NFL Wildcard Saturday – Betting Preview

NFL BETTING PREVIEW – WILDCARD SATURDAY

A brief respite from the final fortnight of the season has us well and truly pumped for the playoffs. A nice antepost ticket on the Dallas Cowboys @ 16/1 has us cheering on Jerry’s boys, so let’s dive straight into Wildcard Weekend, with numerous thoughts and selections.

ARZIONA CARDINALS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS

So it was the Panthers who emerged from the shockingly bad NFC South, though their play significantly improved down the stretch going 4-0 over their last four, highlighted by the shellacking they gave rivals Atlanta in the playoff-showdown last week in the Georgia dome. Finally resembling last year’s stellar defence, Ron Riveras crew notched 14 sacks in their last 4 games, with five interceptions so it could be hard work for the lifeless Arizona unit.

Ryan Lindley again has to take charge of the anemic Cardinal offence in the absence of Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton. He linked up well with Michael Floyd last week in San Francisco, so look for that partnership to have the most success for Arizona, given Larry Fitzgerald’s injury troubles. However it will still be tough sledding for a team will once again rely on it’s defence. Even with below-par offensive play, this is very much a winnable game for Arizona thanks to mastermind schemer Bruce Arians and their talented defence.

Recommendations:

Main selection: Under 38 pts @ 10/11 (Various) – Two dominant defences with less than explosive offences could see a tight battle with all the marbles on the line.

First touchdown: Cam Newton @ 10/1 (Various) – Cam has ran for a touchdown in his last 3 and will need his legs against a tough Cards front.

Additional selection: Arizona FG 1st Scoring Play @ 4/1 (BetVictor) – As mentioned two tough D’s could turn this into a field goal game.

BALTIMORE RAVENS @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Another huge AFC North playoff battle between these two, with the huge news that Le’Veon Bell will miss out for Pittsburgh. Bell is a huge loss for Mike Tomlin’s side, with Josh Harris filling in. Bell’s patience and burst saw him to second in the NFL in rushing and it remains to be seen what kind of game plan the Steelers will go for in his absence. Antonio Brown and Ben Roethlisberger have been fantastic this season, with Brown ending the regular season atop the receiving charts. Expect him to feature even more heavily in Bell’s absence.

In contrast, look for Baltimore to employ a control game plan, playing field position and keeping Pittsburgh dynamic passing game off the field. Justin Forsett had a breakout year and ended the season well against Cleveland last week. He now takes on a Steelers defence that gives up 4.31 YPC to opposing running backs. Quarterback Joe Flacco had success in his two games against Pittsburgh earlier this term, throwing four touchdowns.

Recommendations:

Main Selection: Under 44.5 pts @ Evens (Boylesports) – Maybe missed the boat here, but with Bell’s absence and a brutal weather forecast, this could turn into a defensive slugfest, with one Raven fan I talked to earlier this week declaring whichever team gets to 20 wins the game.

First Touchdown: Martivis Bryant @ 10/1 (BetVictor, Hills, Coral) – Bryant is the deep threat for Pittsburgh and can get in behind a very shaky Raven secondary if Ben is given time.

Additional selection: Justin Forsett over 70.5 Rushing Yards @ 10/11 (Lads) – We could see a heavy dose of Forsett if the conditions take a turn for the worse at Heinz Field.

Fantasy Football Starts & Sits Week 2

Each week during the season, deciding on who to start for your fantasy team is the most pivotal decision. Each week in my Rankings, Starts and Sits article, I will list the players at each position. This will show you who the best play at each position is. I will also recommend a less obvious player at each position who is primed for a big week, and a player at each position who you should avoid. If you have any start/sit questions fell free to contact me on twitter @JamesMaguire21 where I would be happy to answer all questions.

Quarterbacks

jake lockerQB Start of the Week
Jake Locker (TEN)
Outside of the elite QB options, Locker is an excellent start this week. He had a great game last week against the Chiefs, and this week he has a brilliant matchup against the Dallas Cowboys. As we saw last week, the Cowboys defence is atrocious and I would fully recommend starting anyone who plays against them. Locker scored over 20 points last week and I would expect him to do the same again this week.

 

RGIII

QB Sit of the Week
Robert Griffin III (WAS)
Coming off a disappointing 2013 season, many expected RGIII to bounce back this season. However, after seeing him in the 1st game of the season, it is becoming hard to trust him. He just doesn’t look like the same player who was so explosive in his rookie season. I do have hope that he will get back to his best, but until we see some evidence of this, you need to keep him on your bench. This is especially true this week as he faces a decent Jaguars defence who could put him under a lot of pressure.

Quarterback Rankings:
[columnize]1 Peyton Manning DEN (vs. KC)
2 Andrew Luck IND (vs. PHI)
3 Aaron Rodgers GB (vs. NYJ)
4 Matthew Stafford DET (@CAR)
5 Nick Foles PHI (@IND)
6 Drew Brees NO (@CLE)
7 Matt Ryan ATL (@CIN)
8 Tom Brady NE (@MIN)
9 Jake Locker TEN (vs. DAL)
10 Tony Romo DAL (@TEN)
11 Russell Wilson SEA (@SD)
12 Andy Dalton CIN (vs. ATL)
13 Colin Kaepernick SF (vs. CHI)
14 Carson Palmer ARI (@NYG)
15 Jay Cutler CHI (@SF)
16 Cam Newton CAR (vs. DET)
17 Ben Roethlisberger PIT (@BAL)
18 Ryan Tannehill MIA (@BUF)
19 Philip Rivers SD (vs. SEA)
20 Eli Manning NYG (vs. ARI)
21 Matt Cassel MIN (vs. NE)
22 Robert Griffin III WAS (vs. JAC)
23 Josh McCown TB (vs. STL)
24 Joe Flacco BAL (vs. PIT)[/columnize]

Running Backs

bernardRB Start of the Week
Giovanni Bernard (CIN)
Bernard is coming off a good week 1 performance, where we were able to see that the Bengals are going to give him the bulk of the carries. I would expect him to capitalise on those carries this week as he faces a Falcons team who were the worst in the league against RB’s last season. They looked just as bad against the run when playing the Saints last week, and I would expect Bernard to be one of the top scoring players in the league this week

 

joique

RB Sit of the Week
Joique Bell (DET)
The Lions do a good job of getting both Bush and Bell involved in their offense, and most weeks they are both good starts. However, this week Bell faces a Carolina defence that is very good against the run. They only gave up 75yards on the ground in week 1 and Bell could struggle to produce this week. Bush could benefit from some screen passes, but I could see Bell having a down week
Running Back Rankings:
[columnize]1 LeSean McCoy PHI (@IND)
2 Montee Ball DEN (vs. KC)
3 Giovani Bernard CIN (vs. ATL)
4 Matt Forte CHI (@SF)
5 Adrian Peterson MIN (vs. NE)
6 Jamaal Charles KC (@DEN)
7 Arian Foster HOU (@OAK)
8 Le’Veon Bell PIT (@BAL)
9 DeMarco Murray DAL (@TEN)
10 Marshawn Lynch SEA (@SD)
11 Shane Vereen NE (@MIN)
12 Knowshon Moreno MIA (@BUF)
13 Eddie Lacy GB (vs. NYJ)
14 Alfred Morris WAS (vs. JAC)
15 Andre Ellington ARI (@NYG)
16 C.J. Spiller BUF (vs. MIA)
17 Frank Gore SF (vs. CHI)
18 Rashad Jennings NYG (vs. ARI)
19 Terrance West CLE (vs. NO)
20 Chris Johnson NYJ (@GB)
21 Toby Gerhart JAC (@WAS)
22 Zac Stacy STL (@TB)
23 Carlos Hyde SF (vs. CHI)
24 Mark Ingram NO (@CLE)
25 Pierre Thomas NO (@CLE)
26 Ryan Mathews SD (vs. SEA)
27 Reggie Bush DET (@CAR)
28 Fred Jackson BUF (vs. MIA)
29 Maurice Jones-Drew OAK (vs. HOU)
30 Lamar Miller MIA (@BUF)
31 Justin Forsett BAL (vs. PIT)
32 Bernard Pierce BAL (vs. PIT)
33 Shonn Greene TEN (vs. DAL)
34 Danny Woodhead SD (vs. SEA)
35 Doug Martin/Bobby Rainey TB (vs. STL)
36 Ahmad Bradshaw IND (vs. PHI)
37 LeGarrette Blount PIT (@BAL)
38 Joique Bell DET (@CAR)
39 Stevan Ridley NE (@MIN)
40 Steven Jackson ATL (@CIN)
41 Darren Sproles PHI (@IND)
42 Chris Ivory NYJ (@GB)
43 Trent Richardson IND (vs. PHI)
44 DeAngelo Williams CAR (vs. DET)
45 Isaiah Crowell CLE (vs. NO)
46 Dexter McCluster TEN (vs. DAL)
47 Jeremy Hill CIN (vs. ATL)
48 Benny Cunningham STL (@TB)[/columnize]

Wide Receivers

fitzWR Start of the Week
Larry Fitzgerald (ARI)
Fitzgerald is coming off a terrible week 1 performance where he only had 1 catch for 22 yards. This will probably tempt some of his owners to bench him; however I would keep him in your line-ups this week as I expect a huge bounce back performance. This week he faces a Giants defence that was torched by the Lions in week one, allowing the 2nd most points to opposing WR’s. Both Fitzgerald and his teammate Floyd are fantastic starts this week.

Bonus Start: Two more great starts this week are Tennessee’s two WR’s Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright. I expect big games from both.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars-Training CampWR Sit of the Week
Allen Hurns (JAC)
Hurns exploded into the NFL last week with a brilliant performance where he caught 2 TD’s and had over 100 yards. I would advise you to pick him up off your waiver wire, however I would also advise you to keep him on your bench. There have been many relatively unknown WR’s who have had huge week 1 performances over the years, but the majority of them have not continued that production into the season. I would advise you to keep him on your bench until we see if it was just a flash in the pan or if he will be the next star WR.

Wide Receiver Rankings:

[columnize]1 Calvin Johnson DET (@CAR)
2 Demaryius Thomas DEN (vs. KC)
3 A.J. Green CIN (vs. ATL)
4 Dez Bryant DAL (@TEN)
5 Julio Jones ATL (@CIN)
6 Jordy Nelson GB (vs. NYJ)
7 Brandon Marshall CHI (@SF)
8 Antonio Brown PIT (@BAL)
9 Randall Cobb GB (vs. NYJ)
10 Cordarrelle Patterson MIN (vs. NE)
11 Mike Wallace MIA (@BUF)
12 Andre Johnson HOU (@OAK)
13 Emmanuel Sanders DEN (vs. KC)
14 Michael Floyd ARI (@NYG)
15 Vincent Jackson TB (vs. STL)
16 Larry Fitzgerald ARI (@NYG)
17 Justin Hunter TEN (vs. DAL)
18 Alshon Jeffery CHI (@SF)
19 Julian Edelman NE (@MIN)
20 Brandin Cooks NO (@CLE)
21 Percy Harvin SEA (@SD)
22 Roddy White ATL (@CIN)
23 Marques Colston NO (@CLE)
24 Kendall Wright TEN (vs. DAL)
25 Eric Decker NYJ (@GB)
26 Kelvin Benjamin CAR (vs. DET)
27 Jeremy Maclin PHI (@IND)
28 T.Y. Hilton IND (vs. PHI)
29 Pierre Garcon WAS (vs. JAC)
30 Reggie Wayne IND (vs. PHI)
31 Michael Crabtree SF (vs. CHI)
32 Torrey Smith BAL (vs. PIT)
33 DeSean Jackson WAS (vs. JAC)
34 Victor Cruz NYG (vs. ARI)
35 Keenan Allen SD (vs. SEA)
36 Anquan Boldin SF (vs. CHI)
37 Golden Tate DET (@CAR)
38 DeAndre Hopkins HOU (@OAK)
39 Hakeem Nicks IND (vs. PHI)
40 Markus Wheaton PIT (@BAL)
41 Terrance Williams DAL (@TEN)
42 Steve Smith BAL (vs. PIT)
43 Greg Jennings MIN (vs. NE)
44 Allen Hurns JAC (@WAS)
45 Andrew Hawkins CLE (vs. NO)
46 Marqise Lee JAC (@WAS)
47 Jarrett Boykin GB (vs. NYJ)
48 Rod Streater OAK (vs. HOU)[/columnize]

Tight Ends

Ertz could be a good to open the floodgates against the Jags

TE Start of the Week
Zach Ertz (PHI)
I recommended Ertz as one of the best starts last week, and he rewarded his owners with a TD and 77 yards. This week he is a fantastic start again, as he faces a Colts team who gave up 3 TD’s to Broncos TE Julius Thomas last week. Keep him in your lineups.

Martellus Bennett

TE Sit of the Week
Martellus Bennett (CHI)
Bennett is comin off a great week 1, but it could be difficult for him to repeat those numbers this week. He faces a 49ers defence who have been quite good against opposing TE’s and managed to shut down Jason Witten last week.

Tight End Rankings:
[columnize]1 Jimmy Graham NO (@CLE)
2 Julius Thomas DEN (vs. KC)
3 Rob Gronkowski NE (@MIN)
4 Zach Ertz PHI (@IND)
5 Greg Olsen CAR (vs. DET)
6 Vernon Davis SF (vs. CHI)
7 Kyle Rudolph MIN (vs. NE)
8 Dennis Pitta BAL (vs. PIT)
9 Delanie Walker TEN (vs. DAL)
10 Dwayne Allen IND (vs. PHI)
11 Jason Witten DAL (@TEN)
12 Charles Clay MIA (@BUF)
13 Martellus Bennett CHI (@SF)
14 Heath Miller PIT (@BAL)
15 Travis Kelce KC (@DEN)
16 Antonio Gates SD (vs. SEA)
17 Larry Donnell NYG (vs. ARI)
18 Levine Toilolo ATL (@CIN)
19 Andrew Quarless GB (vs. NYJ)
20 Jared Cook STL (@TB)
21 Ladarius Green SD (vs. SEA)
22 Coby Fleener IND (vs. PHI)
23 Mychal Rivera OAK (vs. HOU)
24 Niles Paul WAS (vs. JAC)[/columnize]

NFC West 2014 Preview

Defending Champions Seattle Seahawks look to remain on top we answer the question ‘can they?’ in our NFC West 2014 Preview


With both teams in the NFC Championship game last year and a blowout win for the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, the NFC West was comfortably the best division in football in 2013. Can they maintain their dominance this year, as the Seahawks look to repeat and the 49ers, Cardinals and Rams chase down the World Champions?

Arizona Cardinals:

Coming off a ten-win season which still saw them outside the playoff spots, the enormity of the task confronting Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was made obvious. The team needs to be one of the best in football just to be relevant in the hyper-competitive NFC. There are encouraging signs on offense, as the late-season form of rookie RB Andre Ellington and WR Michael Floyd should be set to continue into 2014. Larry Fitzgerald should be fit after playing through a nagging hamstring injury in 2013, and preseason standout John Brown adds burning pace to what is a potentially explosive offense for Carson Palmer. The addition of Palmer’s former Raiders left tackle Jared Veldheer should steady an offensive line that gave up 41 sacks last year, but this upgrade may be offset by the continued struggles of left guard Jonathan Cooper to recover from a broken leg which saw him sit out his rookie year. The team need better blocking up front if their offensive weapons are to reach their potential. At least in 2013 they could rely on a stout defense to keep them in close games. They won’t have that luxury this year. The secondary sees an upgrade as Antonio Cromartie, who is coming off an injury-plagued down year with the Jets, arrives to partner the re-signed shutdown corner Patrick Peterson. If Cromartie can bounce back, they form a formidable tandem. Talented safety Tyrann Mathieu is recovering well from knee surgery and could be ready in time for Week 1, and the addition of first-round rookie Deone Bucannon will lead to competition for the other safety spot with Tony Jefferson. That’s where the cause for optimism ends however. What was a staunch front seven last season has been decimated over the summer, with Karlos Dansby gone in free agency, DE Darnell Dockett lost to a season-ending ACL injury and star linebacker Daryl Washington suffering a year-long suspension for marijuana use. The resigning of veteran John Abraham will help, but after that the linebacker position is low on quality, and the defensive line will be overly reliant on DE Calais Campbell and Dan Williams to block up running lanes. These losses will hurt the Cardinals on defense this season, and that will be their downfall. A regression in 2014 is on the cards, as the Cardinals look set to fall short of playoff contention.

Prediction: 3rd

San Francisco 49ers:

It’s been a strange offseason for the 49ers. Amid rumours that they had fielded a trade offer from the Cleveland Browns for head coach Jim Harbaugh, the team re-signed Colin Kaepernick to a team-friendly, incentive-based contract. Then star tight end Vernon Davis threatened to hold out of training camp but didn’t, while guard Alex Boone did, only returning on the last day of August after receiving a restructured contract. Uncertainty has surrounded much of what the team has done. The 49ers offense was competent last season even in the early stages while nursing Kaepernick back to health and awaiting the return of Michael Crabtree from injury, but with Boone missing all of camp and doubts about the depth behind Crabtree, Davis and the ageing Anquan Boldin and Frank Gore, any injury on this side of the ball could be disastrous. The team took rookie Carlos Hyde in the second round of the 2014 draft with a view to replacing Gore, and the rookie should see the field this season having looked serviceable in preseason games. The hope will be that two trade acquisitions QB Blaine Gabbert and WR Stevie Johnson will see less of the field, as both have failed to impress in the offseason. This remains an impressive and consistent starting group however, and if everything breaks their way, the offense will be the least of the team’s worries in 2014. Of far more concern is the ravaged defensive unit. A redesign at cornerback saw Carlos Rodgers and Tarell Brown depart for Oakland, leaving Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver to start on the outside. At safety the departure of Donte Whitner will be offset by the arrival of free agent Antoine Bethea and first-round pick Jimmie Ward, who look set to share duties beside second-year Eric Reid. This is a secondary with growing pains ahead, and they wont be helped out by a front seven missing three key starters. At linebacker, star pass rusher Aldon Smith will miss the first 9 games of the season thanks to suspension for substance abuse and felony charges, while middle linebacker NaVorro Bowman is coming off ACL injury and will be out for at least six games. Until Smith’s return Ahmad Brooks will be tasked with getting to the quarterback opposite either Dan Skuta or second-year player Corey Lemonier, who showed flashes of potential in limited time last year. Neither is a patch on the All-Pro, obviously, and the defensive troubles will be exacerbated by the loss to injury of Glenn Dorsey at nose tackle. Along with Justin Smith and Ray McDonald, Dorsey formed a formidable front last season and his loss will be keenly felt, especially with Smith hitting 35 years old this year. The 49ers defense, for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era, is looking at a slump. It’s far from a terrible unit, but given their division, conference and schedule the missing stars will be enough to hurt San Francisco’s regular season, and this could be the year they fall out of the playoff hunt altogether.

Prediction: 2nd

Seattle Seahawks:

Let’s face it, 2013 was Seattle’s year. CenturyLink Field proved to be a fortress yet again, as the team went 7-1 in front of their own fans, Russell Wilson showed he’s more than just a game-managing QB and Richard Sherman’s smack talk made him a household name. Above all else, the Seahawks romped to a 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. All of this has led to mega-contracts, TV commercials and Madden covers for the Seahawks stars, but despite the distractions the team itself is still in good shape for the 2014 season. On offense the team quickly dealt with a Marshawn Lynch holdout, bringing the offensive centrepiece back into the fold with a sweetened deal, and the loss of WRs Golden Tate and Sidney Rice is more than offset by the return to fitness of Percy Harvin. The former Vikings playmaker starred in the Super Bowl with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, but he should figure prominently in the regular season alongside the improving Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and tight end Zach Miller. This is a solid group of weapons for Wilson, whose ability to extend plays gives his targets time to get open. The ground threat of Marshawn Lynch, who should post another strong season even if it could be his last in Seattle, and a solid offensive line which has only lost one starter to free agency, should also ensure that the offense doesn’t dip in production in 2014. Still, the strength of the Super Bowl champions lies in their dominant defense. After securing Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman to lucrative, long-term deals the ‘Legion of Boom’ secondary is secure for another season, although the loss of Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond to free agency will hurt their depth. There were no losses at linebacker but the defensive line saw Chris Clemons and Red Bryant, reliable players last season, depart for Jacksonville in free agency. Still, the team resigned Michael Bennett to start opposite Cliff Avril on the defensive front, and Brandon Mebane, Tony McDaniel and Kevin Williams should provide quality on the interior. While the Seahawks have lost some depth, there isn’t a weak spot in their starting defense. Apart from one nagging question on the offensive line, this roster is set to dominate the NFC West, and potentially the NFC, once again this year. If everyone stays fit and healthy the Seahawks could well be the first team to win back-to-back Super Bowls since the Patriots ten years ago.

Prediction: 1st

St Louis Rams:

The St Louis Rams hoped to be something of a dark horse in the NFC West this season. They had made some additions, found an offensive philosophy and still had a young, first-round quarterback to bring forward in Sam Bradford. Then, for the second season in a row, Bradford went down with a season-ending ACL injury, leaving the whole project in disarray and effectively dashing any hopes of a playoff berth. The reins will now be passed to Shaun Hill, who should at least be an upgrade on last season’s backup Kellen Clemens. The injury to Bradford is especially a shame as Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer really found themselves a working strategy down the stretch last season, leaning heavily on their excellent running back Zac Stacy and play action passes for rookie wide receiver Tavon Austin, Chris Givens and tight end Jared Cook. The team have brought in veteran Kenny Britt, who worked well with Fisher for a time in Tennessee before suffering injuries and personal problems, and hopes to assume the no.1 receiver role in St Louis. The free agent signing of Davin Joseph at guard and the addition of no.2 overall pick Greg Robinson should help the offensive line maintain their strength from last year. Robinson was a great run-blocker in college but has looked raw in preseason. He’ll sit and learn for a period, but he should develop as the season progresses. Left tackle Jake Long is returning from ACL injury and could take some time to return to his Pro Bowl best, but with centre Scott Wells, the versatile Roger Saffold and right tackle Joe Barksdale, this unit is probably the strength of the offense, comprising experience, talent and upside. If they can make holes for Stacy and protect Hill, the Rams should be a competent unit in 2014 despite Bradford’s absence. On defense the Rams have one of the scariest fronts in all of football. Star defensive end Robert Quinn notched up 19 sacks last year and at just 24 years old only figures to get better. Starting opposite him Chris Long is no slouch himself, after getting to the QB for 8.5 sacks in 2013, and in the first round of the 2014 draft the Rams added the impressive interior rusher Aaron Donald to this already imposing unit. QBs in the NFC West should be afraid. At linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar and James Laurinaitis are both decent starters, while Alec Ogletree should improve in his second year in the league. That’s where the good news ends for the Rams, as their secondary was poor last year and figures to be poor again in 2014. The loss of cornerback Cortland Finnegan in free agency is no real loss at all, as he was awful last season, but his replacement Trumaine Johnson wasn’t a revelation either. He’s still young and has room to develop alongside Janoris Jenkins, and second round pick Lamarcus Joyner should also see time. The unit has potential for improvement but little depth or experience. There has been no change at safety, and the Rams will be hoping that Rodney McLeod and T.J. McDonald can improve considerably on their 2013 campaigns if this secondary is to help the front seven out in coverage. The Rams can realistically hope for a season approaching a .500 record as they search for the solution at QB. That’s not the worst situation for a young and talented roster, but it is essentially another lost year in St Louis.

Precdiction: 4th