Playing the Spread with PMo- Week 7
Welcome to football in 2017… The more we watch the less we know. The NFL is truly a week-to-week league. Another week in the NFL has flown by and along with it another rash of injuries has stricken the league. JJ Watt, David Johnson, Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham Jr., and Eric Berry are all either out for the season or are out for an extended period. One could argue that the names mentioned above are the very best players at their respective positions in the entire league.
I’d like to preface every week by saying that I would never recommend playing every NFL game in a week. The games that I write about are the ones I am willing to put my pocket into play. The games that aren’t written about are “force leans” which means that if I had a gun to my head who would I bet on in a given matchup. Note: Lines are from the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas and are subject to change at anytime. All game times are Eastern Time Zone.
All NFL: 57–40–2
Premium NFL: 15–12–1
London Game FOX 1PM: AZ @ LAR (-3.5) AZ +3.5
The LA Rams are the new girl at school who just transferred in during summer and all the guys are smitten by her looks for the first couple of months, but then as the year wears on she becomes just another one of the girls in your grade that looks decent. I am a huge fan of what Sean McVay has done to change the culture of this organization, in particular this offense bringing some much needed creativity to a group that has unique skill players.
At the same token I have always admired the roster complexion for Arizona built by General Manager Steve Keim and his staff. The Cardinals are known for drafting versatile athletes on defense who are adept in coverage but can also blitz and bring thump. Unfortunately, the one glaring weakness of Keim over the years has been the development or lack thereof an offensive line unit. Teams can only mask the mistakes of a shoddy OL for so long into a season until it eventually catches up to them and undertakes them and that is the primary reason this talent-rich roster has failed to achieve its goals. This group was playing for the NFC Championship just 2 seasons ago when they lost to Carolina in blowout fashion.
It’s the 2nd week in a row that my most intriguing matchup of the week is diluted by the NFL as this game will be played in London, so various factors that are out of the ordinary and have little to do with football will come into play in this version of Cards-Rams. Arizona has gotten outta dodge quickly after their win vs. Tampa and left stateside early in the week to give players and coaches ample time to adjust their body clocks and sleeping patterns. London will see a familiar face this week in RB Adrian Peterson as he was just there a few weeks ago with the Saints and has been sought out by teammates and coaches for advice on what is the optimal approach to this trip. AP mentioned that he believes that it is wise to leave early probably because that is what New Orleans did and they shutout the Dolphins who arrived later that week. He also advised the guys to sleep as much as possible on the flight over the pond because that is what he failed to do a few weeks ago and he paid for it saying that he needed 3 days to adjust for jet lag.
LA is taking the opposite approach as they have opted to stay in Jacksonville for the week and will not leave for London until Thursday giving them only 3 days to adjust to the time zone. This trip will also mark the 3rd time zone change in a span of only 10 days for the Rams so even though the Rams feel good about their plan I am not sure how this one will pan out for the young team.
Finally to the gridiron aspect of this football game: Other than the devastating injuries that took place last week the biggest storyline was the relocation of AD to the desert. He out-rushed his season total in the 1st half on Sunday versus the Bucs. A game-changer for the Cards was the emergence of an offensive line who welcomed the return of left tackle DJ Humphries, who was previously sidelined since opening weekend. Stunningly, Humphries graded out the highest in run blocking among all offensive lineman in the NFL in Week 6 according to Pro Football Focus. Carson Palmer has taken shot after shot from opposing players all season but last week he was only sacked twice and one of those was on himself for not getting rid of the pigskin.
When the schedule came out the Rams saw a very long road trip to Jacksonville and London before their bye week and I believe they would’ve gladly taken a split, which they have already achieved. This is an organization that is not used to being the favorite since the Greatest Show on Turf days, so I do not want to back a young football team with a young head coach that has a target on their back for the first time in years.
It is rare in the NFL that you see a major mid-season acquisition like the Peterson move. One in which that has given Arizona rejuvenation on the offensive line and a revitalization around the rest of the locker room. The markets have not fully adjusted or accounted for this development yet so I will have a big ticket of Arizona +3.5 in pocket.
FOX 4:25PM: SEA @ NYG (+4.5) SEA -4.5
The Seattle Seahawks have the fondest of memories when visiting MetLife Stadium, which they will do on Sunday. The venue where they dominated the Denver Broncos 43–8 en route to the franchise’s lone Super Bowl victory. Seattle also has a solid history versus this organization in enemy territory as they shutout the Giants 23–0 in December 2013 when the Legion of Boom was just forging its roots. Fast-forward to 2017 and we all get the pleasure of viewing the Legion vs. the Practice Squad.
Last week I was all-in on the Denver secondary against the practice squad Giants and instead the biggest upset of the season to date occurred. The NYG secondary led by Eli Apple and Landon Collins stole the spotlight. The G-Men finally won a game last week and it was in “tear down the goal posts” fashion meaning that it was exhilarating and unexpected. “Tear down the goal posts” type victories lend themselves towards letdowns the following week because of the outpouring of emotion that was required of them to secure a major upset. I believe New York used their lack of experience to their advantage last week to a certain degree in the sense that the Denver defense wasn’t sure what to expect from a Giants unit who had a plethora of new faces inserted into the lineup.
Broncos DL Derek Wolfe: “We didn’t know what offensive lineman were playing, where they were playing, what receivers were playing, when you don’t know who’s playing, it’s hard to game plan against them.”
As shocking as last week’s result was I am not sure that anything definitive can be drawn from that Sunday Night performance. Seattle comes into this one a bit refreshed having last week off which gave them an opportunity to scout the new-look NYG offense. Sterling Shepard is questionable to play this week, but returned to practice Wednesday so he should be available to go on Sunday. This is the one silver lining I’ll give the Giants is that they will have at least one competent skill player on offense.
DangeRuss Wilson should still be running for his life from JPP, Olivier Vernon, and Snacks Harrison all game long, but he has done that all season and is the #4 QB overall in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus. Another thing that encourages me for the Seattle offense is that their two most dangerous weapons on offense Baldwin and Lockett got a much needed respite and I think we will see them start to shine as they start to get healthier which will open up the running game a bit more and defensive lines will have to show respect which should in turn allow OC Darrell Bevell to use the entire playbook. If I were to place a bet on the G-Men would I really feel confident in Eli Manning coming from behind in the 4th quarter? Seattle is 3–2 and needs this game like blood coming out of their bye week knowing they have 2 games at home following so I will trust Vegas in this one and go Seattle -5.5.
SNF NBC 8:30PM: ATL @ NE (-3.5) NE -3
This week you will hear much of the sports mediaverse talk about how we have to watch this game because it is the super bowl rematch but is it really? I am not so sure if I agree wholeheartedly with that notion for several reasons. Kyle Shanahan is no longer pushing the buttons for the ATL offense that put up glaring numbers last season. Steve Sarkisian, who only has one year of pro football coaching experience as QB coach for the Raiders back in 2004 when the game was played quite differently, is now calling plays and is finding less success than his predecessor. The Falcons have still been moving the ball pretty well so far (5th in total yards) but they haven’t been able to finish drives like they did last season.
Points per game is down from 33.8 to 24.2. Yards per play (YPP) is the highest regarded stat for Vegas wise guys and they’re down a full .5 yard per play this season from last. Matt Ryan passer rating in 2016 was 117.1 but now sitting at a measly 87.3. Dan Quinn, obviously recognizing the offensive woes, has sent Sark to the press box to rectify his play-calling mishaps despite his preference to be on the sideline. So not only is the loss of Shanahan proving to be detrimental in the preparation for each week but is there also a lack of adjustments in-game? Atlanta was heavily favored at home versus Buffalo and Miami but were outscored 33–7 in the 2nd halves of those games.
I have been waiting all year for DC Matt Patricia and Bill Belichick to outsmart the opposing offensive coaching staff but has yet to occur. Before the season began New England was viewed as big time frontrunners because of talent upgrades on both sides of the ball and it wasn’t even a question whether or not the coaches could harness that talent or not. In baseball we love to talk about corrections and regressions that are seemingly bound to occur in the near future and this is a similar feel I have for this Patriot defense. New England is dead last in YPP allowed and are also at the very bottom of the barrel on Football Outsiders Defensive Efficiency DVOA. There is no way I will bet against the mastermind to at least get this defense from putrid to average by season’s end. It started last week in the 2nd half versus the Jets holding them to just a FG. This is a work in progress that will take baby steps but I have the utmost confidence in Belichick and Patricia to right the ship.
I want to follow up the last theme of progress by highlighting an improvement from a struggling OL in New England. TB12 was sacked 16 times over the first 5 games of 2017, but allowed zero last week against a fierce NYJ front seven. The future first ballot HOFer was only hit once on the day while being pressured just four times. Pro Football Focus graded this unit as the #1 pass-blocking unit in Week 6, not to mention they still rushed for 4.7 yards per clip.
New England’s slow but sure improvement on defense by bending but not breaking combined with the complementary offensive approach of maintaining possession and keeping the chains moving should bode well for a lower score than expected from a billing that on the surface looks like a shootout. Atlanta’s inability to finish drives and uncertainty in their new offensive coordinator concerns me for Falcons fans so that leads me to an Atlanta/New England UNDER 56.
Thursday Night Football CBS 8:25PM: KC @ OAK (+3) OAK +3
CBS 1PM: TEN @ CLE (+6) CLE +6
CBS 1PM: JAX @ IND (+3) JAX -3
CBS 1PM: BAL @ MIN (-5.5) BAL +5.5
CBS 1PM: NYJ @ MIA (-3) NYJ +3
FOX 1PM: TB @ BUF (-3) TB +3
CBS 1PM: CAR @ CHI (+3) CAR -3
FOX 1PM: NO @ GB (+4.5) NO -4.5
FOX 4:05PM: DAL @ SF (+6) DAL -6
CBS 4:25PM: DEN @ LAC (-1) DEN +1
MNF ESPN 8:30PM: WAS @ PHI (-5) WAS +5
College Football: 3–10
We took the last week off because of a devastating golden sombrero going 0–5 with 2 of the losses coming by way of the dreaded half point loss which is the 2nd time this season that I’ve had 2 losses in college football by a half point in the same week. In theory I am four half-point swings away from being 7–6 but those are 50–50 games so it comes with the territory. I refuse to be discouraged by the early season results so I will keep chugging along however with a few adjustments being made with smaller bets.
NBC 7:30PM: Southern Cal @ Notre Dame (-3.5)
USC is seven games into this season with 5 of them staged in the friendly comforts of the LA Coliseum. Their only road game in a hostile environment was their lone loss of the season in Pullman to Washington State. USC has some serious depth issues at the interior of their defensive line with the retirement of Kenny Bigelow and the potential loss of DT Josh Fatu who entered the concussion protocol earlier in the week after being involved in a multi-car crash. That is one weakness you do not want to be taking with you to South Bend this season.
It is not too often when you can find an OL unit that features not one but two potential 1st round picks in LT Mike McGlinchey and LG Quenton Nelson. Those guys bolster an offensive line who has (another baseball term) been a mash unit this season paving the way for QB Brandon Wimbush and RB Josh Adams to rush their way to become the #5 rushing offense in the nation. That is a remarkable stat because it includes triple option teams who run the ball 50–60 times a game, but Notre Dame lines up and plays real ball. USC does not have a bye week this year and I believe this is the week that lack of depth combined with overall roster attrition could come to sink the Trojans while the Fighting Irish are fresh coming off their only bye week.
This is the longest road trip that any team will have the rest of this season for USC, and coming into the matchup as the less physical unit does not bode well. This is a trenches mismatch and a situational play that leads me to a Notre Dame -3.5 ticket.
Note: I am going to wait until Saturday afternoon to see if this line drops to 3 but if not I will have a -3.5 ticket in pocket by halftime of the 3:30PM games.