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Thread: The Bum's 2017 NFL Trends/Stats/News/Picks Thru The Super Bowl

  1. #886
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    DP Notes - Falcons at Eagles
    January 10, 2018


    The Philadelphia Eagles are officially the most disrespected No. 1 seed in the playoffs in NFL history. Few believe they actually have a shot to win the Super Bowl, and they have the longest odds left among the four teams to win the conference.

    Now, the No. 1 seed in the NFC is a dog to the last team that snuck into the playoffs in the conference. The Atlanta Falcons aren't your typical No. 6 seed, though; this is a team that won the NFC just last season and won't be intimidated going into the City of Brotherly Love.

    Getting No Respect


    Being the No. 1 seed in either conference doesn't necessarily mean that you were the best team, but it does mean that you were good enough to win a bunch of games in the regular season. The Eagles were no slouches, beating the Panthers and Rams on the road this season while winning a bunch of games against teams that just missed out on the postseason.

    That said, with Nick Foles under center in place of the injured Carson Wentz, this feels like a much different team. The Eagles have gone seven quarters without an offensive touchdown dating back to Christmas Day, and they don't figure to score a ton in this game either.

    That's why Philadelphia is the first No. 1 seed to ever be a dog in its first playoff game in either the AFC or the NFC.

    This is also the first time a No. 1 seed has been an underdog to a No. 6 seed at any juncture of the playoffs in NFL history.

    No Fly Zone

    The Eagles have played seven home playoff games dating back to 2004, and they all have one remarkable thing in common: They've all gone under the total.

    Philadelphia has averaged just 20.0 points per game in those seven home playoff games, and it's sporting a suspect record of just 4-3 SU and 2-5 ATS in that span.

    Let's give a tip of the cap to the Eagles' defense, though. This unit has only allowed more than 21 points twice at home since New Year's Eve 2000 in playoff games.

    Riding High in the A-T-L

    Heading into last season, the big knock on Matt Ryan was that he was never able to win games when they counted in January. Matty Ice had won just one postseason game before last season, but now, he's won three of his last four, including winning a postseason game on the road for the first time against the Rams last week.

    Atlanta has now won and covered three consecutive playoff games, and without a big fourth-quarter collapse against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, we'd be talking about a team that has both won and covered four straight in the postseason, a feat that is virtually impossible to pull off.

    Falcons vs. Eagles Playoff History
    1979 (at Atlanta): Falcons 14, Eagles 13
    2003 (at Philadelphia): Eagles 20, Falcons 6 (Philadelphia -7.5 / Under 38.5)
    2005 (at Philadelphia): Eagles 27, Falcons 10 (Philadelphia -4.5 / Under 41)

    Falcons vs. Eagles Opening NFL Odds
    Falcons at Eagles (+3, 43.5)

    Falcons vs. Eagles Current NFL Odds (Updated 1/7)
    Falcons at Eagles (+3, 41.5)
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    DP Notes - Titans at Patriots
    January 10, 2018


    Many will argue that the New England Patriots have effectively been given a bye all the way into the AFC Championship Game. The Tennessee Titans shouldn't theoretically have much of a shot against the best franchise in the NFL over the course of the last decade and a half.

    Every dog has his day, though, and Mike Mularkey and the Titans will be hoping that they'll be able to pull off their own rendition of the Music City Miracle in Foxboro.

    No Go in Foxboro

    The Tennessee Titans have never beaten the Patriots in Foxboro. Neither did the Tennessee Oilers.

    You have to go all the way back to the Warren Moon/Tecmo Bowl/"Chuck and Duck" days to find the last time this organization beat the Patriots in New England.

    Since the Oilers' 1993 victory in New England, the franchise is 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS, including getting whipped by an aggregate score of 92-16 over the course of the last two meetings.

    The Titans, in fact, haven't had much of any luck against the Tom Brady-led Patriots at all. The Brady Bunch has won each of the last six meetings in this series, going 5-1 ATS in said games.

    6th Time's the Charm


    With all of the reports of turmoil in the New England locker room, it's notable to go back and look at what this team really has accomplished over the course of the last decade and a half. The Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick/Tom Brady triumvirate is a double-digit favorite in the playoffs for the sixth time. The rest of the NFL in that span only has only had seven such other playoff games where a team has been favored by 10+.

    The Patriots have only been beaten in one of those previous five games in which they were double-digit underdogs. That, of course, was the Super Bowl in 2008 that prevented the '07 Patriots from being known as the "Perfect Patriots."

    The Pats are just 2-3 ATS in their last five as double-digit chalks in the playoffs, but all three ATS losses came in those '08 playoffs.

    A Titanic Spread

    The Titans weren't larger than +7 in a single game this season, but they're now facing their second-straight biggest spread of the year. They pulled off the upset at +8.5 against Kansas City, but they're up against a significantly better team and significantly longer odds in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

    Tennessee was last a double-digit dog on December 20, 2015, a game that happened to be played right here at Gillette Stadium. The Titans were +14.5 that day and were blown out 33-16.

    The last time the Titans won as double-digit underdogs was in 2006 at Philadelphia.

    A total of 18 teams have been 13.5-point underdogs or greater in NFL playoff history. They're a respectable 8-9-1 ATS but are only 3-15 SU.

    Titans vs. Patriots Playoff History
    1979 (at New England): Oilers 31, Patriots 14
    2004 (at New England): Patriots 17, Titans 14 (Tennessee +6 / Under 34.5)

    Titans vs. Patriots Opening NFL Odds
    Titans at Patriots (-13.5, 47)

    Titans vs. Patriots Current NFL Odds (Updated 1/7)
    Titans at Patriots (-13.5, 47)
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    Titans RB Murray ruled out vs. Pats
    January 10, 2018


    Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray has been ruled out for this weekend's AFC divisional round game versus the New England Patriots, ESPN reported on Wednesday.

    Murray, the team's starting running back during the regular season, is dealing with an MCL tear he sustained two weeks ago. It's an injury that can take from two to six weeks to heal.

    The 29-year-old Murray sat out the Titans' 22-21 road victory over the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday in a wild-card game. The win advanced Tennessee into the next round against the New England Patriots on Saturday in Foxborough, Mass.

    Without Murray against the Chiefs, Derrick Henry seized the opportunity and stepped up his game.

    Henry ran for 156 yards and a touchdown, including a 35-yard touchdown jaunt in the fourth quarter.

    In Henry's second straight start in place of Murray, he averaged 6.8 yards per carry against Kansas City.

    Henry ran for 744 yards on 176 carries with five touchdowns during the regular season in 2017. Murray rushed for 659 yards and six touchdowns on 184 carries and caught 39 passes for 266 yards and one touchdown in 15 games, all as a starter.
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    Falcons favored to break Philly curse
    January 10, 2018


    FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. -- The Atlanta Falcons have never won in the playoffs in Philadelphia. The Falcons are 0-2 in Philadelphia in the playoffs and 1-0 at home.

    The Falcons (11-6) and Eagles (13-3) will meet for the fourth time in the postseason in a NFC divisional round playoff game at 4:35 p.m. on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field.

    Because of the Eagles' issues at quarterback, the Falcons have been installed as favorites to beat the Eagles.

    The Eagles boast the league's top run defense, which gave up 79.2 yards per game in the regular season.

    "This is a definite line-of-scrimmage kind of game," Falcons head coach Dan Quinn said. "Both teams like to run it, and both teams are good defending the run."

    The Eagles defense is anchored by tackles Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan.

    "First thing like always, you can see the discipline of the way that the players are playing," Quinn said. "They have a real understanding of the scheme, and for a long time I've felt the way they feature the guys in the system really lends to playing really good run defense."

    The Falcons ran the ball 37 times against the Rams and carved out 37 minutes of time of possession to keep the Rams' No. 1 scoring offense off the field.

    "They play a lot of eight-man or seven-man boxes like we would to play down and are physical," Quinn said. "So, you'd expect them to have a good run defense, and they certainly do."

    In the last meeting of the two teams in the playoffs, it was cold (17 degrees at kickoff) and there was a bunch a snow for the NFC Championship Game in 2005.

    Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was clearly affected by the weather conditions and Eagles safety Brian Dawkins hit tight end Alge Crumpler so hard that it knocked the life out of the Falcons in that game.

    Vick was sacked four times and they were outgained 362-202. The Falcons trailed just 14-10 at the half, but they couldn't move the ball in the second half. Every drive ended in a punt except for the one where there was an interception.

    The good news is that it's supposed to 50 degrees with a low of 19 in Philadelphia on Saturday. More important, no snowstorm has been predicted.

    The Falcons also lost to Eagles, 20-6, in the playoffs on Jan. 11, 2002.

    Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to the victory in the divisional round by playing the first game since he broke his ankle on Nov. 17. The Falcons' loss came in Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium one week after they became the first visiting team to win a playoff game at the Packers' Lambeau Field.

    In 1978, the Falcons beat the Eagles 14-13 in the first wild-card playoff game in NFL history. The Falcons scored 14 fourth-quarter points for the victory in Atlanta's Fulton County Stadium. Steve Bartkowski threw touchdown passes of 20 yards to Jim Mitchell and 37 yards to Wallace Francis for the Falcons, coached by Leeman Bennett.

    Last season, in a regular-season game, on the way to the Super Bowl, the Falcons blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost to the Philadelphia Eagles 24-15 at Lincoln Financial Field on Nov. 13, 2016. It was their third blown fourth-quarter lead of the season and foreshadowed what would happen in the Super Bowl.

    SERIES RECORD: 35th all-time meeting and fourth in the postseason. Eagles lead regular-season series 16-13-2. The Eagles hold a 2-1 advantage in the playoffs. The two teams met in the NFC Championship Game after the 2004 regular season. In the 24-10 Eagles victory, Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sacked four times. The Eagles outgained the Falcons, 362-202 behind the play of Donovan McNabb.

    NOTES: WR Julio Jones (ankle) did not practice on Wednesday. ... TE Levine Toilolo (knee) was a full participant. ... RB Devonta Freeman (knee), WR Mohamed Sanu (knee) and LB LaRoy Reynolds (knee) were limited in practice on Wednesday.
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    Mariota, Henry the key for Titans
    January 10, 2018


    NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If the Tennessee Titans are to have any chance at all of upsetting the New England Patriots, it will probably take some formula similar to what worked in Kansas City in the AFC wild-card game.

    The Titans defense did yeoman's work (especially after the Chiefs lost tight end Travis Kelce) and will no doubt have to again with a much bigger challenge ahead in Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and the Patriots' offense.

    But the key might be whether or not the Titans can get the same or better performances from their Heisman Trophy pair in quarterback Marcus Mariota and running back Derrick Henry.

    Mariota had a memorable first playoff game, completing 19-of-31 passes for 205 yards and two touchdown passes -- including one to himself on a deflected ball. He also moved the chains with his legs, picking up three critical first downs on scrambles and adding 46 yards on eight rushing attempts.

    As for Henry, he had accused himself of running "soft" in his first start against Jacksonville, where he had only 51 yards on 28 carries. But against the Chiefs, he more than made amends, going for 156 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

    "I'm just trying to play better every week. I get another chance to play against a great team in a good environment. I'm just making sure I'm doing all the right things this week," Henry said.

    Mariota's return to form of late, being healthy enough to run again, has caught the attention of his teammates and coaches -- along with his never-say-die attitude, but when asked about his individual play, Mariota says, "Just playing my game, executing to the best of my abilities and just trying to make a play."

    While the Titans' new dynamic duo may be downplaying how much their impact is on the offense's success, teammates are quick to point it out.

    "We go as Marcus goes," said wide receiver Eric Decker, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Mariota in the fourth quarter. "He has shown his personality the last couple of weeks and how tough he is, and how much of a leader he is."

    As for Henry, his confidence appears higher as well, as he bounced back from the poor game against Jacksonville in his first start and now is one of the focal points of the Titans' offensive attack.

    "Any time you have success, no matter how confident you are, it goes up a little bit. He had a good game, did some good things, and I think he's in a good place," offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie said.

    **********************

    Patriots intent on focusing on Titans
    January 10, 2018


    FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few hours before the New England Patriots' first practice of the week in preparation for Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the Titans (10-7) at Gillette Stadium, head coach Bill Belichick stepped to the microphone Tuesday morning for his initial press conference of the week.

    He made two things quite clear: He was impressed by a Tennessee team that advanced in the postseason with a comeback win over Kansas City on wild-card weekend and, maybe most important, he was only focused on talking about his upcoming game and opponent.

    After days spent issuing joint statements and then he and Tom Brady making the rounds doing radio interviews to discredit and deny the contents of the Jan. 5 story from ESPN detailing the supposed "internal power struggle in New England," Belichick declared he and his team were "all in" preparing for the Titans.

    "We've dealt with some non-Tennessee subjects here over the last few days," Belichick said to close out his opening statement. "At this point, I'm all in on Tennessee. I'll answer any questions about the Titans but that's it."

    That came after he called Tennessee "an impressive football team" and shortly before declaring, "We know we need to have our best game Saturday night."

    While Belichick may believe that, the rest of the world is a bit more dubious. The Patriots (13-3) are nearly a two-touchdown favorite over a Titans team that sneaked into the playoffs after losing three of its last five games and finished the season with a minus-22 point differential, the only postseason team in either conference to allow more points than it scored.

    Many media and fans alike are wondering if the issues touched on in the ESPN story -- some rooted in the Jimmy Garoppolo trade and others in the relationship between Belichick and Brady as it relates to the quarterback's controversial body coach/business partner, Alex Guerrero -- could have any sort of adverse impact on the latest Super Bowl run for the defending champions.

    Tight end Rob Gronkowski -- who is healthy and ready to roll in the postseason after missing the Super Bowl run a year ago following back surgery -- sees it a bit differently. First, he doesn't believe the story could motivate Brady because the aging legend prepares at such a high level at all times.

    "I've said this many times; it's hard to see him go to another level of intensity because he's always intense," Gronkowski said. "He's always preparing hard. He's always studying as hard as he can every week, so just seeing him do the same old that he does every week -- prepare hard, practice hard and get ready for the game."

    According to the All-Pro tight end, if anything comes from ESPN story and ensuing media storm, it could be a net positive for the Patriots.

    "The feeling around here, the intensity is high, the preparation is high just like any other time," Gronkowski observed. "It's just like any other week. I feel like if anything it's just going to bring us closer and it's going to bond us together. The feel is no different than any other week going on right now. It's good. We just had a good practice week. Everything's feeling good and just excited for the big game, but first off we've got a big week ahead of us to prepare."

    While few in New England believe the ESPN story will hinder the Patriots in any way, that doesn't mean this is just any old week. Regardless of the opponent, the win-or-go-home postseason is, as Belichick might say, what it is.

    "You feel it as soon as you start practicing. Everybody feels it," safety Duron Harmon said. "We know the importance of practice. Each play of the game is important, but the only way that you can have a lot of good plays on game day is by the practice week. So, we try to go out, execute at a high level like it's a game day, try to play as hard, try to play as aware as we can. We just try to do all the little things because we know if we have a great week of practice, it usually translates to a good performance during Saturday."

    And that means no one inside the football offices or locker room at Gillette Stadium will be taking the Titans lightly.

    "It's a one-game season. This is what you work for, is to get to this position," Belichick concluded. "Now we're in it. Now you put everything that you have into this one-game season. We have one game left against the Titans. We have to play better than they do to be able to continue playing. That's a huge challenge. Obviously, every team that's playing, I mean, there are eight teams left. All eight of them are good teams. Every team is good at this time of year. There's a reason why they're here. They've earned their way here. There's no other reason why you're playing this weekend unless you've earned it. We've earned it, the Titans have earned it and I'm sure it'll be a very competitive game. They have a great football team. I can see why they're here. They're good, as I said, in all three phases of the game. They're well-coached. They're a solid team. They've played under pressure. They've won under pressure. They've won on the road. They've had a good year and they've got a good team, so we're going to have to be at our best. We know that."
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    Ajayi key to Eagles running the ball
    January 10, 2018


    PHILADELPHIA -- Without Carson Wentz, the Philadelphia Eagles know they must be able to run the ball Saturday in their divisional-round playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons.

    The good news is they have the one and only running back to rush for 100-plus yards against the Falcons defense this season -- Jay Ajayi.

    Ajayi wasn't with the Eagles at the time. He still was with the Miami Dolphins in Week 5 when he put up 130 yards on 26 carries in a 20-17 win over the Falcons. The Eagles acquired him at the trade deadline in late October for a conditional fourth-round draft pick.

    Ajayi said Wednesday that his success against the Falcons earlier this season should be an advantage for him Saturday.

    "It's good that we're playing them because I've seen the defense before," he said. "I'm familiar with it. I've been using the experience of having played them earlier this year, just remembering some of the things that worked and other things that we can fix."

    The Falcons used a lot of eight-men-in the-box against the Dolphins that day, and likely will do the same thing Saturday against the Eagles.

    "You have to have a plan for that extra defender in the box," Ajayi said. "At the same time, it's like, if you can get through that wave of defenders in the box, then there's going to be a lot of space. It's kind of pick your poison for the defense."

    The Eagles finished third in the league in rushing this season, averaging 132.2 yards a game. During their nine-game win streak from Week 3 to 11, they averaged 161.9 rushing yards per game and 4.7 yards per carry.

    But they weren't nearly as productive in their final five regular-season games. They averaged 98.4 rushing yards per game and 4.0 yards per carry in those games.

    The Eagles had just 19 rushing first downs in their final four games and didn't have a rushing touchdown in their last six games.

    Ajayi averaged 7.0 yards per carry in his first five games with the Eagles, but only 3.9 in his last two.

    He had 10 rushing first downs and nine double-digit-yard runs on 44 carries in those first five games, and just two rushing first downs and three double-digit-yard runs in 26 carries in his last two games.

    Ajayi has arthritic knees, which likely will shorten his career. The Eagles kept him out of their meaningless Week 17 game against Dallas and rested him the first couple of days of practice during the playoff bye week.

    But he said Wednesday he's feeling fine and will not be limited Saturday against the Falcons.

    "I feel good," he said. "I've been working diligently with the training staff and doing my usual routine of making sure I'm fresh for the games. It's been a long season, but I hope it gets longer."
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    Saints unique in playoffs with a SB QB
    January 10, 2018


    METAIRIE, La. -- Drew Brees gives the New Orleans Saints something no other team in the NFC playoffs has -- a quarterback that has led his team to a Super Bowl championship.

    Brees' performance was a key factor in the Saints' 31-26 victory over Carolina in a wild-card Playoff game last Sunday. His ability and playoff experience are perhaps New Orleans' biggest asset as it goes on the road to face No. 2 seed Minnesota in a divisional playoff game Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

    Against the Panthers, Brees completed 23-of-33 passes for 376 yards, his second-highest total of the season, and two touchdowns. Brees connected with eight different receivers.

    "I was ready for that," Brees said Wednesday. "It was just a matter of when and where the opportunities will come. We have had plenty of those games in the past.

    "(The game plan) does not change the way I prepare. It does not change the way that I visualize the game as I go through the week. As we get to game day we are always ready to be in the position to make the play, to call the play."

    Brees was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XLIV eight years ago when New Orleans defeated Indianapolis. He's a key to whether the Saints can move one step closer to another Super Bowl by winning Sunday.

    "We made it to the Elite Eight, we're trying to get to the Final Four and we're trying to get to a chance to win it all," Brees said. "This is crunch time. This is where you want to be playing your best. This is what you play your regular season for.

    "You get paid to play the regular season; this is for free. I'd pay it all back just to be in this position. This is where it's fun."

    This season, Brees has thrown for the fewest yards of any of his 12 seasons in New Orleans, thanks to potent a running game and a better-than-average defense.

    His second-fewest yards came during the Super Bowl season for similar reasons.

    But when Carolina committed itself to stopping Mark Ingram II, Alvin Kamara and the running game, head coach Sean Payton put the game in Brees' hands and he responded.

    "I think that there's a lot of confidence here that you can do either," Payton said of running and passing.

    The Saints like always will try to be balanced against Minnesota, which has the only defense to rank in the top three in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed and passing yards allowed.

    "We're definitely going to come out and try and run the ball," tackle Terron Armstead said. "We're going to try and impose our will on them and they're going to try and do the same. We're fortunate to have the running backs that we have and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, so it's kind of pick your poison."

    Several Saints players said the first meeting means very little because both teams have come a long way in figuring out their identities in the four months of practicing and playing since then.

    "We didn't know what we had in store when we came out of this deal at the beginning of the year," wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. said. "As the season went on, we kind of found our mojo and who we are."

    SERIES HISTORY: 33rd all-time meeting, fourth playoff meeting. Vikings lead overall series, 21-11 overall and 12-3 in Minnesota, including a 29-19 victory in the season opener Sept. 11 in U.S. Bank Stadium. The Saints had won the last three meetings, including the last one in Minneapolis (42-20 in 2011). New Orleans has played 17 playoff games and this matchup will allow the Vikings to break a tie with the Eagles for most frequent opponent. Each of the previous playoff games against the Vikings was historic. The first marked New Orleans' debut in the playoffs in the franchise's 21st season as Minnesota prevailed, 44-10, in a wild-card game in the Superdome. The second meeting came after the 2000 season and was the Saints' first appearance in a divisional game, a week after their first playoff victory (31-28 against the Rams) and ending with a 34-16 Vikings victory. The most recent came in the 2009 NFC Championship, when the Saints prevailed 31-28 in overtime in the Superdome to reach their only Super Bowl, which they won two weeks later.

    --The Saints' biggest offensive shortcoming this season has been its lack of productivity on third-down conversions and the tone was set against the Vikings in the season opener. New Orleans converted 4-of-11 third downs (36.4 percent) in that game, converted 37.6 percent during the regular season and 25 percent against the Panthers last week. It will be extremely difficult to exceed those numbers against the Vikings, whose defense leads the NFL by limiting opponents to 25.2 percent on third-down conversions.

    --The Saints' third-down defense was also a problem in the first meeting. Minnesota, which ranks third in the NFL with a third-down conversion rate of 43.5 percent, converted 9-of-14 third downs in the first meeting and twice scored touchdowns on third-down plays. For the season, New Orleans' defense is tied for 24th in third-down conversions (41 percent).

    --The Saints placed offensive lineman Andrus Peat on injured reserve Wednesday because of a broken fibula he suffered against the Panthers. They filled Peat's spot by re-signing tackle Bryce Harris, who has been released and re-signed several times this season while New Orleans has dealt with several injuries on the offensive line.

    --The Saints placed reserve defensive tackle Tony McDaniel on injured reserve and elevated defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton from the practice roster. McDaniel played 12 defensive snaps against Carolina. Hamilton's spot on the practice roster was taken by defensive tackle Jeremy Liggins.

    NOTES: OL Senior Kelemete is expected to make his first career playoff start Sunday in place of Andrus Peat (broken fibula). The five-year veteran, made his post-season debut last week and moved into the lineup after Peat was injured in the first half. Kelemete made eight starts during the regular season because of injuries to Peat, Armstead and RG Larry Warford. ... WR Brandon Coleman (neck) did not participate in practice Wednesday. DE Cam Jordan (knee), T Terron Armstead (thigh), DT Sheldon Rankins (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (concussion), DT David Onyemata (thumb), CB P.J. Williams (ankle) and DE Trey Hendrickson (ankle) were limited in practice on Wednesday.
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    Bell ready to carry heavy load for Steelers
    January 10, 2018


    PITTSBURGH (AP) This was always part of Le'Veon Bell's business plan, the one that the Pittsburgh Steelers running back put together over the summer when he decided to skip training camp while waiting to sign his franchise tag tender.

    Bell's eyes weren't focused on August but January. No camp meant less wear and tear on the legs that are pivotal to his team's Super Bowl hopes.

    Even after a season in which his 406 touches were 60 more than any other player in the league, Bell insists he's ''100'' as the kids say heading into Sunday's divisional round game against Jacksonville.

    ''I feel great, especially not playing these last two weeks, not going to camp earlier in the year,'' Bell said Wednesday. ''I can't complain. I like where I am. This is the freshest I've ever been going into the playoffs so we'll see how it goes.''

    Bell missed the 2014 and 2015 playoffs with knee injuries and after practically carrying the Pittsburgh offense through the second half of the season in 2016, the groin problem he spent weeks trying to ignore flared up early in the AFC championship game.

    He managed just 20 yards on six carries before leaving in the second quarter of a 36-17 loss to New England and spent the rest of the game watching from the sideline, helpless amid the blowing snow.

    A year later, the memory lingers. Bell knows Pittsburgh's best chance to finally unseat the Patriots is with his No. 26 featured prominently.

    It's one of the main reasons why he waited until Sept. 4 to sign the franchise tender that made him the highest-paid running back in the league, a decision that briefly alienated the fan base, but one his teammates understood completely.

    The running back and part-time rapper considers himself unlike any other player in the league. It's not a coincidence that he mentioned ''$17 million'' during one freestyle session over the summer.

    If anything, the $12 million he's earned this season looks like a bargain. Bell earned first-team All-Pro honors at the ''flex'' position, a testament to his unique skillset.

    He finished third in the league in yards rushing (1,291) and 10th in receptions (85) despite sitting out the regular-season finale with a first-round bye already clinched.

    ''He wanted to get paid $17 million, but that's because of what he does,'' guard Ramon Foster said.

    ''He catches and runs the ball, he blocks. He does everything. That's right up his alley. To be honest, I'm happy for him because he made himself into that. You can't just be a running back anymore and he's proven that.''

    Yet Bell is at the point in his career where what happens from September through December is no longer the point.

    On a team loaded with talent, he's well aware the one thing he's missing on his resume is the one thing that a massive payday and all the regular-season touches in the world can't buy.

    ''I honestly don't care about records or things like that,'' Bell said. ''I just want to win a championship. I think everything else kind of comes with it.''

    And Bell isn't afraid to speak his mind to make sure Pittsburgh's season ends in Minneapolis next month. He didn't hesitate to question his relatively light workload during a 30-9 loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 8. He carried just 15 times for 47 yards against a team that came into the game ranked last in the NFL against the rush.

    ''We didn't necessarily stick to our game plan, we had to start playing catch-up a little bit so we couldn't really run the ball as much as we wanted to,'' Bell said. ''We'll see how the game goes. We want to be balanced.''

    For the Steelers that often means making sure Bell is a vital part of the process. Pittsburgh is 6-0 this season when Bell has 30 touches or more.

    It sounds like a lot because it is a lot.

    Yet Bell also hasn't crossed it since a win over Green Bay the weekend after Thanksgiving.

    Compare that to a year ago, when he needed a painkiller shot before the AFC title game just to play, a patchwork solution that failed spectacularly.

    The first time the Patriots hit Bell, the throbbing in his groin returned. There will be no shot necessary on Sunday.

    ''I don't go into a game feeling achy or sore,'' Bell said. ''I'm going there and literally feeling like it's new, like I haven't played in a minute, I want to get back out there.''

    The proof can be heard on the practice field, where Foster says Bell keeps yelling ''Tempo! Tempo!'' in an effort to get his teammates to pick up the pace, not always an easy task more than five months into the season.

    ''His sense of urgency is higher than I ever seen it,'' Foster said. ''He's eager about it. When you've got a guy like him that's eager to do it ... you've got to believe in those guys.''

    NOTES: DE Stephon Tuitt (elbow) was limited in practice on Wednesday. ... DB Artie Burns (knee) was also limited. ... WR Antonio Brown (left calf) was listed as a full participant.

    **********************

    Jaguars QB Bortles hopes to pass less
    January 10, 2018


    JACKSONVILLE -- When Jacksonville pinned a 30-9 loss on Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Week 5, it left both teams with 3-2 records, surprising for both, after Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers threw five interceptions to one for Blake Bortles of the Jaguars.

    The Steelers were considered king of the AFC North Division and figured to breeze through to another divisional title.

    The Jaguars were even the bigger surprise. A 3-2 record five games into the 16-game schedule? Heck, the Jaguars needed all 16 games the year before just to post three wins.

    In the 12 weeks that followed the game in Pittsburgh, both teams have gone on to bigger and better results.

    The Steelers used the game as motivation and promptly won 10 of their final 11 games.

    The Jaguars used that game to show a lot of doubters that this would be a team that could make a run at its own division title, something that Jacksonville hadn't earned since 1999 when it captured the then-AFC Central crown.

    Jacksonville looked solid in wins at Houston to start the season and in London where they routed a good Baltimore team by 37 points. But it was the game in Pittsburgh, where the Jaguars came in as 8-point underdogs and left with a most-convincing 21-point win, allowing the vaunted Steelers' offense one field goal in each of the first three quarters and nothing more.

    It's the game that basically turned the program into a divisional contender, even if the Titans had posted a lopsided 21-point win on the Jaguars' home field in Week 2.

    Few people would have predicted that the same two teams would meet again, on the same field, in the second round of the AFC playoffs.

    This time, the Jaguars, despite owning a 21-point win over the Steelers -- come in as 7-point underdogs, looking for another playoff win at Heinz Field like they recorded in 2007, the last time the Jaguars were in the playoffs prior to this season.

    So what will it take for the Jaguars to post another win over Pittsburgh? Statistics say that it may rest with quarterback Blake Bortles and whether he turns the ball over to the Steelers' defense.

    In nine of the Jaguars' 11 wins this season (including the playoff victory), Bortles was interception-free. He threw one interception in the win over Pittsburgh and had two costly interceptions when the Jaguars hung on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers. Both came in the closing minutes of regulation, but the Jaguars were able to overcome both picks.

    When the Jaguars have lost this season, Bortles has been more careless with his throws. He's thrown at least one interception in all six losses, including two picks in both losses to Tennessee and had three of his passes picked off in the 44-33 debacle at San Francisco.

    "It's been that way all year long; really, it always has been," Bortles responded when asked whether the team has an excellent chance of winning if the offense doesn't turn the ball over. Any time in the NFL if you don't turn the ball over you're going to have a chance to win the game, especially going into the playoffs.

    "It only becomes more important. Playing a team like Pittsburgh it's that much more important. You don't want to give those guys any extra opportunities or put our defense in any bad situations on our side of the field. I think as long as we're ending every drive in a kick we'll definitely have a chance to win the game."

    Coming into the 2017 season, Bortles had never completed fewer than 13 passes or thrown fewer than 23 passes in a game during his three NFL seasons. But he set career-lows in the opener against Houston when he was 11-for-21.

    Bortles went even lower in both categories in the Pittsburgh game with eight completions in 14 attempts. Asked if he was looking forward to throwing more than 14 times against Pittsburgh this time, Bortles had a surprising answer.

    "Hopefully we can throw less; that would be awesome," he said. "Leonard (Fournette) goes off again (181 yards in 28 carries) and those guys up front play as well as they did last time and we can run the ball up there and not have to throw at all.

    "It was something that happened last time, but you never know. We're going into it with our plan and what we want to do and get a feel for the game and find out what we're thinking, what's working, what's going on. But like I said, it could be even another one of those games or it could be you go up there and throw it 50 times. Kind of however the game is rolling and whatever we think gives us the best chance to win and score points."

    SERIES HISTORY: 25th all-time meeting. Jaguars lead series, 13-11. Totals include a 30-9 Jaguars win in Week 5 and a playoff win over the Steelers in 2007 in an AFC wild-card game. Jaguars won that memorable game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh when Josh Scobee kicked a 25-yard field goal with 37 seconds left in the game. The win earlier this year against the Steelers was one of five games that the Jaguars won by 20 points or more. It was also one of the three games this season in which Jacksonville did not allow a touchdown. With that win, Jacksonville has now won four of its last five trips to Pittsburgh, starting with an overtime win in 2005.

    --Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had one of the worst games of his career when the Jaguars and Steelers met in Week 5. That's when the Jaguars intercepted five of Roethlisberger's passes, two of which they returned for touchdowns in a 2-minute, 39-second span in the third quarter. Afterwards Roethlisberger said in his post-game press conference, "Maybe I don't have it anymore."

    But the crafty veteran who has played more than 200 NFL games, responded from that game to lead the Steelers to 10 wins in their final 11 games.

    But it was obvious that the Jaguars game was still haunting Roethlisberger, even this past week when the Steelers were idle. Appearing on a local radio show in Pittsburgh, the Steelers quarterback had this to say when asked about which team he'd like to face in his team's divisional playoff game.

    "Obviously any game that we're going to play -- since it's the postseason -- is going to be a difficult opponent," Roethlisberger said. "But I think, just for me personally, I'd love to just prove that five interceptions wasn't me in that game."

    Those words spread through the Jaguars locker room on Monday, prompting cornerback A.J. Bouye to offer his response.

    "Be careful what you wish for," said Bouye, who has a team-leading and career-best six interceptions this season. "This is what he wanted, so this is what he is going to get."

    Roethlisberger threw the ball 55 times in the game, completing 33 for 312 yards but no scores. It marked the first time in his career that he had no touchdown passes and four or more interceptions.

    --The Jaguars' first playoff appearance since 2007 is earning the Jaguars some national recognition. Following Jacksonville's win over Buffalo in the AFC wild-card round last weekend, Jaguars fans have geared up to support rookie running back Leonard Fournette as the team prepares for this Sunday's game against Pittsburgh.

    The interest in Fournette has increased to the extent that Fournette is ranked No. 8 overall in jersey sales this week on the DICK'S Sporting Goods Jersey Report.

    Fournette has the seventh best-selling jersey in the NFL this week, up 32 spots from No. 39 at this time a week ago. Fan interest in quarterback Bortles' jersey has also spiked as his No. 5 jersey is now ranked No. 33 after ranking No. 67 at this time a week ago. The Jaguars have jumped in merchandise sales as a team, ranking No. 8 overall, up 15 spots from No. 23 a week ago.

    NOTES: CB Aaron Colvin did not practice on Wednesday due to an illness. ... LB Telvin Smith was held out of Wednesday's practice due to an ankle injury. ... LB Paul Posluszny missed a good portion of last Sunday's game against Buffalo due to an abdomen injury. He did not practice on Wednesday due to the injury. ... CB Jalen Ramsey practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday due to an Achilles injury. ... TE Marcedes Lewis was limited in Wednesday's practice due to an ankle injury. ... DT Abry Jones was limited in Wednesday's practice with an ankle injury. ... LB Blair Brown filled in for Paul Posluszny in Sunday's game against Buffalo. He was limited in Wednesday's practice due to an ankle injury. ... C Brandon Linder did not play in the first game with Pittsburgh this year due to an unspecified illness. Linder missed three games with the illness, but has been a starter in the other 13 contests, all at center except the Cincinnati game when he started at right guard.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    LeBeau vs Belichick meet in rare battle
    January 10, 2018


    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Dick LeBeau vs. Bill Belichick.

    Doesn't get much better than that for NFL fans. Tennessee linebacker Wesley Woodyard believes the rare matchup is a showdown for the ages.

    ''Oh man, it's going to be a battle of the masterminds,'' Woodyard said when the Titans defensive coordinator tries to outwit Belichick and his New England Patriots.

    ''Two Hall of Fame coaches, I'm sure Belichick will be there hands down. Coach LeBeau's seen a lot, coached a lot of playoff games, so we're relying heavily on his experience and to go out there and play hard man. That's all we can do for our coach.''

    Well, LeBeau is only in the Pro Football Hall of Fame for his 14-season career as a cornerback, though he certainly qualifies for consideration for designing the zone blitz on defense. LeBeau also has an NFL-record 45 consecutive seasons as a coach, putting ahead of only one man - Belichick with 43 - in that category.

    The two will be very instrumental in determining the outcome on Saturday night when the upstart Titans (10-7) visit Belichick and his defending Super Bowl champion Patriots (13-3) for a spot in the AFC championship game.

    And Belichick made it very clear that coaching against LeBeau is not something he enjoys.

    ''I wouldn't use that word, no,'' Belichick said. ''It's very challenging. Coach LeBeau is a great coach, he does a tremendous job, (he) has for his entire illustrious career as a player and as a coach. Really revolutionized the game, and his system has certainly withstood the test of time.''

    Belichick ticked off how LeBeau's Titans have led the NFL in rushing defense over the past two seasons and led the league this season for the fewest big plays allowed of 20 yards or longer. Belichick says the foundation of LeBeau's defense remains the same over the years, modified for the players he has and the teams he's facing.

    The man with five Super Bowl titles as head coach in New England made clear he has great respect for LeBeau, whom he considers a good friend.

    ''He's such a great person, very humble guy that accomplished so much but he's very modest about it,'' Belichick said. ''I learn an awful lot from watching him, watching his defenses and watching the way that he does things. Techniques and adjustments and schematics and so forth. He's one of the great coaches to ever walk the sidelines in this league.''

    Told that Belichick said he learned a lot from him, LeBeau said he was humbled.

    ''Not very many coaches have the record Coach Belichick's gotten, in fact he's probably closing in on the best ever,'' LeBeau said Wednesday. ''That's quite a compliment.''

    The two haven't coached against each other in the playoffs but once before with Belichick overseeing the Patriots. LeBeau and the Pittsburgh Steelers won home-field advantage in 2004 by beating the Patriots 34-20 on Oct. 31, then Belichick and New England won the AFC conference championship Jan. 23, 2005, beating the Steelers 41-27.

    ''It'll be interesting to see how it comes out,'' LeBeau said.

    LeBeau said preparing for a Belichick-coached team means understanding the players won't beat themselves. Add in Tom Brady, one of the best quarterbacks ever to play the game makes the Patriots always a formidable opponent, according to LeBeau.

    The Titans trust that LeBeau, who turned 80 the day before this season opened in September, will put them where they need to be. Titans linebacker Derrick Morgan said that's what LeBeau did in the second half of the Titans' upset of Kansas City 22-21 in the wild-card game. The Titans allowed only 61 yards total offense and no points in the final 30 minutes.

    ''He has all the experience in the world, probably been to 50 playoff games give or take,'' Morgan said. ''We have a lot of confidence in him that he's going to put us in the right positions.''

    After kickoff, LeBeau said both coaches will be focused only on what's happening on the field.

    ''Once we walk on that field,'' LeBeau said, ''we won't know who the hell's on the other side of the field to be honest with you.''

    Everyone else will know.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFL notebook: Seahawks fire OC Bevell, Cable
    January 10, 2018


    The Seattle Seahawks have fired offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and offensive line coach Tom Cable, the team announced Wednesday.

    Bevell was dismissed after seven seasons with the team. Cable has been with the Seahawks since 2011.

    The Seahawks may be looking for a new defensive coordinator too, as multiple reports indicate Kris Richard, the leader of Seattle's defense since 2015, will be let go as well.

    Seattle's offense was unable to find consistency this season despite Russell Wilson leading the league in touchdown passes with 34. The Seahawks finished 15th in total offense (330.4 yards per game) and 11th in scoring (22.9 points) this season, but struggled to move the ball in a Week 15 loss to the Los Angeles Rams and a Week 16 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.

    --Pittsburgh Steelers starting cornerback Artie Burns sustained an injury to his right knee during Wednesday's practice, multiple media outlets reported.

    It was a non-contact injury, which is worrisome. However, Ian Rapoport of NFL Media reported that Burns' ligaments are intact. That suggests Burns may be ready for Sunday's game, although the team has not announced an official diagnosis.

    Burns started every game this season and had 54 tackles and one interception during the 2017 regular season.

    --Tennessee Titans running back DeMarco Murray has been ruled out for this weekend's AFC divisional round game versus the New England Patriots, ESPN reported.

    Murray, the team's starting running back during the regular season, is dealing with an MCL tear he sustained two weeks ago. It's an injury that can take from two to six weeks to heal.

    --The Cleveland Browns named Eliot Wolf as the team's assistant general manager.

    Wolf, who is the son of Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf, is the third former Green Bay Packers executive recently to head to the Browns staff -- joining current GM John Dorsey and vice president of player personnel Alonzo Highsmith.

    The Browns also made the hiring of Highsmith official. He spent the past 19 seasons with Green Bay, and was its senior personnel director in 2017.

    Cleveland also cut ties with Ryan Grigson, who spent one season with the team as a senior personnel executive. He was fired as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts in January 2017.

    --The Green Bay Packers filled both of their vacant coordinator positions quickly.

    Just hours after Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Tuesday night that the Packers hired Mike Pettine as their defensive coordinator, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that Joe Philbin has returned to Green Bay as the Packers' offensive coordinator.

    Philbin was the Indianapolis Colts assistant head coach and offensive line coach the past two seasons, but he spent nine seasons with the Packers from 2003 through 2011, filling a variety of roles. He was Green Bay's offensive coordinator from 2007 through 2011 before becoming the head coach of the Miami Dolphins.

    Philbin was fired by the Dolphins four games into the 2015 season following a 1-3 start.

    --Tom McMahon agreed to terms with the Denver Broncos to be their special teams coordinator, the club announced.

    Also, the Broncos named Chris Strausser as their offensive line-tackles coach, Greg Williams as their defensive backs coach and Zach Azzanni as their wide receivers coach.

    --Steelers safety Mike Mitchell told Sports Illustrated that he expects the Steelers to face the New England Patriots in the postseason -- and feels his team will redeem itself.

    "We're going to play (the Patriots) again," the 30-year-old Mitchell said. "We can play them in hell, we can play them in Haiti, we can play them in New England. ... We're gonna win."

    Mitchell and the second-seeded Steelers might be better served to focus on the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars, the team's opponent in the AFC divisional round on Sunday. The top-seeded Patriots host the fifth-seeded Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

    --Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier attended his first practice since suffering a serious spinal injury early last month.

    Shazier, who was at the Steelers' practice facility in a wheelchair, posted a photo and a message on his Instagram account, calling his visit a "first down" in his progress.

    "I was finally able to make it to practice with my teammates. It's great to be back for practices and meetings. Just to be able to feel a part of it means the world. So I'm working harder than I ever have to get back. I've been making strides over the past month and continue to make progress. Taking it day-by-day, but I'm far from done," wrote Shazier as part of the message.

    Shazier was injured on Dec. 4 in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    --Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton will replace Cincinnati Bengals wideout A.J. Green on the AFC roster in the upcoming Pro Bowl, the league announced.

    Green is nursing an undisclosed injury and will sit out the event on Jan. 28 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla.

    --Carolina Panthers kicker Graham Gano and guard Trai Turner were added to the Pro Bowl roster as injury replacements.

    Turner will take the place of Dallas Cowboys guard Zack Martin, who was forced to miss the game after undergoing elbow surgery. It marked the third consecutive Pro Bowl selection for Turner. Gano earned his first Pro Bowl honor.

    --The Los Angeles Chargers signed kicker Roberto Aguayo to a reserve/future free-agent contract, the team announced.

    The Chargers used five kickers in 2017 and connected on an NFL-worst 67 percent of their field-goal attempts.

    --New York Jets cornerback Rashard Robinson was arrested for possession of edible marijuana after he was pulled over for careless driving last month.

    According to the Hanover Township (N.J.) police report, Robinson's 2018 Mercedes Benz smelled like marijuana at the time he was pulled over on Dec. 15 in Morris County. Police then found "THC infused Peanut Budda Buddah Candy" in the 22-year-old's possession.

    A spokesman for Hanover police told NJ Advance Media that Robinson did not appear for his initial court date on Monday. Should Robinson fail to show for his next court date on Jan. 29, a warrant will be issued for his arrest.

    --Three Alabama players announced their intention to enter the NFL Draft.

    Wide receiver Calvin Ridley, defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne and running back Bo Scarbrough -- all juniors -- will not return for their final seasons at the school, Alabama.com reported, citing sources.

    Ridley, who had 63 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns this season, later confirmed his future plans via social media.

    No player boosted his stock at the end of the season more than Payne, who earned defensive MVP honors in both the national title game as well as the Alabama's semifinal win over Clemson. Scarbrough rushed for 596 yards and eight touchdowns this season after racking up 812 yards and 11 TDs during his sophomore campaign.

    --Virginia Tech defensive players Terrell Edmunds and Tremaine Edmunds plan to leave college and enter the NFL Draft this year, multiple media outlets reported.

    Redshirt junior safety Terrell Edmunds and true junior linebacker Tremaine Edmunds are brothers and are expected to be drafted in the first three or four rounds.

    Tremaine Edmunds is ranked as the No. 64 overall prospect in the draft by NFLDraftScout.com, and is ranked No. 4 among outside linebackers.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Saturday's Best Bets
    January 11, 2018


    NFL Playoffs Divisional Round – Saturday Best Bets


    We are down to eight in the NFL playoffs as one of the eight teams left in the 2017-18 NFL playoffs will experience euphoria in a few weeks when they hoist the Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl 52. Our job is to figure out which teams will get there though, and now that Divisional Weekend is here, there are some important things to keep in mind.

    For one, this is the week where we get the best of the best in the NFL this year at home and expected to move on. We've got a curve ball in that regard this year with #1 seed Philadelphia being the first ever top seed as a home dog in this round because of the Carson Wentz injury, but home teams are expected to win these games on the whole and many bettors approach these contests that way. Yet, there is something that can be said about the old “rest vs rust” argument and the idea that all the visiting teams this week experienced and got rid of those playoff jitters a week ago while these home teams are still yet to go through that. In the win-or-go-home scenario that is the NFL playoffs, sloppy or slow starts can end up burying these good teams too much that they can't come back.

    Which leads me to my second point and that is that aside from Super Bowls, historically it's the Divisional Round that produces the most surprising upsets in the NFL playoffs. Just off the top of my head it's impossible to not think of the 2005 Steelers (over Indianapolis), 1996 Jaguars (over Denver), 1987 Vikings (over San Francisco), and the 1983 Seahawks (over Miami) as some of the most shocking upsets the NFL playoffs have ever had, and those all came during the Divisional Round. So with both #1 seeds in action on Saturday and one of them possibly falling into that shocking upset category should they lose as heavy favorites (New England), let's get right to the best bets on the day

    Best Bet #1: Philadelphia Eagles +3


    Oddsmakers had to come out with Atlanta as road chalk given the Wentz injury and the Falcons holding a decided “edge” in experience as the defending NFC Champions, but this number is flat out disrespectful to an Eagles team that was good/great all year. It also suggests that the consensus opinion of Wentz is that he's already a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer and his presence was the ONLY reason Philly won 13 games and got the #1 seed. Make no mistake about it, Wentz is a solid signal caller, but I'm not close to ready to anoint him yet and with Foles having plenty of experience in this league as a starter I'm comfortable backing him as well. Oh, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the rest of this Eagles team rally around him as they've all got to feel disrespected here.

    On the flip side of things, let's look at this game from a historical perspective regarding the Atlanta Falcons. We all know that they are the reigning “runners up” in the NFL after losing the Super Bowl and while they did manage to make the playoffs again this year, Divisional Weekend is usually what spells doom for these teams.

    Since the 1994 season – the year after Buffalo lost their 4th straight Super Bowl – reigning Super Bowl losers have never gotten back to the Super Bowl, but more importantly for our purposes, they've only got back to the Conference Championship game twice; the 2012 New England Patriots and 2013 San Francisco 49ers. Those teams that did make it to this week like Atlanta has are 2-6 SU in the Divisional Round, including 1-5 SU on the road. That is not good news for a Falcons team that is not only on the road, but are the first team ever to be favored over a #1 seed this week and it's all because of one injury.

    Add in their troubled playoff past in outdoor venues, which includes an 0-5 SU record all-time as an organization on the road against NFC East foes in the playoffs (0-2 SU vs Philly), and I'm grabbing the points with the home side here in a game I believe the Eagles win outright.

    Best Bet #2: Tennessee Titans +13

    Tennessee surprised the majority of bettors last week with their comeback win in Kansas City, as sportsbooks were thrilled with the result as the Titans wins killed all those KC teasers right out of the gate. Well, we've got a similar situation here as everyone has already written New England into the Conference Championship game as the Pats will be a favorite of teaser players again this week. But New England isn't without their flaws and their biggest one on defense plays right into Tennessee's strength on offense.

    New England finished 31st in the NFL in yards allowed per rush at 4.7 and the Titans prefer to beat you with their ground attack of RB Derrick Henry, QB Marcus Mariota, and any other RB's that get time on the field. The Titans finished 9th in the league with 4.3 yards per rush on the year, and we just saw Henry go off for 156 yards on the ground against the Chiefs. The Titans path to a shocking upset has to have some element of them finding success running the ball, sustaining long drives and putting up TD's rather than FG's at the end of them. Given New England's weakness against the run, logic suggests that Tennessee should have some success in that regard.

    Tennessee will also need their defense to step up and play the way they did in the 2nd half of that Wildcard game and not the 1st. That's where DB Logan Ryan's acquisition can pay dividends here (at least ATS) as he's very familiar with the Patriots system and what they look to do against you. Tennessee was able to keep the Chiefs off the scoreboard the entire 2nd half, and while the same result probably won't occur against New England, Ryan's knowledge of New England's system should help out the entire Tennessee defense stay stout. If the Titans give New England fewer possessions with long offensive drives of their own, the more pressure the Pats feel having to execute on each and every snap. If Brady or anyone else has a few mistakes in there with turnovers or such, then we've got another key ingredient for how these big Divisional Round upsets happen as I'm not ready to write in New England to the Conference Championship quite yet.

    So with oddsmakers likely looking for a Pats win by less than six points (to kill all teasers), I believe Tennessee comes through for them again this week and keeps this game well within this double-digit number on the spread. And if you've got some stones or aren't afraid of big risks, a Titans ML play at +600 odds may be worth a flyer as well.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    Saturday's Top Wagers
    January 11, 2018


    Creating hard lined rules that ignore the current atmosphere and context of a betting line is a pretty silly way to go about business. I’m not a huge fan of blanket statements unless they have some data to back them up. And leaning on the home teams in divisional playoff betting is by no stretch the smartest play.

    The Falcons look to dismiss the faultering Eagles who will forever be plagued by a “what could’ve been” season had Wentz not been injured. After that, the Derrick Henry and Tom Brady show will attempt to captivate our attention. Here’s who I’ve got and why.

    Atlanta Falcons (11-6) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (13-3)
    Saturday, January 13th – Lincoln Financial Stadium – 4:35 p.m. ET
    NFL Divisional Playoff Betting Line: ATL -3 (41
    )

    This one won’t take much time. The Falcons have seemingly gotten their act together in the past few weeks, and laid waste to the Los Angeles Rams which included a complete performance from all three sectors of their team. Special teams performing well is the type of attention to detail that separates a champion from a contender.

    I’ve been down on the Falcons all season long, and I’m still not wholly convinced that they’re as good as people are saying they are. But it goes without saying that they’re playing at a strong level right now and they’re gaining momentum in a scary way.

    Odds To Win NFC Championship and Super Bowl LII
    Atlanta Falcons +375 / +750
    Philadelphia Eagles +400 / +1200


    The most comical thing about this NFL divisional playoff betting line is the fact that the TOTAL has careened to just 41.0 points. Poor Nick Foles. Even the Eagles players are saying that everyone is treating them like they’re the Cleveland Browns. Ouch. The Eagles have looked awful offensively since Wentz went down, and despite the fact that they keep winning games, Foles looks like the dud we feared he was.

    That TOTAL in and of itself should have you screaming for the Falcons as the only road favorites this weekend. Three points is a layup, and the UNDER has to be the play given what Atlanta’s defence managed against Los Angeles. This one doesn’t require me ranting on and on for thousands of words (I’ll save that for Titans-Patriots).

    In short, you know exactly what to do already.

    NFL Divisional Playoff Best Bet: Atlanta -3 (UNDER 41)

    Tennessee Titans (10-7) vs. New England Patriots (13-3)
    Saturday, January 13th – Gillette Stadium – 8:15 p.m. ET
    NFL Divisional Playoff Betting Line: NE -13.5 (48)


    Well you know that the oddsmakers have created a good line when the action is basically split 50-50. The Titans rolled to a comeback win over the Kansas City Chiefs on the backs of Derrick Henry, a giant killer of a player who will have the spotlight all to himself with DeMarco Murray sidelined once more due to an MCL tear. A lot of the attention is on whether Henry can have another momentum changing game, and most opinions suggest that he will.

    Excluding the Week 17 matchup against the New York Jets, the Patriots have allowed 73.8 yards per game on just 20.3 carries to Shady, Le’Veon, Kenyann Drake (they played Buffalo twice in this span). That’s a relatively healthy 3.6 yards per carry just for the feature back. This doesn’t take in to account the damage that Mariota can also manage. All told, the Patriots have allowed 114.8 yards against on the ground, ranking 20th overall. They’re vulnerable. We all know this.

    But Henry is a throwback type of player. At full steam, he is seemingly impossible to bring down but he does take a while to get there. I’ve been a bit worried about his first step, which is the major difference between him and almost every type of running-back that the Patriots have faced. Elusiveness is not his strength, but Henry does grade out along the same lines as Melvin Gordon who rumbled for 132 yards and a touchdown on just 14 carries.

    All things told, this is a “talk yourself in to it” bet. Henry is a very difficult star to gauge simply because we don’t have a ton of actual information on him. He was a game changer against the Chiefs that’s been curiously absent for the entirety of the season in a meaningful way. As I’ve written multiple times, the majority of his yardage this season has come in garbage time or on singular long carries.

    I wouldn’t say that the Patriots are a “bend don’t break” type of defence, but they sure seem like one on paper. Their 366.0 total yards allowed this season is ranked just 29th in the NFL, but they mitigate that with a staunch red zone defence that’s helped them rank just 5th in points against. They don’t allow a lot of touchdowns. It’s the Patriot way.

    Odds To win AFC Championship and Super Bowl LII
    New England Patriots -175 / +175
    Tennessee Titans +2200 / +4000


    If Henry gets within sniffing distance of the goal line then a touchdown is probably coming, but that’s not really the backbone of what Tennessee usually does. They love kicking field goals, with 35 made (5th) on 42 attempts (3rd). Ryan Succop wasn’t especially busy against Kansas City where Tennessee scored three touchdowns that are going to be harder to come by against New England for obvious reasons.

    One of the reasons to bet on the New England Patriots is that they do have a habit of being dream killers in the divisional round. Over the past six years, the Patriots have been undefeated in the divisional round and won by an average of +16.3 points. The exceptions to that average were when they came back against Baltimore in a 35-31 thriller in 2015 and during a 27-20 win over Kansas where the Patriots dominated the entire second half while the Chiefs scored a late touchdown that ended up being meaningless.

    You can clearly see the point here. New England is the superior team in this game by every stretch, and Matt Patricia can scheme something to at least contain Henry. To be fair, Kansas tried the same thing and failed and they probably have a better personnel for that task. Generally speaking, it’s difficult to pander to the Titans defence against Brady. They could do a good job, but it’s far more likely that Brady goes in to clock killing, wood chipper mode and chews them up one play at a time.

    A solid running game featuring a workhorse back sometimes takes time to have impact but I suspect that Henry will have his say by the end of the day. He’s impossible to contain for the duration of the game and frees up running room for Mariota as well. The Titans have cheeky ways of advancing the chains, and have been doing it all season. New England’s defence has also been suspect for much of the year so the logic points to a Titans cover.

    Both teams will be looking to eat as much clock. The Titans need to keep Brady off the field, and Brady has excelled at the dink-dunk offence which ramps up his time of possession. I do think there is lots of potential for the OVER despite this line of thinking, but the UNDER is by far the smarter play. As you guys know, I’m inclined to do dumb things every now and then.

    Patriots win cleanly, but the Titans will press for four full quarters and put this game within two touchdowns. The fact that the public seems to love this line in favor of the underdogs so much means that it is likely to stay where it is, which is just fine by me.

    Divisional Playoff Best Bet: Tennessee +13.5 (OVER 48)
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    DP Notes - Falcons at Eagles
    January 10, 2018


    The Philadelphia Eagles are officially the most disrespected No. 1 seed in the playoffs in NFL history. Few believe they actually have a shot to win the Super Bowl, and they have the longest odds left among the four teams to win the conference.

    Now, the No. 1 seed in the NFC is a dog to the last team that snuck into the playoffs in the conference. The Atlanta Falcons aren't your typical No. 6 seed, though; this is a team that won the NFC just last season and won't be intimidated going into the City of Brotherly Love.

    Getting No Respect

    Being the No. 1 seed in either conference doesn't necessarily mean that you were the best team, but it does mean that you were good enough to win a bunch of games in the regular season. The Eagles were no slouches, beating the Panthers and Rams on the road this season while winning a bunch of games against teams that just missed out on the postseason.

    That said, with Nick Foles under center in place of the injured Carson Wentz, this feels like a much different team. The Eagles have gone seven quarters without an offensive touchdown dating back to Christmas Day, and they don't figure to score a ton in this game either.

    That's why Philadelphia is the first No. 1 seed to ever be a dog in its first playoff game in either the AFC or the NFC.

    This is also the first time a No. 1 seed has been an underdog to a No. 6 seed at any juncture of the playoffs in NFL history.

    No Fly Zone

    The Eagles have played seven home playoff games dating back to 2004, and they all have one remarkable thing in common: They've all gone under the total.

    Philadelphia has averaged just 20.0 points per game in those seven home playoff games, and it's sporting a suspect record of just 4-3 SU and 2-5 ATS in that span.

    Let's give a tip of the cap to the Eagles' defense, though. This unit has only allowed more than 21 points twice at home since New Year's Eve 2000 in playoff games.

    Riding High in the A-T-L

    Heading into last season, the big knock on Matt Ryan was that he was never able to win games when they counted in January. Matty Ice had won just one postseason game before last season, but now, he's won three of his last four, including winning a postseason game on the road for the first time against the Rams last week.

    Atlanta has now won and covered three consecutive playoff games, and without a big fourth-quarter collapse against the Patriots in the Super Bowl, we'd be talking about a team that has both won and covered four straight in the postseason, a feat that is virtually impossible to pull off.

    Falcons vs. Eagles Playoff History
    1979 (at Atlanta): Falcons 14, Eagles 13
    2003 (at Philadelphia): Eagles 20, Falcons 6 (Philadelphia -7.5 / Under 38.5)
    2005 (at Philadelphia): Eagles 27, Falcons 10 (Philadelphia -4.5 / Under 41)

    Falcons vs. Eagles Opening NFL Odds
    Falcons at Eagles (+3, 43.5)

    Falcons vs. Eagles Current NFL Odds (Updated 1/7)
    Falcons at Eagles (+3, 41.5)
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    DP Notes - Titans at Patriots
    January 10, 2018


    Many will argue that the New England Patriots have effectively been given a bye all the way into the AFC Championship Game. The Tennessee Titans shouldn't theoretically have much of a shot against the best franchise in the NFL over the course of the last decade and a half.

    Every dog has his day, though, and Mike Mularkey and the Titans will be hoping that they'll be able to pull off their own rendition of the Music City Miracle in Foxboro.

    No Go in Foxboro

    The Tennessee Titans have never beaten the Patriots in Foxboro. Neither did the Tennessee Oilers.

    You have to go all the way back to the Warren Moon/Tecmo Bowl/"Chuck and Duck" days to find the last time this organization beat the Patriots in New England.

    Since the Oilers' 1993 victory in New England, the franchise is 0-5 SU and 1-4 ATS, including getting whipped by an aggregate score of 92-16 over the course of the last two meetings.

    The Titans, in fact, haven't had much of any luck against the Tom Brady-led Patriots at all. The Brady Bunch has won each of the last six meetings in this series, going 5-1 ATS in said games.

    6th Time's the Charm

    With all of the reports of turmoil in the New England locker room, it's notable to go back and look at what this team really has accomplished over the course of the last decade and a half. The Robert Kraft/Bill Belichick/Tom Brady triumvirate is a double-digit favorite in the playoffs for the sixth time. The rest of the NFL in that span only has only had seven such other playoff games where a team has been favored by 10+.

    The Patriots have only been beaten in one of those previous five games in which they were double-digit underdogs. That, of course, was the Super Bowl in 2008 that prevented the '07 Patriots from being known as the "Perfect Patriots."

    The Pats are just 2-3 ATS in their last five as double-digit chalks in the playoffs, but all three ATS losses came in those '08 playoffs.

    A Titanic Spread

    The Titans weren't larger than +7 in a single game this season, but they're now facing their second-straight biggest spread of the year. They pulled off the upset at +8.5 against Kansas City, but they're up against a significantly better team and significantly longer odds in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

    Tennessee was last a double-digit dog on December 20, 2015, a game that happened to be played right here at Gillette Stadium. The Titans were +14.5 that day and were blown out 33-16.

    The last time the Titans won as double-digit underdogs was in 2006 at Philadelphia.

    A total of 18 teams have been 13.5-point underdogs or greater in NFL playoff history. They're a respectable 8-9-1 ATS but are only 3-15 SU.

    Titans vs. Patriots Playoff History
    1979 (at New England): Oilers 31, Patriots 14
    2004 (at New England): Patriots 17, Titans 14 (Tennessee +6 / Under 34.5)

    Titans vs. Patriots Opening NFL Odds
    Titans at Patriots (-13.5, 47)

    Titans vs. Patriots Current NFL Odds (Updated 1/7)
    Titans at Patriots (-13.5, 47)
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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    NFL notebook: Steelers' Bell threatens to sit out if franchise tagged
    January 11, 2018


    Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell told ESPN.com that he is willing to sit out a season, and perhaps even retire, if the franchise tag is placed on him for the second year in a row.

    "I hope it doesn't come to that, but I would definitely consider it," Bell said Thursday, according to ESPN.com.

    The 25-year-old Bell was named to the first-team All-Pro squad this season, and he played on a $12.1 million franchise tag in 2017. That made him the NFL's highest-paid running back this season.

    The franchise-tag figure is expected to increase to about $14.5 million for next season.

    The Steelers offered Bell a long-term contract last year, but he rejected a contract that reportedly would have paid him $30 million in the first two years of the deal.

    --The Chicago Bears have hired former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as the team's offensive coordinator, according to multiple reports.

    The move comes one day after Chicago hired Harry Hiestand as its offensive line coach as part of the team's staff under new coach Matt Nagy.

    Helfrich served as the offensive coordinator for the Ducks from 2009-12 before being elevated to head coach after Chip Kelly left for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was fired after going 4-8 during the 2016 campaign.

    --Rich Gannon will not follow the recently traveled path of Jon Gruden, which is out of the broadcast booth and back to the Oakland Raiders.

    Gannon, who played under Gruden from 1999-2001, told 95.7 The Game that he spoke with the team's new head coach on Wednesday and declined an opportunity to be the Raiders' quarterbacks coach.

    The Raiders reportedly did add two assistants, however. Jemal Singleton, who spent the past two seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, has agreed to become the Raiders running backs coach, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

    Alabama defensive backs coach Derrick Ansley has been hired to work with the Raiders secondary, multiple media outlets reported.

    --The NFL will feature three games to be played on consecutive weeks in London next season, the league announced.

    The Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders will kick off the festivities on Oct. 14 at the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium.

    The Philadelphia Eagles will play the Jacksonville Jaguars while the Tennessee Titans will challenge the Los Angeles Chargers, with both games to be contested at Wembley Stadium. The order of those games - Oct. 21 and Oct. 28 - will be announced closer to the season.

    --Shortly after reports that Frank Pollack was dismissed by the Dallas Cowboys, he was named the offensive line coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, the team announced.

    Pollack replaced longtime Bengals assistant Paul Alexander, who, according to some reports, is a candidate to take Pollack's place in Dallas.

    Pollack, 50, was the assistant offensive line coach with the Cowboys for two seasons before succeeding Bill Callahan as offensive line coach following the 2014 season.

    --Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones returned to practice as he works his way through an ankle injury.

    Jones was listed as a non-participant in workouts on both Tuesday and Wednesday. Despite his absences this week, coach Dan Quinn told reporters that Jones was still "on the right trajectory" to play for sixth-seeded Atlanta on Saturday when it visits the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

    --The New England Patriots had all roster player participate in practice, including wide receiver Chris Hogan.

    Hogan, who missed seven of the last eight games with a shoulder injury, was not on the injury report, indicating he will play in Saturday's playoff game against the Tennessee Titans.

    Linebacker Kyle Van Noy, who missed two games and played only 12 snaps in the regular-season finale because of a calf injury, also was absent from the injury report, meaning he is likely to play as well.

    Three running backs - Mike Gillislee (knee), Rex Burkhead (knee) and James White (ankle) -- as well as Marquis Flowers (illness), defensive tackle Alan Branch (knee) and defensive lineman Eric Lee (ankle/finger) are listed as questionable.

    --Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey remained limited in practice with an Achilles injury as the Jaguars prepare for Sunday's AFC divisional round matchup against the No. 2-seeded Pittsburgh Steelers.

    If he plays, Ramsey is expected to draw the assignment of covering Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, the AFC Offensive Player of the Year after recording 101 catches for a league-high 1,533 yards.

    Wide receiver Jaydon Mickens (hamstring) also was limited in practice for a second straight day, while the Jaguars downgraded linebacker Blair Brown (ankle), who was unable to practice Thursday after participating on a limited basis Wednesday.

    Cornerback Aaron Colvin (illness), linebacker Telvin Smith (ankle) and linebacker Paul Posluszny (abdomen), who all sat out Wednesday, were limited at practice.

    --Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffenwas limited in practice due to a foot injury.

    The Pro Bowl selection, who tied for fourth in the league with 13 sacks, has been dealing with plantar fasciitis during the season and was forced to miss a game against the Washington Redskins on Nov. 12.

    Nose tackle Shamar Stephen (ankle) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day while cornerback Terence Newman (foot) missed practice Thursday after participating on a limited basis one day earlier.

    --Pittsburgh Steelers starting cornerback Artie Burns, who suffered a hyperextended knee on Wednesday, did not practice Thursday but still expects to play in Sunday's playoff game against the Jaguars.

    The other Steelers players who did not practice were defensive end Stephon Tuitt (elbow) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (back).

    --Two Philadelphia Eagles defensive players were listed as questionable for Saturday's playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons.

    Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who started the final two games of the regular season, and cornerback Sidney Jones are both questionable with hamstring injuries.

    --The Fritz Pollard Alliance has altered its stance regarding the compliance of the Oakland Raiders with the Rooney Rule.

    After downplaying concerns last week over the Raiders' potentially side-stepping the Rooney Rule amid reports that Jon Gruden was expected to get the team's vacant head coaching job, The Fritz Pollard Alliance offered the following statement on Wednesday:

    "We are deeply concerned by reports that the Oakland Raiders' owner, Mark Davis, came to an agreement with Jon Gruden about him becoming the Raiders' next head coach before interviewing any candidates of color. If so, the Club violated the Rooney Rule, which was instituted by the NFL in 2003 and requires teams to interview at least one candidate of color for open head coaching and general manager positions.

    "As soon as we learned of the reports, we formally requested that the NFL thoroughly investigate the matter to conclusively determine whether the Rooney Rule was violated -- and if it was violated, to impose an appropriate punishment."

    --National champion Alabama is losing at least five juniors to the NFL, including four who could go in the top half of the first round.

    Coach Nick Saban said at a press conference that defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, defensive lineman Da'Ron Payne, running back Bo Scarbrough and safety Ronnie Hamilton are turning pro, joining receiver Calvin Ridley, who announced his decision on social media earlier this week.

    As of Thursday morning, 101 underclassmen had announced their intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft, with the number sure to grow by Monday's deadline. The record number of early entrants had been 98 in 2014.
    Remember the 3 G's Gambling, Golf, Girls not in any particular order.....

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