Tonight will be a pivot moment in Matt Harvey’s career. Billed as New York’s ace, Harvey will take the ball at Citi Field in a pivotal Game 3. Harvey, who is no stranger to the spotlight, will have a chance to move New York one step closer to the National League Championship Series. Harvey loves the spotlight; his whole persona is built upon seizing the big moment. In some ways, tonight’s game is reminiscent of the New York Yankees’ run in the late 1990s. Granted, the Mets have not won a World Series title since 1986, but Game 3 has a ‘big game feel’ to it. Big games require big performances and fans are used to seeing New York athletes rise to the occasion. Andy Pettitte made a career of pitching in (and winning) big playoff games. Pettitte, who has arguably the best resume in playoff history (42 starts, 263 innings, 19 wins, five World Series rings), brought intensity and determination to the mound. Pettitte, however, found a way to harness that intensity as he methodically worked through opposing lineups. Harvey has elite ‘stuff’, but can he harness his emotions and deliver an elite performance? There’s a lot of bad blood between these two teams after Chase Utley’s controversial slide in Game 2. As a side note, Utley, who is appealing his suspension, is 6-for-18 with one home run against Harvey.

The Mets, alike the late 1990s Yankees, are the only show in town. Football is on the back burner and the Mets are front and center in the minds and hearts of New York sports fans. The onus is on Matt Harvey to deliver an elite performance. Given his make-up, mentality, and propensity for the spotlight, expect Matt Harvey to deliver a big performance tonight.

New York’s rushing attack pummeled Miami’s lack luster run defense, gashing Ndamakong Suh and Co. for 207 yards. Chris Ivory, who missed last week’s tilt against Philadelphia, returned with a vengeance and gashed Miami for a career-high 166 yards and one touchdown. Miami’s run defense attempted to arm tackle Ivory, which proved to be futile. Ivory regularly ran through arm tackles and turned minimal 1-2 yards gain into chain-moving, first down runs. Miami’s run defense seemed uninterested in tackling Ivory as the game wore on—and rightfully so. Ivory sets the tone on offense and his hard-nosed running style perfectly complements New York’s mentality under Todd Bowles.

Last week, we told readers to keep an eye on Willie Colon’s status since Brian Winters did not play well in relief against Philadelphia. Winters proved his doubters wrong and held his own against Suh. Suh did not record his first tackle until the third quarter and looked downright frustrated during the first half. Credit Winters for a superb effort and hope that Colon can heal during New York’s bye week.

Brandon Marshall continued to feast on smaller corners. Brent Grimes left the game after suffering a first quarter injury, but was badly burnt by Marshall on two plays early in the first quarter. On New York’s first play from scrimmage, Marshall burnt Grimes deep down the sideline for a 57-yard gain. Credit Ryan Fitzpatrick for throwing a superb deep ball, but Marshall won at the point of attack and asserted his will throughout the game. Marshall did drop one end zone target, but Marshall’s toughest, ability to separate, and leadership is a boon for this offense.

It may be an unpopular opinion, but New York should consider a quarterback change during its bye week. Fitzpatrick took what Miami’s defense gave him, but he missed a lot of easy throws, especially to rookie, Devin Smith. Fitzpatrick is able to guide and manage the offense, but made some mistakes that allowed Miami to hang around in the game that should have been an easy blowout win.

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New York’s offense was essentially a ‘one man show’ as Brandon Marshall attempted to carry a team that was devoid of two of its playmakers (Eric Decker and Chris Ivory). Marshall made some big catches, but two major miscues, an errant lateral in the second quarter that led to a Philadelphia touchdown and a tipped pass that resulted in a game-ending interception, stick out. During a halftime interview, Marshall said that his lateral attempt was the ‘worst play in NFL history’. Marshall’s stat line may please fantasy owners, but his miscues led to New York’s first loss of the 2015 season.

New York’s rushing attack was a complete non-factor, only managing to produce 47 yards. Ivory (strained quadriceps) warmed up before the game and was listed as ‘Active’, but he did not play. No reason was provided, but it was likely a coach’s decision. Without Ivory in fold, New York’s offense lacked balance and put Fitzpatrick in many precarious situations. Philadelphia’s defensive line easily won the battle in the trenches. Guard Willie Colon left with a knee injury during the third quarter and his replacement, Brian Winters, was regularly bull rushed into the backfield. Key an eye on the injury report since Colon is one of the main cogs of this offensive line.

New York’s vaunted defense was humbled by Philadelphia’s two-headed rushing attack of Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. New York’s linebackers could not cover Mathews and Sproles out of the backfield and were burnt on wheel routes. Sproles also made a game-altering play by returning a punt for an 89-yard touchdown.

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There were many new faces on New York’s sideline, but Brandon Marshall proved to be the biggest different maker. Marshall scored one touchdown, forced a fumble after a key interception that turned the tide. The Jets haven’t had a big, physical wide receiver like Marshall since Keyshawn Johnson. Marshall sets the tone on offense and brings a renewed sense of urgency to this once lackluster offense. Antonio Cromartie suffered a non-contact, knee injury during the second quarter. Two trainers were needed to get him off the field. Marcus Williams came on in relief of Cromartie and played well, intercepting one pass and defensing three passes. Before suffering an injury, Cromartie was beaten on Johnny Manziel’s 54-yard touchdown pass. Heading into his contract year, Chris Ivory garnered the attention of fans after an impressive pre-season. Ivory did not disappoint by rushing for two touchdowns. Ivory ran with an attitude and purpose as he ran through arm tackles and converted when asked to produce in high-leverage situations.

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Regular season win totals have been released for each NFL team. Over the next month, we’ll preview each division and provide a ‘best bet’. Today, we’ll focus on the NFC North division.

It took all 17 weeks to decide, but the Green Bay Packers (12-4) once again reigned supreme atop the NFC North division. Green Bay’s NFC North foes Detroit (11-5),  Minnesota (7-9), and Chicago (5-11) will look to improve in 2015 in hopes of catching Green Bay. As we enter the 2015 season, things have remained ‘status quo’ for Green Bay. Green Bay has retained the majority of its roster from last season that lost a heart-breaker in the NFC Championship. With some extra motivation, Green Bay is one of the Super Bowl favorites this season. Minnesota has Adrian Peterson back in the fold, which should take pressure off Teddy Bridgewater as he enters his second season. Detroit lost some of its key defensive players, but Calvin Johnson is healthy and ready to go after a disappointing 2014 campaign. Chicago is in a state of transition and fans never know what to expect with Jay Cutler in fold. 

According to 5Dimes, season win totals for each of the NFC East teams is presented below:

  • Green Bay: 11 wins (o -140, u +110);
  • Detroit: 8.5 wins (o +120, u -140);
  • Minnesota: 7 wins (o +125, u -145); and
  • Chicago: 7 wins (o +130, u -150).

To me, one bet stand out in this division when you consider making live football bets at www.sportsbook.ag. Minnesota won seven games last without Adrian Peterson and with a rookie quarterback at the helm. Having a motivated Peterson in the fold will help this offense improve. In addition, Minnesota continued to use draft capital on the defensive side of the ball, which should help Mike Zimmer build this defense into one of the best in the NFL. Overall, Minnesota’s non-divisional schedule is not too difficult with its toughest games occurring at Denver and at Arizona. I feel really good about Minnesota this season, so I’ll take the over. 

Best Bet: Minnesota OVER 7 wins

Regular season win totals have been released for each NFL team. Over the next month, we’ll preview each division and provide a ‘best bet’. Today, we’ll focus on the NFC East division.

Last season, the Dallas Cowboys went 12-4 en-route to their first division championship since 2009. Dallas’ NFC East foes Philadelphia (10-6), New York Giants (6-10), and Washington (4-12) all missed the playoffs. As we enter the 2015 season, several key players have switched teams and changed the landscape of the division. Last year’s rushing champion, DeMarco Murray, left Dallas and signed with Philadelphia. Murray will replace LeSean McCoy, a player that Philadelphia jettisoned to the Buffalo Bills. Philadelphia is hoping that rookie wide receiver, Nelson Agholor can replace the production of Jeremy Maclin, who signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. Philadelphia traded last year’s starting quarterback, Nick Foles to St. Louis for the oft-injured, Sam Bradford. New York and Washington have not made moves during the off-season, but Washington head coach, Jay Gruden is clearly on the hot season after last season’s disappointing showing. 

According to 5Dimes, season win totals for each of the NFC East teams is presented below:

  • Dallas: 9.5 wins (o -140, u +120);
  • New York: 8.5 wins (o +120, u -140);
  • Philadelphia: 9.5 wins (o +125, u -145); and
  • Washington: 6.5 wins (o +130, u -150).

Philadelphia has the sixth highest win total on the board, but one thing separates Philadelphia from the other top contenders; quarterback play. While other top contenders have Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Peyton Manning, etc. leading their team, fans aren’t sure who will play quarterback for Philadelphia. Bradford is penciled in as the starting quarterback, but due to numerous injuries, hasn’t played 16 games since 2012 and can’t be trusted. Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow are also on the roster, but neither player could pilot this team to a 10-win season. I don’t think any of these players are what Chip Kelly wants as a quarterback.  Murray was the NFL’s top running back last year, but there are numerous red flags after his 400+ carry campaign. Philadelphia has not replaced DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin yet, either. The personnel turnover plus Kelly’s lackluster 3-10 records against top teams makes Philadelphia an easy fade candidate. There are too many question marks surrounding this team, which makes this an easy decision. 

Best Bet: Philadelphia UNDER 9.5 wins

 

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. Today, we will focus on pass catchers. Last season, Antonio Brown (1,698 yards) led the league in receiving yards. As the catalyst of Pittsburgh’s offense, Brown set career highs in yards, catches (129), and touchdowns (13). Top receivers need strong quarterback play to buoy their totals, so it’s no surprise that Ben Roethlisberger led the league in passing yards last season. We profiled passing yardage leader odds on Sunday and the odds makers think Ben will be among the league leaders again. This bodes well for Brown’s chances of once again leading the league in receiving yards. The list below highlights the current odds among the receivers with the best odds.

  • Brown (+500);
  • Jones (+600);
  • Thomas (+700);
  • Beckham Jr (+750);
  • Johnson (+800);
  • Nelson (+800);
  • Bryant (+800);
  • Green (+1200);
  • Hilton (+1600);
  • Hopkins (+1800).

There’s not a ton of value here, but if I had to pick one, I’d take Calvin Johnson. It may seem surprising to some, but Calvin Johnson has become overlooked. Marred by injuries last season, Johnson saw 128 targets over 13 games and still managed to amass 1,077 yards. His 2014 campaign was arguably his most disappointing since his rookie season in 2008. Johnson’s 2012 and 2013 campaigns were ridiculous and Johnson averaged 180 targets, 104 catches, 1,700 yards, and eight touchdowns. At +800, Johnson offers some value to lead the league in receiving yards. As a second pick, I like Julio Jones due the change in offensive coordinator. New offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan tends to favor his top wide receiver and that tendency should make Jones a strong bet to be among the league leaders in targets. Jones does have some injury concerns, but outside of Roddy White, there isn’t much competition for targets. 

The Picks:

  • Johnson (+800); and
  • Jones (+650).

The New York Jets have not exactly been dominant in the last few years. At times, the defense has been solid, but the offense has been atrocious. If the Jets are going to contend in a competitive AFC East division, their offense must improve. Of course, they also need the defense to play a very high level. As we prepare for the 2015 NFL season, fans will ask themselves, just how good is this defense?

New York actually struggled a bit in 2014 on defense, at least from a fantasy football money leagues perspective. The defense was unable to create turnovers and that really limited them all season long. However, adding Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie to the secondary will certainly help create turnovers and put more pressure on opposing offenses. Revis and Cromartie are excellent play makers and they will be able to anchor the last line of defense.

As far as the front seven is concerned, things are shaping up nicely. Fans are excited about their young trio of Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and Leonard Williams. Many see Williams as the most ready rookie in the entire NFL, so that will be interesting to monitor. The talent is certainly there for them to be a Top-10 team on defense, but the coaching staff must be on the same page. Consider that done, as Todd Bowles has already set the tone and has begun changing the team’s culture. All of the important defensive statistics  should increase, with the exception of the sack total. The Jets were already pretty good at getting to the quarterback, so they should be able to keep that up in 2015.

Finding a quarterback and getting the offense in order should be the main focus for the New York Jets in training camp. The defense is already well ahead of the offense, but they obviously need both if they want any shot at putting fear in their opponents.

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. Picking the league leader in rushing yardage is normally a difficult task due to numerous variables associated with the running back position. Last season, DeMarco Murray (1,845 yards) shook off the injury bug to easily led the league in rushing yardage. Murray left Dallas during free agency to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles. The current betting market believes that there will be a lot of competition among the game’s top rushers. Of note, five running backs currently has odds of 6-to-1. The list below highlights the running backs with the best odds to lead the league in rushing. 

  • Murray (+600);
  • Peterson (+600);
  • Foster (+600);
  • Charles (+600);
  • Lynch (+600);
  • Hill (+750);
  • Lacy (+850);
  • McCoy (+1000);
  • Anderson (+1500); and
  • Morris (+1600).

It’s very interesting to see that oddsmakers believe Adrian Peterson, who basically missed last season and is approaching 30-years-old, has the same odds as Murray. It would be wise to grab the odds on Peterson if you believe he’ll return with a vengeance despite his age. While any of the five favorites could lead the league in rushing, I’m going to focus on two players with lessor odds, but equal chances and are younger in age. My bold prediction for the 2015 NFL season is that Jeremy Hill will lead the league in rushing yardage. As a rookie, Hill averaged 5.1 yards per carry on just 221 carries. The Bengals have made it known that they want to run the ball behind their offensive line. Last season, Cincinnati’s offensive line ranked among the Top-1o units and added offensive linemen in the first and second rounds of the NFL Draft. The public loves to pile on Andy Dalton, but armed with skilled players at every position, Dalton has the ability to quietly lead one of the best offenses in football. The other player that warrants consideration is Eddie Lacy. Lacy rushed for 1,139 yards last season and benefits from playing with the best quarterback in football. Alike Hill, Lacy is another young running back (25) and does not have much trend on his tires. When in doubt, favor the younger running backs in good offenses.

The Picks:

  • Hill (+750); and
  • Lacy (+850).

Sportsbooks have begun offering prop bets for numerous NFL categories. While picking rushing and receiving leaders may be more fun, the NFL is a quarterback driven league and the league leader in passing yards will likely be a playoff participant. Last season, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger (4,762 yards) led the league in passing. Brees led the league for the third time in the last four years and currently has the third best odds (+750) to once again lead the league in passing. The list below highlights the current odds among the passers with the best odds.

  • Luck (+375);
  • Rodgers (+500);
  • Brees (+750);
  • Peyton (+750);
  • Ryan (+800);
  • Ben (+1000);
  • Stafford (+1000);
  • Eli (+2500);
  • Rivers (+2500); and
  • Brady (+2500).

It’s pretty easy to see why Luck has the best odds to lead the league in passing. Last season, Luck posted career highs in completions (380), completion percentage (61.7%), passing yards (4,761), and passing touchdowns (40). Indianapolis added pieces to help improve the offense around Luck, including stalwart running back, Frank Gore, and wide receiver, Andre Johnson. Despite their age, Gore and Johnson have been top-tier NFL talents for their entire careers. Adding Gore and subtracting Trent Richardson will provide a big boost to the offense, which should make things even easier for Luck. 

While Luck has the best odds to lead the league in passing, Brady and Rivers present the most value. There are rumblings that Brady’s suspension may be completely overturned and angry Tom may take his aggression out on the rest of the league. San Diego’s offense has gotten more dynamic with the additions of Melvin Gordon and Stevie Johnson. Don’t forget that Danny Woodhead will return for injury as well. San Diego may quietly have a Top-7 offense in football, which could vault Rivers among the league leaders in passing yards.

The Picks:

  • Brady (+2500); and
  • Rivers (+2500).