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Betting the Bills
This column is going to preview the upcoming Bills game, and the rest of the weeks tilts, from a point spread perspective. Follow this advice at your own peril.
Buffalo +5.5 @ Kansas City
It would probably be really hard for me to pick against the Bills in the first game of year because that would basically be an admittance of defeat before the season even begins. And if you think that, what are we doing here?
But I do believe there are some pretty good reasons for thinking the Bills can cover 5.5 points. For one, a worse Bills team did so last year against what may have been a better Kansas City team that ran for 7,800 yards or so in a heart wrenching overtime loss. Kansas City’s rushing attack still looks to be very good, but at the very least Buffalo will be much better equipped to handle it. No matter what you think of the Bills preseason, it’s hard to argue that the Bills’ first team wasn’t consistently excellent against the run.
Even if the Bills can limit the Kansas City rushing attack somewhat, that should make a big stride in winning the game this year, as Cassel was terrible against us (and really every time I saw him play) last year. And the only thing worse than Matt Cassel playing QB for your team is a hobbled Matt Cassel playing QB for your team. Well, there’s probably a few options (read below), but given the fact that Buffalo will either be facing HMC (hobbled Matt Cassel) or Tyler Palko, 5.5 points starts to look much tastier.
On the other side of the ball there is probably cause for a bit more concern. The Chiefs bring back one of the league’s elite pass rushers in Tamba Hali, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared about the prospect of either Bell, Pears, or whoever else being tasked with that assignment. Wallace Gilberry was no joke either with 7 sacks on the year, and Eric Berry began to develop into one of the leagues better young corners. So really, the best we can do is hope Good Fitz shows up and not Bad Fitz.
Still, I think it will be a competitive game, and given the 5.5 point the Chiefs are laying, at least it is easy to forecast the Bills starting the season 1-0 ATS.
The rest of this weekend’s games…
New Orleans +5 @ Green Bay
By now you’ve probably heard the stat that the home team (and defending champ) has won this game all but one of the years in its existence. Combined with the fact that the Packers bring back an impressive roster that features possibly the league’s best quarterback, I was originally leaning Green Bay.
But 5 points, that’s a lot of points to lay on a team that ALSO has possibly the league’s best quarterback, also won a championship, and is probably better coached. If the Saints can get pressure, which is a very real possibility given Green Bay’s secretly below par line, I think 5 points will allow the Saints to cover comfortably.
Pittsburgh +1.5 @ Baltimore
Two models of consistency in the AFC, two teams that most people expect to compete for a championship, and the two teams that ever have a chance at winning the division (other than Cincinnati’s random good season every 5 years). When in doubt, take the points.
Detroit @ Tampa Bay -1.5
On one hand, I think there’s substance to the Detroit bandwagon. That line is going to be nasty even without Nick Fairley, and considering that’s the second most important unit on any football team, Detroit could be in the rare position to be a preseason sleeper that actually delivers.
On the other hand, the MOST important unit is quarterback, and I’m apparently not as sold on Matt Stafford as everyone else. The common refrain amongst motor city supporters has been ‘This team is going to be scary… …if Fat Stafford can stay Healthy’ (interpreted loosely). I’m not quite as sold. IN ADDITION to playing less than half of Lions games since he’s been drafted, he threw a ton of picks his rookie season, and sports a 54.5% career completion percentage. Both areas improved last year, but 3 games is not a big enough sample size to give me any sort of confidence.
Jaaash Freeman, on the other hand…
Atlanta -3 @ Chicago
Take the worst offensive line in the league, add an offensive coordinator who bases his offense on the quarterback having 8 seconds to throw, make sure that quarterback has a reputation for leaving the game early, and throw in Roy Williams and an aging defense for good measure, and you have a recipe for a textbook Chicago-Bears-post-NFC-championship-game-swoon.
Indianapolis +9 @ Houston
I, like everyone else, think Indianapolis’ roster has been really poor for at least 2 years, and think this season’s going to be a rough ride for them. The only way I think that’s it’s not going to be a disaster is the chance, if miniscule, that Peyton was just the ‘product of a system’, or perhaps more likely, the Colts are organized to have a lesser QB run the offense to acceptable standards a la Cassel in 08.
But if that’s not enough; 9 points? Really? HOUSTON?? No way.
Philadelphia -4.5 @ St Louis
4.5 seems like a lot of points to be give against St Louis, who seem to have a lot of things going their way this season, like the continued development of the league’s most promising young QB, an offensive coordinator whose as ept at designing aerial attacks as he is inept at managing rosters, and an improving defense. But except for Bradford, those things are largely uncertain, like St Louis’ underwhelming receiving corps. In week 1 when no one really knows anything, it’s better to go with the Philly, whose usually good anyway, has the most explosive player in the league (or at least he was last year), and beefed up their roster like the 07 Patriots did before the season.
Cincinnati @ Cleveland -6.5
The only way I could ever feel comfortable about the Browns giving that much in an opening game would be if the other team was starting a ginger game manager QB who played non BCS football this time last year.
Tennessee +2.5 @ Jacksonville
Wait, so you’re telling me Jacksonville cut their starting QB less than a week before the start of the season, is starting Cade Luke McCown, and has a running back with questionable health, AND their giving 2.5? Sign me up.
New York Giants @ Washington +3
Despite being lead by John Beck, Washington has some interesting things going on here. By all accounts, there defense showed marked improvement since the last time we saw them throw Michael Vick’s release from the gray-bar-hotel party. Shanahan’s might be a bit of pompous windbag, but he’s usually organized offensively, and should at least have an effective running attack lead by a RB from your local D-1AA school. Taking away two of the league’s most disgruntled vets doesn’t hurt either.
Conversely, the Giants have major end of a coaching regime meltdown signals blaring. They’ve lost decent vets like Barry Cofield, Steve Smith, and Kevin Boss; and seemingly everyone who didn’t leave voluntarily via free agency left involuntarily via a stretcher. It’s up to Tom Coughlin to motivate this group to come back from a mountain of adversity. He’s done it before in remarkable fashion, but I’m not exactly holding my breath either.
Carolina @ Arizona -7
One of the cliché’s being tossed around wildly this lockout shortened offseason is the idea that consistency will play a much big role, especially at QB and Head Coach. I happen to wholeheartedly agree with this idea, and think it will play a big role in who has a chance to be successful this offseason. One of these teams is 0/2 with a rookie QB, while the other is 1/2 with the new QB expected to be a big step up from last season. That should be worth more than 7 points.
Seattle @ San Francisco -5.5
Vegas Zone! For those of those who have been acquainted with Sports Guy Bill Simmons’ term, this is what Simmons calls any line between 4.5-5.5 to describe a game that Vegas has ‘no idea what to make the line’ so they throw it somewhere in this range.
I’ve never understood something less than why Bill thinks a team laying that many points would mean Vegas doesn’t know what to make the line. It seems pretty clear to me that they like San Francisco to win by more than a field goal, but then again, trying to apply logic to Simmons rhetorical devices is an exercise in futility, and I should probably take it easy since this column’s format owes quite a bit to him.
But anyway, Seattle sucks.
Minnesota +8.5 @ San Diego
This was a weird game to look at because San Diego is one of my favorite teams this year. They were outstanding in most metrics last year on both offense and defense, leaving special teams as their one weak area (which figures to be a much smaller factor with the new kickoff rules). However, San Diego has a bad habit of getting off to slow starts, which gives me caution. I think Minnesota has enough talent still on their roster to stay within 8.5 points.
Dallas +5 @ New York Jets
This is a bit of biased pick based on my intense hatred of the Jets, but there are a few reasons to think 5 points may be too much for Gang Green. Though New York can sometimes open games up, their offense isn’t really built around that concept. New York would much rather control the game with their rushing attack and tough defense, which sounds more 16-13 to me.
But that’s only if New York has their way in this game. Dallas’ biggest weakness at the moment would appear to be their suddenly inexperienced line (as a result of being forced to cut a slew of aging overpriced veterans). As opposed to how most other defenses are built, the Jet’s defense is designed around being able to contain the passing game which allows them to bring extra pressure. The fact that Dallas has two very good receivers makes me think they may be able to break this pattern by attacking Cromartie.
Patriots -7 @ Miami
New England’s starting Brady, Miami’s starting Chad Henne.
Oakland @ Denver -3
I don’t understand why ESPN was willing to pay another reported 1.8 bil to extend their MNF rights if the NFL is going to continue to give them crap games like this. I understand CBS and Fox are going to be protective of their premier games, but this is ridiculous.