What We Learned from College and NFL last weekend
No handicapper wants to be guilty of an overreaction after just one game has been played. Here are some quick hitters, Division by Division dissecting what we saw this opening week of action. What We Learned from College and NFL last weekend.
Buffalo: Josh Allen is still a one read QB (10 rush attempts) but the accuracy could be improved. I’m not buying John Brown just yet (7-123) but Allen can throw the deep ball. I do buy that the Bills could be involved in some low scoring games in ’19.
Miami: Yes, they are awful but Fitzpatrick won’t go against Baltimore and their #1 pass D again in ’19. Unfortunately, New England’s pass D is #2, so the offense might be on hiatus for at least another week.
New England: Overlooked in the Josh Gordon/Antonio Brown circus is the fact that NE held three playoff teams with high percentage QB’s to 60-120, or 50% passing and has allowed six total points in their last 120 minutes of football vs. high scoring LA and Pittsburgh. Rules clearly favor offenses, which makes this achievement even more amazing.
NYJ: I warned folks that the pass D would be worse. Josh Allen of all people was about 66% in the opener. This is not an overreaction: The Jets failed to add an extra WR and let the OL suffer as well. They can do better, but the staff is not in sync.
Baltimore: Relax, as it was just Miami, and the Ravens excel out of the gate of late. We won’t learn much week two vs. Arizona but clearly the pass D% is still elite.
Cincinnati: Seattle had been 10-0 in openers, outscoring opponents by a nearly 24-7 margin. Cincy needed a culture change and that was a nice opening game. I don’t think four defensive sacks will be sustainable.
Cleveland: As I promised, there would be peaks and valleys with the Browns. They will explode at times and make mistakes playoff pretenders make at other times. Based on the 1st week of action the personnel losses along the OL are real.
Pittsburgh: Thud! Seemingly ready for New England, they were again outclassed. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise, as Belichick holds grudges and Pitt beat them in ’18. I expect the team to rebound, so until further notice we’ll erase week #1.
Houston: As expected, we got a great MNF game. The OL underperformed, even with LT Tunsil. WR Stills is a nice addition. Texas lost however because Clowney was gone! His ability to stop the run and force pressure on opposing QB’s is missed.
Indy: Not much surprised me here other than RB Mack just exploding for 174 yards. QB Brissett was fine and as expected, error-free, but Indy still misses Andrew Luck as his special talent would have led to red zone TD’s and not missed field goals.
Jacksonville: The Jags are old school and that won’t work going against new school KC. With literally no go-to offensive players other than WR Westbrook (their fault) this could get ugly. Don’t worry about defensive sacks. I think they’ll be just fine.
Tennessee: I’m not sold on QB Mariota but the GM has improved the talent level three years running and it shows. One lingering concern is pass protection.
Denver: I don’t want to overreact but Joe Flacco didn’t stretch the field until the game got out of hand. Oakland had 13 sacks in ’18. They had three here. For now, Denver looks like a team experiencing growing pains.
KC: It will be interesting to see how KC diversifies its offense without WR Hill. The defense can and must play better than they did against the Jags. One defensive sack is a bit low.
LA Chargers: LA tried to lose the game but couldn’t. We’ve already seen what happens when a key player is missing and I don’t mean RB Gordon. The loss of DB Derwin James will be felt vs. the better NFL QB’s.
Oakland: I firmly stated how much I like their 2nd-year defensive coordinator. The team is too young to maintain consistent performance but they are on the right track. I do expect other teams to be able to stop Oakland’s substandard WR/TE units.
Dallas: They beat the NYG 35-17. Let’s not go crazy just yet. The defense will be soft more often than not. The OL looks better thanks to improved health.
NYG: RB’s are most valuable when they run and have natural pass-catching skill. The four that have that are Kamara (Saints), McCaffrey (Panthers), Johnson (Arizona) and Barkley right here. Add Gurley (Rams) and Bell (Jets) to the list once they are deemed healthy and past their rust and maybe Cook of Minny if he ever stays healthy. The NYG have a defensive sack issue.
Philly: Philly will get credit for gutsy play calling but it will backfire at times in my opinion. The reality is that they were out played and lacking a safety (how many times must I harp on that), outclassed defending the pass.
Washington: I don’t understand the RB Peterson inactive move. Up 17-0, he was exactly what they needed to move the chains and finish off the Eagles. Is just one sack allowed sustainable? I don’t think so.
Chicago: Chicago was one of four teams that treated the preseason like the plague and it showed. I think there should not be an overreaction to week one.
Detroit: With an improved roster and the game in hand, Detroit did Detroit type things to enable Arizona to get the tie. The Lions look like a contender other than at Head Coach and speed in their front seven.
Green Bay: The four teams deemed (by me) clearly to be not ready for the season to start all played each other (GB-Chi and the Rams vs. Carolina). WR Adams is top ten and needed as GB goes through growing pains with the new offense. I’m not ready to make any defensive decisions (good or bad) after a week one game vs. the Bears, whose offense sat in August.
Minnesota: Minnesota said they were committed to the run and backed it up. They win the Division if they keep RB Cook and elite CB Rhodes completely healthy. The odds of that are not good. Kicker confidence is going to be huge.
Atlanta: I expected much more out of Atlanta’s offense, and for that matter, their defense as well. Let’s not overreact. They host Philly and soft zone team Indy weeks 2-3. We can all panic if the offense can’t deliver vs. these two defenses.
Carolina: I didn’t expect a high scoring game vs. the Rams. The defense could be a bit softer than we think. The toughest NFL game of the season is week two’s Thursday night. Most starters see minimal action in August, and then play a full game week one. Carolina is a bit banged up and Cam Newton’s arm strength could be called into question with the quick turnaround.
New Orleans: Maybe no team is in greater spirits after week one than the Saints. That’s exactly the type of win they need heading into the revenge game at LA. Still, I think we can all agree that Dennis Allen is a below par defensive coordinator.
Tampa: I expected great things for the pass D after years of showing us the worst NFL scheme ever invented. Game #1 went poorly, and QB Winston’s decision-making didn’t help. Road teams on Thursday night in week two seldom win. Tampa’s season will likely hinge on how they perform 9/22 hosting the NYG. Their next home game is not until November 10th!
Arizona: Kyler Murray might have the “it” factor but despite the comeback tie I see many issues. The defense will be soft weeks 1-6 (no CB Peterson). Offensive scheming will be good but can the OL protect? Larry Fitzgerald is amazing!
LA Rams: Todd Gurley’s week one usage is being panned and for NO GOOD REASON. He ran 14-97. I expected 20, not 30 points at Carolina. WR Kupp’s return cannot be emphasized enough. Can the defense improve just a little?
San Fran: We didn’t see SF in the red zone enough to know if they improved. What we do know is that turnovers are random! SF had two defensive interceptions in ’18 (all-time NFL low). They had three at Tampa, two which were returned for TD’s. We’ve seen week one SF shockers in the recent past, so let’s not yet anoint them as a playoff team. I do like the start for the OL and my preseason prediction of pass D% improvement looks good so far.
Seattle: Seattle disappointed week one. Why does the OL continue to be soft in pass protection? This team has enormous potential but sometimes they play down to their competition. They need to start games faster.
NFL WEEK TWO
Tampa at Carolina: Both teams have short week issues. Week two NFL TNF road teams don’t win, and Tampa is an offensive mess. Carolina played well at times but Cam’s arm strength has to be a short week issue, and the Bucs should send pressure. The line is fair, with the O/U surprisingly high. Carolina is 9-3 SU, 7-5 vs. the spread hosting Tampa. Carolina 28-20.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Lots of Tampa completions vs. the soft zone. Still under or X on RB rush yards. Evans rebounds with 8-80. More reliance of McCaffrey for Carolina, and UNDER Cam’s passing attempts. Finding an under WR for catches is nice.
Indy at Tennessee: Indy missed QB Luck in the red zone but should have won, or at least led late with unfortunate kicking woes severely holding them back. The late loss could have still occurred as that soft zone pass defense is already north of 72%! That was a nice signature win for Tennessee week one and it’s great to have TE Delaine Walker back. Tennessee has a general negative indicator based on their 35 points scored week one, and the game carries a small over look (54%). The Titans have last game of the season playoff ending revenge. Tennessee 27-24.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Hines can continue to catch passes (over 2.5 better than 3). TE usage is down. For Tennessee, TE Walker will love facing the soft zone. A.J. Brown won’t get open deep as much and maybe there will be regression.
LAC at Detroit: LA survived Indy and that is a bonus as they hope to return to the playoffs. I don’t trust their OL vs. the improved Lion’s rush D. Look for Rivers to pass more as the Lions are better suited to stop the run. The Lions blew the win but at 0-0-1 are not out of anything just yet. The pass game looks diversified so if the OL can pass protect they can score more than last year without question. LA reversed a poor turf ledger with a good ’18 record. This is a tough one. Detroit 28-27.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Rivers over for completions and attempts. All RB’s under their rush totals. WR Williams can rebound on catches. For the Lions, it’s too tough to call. I’d look over a low set and under the highest set.
Buffalo at NYG: After a brain dead 1st 30+ minutes the Bills woke up and beat the Jets to get a leg up in any possible wild card race. Josh Allen is still a one read QB but the defense can play and the revamped OL might be better. Save for outstanding RB Barkley, the NYG looked exactly like the NYG week one. They had zero sacks, allowed over 75% passing and failed to stretch the field, relying on Barkley to break open long gainers. Buffalo has road issues when not getting three points, but the NYG have home issues, period. I think it’s an advantage that Buffalo stays in the same stadium week two, and off a win! Buffalo is hardly a complete team and I would back them if my Power #’s did not say that the NYG are the Power Play at +1 or more. I’ll take Buffalo if they are not a favorite, and will be on the UNDER, with far less than 44 points expected (save for turnovers).
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Many under tries please! WR Beasley fits nicely but yards might be an issue. Catches could be a return to the norm for John Brown. All TE looks can be under. Except for Barkley the NYG do not pose much of a threat. Consider YES for special team or defensive TD, and over in field goals. TE Engram won’t repeat his 11-116 week one outing.
Arizona at Baltimore: Arizona was down big hosting the Lions so let’s not give them a most improved label just yet. They will face the NFL’s top pass D and top three run D in this spot. With no CB Peterson this may not be pretty. Lamar Jackson was electric vs. college team Miami. Arizona’s defense won’t be much more of a challenge. Baltimore has KC on deck but as this is home game #1 shouldn’t they be focused? Arizona is 18-4 vs. the spread at 13+ points and 29-15 as a double digit dog. It’s a new staff and a vastly different one, so situations like these are usually mute year one and then reevaluated. The line is accurate. I’ll lean OVER the posted total, but to go over Arizona must contribute.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: David Johnson under running yards but clearly over for number of receptions. Three TE’s often equal zero so under on any TE sets is fine. WR Kirk looks like an under with a lack of speed and perhaps greater trust in elite and ageless Larry Fitzgerald. This is a game well situated for Lamar to run wild, but the concern is that he may not have to if Baltimore is focused early on. I’ll try to find a WR or two to go under for their # of receptions.
New England at Miami: This is New England’s best team since the 16-0 start with Randy Moss. TE play is lacking and the OL is down 2-3 players but that defense is incredible and of course, they are assignment sound on special teams. The bad news is that they have played poorly at Miami. The good news is that Miami may be the worst team we’ve seen in quite some time. They have five decent defensive players and zero depth. They have an accurate, but error-prone QB, an emerging year two TE, one decent WR who can’t stay healthy and not one OL worthy of starting in the NFL. The current line of -19 is among the highest ever for a road favorite. Miami qualifies in two general NFL situations. Good luck with that.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Pick your poison. There will be NE unders because there are way too many options available. WR Dorsett is a target for regression. I expect NE to shadow WR Parker while the game is in doubt. I will guess that Miami will try to shorten the game with runs, hoping that that runs equals a first down. I’d try that tactic.
Dallas at Washington: A win by Dallas makes them 2-0 in the Division out of the gate. WR Gallup is a clear upgrade at WR2 and makes this team extremely offensively balanced. Still faced with defensive suspensions, defensive pressure is low and as usual the pass defense is subpar. Washington outplayed Philly and lost. That’s what bad teams do. The decision to inactivate Adrian Peterson was awful, robbing them of a ball controlling back to protect their lead. He’ll be back big time for this one. I don’t think QB Keenum can put up 30-45 for 380 numbers every week but he’s done well as a journeyman over the years and gets a soft defense here. Washington is 3-4 SU and vs. the spread as a home dog in the series (last 11 years). At +5.5, they would be a Power Play. The current line is Dallas -4.5. Based on that, let’s call this one 24-20 Dallas.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: More OVERS from Keenum, and RB Peterson to run well off fresh legs. I’m an under sort of prop player (works much better, at 64-68%) but finding under plays in this game is more difficult.
Jacksonville at Houston: Armed with Pythagorean Theorem metrics that suggest solid improvement, the old school Jags looked dysfunctional week one. Perhaps playing a new age offense like KC isn’t a good thing, but the Jags did nothing to improve their WR or TE core group since last year and that is an issue. Factor in a very raw QB taking over for what was supposed to be a plus turnover ratio rebound with Nick Foles and this could be troublesome. Houston played a fantastic game week one at New Orleans. My takeaways were that Watson was still sacked six times, WR Stills is good, and the Texans lost the game because there was no DL Clowney to stuff the run and put pressure on opposing QB’s. The loser of this game starts 0-2. Houston is on a 7-1 roll at home vs. the Jags, but is just 3-4-1 vs. the spread. The Jags lost by 30, putting them in a general rebound situation. There’s too much uncertainty to predict this one. I’d lean to a Jag’s cover vs. Houston off Houston’s short week of preparation.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Fournette will be force fed, so over on his number of carries. I’d look under on WR Chark receptions, especially if WR Lee ever suits up. My guess is that a beat up QB Watson won’t run as much here. There was a clear timeshare at RB on MNF. If CB Ramsey is NOT on WR Hopkins then his man will go under the total.
Seattle at Pittsburgh: Seattle escaped with a win hosting Cincy. Their OL still can’t pass protect and that’s a bad sign heading into a steaming mad Pittsburgh team. I think the Steelers are better than what they showed vs. NE, as the Pats are playing at another level. They need to limit the splash play that QB Wilson can deliver when flushed out of the pocket. Long standing teams like Pittsburgh have many tried and true situations. Four such positive situations exist here. Seattle has been shut out the last two times they played at Pittsburgh, but that’s random as it came in ’11 and ’07. Line tipoff is powerful as a tool in handicapping. I get these 20-25 times a season (62.5%). The OVERS are the tipoff here. Seattle has one positive and one negative situation. The lean is Pittsburgh, calling this a six point high scoring win.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Once again RB Carson could go OVER in receptions. I think rookie WR Metcalf is an UNDER here. Anything to do with RB Penny should be an under. Ben’s home-road splits are well documented. WR Switzer might catch 4-6 passes but won’t stretch the field. RB Connor carried ten times vs. NE. He might double that here.
SF at Cincinnati: SF had two interceptions in 16 games a year ago. They had three last week, returning two for TD’s. I think the defense is slowly coming together. Jimmy G may still be turnover prone and Kyle Shanahan is not in my top 20 Head Coaches. That was a nice debut for undermanned Cincy as QB Dalton continues to be underappreciated. If RB Mixon was not hurt they win at Seattle. I’m worried about their OL and still unsure about their defense. Cincy is historically bad as a home favorite at any time prior to December. I use Friday lines to determine whether or not a game qualifies as a Power Play. If Cincy remains a favorite then SF is the Power Play. I’m unsure if SF is ready to go 2-0 but Power Play dogs win in the NFL and I’ll likely have something on them as a dog.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: I think a SF RB can go over in rush yards. With complete timeshare WR’s I’ll take 1-2 of their WR’s under in catches. Mixon’s status bears watching. If he’s out I go over for Bernard’s catches. I don’t expect 51 Dalton passes in this game, so finding a TE or WR under other than WR Boyd should be possible.
Minnesota at Green Bay: 10 passes. That’s what Minny attempted vs. Atlanta, who as usual couldn’t stop the run. Is there any way RB Cook can stay healthy all season long? With 23 touches week one, I’d say no. CB Rhodes left the game week one. As a top three CB, his status is critical. GB looked rusty but stole a road win vs. a Divisional rival. A 2-0 Divisional start would be special. We’ll keep charting QB Rodgers to see if the scheme design is any different from previous years. Minny has three solid early season situations but they don’t line up the way I’d like (2-1 split). This was a 29-29 tie at GB a year ago. There’s no value in the history between these two teams when playing at GB and the line is deadly accurate. This is a clear PASS.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Unfortunately, RB Williams tipped his hand week one and the UNDERS will be hard to get. I’ll have to wait to see if CB Rhodes is 100%. If he’s out, WR Adams becomes a play. Going under with TE Rudolph is good (especially yards) but again, that set will be reduced after his one target in the opener. I think RB Cook can catch three or more passes.
KC at Oakland: Assuming QB Mahomes is back to 100%, the offensive scheme will be the same but will miss speedy WR Hill. That was a nice debut for RB McCoy so the two backs in tandem should continue to work. The defense did virtually nothing vs. the Jags and their replacement QB which is a concern. Oakland was the lean week one as I expected a wild atmosphere. Denver and their new staff didn’t look prepared. Oakland is building the right way but is awfully young in spots. I don’t expect the OL to hold up all year long but hosting KC and their one sack defense could mean QB Carr has some freedom here. Oakland is 19-30 vs. the spread after playing rival Denver and is off a short week disadvantage but this is another big Divisional game so the focus should be there. KC has played well at Oakland in the past. I could easily see a drop in intensity from the Raiders off their MNF game so the lean is going to be with KC.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Kelce caught three passes last week. That # is 6 or more here. The short week complicates matters but Gruden still wants to force feed rookie RB Jacobs. WR Williams emerged as the go-to target (along with TE Waller) but there could be regression in this spot.
New Orleans at LA Rams: The doctor delivered on MNF as the Saints needed positive vibes heading into LA. They’ll have a day and a half less preparation but they want playoff revenge in the worst way. Unfortunately, their defensive coordinator has yet to be fired. I’m impressed that LA scored 30 at Carolina. WR Kupp really solidifies the entire scheme. The defense has to play better. It was less than impressive week one. Blindly betting the dog in Saint’s games works (I believe it’s over or around 60%). The series history also favors the road team (24-14 vs. the spread). The Rams have won the spread battle lately but I was surprised to find three points in this one. Early season playoff revenge is a powerful tool, so despite LA likely being the more complete team by season’s end I’m taking the three in a modest sized play.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: Hard to recommend UNDERS in this one. The big guns all look good, and TE Cook should get more looks (surprised he had just two catches on MNF). One little used play by me is taking longest reception by a WR. Perhaps a few WR’s will exceed their posted longest catch figure. It would have gone about 50-50 in the ’18 NFC title game. The Rams successfully involved their two TE’s in that game.
Chicago at Denver: The Bears weren’t ready to compete week one but nothing should be taken as negative off what was an extension of the preseason for their lightly or not at all used starters. Denver’s week one play was typical of many teams with new coaching staffs. Cadence was off, coverage was poor, and adjustments were not made. This is Vic Fangio vs. his former Bear team but that carried more significance if they were 1-0. What is interesting is that Chicago has ten days between games and Denver just six. Both teams have a good general situation. The line is accurate. With no help from anything else I’ll be picking Chicago to win in a lower scoring affair. Denver’s mindset worries me and the Bears have the better talent.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: You can pass on Denver. I’ll go under for RB Davis in yards and I believe QB Trubisky can go OVER in passing yards. The timeshare RB situation with Denver has me thinking someone is going UNDER in rush yards. The Bears are on the road, but the play still looks decent. I don’t think Joe Flacco can stretch the field vs. this team.
Philly at Atlanta (SNF): Philly escaped hosting Washington week one as Carson Wentz got over early rustiness. Still, that pass defense continues to underperform, enabling too many splash plays. Aggressive play calling can’t bail them out every week. I expected more from Atlanta week one. I got much less. Minny’s defense is good but this is a veteran Atlanta offense and they went scoreless for three quarters. One defensive sack and no resistance vs. the run continue to haunt them. Philly hosted and beat Atlanta in ’16 and ’18. Atlanta is 50% as a home dog in the series but there have been no home games since ’11. Situational indicators are split. I’d take plus three as a Power Play, but otherwise lean toward a high scoring affair.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: This should be a low sack total, with UNDER 5 a play. Punts UNDER 8.5 also makes sense. Which Philly RB will break through vs. this subpar defense? I do expect Atlanta splash plays vs. the Eagle defense.
Cleveland at NYJ (MNF): ESPN was hoping for a pair of 1-0 on the rise teams but instead they get 0-1 vs. 0-1. At least they get ’18 draft picks Baker Mayfield vs. Sam Darnold. Cleveland’s OL is an issue but luckily the Jets are not that much of a sack team. The big money skill position players on offense were fine. The Jets had kicking woes among other breakdowns last week. I had projected a slightly positive sack ratio but the prognosis may be worse after week one. The side story on this one involves former Cleveland defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. He wanted the Browns’ job but didn’t get it. Now he wants revenge. Cleveland hosted and beat the Jets 21-17 (-3) last year. They lost a pair of close games the previous two seasons, both at home as well. The Jets easily beat the Browns in ’14 and ’15. The rosters have changed however. Cleveland’s run defense regressed in ’18 and was no better week one. That’s a worry. The Jets are 20-12 vs. the spread on MNF and are a Power Play at +2.5 or more. Plus three looks tempting but Cleveland’s offense could do some damage, so buyer beware.
TOO EARLY PROP LOOKS: I’m not sure what to do with sacks and punts but a special team or defensive TD could be in the offing. As I expected the Jets to be far worse defensing the pass (defensive minded staff is gone) the logical look is that WR’s Beckham and Landry will have good outings. RB Bell will be very useful vs. Cleveland. There has to be some UNDERS in this game and so high sets for other Cleveland players and almost any NYJ WR or TE should be under consideration.
THE COLLEGE SCENE (not all games will be listed below)
North Carolina at Wake Forest (Friday night): The big question for this game is Wake RB Carney. Based on recent news it sounds like he will play. N Car has been outplayed twice and is 2-0, a tribute to the positive coaching change. Wake has played as expected, with what looks like a bit better run D. I initially expected N Car to care about his non-binding conference extra game more, but now that the Tar Heels are 2-0 I think that goes out the window. Two situations would favor N Car at +3.5 or more. I’m stunned at the total reaching 67.5. I don’t see the Tar Heels as that type of up-tempo team. Lean road dog.
Kansas at BC (Friday night): Kansas has played weaker and looked awful offensively. The QB throws short. Better talent is needed. As expected, the unusual +16 turnover ratio from ’18 could not be sustained (-3). They are 2-51 in road games. If anything, this would be a BC look, and they have no schedule traps in place.
NC St at West Virginia: It’s hard to read anything into NC St’s season thus far but they are well coached and feeling confident. Growing pains were expected and delivered with WV. The run D looks okay thus far. WV has forever been a solid home dog but as usual I suspend situational factors when a new staff is in place unless there is major continuity (not the case here). I do see Power Play value on WV and may be “forced” to play them small in this spot. Remember, NC St is still an unknown in ’19.
Maryland at Temple: Newsflash! I was wrong on Maryland and will pay the price on seasonal over-unders (4.5) unless the winning stops when they get to conference play. They flat out dominated Syracuse. This battle of new coaches finds Temple off early rest after beating Bucknell 56-12. The line has crossed seven and is a Temple Power Play. While that has to scare me as every year I’m wrong on a couple of Power # sets, the fact is that Maryland has an important game vs. Penn St next and Temple qualifies in a 131-91 vs. the spread situation off an early bye. Let’s give this a try.
Pittsburgh at Penn State: Pittsburgh has looked mediocre but the run defense has done well and they have QB experience. PSU has 134 points in two games vs. Idaho and Buffalo. PSU historically wins without covering in this series and the same might prove true here vs. Pitt’s defense. I’ll take a stab with the road dog.
Louisville at WKY in Nashville: This is a weird game vs. two new coaching staffs. The line has predictably jumped toward Louisville, the team with the far better new coach. +10 is a Power Play for WKY but I’m 98% likely to pass and learn.
Duke at MTSU: Duke’s pass D looks as good as advertised, while MTSU has played about as expected. I’m not a fan of playing MTSU in home games and have a solid lean for Duke, but the line is now 7 (opened 5). It needs to drop for me to get involved.
Clemson at Syracuse: Clemson passed its 1st test by wearing down a good A&M team. They’ve had all types of trouble with Syracuse and will be focused. The Orange clearly has the wrong QB in play but what happened to their defense? Yes, at 4.5 per carry I projected run D issues. I don’t use Power Plays at large spreads but my line is a whopping ten points too low. I’d consider +28 (current line) but that seems like a tough move vs. a top five team. I’ll canvas the wise guys to get a better read.
FSU at Virginia: A look at FSU’s stat sheet shows they are okay and not as bad as what’s happening on the scoresheet. Virginia’s on a mission in ’19 but this will be the best offensive team they will have faced. They have never been favored in this series but are a TD favorite here. While the -7 line is accurate FSU is in game #3 and perhaps people forgot that they have been poor spread plays in games 1-2 of any season. Factor in a general 51-28 spread situation that rewards road teams that are 0-2 vs. the spread (other conditions apply and were met) and I may be giving FSU a chance to make this a tossup game.
K St at Mississippi St: I knew Bill Snyder was sitting on a 9-3 team but he “retired” so I expected a bit of a culture change and learning period. K St has looked great, albeit vs. two bottom feeder teams. The Bulldogs vowed to improve their lowly pass % and they have done that with ease. Lead QB Stevens may or may not suit up for this one. K St faces off vs. the SEC and historically is 10-25 vs. the spread in their 1st road game. The line is low thus far, maybe due to QB uncertainty. Lean Miss St.
OK St at Tulsa: I like Tulsa’s QB and their ability to score in this spot so the lean is here, but there are better games this week.
Iowa at ISU: Most people would guess this series to be one-sided but that’s not the case. It’s been mostly a home team series except for one bad ISU stretch. They are 3-1 as a recent home dog and 3-0 overall as a HF. Iowa’s defense looked great vs. Miami Ohio and Rutgers. Life has no sure things. ISU could lose this game outright as the ball takes funny bounces (my record in bad beats this year is 2-9 so I know) but they are locked and loaded. They have the 131-91 early bye situation and are a shocking Power Play dog at this time. This game was circled in July. Let’s get this one done. ISU by 6.
TCU at Purdue: TCU did not cover the 52.5 spread week one, partly because they settled for six field goals. Is that an issue? Purdue opened at -2 but the line flipped on news that their veteran QB may miss the game (concussion). Purdue has an elite WR going against a stout pass defense. Their run game is missing in action. TCU has two positive situations based on their early bye week and should match up well defensively. I have a strong lean to them and may go UNDER if Purdue’s QB is out.
Oklahoma at UCLA: Lincoln Riley knows offense. This game hinges on how well they play defense vs. an erratic UCLA team. I see a mediocre Sooner defense to date. The Chip Kelly honeymoon is over. A photo of the stadium prior to last week’s kickoff showed maybe 10,000 fans in their seats! This week they are giving four free tickets to all season ticket holders in the hope that Sooner red is not the predominant color at the Rose Bowl. I’m concerned about fan support, UCLA’s defense vs. this team and their highly erratic QB but they are a clear Power Play and a 49-30 shootout would not be unexpected. The total opened 66.5. I’m in at 68, and the number shot up to 73.5. I expect to have a play on UCLA but it’s lowered with the fan support issue.
Texas at Rice (game in Houston but not at Rice stadium): The line is fair and Rice looks overmatched but Texas is in a LSU and Ok St sandwich and is 11-17 vs. the spread in their initial road game. Lean Rice, who did scare Army opening weekend.
Texas Tech at Arizona: Neither team has played a Power five opponent. A high scoring game is expected. I’m clearly not a fan of Kevin Sumlin but Arizona is a Power Play dog and new coaches who are road favorites are 58.5% play against material with a sample size that is now close to 1,000! I’ll do this if the Friday line still sees Arizona as the dog.
Arkansas St at Georgia: Long my worst conference (career 50%, 48% in ’18), I’m looking for my 1st win involving a team from the SEC (0-4-1, two games bizarre losses). Georgia has Notre Dame on deck and is a mediocre home favorite. I’m considering a small play on Arkansas St (current line 33.5).
Alabama at S Car: These teams seldom play against each other. Injuries have hit both teams but Alabama has better players that can step up for the loss of these players. I think the Gamecocks can stay within 25.5 points but that’s just an opinion.
Colorado St at Arkansas: Last year CSU pulled what was then called a shocking upset. CSU had a rough ’18 so beating someone from the SEC was huge. I went OVER 3.5 season wins but this one would be unexpected. Kicking issues are concerning, but the offense is decent (the defense is not). Arkansas is making a positive QB change. Scoring hasn’t been easy. Power Play favorites used to be 56%, back when Power Play dogs were near 60%. Power Play favorites are just 52% the past five years (dogs still near 57%, varies by conference and spread), so even though Arkansas is a Power Play I will pass.
Florida at Kentucky: Florida has been a bit sloppy but they are 2-0 and Dan Mullen teams usually find a way to win. They have ’18 revenge vs. Kentucky. The Wildcats have lost their last 14 home games in this series (4-10 vs. the spread). This is their 3rd straight at home. Their veteran QB was hurt last week and is out for the season. The dreaded transfer portal gives the Wildcats a shot here as Sawyer Smith played decently for a good Troy team. I’m not inviting baby Stoops over to my house for dinner anytime soon as with 1st and goal and 54 seconds left, leading by 14 he had the backup PASS for a TD instead of taking a knee to end the game. He later apologized to the Eastern Michigan coach (EM, by the way, got to Kentucky’s ten-yard line late), saying he knew his starter was done and wanted to get his back up some reps. That’s poor sportsmanship and one of my nine undeserved spread losses. I have no leans in the game but at some point, karma will NOT be on Kentucky’s side.
Two Bonus Games: Missouri hosts SE Missouri St with S Car on deck. SE Missouri St went 9-4 a year ago and the early line came out at 34. I’m 7-12 in regular lined games this year but 7-2 in off-line game like this one. That’s 14-14, but as noted, the bad beats have been rough this year. I’ll likely have Missouri St. I realize A&M just played and lost to Clemson but less emotion was involved as they plain just got beat. I also realize Auburn is on deck. Lamar went 7-5 but when last they met, A&M won 73-3 in ’14. The opening line is 43.5. I may play A&M in this one with Lamar not likely to threaten the Aggies.
Ohio St at Indiana: In my season preview I noted that Ohio St had a rare eight returning defensive starters. The early run defense is (corrected for sacks by my longtime formula) 67-156 and that came vs. two solid run teams. One would be bucking history with Indiana as they are a mediocre home dog in both the series and especially overall. I do believe this is their best team yet and at +17, I’m taking my 1st action against the Buckeyes without Urban Meyer and his mysterious ability to manufacture points off blocked punts, fumble recoveries, etc. Yes, it will be a modest play.
ASU at Michigan St: Herm Edwards has quietly put together a top tier PAC 12 defense. The competition has been mediocre but I like what I’ve seen thus far. The offense is a work in progress, as drives are stalling (7-7 field goals). Speaking of defense, Michigan St is top five defensively and easily in the top three vs. the run. Did they find an RB last week? They have a kicker with NFL talent. RB Benjamin (ASU) is a major workhorse guy but has struggled this season and that is a bad sign vs. this defense. Even with revenge, I was surprised to see an opening line of -12.5. Now the line is 14, a clear ASU Power Play. I expected to pass this game but now I am having second thoughts. The opening total of 45 was about 35 points too high. I took the UNDER.
NIU at Nebraska: Another epic Nebraska meltdown has me including this game in the write-ups. On the surface, the run and pass defense are at least acceptable but too many points have been allowed. QB mistakes have to stop and the run game should be even better than 89-306 (I projected 5.7 per carry!). A distracted Nebraska team could mean a closer game than expected but the line is too low to recommend NIU at this time.
WSU at Houston (Friday night):
Mike Leach can coach. They haven’t played anyone so far, meaning it’s hard to get any read on their ’19 team but the run defense is a bit soft. Houston and QB King figure to take advantage of that, as I project them to run for nearly 300 yards. Houston’s defense is not good. In August I called thus 60-57. Bucking one negative indicator based on perceived line value I am taking the over in this game, pending a weather check of course.
Air Force at Colorado: After losing way too many close games in ’18 Air Force is a team expected to be much better now. With only a game vs. Colgate under their belts it’s too early to tell. Colorado’s good fortune vs. Nebraska puts them at 2-0. I think they are better than I initially thought but they still should be just 1-1. AF has three solid situations in their favor for this one but suddenly and subtly the line makers have done a 360, creating some Colorado value. I’m hopeful to play AF late in the week with more than the current four points.
Stanford at UCF: Stanford’s defense was exposed vs. USC and that pass defense is a huge concern. They also lack creativity and impact in the run game. Their NFL prospect at QB will return from injury but the left tackle is out for the year. UCF keeps rolling along despite the expected drop in QB play. The 3rd string QB was 7-19 vs. FAU. News this week is that last year’s bowl game starter has been cleared to play and start this week. That’s a huge difference! So far their defense has overachieved. With so much uncertainty I did not set a line for this one. Given Stanford has Oregon next, UCF has to be the lean.
USC at BYU: This looks like a sneaky good game. USC is offensively tough to stop when they are focused. The run offense is off to a fine start. The defense has been acceptable. BYU forgot about their disappointment vs. Utah and won in overtime at Tennessee. They’ve scored just 28 total points in regulation play but the stat sheet is better than that and the total for this game is rightfully moving up. The concern is a run defense that has allowed 94-509 to good rush teams Utah and Tennessee. USC has Utah on deck but BYU is off an emotional win. I could make a case for either team so I’ll just sit and learn.
Bonus Game: Cal Poly came into ’19 with what I thought would be a poor defense. They’ve allowed 75 points to a pair of similar teams. Oregon State (THE OSU) plays no defense at all. They do play offense and should score plenty of points here. The line opened 16.5, with a total of 76.5. That projects to a 46.5-30 score. I’m likely to take the OVERS in this one.
East Carolina at Navy: We haven’t learned a thing about EC so far but on the surface they look like a short passing team with a possibly improved run game. Navy passed their 1st test vs. Holy Cross but what does that mean? Given the 131-91 spread situation favoring Navy the lean is here, and the line is low. I’ll likely PASS, with too much East Carolina uncertainty for now.
San Diego St at New Mexico St: SD St is off their 1st ever win against UCLA. They are on cloud nine. The offense should get well playing this type of team. So far, the offense has not been stout, running 87-214 and passing for a poor 10.3 yards per completion figure. New Mexico St has been outscored 120-17 but the games were at Washington and at Alabama! This is a classic letdown spot for the Aztecs who quite coincidentally are 13-28 vs. the spread after an underdog win. As much as I try to avoid playing teams like this, New Mexico St will be a play this weekend (currently +16).
Notable Tier Two Games (CUSA, MAC, SUNBELT):
FAU at Ball St: This one is interesting. FAU fell to Ohio State and UCF, two formidable teams. Ball St returned 17 starters and was competitive vs. Indiana but the point defense is suspect. This could be a get well game for FAU but my indicators favor Ball St, and I could have a play on this game at +3 or more.
Ohio at Marshall: I expected Ohio to be a bit down this year and they are just that, although they have been somewhat competitive. Marshall lost their really good defensive coordinator but so far the defense has held their own. This has been a home dominated series and I expect Marshall to win again in this one.
Southern Miss at Troy: We haven’t learned much about So Miss so far, although I do not keep stats or have an individual sheet on any tier two team so I can’t speak confidently on this subject. Troy has played Campbell (not the soup, I think), so we are in the dark about this new staff. Troy qualifies in the 131-91 early week off situation and I like that they had some early sharp action on their side. The line must stay under 3 points for this to be a play. I’ll watch the late line movement carefully.
Louisiana Tech at Bowling Green: LT is missing some key parts from last year but is still a bowl worthy team. BG and their new staff lost 52-0 at Kansas St. The line is 10.5 or 11 thus far. I’d have a lean on LT at -9 or -9.5.
Akron at Central Michigan: This is hardly the type of game I usually write about but there are some interesting tidbits to this one. To be honest I expected more from Akron’s offense this year. Scoring a total of 23 points vs. Illinois and UAB is unacceptable. Three starters returned defensively and they’ve allowed 73 points (projected 82 at this time). CM is under new management as well, with former Florida and CSU coach Jim McElwain at the helm. They allowed 21 to Albany and 61 to Wisconsin. I had no expectation of playing either side but Akron qualifies in the 51-28 spread situation that favors road teams with certain characteristics and a line of +3 or more is partially meaningful as well. What I was interested in was the OVERS. My projection is 49-55 points, above the current 45 point total.
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