Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

SPORTS WAGERS

Philadelphia +3½ over WASHINGTON

The Redskins swept the Eagles last year, winning 31-6 at home and later 27-20 in Philadelphia in week Week 16. Remember, this is the NFC East where rivalries are intense and where it’s rare for one team to dominate another in back-to-back seasons. The Redskins welcome back Robert Griffin III after he tore up his knee and rehabbed to get back for this week. The Redskins had a very successful 2012 season with a 10-6 finish and a NFC East title. That was won on the backs of both RG3 and the surprising Alfred Morris who literally jumped out of the depth charts in week one to become one of the better running backs in the league. The problem is that RG3 could be very rusty because he did not play in the preseason and that’s rather significant. Furthermore, it’s not the Redskins offense that is a problem, it’s keeping the opposition from moving the chains and scoring points that is ultimately going to be the ‘Skins downfall this year. Washington paid a hefty price for RG3, giving up first round picks in the draft until 2015 and that means they’ll enter this season older, slower and with a lack of talent, outside of RG3, at the skilled positions. Last season, it was Philly that was projected to do well and Washington to struggle but this season we have a role reversal and that is a good position to be in when accepting points on Monday Night Football. 

This is the first time we get to see what the Chip Kelly hype is all about. Andy Reid has finally left and a new era in Philly has started. They managed to grab the most coveted college coach in Chip Kelly who commanded a ridiculously productive offense in Oregon. Unfortunately the team lost Jeremy Maclin in July and with him their primary receiver. But this hurry-up, run-oriented scheme should be tailored made for the backfield talent and Michael Vick is getting yet another second chance at being a starter. Vick did not play against the Redskins last year and Nick Foles was held to just one passing score in two games. Chip Kelly utilizing LeSean McCoy is a scary thought and McCoy, who looked great in camp, figures to get a ton of touches here against a weak Washington defense. Look for Kelly to also utilize the passing game. Chip Kelly’s plan is to try and run 70+ plays from scrimmage and test the conditioning of the Redskins in the first game. Whether or not he’s successful remains to be seen but one thing we know for sure is that Philly is a complete enigma. The Eagles have completely new systems in place, offensively, defensively and on special teams. What that means is that the ‘Skins have nothing to go on in terms of preparation. You simply can’t prepare for something you’ve never seen before and that’s precisely what Kelly brings to the table. That makes the Eagles a very interesting proposition here. The Eagles may fall flat on their faces here but they could also thrive with some crazy offensive numbers and that possibility has us leaning their way.


SAN DIEGO +5 over Houston

Line opened at Houston -3½. It’s up to 4, 4½ or even 5 at some places and will probably be as high as 6 by 10:00 PM tonight. This is the last game of the week. It’s also the second game of tonight’s Monday Night double-header, meaning the Texans will be the second or third part of all two and three-game parlays. Do you actually think the oddsmakers did not anticipate this heavy lean on the visitor? Of course they did. Monday Night Football is lined with mismatches that were supposed to be easy money but failed miserably. This one has that stench to it. There is no sense in breaking down this matchup. NFL football is bigger than it’s ever been. Hour after hour after hour you can turn on the TV or radio and hear so called experts breaking down these games to precisely how they are supposed to turn out. Indy was supposed to whack the Raiders, New England was a cinch to defeat the Bills. Tampa was going to destroy the Jets, etc, etc, etc.

We all know that the Chargers have been a mess of mistake filled football games, bad coaching, underachievers and just a pathetic football team to wager on. The oddsmakers know that too. We’re not going to try and make a case for the Chargers because it’s near impossible. The Texans, coming off a 12-4 year and winning the AFC South are supposed to go into San Diego tonight and steamroll over this San Diego team that virtually brings the same players as last year, minus Danario Alexander. Philip Rivers returns for his tenth NFL season but comes off his worst year since 2007. The Chargers are learning a new offense by OC Ken Whisenhunt but they have no players that stand out. The Texans sport a great rushing defense and the Chargers are busy installing a new offensive scheme. The Texans still have J. J. Watt and Brian Cushing and added Ed Reed to the secondary. Against a below average team this defense should be dominating. So yeah, on paper, the Texans are supposed to come in here and blow away the Chargers but we’ve been doing this too long to not recognize something that smells fishy. You’re very likely going to bet the Texans tonight and we could not blame you for doing so. However, this is the biggest public play of the week and that’s a side that’s loses far too often for us to get on board with. You’ve been warned.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

SPORTS WAGERS

Kansas City +100 over CLEVELAND

The Indians are two games back in the Wild Card race while the Royals are 3½-games back, thus setting up this crucial series.  Ubaldo Jimenez is enjoying a bit of a rebound season this year, at least in relation to how terrible he was last year. His ERA is down under 4.00, and while he still walks too many, his dominance has increased to 9 K’s per 9 innings, which would be a career best. Interestingly, Jimenez's velocity has continued its slow decline from the mid-90s a few years ago. The difference, at least this year, appears to be an increased reliance on his slider. Jimenez has been hot in the last month or so (35 IP, 41/15 K/BB since the beginning of August).  However, in those five August starts, Jimenez faced the Braves, A’s, Twins, Angels and Marlins. What that group has in common is that they are among the league leaders in striking out. Atlanta, for instance has struck out more than any team in baseball besides the Astros and the Twinkies are just four strikeouts behind them. As a result, Jimenez’s K rate over the past month is extremely skewed and that’s the real key here. You see, the Royals have struck out the least amount of times in MLB and that means that Jimenez is not going to get these guys to swing at pitches way out of the zone. In other words, he’s likely to be behind in the count more than ahead and that’s when he prone to being whacked.

Improved control and dominance against lefties has driven Ervin R. Santana. Kansas City rebuilt their rotation in the offseason with the big acquisition being James Shields but Santana has more than held his own. While his record is only 8-8, the rest of his numbers have been impressive. Santana’s xERA shows that there is real skills growth here. He’s walking fewer batters resulting in control that hasn’t been this good since 2008. Santana’s groundball % is also creeping up. It was in the mid-30% range earlier in his career, but it’s gone up sharply the past three years to a career high of 47% this season. He’s also dominating lefties. While his career OPS against them is .772, he’s holding them to .603 in 2013. The 30-year-old Santana is peaking at the right time. He’s a free agent at the end of this season and with many eyes on this series, this start becomes one of Santana’s most important of the year in terms of his potential contract and whether or not the Royals win this important series. Money is a huge motivating factor.


Pittsburgh +163 over TEXAS

Yu Darvish is wickedly good. This guy has the best road skills in MLB and it’s not even close. Overall, Darvish has an amazing 240 K’s in 180 innings but all those pitches and innings take a toll. Rangers’ manager, Ron Washington has been known to burn out pitchers. The list of pitcher’s he’s burned out over the years is a long one and he’s also been known to really burn them out over the course of a year. It’s probably the main reason why the Rangers make the playoffs every season but subsequently get knocked out early. Darvish’s pitch count is rarely under 113 a game. Even with five and six runs leads, Ron Washington will keep sending him out there until his tank is empty and the effects are beginning to show. Darvish has been taken yard four times over his past two starts in Oakland and at home to the Twinkies. In his last start, he also walked six batters. Overall, the Rangers have lost Darvish’s last four starts to Oakland, Minnesota, the White Sox and Seattle and his ERA over that span was 4.62. It would not surprise one bit to see him lose another one here.

Gerrit Cole has flashed his rotation-anchor upside since being called up by the Pirates. Cole’s 96 mph average four-seam fastball and 10% swinging K rate give him more strikeout upside than he has shown and his off speed stuff has been nothing short of dominating. Cole has thrown his change-up and curveball 232 times and batters have managed only two extra-base hits against those pitches. Don't be surprised if he becomes Pittsburgh’s best pitcher in September, into the playoffs and all of next season. Aside from his outstanding arsenal of pitches, Cole has a 50% groundball rate and his control is improving with each outing. Over his past 25 innings, Cole has walked just four batters while whiffing 19. Geritt Cole is coming on strong while Yu Darvish is fading and the price here makes this one even more appealing.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Tony George

Eagles / Redskins Under 52

This game has many much anticipated headlines.  Chip Kelly’s Oregon Duck offense in the NFL with Mike Vick at the controls?  How about the return of RG III to the lineup, and is the spread read option attack going into full use tonight or are they going to play it conservative while the young star continues to mend, although they say he is 100% ready to rock and roll tonight.?  What a scenario to watch unfold on ESPN tonight in the early game, but where is the value in the line because of all the intangibles?

With all this firepower and perceived firepower on offense it looks like a great deal to take the OVER 52 in this game.  That said the running game will be crucial and I expect the Skins to expose the defense of Philly which gave up 28 ppg in 2012 with their ground game both with their bevy of RB’s and yes, RG III.  Trust me when I tell you the Skins will also get a healthy dose of RB McCoy from the Eagles as well. Washington has the better defense here with a strong LB unit and they are 100% healthy for once.  RG III also tore up the Eagles last year in conference play, but at day’s end, running the ball and playing good defense is the key to success in this game, and I see Washington having an advantage there as well as home field which is worth a couple of points here at least.

With all those advantages it looks like a take to lay the points with Washington but I do not like this number at over 3, and I do not think this will be the track meet many suspect.

A great game with a ton of storylines, but I expect the scoring to be in the mid 40’s and I will recommend a small lean on the UNDER 52 in this game

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Sean Murphy

Arizona vs. LA Dodgers
Pick: Arizona

We've finally seen some cracks in the Dodgers armor as they've dropped four games in a row but there's no reason to hit the panic button as they still lead the N.L. West by a whopping 11-game margin.

The team firmly entrenched in second place in the division is Arizona. We missed the mark with the D'Backs in a tough extra innings loss yesterday but I won't hesitate to support them at an even higher underdog price on Monday night.

The D'Backs have won three of their last five games and should relish the opportunity to play the 'spoiler' role in L.A. this week. I like their chances in the series opener as they hand the ball to Randall Delgado. He's been quietly effective lately, giving up three earned runs or less in three consecutive starts, with the Snakes going 2-1 over that stretch. Note that they're 4-2 in his six road starts this season and 8-4 when he takes the ball under the lights. Arizona did lose Delgado's lone previous start against the Dodgers this year, but it wasn't entirely his fault as he gave up only three earned runs in six innings.

Ricky Nolasco will counter for L.A. He's been lights out, allowing two earned runs or less in six straight starts. The question his, how long can this veteran keep it up? In time split in Miami and L.A. this season he's only recorded a 3.56 ERA at home, and at night he's given up more hits (126) than innings pitched (120 1/3). The D'Backs will be getting their third look at Nolasco this season after falling short in their last two tries against him. Keep in mind, in Nolasco's lone outing against the Snakes last year, he was tagged for five earned runs in five innings. He made one start against them two years ago and gave up five earned runs in only three innings.

In terms of current form, the D'Backs have a significant edge when it comes to the bullpens, with their relief corps having recorded a collective 2.45 ERA over their last five games. For their part, the Dodgers 'pen has posted an ERA north of five over that same stretch.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Craig Davis

This total should be sitting at 6 or 6 1/2... but 7 is too high in my opinion. You can start by looking at the pitchers on the mound and then follow that up by looking at these two offenses lately.

Max Scherzer (19-2, 2.88 ERA) takes another shot at becoming the first pitcher to reach 20 wins this season after blowing a golden opportunity vs. Boston last week. Scherzer is still considered one of the best pitchers in the American League and has had a lot of success vs. Chicago in his career.

Over 16 starts, Scherzer is 7-4 with a 2.34 ERA vs. the Pale Hose... and the only reason his record isn't better is the fact that the Tigers don't give him a ton of run support when playing Chicago. He's also 4-0 with a 1.26 ERA in his last five starts against the Sox.

And speaking of pitchers who don't get a lot of run support... look no further than Chicago lefty Chris Sale (10-12, 2.97 ERA). Since an awful start vs. Texas back in mid-August, Sale has bounced back to strike out 18 batters and allow only three earned runs over his last two starts.

Versus the Tigers this year he's already 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA in three starts.

The Tigers have totaled just 13 runs (not counting one game where they scored 16) in dropping five of seven to start the month of September.

Should be a low scoring game in which the final score is in the neighborhood of 3-2. This game goes under the total and it's your free play of the day.

5♦ DETROIT-CHICAGO UNDER

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Jeff Benton

My Monday comp play will be the Indians at home as they begin a big wild card implication series against the Royals.

Kansas City is charging hard with 11 wins in their last 14 games, but they must play tonight on the road against a Cleveland team that has won 5 of their last 7 overall.

It is a Cleveland team that swept the last series meeting against Kansas City, the Tribe taking all 3 at Progressive Field in the middle of July. The Indians have won 6 of the last 8 meetings played between the teams this season.

Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are the listed starters, and while Jimenez may only be 3-5 his last 8 starts, his ERA in those starts stands at a slender 2.22.

Santana has not won since August the 4th, and is on an 0-1 run with an over 5 ERA his last 3 trips to the mound.

Huge playoff implications apply tonight, and my money is on the host to draw first blood.

3♦ CLEVELAND

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Brad Wilton

My comp play for Monday night is the Over in the Pirates-Rangers game.

Were this game being played earlier in the season, I might look for a pitcher's duel, but right now it looks like rookie Gerrit Cole is not quite used to the long MLB season, as he comes into tonight's start in Arlington on an 0-2 run his last 3 starts with a 3.26 ERA, as Cole has worked past the 6th inning just once in his last 6 starts.

As for Texas starter Yu Darvish, he is on an 0-2 slide his last 4 starts with a 4.50 ERA.

Both teams have played Overs in 3 of their last 4 games, and I like another Over tonight in the series opener between the clubs.

2♦ PITTSBURGH-TEXAS OVER

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Brett Atkins

My free play for tonight is on the Seattle Mariners run line against the visiting Houston Astros.

I know that Run Line plays automatically list pitchers with starters who are scheduled to go at the time of of making the wager, but I am not concerned with who goes for either team in this game and want you playing the game on the Run Line regardless. That being said, I may mention the pitchers who are going - Jarred Cosart and Taijuan Walker - cause they will be on your ticket. Plus, IT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to be sure you have action even if one of the pitchers scheduled to start is scratched, and re-wager the game if that takes place.

Seattle has taken 10 of the 16 meetings between the teams and it has also posted a respectable 34-33 mark against the American League West this season. Though the M's were unable to complete a three-game sweep of Tampa Bay after losing 4-1 in the series finale yesterday, they won't be dismayed and are resilient enough to take it to the abysmal Astros.

Houston is four games shy of the 100-loss mark, and it's inevitable - this team is well on its way to the century mark and continue to display a sad presentation on the field. So when it faces Walker, I don't expect much from the lineup.

Walker is not only Seattle's top young gun, he's considered one of the league's top prospects, and already gave us a look into Seattle's future when the 21-year-old right-hander strutted his stuff late last month in a 7-1 victory in Houston, allowing just one unearned run and two hits in five innings. That was his MLB debut. Now he gets the Astros at home. I like the M's on the run line, as they should win big.

5♦ SEATTLE -1.5

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Chris Jordan

My free winner for tonight is on the diamond, as I'm staking my chances in a huge home underdog out of the National League East, with the Miami Marlins over the Atlanta Braves, who have lost four straight and might be hitting a bit of a slump right quick. I won't list either pitcher, cause I think the Fish are catching Atlanta at the right time and could steal this series-opener.

So after being swept in Philadelphia, the Braves have to bypass Atlanta and head to South Florida for a series with the lowly Marlins, who have no business winning this game, and that's why I like them. It looks too easy to take Atlanta, which has won 20 of 26 in Miami and seven straight when Kris Medlen toes the slab for the Braves in this matchup.

But the Braves have not only dropped four straight, but they're also mired in losing streaks of 1-6 with a suitcase in hand, 2-5 after a loss and 1-5 against right-handed starters.

I know Miami has lost nine of its last 13 games, and is 5-10 against Atlanta this season, but this is one of those nights to take a chance with a team like the Marlins.

1♦ MIAMI

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Scott Delaney

My complimentary winner for Monday is on the San Francisco Giants against the slumping Colorado Rockies, as the defending World Series champs will take advantage and take this series-opener at AT&T Park.

Neither team is headed to the postseason, I think we all know that's a given, but the Giants would love nothing more than to save a little face when they're playing at home. While the Rockies are tied with the San Diego Padres for third place in the National League West, after the Padres completed a three-game sweep of Colorado with yesterday's 5-2 victory, it's the Giants who are looking to climb out of the cellar and send the Rockies to the basement.

San Fran is now 1-1/2 games behind the Rox and Padres after yesterday's 3-2 win in 11 innings over the Arizona Diamondbacks.

I don't care about listing pitchers in this one, as it's more about the Giants going out and getting it done. And I don't see that being a problem against a Rockies team that is mired in additional losing streaks of 1-5 in division play, 1-4 against righties and 18-39 in this series.

5♦ SAN FRANCISCO

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Andre Ramirez

Houston Texans -4

Houston has covered the spread in 19 of the last 27 games vs. AFC Conference Opponents and they have also covered the spread in 16 of the last 24 games when playing as a favorite.Houston has covered the spread in 7 of the last 8 games when playing in the 1st month of the season and they have covered the spread in 21 of the last 27 games when playing on a natural grass field.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Ray Monohan

New York Yankees +130

It has not been a good season for Yankees lefthander C.C. Sabathia. But it is crunch time now and if he is exactly the kind of pitcher who can gut out a win when need be, just like he did when he beat the Orioles last week. It wasn’t a vintage performance with 5 runs allowed but he got the job done and the Yanks have won 4 of his last 5 starts. New York is 3-1 in his starts against the O’s this season and I am more comfortable backing the horse I know than the horse I don’t, Orioles big winner Chris Tillman. Things are getting tight and the Yanks are loaded with guys who just get it done.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Jeff Scott Sports

3 UNIT PLAY

Houston/ San Diego Under 45: I am going with the Under in this The Charger offense has little in the way of weapons right now, so they will really have to rely on their run game and a revamped defense that really played well in the preseason. The Charger defensive front looks stout and the defensive backfield is also a plus for this team. The Chargers should be able to bottle up Foster enough to keep him from running wild on him and make this Houston team use long time consuming drives if the hope to score. The Houston defense is among the best in the league, led by JJ Watt and Brian Cushing, and hopefully they will have Ball Hawking DB Ed Reed in there as well. Let's seal the deal here with a very nice trend that states that Week 1 home dogs with an OU line of 44 or higher have gone 18-3 to the Under, since 2002. For the record this trend went 2-0 yesterday as Buffalo and Carolina both stayed Under the total. Let's make it a hat trick in what should be a low scoring defensive battle.

2 UNIT PLAY

Philadelphia/ Washington Under 53: I know the thought is to play all overs in Philly's early games this year, but I have a feeling this on will stay Under the total. Washington may not control the pace of the Philly offense on defense, but they will try for long time consuming drives on offense so to keep the Philly offense off the field. I don't expect Washington to try and score quickly. Now for Philly, just because their offense is high tempo, doesn't mean they will always score. Remember that is still Vick back there and he had allot of redzone turnovers the last coupe of years. Let's also note that game 1 divisional home favorites with an OU Line of 43 or higher are 11-4 to the Under, since 2004. Look for a lower scoring game here than most will expect.

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Mike O'Connor

Philadelphia (+3.5) 28 WASHINGTON 27

The Eagles enter 2013 with a host of changes beginning with a brand new coaching staff, new offensive and defensive schemes and some new personnel in key spots, particularly the secondary. HC Chip Kelly takes over a team that disappointed in 2012 finishing just 4-12. Kelly is new to the NFL but had a huge amount of success as both offensive coordinator at New Hampshire (1999-2006) and OC and then HC at Oregon (2007-2012). As HC his overall record at Oregon was 33-3. He will bring creativity, innovation, and speed to the Eagles offense this year and the fact that Bill Belichick has a great deal of respect for him and sought him out as a consultant in the past says a lot. He hired Pat Shurmur (formerly of the Rams) as OC to assist him in implementation and execution of his offense. His choice for DC was Billy Davis who has previous DC experience with the Arizona Cardinals in 2009 and 2010 and had been the LB’s coach for the Browns in 2011,2012. Davis will be multiple in his approach but will utilize more 3-4 alignments which will require some adjustment. Offensively, the Eagles are a team with a lot of potential. They have a very good offensive line with players that seem to fit the scheme well. They have a dynamic running back in LeSean McCoy and a quarterback with a skill set that should work well in this offense. They lost WR’s Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn in the preseason so they are a bit thin at WR, but have enough talent in spite of those losses with Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson and some good tight end receiving options. Defensively, the Eagles may be a work in progress but noteworthy acquisitions include OLB Connor Barwin, NT Isaac Sopoaga, and CB Cary Williams. Much of the secondary will be new and lacking in talent so there will be some growing pains. The CB position in particular is thin and may be exposed in coverage early. This should be an interesting team to watch as they may have some luck related regression potentially moving back towards the mean. The Eagles finished in the lower 25% of teams with a 38% fumble recovery rate in 2012. I expect Kelly to limit risk for Michael Vick in the passing game as he has had 45 turnovers in the past two years and is projected to be 8th in QB turnover risk by my metrics in 2013.

The Redskins are a team that benefitted from a new and dynamic offense in 2012 that took the league by storm. QB Robert Griffin performed unbelievably well as a rookie and orchestrated my 8th rated passing offense. This style of offense is truly synergistic as the pass and run are both optional and interchangeable, as the pass opens the run; the run clears way for the pass. Griffin is a talented but fragile QB and after last season there are legitimate concerns about his durability. Especially after hearing of Dr. James Andrews’s concerns, and with no preseason action in 2013, I would expect a scaled down version of what the offense looked like last year. With sensitivity regarding the manner in which Griffin was injured in the playoffs last season, it is reasonable to assume that there won’t be as many assignment based risks given to the franchise QB , at least in the early part of the season. Without the true threat of run that Griffin presented last year the offense could be somewhat neutered and as a result not as effective. There are clear rules in regards to the ability of the quarterback to run that every team has studied this offseason. It is currently understood that only when the QB drops back does he have passer protection and he is treated as a running back in all other circumstances, including when he slides down the line and either fakes or delivers an option. In addition, there will likely be a defensive player assigned to the QB in this style of offense, regardless of what he does. This dynamic nature of this offense truly depends on the health of Robert Griffin. Defensively, the Redskins were hurt by injuries to LB Brian Orakpo and DE Adam Carriker and finished with my 21st rated run defense. This year Orakpo is back but they lose DE Jarvis Jenkins and LB Rob Jackson to suspension for the first four games. They also will likely have two rookies playing significant roles in the defensive backfield in CB David Amerson and S Baccari Rambo. And just as the Eagles may be able to expect some fumble regression, the Redskins will be looking at just the opposite. They finished 2012 third in the league with a 65.79% fumble recovery rate in 2012.

My line on this game is Washington -6.5 so there does appear to be some value on the Redskins. Matchup analysis suggests plenty of points with a greater than average number of plays and offensive production on both sides. I’m not sure how Griffin will be compromised athletically so I am reluctant to recommend the Over 51 here. However, I do have a Week 1 system that plays on the Eagles and is 54-29. I also like the unknown element that the Eagles possess so in spite of the line difference (initial ratings are a bit unreliable), I will lean with Philadelphia in an upset. EAGLES 28-27.


SAN DIEGO (+3.5) 20 Houston 23

The Texans enter the 2013 season after a great first half of 2012 followed by a disappointing late season. After an 11-1 start they went just 2-4 the rest of the way including the playoffs. They never did seem to be the same team after getting thrashed by the Patriots on Monday night, seemingly losing their confidence. That sort of performance leads me to believe that this is a clearly talented, but not particularly mentally strong team. Or at least they were last year. Notable offseason changes are mainly on defense, losing LB Connor Barwin and gaining FS Ed Reed who may help in that regard. They did also draft talented WR DeAndre Hopkins who apparently performed well in camp before suffering a concussion in August. If he is well enough to contribute, his addition along with TE’s Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham could take some coverage away from WR Andre Johnson (who looked very good with 7 receptions for 131 yards in the first half of the Texans third preseason game). This is a good offense overall that benefits from a good play call mix and run/pass balance. Last year they finished 19th in rush offense and 14th in my pass efficiency metric. On defense they are very good with possibly the best defensive player in the game in DE J.J. Watt. They also have a return to health of LB Brian Cushing and skilled players in the secondary. Stability remains on the coaching staff which employs sound schemes on both sides of the ball. They were just above average overall in my defensive ratings in 2012, ranking 15th versus the run and 12th against the pass. Luck may not be with them this season as a regression from their 7th ranked fumble recovery rate is possible.

The Chargers are another team with regime change entering 2013, as Norv Turner was let go and Mike McCoy (formerly OC of the Broncos) was brought in. McCoy, along with new OC Ken Whisenhunt (formerly HC of the Cardinals) bring aboard a new offensive philosophy that will look to take advantage of personnel strengths while minimizing weaknesses. Given what amounts to a below average offensive line, the scheme will likely shift towards a quick passing based offense with more reliance on the running game. The offensive line was a big part of the problem last year as River was sacked once every 11.9 dropbacks which was worst in the NFL. That ratio actually increased in preseason game #2 with 12 dropbacks and 3 sacks. In preseason game number three Rivers threw for just 3.9 yards per attempt. Again, it’s only preseason but it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in the protection group. Making things worse is the fact that the team lost starting WR Danario Alexander, leading receiver Malcolm Floyd was injured (he looks to be OK for Week 1 but he has not had much practice time) and WR Eddie Royal suffered a bruised lung and a concussion. They do get back WR Vincent Brown after missing last year due to injury and like rookie Keenan Allen from Cal. All this – (new coach and scheme, poor OL, missing receivers) translates into a passing attack that should struggle early. In fact, Rivers projects as 9th worst among current starting QB’s in my turnover projection model. RB Ryan Matthews has come back this preseason with apparently more focus and strength and may be relied on more if he can stay healthy. The Run game was terrible in 2012 finishing 30th in my ratings while the passing offense was marginally better with a 25th place finish. On the other side of the ball, DC John Pagano was retained so there is some continuity there. He will benefit from the added experience and pass rushing presence of new DE/LB Dwight Freeney who will bring some leadership to a young and talented group on the defensive line. Outside of FS Eric Weddle, the secondary is a work in progress with new pieces in place. If the secondary can improve in 2013, they have a chance to crack the top ten after finishing with my #11 overall defensive rating from 2012.

This game in theory seems much worse than my numbers suggest as I have the Texans -4.36. Matchup analysis also supports the premise that this game could get ugly. The Chargers should not be able to run or pass effectively in this game with the Texans passing game showing the only real advantage offensively. However, I do have a Week 1 system that applies to the Chargers and is 54-29. With respect given to the situation and despite the statistical support that suggests a Texans victory I will take a contrarian position and lean slightly to the Chargers plus the points. TEXANS 23-20

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Re: Free Picks: Service Plays for Monday, September 9

Harry Bondi

HOUSTON (-4) over San Diego

We have seen the line on Houston as low as 4 at one of our favorite off-shore spots to as high as 6 in Vegas. The reason is simple and obvious. Houston is a much better team and has performed well both as a favorite, where they have covered the pointspread in 16 of the last 24 games when laying points, and the Texans have started the season strong under Head Coach Gary Kubiak covering the spread in 7 of the last 8 games in September. San Diego's weak offensive line will not be able to contain JJ Watt, Brian Cushing and company and Phillip Rivers will be running for his life most of the game. Take the Texans.

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