Saturday, December 31, 2011

College Football Bowl Preview- All New Years Eve Bowls

Record- Plays- 10-4 (2-1 on Big Plays)
Leans- 7-2

Saturday 12/31- 12:00 PM EST- Texas Bowl- Texas A+M (6-6) (-10) vs. Northwestern (6-6) O/U 70- Tex A+M has suffered through a disastrous season, mainly because of their inability to hold onto halftime leads. In 4 of their 6 losses, they lead by at least 9 at halftime only to succumb to their opponents late in games. These 4 collapses most likely lead to the firing of coach Mike Sherman, which was an unhappy surprise to his former players. In addition, interim coach and defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter is leaving to take the head coaching job at Fresno St. Everything that has happened this season indicates that the Aggies will not show well against a Northwestern team known for hanging with heavy favorites in bowl games (3-0 ATS last 3 bowl games- all as dogs). The gap between these two teams isn't as large as perception indicates. Looking at TAMU's wins, they only beat 2 bowl teams (Baylor and Iowa St.). Northwestern only defeated 1, but that was on the road against a solid Nebraska squad.

Prediction- Texas A+M takes yet another halftime lead, but Northwestern's tenacity and QB Dan Persa's ability to score quickly when needed will give the Wildcats enough to win straight up. Score- Northwestern 34-31.

Gambling Perspective- Big Play (2 units) on Northwestern +10. This line has tremendous value and take it tonight because smart players will drive this line down. Lean to the Under at 70 as this total seems too high for a Northwestern squad that improved on defense dramatically in the back half of the year.

2:00 PM EST- Sun Bowl- Ga Tech (8-4) (-2) vs. Utah (7-5) O/U 50- Looking strictly at 2nd half of the season win/loss, Utah appears to be streaking while Ga Tech is falling apart; however, analyzing their schedules, Utah's schedule eased dramatically in the 2nd half, while Tech's strengthened. The Yellow Jackets lost 4 of 6 after starting the season 6-0. Their losses came against 4 high quality opponents (at UVA, at Mia, vs VaTech, vs UGA) and they even managed to hand a solid Clemson squad their first loss of the season. Like most recent seasons, Tech's offense is elite, ranking 12th in the nation in YPP, while their defense is a pedestrian 69th. They thrive on being able to establish the run (2nd in nation in Yards per Rush at 5.7) and milk the clock, something they couldn't do in their last two losses to VaTech and Georgia. Unfortunately for Ga Tech, they're facing an opponent ranked 8th in the nation in Yards per Rush Defense, allowing a stingy 3.0 per carry. This could be an illusion as 4 teams that Utah played (Colo, Ore St., Ariz, and Wash St.) rank in the bottom 20 in the nation in rush yards per game. This will be the best unit they've faced this year.

Utah streaked towards the end of the year mainly because of a favorable schedule, facing no bowl teams in their 4-1 run to end the year. In their final game, they lost at home to a pathetic Colorado team with a chance to win the Pac-12 South. The Utes played only two teams with a winning record, blasting BYU and losing to USC early in the season. Their defense ranks highly (21st in YPP allowed), but their offense struggled all year to establish consistency, ranking 99th in YPP.

Prediction
- Although Utah's defense appears to be solid against the run, I think much of their statistical success is based on the weak rush attacks of their competition. Georgia Tech should be able to establish the run and control the clock against a clearly average Utah team. Score- GaTech 27-20.

Gambling Perspective- Strong Lean to GaTech -2. I can't make this a play in the off chance that Utah's rush defense is as good as their stats appear, but my instinct is they are a paper tiger. Not a bad play if you decide to take the Jackets here. Play under at 50. Utah can't move the ball well offensively and if GaTech establishes their rushing attack, they will look to run the clock and win a low scoring battle.

3:30 PM EST- Liberty Bowl- Vanderbilt (6-6) (-1.5) vs Cincy (9-3) O/U 49- Vanderbilt might currently be the most underrated team in the nation. Since making the change at QB to Jordan Rodgers in week 7, Vandy's offense has gone from scoring 21.7 ppg and gaining 262 ypg, to scoring 32.2 ppg and racking up 424 ypg. This improvement was not reflected in the win/loss (3-3 in 6 games), but is extremely relevant in evaluating this game. Their 3 losses with Rodgers under center came by 3 to Ark, 5 at Fla and OT at Tenn, all respectable defeats. In Cincy's early season trip to Tenn with a healthy Zach Collaros at QB, the Vols pummeled Cincy by 22. Collaros is expected to split time in the bowl game with Munchie Legaux, his inadaquate replacement during his injury.

Prediction- Not much analysis needed here as Vandy should easily handle an inferior team from an inferior conference. Beyond the improvement with Jordan Rodgers at QB, Vandy should also be motivated for a victory under 1st year head coach Tony Franklin. Score- Vandy 34-20.

Gambling Perspective- Big Play (twice your regular bet) on Vandy -1.5. This line is a joke with or without a healthy Collaros. Vandy should cover this easily. Also play the Over at 49 as this game should see plenty of scoring with Vandy's improved offense and the (kind of) return of Collaros for Cincy.

3:30 PM EST- Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl- Illinois (6-6) (-2) vs. UCLA (6-7) O/U 47-
Both of these enter the postseason having fired their head coaches. The situation might be worse, however, on the Illinois side, having also lost OC Paul Petrino to Arkansas. They also enter this bowl game as the coldest team in the country, having lost 6 consecutive games, averaging just 11 ppg in those contests. UCLA, on the other hand, established somewhat of an identity as a rushing football team late in the season and was able beat Cal and Ariz St to earn a trip to the Pac-12 title game. Their offense ranks surprisingly high at 34th in the nation in YPP, while their defense failed to stop opponents, yielding 6.0 ypp, good for 91st in the nation. Illinois has the opposite issue: while their offense ranks 104th in the nation, their defense stands firmly at #9 in YPP allowed against strong competition.

Prediction- This should be a low scoring battle (although I expect many trick plays from both sides), but I expect better focus from the UCLA side. Their late season improvement and slightly more stable staff give them the edge in this battle of teams in turmoil. Score- UCLA 20-14

Gambling Perspective- Play UCLA +2. They have team playing better right now, and the will be more focused entering the game. Strong Lean to the Under as Illinois should have issues establishing their offense, having lost both their head coach and coordinator.

7:30 PM EST- Chick-Fil-A Bowl- Auburn (7-5) (-3) vs. Virginia (8-4) O/U 49
- This is definitely a game pitting two teams heading in opposite directions. Virginia turned their season around by winning 6 of their last 8, including wins over GaTech, Miami, and Fla St. They enter this game highly motivated, since this will be their first bowl appearance under head coach Mike London. Auburn's season, conversely, peaked week 5 with a win against South Carolina. Since then, they've lost in blowout fashion to Ark, LSU, UGA, and Ala, while earning one legitimate win at home against a Florida team without their starting QB. To compound their issues, the Tigers have lost both their OC and DC since the regular season finale.

Prediction- Auburn will struggle to score points against a respectable UVA defense, and the Cavs will make enough plays offensively to earn the victory. Score- UVA 24-19.

Gambling Perspective- Play UVA +3. Auburn has no business being a favorite in this game. UVA will handle their offense and come away with a straight up victory. Strong Lean on the under at 49 because of Auburn's inability to establish consistency on offense and UVA's proclivity towards winning close, low scoring games.

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Friday, December 30, 2011

College Football Bowl Preview- Insight Bowl- Oklahoma vs. Iowa

by John Huffstetler

10:00 PM EST- Oklahoma (9-3) (-14) vs. Iowa (7-5) O/U 58
- This write-up will be short and sweet. Throw out every stat from the regular season, they're meaningless here. This game will be decided on one factor: Iowa is excited to be here and Oklahoma is not. Before the regular season finale against Oklahoma St., Oklahoma had BCS bowl and Big 12 title aspirations. After getting thrashed by the Cowboys, the Sooners must now face a 7-5 team as two td favorites. To add to their issues, Oklahoma has once again this year battled several key injuries, most notably star receiver Ryan Broyles. Iowa, on the other hand, comes into this game highly motivated to win having endured a difficult regular season. In previous bowl season, Kirk Ferentz has willed strong performances out of his Hawkeye squad as substantial underdogs.

Prediction- Iowa hangs tight with the Sooners using a solid rushing attack, but Oklahoma wakes up in the 4th quarter for a tight victory. Score Oklahoma 28 Iowa 25.

Gambling Perspective
- Plays- 10-3 (2-0 on big plays)
Leans- 7-2

Play Iowa +14 and make it a big play (double your standard bet)
. Bowl games are all about motivation and playing the less talented Iowa team here is the savvy play. No lean on the over/under.

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College Football Bowl Preview- Pinstripe Bowl- Rutgers vs. Iowa St.

Friday 12/31- 3:20 PM EST- Rutgers (8-4) (-1) vs. Iowa St. (6-6) O/U 44.5- In a weak Big East conference, Rutgers had a relatively impressive season. Three of their four losses can be considered "good" losses, with two 2-point defeats on the road against bowl teams (UNC and L-Ville) and one late 4th quarter loss to West Virginia. At times, Rutgers defense was dominant, holding Cincy to 3 points, Pitt to 10, SFla to 17, and L-Ville to 16. They rank 32nd nationally, allowing 5.0 YPP, which is critical to their success considering their struggles offensively (109th in YPP). Iowa St.'s season was largely defined by two overtime wins against Iowa and Oklahoma St. Take out those two games, their season appears disastrous. They lost convincingly by double digits to 5 of their 6 opponents, managing to lose by only a TD to Kansas St. in the finale. They have struggled both offensively and defensively to establish consistency, ranking 89th and 73rd respectively in YPP. There is a strong home-field advantage in this game for Rutgers, as well, since the game will be played in Yankee Stadium.

Prediction- Rutgers defensive until will be the best on the field. Iowa St. has the potential to move the ball on the ground against this Scarlet Knights, but I don't think that will happen. Rutgers will play a conservative, grind it out game in front of the virtual home crowd and emerge victorious. Score- 23-17 Rutgers.

Gambling Perspective- Plays- 9-3 (2-0 on Big Plays)
Leans- 6-1

Play Rutgers -1. Iowa St. gained credibility from the betting market by winning a fluky overtime game against a highly ranked opponent. Rutgers proved all year to be the more solid squad, and the crowd advantage only adds to the playability of this game. Lean under 44.5. This is only a lean because of the poor nature of Iowa St.'s defense and the potential for Iowa St. to establish a ground game against Rutgers. The best unit on the field is the Rutgers defense, however, so an under play is somewhat acceptable.

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College Football Bowl Preview- Armed Forces Bowl- BYU vs. Tulsa

by John Huffstetler

Friday Dec 31st- 12:00 PM EST- Tulsa (8-4) (-1) vs. BYU (9-3) O/U 56
- On paper, this match-up looks like a pair of "hot" teams entering a bowl game on long winning streaks (BYU 8-1 in last 9, Tulsa 7-1 in last 8), but a look at the level of competition makes these streaks much less impressive. BYU played a laughable schedule in their first season as an independent team, playing only 4 bowl teams. In those games, they lost to Texas and TCU in respectable close games, beat Utah St. at home by only 3, and were blasted by rival Utah by 44. In fairness, BYU did show dramatic improvement during the season, precipitated by the switch at quarterback to the versatile Riley Nelson. Since he became the starter at QB, BYU is 6-2 ATS and have averaged 37.9 ppg, albeit against below average competition. Similarly, Tulsa's streak was based mainly on an ease in level of competition. After playing a murderous September (away games against Okla, Okla St, and Boise St.), the Golden Hurricane settled in to a routine conference schedule and racked up wins in bunches. After September, they played only 3 bowl teams, pummeling Marshall and SMU, and getting embarrassed by a solid Houston squad.

Prediction- Neither team impresses me all that much. This game should remain close throughout. The extra time to prepare for the bowl game should benefit BYU by allowing Riley Nelson more practice time at QB to gel with the offense. I will give a slight nod to BYU because of that factor. 35-33 BYU.

Gambling Perspective- Plays- 9-3 (2-0 on Big Plays)
Leans- 6-1

No lean on the spread. Any bet on who would win this game is purely a guess. There is no angle to play, besides the improvement of BYU's offense under Nelson. Strong Lean over the total of 56. 9 of Tulsa's 12 games have reached this posted total and BYU's offensive improvement should provide enough firepower to push this over 56. I hesitate to make this a play because Tulsa struggled to put together solid offensive performances against Okla, Boise St, and Houston, averaging only 17 points in these match-ups, and BYU does have a solid enough defense to slow them down.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

College Football Bowl Preview- Alamo Bowl- Baylor vs. Washington

Thursday 9:00 pm EST- Baylor (9-3) (-9.5) vs. Washington (7-5) O/U 78.5- Baylor is the hottest team in country entering this bowl season. They have won 5 straight, including 3 wins against bowl teams, and their offense scored more than 30 points in every game this season. They also enter this game highly motivated, having lost in embarrassing fashion in their home state last year in the Texas Bowl against Illinois. They play this game once again in their home state against a Washington team that failed to step up in class all season. In their 4 toughest games this year (at Nebraska, at Stanford, vs Oregon, and at USC), they went 0-4 losing by an average of 24.3 points. Conversely, Baylor played 8 bowl teams this year going 5-3, including wins over Oklahoma, TCU, Texas and Misszou.

Prediction- Baylor dominates this game using their explosive offense, while getting just enough stops from their defense. Both teams rank in the bottom 25 in the nation in defensive YPP, so this will be a high scoring affair. Baylor will come out with a great performance in their home state this time around. 56-35 Baylor wins.

Gambling Perspective- Plays- 8-3 (1-0 on big plays)
Leans- 6-1

Play Baylor -9.5 and double your standard bet. RG III and the Bears have a virtually unstoppable offense. I expect Baylor to win the turnover battle and make the key plays needed to push this game into double digits. No lean on the total. These two teams could hit 100, but the total is too high to consider.

College Football Bowl Preview- Champs Sports Bowl- Notre Dame vs. Florida St.

by John Huffstetler

Thursday- 5:30 PM EST- Champs Sports Bowl- Florida St. (8-4) (-3.5) vs. Notre Dame (8-4) O/U 46.5- A disappointing season for both of these squads who entered the 2011 campaign with BCS aspirations. Florida St.'s season ended with 3 early season losses to Okla, Clem and Wake Forest, the first two of which came without starting QB EJ Manuel. Although consistency on offense became an issue all season, the defense was less than spectacular in their losses to WF and Clem, allowing 35 points in each contest. Outside of those two games, the defense performed magnificently all year, allowing just 11.2 points per game in their other 10 contests. For the season, the defense ranked 5th nationally allowing just 4.1 yards per play (YPP). While the defense struggled in early losses, the offense struggled in the last two games, scoring just 14 points each in games against Virginia and Florida (7 pts came from a defensive score) and gaining just 95 yards in the finale against Florida.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame's season was over after just two games, losing a sloppy game to South Florida, and then collapsing in a 2nd week loss to Michigan. Outside of a week 3 drubbing of Michigan St, the rest of their season was uneventful, losing to their two quality foes easily; however, they did beat 4 low-end bowl teams in that stretch (Air Force, Wake Forest, Purdue, and Pitt). The offense can put up points in bunches (59 vs Air Force, 56 vs Navy, 45 vs Maryland and 38 vs Purdue) and ranks 26th in YPP, but struggled to find consistency posting 20 points or less 5 times this year. Their defense was their more consistent unit down the stretch holding their last 5 opponents to 16.2 ppg.

Prediction- Both teams will struggle to find their rhythm offensively as both teams are playing terrific defense late in the season. I expect Florida St. with their stronger defensive unit and better athletes to outlast the Irish in a defensive battle. Score-20-16 Florida St.


Gambling Perspective- Plays- 7-3 (1-0 on big plays)
Leans- 6-1

No lean on the spread
. Florida St is playable at less than 3, but this could easily be a field goal game. If I see a Fla St. -2.5 before kick, I will consider it. Play the Under at 46.5. These offenses will struggle and points will be at a premium in this field position battle.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

College Football Bettors Preview- Military Bowl and Holiday Bowl

by John Huffstetler

Plays- 5-2
Leans- 5-1

Wednesday 4:30 PM EST- Military Bowl- Toledo (8-4) (-3) vs. Air Force (7-5) O/U 70.5- Two efficient top 30 offenses square off in Washington DC tomorrow with a strong chance for fireworks. Like every MAC team (outside of Temple), Toledo struggles to stop opposing offenses, ranking 86th in the country in Opponents Yards Per Play (YPP). Their offense is nothing short of dominant, ranking 13th in YPP and 8th in points scored. Like fellow MAC member, Western Michigan, they are the definition of an "over" team. Meanwhile, Air Force is equally strong offensively ranking 2nd in the nation in rush yards per game and 27th in YPP. Their defense is nothing spectacular either allowing 5.6 YPP, good for 76th in the nation.

Analyzing both teams success this season, Toledo's resume impresses more. Although they played in a weaker conference, the Rockets dominated conference play with only one loss by 3 to Northern Illinois. They also played a formidable out of conference schedule, losing close games to Ohio St and Syracuse (even though they won against Cuse- Remember the missed extra point call) and getting handled by Boise St. Air Force played in the tougher conference, but failed to win a single game this year against above .500 competition (including a road beating by Notre Dame and home losses to Wyoming, TCU, and SD St.). The conference as a whole has been unimpressive this season outside of Boise St. (1-3 overall ATS), and is already 0-1 head-to-head against the MAC.

Play- Play Toledo -3 and the Over at 70.5. The Over will be my first 2 unit play of the bowl season (double your standard bet). This game should be high scoring and I expect Toledo to get the better end of this shootout.

8:00 EST- Holiday Bowl- Texas (7-5) (-3.5) vs. California (7-5) O/U 47.5- Two teams that struggled to find offensive continuity this season square off in the Holiday Bowl this season. Texas, while establishing a strong rushing attack, never found continuity at the QB position, switching between Case McCoy and David Ash. As a result, they never consistently established strong offensive outputs all year against high-caliber competition (averaging just 23.9 ppg against bowl teams). Despite playing 9 bowl teams this year, they managed to rank an impressive 12th defensively in opponents yards per play, good for 1st in a loaded Big 12.

Cal similarly struggled to establish offensive success against their bowl-bound opponents, averaging just 24.3 ppg. Their defense statistically does not match up with Texas', however, as Cal ranked just 56th in defensive YPP against weaker competition. They also struggled mightily away from home with their two road wins coming against a weak Colorado team in OT and a backsliding Ariz St team in the regular season finale.

Play- Slight lean Texas -3.5. I'm hoping the line will drop to 3 and become playable again, but laying the hook with a team that struggles offensively doesn't interest me. Lean under the total of 47.5. I think this is an acceptable play, but I'm worried that the offense could be so bad that it actually allows the defense to score a few points and provides the opposing offenses with short fields.

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BELK Bowl Bettors Preview- NC St. vs Louiville

by John Huffstetler

Plays- 5-1
Leans 4-1

Tuesday 8:00 PM EST- NC St. (7-5) (-2) vs. Louisville (7-5) O/U 44- This game matches two teams who started their respective seasons slowly. NC St. started 2-3 with their only wins coming against Non-FBS foes, while Louisville started the season 2-4 with two pathetic home losses to Florida International and Marshall. Both teams, however, managed to salvage their seasons with strong efforts in the 2nd half in conference play. Louisville tied for the conference lead with a 5-2 record, including an impressive road victory against the Big East BCS automatic qualifier, West Virginia. Impressive coaching from Charlie Strong and a mid-season switch to true frosh Teddy Bridgewater at QB precipitated the late season surge. Meanwhile, NC St. strengthened late because of improved health and performance on the defensive side of the ball, with Terrell Manning and JR Sweezy returning after missing early season games. Entering the 11th game of the season, the Wolfpack lacked a signature win, but then they managed to upset eventual ACC champion, Clemson, in blow out fashion (37-13).

Play- Both teams are clearly better than earlier in the season, but the early season losses to Fla Intl and Marshall and the overall weakness of the Big East make Louisville impossible to play. I don't entirely trust NC St. either. Louisville has an outstanding run defense and should be able to make NC St. one-dimensional. Slight Lean to NC St. because of the weakness of the Big East. Play the Under at 44. Although L-Ville managed to put points on the board late in the season against WVA, SFlorida, and UConn, NC St's defense is a step up in class from these squads. As mentioned before, LVille's outstanding run defense should limit NC St. offensively and force Mike Glennon to win the game with his arm, which might not happen.

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CFB Little Caesers Bowl Bettors Preview- Western Michigan and Purdue

Plays- 5-1
Leans- 4-1

4:30 EST Tuesday- Purdue (6-6) (-3) vs. Western Michigan (7-5) O/U 60- Tomorrow, Purdue will play their first bowl game since 2007 and also the first of the Danny Hope era. They will be highly motivated for this contest against an offensively strong Bronco squad. This WMich team, who averaged 6.2 YPP (good for 18th in the nation) will return starting QB Alex Carder to the field after he missed the regular season finale against Akron with a shoulder injury. Their offensive efficiency partially masks their defensive failings. As most MAC teams, WMich's defense is sub-par, allowing 6.2 YPP (ranked 101st in the nation). Purdue, meanwhile, struggles to move the ball offensively, gaining just 4.8 YPP. 10 of their 12 games this year finished under the posted total of 60 for this game.

Play- While Purdue will come out highly motivated for this contest, nothing impresses me about their regular season results or stats. Western Mich plays solid defense, but struggles to make key defensive stops or step up in class against major conference foes. No lean on the spread. The over/under will be interesting as Western Michigan is a prototypical "over" team, while Purdue remains an "under" squad. If the score goes either very low or high at half, I will look to make a halftime play. No lean on the O/U either.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fat Albert

Interesting stat I heard today: The Patriots are 6-0 since they got rid of Haynesworth.  The Buccaneers are 0-6 since their acquisition of Haynesworth.

Independence Bowl Bettors Preview- North Carolina vs. Missouri

Plays- 4-1
Leans- 3-1

5:30 EST Monday- Missouri (7-5) (-5.5) vs. UNC (7-5) O/U 52.5- Few teams in the country battled more injury issues than the Missouri Tigers this year. Entering this bowl game, they are the healthiest they've been since before the season. They also enter this game streaking, having won 5 of their last 7 games. Meanwhile, UNC enters this bowl game having lost 4 of 6, including an embarrassing 13-0 shut out at rival NC St. Comparing these teams schedules, Missouri played the 15th toughest schedule in the country, while UNC played the 57th. Missouri's 5 losses were all of high quality (OT at Ariz St, by 10 at #19 Okla, by 7 at #10 Kan St, by 21 vs #3 Okla St, and by 3 at #16 Baylor), while UNC also lost all 5 of their games to .500 or above competition. From a YPP (Yards Per Play) perspective, both teams have an advantage offensively against each others defense.

Play- The difference in this game might be coaching. With UNC interim coach Everett Withers headed to Ohio St, its hard to believe his coaching level will rival Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel's. Since we have a motivated, healthy, and streaking Tigers squad, Play Missouri -5.5. They should be able to move the ball offensively with ease, while making just enough stops to cover the number. Slight lean also to the over with this number seeming a bit low for these two offensively efficient squads. The inconsistency of UNC and the shakiness of Missouri's kicker will keep this at a lean.

NBA Offseason Biggest Winners and Losers

Winners

1) Los Angeles Clippers- Obviously, when you add one of the top 3 players in the league, your offseason was successful. Chris Paul immediately vaults the Clippers into title contenders. His ability to distribute the basketball and score efficiently while limiting turnovers elevates everyone else on the floor. In addition, they added several other interesting veteran pieces to surround CP3. With Caron Butler, the Clips add some necessary help at the wing with Eric Gordon departing in the Paul trade. Although the Mavs title run came without Butler, prior to his injury, he was averaging 15 ppg and a career high 43% from 3 pt range. The Chauncey Billups signing is more of a luxury then a necessity as the Clips already have Mo Williams, but adding a veteran of his quality known for his ability to make big shots in crunch time can’t hurt. Their most underrated offseason signing was Reggie Evans, an aggressive, elite rebounder with the ability to defend any center in the NBA. Overall, the Clippers offseason was superb.

2) New York Knicks- Both the Knicks and the Dallas Mavericks offseason success hinged on the movement of one player: Tyson Chandler. His presence immediately upgrades the Knicks previously pathetic defense. There is no questioning that Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire are two of the most prolific scorers in the league; however, ignored about these two all-stars is their pathetic defense (111 points per 100 possessions while on the floor together). If Chandler can simply get them as a unit to play adequately (not bottom 10 in the league), they have a strong chance to win the Atlantic Division. The rest of their offseason was a wash, losing Billups and some other pieces while gaining Mike Bibby and Baron Davis. Baron Davis might become a meaningful pick up if he can regain his 2009 form as a much-needed back up to Toney Douglas at the point.

3) Miami Heat- Much like the Knicks, the Miami offseason success derives from the acquisition of a defensive stalwart, Shane Battier. He can defend three positions at an elite level and add some much-needed 3-pt shooting acumen to this Heat roster, giving an already elite defensive stop unit more capability to shut down opponents. Simply getting healthier this offseason improves the Heat as well. Although Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller managed to return for the playoffs last year, they were limited and performed below their potential level of play. Getting Haslem (and soon Miller) healthy gives this team extra depth and more pieces to compliment their elite stars.

4) Minnesota Timberwolves- Quietly, the T-Wolves enjoyed a terrific offseason. Not only did they add future stud, Derrick Williams, through the draft, they also (finally) have Ricky Rubio joining the squad from Spain. Rubio brings a flair for distributing the basketball and a much needed pass-first mentality to a team riddled in recent years with selfish individual players (see Sebastian Telfair). They also managed to add to veteran pieces with postseason success in Jose Juan Barea and Brad Miller to round out the roster. Barea, in particular, will provide a terrific spark off the bench in the same role he played with the Mavs.

Losers

1) Dallas Mavericks- The defending champs did not help their chances to repeat this offseason, losing several key pieces to free agency. As mentioned earlier, the loss of Tyson Chandler is huge. He solidified their center position for the first time in over a decade and his departure leaves a gaping hole in the middle to be filled by Brendan Haywood (?). The loss of Caron Butler looms large as well despite their ability to win the title with him on the sideline. His departure paved the way for Vince Carter to sign with the Mavs. By adding Carter, the Mavs get a much less efficient and consistent scorer and a below-average defensive player. The Barea loss is significant, but getting a healthy Roddy Beaubois in the mix will soften the blow. The one redeeming quality of this offseason was getting Lamar Odom gift-wrapped by the Lakers after their vetoed Paul trade failed. His ability to back up both forward positions will add a new dimension to the Mavs roster. Overall, though, this team became significantly worse at two positions (SG and C) and continues to try and survive with an aging nucleus of over-the-hill former stars.

2) Detroit Pistons- The Pistons had no choice but to jettison their long-time star in Richard Hamilton, but his absence still makes the current team worse. His ability to move without the basketball and play scrappy defense against both guard spots makes him a valuable player. They also lost Chris Wilcox, who played well last year, providing defense and rebounding to a Pistons team that lacked post talent. Joe Dumars also continues to make the wrong decisions in free agent signings. After the disgraceful signings of Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva a few off-seasons ago, he decided this year to resign Rodney Stuckey to a lucrative contract. Stuckey has shown zero capability to run an offense from the PG position and his career 42% fg pct and lack of range make him inadequate to play shooting guard. His resigning is just another in a long line of horrible decisions by this franchise, which is years away from a future playoff appearance.

3) Portland Trailblazers- This franchise has made some terrific acquisitions over the past few years, but they continually lose players to injuries. The most disappointing news this NBA offseason by far was the retirement of Brandon Roy. This Blazers franchise and fan base will sorely miss his unlimited potential and leadership ability. To add to the bad news, Greg Oden suffered yet another setback in his injury recovery and might not play this year. While the Blazers did add sharpshooter Jamal Crawford to the mix, the offseason remains a failure because of circumstances out of their control. While the product on the court remains playoff caliber with several strong defensive players on the roster, Roy made them a title contender. Now, they will certainly be watching the finals from home.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Hawaii Bowl Bettors Preview- Southern Miss vs Nevada

Plays- 3-1
Leans- 3-1

8:00 EST- Southern Miss (11-2) (-8.5) vs Nevada (7-5) O/U 63- Similarly to the Boise St./Ariz St. contest, this match-up will be determined by motivation. Since Southern Miss pulled off their season-defining upset of Houston to win the C-USA title, two setbacks have occurred: 1) Head Coach Larry Fedora agreed to take the UNC head coaching job, and 2) The Liberty Bowl passed over the Golden Eagles in favor of matching the Big East and the SEC in a move the C-USA commissioner called "very disappointing." Fedora remains on to coach Southern Miss as the travel far west now to Hawaii to face a capable Nevada team.

Southern Miss, however, is one of the stronger teams in the country from a yards per play perspective, ranking in the top 20 both offensively and defensively. Although Nevada was 9th offensively in YPP, their defense struggled mightily stopping the run allowing 4.5 yards per carry. Nevada's pass defense, though, posted a respectable 6.8 yards per pass attempt.

Play- If Southern Miss shows up for the game highly motivated, they will handle Nevada with ease; however, their motivation is highly in question and they must deal with the dreaded "lame-duck" coach scenario. Play Nevada +8.5 and play it soon, as the line continues to drop. No lean on the over/under.

6 Things to Expect in the Pre-New Years Bowl games

1) The Big East is terrible- I know, many people already know this, but it is still worth mentioning. Before New Years, 3 Big East teams will take the field in their respective bowl games: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC St. on 12/27, Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa St on 12/30, and Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vandy on 12/31. Cincy and L-Ville tied for the “coveted” Big East conference title; however, since WVa had the highest BCS rank, they “earned” the conference’s BCS bid this season. Looking at the resumes, these teams are 2-5 out of conf. against quality opponents (major conference or mid-major above .500).

Cincy slaughtered Nc St at home and Rutgers beat Ohio for the two wins. Of the 5 losses, 3 were embarrassing: Lville lost home games to both Fla Intl and Marshall, and Cincy went to Tenn and lost by 22. By comparison, Cincy’s opponent, Vandy, also went to Tenn and lost an overtime heartbreaker. Of these 3, I give Rutgers the best shot to win, since they have the most impressive resume and should have a great home-field advantage in Yankee Stadium. I also believe they are the most complete team in the conference. However, be cautious to support Cincy and L-Ville, they have inflated records and I expect poor showings in their bowl games.

2) Don’t underestimate Florida St.’s defense- After a horrendous start to the season with 3 straight losses to Okla, Clem, and Wake, the Noles have won 6 of 7 by dominating on the defensive side of the ball. Outside of the SEC, there isn’t a better defensive team in the country the 2nd half of the year than Florida St. They have allowed an average of 11.3 ppg and 268 ypg in their last 7 contests. Granted, the competition was weak and their offense has been unspectacular, but a defense this dominant deserves respect. In addition, this team lost two games without starting QB, EJ Manuel. Anyone believing Notre Dame’s offense will put up points against this strong FSU defense should temper those expectations.

3) Missouri is better than a 7-5 team- Not only were the Tigers crushed by injuries this year on both sides of the football, but they also played the 15th toughest schedule in the country. Their 5 losses came at the hands of 5 bowl teams, 4 of which were on the road. They lost in OT at Ariz St, by 10 at #19 Okla, by 7 at #10 Kan St, by 21 vs #3 Okla St, and by 3 at #16 Baylor. They enter Monday’s game against UNC healthier than they have been all year and playing their best football (won 5 of 7). Expect a quality showing against a mediocre UNC squad.

4) Expect a shootout in Washington DC- Toledo handled Head Coach Tim Beckman’s departure for Illinois admirably by hiring rising-star OC Matt Campbell to replace him. Toledo averaged 42.3 ppg this year, with their lowest offensive outputs coming against Ohio St (22 pts) and Boise St (15 pts). Beyond these two contests against difficult competition, Toledo provided offensive fireworks all season. The problem is, they could not stop anyone either. They were 89th in the country in points against allowing 30.9 ppg.

Turning attention to Air Force, their offense appears equally dynamic, holding the 2nd leading rush offense in the nation while averaging 34.4 ppg. While they are a ball control offense, they’re ability to put up points in bunches, coupled with Toledo’s offensive capability create the potential for a high scoring affair. I expect this game to go above the posted total of 70 and for both teams to finish this shootout with impressive offensive numbers.

5) Auburn’s offense is dreadful- Since the Tigers hit October, they have averaged a paltry 19.3 ppg. Although several games have been against the top defenses in the country (Ala, LSU, and SC), this average is not indicative of a defending national champ. To add to the issues, OC Gus Malzahn bolted to take the Ark St head coaching job. Its hard to expect Auburn’s offense to execute at a high level against UVA with the staff in turmoil (DC Ted Roof also leaving) and a noticeable lack of offensive weapons to begin with. I expect Aub to struggle to score against a competitive UVA defense.

6) Vanderbilt is the most underrated team in the country- As I mentioned in an earlier piece, if Vandy were named “Florida,” they would be favored by a touchdown in this game. Since the Commodores turned over full QB duties to Jordan Rodgers in game 7, the offense has flourished, losing 3 games vs. #7 Ark by 3, at Fla by 5, and at Tenn in OT. This team, which lost 10 games last year, proved their mettle this season and I expect a terrific showing from Vandy in the Liberty Bowl.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Las Vegas Bowl Bettors Preview- Boise St. vs Arizona St.

Bowl Record- Plays- 2-1
Leans- 2-1

8:00 EST- Boise St. (11-1) (-14) vs. Arizona St. (6-6) O/U-66- Make no mistake, the talent gap between these two teams is not that sizable; however, there are several reasons Boise is lined as a two touchdown favorite. Ariz St's motivation is highly questionable after a late season collapse and the firing of head coach, Dennis Erickson. After 8 games, the Sun Devils were 6-2 and a virtual lock for the Pac-12 South Title. After that, they went 1-5 and were left out of the title game. Now, they will face a formidable Bronco team with a lame duck coach leading a back-sliding team.

Boise has issues of their own. They have not covered a game since Oct. 15th (6 straight ATS losses). In addition, this team was hoping for a BCS appearance. Now, they need to play a pre-christmas bowl game against a .500 ball club; nonetheless, they have 25 seniors on the roster who will want to finish their careers on a positive note.

Play- Slight Lean to Boise St. I can't trust them with an 0-6 ATS record to end the year, especially against a team with equal (if not better) talent. I do think it's a strong possibility that Ariz St does not show up, so I will be interested to see what happens in the 1st half. Depending on Ariz St's effort (or lack thereof), a 2nd half wager could be a decent play. Play the Over at 66. When two teams come in with questionable motivation, the offenses tend to outplay the defenses. With two nfl-caliber starting qb's looking to showcase their talents, 66 is an attainable number.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

St. Petersburg Bowl Bettors Preview

Bowl Record: Plays- 2-1
Leans- 2-0


8:00 EST- Fla Intl (8-4) (-4) vs. Marshall (6-6) O/U 49- Marshall struggled with two tight wins late to gain bowl eligibility, while Fla Intl had the best record since program inception. That being said, The Thundering Herd clearly played the superior schedule (127 vs 55). These teams had one common opponent in Louisville and both went on the road to beat the mediocre big east squad (what does that tell you about L-Ville and the big east as a whole!). Fla Intl excelled this year with an efficient offense that protected the football beautifully (1 TO per game). They will also be playing just 3 hours from campus and should have tremendous fan support.

Play- Slight lean Fla Intl -4. I'd like to play it but the -4 is too high. My gut says they are a better team and I have no interest in the points with Marshall. If Fla Intl gets down in the first half, look for a potential 2nd half wager, as this team is capable of coming from behind. No lean on the over/under.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday's Bettors ATS Bowl Game Preview

2 pm EST- New Mexico Bowl- Temple (-7) vs. Wyoming O/U 51- Neither of these teams was expected to have 8 wins at the beginning of the season; however, both these squads established strong offensive identities and achieved many of their preseason goals. The travel edge here goes to Wyoming as they will have a short jaunt over to New Mexico to play in a stadium they visit every other season in conference play. Both teams should be highly motivated entering this contest with no coaching or off-the-field issues.

Temple's strong rushing attack, led by Bernard Pierce, keys their team's success, and Wyoming's rushing D has proven to be vulnerable against tough competition (333 yards to Nebraska, 318 to Utah State, 390 to TCU and 312 to Air Force, 282 to San Diego State and 200 to Boise State). This should prove to be the difference in this game as Temple's D has proven to be of high quality most of the season. Wyoming's spread attack is formidable, however, and I'm not willing to go against a team that covered and won at Air Force and SD St. and covered at Boise.

Play- No play on the spread but slight lean towards Temple -7. Play the over at 51 as both teams should have offensive success throughout the game.

5:30 pm EST- Idaho Potato Bowl- Utah St. (-1.5) vs. Ohio -1.5 O/U 61.5- Another distinct travel advantage against the MAC team as must travel west to face a Utah St team with a short commute and experience on the blue turf at Boise from last season. The motivation edge is also strongly in Utah St's favor as they enter their first bowl game since the 1990's, while Ohio must rebound from collapsing with a 20-0 halftime lead to lose the MAC championship game. Utah St also enters this game off of 5 consecutive wins after impressive early season tight losses at Auburn and BYU.

Play- I expect Utah St to have a terrific showing against a reeling Ohio team who has failed to cover their last 3 bowl games. Play Utah St. -1.5. No play or lean on the Over/Under.

9:00 pm EST- New Orleans Bowl- SD St. (-5) vs. La-Lafayette O/U 59.5
- The Ragin Cajuns will be making their first bowl appearance in 41 years when they take the field Saturday night. They have a distinct travel advantage playing in their home state. Additionally, they have sold 18,500 tickets to the game, while SD St has only sold 1,000. This will be a home-field crowd for LaLaf tonight.

From an x's and o's standpoint, SD St. is clearly a better team playing in a tougher league. Their star sophomore RB Ronnie Hillman is NFL caliber and should have a great game. If SD St can limit turnovers (10th in the nation in TO margin) and get Hillman going, they should be able to put up points against a team that allowed 61 points to Okla St and 45 points to Ariz in their two games against higher competition this year. Lafayette's offense can put up points in bunches as well. They scored 34 and 37, respectively, in those losses at Okla St and Ariz. Their 31.8 ppg is good for 31st in the nation. Their

Play- With the home crowd behind them, the Cajuns should be able to cover the 5 points. Strong Lean LaLafayette +5. The over at 59.5 could also be attainable with two efficient offenses playing. Slight lean over 59.5

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Picking Every Week 15 NFL Game ATS

Pick in CAPS

Jacksonville (+12) @ ATLANTA

Jacksonville has been playing with some intensity under interim head coach Mel Tucker.  Look for Jones-Drew to continue having success on the ground, and I expect a few turnovers from Matt Ryan.  I think this one stays close, but I can't legitimately put my money on the Jaguars, and the Falcons are good at stopping the run.  If Blaine Gabbert is forced to win this game, it's going to be a long day for the Jaguars.  But the Falcons are 2-2-2 ATS at home this year, which isn't very compelling.  All things considered, I would steer clear of this line, but for our compulsive bettors, take the Falcons.

Atlanta 28, Jacksonville 14

DALLAS (-7) @ Tampa Bay

Dallas has had two heart-breaking games in a row, and they just lost Demarco Murray for the year.  Needless to say, luck has not been on their side.  But I see this as one of the more favorable lines this week.  The Bucs have lost 7 straight, and they looked absolutely awful last week against the Jags.  The Cowboys are mad, and the Bucs just made themselves Dallas' punching bag for the week.  Take the Cowboys and get some free money.

Dallas 38, Tampa Bay 17

Washington (+7) @ NY GIANTS

The last time these two teams met, the Redskins came away with a two touchdown win in Week 1.  The game will be completely different this time around, as the Redskins offense, and in particular offensive line, has been decimated by injuries.  I'd expect the Giants to pressure Rex Grossman, and he will make some costly mistakes.  Look for the Giants to win this one by a few scores.

NY Giants 31, Washington 19

GREEN BAY (-14) @ Kansas City

The Chiefs looked awful last week.  They have Tyler Palko at quarterback.  I don't care how solid the defense plays, they won't keep this game within 14 points.  Green Bay all the way in this one.

Green Bay 38, Kansas City 7

NEW ORLEANS (-7) @ Minnesota

The Saints are always clicking on all cylinders when they play indoors, so barring another Metrodome collapse, I see this one being a blowout.  Also, the Saints are playing for the division and a first round bye, so a victory is huge for them.

New Orleans 38, Minnesota 24

SEATTLE (+3.5) @ Chicago

I was pretty surprised to see the Seahawks getting points in this one, considering how well the defense has been playing.  I think the Hawks win this game, as Caleb Hanie has really been struggling at QB for the Bears.  Also, the Over/Under is 36, and I'd be very inclined to take the UNDER in this one.

Seattle 17, Chicago 10

Carolina (+6.5) @ HOUSTON

Houston is 9-3-1 ATS this year, including 4-1-1 at home.  Despite losing their starting quarterback, best wide receiver, and best defensive player, they are finding ways to win and cover.  This week, Wade Phillips took a leave of absence, but I expect the running game to excel against a porous Panthers defense.  Look for Foster and Tate to both have big days.

Houston 31, Carolina 21

TENNESSEE (-7) @ Indianapolis

Indianapolis is 1-5 ATS this year at home, and they might be the worst team in NFL history without Manning.  On the other hand, Tennessee has played well on the road this year, and you pretty much have to take them in this one.  The Titans have a good defense, and the Colts will struggle to score just like last week against the Ravens.

Tennesse 24, Indianapolis 13

CINCINNATI (-6.5) @ St. Louis

St. Louis is 2-11 ATS this year, and their two covers have been in their 2 victories.  They won't win this game, and they won't cover.  Bengals defense is too tough.

Cincinnati 27, St. Louis 14

DETROIT (-1.5) @ Oakland

The Raiders haven't looked good lately, and Carson Palmer has been turnover prone.  Also, the Raiders have struggled ATS at home this year.  I would pick the Lions here, but it is not one of the better lines this week.  The Raiders are a decent football team, so they could always surprise you.

Detroit 28, Oakland 24

NEW ENGLAND (-6) @ Denver

Denver is 1-4-1 ATS at home this year, and they haven't been great in the first three quarters.  If Tim Tebow and the offense can show up and play all four quarters, then they have a legitimate chance of winning this game.  But I see the Patriots racking up an insurmountable lead early, and the Broncos doing their best to come back late.  I like New England here.

New England 31, Denver 23

New York Jets (+3) @ PHILADELPHIA

I'm not buying into the Jets offense suddenly being good, or Shonn Greene suddenly being a great running back.  I think this team is brought back down to Earth this week, and the Eagles win by a good margin.  The Eagles still have two things to play for:  they are holding onto slim playoff hopes, and if that doesn't work out they may still be able to end this season with their pride (although unlikely).  I like the Eagles.

Philadelphia 31, New York Jets 21

Cleveland (+7) @ ARIZONA

If there's one thing I learned the past two weeks, it's don't bet against the Cardinals at home.  They have looked rock solid these past few weeks, and this defense is playing as well as anyone right now.  Couple that with Larry Fitzgerald playing like we are used to, and you have a recipe for victory.

Arizona 24, Cleveland 9

BALTIMORE (-2.5) @ San Diego

I laughed a little when I saw this line.  San Diego isn't good.  Ravens win.

Baltimore 24, San Diego 17

Pittsburgh (+2.5) @ SAN FRANCISCO

San Francisco is 6-0-1 ATS at home this year.  This is the only reason I picked the 49ers.  Before seeing that statistic, I was leaning heavily towards the Steelers.  I would steer clear of this one, as this game is the definition of a toss-up.

San Francisco 16, Pittsburgh 13

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Tebowmania: Is it Warranted?

In Week 7, we were awed by Tim's final three minutes against Miami, in which the Broncos became the first team to win a game after trailing by 15 points through 57 minutes of play.  After one game as the starter in Denver, even if it was against a winless Dolphins team, Tebow was able to create a reputation, an almost super-human aura.

But then Week 8 rolled around, Tebow completed only 18 of his 39 passes, threw an interception, and fumbled once in a 45-10 drubbing at the hands of the Lions.  Maybe he's not so great after all.

Give it another week, and we are back on the Tim Tebow emotional roller coaster.  Against the Raiders, Tebow rushed and passed for over 100 yards and was able to stay turnover free in a 38-24 victory.  Maybe he's got it after all, despite his subpar passing performances.  After all, he's taking care of the football.

Week 10 is when we finally realized what Tim Tebow was all about.  Against the Chiefs, in a 17-10 victory, Tim went the entire first half without completing a pass, and he finished 2 for 8 on the day.  But only two things mattered that Sunday--one of those Tebow completions went for 56 yards and a touchdown in the 4th quarter, and the Broncos won the game.

Week 11...Game-winning drive against the Jets.  Week 12...Game-winning drive in overtime against the Chargers.  Week 13...Game-winning drive against the Vikings.  Week 14...Game-winning drive in overtime against the Bears.  On the third day, He rose again in fulfillment of the scripture.

But in all seriousness, the Tim Tebow=Jesus equation isn't that far off.  I haven't seen anything like this in sports, and, needless to say, Tebow (and the art of Tebowing) has become a phenomenon.  But who deserves the credit in these recent victories, 7 out of 8 since Tebow took over at quarterback.  Is it Tebow himself?  Is it Matt Prater, whose right foot has won four games on its own?  Is it the Broncos defense, who has stymied defenses since Tebow took over?  Is it the NFL, for giving the Broncos a manageable schedule during the Tebow stretch?  We were left scratching our heads over this team's turnaround, and we latched on to Tebow, the current figurehead of the team.

Whether you love Tebow or hate him, think he's responsible or don't, one things for sure--this Broncos defense, with the exception of the Lions game, has been on another level during the Tebow era.  Von Miller has stepped up his play, and he is stating his case for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.  Champ Bailey has surged as of late, after a slow start had people questioning his age and ability.  This unit has been able to force timely turnovers, especially the last two games, and they have put Tebow in positions to succeed.  But somebody has to take the ball into the endzone, and that somebody is Tim Tebow.  And this same unit was on the field during Kyle Orton's 1-4 start, struggling mightily.  This could have been due to Orton's turnover problems, and the Broncos defense constantly defending a shorter field.  If there's one thing Tebow has proven, he is careful with the football in his hands.  He makes good decisions, and as a result he has only thrown two interceptions all year.

at Miami, Detroit, at Oakland, at Kansas City, New York Jets, at San Diego, at Minnesota, Chicago.  Not exactly Amen Corner, but not easy either.  Five teams with winning records, and the Broncos were able to beat four of them.  They also beat two teams that they had previously lost to with Kyle Orton at quarterback.  And, Tebow had to play these two teams (Oakland and San Diego) on the road, while Orton played them in the comfort of Mile High.  So we can't chalk this turnaround up to scheduling, either.

So, the defense is the same.  The schedule is the same, if not slightly harder.  The supporting cast on offense is the same.  The quarterback is different.  Ding, ding, ding.  I think we found our answer.

Tim Tebow hasn't put up gaudy numbers or great statistics, but his team has won 7 out of 8 since he took over at quarterback.  This team has rallied around an unselfish leader, who brings out the best in this entire team.  With every comeback victory, the Broncos gain more and more confidence, and it is Tim Tebow that instills this confidence week after week.  The defense knows if they can get the ball back for Tim late in the 4th, he will win the game for them, and it makes them work that much harder.  Everyone on the field is working to put this team in a position to win, knowing Tebow will take care of the rest.  Despite not having prototypical quarterback skills, Tim Tebow has proven that he has every single intangible that one could ever want in a quarterback.  And it all starts with his presence as the leader in the locker room.

I can't imagine these comebacks will last even into the next couple weeks.  Eventually Tebow will have to figure out how to play for the other 55 minutes of a game.  But something tells me he will figure it out, and he deserves to be the starting quarterback next year.  The Elway-Tebow relationship (I'd like to call it the Elbow relationship from now on) has to work, because Tebow has captured the hearts and minds of America, and he's 7-1 in the process.

We will find out what Tebow is really made of against New England in Denver, but I'll put my money on a Broncos' overtime win.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

NFL Week 14 reflections

1) Tebow does it again (or did Marion Barber do it) - It’s truly amazing how the Broncos keep winning when they are consistently put in statistically unfavorable positions in the 4th quarter. The Chicago game was especially absurd considering all the Bears needed was for Marion Barber to go down in bounds at the end or regulation or not fumble in OT and they win. Instead, Tebow marches the troops twice and Matt Prater kicks two game 50-yard FG’s to win the game. Incredibly (considering they started 1-4), Denver appears poised for a playoff berth now with a one game lead and tiebreaker edge on Oakland. The only problem: Pittsburgh or Baltimore waits in the wildcard round.

2) No One wants the NFC east or wildcard spots – Last week, every NFC wild card contender lost. Little changed this week by way of performance. Atlanta and the NY Giants needed massive comebacks to win and Detroit made a miraculous goal line stand to defeat the Vikings. The Bears collapsed with help from Marion Barber and the Cowboys self-destructed thanks to horrible clock management. But the fact is, no one looked good or made a statement. At this point, Atlanta looks secure as long as they take care of business against the lowly Bucs and Jags, but everyone else has a ton of work left. It will be interesting to see if anyone shows up next week.

Atl (8-5) vs Jax (4-9)

Det (8-5) at Oak (7-6)

NYG (7-6) vs Wash (4-9)

Chi (7-6) vs Sea (6-7)

Dal (7-6) at TB (4-9)

3) Seattle and Arizona should have played the first half of the season!After terrible starts (Sea 2-6 and Ariz 1-6), both teams sit precariously at 6-7 with 5 teams ahead of them for the two wild card berths. Both teams salvaged their season the same way: with terrific defensive efforts (Ariz 17.5 ppg last 6 and Sea 14.8 ppg last 5) and consistently effective special teams units. Neither team has stellar QB play, but they have bruising rb’s in Lynch and Wells, respectively, that help control the clock. Had the season started in November, these teams would be right in the playoff mix; unfortunately, they might have started playing a little too late. It will be interesting if both teams win their next two games setting up a potential meaningful finale at Arizona in the season’s final week, but numerous teams need to lose for that to happen.

4) Houston keeps on winning – Despite injuries to several of their best players in Mario Williams, Matt Schaub, and Andre Johnson, the Texans continue to find a way to win ballgames. They have currently won 7 straight, including these last two with their third-string QB in TJ Yates against above .500 competition. They continue to play terrific defense and dominate teams with their spectacular offensive line. Currently, they are still in position to receive a 1st-round bye in the playoffs, and with a less-than-daunting schedule remaining (vs Car, at Indy, vs Tenn), expect the Texans to remain a factor in the AFC home-field scenario.

Friday, December 9, 2011

What to expect this College Football Bowl Season- Who is ready for a vacation?

Yesterday, we looked at some teams with extra motivation entering this bowl season. Now, let us look at several teams who are ready for the season to end.

Teams Ready for a Vacation

1) Arizona St. (+14) (6-6) vs. Boise St. (11-1) - After a terrific 5-1 start to the 2011 campaign had the Sun Devils positioned perfectly for a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 championship game, Dennis Erickson’s squad lost 5 of their last 6 to slide their way to a 6-6 finish. The late season collapse cost Erickson his job and left the players with the dreaded “lame duck head coach.” Now they must rebound to play a Boise St. team who was one missed FG each year away from being undefeated two years in a row. The talent is certainly there for Ariz. St but if they don’t bring a full effort, this could be a bloodbath.

2) Southern Miss (-6) (11-2) vs. Nevada (7-5) - Southern Miss pulled off the biggest upset of the C-USA season by thrashing previously undefeated Houston in the title game. Afterwards, they expected to be heading to the Liberty Bowl (as is customary for the C-USA champion) with their head coach Larry Fedora. Since that day, the Golden Eagles have lost their head coach to UNC and will now be playing in the Hawaii Bowl, in a move that the school’s AD called “disappointing.” Hard to imagine a great effort from this SMiss team who already won their Super Bowl in beating Houston.

3) Oklahoma (-14) (9-3) vs. Iowa (7-5) - The preseason #1 team in the country hit some injuries and several roadblocks on the way to the national title game. After starting 6-0, the Sooners finished the season 3-3 including an embarrassing loss to rival Okla St. in the season’s final week. Oklahoma entered that game still having a shot to win the Big 12 and secure a spot in the Fiesta Bowl. The loss drops them all the way down to the Insight Bowl against an unspectacular Iowa team. It’s hard to believe that Stoops’ crew will come with a full effort here and I expect Iowa to give them a tight ballgame.

4) Tex A+M (-10) (6-6) vs. NWestern (6-6) - If it weren’t for 4!! 2nd-half collapses, this season and Mike Sherman’s job could have been salvaged; nonetheless, TAMU enters this game against a feisty Wildcat squad without their coach and falling far short of their preseason expectations (#8 AP, #9 USA Today). Despite their disappointments this year, Sherman’s firing was a surprise to his players and their effort might fall short in this game without him.

5) Illinois (-2.5) (6-6) vs. UCLA (6-7) – On October 9, Illinois was 6-0 and ranked 16th in the country. Since then, they have not won a single game and head coach Ron Zook was (finally) fired. To add to their issues entering this game, OC Paul Petrino left to join the Arkansas staff. So, to summarize, Illinois is coming off a 6-game losing streak and are replacing two coaches. UCLA has its own issues (see the firing of Neuheisel) but they showed in the Pac 12 Championship game that they would at least put up a fight in a bowl game. Expect a pathetic effort from a backsliding Illini team.

Fantasy Sit/Start-Texans @ Bengals

I see this game as a potential defensive struggle, so temper your expectations on both sides of the football.  Arian Foster is a must-start every week, but he might struggle against a solid Bengals rush defense.  Still, Mendenhall was able to sneak away with a few scores last week, which is good news for Foster owners.  I wouldn't risk starting Tate, as I see Foster getting 25 carries in this game, which doesn't leave much room for Tate to be effective.  I wouldn't touch TJ Yates in this one, despite a solid outing last week.  Andre Johnson is out this week, so he is without his safety blanket, and the rest of the Texans receivers don't seem to benefit from Andre's absence.  I think AJ Green is a must-start every week.  He's proven himself enough, but I'd steer clear of Andy Dalton, unless you have no better options.  He will be a top-15 fantasy QB, but he won't break the top-10.  Both defenses are startable, but I think both teams will play a solid, nearly mistake-free game, since they have a lot riding on these next few games.  Benson and Gresham are also both startable, but I would look for alternatives.  I can't see Benson getting much going in this one, but he could steal a touchdown. Should be a great game.

Sit:  Dalton, Tate, Jerome Simpson, TJ Yates, Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones

Start In Deeper Leagues: Benson

Start: Foster, AJ Green

If You're Desperate:  Owen Daniels hasn't had over 50 yards in a month, but he was second on the team in targets last week to Andre Johnson, who is out this week.  Gresham is still the better play, but if you need to pick someone up off waivers, Daniels is not a bad option.

Fantasy Sit/Start-Colts @ Ravens

One has to think the Ravens will run away with this one, but to what extent?  The Colts looked strong last week, but I can't see them keeping up the aerial attack against a vicious Ravens defense.  I don't like Flacco in this one, because I never do, and you should expect the Ravens to get a lead and sit on it.  Of the two Ravens receivers, I like Boldin better in this matchup.  Torrey Smith will have trouble getting past that Colts Cover 2.  Roll with the Ravens defense, they should be one of the best fantasy defenses this week.  Ray Rice should have another career day--I'm predicting 150 yards and 2 touchdowns.  In terms of Colts, if you're desperate for a tight end, Jacob Tamme is not a bad play (although the Ravens cover the tight end well), and Garcon is OK, but I'd stay away.  Don't let Reggie Wayne's stat line from last week fool you--he's not worth starting.

Sit: Wayne, Flacco, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, all your Colts.

Deeper League Start: Garcon, Torrey Smith

Start: Rice, Baltimore D, Boldin

Potential Sleeper: Ed Dickson could have a good game, as we all saw what Gronkowski was able to do last week.  Then again, it is Rob Gronkowski.

If You're Desperate:  Ricky Williams could score a touchdown, if you need an injury plug-in.

Kansas drops Turner Gill after 2 years for Charlie Weis?

Kansas was applauded in 2009 for their hiring of Turner Gill as their new head coach after he led Buffalo to the 2008 MAC championship. He was a young, up and coming, minority coach with a background in the Big 12 where he thrived as the star QB at Nebraska. After 2 years and before he could even bring in his own players, they unceremoniously dumped him for Charlie Weis. Granted, Gill was just 5-19 in his two seasons with the Jayhawks, but two campaigns is not long enough to judge the long-term potential of a coach. Kansas decided to go for the big name...the sexy hire.

Every sports fan is aware of Weis' unquestionable success in his time with the New England Patriots, but even the biggest Weis supporters couldn't argue he has been successful in either of his college jobs. As the head coach of Notre Dame, he alienated the fan base with his smarmy demeanor and non-stop fade patterns while stumbling to a pedestrian 35-27 record. This past season as the Florida OC, his offense struggled to maintain consistency, despite having talent at the skill positions, finishing 72nd in the FBS scoring 25.6 points per game. In their 5 games against ranked opponents (all losses), they managed just 10, 11, 6, 20, and 12 points. They concluded the season with an embarrassing 7 point output against rival Florida St. Not exactly the numbers expected for an "offensive genius."

Congratulations, Kansas. He's yours now. Good luck in your next job, Turner Gill. You got a raw deal.

Chris Paul Trade Happened, then Didn't Happen.

Last night we, as NBA fans, received an early Christmas present, only to see it taken away by Scrooge himself, David Stern.  We heard the news break, "Chris Paul traded to the Lakers."  Then a mere hour later, "The NBA says, 'NO.'"  We were left scratching our heads.  Why did this happen?  As we have been hearing a lot this morning, the Hornets are owned by the NBA, but this trade veto has to run much deeper than that.  It has to.

A little timeline--
Last week, Chris Paul says he wants out of New Orleans this year, preferably a trade to the Knicks.  It seemed as though any other big market team would suffice.
New Orleans obliges, knowing he can freely leave after this year, and they would like to avoid a Carmelo situation.
The phones are ringing, as they have for the past five months--this situation seemed inevitable even in June.
The Lakers strike a deal, one in which they come away in a much worse situation than they had been before the trade.
The Hornets, who want to get some trade value out of Chris Paul, end up winning the deal by a landslide for a player they would basically be leasing for the next six months.
The NBA nixes the deal, namely David Stern, saying Chris Paul must finish the season in New Orleans.

For those of us who haven't seen the trade logistics already, The Rockets, Lakers, and Hornets involved themselves in a three-way deal sending Gasol to the Rockets and Paul to the Lakers.  The Hornets would receive Lamar Odom, Luis Scola, Kevin Martin, Goran Dragic, and a first-round pick in 2012.  How is that not fair?

The reasons this trade was vetoed must be speculated, as the NBA isn't capable of giving a straight answer to the basketball-watching public.  But David Stern cited that Chris Paul has to finish out the season in New Orleans, and it might be a strong effort to keep one of the NBA's struggling franchises afloat.  After all, the NBA, along with fellow owners, had to buy out the Hornets a few years ago, but clearly stated they would have no say in personnel decisions.  Well, they are having their say.  David Stern felt pressured--pressured by owners, pressured by New Orleans, and pressured by money.  The Lakers don't need Chris Paul, financially speaking, because 1111 S Figueroa Street will sell out as is.  But New Orleans?  They have been losing money for the past three years, even with Chris Paul, and the NBA can't let them lose their only star player.  David Stern had to come in and say, "Not if I have anything to say about it."


But is this decision strictly financial?  If the Lakers acquired Chris Paul, and then, hypothetically, were able to deal for Dwight Howard, it would make the regular season meaningless.  The Heat and Lakers would be in the NBA Finals every year, and the Lakers' big three would be head-and-shoulders above the Heat's.  Lebron James is the so-called poster child of the NBA, although most everyone hates him outside of South Beach, where he so notoriously took his talents last offseason.  The NBA wants him to win a title, although we are not sure why, and Paul and Howard in Los Angeles would directly hinder that.

But let's not, even for a second, compare this Chris Paul situation to Lebron's.  Paul has gone about this all the right ways--he doesn't want to be lost in obscurity in a small NBA market, so he simply requested a trade to a bigger one.  Lebron put on a show for his decision, trying to make himself bigger than the sport, eventually being brought down to earth by the general reception of "The Decision."  If Paul can't lobby for his trade, after being as gracious as one can in a moment like this, then who can?

Eventually, in the next week, I expect Stern and the NBA executives to reverse this decision, as it is a complete injustice to all the teams involved, especially the Hornets.  Stern isn't thinking long-term, and in his effort to save this Hornets franchise, he is actually killing them.  Rather than receiving four good players and a draft pick for Paul, they would be left with nothing at season's end.

If Scrooge doesn't reverse his decision, then I have lost what little interest I have left in the NBA.

Redskins - Patriots Preview

Redskins - Patriots Preview


(NB: Maybe just to piss off John and Kyle, but I will be writing a Redskins gameday preview every week.)

Tom Brady and the Patriots are coming to FedEx, and honestly this should be a blood bath.  I was up at the game a few years ago in Foxboro where the Patriots absolutely destroyed the 'Skins.  I don't think it will be as bad as 52-7 this time around, but it will be bad.

Key Matchups


Skins Secondary vs. Patriots receivers. The big question here is who's gonna stop Wes Welker?  The answer, no one.  Welker in the slot is a matchup from hell.  If Barnes ends up on him, it's game over; though, frankly, I doubt Deangelo Hall and Josh Wilson would fair much better.

Gronk/Hernandez vs. LB's and Safeties.  Again, matchup nightmare for just about any defense. Gronkowski is doing record-setting things this year, and Hernandez is an unbelievably versatile TE too.  OJ Atogwe should be able to hold is own, but "holding your own" against Gronkowski this year isn't saying much.  Doughty, on the other hand, has no chance of limiting anything that these guys do.  Look for the Patriots to absolutely expose him.

The Skins Pass Rush vs. The Pats Oline.  The Redskins have one of the better pass rushes in the league.  Kerrigan and Orakpo are animals with non-stop motors who have been wreaking havoc on QBs all year.  The problem is that the Patriots have one of the best offensive lines around.  I've watched Brady on numerous occasions this year literally stand in the pocket for extended periods of time.  However, if Orakpo and Kerrigan have a great day, look for the Patriots to be slowed down a little bit....just a tiny bit.

The Skins Offense vs. The Pats Defense.  So this is pretty interesting.  Belichick is known for his defenses, right? But the Patriots haven't really been playing too much defense the past few years.  I know there's an argument to be made for what they're trying to accomplish defensively.  As in, teams are moving the ball with ease on them, but they do force a lot of turnovers.  The problem with that philosophy this year, is that teams are getting into the endzone against the Patriots defense when they aren't forcing turnovers.

Too bad the Redskins won't be doing that.  With the suspensions of Trent Williams and Fred Davis, the few bright spots of this miserable offense will be MIA.  The offensive line has struggled tremendously without the anchor and best player out of the lineup, so it should be even more of a disaster versus an intricate Belichick pass rushing scheme.  And, of course, Alligator Arms Grossman will most likely throw 7,000 interceptions.

At the end of the day, the Redskins have one of the best defenses in the league. Top 5 in my opinion, and theres plenty of statistical evidence to back that up.  They're healthy with the exception of Landry, and London Fletcher is ageless. For that reason, you have to give the Redskins a chance of pulling something out in most games.  This game is not the case.  The Patriots have too much offensive firepower, and the Redskins offense, minus Davis and Williams won't be able to do anything.

Positive Notes - 1) Roy Helu has been awesome to watch in his rookie year, and he should impress this Sunday too; 2) The Redskins linebackers always play well, always play hard - Fletcher, Orakpo, and Kerrigan are great players.

Final Score: Patriots 34, Redskins 1