Monday, December 30, 2013

Revised NFL Power Ratings (Wild Card Round)

With the regular season finished, and the playoffs set to begin next week, there are 12 teams that remain in contention. Here are the updated power ratings and projected point spreads for the Wild Card round.

84.0 Seattle
83.0 Denver, San Francisco
80.5 Carolina
80.0 New Orleans, Cincinnati
79.0 New England, Green Bay
78.0 Kansas City
77.5 Philadelphia
77.0 Indianapolis
76.0 San Diego

Seattle will have the luxury of being favored by at least four points in each of their games leading up to the Super Bowl, granted they advance that far. It's unclear whether Percy Harvin will return for the playoffs, and you've got to wonder whether or not he would have been ready to go had Seattle not rushed him back towards the end of the regular season. Seattle's run defense is somewhat suspect and their offensive line could use some shoring up, but nonetheless, this is the most balanced team in the league.

According to my ratings, Denver has a relatively easy road to MetLife. The toughest competition the Broncos will have to face is either New England or Cincinnati at home, while Seattle will potentially have to deal with the likes of San Francisco or Carolina. While Denver technically has an easier road to the Super Bowl than Seattle (albeit by a very slim margin), I don't trust Peyton throwing the ball around in windy, adverse weather conditions. Notice I'm not talking about the cold, freezing temperatures that some of the talking heads on television have previously alluded to. I'm talking about wind and precipitation. Additionally, the defensive unit cannot be trusted to get timely stops in crucial situations. I can definitely see Denver making it to the Super Bowl, but I'd make them at least 2-point underdogs to Seattle if both teams happen to meet up at MetLife in February.

Notice how I have San Francisco ranked third overall, yet they are stuck with the #5 seed in the NFC. That's what happens when you have the best team in football playing inside your division. Despite having to travel to Lambeau in the opening round, the current market price is San Francisco -2.5 (-115). Oddsmakers are giving the Niners a great deal of respect and I couldn't agree more. San Fran is better than Green Bay in nearly every advanced metric I take into consideration when evaluating teams. The 49ers can move the ball on the ground, as well as stop the run, which is crucial in the postseason, particularly when playing on the road in potentially adverse weather conditions.

Carolina is in position to do some major damage in these playoffs. Locking up the #2 seed, a first-round bye, and at least one home game is absolutely huge, as they would have much less of a chance of making it to the Super Bowl had they blown their season finale versus Atlanta. I have developed somewhat of an affinity for 'Riverboat Ron' after he decided to stop being a conservative square and take some chances on fourth down. I love coaches that think outside of the box like this (i.e. Belichick, Parcells and Kelly). They give you four downs for a reason, and too many coaches follow the traditional logic of "taking the points." Nothing irks me more than an announcer using that phrase, especially when the percentages are clearly in favor of going for it on fourth down. Some of these coaches are stuck in the 80's and 90's and refuse to take a modern-day approach when evaluating situations, such as fourth down decisions. However, I digress. I'm still not sold on Cam Newton and his spotty accuracy, but Carolina's defense is for real and capable of keeping them in any ballgame. The Panthers are clearly the third most viable contender in the NFC.

New Orleans is a tricky team to assign a number to because of their Jekyll and Hyde tendencies when they play at home and on the road. The Saints are a juggernaut when playing at home, or even just inside a dome, but when you get them on the road in cold, adverse weather conditions, they aren't so special. I currently have them at an 80, but I would add or subtract a point to their rating depending on if the game is home or away. I looked into making a wager on New Orleans plus the points at Philadelphia, but the game will be played on Saturday night in what appears to be 20 degree weather, and I don't necessarily feel comfortable putting money down on a Saints team that has no running game whatsoever. That dink-and-dunk strategy may work well inside the Superdome, but it isn't so effective on the road in freezing temperatures. If New Orleans manages to get past Philly, they will have to travel to Seattle in the Divisional Round.

Cincinnati has contender written all over them. Unfortunately, this is a quarterback-driven league, and Andy Dalton cannot be trusted as far as I'm concerned. However, the last two Superbowl MVP's were Eli Manning and Joe Flacco, so realistically anything can happen come playoff time. Despite the major injuries suffered during the season, Cincinnati has one of the best defensive units in football. Additionally, while Dalton may be an albatross, they still have a reasonable amount of talent on the offensive side of the ball.

Aside from Denver, New England is the most viable contender in the AFC according to my ratings. Overall, Cincinnati may have the better roster in terms of overall talent and depth, but I'll take Brady and Belichick over Dalton and Marvin Lewis any day of the year. In the event that New England has to play San Diego at home, I'd make them at least 6-point favorites.

Green Bay was extremely fortunate to win their final game at Chicago. It took some ridiculous fumble luck and a blown coverage on fourth-and-8 to get them into the postseason. The Packers get a home game at Lambeau, but unfortunately they have to matchup against San Francisco, who is the third best team in the NFL according to my ratings. Aaron Rodgers gives Green Bay some hope, but I still like the Niners minus the points.

I am not high on this Kansas City team. The defense was their calling card early in the season, but the unit has fallen off towards the end of the season. Jamaal Charles is one of the best running backs in the league, but the offensive unit as a whole is below average. Alex Smith simply hasn't shown the ability to throw the ball downfield this year. The Chiefs played the weakest schedule out of any team in the league and I simply cannot trust them with my money in the postseason.

Philadelphia's win last night could not have been more fraudulent. Any knowledgeable football mind will tell you the Eagles got outplayed by Dallas. Philly was extremely fortunate to get timely turnovers in crucial situations, and that ultimately decided the game. I still don't understand why defensive coordinator Bill Davis dialed up an all-out blitz on the fourth-and-9 play that resulted in a Dez Bryant touchdown, but that's a story for another day. The only thing keeping me from unloading on New Orleans plus the points is the thought of an outdoor night game on the road.

Indianapolis is an extremely tough team for me to get a read on. They have beaten Denver and Seattle at home, as well as San Francisco on the road, yet they have unreliably lost games to the Dolphins and Rams. The absence of Reggie Wayne has been extremely underrated and this team hasn't really done much since he went down with an ACL injury. Indianapolis may be 6-3 in their last nine games, but those wins came against Houston (twice), Tennessee (twice), Kansas City and Jacksonville. None of those teams are above-average. I'm most likely going to sit on the sidelines for the Colts-Chiefs matchup because each team is smoke and mirrors, and I just don't have a feel for this one.

San Diego did everything they could not to win a playoff-clinching game against a backup-laden Chiefs squad. If that's not a cause for concern then I don't know what is. Nonetheless, Mike McCoy has done an exceptional job with this team during his first year as head coach. But while they do have some play makers on the defensive side of the ball, the unit as a whole is below average at best. I thought about taking a piece of San Diego if I could get them +7, simply because Cincinnati is not a team I would lay those kind of points with, but I'll probably just watch from the sidelines.

Projected Wild Card Round Point Spreads
Kansas City @ Indianapolis (-2)
New Orleans @ Philadelphia (-2)
San Diego @ Cincinnati (-6.5 -120)
San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay

P.S. I'll be in Las Vegas for Wild Card weekend and will definitely be making some calculated investments depending on what the market does by the time I arrive in Sin City. I will either post those wagers on Twitter or simply document them in a blog post, so be on the lookout.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Revised NFL Power Ratings (December 8, 2013)

Here are the updated power rankings and projected point spreads for Week 14. I gave a brief overview of some contenders and talked about their potential playoff chances. I also tried to help explain and justify my rankings.

As a reminder, I do not look at W/L records at all when making these ratings. I noticed that sites like ESPN and Bleacher Report basically just rank every team in order according to win/loss record to create their rankings, and these media sites are extremely influenced by what happened the week before. I'm pretty sure a fifth grader is capable of ranking teams in order according to their win/loss records. I prefer to take a big picture approach considering I understand you can't overreact to a single game of football.

84.0 Seattle, Denver
82.0 San Francisco
81.5 New Orleans
80.5 New England, Carolina
79.0 Cincinnati
78.0 Detroit
77.0 Arizona, Kansas City, Philadelphia
76.0 Baltimore, Dallas
75.5 Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, San Diego
75.0 Tennessee, Chicago
74.5 Miami, NYG
74.0 St. Louis
73.5 Cleveland
73.0 Minnesota
72.5 Buffalo, Washington
72.0 Tampa Bay, Green Bay, NYJ
71.5 Atlanta
70.5 Oakland, Houston
69.0 Jacksonville

One thing that jumps off the page to me is the significant drop off between the top 6 and the rest of the aforementioned teams. While the NFL is known for it's competitive parity, and the playoffs are synonymous with underdogs getting hot and crashing the party, I honestly don't see many legitimate contenders on this list.

If you really think about it, Seattle is probably the only team without a major weakness. If Percy Harvin doesn't play this year, then a case could be made that they lack offensive weapons, but aside from that I'm not sure. Denver has a sketchy defense to say the least and an early January exit could be on the horizon. Additionally, it would be tough to trust Peyton Manning in cold, windy weather if the Broncos did happen to appear in the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium.

Seattle couldn't have looked better during their route of the Saints on MNF, but I didn't want to overreact to one game, so I only bumped them up a half point. New Orleans isn't necessarily a good road team, especially in adverse weather conditions, so I wasn't too surprised to see a blowout. If the Seahawks had beaten the Saints by 27 points at the Superdome that would have been a different story.

If anybody wasn't convinced that Seattle has the strongest home field advantage in the league, all they have to do is watch that game. New Orleans fell behind early after a Drew Brees pick-six and basically everything went downhill from there. It's difficult to imagine an NFC team going into CenturyLink and winning in January, and hypothetically speaking the Seahawks will be giving at least 4.5 points in each postseason game leading up to the Super Bowl if they secure home field advantage.

I had San Francisco at an 82.5 prior to their victory over the Rams, but I'm afraid I overrated them. Realistically, San Francisco hasn't beaten anybody so it's difficult for me to rank them third overall. However, Crabtree is back and the 49ers are getting healthy at the right time. I honestly can't get a read on this team.

I'm a fan of Cincinnati's defense (even with the injuries), but Andy Dalton simply cannot be trusted to win a playoff game. The red-headed QB has an abundance of offensive weapons but he hasn't been able to string it together consistently. It's not like the Bengals need Dalton to go out and throw for 300 yards every game; they simply need him to manage the game and abstain from committing egregious turnovers.

Projected Week 14 Point Spreads
Kansas City (-3 EV) @ Washington
Minnesota @ Baltimore (-5.5)
Cleveland @ New England (-9.5)
Oakland @ NYJ (-3)
Indianapolis @ Cincinnati (-7)
Carolina @ New Orleans (-4)
Detroit @ Philadelphia (-2)
Miami @ Pittsburgh (-3 -120)
Buffalo @ Tampa Bay (-3 EV)
Tennessee @ Denver (-12)
St. Louis @ Arizona (-5)
NYG @ San Diego (-3 -120)
Seattle @ San Francisco (-1.5)
Atlanta @ Green Bay (-3.5)
Dallas @ Chicago (-1)

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Revised NFL Power Ratings (November 1, 2013)

Here are the Week 9 NFL power ratings, along with some brief commentary on the top teams.

84.0 Denver
83.0 San Francisco, Seattle
82.5 Green Bay
82.0 New Orleans
79.5 Cincinnati
79.0 New England
78.5 Kansas City, Indianapolis
78.0 Detroit, Carolina
77.5 Dallas
77.0 San Diego, Chicago
76.5 Baltimore
76.0 Houston
75.5 Miami, Pittsburgh, Tennessee
75.0 Washington
74.5 Philadelphia, Arizona
73.5 Atlanta, NYG
73.0 NYJ
72.5 Oakland, Cleveland
72.0 Buffalo
71.0 St. Louis, Minnesota
68.0 Tampa Bay
65.0 Jacksonville

Denver dropped a half-point after struggling early on against Washington. Granted the Broncos came back and won the game handily, but perhaps I may have overrated them a bit in the Week 8 rankings. Denver is no longer the invincible juggernaut they initially appeared to be and I want my power ratings to reflect that.

San Francisco remains at an 83 despite blowing out Jacksonville in England. The 49ers could have won that game by 40 points and I still wouldn't have upgraded them (that's how bad the Jaguars are). However, I have San Francisco ranked second overall by a few decimal points

I had no choice but to drop Seattle a full point after their abysmal performance on Monday Night Football against a below-average St. Louis team that didn't have their starting quarterback. The Seahawks remain in the top 3, but it is obvious they are a completely different team when playing away from CenturyLink.

I've got New Orleans rated an 82.25 in the spreadsheet, but I rounded them down to 82 to maintain the half-point interval scale. With Jimmy Graham not close to a hundred percent, I thought it was appropriate to make the Saints an 82 for the time being.  

Cincinnati is the second best team in the AFC according to my rankings and I firmly believe they are better than Kansas City. However, the Bengals lost Geno Atkins, arguably the best defensive tackle in the league, to a torn ACL during Thursday night's game against Miami, which is a huge blow to an elite defensive line. Leon Hall has also been ruled out for the season, and Cincinnati's rating could drop in the near future depending on how their defense responses to these injuries. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Revised NFL Power Ratings (October 10, 2013)

Here are the Week 6 NFL power ratings and projected point spreads.

86.0 Denver
84.0 Seattle
82.5 New Orleans
82.0 Green Bay
81.0 New England, San Francisco
79.5 Cincinnati
79.0 Kansas City, Indianapolis
78.5 Dallas
78.0 Detroit
77.5 Chicago, Baltimore, Houston
77.0 Miami
76.0 Tennessee (w/ Locker)
75.5 Carolina, San Diego, Atlanta
75.0 Philadelphia, Washington
74.5 Minnesota
74.0 Arizona, NYJ, Pittsburgh, Cleveland
73.0 NYG, Tampa Bay
72.5 Oakland, St. Louis
71.5 Buffalo
64.5 Jacksonville

Denver remains an 86 despite a close call in Dallas. Their offense was clicking as usual, but the defense got absolutely torched by Tony Romo. The Broncos have several key contributors missing on the defensive side of the ball and the situation needs to be monitored on a weekly basis. While I do think Denver is the best team in the league, they have played a pretty soft schedule thus far and I'm interested to see how they perform against tougher competition.

New Orleans impressed me last week with their road win at Soldier Field. The Saints traveled outside the Superdome and took care of business against a decent opponent. Chicago scored eight garbage points towards the end of the fourth quarter so the 28-20 final score is a bit misleading. New Orleans travels to Foxboro this Sunday to face New England and we will find out more about this Saints team once that game kicks off, especially if Gronk suits up.

My perception tells me San Francisco is one of the best teams in the NFL, but when I watch them play, they don't look so special. I'll admit their win against Green Bay was impressive, but at the same time they played at Candlestick and needed some assistance from the officials to come away with the victory. Kaepernick didn't complete a pass during the second or third quarter of last Sunday's game against Houston, which tells you all you need to know about the 49ers' passing game. Without Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis in the lineup, Anquan Boldin draws constant double teams which leaves Kaepernick with nobody to throw to. The 49ers' got the run game going during the past few weeks, but their pass offense is still a question mark. San Francisco has lost five starters to injury thus far and I may have them ranked a little too high at 81.

Kansas City may be 5-0, but they have played the softest schedule in the NFL. Kansas City's opponents have a combined record of 7-18 through the first five weeks of the season. The Chiefs have an above average defense, but their offense is mediocre and Alex Smith simply does not throw the ball downfield. Kansas City's early success makes for a good storyline, but I'm still not sold on this football team.

Projected Week 6 Point Spreads
NYG @ Chicago (-8)
Detroit (-2) @ Cleveland
Pittsburgh @ NYJ (-1.5)
St. Louis @ Houston (-8)
Green Bay (-1.5) @ Baltimore
Cincinnati (-6.5) @ Buffalo
Carolina @ Minnesota (-2)
Philadelphia @ Tampa Bay (-1)
Oakland @ Kansas City (-7.5)
Tennessee @ Seattle (-11.5)
Jacksonville @ Denver (-26)
New Orleans @ New England (-2)
Arizona @ San Francisco (-9)
Washington @ Dallas (-5.5)
Indianapolis @ San Diego (PK)

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Revised NFL Power Ratings (September 26, 2013)

Here are the updated Week 4 NFL power ratings, along with some projected numbers for this week's matchups.

Denver and Seattle are clearly the top two teams in the league, but after that the rankings start to get ambiguous. I've got Green Bay ranked third by a smidge, but that can easily be debated.

I'm bullish on New Orleans this year and believe they are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. However, the Saints have played a pretty soft schedule thus far and I need to see how they look against tougher competition. We should get a clearer picture of how good New Orleans is after they play back-to-back road games at Chicago and at New England during the upcoming weeks. 

The Patriots haven't impressed me this season, but we will find out soon whether they are for real or not. New England's next three games are at Atlanta, at Cincinnati and home against New Orleans.

I'm still not sold on Kansas City and I have them tied at 10th overall with Chicago and Dallas. The Chiefs have a borderline elite level defense, but their offense has had trouble moving the ball throughout the first three weeks of the season. Additionally, Kansas City has one of the easiest schedules in the league and their win/loss record will be deceiving down the road.

On a side note, I wanted to point out that I do not take win/loss records into account when making power ratings. Kansas City may be 3-0, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are a better team than Green Bay or San Francisco. 

85.0 Denver, Seattle
82.0 Green Bay
81.5 New England, New Orleans, San Francisco
80.0 Cincinnati
79.5 Atlanta, Houston
79.0 Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City
78.5 Baltimore, Miami
77.5 Detroit, Indianapolis
77.0 Carolina
76.5 NYG
76.0 Philadelphia, Tennessee, Washington
75.5 San Diego, St. Louis, Pittsburgh
74.5 Tampa Bay
74.0 Arziona, NYJ
73.5 Cleveland, Minnesota
72.5 Buffalo, Oakland
68.0 Jacksonville 

Projected Week 4 Point Spreads
San Francisco (-3) @ St. Louis
Pittsburgh (-2) @ Minnesota
Seattle (-2.75) @ Houston
NYG @ Kansas City (-5)
Baltimore (-3.25) @ Buffalo
Cincinnati (-4.5) @ Cleveland
Arizona @ Tampa Bay (-2.75)
Chicago @ Detroit (-1.5)
Indianapolis (-7.75) @ Jacksonville
NYJ @ Tennessee (-4)
Dallas (-.5) @ San Diego
Washington (-1) @ Oakland
Philadelphia @ Denver (-9.25)
New England @ Atlanta (-1)
Miami @ New Orleans (6.75)

Monday, August 19, 2013

2013 NFL Strength of Schedule Power Ratings

In addition to overall NFL power ratings, I also created strength of schedule (SOS) power ratings during the summer. I used a simple formula based primarily on season win totals for the 2013 season in order to comprise these rankings. This activity helps identify teams getting respect from oddsmakers despite having a difficult schedule, as well as add perspective to the season win numbers. For example, San Francisco and Seattle have almost identical win totals, but the 49ers play a tougher schedule by a decent margin according to our ratings. This would suggest that San Francisco is the better team, but the same conclusion could not be drawn by simply considering raw season win numbers.

I've always preferred to use season win totals from reputable sportsbooks to forecast strength of schedule for the upcoming season. Not only do NFL teams naturally regress/progress from year to year, but other transactions take place during the off-season that can either ameliorate or worsen a roster. Indianapolis won eleven games last season, but after digging through their advanced metrics, the Colts appear to be more like an eight-win team in retrospect. Last year's success was somewhat of an anomaly for Indianapolis and it would be unrealistic to expect them to win eleven games again this season.

I used the season win totals posted on Bookmaker (part of the CRIS family) to construct SOS power ratings for each team. The shop is offering $5,000 limits on these propositions which leads me to believe they have confidence in their numbers.

The formula to create an NFL schedule consists of six games between divisional opponents, eight games against two different divisions, and two games vs. two different teams based on win/loss record from the previous year (sometimes referred to as "field games").

For example, the two divisions Minnesota will play are the NFC East and the AFC North. They also have to face Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay two times each because they are all in the same division. In this scenario, Minnesota will play Carolina (2nd place in NFC South) and Seattle (2nd place in NFC West) in their two field games because each team finished second in their respective divisions last year. I simply added up the season win total expectations for all 16 of Minnesota's opponents and arrived at a strength of schedule power rating of 137.80.

I added the numbers up using the aforementioned formula for each individual team and these are the results I came up with.

       Team            SOS Rating
1 Minnesota              137.80 
2 Arizona                  136.75
3 St. Louis                 135.40
4 Washington           135.10
5 Tampa Bay            134.25
6 Baltimore               134.15
7 Carolina                 133.85
8 Atlanta                   133.60
9 New Orleans         132.90
10 Green Bay           132.65
11 Chicago                132.05
12 New York (G)     131.90
13 Dallas                   130.65
14 Detroit                 130.35
T-15 San Francisco  130.10
T-15 Oakland           130.10               Average: 130.06
17 Cleveland             129.95               Median:  130.03
18 Philadelphia         129.65
19 Buffalo                 128.95
20 Cincinnati            128.65
21 New England       128.45
22 Miami                  128.25
23 New York (J)      128.10
24 Tennessee            128.00
25 Jacksonville         127.75
26 Seattle                  127.45
27 San Diego            127.05
28 Indianapolis        125.45
29 Houston              125.00
30 Pittsburgh           123.20
31 Kansas City         122.75
32 Denver                121.80

Here is a breakdown of the division matchups:

NFC East:    NFC North and AFC West 
NFC North: NFC East and AFC North       
NFC South: AFC East and NFC West        
NFC West:  AFC South and NFC South

AFC East:    NFC South and AFC North  
AFC North: NFC North and AFC East
AFC South: AFC West and NFC West
AFC West:  AFC South and NFC East

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 NFL Power Ratings

I took a break from NFL previews to focus on something I believe is much more important: NFL and NCAAF power ratings.

I used Jeff Fogle's preliminary market ratings as a baseline for mine. Fogle used his final ratings from last year and adjusted for factors like injuries, off-season moves, abnormal turnover differentials, etc. I did some homework during the past couple weeks and tweaked some numbers accordingly and eventually came up with my own power ratings.

Keep in mind these are preliminary considering training camp hasn't even started yet for some teams, and with injuries and other transactions bound to take place, these numbers are definitely not set in stone.

85 San Francisco
84 Denver, New England,
83 Seattle
82 Green Bay
81 Atlanta, New Orleans, Houston
80 Baltimore, New Orleans, New York Giants
79 Pittsburgh, Chicago, Dallas
78 Carolina, Washington (with RG3)
77 Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, Tampa Bay
76 Kansas City, Minnesota, Philadelphia, San Diego, St. Louis
75 Buffalo, Cleveland, Tennessee, Washington (without RG3)
74 Arizona, New York Jets
73 Oakland
72 Jacksonville

Power ratings can be used to project the beginning stages of a point spread. For example, if San Francisco played Atlanta on a neutral field, my power ratings suggest San Francisco would be about a 4-point favorite. Other factors such as location, perception, schedule spots, etc. are then implemented into the number in order to create a more accurate point spread. Remember these are preliminary numbers that will be altered as the off-season progresses.

I don't think Baltimore will regress too much this year and we have to remember they weren't a juggernaut during last year's regular season. While they did lose some valuable veterans on defense, the Ravens acquired Elvis Dumervil and Michael Huff, who should help plug the hole on defense. Baltimore's offensive line remains intact and transformed into one of the best units during the playoffs after shuffling the line up. My concern with the Ravens is the wide receiver corps and the assumption that they could potentially start three or four rookies which I will be keeping an eye on them during training camp.

Cincinnati has one of the best defensive units in the league but their offense becomes stagnant at times and I don't trust Andy Dalton to get the job done. The Bengals played the second easiest schedule in the league last year behind Indianapolis (per Pro Football Reference) and I'm not buying the hype regarding them winning the AFC North.

Cleveland has a solid offensive line and appears to be on the uptick, but nevertheless, I have them listed as a 75 because I need to see more from Brandon Weeden. 

Don't get me wrong Denver is definitely one of the best teams in the NFL but they did play a cupcake schedule last year (due in large part to their awful division). I wouldn't be surprised to see them win twelve games in 2013 considering they have one of the easiest schedules but I'm not convinced they are as good as San Fran at this point and Denver will most likely begin the season one point lower on the power rating scale.

I'm not too high on Green Bay coming into this year so I conservatively pegged them as an 82 but will be quick to move them up the ladder if they can show me something in their opening game at San Fran.

New Orleans is a tricky team to get a read on considering how bad their defense is. I am expecting their offense to continue to be one of the best in the league especially with Sean Payton returning to the helm. Also Rob Ryan is coming in to coach the defense and will implement a new 3-4 scheme and I'm not sure if the Saints will be able to comfortably adjust in such a short period of time. I currently have them pegged as an 80 but will be adjusting on the fly depending on what I see from their defensive unit.

San Francisco is the best team in the league in my opinion but the wide receiver situation worries me a bit. Crabtree could miss the season and Manningham reportedly won't be ready for training camp, which leaves Anquan Boldin and A.J. Jenkins. However Vernon Davis is a cross between a tight end and a wide receiver and I expect to see him line up wide more often than we've seen in the past. San Fran's outstanding offensive line and stout defense make them the best team in the NFL regardless of some skill position setbacks.

I had Seattle ranked as high as an 84 but their subpar offensive line ultimately made be shift them down a point. The Seahawks probably have the best secondary in the league but their linebackers aren't too special in my opinion. When you factor in some of the suspensions that are set to take place during the first month of the season I conservatively ranked them as an 83. 

Tampa Bay is another tough team to grasp because of the free agents they brought in. Revis is arguably the best cornerback in the league when healthy but he will be less than a year removed from a torn ACL by the time Week 1 rolls around. Dashon Goldson is one of the best safeties in the league and their defense appears to be much improved, but looking good on paper does not necessarily translate to on-field production. I currently have them listed as 77 but that number could definitely be on the rise.

Washington was very fortunate to win ten games last year in my opinion and I don't envision them doing it again in 2013. Late season collapses by the Cowboys and Giants directly attributed to Washington winning the NFC East. The Redskins had the highest fumble recovery percentage (67.39%) in 2012 and I would expect that to regress back to the mean. The return of Brian Orakpo (tore his pectoral muscle in Week 2) will help improve a defense desperately in need as well as free up Ryan Kerrigan for some one-on-one opportunities. I expect a regression from Robert Griffin III because I'm assuming he will operate from the pocket much more often this year. He also threw a ton of bubble screens and other short patterns which helped inflate his completion percentage.

I'm still fine-tuning my NCAAF power ratings at the moment but will put them up on the site as soon as I get them finished.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: New York Giants

The Giants got off to a hot start in 2012, winning six of their first eight games, but folded up like a lawn chair down the stretch and ended up missing the playoffs. New York had a chance to potentially lock up the division title with a win in either Week 15 at Atlanta or Week 16 at Baltimore, but unfortunately for the G-Men they got waxed in both those games and finished the season with a 9-7 record.

With Ahmad Bradshaw out of the picture, many believe David Wilson is poised for a breakout year. While I do not necessarily disagree with that hypothesis, Bradshaw is one of the best pass protecting running backs in the league and it was surprising to see the Giants let him walk considering the only offer he garnered was a one-year, $2 million deal from Indianapolis. It will be imperative that Wilson improve his pass protection technique if he wants to fill the shoes of Bradshaw in the Giants' backfield.

Victor Cruz signed his one-year tender (worth approximately $2.88 million) and will attend training camp but it appears he will have a long-term contract in place prior to the start of the regular season. If Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy, which is much easier said than done, the Giants will have one of the most dynamic wide receiver duos in the league.

New York lost a few key pieces on defense in Osi Umenyiora and Michael Boley but for the most part the defensive unit remains intact. Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery that took place on June 4, and while the estimated timetable for recovery is twelve weeks, a set date for his return has yet to be determined.

As far as estimations for the upcoming season go, the LVH opened the Giants' season win total at 9, slightly shaded toward the 'under' (-120). Considering the LVH released their win totals over a month ago, it appears they haven't taken much action, if any, on the Giants because the vig and total remain unchanged per Mike Wilkening of Sporting News.

According to the Pythagorean Expectation theorem (outlined by Bill Barnwell in this article), the G-Men should have won approximately ten games last year based on their points scored and points allowed, so there's not much of a discrepancy and conclusions shouldn't be drawn simply from the theorem in this case. (Usually a two win difference between expected wins and actual wins is the starting point for anticipating a progression or regression the following season.)

Similar to the Cowboys, the Giants have the privilege of facing their toughest opponents at home. The G-Men play Seattle at MetLife which is a huge advantage considering the Seahawks have arguably the strongest home field edge in the league and the game will be played at 1:00 PM ET so the time zone difference factor is in play. New York also gets Denver at home so they avoid playing in altitude at Mile High.

The Week 1 matchup at Dallas will go a long way in determining whether the Giants win more than nine games or not. If New York were to lose that game, they could easily get off to an 0-2 start considering they play Denver the following week. However, the Giants play at Carolina, at Kansas City and home against Philadelphia during Weeks 3-5 and I expect them to be favored in all three of those games. New York won't face off against Washington until Week 13 which is a disadvantage because it is unknown whether Robert Griffin III will be healthy at the start of the season.

Based on my projections I have the Giants slotted for nine wins so I don't have a strong opinion on their season win total. A few lucky breaks could potentially determine whether New York exceeds expectations or not and there is too much uncertainty for me to make a wager on their win total.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: Dallas Cowboys

As we enter the dog days of summer, there isn't too much to get excited about in the sports world. Wimbledon is winding down and the British Open will tee off in a couple weeks, but aside from that we are basically left with baseball and Canadian football. I tried my best to get into the CFL but I just haven't been able to fully embrace the sport.

With that said, it's time for me to focus on the upcoming 2013 NFL season. I plan on constructing a preview for each team leading up to training camp, starting with the NFC East squads.

The Cowboys had a rather mediocre 2012 campaign. Dallas finished with an 8-8 mark (those eight wins came against opponents with a combined 50-62 record) but were surprisingly just one scoring drive away from potentially stealing the division title away from the Redskins.

It appears Dallas will return the majority of their starters from last year's squad with the exception of a few but they have a new face on the sidelines running the defense in Monte Kiffin. Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan was relieved of his duties after an unsuccessful two-year stint in Big D. Under Ryan's guidance, the Cowboys allowed 5.6 yards per play (23rd in NFL) in 2011 and 5.8 yards per play (25th in NFL) in 2012, both which were below the league average in each respective season.

Below is a chart illustrating the Cowboys' defensive woes since Ryan took over prior to the 2011 season.

The Cowboys' defense was average or below average in almost every important defensive category during Ryan's two years as defensive coordinator. Ryan's 3-4 defense is a fairly complex scheme with tons of nomenclature and the fact that the defense actually regressed in their second season under Ryan may very well be the reason he was let go. On the other hand, Monte Kiffin's base 4-3 scheme is easier to comprehend and allows the players much more freedom on defense.

Here's an Anthony Spencer quote from OTA's (via John Machota):
I think Rob had a lot more schemes for doing things...We’re going to beat them by doing the small things better than they do the small things. We’re really not going to try to scheme too much, we’re going to do the little things and try to beat them that way.
It seems like Dallas' defensive unit, particularly the linebackers, will have less to worry about in terms of intricate coverages and will be able to focus on rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run.

Jay Kornegay and his staff at the LVH have Dallas pegged for 8.5 wins shaded towards the 'under' ( -140) at the moment. However, when the win totals were initially released on May 19, Dallas  'under 8.5 wins' was listed at -155, so it appears the Las Vegas Hotel has taken some action on the 'over.'

Aside from getting the Raiders at home, Dallas doesn't have any particularly "easy" games. According to Cantor Gaming's 2013 NFL "look-ahead" lines, Dallas is laying seven at home versus Oakland which is the largest favorite they will be all season. On the flip side, Dallas is getting no more than four points in any game on the schedule (+4 at New Orleans), so they are definitely capable of stringing together a winning season. Fortunately for Dallas they get to play their two toughest opponents, Denver and Green Bay, at home in Arlington.

I'm pretty bullish on the Cowboys and would only look to take them at plus money to win nine games. They simply have too much talent on that roster not to succeed and Kiffin will get more out of this unit than Rob Ryan did. Dallas has excellent cornerbacks and that is crucial in the pass-happy league that the NFL has become. Also the NFC East is wide open this year without any true juggernauts and nine wins may be enough to win the division. With that said, I'm not a Jason Garrett fan and the fact that Bill Callahan will be calling the offensive plays has got to have Nebraska fans laughing their asses off.

Check back in a few days for my breakdown of the New York Giants.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

NBA Playoffs: Western Conference Finals Preview

Series Price: San Antonio -140 / Memphis +120 (via Bookmaker)

As far as Game 1 assignments are concerned, expect to see Conley on Parker in what will be the most intriguing matchup of the series in my opinion. Parker is arguably the best European guard to put on an NBA uniform while Mike Conley has established himself as an upper-echelon NBA point guard throughout these playoffs. The key will be to keep Parker out of the paint as much as possible and make him settle for jumpers (granted that is much easier said than done).

It looks like Tim Duncan will be guarding Marc Gasol on the outside while Tiago Splitter will do his best to hang with Zach Randolph down low. Z-Bo carried his team offensively during Game 5 of the Conference Semis, putting up 28 points (on just 17 shots) and grabbing 14 boards. Randolph's recent offensive surge can be directly attributed to his ability to get to the foul line. Randolph scored 41 points on a combined 40 field goal attempts and attempted just 12 free throws during the first three games. Contrastingly, Z-Bo put up 51 points on just 34 shots and got to the line 24 times in Games 4 and 5. Clearly Z-Bo's offensive productivity hinges on his ability to get to the charity stripe.

As far as coaching goes, Pop and the Spurs obviously have the edge, but Lionel Hollins has done a fine job especially after the Rudy Gay trade. After dropping 44 in Game 1, Steph Curry was held to 22, 16, 22, 9, 22 in Games 2-6 respectively. While some of that can be attributed to the ankle tweak Steph sustained during Game 3, it's hard for me to believe Pop didn't have anything to do with Curry's scoring slump. Additionally, after Klay Thompson's 28-point first half in Game 2, Kawhi Leonard held the young sharpshooter to a combined 46 points over the last 18 quarters of the series. 

Tayshaun Prince went 13-for-44 (30%) from the field against Oklahoma City during the series which honestly isn't that much worse than Rudy Gay's career shooting percentage from the outside (I'm not kidding either). Prince isn't the defender he once was but he is still an above-average wing defender in my book. If we compare him to Gay, Prince is a better defender, a similar outside shooter, and you get him for 40% of the price. Seems like a solid deal to me. Plus Memphis won't have to deal with the strict luxury tax penalties that came into the picture after the latest collective bargaining agreement was signed.

Neither of these teams are afraid to play games in the 80's or 90's and I'm expecting a relatively low scoring series which is evidenced by the Game 1 total that currently sits at 182.5.

Recommendations: If you like San Antonio for the series, I would go ahead and lay -140 (depending on the book you should be able to get a better number like -130). On the other hand, if you like Memphis, I would either take the points in Game 1 (Grizzlies are 5-1 ATS on the road during these playoffs) or simply sit on the sidelines and wait for an adjusted series price after Game 1. The reasoning is San Antonio is -185 on the moneyline for Game 1 which implies they have roughly a 65% chance to win the game. So assuming San Antonio takes Game 1 at home, Memphis will become a much larger dog than they currently are (more like +200 to win the series as opposed to the current number of +110 / +120). Also, we cannot forget Memphis lost both Game 1's against the Clippers and Thunder, only to come back and ultimately win both of those series.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 March Madness Update: March 10

VCU travels to Philadelphia on Sunday to face off against Temple in the Atlantic 10 regular season finale. The Rams are in the field of 68 without question but the Owls still have some work to do. Fran Dunphy's squad holds impressive wins over Syracuse and St. Louis, but they also lost to Canisius, Duquesne, and St. Bons at home (all as double digit chalk), which are three bad losses. If the Owls can knock off VCU at the Liacouras Center tomorrow afternoon they will most likely have punched their ticket considering they have other quality wins at Mass, at Nova, and vs. La Salle. Additionally, Dunphy did himself a favor by not constructing a cupcake non-conference schedule, which should definitely catch the eye of the committee. (Some of Temple's non-conference opponents include Duke, Kansas and Villanova.)

In terms of the A10 tourney, VCU is locked into the No. 2 spot with a first-round bye and will face the winner of St. Joe's-Xavier. If Temple beats VCU they would be the No. 3 seed, earn a first-round bye, and play the winner of GW-Mass. If the Owls lose they clinch the No. 5 seed and will be forced to play Dayton in the first round.

Michigan looks to avenge their Feb. 3 loss at Indiana as they now get a crack at the Hoosiers in Ann Arbor. Despite forcing 18 turnovers in the previous matchup, the Wolverines allowed 1.17 points per possession on defense which tied a season-high. Michigan fell behind early and their only lead in the game lasted for just six seconds after Trey Burke hit a three to put the Wolverines up 3-2 with 18:50 remaining in the first half. There was a large discrepancy in terms of free throw attempts (25-7 in favor of Indiana) in Bloomington and Michigan should make it a priority to get to the charity stripe considering they attempted 16 more three-pointers than foul shots in that last matchup. Glenn Robinson III is shooting 31% (10-32) from the field in Michigan's five loses as opposed to 60% (115-191) in their 25 wins and thus it will be vital for him to step up and have an efficient game tomorrow.

The BIG 10 standings are in a jumble at this point and the league champion will not be determined until the conference games on Sunday come to a close.
Arch Madness: The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, also known as Arch Madness, will come to a close on Sunday with a matchup that features the top two teams in the league. Creighton went from being ranked No. 11 (AP Poll) earlier in the season to 'on the bubble' after that BracketBuster loss at St. Mary's. The Blue Jays cruised through their first two conference tourney games with relative ease, winning by 12 and 21, although Drake did hang around for a while in the first game. Wichita State overcame the 'scissor-kick' revenge factor that was in play on Saturday en route to a 66-51 victory over Illinois St. The Shockers defeated Missouri State 69-59 in the quarterfinals but did not manage to cover the 12.5-point spread as the Bears kept it relatively close from start to finish.

As far as the season series goes between these two, both teams split and covered each game on their respective home floors. Linemakers have yet to release a number on this one but my guess is Creighton will open as a 1.5-point favorite.

Big South: We have our first Cinderella story of March. The Liberty Flames defeated Coastal Carolina (the tournament's host school) by 18 points in the opening round (as a 9-point underdog), but that's just the beginning. Liberty took care of High Point in the quarterfinals as a 3.5-point dog and proceeded to take out Gardner-Webb as a 6-point pup in the semis and they now find themselves in the conference tournament finals. I haven't seen a line for this game and I'm not too sure what to make it considering I don't follow the Big South too closely but some math models I checked out suggest Charleston Southern should be giving 6.5 or 7 points.

West Coast Conference: I actually just finished watching St. Mary's fight back to defeat San Diego thanks to the grit and leadership of Matthew Dellavedova paired with a heroic performance by Brad Waldow. The sophomore forward scored 23 points, grabbed 16 boards, and ended up losing a tooth in the process. Waldow did not sit a minute as he refused to leave the floor despite losing one of his front teeth and he actually ended up setting a career high in points (and tied his career high in rebounds).

Despite being a 20-point favorite, Gonzaga only led Loyola Marymount by one point at halftime, but as expected the Bulldogs came alive in the second half  and took care of business. Elias Harris was a problem down low for LMU and actually scored 12 straight points (for Gonzaga) during a brief stretch in the second half.

Gonzaga defeated St. Mary's twice during the regular season and will go for the sweep on Monday night. The Gaels covered the 9.5-point spread in the first meeting but ended up losing the second game by margin. Oddsmakers have yet to release a line because the St. Mary's game just finished a little while ago but I would imagine the Bulldogs will be laying 5 or 6 points. The Gaels are on the bubble thanks to a weak strength of schedule and they will need to win tomorrow if they want a guaranteed spot in the dance.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

NCAA March Madness Update: March 9

With conference tournaments underway and only eight days remaining before Selection Sunday, it's time to talk March Madness.

First Team In: Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) defeated Mercer 88-75 to seal up the Atlantic Sun automatic bid and clinch the first NCAA tournament birth. FGCU won all three of their conference tourney games by double digits and although they will probably be a 16 seed (according to StatSheet projections), it should not be forgotten that FGCU went into Miami (FL) and defeated the Hurricanes 63-51 back on November 13.

Conference Tourneys: Charleston Southern defeated Virginia Military 71-65 to move on to the Big South Conference Championship. The Buccaneers will face off against the winner of Liberty and Gardner-Webb on ESPN2 tomorrow for the opportunity to clinch an automatic bid.

Belmont and Murray State will square off in the Ohio Valley Conference Final tonight (7:00 PM ET) on ESPN2. Oddsmakers currently have Belmont locked in as a 7.5-point favorite over the Racers despite the fact that Murray State won their lone regular season matchup 79-74. The Racers put on an efficiency clinic last night against Eastern Kentucky as they shot 22-31 (71%) from inside the arc and scored 60 of their 81 points off 1's and 2's. Bubble teams are heavily relying on Belmont to win this game considering the Bruins have an outside shot at an at-large even with a loss tonight. 

The semifinal round of the West Coast Conference tournament kicks off tonight in Vegas with Gonzaga facing off against Loyola Marymount followed by a matchup between St. Mary's and San Diego. Linemakers made Gonzaga a 20-point favorite over a Loyola Marymount squad that went 1-15 in conference during the regular season. If the Lions could pull off the unlikely win it would almost certainly be considered the biggest upset of the season. St. Mary's is listed as a 15-point favorite versus San Diego, so unless some sort of miracle occurs tonight, expect to see Gonzaga and St. Mary's face off for the third time this year.

Bubble Talk: Kentucky came up with a huge win over Florida earlier this afternoon which all but solidified their spot in the NCAA tournament. Even if the Wildcats were to lose their lone SEC tournament game, I'm sure the selection committee will give them the nod. As per the Gators, this team just cannot close out tight games. Florida is currently 0-5 in games decided by single digits which is not good when you are trying to go to the Final Four. Fortunately for the Gators, Will Yuguete has returned to the lineup but it is unclear how healthy he actually is. Florida's problem is depth and it will be tough for them to make a Final Four run while solely relying on starters.

La Salle traveled to St. Louis to take on the Billikens in an A-10 regular season showdown but the Explorers came up short. LaSalle needed a win to solidify their NCAA tournament hopes but now they shift their focus towards their conference tournament. Dr. John Giannini's guard-oriented squad is going to have to win at least one game in the A-10 tournament to keep their chances alive in my opinion.

Despite being nationally ranked, UCLA still has work to do if they want to go dancing. The Bruins could have helped their cause with a win at Washington State the other night, but Ben Howland's squad simply did not show up to play. UCLA is going to have to beat Washington today and do some damage in the Pac-12 tournament, but when it's all said and done I believe the committee will put the Bruins in the field of 68. 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Manti Te'o: a Victim or a Fraud?

The inspirational, heartfelt story of the 2012-2013 NCAA football season has turned into the most bizarre sports hoax in recent memory. I'm sure you've all heard of the supposed love affair between Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and a woman named Lennay Kekua who allegedly passed away on September 11, 2012, just hours after Te'o lost his grandmother (although we now know that is not true). It turns out this Lennay Kekua never existed in the first place, and contrary to previous reports that date back as far as 2009, Te'o never physically met the woman in person. Seems pretty strange, huh?

I'm not writing this piece to accuse Te'o of fabricating the story, but simply to point out some major inconsistencies and eventually figure out what really transpired.

According to an article published by the South Bend Tribune, Te'o and Kekua met face-to-face after the Notre Dame-Stanford game on November 28, 2009. "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes." The two co-eds reportedly exchanged numbers after the encounter and remained in touch. To my understanding, Te'o's father, Brian, was the source of this report, but I'm not entirely sure who provided the Tribune with those details. If I had the opportunity, I would ask Manti why he didn't correct these fallacies in future interviews if he indeed never met Kekua in person? 

Meanwhile, it has been confirmed by Brian Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick that Manti never met the so-called "love of his life" in person. Ironically, back in October 2012, Brian Te'o told the South Bend Tribune, "Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there." So wait, Te'o has actually met this girl before? I'm confused.

To those who do not understand why Te'o would be involved in such a hoax, I will explain. With that said, not all the facts have come out and I am not trying to implicate Te'o as guilty, but just hear me out.

Manti Te'o gained a tremendous amount of national recognition directly because of this story. I first heard of Manti Te'o because of the adversity he faced after losing his grandmother and girlfriend approximately six hours apart (thanks to Peter Thamel of Sports Illustrated), not because of his on-field performance. After Thamel brought Manti's situation to light, the national media picked up the story and ran with it. Te'o was interviewed by reporters like CBS 2 Chicago's Kate Sullivan as well as ESPN's Gene Wojciechowski for a College GameDay piece and soon after Te'o's story had captured the hearts of people all around the world.

If we look at these 2012-2013 preseason Heisman Trophy rankings, Te'o wasn't even ranked in the top 25. Here's Yahoo Sports' Heisman ratings after the first two weeks of the season. Ironically, Te'o didn't emerge as a Heisman candidate until after the Michigan game, which took place after his story had been reported by almost all of the primary sports media outlets. (Notice how Te'o's description in the previous link focuses on his inspirational story as he emerges at No.10 on the list.) The incentive to become involved in such a hoax can be evidenced by the fact that Te'o went from being relatively unrecognized (on a national scale) to the cover of Sports Illustrated's October issue in a matter of a month.

Don't get me wrong Te'o played some outstanding football during September, but the source behind his Heisman candidacy stemmed from his inspirational story and not necessarily his performance on the field. Considering I don't know all of the facts, I'm not too sure what to believe at this point, but to say that Te'o had nothing to gain from fabricating a fable like this is simply ignorant. 

The thing that doesn't make sense to me is why someone would dedicate years of their life to troll Manti Te'o and pretend to be his girlfriend (or create a false identity and pose as Te'o's mate). It just doesn't add up at this point. 

With that said, there are additional details that have yet to come out and I recommend we reserve our judgements until all the facts have been presented.

P.S. The happiest person on the planet right now has got to be Lance Armstrong.

In regards to the false reporting of this story, fact checking is an essential part of journalism (regardless of how emotional the circumstances are) and should be consistently practiced by every journalist around the globe, especially major media outlets like ESPN and Sports Illustrated. 

Saturday, January 5, 2013

NFL Postseason Wild Card Round Preview

Cincinnati @ Houston -4 O/U 42

The Bengals are on the rise having won seven of their last eight games while Houston is spiraling downwards (having lost three out of their last four). Aside from J.J. Watt, Houston's defense isn't that good and I have to give the defensive edge to Cincinnati. Jonathan Joseph hasn't met expectations this year and one could argue Kareem Jackson is the better cornerback (I'm interested to see if they take turns on A.J. Green). Despite receiving minimal recognition, Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins has almost been as good as Watt while Leon Hall has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL this season.

The game plan for Cincinnati has got to be stop the run and make Matt Schaub beat you through the air. Schaub's bread and butter is play action (along with some bootlegs) and it is the primary reason for his success as a starting NFL QB. When you have (arguably) the best running back and offensive line in the league it's much easier to operate as a quarterback, so the Bengals must make it a priority to control the line of scrimmage and stop the run. 

-Andy Dalton will be making his second straight playoff appearance while Matt Schaub will hope to get the butterflies out early considering this will be his first career postseason start.

-Marvin Lewis has never won a playoff game.

-The Texans have scored two offensive touchdowns in their last three games. 
Minnesota @ Green Bay -8 O/U 45

Green Bay's defense will get a tremendous boost considering their best defensive back (and arguably most important defensive player) Charles Woodson has been cleared to play after missing nine straight games with a broken collarbone. The return of Woodson will allow Dom Capers to confuse Ponder with exotic blitzes and disguised coverages which is something they were unable to do in last week's matchup. Ponder had all the time in the world last week (and to his credit played extremely well) but I'd rather put my faith in Aaron Rodgers than Ponder. Clay Matthews was also playing on a limited snap count last week and I assume there will be no such restriction tonight.

The weather forecast indicates temperatures should be in the low twenties which definitely plays to the Packers' advantage. The Vikings are a dome team that will be playing outdoors (in freezing temperatures) on the road and their quarterback has never started a game in 40 degree weather or less.

After Winfield checked out of last week's game with a hand injury, Aaron Rodgers threw for 316 yards and the Packers scored 27 points on their final six offensive drives (all without Winfield on the field). Winfield should be available tonight but he will be wearing a cast on his hand which will definitely impact his ability to lock down Greg Jennings, amongst other receivers. Add Randall Cobb back into the mix who missed last week's game and I like Packers' chances tonight. 

-Christian Ponder is officially listed as questionable with an elbow injury but he is expected to play. (According to a Minnesota beat writer, Ponder hasn't thrown the ball at all during practice this week in an attempt to keep his elbow in place.)

Indianapolis @ Baltimore -7 O/U 47

Baltimore may have lost four of their last five games but there's more to the story. The Ravens locked up the AFC North after a win over the Giants in Week 16 and thus had nothing to play for in Week 17 against the Bengals. The other three losses came against Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington, all of whom have a combined record of 31-17 (65%) so it's not like Baltimore was playing weak opponents during their losing skid. I don't believe Ray Lewis will be much of factor in this game considering he'll be playing with torn triceps, but he should definitely give them an emotional boost that could potentially counteract the Chuckstrong movement out in Indianapolis.

As mentioned previously, dome teams playing outdoors on the road isn't usually a recipe for success, especially in the playoffs with a rookie quarterback. Andrew Luck has more interceptions than touchdowns when playing on the road. Remember this team got blown out by the Jets earlier in the season. The Colts have easily played the weakest schedule compared to the other playoff teams. Indianapolis' defense allows 5.1 yards per rushing attempt (31st in NFL) and Ray Rice should have a field day. With that said you never know with this Colts team and I'm going to have to pass.

-Joe Flacco is 34-7 at home during his career but only 21-20 against the spread.  
-The Ravens are the only team to make the playoffs each of the past five years.

-It's been 14 weeks since the Colts' bye week while it's been 10 weeks since Baltimore's.

-Andrew Luck hasn't completed more than 50% of his passes in any of the past five games.

-Chuck Pagano was the defensive coordinator of the Ravens last season.

Seattle -3 @ Washington O/U 46

Robert Griffin III is clearly not 100% healthy (even if he is somewhat healthy that bulky knee brace limits his mobility) and he did not look like himself last week against Dallas (50% completion percentage and only 100 yards passing). Kyle Shanahan will have to limit the playbook (and potentially eliminate some of the misdirections) while the play action threat will become less effective because of Griffin's injury. (RG3 used play action 36.1% of the time which lead the NFL.) Alfred Morris appears to be in line for another 30+ carries, but that's not the recipe for success against this stout Seahawks defense. Granted Seattle's weakness is their rush defense (23rd in NFL) but RG3 will have to effectively throw the football because you cannot be one-dimensional against the Seahawks and expect to win. 

Seattle has played one of the toughest schedules in the league (5th in NFL) while the Redskins have faced average competition (15th in NFL). Washington's defense is mediocre at best, while Seattle has arguably the best defense in the league. Seattle's defense allows an NFL-best 15.3 points per game while the Redskins' defense gives up 24.2 points per game (21st in NFL) and I believe that will be the difference in the game. Seattle's offense should be able to consistently drive down the field on Washington but I'm not sure the Redskins' offense will be able to do the same against the Seahawks. Additionally, Washington's red zone scoring defense is particularly suspect and definitely concerns me.
-Pete Carroll is 3-13 against the spread as a road favorite during his career.

-Seattle's average margin of victory is third in the league behind New England and Denver (+10.5 points per game).

-Seahawks are 6-0 against the spread in their last six games against teams with a winning record.

Seattle is 6-1 against teams with a winning record while Washington is 5-3.