browns. He signed a four-year, $5.3 million contract with the team.

Gordon’s rookie season in 2012 would be the only time in his career that he played in all 16 games, racking up 50 catches for 805 yards and five touchdowns.

Prior to the start of his second season in 2013, Gordon got in trouble with the NFL for the first time, drawing a two-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Gordon came back from the suspension with a vengeance, leading the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in just 14 games. He earned All-Pro honors and made the Pro-Bowl. This is the season that put Josh Gordon on the map and had those in the football world salivating at his potential.

Problems came fast and furious after Gordon’s breakthrough season. He was arrested for DWI in the summer of 2014 and just over a month later he was suspended by the NFL for one year. That suspension was later reduced to 10 games by the league and Gordon appeared in only five games in 2014 before being suspended for the final game of the season by the Browns. This would kick-off a seemingly never ending string of suspensions from the NFL. Following the final game of the 2014 season, Gordon wouldn’t see action on the field until Week 13 of the 2017 season.

The gap between 2014 and 2017 included numerous trips to rehab and relapses. The Browns stood by Gordon during this time, including in 2016 when Gordon was set to return to action, but voluntarily checked himself into a rehab facility. He applied for reinstatement to the NFL in March of 2017, but was denied. The league eventually granted Gordon a conditional reinstatement. He then returned in Week 13 and finished out the 2017 season.

In March of this year the Browns signed Gordon to a one-year, $790,000 contract. With Gordon seemingly past his troubles, excitement was high for him to team up with number one draft pick Baker Mayfield. However, Gordon announced he would miss the start of training camp to focus on his recovery and personal well-being. He showed up to camp three weeks late and struggled with a hamstring injury. Gordon caught a touchdown pass in Week 1, but prior to the Browns Week 2 matchup with New Orleans he was ruled out after showing up late and injured from a non-team photo shoot. The Browns announced their intentions to part ways with Gordon on September 15, citing trust issues.

On September 17 the New England Patriots completed a trade for Gordon that had them sending a 2019 fifth-round pick to Cleveland in exchange for the star. This seemed to be the perfect situation for Gordon. New England has a successful track record of dealing with troubled players and castaways. Gordon hit the ground running, starting 11 games for the Pats and logging 40 catches for 720 yards and three TDs.

There has been no indication of problems for Gordon in New England, which makes today’s announcement so shocking. One thing is without doubt, Josh Gordon is a very talented football player, but a very troubled person. We can debate the NFL’s marijuana policy until the cows come home (I think it’s ridiculous and outdated), but I think this goes much deeper than smoking weed. Gordon began getting into trouble as a child and has struggled at every stop throughout his life. He’s not been able to stay clean, even with the promise of millions of dollars if he does. We can call him an idiot, a drug addict, or a tragic figure and probably be correct on all three accounts, but the most accurate description for Josh Gordon also happens to be both the saddest and most frustrating…a waste of talent.