Playoff Implications on the Line for Both Teams in Monday …

Brees
Brees

Drew Brees needs to take care of the ball if the Saints are to beat Baltimore.

If we are going to complain about all the poor Monday night games scheduled over the last few years then we must also give credit when the schedule maker gives us a game worthy of the nation’s spotlight.

Tonight in the Big Easy, Baltimore returns to the Superdome for the first time since winning their second Super Bowl title to face a Saints’ team that is desperate for a win to stay alive in the putrid NFC South.

Baltimore (O/U 50) at New Orleans (-3) – The Ravens enter the action tonight in last place in the AFC North. A win puts them into a 3-way tie for second so there’s no need for alarm. A loss however would put them three game behind Cincinnati in the loss column and the Bengals own the tie-breaker.

At 4-6, the Saints are in first place in the NFC South. Yes, I said “4-6″ and “in first place.” A win would put them a game up in both the win and loss column over 4-7 Atlanta.

The Ravens received little to no help yesterday as the Bengals and Browns both won while Pittsburgh was on their bye week. New Orleans did get some help as both the Falcons and Buccaneers lost while Carolina was off for the weekend.

Ravens

The Ravens need a win to stay with the rest of the AFC North.

Offensively, the Saints and Ravens rank 3rd and 12th respectively. In passing, the Saints are fourth and the Ravens are 17th while they rank ninth and 11th in rushing. Despite the lofty rankings, Drew Brees hasn’t had the consistently good year passing that he’s accustomed to which is a bit strange since the Saints’ running game has improved a lot in 2014.

Baltimore has endured the Ray Rice issue and has been pleased with the emergence of Justin Forsett who has been solid in his role as the top back for Baltimore. Quarterback Joe Flacco will still take shots down-field with Steve Smith and Torrey Smith as well.

On defense, the Ravens possess the league’s 10th best overall unit while the Saints rank 18th. The teams are nearly identical in terms of passing defense with Baltimore ranking 19th and the Saints 21st while the run defenses rank 5th for the Ravens and 19th for the Saints.

If I’m Baltimore I’m attacking with the running game in an effort to open up the passing game. With the Saints struggling against the run it makes sound sense. If I’m the Saints, I’m throwing the ball coming out of the gate. The Ravens secondary is not at full strength and could be vulnerable if the pass rush isn’t there.

Key Injuries: BAL T Jah Reid OUT/Hand, NO RB Khiry Robinson OUT/Elbow

Trends: Baltimore is 6-1 straight up in their last seven games against the Saints… The total has gone OVER in four of the Saints’ last six games at home… The Ravens are 2-4 against the spread in their last six games on the road… New Orleans is 9-3-1 ATS in their last 13 home games.

The Pick: First of all, take the OVER. I see both teams able to move the ball on each other to validate that. I have to go with Baltimore getting the points here too. They have been a more complete team throughout the season.

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A Monday Night Game Worth Your Attention

Brees
Brees

Brees is fantastic in the Superdome but his number drop significantly when he plays outdoors as he will in Seattle tonight.

I have a hard time writing about just one game I know and you know there are other games out there whether they be on the hard court or on the ice. Tonight is a little different though. In the loudest stadium in the National Football League, the Seattle Seahawks will host the New Orleans Saints in a game that could very well decide who has home-field advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs.

I say “could” because there are still four games left to be played for each team after tonight. Two of those, if you’re the Saints, are against the Carolina Panthers who are breathing down the Saints’ necks. For Seattle, they still have a date in San Francisco, next week against the 49ers and divisional games with the Cardinals and Rams.

So before we declare tonight’s game the “Game of the Season” or “Game of the Century,” let’s remember there is still much left that can happen. With that said, let’s talk about the Saints and Seahawks and what it could do for you.

New Orleans (+5) at Seattle – New Orleans’ quarterback Drew Brees has heard the mumbles ever since he arrived in the Big Easy. He’s a great quarterback when he plays at home or inside another dome but get him outside and he suddenly becomes an average quarterback. What Brees needs to understand is that there are facts that back up those assertions.

12th man

The Seattle crowd will be in full force tonight when the Saints come calling.

During the current 2013 season, Brees’ completion percentage outdoors versus indoors is 60.7% vs. 73.1%. His quarterback rating is 84.6 vs. 121.4 while his touchdown to interception ratio is 7/5 outdoors vs. 21/3 indoors.

These three stats are pretty convincing. You can bet that Saints’ Head Coach Sean Payton is aware of those stats as well and that’s why I think you’ll see a bit of a different gameplan out of New Orleans. Look for one of two things from the Saints tonight; either they’ll make a very concerted effort to get the running game going or they may come out in a no-huddle attack in an effort to change things up.

Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram are nice backs but I’m not sure they can fulfill the consistency the running game will require in Seattle. The exception to that is the fact Seattle is just 16th in the NFL against the run so perhaps the Saints will find some success.

For Seattle the gameplan is pretty much what it always is and that’s to establish the run and set up Russell Wilson for play-action. That means heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch and if he can establish himself early that could mean a long day for Rob Ryan and the Saints’ defense. Speaking of Ryan, its evident his presence has had a very positive influence on this unit.

The Saints are a spot better than Seattle against the run and are also very good against the pass. His decisions on when to bring the blitz and when not to will be crucial.

The Seahawks are 5-0 straight up in their last five home games and are 4-2 straight up against the Saints in their last six meetings. For New Orleans, they are 4-2 straight up in their last six road games and are 2-4 against the spread when playing at Seattle.

Both teams are pretty healthy for this time of year but Seattle will be without Percy Harvin.

New Orleans must survive the early onslaught by the Seahawks and their crowd. That means no turnovers and scoring early in the game. I think the Saints will give it everything they have but Brees’ record outdoors troubles me. Take the Seahawks to cover and with the over/under at 47.5, take the under.

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My Super Bowl Picks for Your Consideration

Brees
Brees

I like Drew Brees and the Saints to get hot late in the season and make a run to the Super Bowl.

Predicting the Super Bowl participants used to be a fairly easy proposition. Long before the days of free agency and the salary cap, all one had to do was look at rosters, consider coaches and make their selection. In the 1960′s, the Green Bay Packers were always a safe bet. In the ’70′s, you could pick amongst the Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders and Cowboys and feel confident.

In the decade of the 1980′s, you felt good about San Francisco and Denver and then in ’90′s teams like the Redskins, Bills and Cowboys would give you cause to sleep well at night.

My how things have changed in the National Football League. No longer do we just consider the best roster or the best coach. We know must consider injuries more than ever because of weak depth charts and we must consider ‘strength of schedule’ as well.

Perhaps more important than all of those things though is trying to figure out what teams will be the hottest when the playoffs start. Back in 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to win their final five games just to make the playoffs. They did and then won three playoff games on the road before winning Super Bowl XL.

Not long after, the New York Giants accomplished the same feat and the Green Bay Packers rode a wave of momentum to a Super Bowl XLV victory. The Packers (and Patriots) also serve another point. Both teams recently had historical regular seasons only to be knocked out of the playoffs or Super Bowl by ‘hot teams.’

Baltimore was just such a team last season and although it took a blown coverage in Denver and the usual Peyton Manning choke-job to do it, the won their second Super Bowl title.

For the 2013 season, there are once again a handful of suspects that everyone has on their list of potential Super Bowl participants. San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle are popular picks in the NFC while Denver, New England and Cincinnati are garnering lots of attention in the AFC.

Fox

John Fox and the Broncos should take advantage of a weak division and roll to a big regular season.

My two participants are a combination of a team I believe will get hot and one that I believe will roll to a great regular season record and home-field advantage.

In the AFC, I like the Denver Broncos to emerge from the pack and represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. Despite the fact that they have to play the NFC East, I believe their division in the AFC West is extremely weak. Although Kansas City will be improved, I still see the Broncos going 6-0 in their division.

While the defense will miss Von Miller for the first six games, the offense should carry them. Denver has five of their first eight games at home and then the schedule lightens up late in the season despite being on the road in four of the final six. They’ll get the Titans, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders in that span.

I believe you’ll see Denver hosting New England in the AFC title game and advancing with a win.

In the NFC, I like a team to catch fire late and the team I like is the New Orleans Saints. Make no mistake about it; Sean Payton and company have not forgotten their lost season due to ‘BountyGate.’ The offense behind Payton and Drew Brees is loaded with talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end.

The defense will not be dominant but they won’t have to be because of the offensive prowess. Team leader Jonathan Vilma is not 100% and it will take him some time before he is. If they can return to the form that helped to create all those turnovers en route to Super Bowl XLI then I really like them to get back there.

San Francisco and Seattle will both be very good, but I think they will peak early as will Atlanta. I can envision a scenario where New Orleans wins on the road in San Francisco and then defeats Atlanta in the Georgia Dome to advance.

It’s a bit of a long shot, but I like the Saints and Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

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Top Five Offenses in the NFL

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The 2013 NFL regular season starts this Thursday with teams hoping to reach the Super Bowl in February. Most football pundits will tell you that defense wins Super Bowls and most would be right, but you need to score points if you are going to win games as well.

Offenses have changed over the past 10 years with teams spreading out their receivers to open up opposing defenses. The running game is still deemed vitally important, but today’s offense leaders are quarterbacks who can hit receivers in the flats, over the middle, down the sideline or over the top.

Here are the top 5 Offenses to start the 2013 season.

Topping my list is the Denver Broncos. When Denver signed Peyton Manning in 2012, they were unsure what he could still do as a quarterback. He quickly put the fears and doubts to rest and led his offense to a No. 4 ranking in the league. The Broncos averaged nearly 398 yards per game on offense and during the offseason got even stronger.

Denver signed Wes Welker away from New England, giving Manning another weapon to throw to. His presence will take pressure off Demaryius Thomas and Erick Decker on the outside.

The running game will be led by rookie Montee Ball who will take over for the departed Willis McGahee. Manning makes any offense better than it actually is, but the players he has around him this season, could make this team unstoppable.

In second place offensively are the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan led the offense to an average of 369 yards per game. He won his first playoff game and signed a huge contract during the offseason. The Falcons have the best group of receivers of any team in the NFL with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at tight end.

The Falcons added veteran running back Steven Jackson to the team, which will provide a much needed complementary running game to Ryan’s passing offense.

In third place, amongst NFL offenses are the New Orleans Satins led by Drew Brees. Last season the Saints had a difficult year, but look to bounce back. The Saints however, ranked No. 2 overall in offense with 411 yards per game. Brees is one of the league’s best quarterbacks and has good receivers like Lance Moore and Marques Colston along with Jimmy Graham at tight end to throw to. Their running game is sporadic at best. However, look for a strong season for the Saints offensively.

Fourth place goes to the Detroit Lions. The Lions were the No. 3 ranked team overall last season with 408 yards per carry. Any team with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Calvin Johnson at wide receiver will be dangerous. Johnson will gain between up to 2,000 yards in any season, while Stafford will throw for 4,500 or more. With the addition of all-purpose back Reggie Bush, the Lions will be putting up large numbers on the score board this season.

Most people will think the fifth place choice goes to the New England Patriots who last year led the NFL in total offense, but my fifth place goes to the San Francisco 49ers. With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, the 49ers have a dual pass/run threat that most other teams do not enjoy. Add to that veteran Frank Gore in the backfield and receivers Vernon Davis and Anguan Boldin and you have a recipe for success. A player who could surprise is AJ Jenkins.

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New Orleans will make NFC South competitive again

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This season, the NFC South will be nothing like it was last season when the Atlanta Falcons dominated.

With the Bounty Scandal behind the New Orleans Saints and additions made to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Carolina Panthers, this division could be one of the most competitive in the NFL.

The Falcons remain the favorite to win the division, but one team to look out for is the New Orleans Saints. For the past four seasons, the Saints have alternated the South division title with the Falcons.

Last season New Orleans finished 7-9 and in a three way tie, six games behind the first place Falcons at 13-3. The Saints were 8-8 against the spread and on the over/under finished 10/6.

Starting this season online sportsbooks such as Bovada, topbet, betonline and sportsbook.com have the Saints at 15 to 1 to lift the Vince Lombardi trophy as Super Bowl Champions, 7 to 1 to win the NFC Championship and 15 to 1 to win the NFC South, while the win total for the Saints has been set at 9.

On offense, the Saints are a joy to watch. They have one of the two best offensive units in the NFL. With Drew Brees at quarterback, the team knows their aerial attack is one of the league’s best. Brees just continues to set new records. This season the offense should even improve, if that is possible, with the return to the sideline of Sean Payton the Saints Head Coach.

Brees is an elite quarterback, but has had to press due to his defense not being able to stop opposing offenses. If he is forced to press, he can make mistakes.

This season look for New Orleans to focus more than last season on the running game, as their rushing attack was No. 25 last season, after being No. 6 in 2011. The receiving corps to start the season is not what Brees is used to and that could work against him.

Defensively last season the Saints were horrendous. They did not play the defense they were capable of and ended up giving up more yardage during the season than any other NFL defense in the history of the NFL.

The Saints had problems stopping the most basic rushing and passing plays the entire 16-game schedule.

Things may not get good that quick. The Saints hired Rex Ryan to run the defense, which means it will now be a 3-4 base instead of 4-3. The 3-4 puts a great deal of responsibility on the linebackers and that is where the Saints have been the weakest. Without any good pass rushers in the 3-4 set, the Saints could be giving up huge chunks of yards again come September. At least they cannot get any worse, as that was what they were last season.

Even though the Saints were only 7-9 SU and 8-8 ATS, they did it with no defense to speak of and an offense that knew they needed to score nearly every time they touched the ball.

The Saints division will be tougher this season but they have three tough interdivisional games on the road against New England, Seattle and Chicago.

If I had to bet the wins total of 9.0, I would take the UNDER and I would lay money against them winning the NFC South.

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Early NFL MVP Candidates

Rodgers
Rodgers

Rodgers should benefit from an improved running game and put up big numbers.

Believe it or not it’s just a matter of hours before some National Football League teams open training camp in preparation for the 2013 season. Unlike college football, every team in professional football enters the season with aspirations of playing for a championship regardless of how they fared last year.

Last season, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was the MVP despite coming off an ACL tear just nine months prior. Peterson’s 2,000 yard season was one of the best in the history of the game and now comes the hard part for Peterson. Can he top last season?

There are any number of candidates to choose from so I’m going to break the favorites listed as such by our friends at Bovada. I’m going to tell you why they could win it and why they might not.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 13-2 Why He Wins? Rodgers will have Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson as well as tight end Jermichael Finley to throw to and the running game will be better with rookies Eddy Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. Why He Doesn’t? The offensive line lacks improvement and Rodgers runs for his life for a second-straight season.

1. Peyton Manning, Denver, 13-2 Why He Wins? Because he’s Peyton Manning! He actually has a solid receiving corps that got better with Wes Welker joining the team. I expect the schedule to offer plenty of opportunities for Manning to have big numbers. Why He Doesn’t? If the running game slips, Manning will not be as effective. He isn’t 26 anymore either and the injury concern is always there.

Brees

Brees will have big numbers but his defense could cost him a shot at the MVP.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 10-1 Why He Wins? I have no doubts that Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton will treat this season as a form of ‘revenge’ tour after “BountyGate.” Brees has a mutlitude of weapons and a nice runing game as well. Why He Doesn’t?  If the Saints’ defense doesn’t improve, Brees could be forced to throw more than he wants to and that means turnovers.

3. Tom Brady, New England, 10-1 Why He Wins? Brady has proven that he works well with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and even despite the issues with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, Brady will still elevate the play of others around him. Why He Doesn’t? Last seasons’ running game was a surprise. If that doesn’t return, Brady will not be able to pass this team to victory as he has in the past.

5. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco, 12-1 Why He Wins? Kaepernick has really good talent around him and with Anquan Boldin, he has a veteran target who will make him look even better. Throw in the running game and Vernon Davis and Kaepernick could have an amazing season. Why He Doesn’t? Many teams this offseason spent countless hours working to stop the spread option. That, along with the Niners being the hunted may have an impact on his play.

6. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 15-1 Why He Wins? Because he’ll have the sentimental vote that’s why. Can you imagine if he rushes for another 1,800 plus yards? On a rebuilt knee? Peterson thinks he can eclipse 2,000 again. Why He Can’t? The schedule for one thing. The Vikes play the AFC North where all four teams are solid against the run and no back has ever rushed for 2,000 in consecutive seasons.

Other Guys to Consider… Matt Ryan, Atlanta 15-1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 20-1. Both guys will put up big numbers.

Guys I’m Not Touching… Robert Griffin III, Washington, 18-1. Health is a major concern. Matthew Stafford, Detroit, 25-1. Until he can be more efficient with the ball, the turnovers will kill his chances despite monster yards.

Who Wins? I think Brees makes a strong run at it, but I have to go with Rodgers who will benefit from a more diverse offensive attack and put up huge and efficient numbers.

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Monday Night Football (and Basketball) Tips

Michael Vick and Andy Reid are both in the firing line as Philadelphia visits New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

Michael Vick and Andy Reid are both in the firing line as Philadelphia visits New Orleans on Monday Night Football.

For the first time this season sports fan will have the choice of football or basketball on a Monday night when they get home and switch on their television sets tonight.

Of course, die hard football fans won’t want to miss a minute of Monday Night Football while fans of the round ball have an eight game slate to choose from, meaning there’s betting a plenty for everybody tonight.

 

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints

(8:30 PM ET)

When a Monday Night Football game features teams with a combined 5-9 record you might first ask what the schedule makers were thinking before deserting football in favor of something altogether different.

This week’s match-up between Philadelphia (3-4, 1-2 road) and New Orleans (2-5, 1-2 home) however is must-see TV, despite those hideous records.

Three early wins for the Eagles have been followed by four losses, and questions as to whether Andy Reid should still be in a job. The Saints meanwhile stunk the joint out to start the season, before coupling together a pair of wins. Last week’s primetime loss to Denver suggested that the Saints hadn’t yet turned the corner.

Both teams need a win tonight. Desperately need a win. New Orleans to have any hope of remaining in the postseason picture – those fingertips are slipping away quicker and quicker – and Philadelphia to avoid any more questions about Reid and Michael Vick’s suitability.

Odds: The Saints opened as 1½-point favorites and have seen that stock rise to three-points. The over/under is 52.

Take: New Orleans – Despite a setback last week, the Saints have had more to be pleased with over recent weeks than the Eagles, who look intently focused on having a disastrous season. The Saints are at home which could play a huge factor here, while Philadelphia has only won one of the last three meetings. Take the Saints to cover the short spread, with the total going over.

 

NBA: New York Knicks @ Philadelphia 76ers

(7 PM ET)

New York (2-0, 0-0 road) travels to Philadelphia (1-1, 1-0 home) for the second part of a home-and-home series with the Sixers. The Knicks took Sunday night’s game 100-84.

Both teams will be looking to assert themselves in the Atlantic Division, which looks as though it could be one of the toughest divisions in basketball this season. Only Toronto appears to be a flop.

Odds: New York’s victory over the Sixers last night hasn’t transferred to tonight’s odds. The Knicks are underdogs (+4) on the road. The over/under is 189½.

Take: Philadelphia – Away from the emotions of the Big Apple, it’ll be interesting how the Knicks fare. The chances are they’ll be a letdown of sorts. The Sixers will take advantage and narrowly cover the spread in a close game. Take the under on the total.

 

NBA: Indiana Pacers @ San Antonio Spurs

(8:30 PM ET)

Indiana (2-1, 1-1 road) travels to San Antonio (3-0, 2-0 home) with the tough task of beating the undefeated Spurs. The Pacers have yet to find true form and will hope a big game against Tim Duncan and the Spurs will be the catalyst to take charge of the Central Division.

San Antonio will look to improve to 4-0, putting the Lakers and Thunder further behind in the rearview mirror, something few experts predicted preseason.

Odds: Indiana enters the AT&T Center as underdogs (+6½) against the undefeated Spurs. The over/under is 194½.

Take: San Antonio – The Spurs have never started a season 4-0, an  unbelievable trend considering the team has won 50-plus games 13 years running. It’s time for history to be made. Take the Spurs to cover the spread and the under to go under.

 

NBA: Golden State Warriors @ Sacramento Kings

(10 PM ET)

Let’s be honest, a match-up between Golden State (2-1, 2-0 road) and Sacramento (0-3, 0-0 home) rarely makes your radar, unless you live in Northern California of course. But this game has a number of advantages going for it.

Firstly, if the Saints-Eagles game is a blowout, you can switch channels and catch the game, indulging in some in-game betting if you so desire. Secondly, there will be precisely zero defense played in this one which should at least be interesting. Thirdly, the Warriors might not suck this season, and an early encounter with perennial doormat Sacramento should give us some idea of what to expect from Mark Jackson’s side this year.

Odds: The Kings are favorites (-3) in the home opener at renamed Sleep Train Arena. The over/under is 202½.

Take: Golden State – The Kings (along with the Wizards) look set to be this season’s long losing streak side. It’ll probably be 10 games in before the team gets a ‘W’. Take the over as these two sides should light-up the scoreboard.

 

Remaining NBA Fixtures (Favorites highlighted)

Minnesota @ Brooklyn | Phoenix @ Miami | Utah @ Memphis | Portland @ Dallas | Cleveland @ LA Clippers

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