It’s week 3 of the regular season and the dust is finally starting to settle on who’s good and who’s, well let’s just say ‘rebuilding’. What better way to do that than with the NFL Ireland Team of the Week? Continue reading “NFL Ireland Team of the Week: Week 3”
The first two games of Wildcard Weekend are in the books, with the Panthers rolling over the Cardinals, while Baltimore went into Pittsburgh and pulled out the upset thanks to another impressive defensive display. Onto the next batch of games, with plenty of opportunities available, and a better showing needed tonight on our part.
CINCINATTI BENGALS @ INDIANAPOLIS COLTS
First and foremost AJ Green will be a huge miss for the Bengals. The former Georgia man is set to miss out with a concussion, so look for running back Jeremy Hill to feature heavily, as the Marvin Lewis team looks to control the game through their running attack and defence. During the eight weeks where Hill handled 17-plus touches this season, the Bengals went 7-1.
Indianapolis will no doubt have replayed the tape of their 27-0 beat down of this same Bengal squad from earlier this year numerous times this week. Again the Bengals were AJ Green-less then, and it could be even harder for Andy Dalton with it all on the line now. In his three career playoff games, Dalton is 70-of-123 (56.9%) for 718 yards (5.84 YPA) with a 1:6 TD-to-INT ratio, without notching a win.
The Colts two post-season games a year ago saw a combined 154 points, but with some health problems for both units, this might not be as wild as predicted. TY Hilton was hampered down the stretch with a hamstring, while Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne also struggled with niggles. With no run game to speak of, it will once again all be on the shoulders of the former #1 pick from Stanford, Andrew Luck.
One Bengals beat writer expects Hue Jackson to ride Jeremy Hill for 20-30 carries at Indy tomorrow: http://t.co/iI1qLz8Se9
— Adam Levitan (@adamlevitan) January 3, 2015
Main Selection: Cincinnati +4 pts @ 10/11 (Various) – If Jeremy Hill can have success and keep Dalton in manageable third down situations, the Bengals may be able to get a strong foothold in this game. A field goal game either way sees the bet click.
First Touchdown: Jeremy Hill @ 7/1 (BetVictor, Coral, Hills) – The former LSU man has to carry the Bengal squad today and is an obvious choice to cross first, if the coin toss falls our way.
Additional Selections: Jeremy Hill over 19.5 rush attempts @ 10/11 (Lads) – Keeping on the same theme, for Cinci to win Andy Dalton has to hand it off. Hill must see over 20 carries.
DETROIT LIONS @ DALLAS COWBOYS
Arguably the game of Wildcard weekend as Dallas hosts Detroit in a strength v strength encounter. DeMarco Murary led the league in rushing during the regular season, but he meets a stern Detroit front that finished No. 1 in run defense and No. 1 in yards-per-carry allowed (3.17). The Lions have also been boosted by the news that Ndamukong Suh will be available after having his ban overturned.
Scott Linehan has rare ability to tailor offenses to his team's strengths. 2014 #Cowboys ranked No. 1 in time of possession/No. 2 in rush O.
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) January 4, 2015
Don’t expect the Cowboys to deviate from their gameplan too much despite the tough opposition. Murray is very adept at grinding out the ‘dirty yards’ as put by coach Jason Garrett, which helps open things up for Tony Romo who forced himself into MVP contention with a lights out December. In fact Romo led the NFL in 2014 in completion percentage (69.9%), touchdown rate (7.8% of his throws went for a score), yards per attempt (8.5), and quarterback rating (113.2).
For Detroit’s offence it all comes down to Matthew Stafford. While he has put up nice numbers over his career with the help of Calvin Johnson, Stafford is 0-17 against teams that ended with winning records on the road. Will he be able to get it down with all the marbles on the line?
Main Selection: Detroit Lions +6.5 @ 10/11 (Various) – As a Cowboy fan hopefully its straightforward, but from a logical view this game could well turn into another shootout with the offensive weapons on display. In that scenario, it could well be a field goal or two that seals it either way.
First Touchdown: Cole Beasley @ 16/1 (BetVictor) – Beasley has turned into Wes Welker lite this season, working the middle of the field very well and starting a nice rapport with his quarterback.
Additional Selection – Lance Dunbar over 15.5 Rush & Receving Yards @ 10/11 (Lads) – Dunbar gets some work as the third down and passing back. The screen game could be useful to keep the Detroit pass rush at bay and one screen pass to Dunbar could very well see this bet land.
WEEK 8 RECAP
A poor one out of three on last week’s selections but with a trip across the Irish Sea to Wembley in the offing, the same amount of work wasn’t put into the column as usually is, and for that apologies. We’ll aim to right the ship this week though in what is an entertaining looking week in the NFL, including another Brady-Manning matchup in Foxboro.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS @ CINCINNATI BENGALS
It’s been a somewhat disappointing last few weeks for the Bengals after a fantastic start to the season, but they did bounce back to form last time out against the Baltimore Ravens. However the 10.5 pt spread Cincy has to cover is somewhat large against a Jaguars team that despite still being poor on offence is playing well on defence. JACKSONVILLE +10.5 pts @ 10/11 kicks off this week’s treble.
The good news for Cincinnati is that number one pass catcher AJ Green returns to after missing the last few weeks with a toe injury. In his absence Mohammed Sanu filled in admirably, meaning Andy Dalton will have a number of weapons to attack a Jags team that is better against the run than pass. Highlighting that fact, Jacksonville have only allowed one rushing touchdown during their last five games, and with Gio Bernard questionable with a hip problem, expect Dalton to be slinging it more than handing it off on Sunday.
Despite Blake Bortles’ sloppy play under centre, the Jags have found a spark from former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson at tail back. The dreadlocked runner has averaged over 5 yards per carry the last fortnight. Handing the ball off may be the best way to go, with the Bengals pass D performing well, given the they have picked off more passes than they have allowed touchdowns through the air with an 8:9 TD:INT ratio. Cincinnati will also feel Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict’s absences in the linebacking corps, so expect a decent day from Robinson.
JACKSONVILLE +10.5 pts @ 10/11 kicks off this week’s slip and after giving him a big mention, we’ll plump for Robinson to score the first touchdown @ 11/1 with SkyBet.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS @ MIAMI DOLPHINS
Barring a magical drive from Aaron Rodgers, the Miami Dolphins could very well be in the middle of a four-game win streak. However a two-game streak isn’t to be sniffed at in this league, and they look good value to add to that against a San Diego outfit who’s season has hit somewhat of a stumbling block. MIAMI – 2.5PTS @ 10/11 is next up.
Stat of the week alert: Visiting the east coast for a 1PM game, San Diego has allowed 368 yards and three rushing TDs on 79 totes, good for 4.66 YPC to opposing rushers over its last three games. Combine that fact with the form that Lamaar Miller is in top form, it could be a good day for the shifty back. Not only has the Chargers run D been struggling but also the pass defence hasn’t been doing too well. They’ve allowed 789 yards through the air in their last 3 games with eight touchdowns against one interception and they now lose Jason Verrett for at least a fortnight. The savvy may point out one of those games came against Lord Peyton, but Derek Carr accounted for four of those passes…
Phillip Rivers has continued his fine play this term but it could be tough for him in Florida this week, given the journey to the east coast and also playing against a tough ‘Phins defence, ranked third in pass D and 7th in sacks per game.
Both teams’ seasons seem to be at crossroads, so we’ll stick with the team in form – MIAMI – 2.5PTS @ 10/11 is next up, with a speculative punt on Ryan Tannehill to cross for the first touchdown @ 30/1 with BET365.
DENVER BRONCOS @ NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
No finer sight in this sport than seeing two of the finest quarterbacks ever to strap on their helmet step onto the same field. It’s Manning v Brady at Gillette Stadium and it would be rude not to offer up a selection. A quick flick through google tells us that we could have our first snowfall of the NFL season on Sunday in Massachusetts, so with potentially dodgy weather conditions coupled with a very high game total line, the UNDER 53.5 PTS @ 10/11 completes this week’s bet.
So if we do see snow and possibly high winds, both offences may prioritise ball control over explosive plays. That would play right into the hands of Denver. A mauling offensive line should be able to take advantage of the injury to Pats run stopper Jerod Mayo. In the two games Mayo hasn’t been amongst the Pats linebacking unit, they have let up 332 yards on the ground, meaning it could be a good day for San Diego State alum Ronnie Hillman, who has took the lead back role and literally ran with it since Montee Ball’s injury.
The media like to make a big deal about Peyton playing in unsavoury conditions, but he handled the cold just fine in Denver’s playoff win over New England last season, and Brady is perfectly at home in the often snowy confines of Gilette Stadium. Speaking of Tom Terrific, Gisele may not even be the hottest person in the Brady household this past month, with the ex-Wolverine lighting up defences passing for 14 touchdowns without a single turnover. In their tilt with the Chargers last week, Denver’s run D was simply dominant, but Rivers was able to throw three touchdown passes, including two to veteran tight end Antonio Gates. We may see a ball or two being spiked in the endzone if Mr Robert Gronkowski has his way.
While there will be points in this one, the possibly unsavoury conditions could see a rise in the amount of run plays, particularly by Denver, meaning we see the clock ticking away nicely. UNDER 53.5 PTS @ 10/11 rounds things off with the 20/1 about #2 tight end Tim Wright appealing for first touchdown purposes.
- A dreadful matchup on paper and it could well play out that way in Cleveland. Tampa Bay seemingly threw up the white flag earlier this week, trading away Mark Baron and Jonathan Casillas. The Browns run first approach has failed the last two games, Ben Tate only managing 62 yards on 31 carries. However, the Browns should get back on track against a Bucs outfit that has let up 380 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, their past 3 tilts. UNDER 43.5 PTS appeals.
- The Jets are bad. They are downright bad. They have intercepted one pass all season, yet given up 22 touchdowns through the air. Alex Smith, still hasn’t thrown a touchdown to a wide receiver yet this term, so Travis Kelce could have himself a day. 5/1 for the athletic tight end to score the first KC touchdown looks a tidy price.
- San Franciso had a nice bye week to get their banged up defence back and they look set to go against St Louis, looking to bounce back from a Peyton Manning dismantling. They played well in a win against the Rams in week 6, and with Patrick Willis back this could be a statement game from the 49ers. San Fran to be leading at the end of each quarter @ 6/5 interests.
We ask can Dalton and Green lead the Bengals to glory in our AFC North 2014 Preview
The AFC North been one of the most competitive divisions in football in recent years, with the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals all regularly competing for postseason slots. Last year the 11-win Cincinnati Bengals created some comfort room between themselves and the rest of the division, but has the offseason seen the balance of power swing once again?
Ray Rice’s ugly off-field altercation with his fiancée has overshadowed what has been a quietly positive offseason for the Ravens. Only 5 teams scored fewer points than Baltimore in 2013, as injuries to Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta, coupled with the trade of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, robbed the Super Bowl XLVII Champions of their most potent offensive weapons. The Ravens will be hoping that Rice – once he returns from his 2-game suspension – and veteran free agent signing Steve Smith can bounce back from their disappointing 2013 seasons, while Pitta’s health and the addition of Owen Daniels from the Texans will offer depth and experience down the seams. The offense will still be hampered by an offensive line that struggled to relieve pressure and create holes for the backfield last season. While Jeremy Zuttah is an upgrade at centre the line hasn’t improved beyond that over the summer, and will need improvement from fifth-rounder Ricky Wagner at right tackle in particular if they hope to make progress.
The strength of Baltimore once again lies in their defense. Their front seven is one of the stronger units in the game, and the addition of CJ Mosley in the first round of the draft will hopefully fill their most pressing need at inside linebacker. Ozzie Newsome spent the team’s second-round pick on defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, and will be hoping that the rookie can step right in and replace the departed Arthur Jones. In the secondary Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith form an excellent cornerback duo, while Lions-bound safety James Ihedigbo will be replaced either by third round pick Terrence Brooks or 2013 first-rounder Matt Elam, who had a rough rookie campaign. All in all there are small signs of optimism for the Ravens, with slight improvements on both sides of the ball, but they’ll require both immediate impact from their rookies and a drop-off from the Bengals and Steelers if they are to reclaim the divisional crown and have the spotlight put back on their football.
The Bengals just gave QB Andy Dalton the guts of $100m over 6 years. That’s a ton of money for a guy with 3 consecutive one-and-dones in the playoffs, but the team can walk away after 2 years and $25m if he doesn’t progress. This is a sensible deal from a sensible front office, and indeed their whole offseason could be characterised as ‘solid’. Having only lost mediocre centre Kyle Cook and tackle Anthony Collins this offseason, the Bengals look in good shape again on offense. Only the Broncos and the Patriots scored more points in the AFC Regular Season last year, and with exciting running back Giovani Bernard, the continued excellence of AJ Green and the emergence of Marvin Jones down the stretch last season the Bengals look set to score plenty. The loss of Jay Gruden as offensive co-ordinator is significant, and might rein in their pass heavy approach. His replacement, former running backs coach Hue Jackson, will most likely favour more of a ground-based game, and the addition of promising rookie RB Jeremy Hill to last season’s backfield duo of BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Bernard, along with two talented tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and first-rounder Tyler Eifert, should ensure that Dalton keeps the ball moving regardless of the method. The loss of Gruden will probably be the only real question mark against a strong, deep offense.
It’s a similar story on the other side of the ball, where there has been little personnel turnover but defensive guru Mike Zimmer has left for the head coaching role in Minnesota. The Bengals only finished outside the top 7 in total defense twice in his 6-year stint as co-ordinator, and never in the last 3 seasons, so his absence will be felt. The loss of DE Michael Johnson to Tampa Bay in free agency will hurt the run stuff, but beyond that the only signicant exit has been that of outside linebacker James Harrison. Players already on the roster will compensate for both departures, with the impressive Vincent Rey projected to start at linebacker and third-round rookie Will Clarke likely to occupy Johnson’s roster spot. A secondary featuring Terence Newman and Leon Hall has been bolstered by the addition of rookie press corner Darqueze Dennard in the first round of the draft. While the group may lack depth, the starters are strong across the board and, barring a spate of injuries or a disastrous scheme botch job from new co-ordinator Paul Guenther, they should easily be a top 10 defense again in 2014. With continuity on personnel and their QB locked down, the Bengals should safely navigate their way to the playoffs again this season. Once there, we’ll see how much Andy Dalton is really worth.
What an emotional rollercoaster it must’ve been for Browns fans during this year’s draft. First, when you’ve been waiting on a franchise QB for a decade, your team passes on Johnny Football. Then you trade up to get him later in the first round and the excitement starts to build. You go to bed on a high, but the very next day your star wide receiver Josh Gordon gets indicted for yet another PED violation. Now he will almost certainly miss games, if not the entire season, and Brian Hoyer has been named your team’s starting quarterback for the season. Ouch. In the passing game the Browns will now be forced to turn to free agent signings Andrew Hawkins and Miles Austin, neither of whom are impressive acquisitions. Whoever plays at QB will be relying heavily on Pro-Bowl TE Jordan Cameron and an improved backfield in the form of talented but fragile free agent acquisition Ben Tate and, when Tate inevitably gets injured, rookie Terrence West. This is a huge upgrade on the running game from last season, and will be helped by a solid offensive line starring re-signed centre Alex Mack, rookie Joel Bitonio and stud left tackle Joe Thomas. This line should both create holes and provide decent protection for their QB, but they still can’t score points for the team, and the offense will likely struggle again this term.
— Joe Haden (@joehaden23) May 13, 2014
Things look rosier on defense however, particularly with the arrival of defensive mastermind Mike Pettine as head coach. That first-round pick many wanted spent on Manziel or Sammy Watkins instead gave them consensus no.1 CB Justin Gilbert. Putting him opposite elite corner Joe Haden, complete with new contract, makes this one of the scariest starting tandems in football. At safety the loss of TJ Ward is significant, but replacing him with Donte Whitner is not a huge downgrade, and the Browns should easily rank among the top-10 pass defenses again this season. If they’re going to suffer it will be due to the linebackers and offensive linemen. These are only a slightly better-than-average collection of talent, even after the addition of an ageing Karlos Dansby at LB from the Cardinals. The D-line should still be good at stuffing the run, but the Browns’ inability to get to the QB could again make them suffer during their extended stays on the field. It’s tough being a Browns fan, but if either QB steps up and Gordon returns at some point this year, they might still have the slimmest of chances at being competitive.
This preview looked very different just a few days ago when Pittsburgh projected to have a strong, reliable offense and an improving, overhauled defense. A lot of that confidence was based around the consistent, powerful running game promised by Le’Veon Bell and free agent LeGarrette Blount, along with third-round rookie speedster Dri Archer. Then Bell and Blount got pulled over and charged for possession of marijuana the day before a preseason game. The NFL will probably hold off on a ruling until after the season, but the Steelers are a proud franchise who will not let foolish players tarnish their image. An in-house suspension is not out of the question. Luckily the return of a fully fit TE Heath Miller as QB Ben Roethlisberger’s safety blanket, along with the emergence last year of Antonio Brown as a true no.1 wideout, will allow Pittsburgh to lean on the passing game if needs be. The loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery will hurt, but with the additions of veterans Darrius Heyward-Bey and Lance Moore, rookie Martavis Bryant and the projected progress of last year’s third-round pick Markus Wheaton, Big Ben won’t be short of targets. Last years O-line was possibly the best that Roethlisberger has ever played behind,and the return of centre Maurkice Pouncey from injury should only strengthen that. Pittsburgh should score plenty of points this year.
The defense, on the other hand, is a strange one for the Steelers. While traditionally the Steel Curtain has been the strength of the team, last season saw serious question marks arise at cornerback, safety and linebacker. The team retained Jason Worilds but lost LaMarr Woodley, and their struggles to rush the passer should place extra pressure on the secondary. Ike Taylor was one of the worst starting corners in the league last season, and yet he still projects as a starter opposite Cortez Allen for 2014. At safety Troy Polamalu has another year’s wear on the treads, and the even older Ryan Clark was finally replaced this offseason by Michael Mitchell, who should provide some improvement after an impressive time in Carolina. The jewel in the Steelers defense in 2014 looks to be first-round rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier. Athletic and fast, he’s been the team’s star in preseason and immediately upgrades what might have been the team’s worst area in 2013. The Steelers only just missed out on postseason football last year, and if the running backs don’t miss significant time this offense should help compensate for the remaining holes on the other side of the ball. A playoff berth must be the target once again in Pittsburgh.