Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tom Brady adds to G.O.A.T. resume, Patriots schedule quirks may create drama down the stretch

To the surprise of no one, the Patriots and Tom Brady are still good after all. At the 14:44 mark of last Sunday's 36-20 Pats' victory over the Saints in New Orleans, Brady accomplished something he'd never done before in his greatest-of-all-time career--he threw his third touchdown pass of the first quarter. Leave it to Brady to still be setting new standards of excellence in his 18th year in the league (regular-season game No. 239, to be exact). At this point, the list of things that make Brady the undisputed G.O.A.T. at the quarterback position is far too long to mention.

Sadly, Brady didn't keep that pace up for all four quarters and finish with 12 TDs against the Saints. In fact, he never even found the end zone again. However, his 30 completions on 39 attempts, 447 yards passing and three touchdowns were still good enough to earn him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. It's the 28th time in his career Brady has won that award, more than any player in league history. Brady had previously been tied with Peyton Manning for the most of all-time.

Unfortunately for Manning, it's the second time this week Brady has surpassed him for an NFL record. Brady threw three touchdowns with zero interceptions for the 52nd time in his career on Sunday. Nobody has ever done that before. Manning did it 51 times.

A quick look at this week's NFL odds shows the Patriots favored by 13.5 points over the Houston Texans. Consider how absurd that is: New England has a 40-year-old quarterback and only one healthy wide receiver (Brandin Cooks) who wasn't even on the team last year. The Pats' defense has allowed an average of 31 points through two games and they're going up against a team that won its division (and a playoff game) last season. And still, the Patriots are expected to win by nearly two touchdowns.

After Houston comes to town, three of New England's next four games will be against the NFC South. The Pats host the Panthers, then travel to Tampa to play the Bucs, then come back home two weeks later (following a visit to New York to take on the 0-2 Jets) for a Super Bowl rematch with the Falcons. Those three NFC South squads are currently a combined 5-0.

New England then has three straight matchups with the AFC West, hosting the Chargers, traveling to Denver, then back home for the Raiders. That's a very tough stretch over the next eight games, and chances are there will be multiple occasions when people once again speculate about the end of the Pats dynasty.

However, five of the Patriots' last six games are AFC East matchups. That's when they'll roll to yet another division title and one of the top seeds in the conference.

Monday, September 11, 2017

NFL Week 1 Fantasy Surprises

Here's a look at some of the unexpected top fantasy performers in Week 1 of the 2017 NFL season, and what they're each likely to do (or not do) going forward.

We'll start with the first game of the year, where the Chiefs went into Foxboro and stunned just about everyone by scoring six touchdowns (three in the fourth quarter) in a 42-27 victory over the Patriots. Alex Smith (28-for-35, 368 yards, four TDs) handily out-dueled Tom Brady (16-for-36, 267 yards), and a rookie running back many people had never heard of put on a show for the ages. Don't expect a repeat of either of those again in Week 2.

After fumbling on his first pro carry, Kareem Hunt rushed 17 times for 148 yards and a touchdown, while also catching five passes for 98 yards and two more TDs. He's obviously not going to do that on a regular basis, but Hunt will definitely get plenty of opportunities when Kansas City hosts the Eagles next week.

For the Patriots, newcomer Mike Gillislee rushed for 45 yards and three touchdowns. Might Gillislee step right into the role that led to a team-record 18 rushing touchdowns for LeGarrette Blount last season? Maybe, but it also took Gillislee 15 carries to reach his 45-yard total and he was twice stuffed in fourth-and-short situations. With Brady looking to get back on track in New Orleans in Week 2, New England is likely to air it out. Long-term, there's also a logjam in the Pats' backfield, so it'll be difficult for Gillislee to maintain a consistent workload.

There was a lot of talk about the Bears' Jordan Howard (52 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries, as well as three catches for 14 yards in Chicago's 23-17 loss to the Falcons) heading into the season, but in Week 1 he was overshadowed by his rookie backfield mate Tarik Cohen (66 yards on five attempts, plus eight catches for 47 yards and a TD). For those playing daily fantasy on DRAFT, it may be wise to avoid Howard next week while Chicago explores what they have in Cohen.

In the Lions 35-23 win over the Cardinals, Matt Stafford threw for 292 yards and four touchdowns, two of which went to first-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay (four catches for 69 yards). Golladay was targeted seven times compared to 12 for Golden Tate (10 receptions for 107 yards), so don't go counting on the rookie to put up No. 1 receiver numbers any time soon.

It was a big weekend for surprising showings from quarterbacks. In addition to Smith and Stafford, other top QB performers included Philly's Carson Wentz (26-for-39, 307 yards, two touchdowns), the Bills' Tyrod Taylor (16-for-28, 224 yards, two TDs and 38 yards on the ground) and Browns rookie DeShone Kizer (20-for-30, 220 yards, one passing TD and one rushing TD, plus 17 rushing yards). Of that unlikely bunch, Stafford is the one with the best chance to remain a top-5 quarterback in Week 2 and beyond.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

NFL futures bets I'd make if I was a betting man

The 2017 NFL season kicks off Thursday, September 7th, when the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots host the Kansas City Chiefs. To the surprise of no one, the Patriots are the odds-on favorites to take home the title once again, despite a now 40-year-old Tom Brady having just lost his No. 1 wide receiver for the season (Julian Edelman tore his ACL in Friday's exhibition victory in Detroit).

New England is currently listed at +400 to capture the sixth championship of Brady's career next February in Super Bowl LII (that's 52 for those who aren't Roman-numerically inclined). The Pats are also +225 to win the AFC.

The teams with the next-best odds to take home the Lombardi Trophy are a pair of NFC clubs, the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers, both listed at +1000. In the AFC, the Patriots' greatest challenger is expected to be the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are +450 to represent the conference in the Super Bowl and +1100 to win it all.

After the Steelers, the Oakland Raiders (+800), Denver Broncos (+900) and Chiefs (+1000) round out the list of top contenders for the AFC title. With the Patriots such an overwhelming favorite, the other three teams in the AFC East all rank among the bottom six in terms of conference title odds: The Miami Dolphins are +2200, the Buffalo Bills are +4000, and the New York Jets are +6600.

So who is a good bet in the AFC? Honestly, nobody. There's not much money to be made on the Pats at +225 and there aren't any teams out there that have a compelling case to unseat New England. If I had to put $100 on somebody to win the conference, I might take the Raiders at +800 or even the Indianapolis Colts at +1800.

For me, it all comes down to the quarterback. Derek Carr emerged as budding star last year and even though he doesn't have much behind him, I like Andrew Luck's chances at +1800 better than a lot of other guys'.

Here are some other football odds I like heading into the 2017 season:

Green Bay Packers at +500 to win the NFC: Aaron Rodgers has guided Green Bay to the playoffs in eight straight years, but only reached one Super Bowl. He's due.

New Orleans Saints at + 2000 to win the NFC: I'll take a 38-year-old Drew Brees over most of the other QBs in the conference, but only five squads have worse odds than the Saints.

Minnesota Vikings at + 2500 to win the Super Bowl: The Vikings are +1200 in the NFC, which suggests their expected to lose Super Bowl LII if they get there--despite the fact that it's going to be played in their own stadium.

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