Sunday, September 05, 2010

NFL Week 1 Betting Preview

Pro Information: The card is far from final, but we'll definitely have some plays from the NFL Week 1! I would say the one overarching theme to remember is that, while we all want to look smart and make the so-called "sharp" plays, the early parts of the NFL season are often dominated by good teams playing with greater focus than at mid-season. Backing big-time public teams is going to cost you money LONG-TERM, but early in the NFL year, backing public teams isn't always a bad idea. Just something to keep in mind, especially on Sunday when the action is a little more spread out.

As far as NFL blogs are concerned, I'll be focusing largely on public perception as a key in betting, and I'm looking for all of YOU guys to chime in with specialty notes that either I overlooked, or simply didn't include for brevity's sake. Let's make this a real community effort with my perception-analysis as merely the starting point!

Sports Wagering: NFL

Thursday

Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints (-4.5) with a total of 51.5;
The NFL really has their act together, scheduling these ultra high-profile match-ups to kick off seasons. Because, really, let's be honest, there aren't that many team-vs-team games that are more compelling than the NFC Championship game rematch featuring the fantasy sports king, Drew Brees, and the "old gunslinger" Brett Favre. I suppose from a pure perception standpoint, the fact that the Saints are the Superbowl champs is going to inflate the line a bit. But, we need to be careful, since the fact that the Vikings have Favre is going to deflate the line almost back to a "fair" mark. It's very early in the week, so we don't have superbly accurate numbers to reflect on, monetarily, but I would think that a line set at this somewhat innocuous 4.5 is going to draw money on the Saints. Because, let's think about the line from both the oddsmaker and bettor standpoint -- the last thing most bettors saw was New Orleans dominating the Colts as the listed underdog. The last thing the oddsmakers recall was a Vikings/Saints game that went down to the wire...or really, beyond the wire and was decided by 3 points with a final score of 31-28. In that one, the Vikings were a 4-point dog, so the line tipped a half point between seasons. I would offer a slight lean to the Vikings if this was the middle of the season, but the insanity of the first game makes this side a tough one to bet. I'm more intrigued by the total that opened at 51.5, 3.5 points lower than the posted mark in last year's NFC Championship game, and also that this total dropped precipitously to 48 in just the first couple days of betting. That's a pretty strong line indicator for the Under, especially considering that last meeting, a playoff game, hit 59 points.

Sunday

Carolina Panthers @ New York Giants (-7) with a total of 40;
The Giants were one of the hugest disappointments in the NFL in 2009, failed largely by a defense that couldn't stop anyone. And for the defense to suffer that kind of fate so soon after being so ferocious in the Superbowl run, well, it was a bit of a head-scratcher. In any case, the Giants come back in 2010 with something to prove. Clearly, they want to show that 2009 was the aberration, and that they can still play with the big boys...or, hell, even the little boys. The Panthers epitomized middle-of-the-pack last year, going 8-8, scoring 315 points on the year and allowing 308. They showed a very strong rushing attack, behind DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, and a solid pass defense. Otherwise, things weren't too great. The Delhomme era has come to an end, and now the question is whether this team can take some of the momentum they built ending last year with 3 straight wins and carry it over to this season. Perception-wise, the Giants are from New York, and that's all you really need to say. They're not the Yankees, so the line inflation isn't going to be quite so pronounced, but the Giants were an 8-point favorite to these Panthers last year in a game they lost by 37 points. Yikes! Early in the year, favorites are going to cover a bit more often, but I wouldn't touch the Giants laying over a touchdown. I know the Panthers struggled to score even 3 points in the preseason, but the Giants defense didn't look all that improved to me, and I think New York wins this game by a number pretty close to the line. The total is a tough one, as well, since the appearance is that Carolina won't score at all, but a full game of Stewart and Williams pounding the ball can definitely wear a defense down.

Miami Dolphins (-3) @ Buffalo Bills with a total of 39;
I've got a sneaking suspicion everyone and their mother is going to have a parlay tied into the Miami Dolphins, and that makes that side very, very scary. The Dolphins, as most remember, were sort of an upstart team a couple years back (going 11-5 in 2008) that came back to Earth a tad last year playing a tougher schedule (going 7-9). Perhaps the worst part for the Dolphins was losing some key games down the stretch that could have at least given them an outside shot at making some noise, dropping a big one to the Tennessee Titans, and going from 7-6 with 3 games left to 7-9 and looking pretty dismal. The Bills have been a mess for a while now, and they did absolutely nothing last year to make anyone think that was about to change. The revolving door at QB is still open in Trent Edwards' direction, and my former Golden Bear, Marshawn Lynch, has turned into more of a headache than a tailback. But, and this is the KEY, that's all the easy stuff to see. People look at this game and think of the Bills as a doormat, but when all is said and done, they went 1-1 against the Dolphins last year, blowing out Buffalo 38-10 at home, and losing 31-14 up in chilly Buffalo in late November. I think this total is pretty accurate, since I don't really see either team doing anything quickly. We know Miami is a ball-control offense, so they'll keep the clock moving, and the Bills are going to need to work their way downfield if they're going to score against a defense playing at full steam. As far as the side, this one feels like a public disaster if ever there was one.

Atlanta Falcons (-2) @ Pittsburgh with a total of 38;
This one is a great example of how public perception can work in a bettor's favor. All everyone has been hearing about on ESPN for the last half year is Big Ben's night on the town. All everyone has been hearing about for the last 4 weeks is how the Steelers were going to use Byron Leftwich, but he hurt himself, and how Roethlisberger's suspension is being reduced from 6 games to 4. How does that help someone trying to make money on a betting line? Well, it's pretty clear that people are a tad soured on the Pittsburgh Steelers right now. The early indications are that 4 out of every 5 public ticket is being printed for the Falcons, and why not? They have a healthy young stud at QB in Matt Ryan, all indications are that Michael Turner has added some muscle mass to become a more durable and road warrior-y back, and surely they can cover less than a FG against a team without its top gun, right? You guys all know how I feel about the injured star theory, and I happen to be pretty high on Dennis Dixon, though he's certainly going to be prone to make some mistakes here and there. The total is likely being impacted by the same notions, though I'm not sure I'd fade the public just for the sake of fading them on this low number. I think the game will be competitive, but with the penchant for errors, will we see more penalties or turnovers, and how will those leave their mark on the final score? I happen to think it's interesting that both teams finished 2009 with 3 straight wins, but the Steelers picked up victories against Green Bay, Baltimore and Miami, and Atlanta tackled the Jets (a nice win), the Bills (at home), and the Bucs. You see where I'm going with this.

Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears (-7) with a total of 42.5;
This opening line already shows an increased confidence in the team out of Motown, and while I'd like to believe it's because of Jahvid Best (go Cal), the Lions made quite a few moves over the past 16 months that have improved the team. Free agent signings like Nate Burleson and Kyle Vanden Bosch have given the team some veteran savvy, Matthew Stafford is a year into what appears to be a promising career, and, of course, holdovers like Calvin Johnson and a pair of first-round picks did help. The Bears were a huge disappointment last year, an ATS disaster, as well, and they haven't done a great deal to shake a lot of that funk. That being said, this one goes back to the press, once again. Everyone is hearing about the Lions making huge strides, and all of a sudden they're just a touchdown dog on the road? As much as the Lions might be improving, they went 0-8 on the road last year, and lost most of those games by 15 points, or more. The smallest road deficit for Detroit in 2009 was a 10-point loss in Cincinnati, and they lost here in Chicago 48-24. Don't get me wrong - the Lions are going to be better this year, but they're still a long way from being a quality road team. This game looks like one of those contests where the favorite covers the number, even if it looks a little high. The total of 42.5 looks just a hair low, but it's a thin hair, at that.

Cincinnati Bengals @ New England Patriots (-3.5) with a total of 45;
This is probably one of the two most exciting early games on Sunday, with two 10-6 teams from last year trying to get off to quick starts in 2010. Let's start with a quick look at how the public perceives this showdown. The short line tells me that oddsmakers were expecting more money on the Bengals than in years past, and early indications are that the Pats are still the public team, but only in a 65/35 ratio, or thereabouts. This can probably be traced back to Cincinnati putting together something of an improbable playoff caliber season in 2009, as well as the offseason signing of Terrell Owens and all the headlines that garnered. The Patriots, meanwhile, quietly went about their business, reloading with a few cagey veterans, and, of course, another year of practice means another year farther away from surgery for Tom Brady. If he can get that injury out of his mind, he can only continue to improve. From a media standpoint, the line got pushed down and made the Patriots a little more alluring. From a numbers/matchup standpoint, we're dealing with a New England team that went a perfect 8-0 at home last year, performing quite well in shoot-outs, but losing some tough road games. The Bengals relied heavily on a vastly improved running game (behind Cedric Benson), and a conservative, yet effective passing game, with Carson Palmer finally healthy. My concern for Cincinnati is that they weren't really built to go up and down the field with the Patriots. If New England can, and pardon the NBA terminology, turn this one into a run-n-gun contest, they should cover the low number. If this one starts to slog, Cincy is in great shape. The total of 45 tells me oddsmakers don't know which, exactly, is going to happen, and they took a stand going right in the middle, erring perhaps just slightly towards the pace of the home club.

Cleveland Browns @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-3) with a total of 37;
This line struck me as being pretty low, and my initial feelings are that oddsmakers simply are saying to us that these teams both stink, and they'd battle to a stalemate of stinking on a neutral site. In Tampa Bay, however, the Bucs will prevail by a wobbly kick, probably set up by a turnover on a botched snap. You can see the kind of confidence I have in someone coming out with authority here. Perhaps I should be less of a jerk. Cleveland did actually win their last 4 games of 2009. Only one of them was against a particularly impressive opponent (defeated Pittsburgh 13-6), but hey, wins are wins, and the Browns at least bring a little level of confidence into 2010. Tampa Bay is another team that's trying to make a climb, but I will admit, I'm struggling to see how this team is going to put up enough points to compete on a weekly basis. Believe me, it's never easy to lean towards a road team as a short favorite, since that's often a red flag, but with a total this low, oddsmakers are already telling us that no one is going to be blasting fireworks into the sky, and the Browns, to me, have shown more in the waning weeks of 2009 and in the 2010 preseason to give me the confidence to get behind them. Of course, the option is always there to just pass.

Denver Broncos @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-3) with a total of 40;
This game is a battle of teams that redefined sputtering last year, with Denver probably the biggest culprit. The Broncos lost their last 4 games of 2009, and lost 8 of their last 10 after opening the season 6-0. If you want to talk about a team that lost its luster, it was Denver. Defenses adjusted to the fairly mundane offensive schemes, and the defense seemed to fatigue as the year went on. So, can Denver bounce back, or is this team going to sink further into irrelevance now that Brandon Marshall is gone. First off, let's just bury one thing -- Tim Tebow isn't going to change this club. He is, however, drawing attention to them, and that can only help those of us that were looking for a way to back the home team. Is it enough? Probably not, since Jacksonville has plenty of problems of its own. I do, however, believe that Jacksonville has a better collection of pieces, so if they actually execute, they should be able to cover. I like Jones-Drew, I think Garrard is alright, and Jacksonville has a collection of receivers that aren't great, but aren't terrible. I suppose it comes down to coaching in this one. As far as the total goes, I really don't see the teams putting up points, and we saw how Denver's defense overachieved early in 2009 when healthy and giving max effort. I would have to lean to the Under, since Jacksonville wasn't a big-time offensive machine, either.

Indianapolis Colts (-1.5) @ Houston Texans with a total of 47;
I will admit, this line is a little shorter than I expected, and that scares me a little. Sure enough, the opening number is already a distant memory, as this one has jumped to Indy -2.5, and if the current money continues, this one should clear the key number before gametime. That's a big "if," though, since we have likely yet to see sharps take their final position on this game. The jump from 1.5 to 2.5 is not a wildly significant one, but if it gets past 3, then we'll know the level of confidence that books have in this number. So, where do we begin? This line does confuse me a tad, since it seems evident, to me at least, that oddsmakers could have opened this one up a bit higher and still gotten money on the Indy side. You have to think there's the expectation that someone with a suitcase is going to make a play on Houston, a strong team that has yet to make that big leap. Indy beat Houston by 8 here in Texas last year, as well, and that was as a 3-point favorite. Just another note that makes this number seem so odd. But again, we have to remember not to overthink things too much in the opening couple of weeks, since, as we pointed out, favorites do tend to do some damage early in the year, and these screwball lines are rolled in there with the rest. It's a little risky, and I believe this game ends up being decided by far fewer points than people expect. It could have something to do with Peyton Manning and the Colts adjusting to the forced slower tempo to games, with the officials rearranging their positions for the 2010 season to try to cut down on injuries. A slower Colts team is a slightly easier-to-stop Colts team, and Indy's defense was downright miserable in the preseason. The side is a toss-up. It also looks pretty easy, but you have to give a look to the Over, as well.

Oakland Raiders @ Tennessee Titans (-5.5) with a total of 40.5;
This is another of those lines that, if we're in early November, I'm wondering what the heck is going on, but here in week one, there's a certain level of intensity that the better teams bring to the table even against lesser opponents. The Titans do play host to the Steelers in week two, so I suppose there's the very slight possibility for a look-ahead, but we spoke above about the state of the Steelers, and how the Titans are looking to make a surge this year behind the suddenly-impressive Vince Young. Make no mistake, the Raiders are going to be better this year simply because that chunk of belly fat has been jettisoned, but Jason Campbell is going to take some time to settle in, and even if the defense keeps them in the game, the Titans have what I've heard referred to as a "blue collar" defense, and an offense that can definitely get the job done. I believe they have a pretty good tailback, too. There is very little question in my mind that this line is going to, at the very least, touch 7, so if you like the Titans, you might want to make a move early in the week, since you have way, way more to lose than gain by waiting on this number. The total of 40.5 is not one I want to mess with. If the Raiders score 14-17 points, this one should go Over, but I happen to think the Titans defense is going to be better this year, and this number is pretty close to spot on.

Green Bay Packers @ Philadelphia Eagles (Pk) with a total of 46;
This might be the line that has moved the most off the opening mark. Already, the side has jumped 3 full points towards Green Bay, and why not? The Eagles are a team trying to stay relevant without Donovan McNabb, and while they have plenty of weapons at skill positions, the fact that this line would bounce this far so soon gives a pretty strong indicator that folks are not impressed with Kevin Kolb. I think what this game comes down to is whether Green Bay can stop the Eagles, since last year we saw some truly awful defense AT TIMES from the Packers, particularly on the road against good teams. The defense was stellar against bad clubs, probably because they only had to play for 3-6 downs every 8 minutes, but Pittsburgh and Arizona each put up video game numbers on the Packers late in the year, and in the playoffs, respectively. There's almost no question Green Bay can score, so the big question mark puts us in the minor quandary of, if we expect the Eagles to score, do we play the Over...or if we expect Green Bay to hold Philadelphia to a normal game score, do we play the side? The line is losing value, but there's still one 2.5 floating around out there (SportBet, as of the time of my writing this), and I think, again, it might be a time to think about playing earlier in the week if you like the side.

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks (-1) with a total of 38;
Remember when I said the Packers/Eagles line had seen the most movement? Scratch that. Hey, at least you know I'm going through these one by one. Anyway, this one moved one additional point, again making a large move towards the road team, and again the road team is the huge public favorite, and, seemingly, a slight sharp favorite, as well. We don't yet know if there are plans for a buy-back, but if these games cruise past some key numbers, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see at least a partial buyback and a giant middle getting set up. For me, unlike the Packers/Eagles game above, I think we know less about the home team here. Where the Eagles are basically the same beast as in years past, but with a less athletic quarterback, the Seahawks have a new coaching staff, and a fair amount to prove. The concern is, how well will they prove those points? You know Pete Carroll is going to get his guys motivated, much the way we saw Josh McDaniels turn Denver into the talk of the NFL town early in 2009, but is that going to be enough? I think if you got the Niners at +1, you're probably in good shape, but something about this game feels like a Niners 2-point win. Call me crazy (and after the Niners win by 11, I will look pretty crazy), but a 4-point line move eliminates even more value than a 3-point move, and I think the motivational handicap on Seattle makes them dangerous, even if, on paper, they should get worked.

Arizona Cardinals (-3.5) @ St. Louis Rams with a total of 42.5;
Not surprisingly, the total has dropped off the opening number. The Cardinals cut ties with Matt Leinart, which means they're going to be relying heavily on (and as I type his name, fans across the entire state soil themselves) Derek Anderson. He had a decent preseason, though we all know how little that can matter when teams start actually using complex defensive packages, and Anderson is about as mobile as a tree sloth. It's a good thing the Rams couldn't put pressure on an undefended balloon. I will say up front that I want absolutely nothing to do with this game. The Cardinals have significantly more talent teamwide than the Rams, and a rather opportunistic defense, to use a buzz term, so expect Sam Bradford to incur a few growing pains in week one, but do we really think the Cardinals have the confidence to win by more than a FG? Please, everyone reading, feel free to add whatever you like to this one, because I'm moving on.

Dallas Cowboys (-3) @ Washington Redskins with a total of 43.5;
This game is basically a battle of teams getting bad publicity, with the Redskins winning out by a few lengths. The Albert Haynesworth drama, coupled with the McNabb injury has outgained the "Tony Romo isn't doing anything" preseason chatter in Dallas. Of course, the Cowboys are basically the Yankees of the NFL, drawing big-time public money regardless of negative press, and the initial move on this line has indeed been towards the Cowboys. The line might go off as McNabb's status hangs in the balance, and I think the best move with this game is probably to take a peek at the total. 43.5 is sort of right in the middle, in terms of this week's totals, but a little on the high side for this rivalry. If we go back approximately 10 years, only 3 of 18 games have featured a score over 43.5. Obviously, information from 2002 doesn't help us much here, but Romo has had issues with the Redskins defense, and Washington scored 16 combined points in the last 3 meetings. If it clears 43.5, it will be a testament to McNabb, because generally these are ugly games, and the stronger, tougher team tends to prevail.

Monday

Baltimore Ravens @ New York Jets (-1.5) with a total of 35.5;
Monday Night Football kicks off with a game that has the potential to feel like MMA. The Baltimore Ravens, who, to their credit, have drastically improved on offense over the last couple years, but it's been coincident with a slight aging of the defense. They're still turnover-happy on the defensive side, but they're not quite the same rampaging machine of a few years back. But what they are right now should be enough, given what we've been seeing from Mark Sanchez. His lack of improvement from year to year has to be somewhat disconcerting, and if the Jets have to rely on the run as heavily as they did last year, they might be in a little trouble. Yes, they have strong backs even without Thomas Jones, but if Baltimore's big guys can key in on a fairly one-dimensional attack, the Jets are going to be in trouble. The shortness of this line definitely speaks volumes about how little folks think of the Jets right now, despite how well they played at the end of 2010. The Jets are a tough, tough team, and while they haven't looked good this year, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Rex Ryan pull out a bag of tricks for game one that sends Baltimore spinning for the first 30 minutes. Also, let's not forget, Monday Night can really bring out the rowdy in a crowd.

San Diego Chargers (-5.5) @ Kansas City Chiefs with a total of 45;
The first thing that jumps out at me is that this total looks pretty darn high if the Chargers play any defense, at all. The Chiefs do try to get the ball and go, so I suppose that lengthens the game and makes playing Unders dicey, but game one might have some bumbling, which might keep this one in the low 40's. I probably won't play it, though. As far as the team breakdowns, the big picture points are probably two-fold. First, the Chargers have just absolutely dominated the Chiefs in the last 2 meetings, winning by 30 and 29. San Diego has won 5 straight meetings, though 2 of those 5 were by a single tally. The second key point is that most people remember the Chargers of November and December, a team that generally wins and zooms past (hypothetically) the Broncos to grab a playoff spot. Most people don't remember how out-of-sorts the Chargers can look at the beginning of seasons. Why does this team seem to get off to slow starts the first month year in and year out? Tough to say, but they haven't fully shaken that notion, and a narrow week one win over the lowly Chiefs would fall right into that category. And how about the fact that the initial move of this line was down to 5, and as low as 4.5 at some places? There are plenty of good public teams that are going to cover in week one, but this game is screaming bailout.

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