Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spread Check: Ravens Getting Too Much Respect at Home

Carolina heads into Baltimore Sunday afternoon, as Panther legend Steve Smith (WR), suits up as a Raven, and faces his former team for the first time. As the hype swirls around Smith's return, together with Baltimore's emotionally draining win last week over Cleveland, we may have a situation where Vegas is out ahead of itself. The Ravens come in at (-3.5) but in our view, it looks more like a pick 'em. That could be good news for some.

Last week, on the heels of the Ray Rice scandal, Baltimore secured a victory over the Browns with a field goal just as time expired. Now, they stand at 2-1 in their eminently winnable division. Had they lost that game to Cleveland, this game would be more important to them, and often times, a big win can cause a team to lose some of their hunger the following week.

The Panthers, meanwhile, are looking for a rebound after being demolished by the Steelers on Sunday Night Football last week. Unlike the AFC North, where the Ravens reside, the NFC South has offensive powerhouses in Atlanta and New Orleans. Carolina needs every win they can get to keep their playoff hopes alive. Sure, Carolina is on the road, but in the NFL, the team that wants it more is tough to beat.

Now, we're not diminishing the impact that Steve Smith could have on this game. After all, he was possibly the greatest player in Carolina history. He's still one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL, and has emerged as a high-volume target for Joe Flacco on this play-action based offense in Baltimore. Still, the Panthers let him go for a reason. As of now, it's looking like Carolina's rookie WR, Kelvin Benjamin, has an order of magnitude more athletic ability that Smith does at this stage in his career, so no regrets in Carolina for replacing the old veteran. Not to mention, Smith may not even be the best pass-catcher on his own team. Torrey Smith has had a quiet year to date, but he has averaged 941 yards per season over his three year career. So Smith is a clear cut number-two target on the Ravens, who are, at-best, an average passing team. 

In addition, RB DeAngelo Williams will be back in the lineup for Carolina after missing last week with a thigh injury. The Panthers struggled to get the ground game going against Pittsburgh, which derailed their entire offense, and made the score look a lot worse than it was. The rushing attack is generally their bread and butter, and since Williams practiced the entire week, we expect him to come out firing on all cylinders. Defensively, Baltimore isn't strong against the run, ranking 20th in terms of yards-per-carry allowed, so Williams should see some opportunity to gash the defense. If he opens up the field for Cam Newton to do his thing, watch out.

Need some statistics to pull you over the line? Cam Newton has a stellar record following a defeat. Over his four seasons, Cam is 14-7 against the spread after a loss, as long as he's not favored by more than a touchdown. In games where he's an underdog following a loss, the Panthers are 10-4 against the spread. These cats know how to bounce back. 

Certainly, the Ravens are difficult to beat at home, but they have failed to cover in four of their last five games at M&T Bank Stadium. They would really have to amp it up for this non-conference game to cover, and we just don't see it happening.

Don't be dissuaded by last week's beat down. We're not locking in a road victory for the Panthers, but it seems like this should be a physical, hard-fought game, and points are too juicy to pass up in this type of contest. Want to be entertained during the game? Download our app from Apple or Google and join in the predictive fun. SnapCall will have plenty of football coverage for you to choose from starting tomorrow at 12:55 PM ET. Get in the game!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Busted Line: Aggies Should Be Giving Double-Digits

In college football’s marquee matchup Saturday, two SEC West schools will clash at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. The opening line in Vegas had the Texas A&M Aggies giving 14.5 points to Arkansas, which certainly raised some eyebrows. Sure, Kevin Sumlin’s A&M squad ranks second in the country in scoring through the first four weeks with 55.3 points per game , but Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks aren’t strangers to the end zone either. Arkansas is averaging over 48 points per game, which ranks just behind the Aggies for third in the country. The shootout is on.

With regards to venue, this isn’t your average neutral site game. Texas A&M is listed as the home team, and College Station sits under 3 hours away from Dallas, so expect some rabid fans to make the trip. However, Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, and AT&T Stadium, is an Arkansas alum, so you better believe there will be an expansive Razorback presence down in the heart of Texas on Saturday afternoon. Taking those factors into play, the line started moving. By Friday morning, it dropped all the way to Texas A&M (-9). Still, we know that all the public money swinging to Arkansas plays right into Vegas’ hands.

There's one reason, and one reason only that the line opened so high to begin with: Kenny "Trill" Hill. Texas A&M’s explosive offense is led by the sophomore QB, who has already looked better at running Kevin Sumlin’s spread passing attack than Johnny Manziel ever did. Hill went out in his first start and broke Johnny Football’s single-game A&M passing record, throwing for 511 yards against a strong SEC foe in South Carolina. He’s carved up lesser football schools in Lamar, Rice and Southern Methodist in subsequent weeks, but don't worry, Hill is no one-week wonder. He'll be letting it fly on Saturday.

Let's make one thing clear though: the Razorbacks, under head coach Bret Bielema, are a force to be reckoned with on the ground. No, they probably can’t hang with the likes of Alabama, LSU, Auburn, or Texas A&M for that matter, but he's definitely instilled a hard-nosed brand of football in Fayetteville. Bielema's Wisconsin teams always prided themselves on running the ball, and these Razorbacks are no different. They’re averaging 324 yards per game on the ground through the first month. Bruising backs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins provide a one-two power punch that’s unmatched in FBS right now. Expect them to do everything possible to chew up clock and keep the ball out of Kenny Hill's hands.

So, Saturday’s clash-of-styles matchup will very simply come down to which school’s defense can slow down the opposing offensive attack. For starters, Arkansas has had trouble developing any pass rush so far this season. If they figure to stop Hill and the Aggies, that will have to change in a hurry. Reggie White is not walking through that door. Coach Bielema may be forced to send regular blitzes at Kenny Hill, forcing him to get the ball out of his hands quickly, thwarting long plays down-field. 

Unfortunately for Arkansas, this Texas A&M offense has weapons all over the field, so they won't be afraid to mix up the play-calling. If the Razorbacks don't disguise their blitz packages, the Aggies could gash them by running the ball right past the extra pressure, leaving nobody to take down the ball carrier. Kevin Sumlin runs the ball on 40% of standard downs and on 38% of "passing downs," so this isn't a foreign strategy for A&M. Long story short, the Aggies will be scoring in droves, one way or another.

With Texas A&M piling on points, how long can Arkansas rely on their own ground game? Expect the Razorbacks to pound away with the run early on in an effort to shorten the game. At some point though, they'll be playing from behind, and the comeback will be put on junior QB Brandon Allen’s shoulders. He hasn’t been forced to make many big plays this season, tossing for a meager 552 yards across four games, so it would be asking too much of him to come in and lead Arkansas back from a sizable deficit. To make matters worse, this Aggie defense, which was one of the worst in the SEC last season, is much improved now. The Razorbacks will have to earn every point if they want to keep up. They must cash in on their redzone trips, and put up 7s instead of 3s, because A&M will be crossing the goal-line more often than not. You always have to be wary of a backdoor cover with a 9 point spread, but feel confident in taking Texas A&M giving the points.

Five of the best college football games going on SnapCall all day tomorrow! The first game starts at noon, so don’t be late!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Don't Count on the Skins Covering Thursday Night

The 1-2 Giants head into FedExField Thursday to take on their bitter NFC East rival, the 1-2 Redskins. The winner gets back to .500 and vaults themselves into an NFC East race that seems to be clinched with 9 wins every year. The Eagles, currently in the division lead at 3-0, make a tough trip to San Francisco Sunday afternoon, so this is a big opportunity for New York or Washington to turn their slow start around. Onto the action:

In Vegas, the line opened at Redskins (-5), but has since been bet down to (-3.5). This tells us that the sharps are expecting a pretty close game. In 2013, home teams were just 7-9-1 against the spread on Thursday Nights, so it's not exactly clear cut.  The standard bettor would tell you that all three home favorites have easily covered in Thursday night action. The Seahawks, Ravens, and Falcons all won by double-digits in weeks 1-3, limiting their opponents to a combined 36 points. Alas, there is a reason why the standard bettor generally loses - eventually. A three week sample size isn't enough for us to lock and load so let's go a bit deeper. 

Over their last 12 meetings, New York has won nine times, including a sweep last season. In addition, Tom Coughlin's Giants have covered 14 of 20 times as road underdogs since 2011. Last season alone, the Giants won outright in two out of their three road contests in the division. Against the entire league, New York posts a 39-19 ATS record on the road since 2006, as long as they're not favored by 3.5 points or more. Tonight of course, they're the underdog. In the Eli Manning era as a whole, New York has gone 30-19 as an underdog, regardless of where the game is played. The numbers are overwhelming.

How have the Skins fared? Well, they haven't won a divisional game since 2012. Those games weren't close either, as Washington only covered once against NFC foes in 2013. If this is not enough context for you, then how about a 5-11 ATS record as home favorites over the past six seasons? We get the hype behind Kirk Cousins, and he very well might fit this pocket-passing offense better than RGIII did, but that doesn't necessarily make them a safe bet.

We know that the on-field play will be a battle, and could go in a few different directions with so many weapons on the field. However, New York may be better equipped for a war. Washington has 17 of 53 players on their roster listed on the injury report this week. As for their big guns, OLB Brian Orakpo, their most talented defensive player, will have a cast on his hand for tonight's game. Their most dynamic skill player, former Eagle DeSean Jackson, played through a shoulder injury in Week 3, and will be forced to do so again. One big hit on the wrong side, and we could see him shy away from contact. Look for the big Giant corners to test that shoulder early with as much contact as they can get away with.

Of course, there are no locks in divisional games, especially the NFC East. Still, if you're banking on the Thursday Night Football home dominance to continue forever, you may be upset on Friday morning. Agree? Disagree? Come join us on SnapCall for the game. Coverage starts at 8:20 PM ET

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Best Injury Replacements for Week 4

Fantasy owners everywhere are panicking over the slew of injuries that ran through the NFL during Week 3. A few big names such as LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles missed time this week, but are looking like they'll be back for Week 4. Instead, it was a core group of role players who found themselves on the season-ending IR Tuesday morning. Despite being middle-round picks during fantasy drafts, these are the guys that earn victories with big weeks, and prove to be hardest to replace. Not sure where to turn on the waiver wire? We've got your back:

Danny Woodhead, RB (SD)

The tiny speed-back had a gruesome lower-leg injury on a run up the middle during the first quarter of this week's game. He has already undergone surgery on a fractured fibula and ankle and will be lost for the rest of the season. Ryan Matthews, who shared backfield duties with Woodhead in San Diego, is set to be out 3-4 more weeks with an ailing knee. Enter Donald Brown. The former UConn product was looking like a fruitless signing in the off-season, but is now thrust into a starting role. This seems eerily familiar. 

Throughout his time in Indianapolis, Brown was called upon by struggling backfields on more than one occasion. He's had a good deal of success, averaging over 4 yards per carry for his career. He has a nose for the endzone too, crossing the goal line 6 times last year on just 102 carries. For the next couple of weeks at least, he'll be the go-to guy on a San Diego offense that has really been clicking. He's the obvious choice to replace Woodhead if necessary, but if you'd rather jump off the Chargers bandwagon, there are probably a few names out there that can put up respectable numbers on a weekly basis.

Recommended low-level RB targets: Donald Brown (SD), James Starks (GB), LeGarrette Blount (PIT), Khiry Robinson (NO), Lorenzo Taliaferro (BAL)

Dennis Pitta, TE (BAL)

Just as we recommend the Ravens' back-up RB as a nice pick up for next week, we have to break the bad news in Baltimore. Pitta suffered an ugly hip dislocation on the same hip he had surgically repaired last season. He'll miss the rest of the year, and could have a tough road back to the field. The tight end field is a barren wasteland in fantasy this season, so Pitta owners better buckle up for a tough year. 

Owen Daniels, Baltimore's backup tight end, used to be a solid option when he was in Houston, but he's not really that guy any more. He could net a couple of touchdowns as the year goes on, but other than that, don't expect him to be involved much in the offense. You're better off getting away from the Ravens for this one. The one factor that may be working in his favor is his old head coach, Gary Kubiak, who's the new offensive coordinator. Still a risky play.

If we had to choose one guy who is probably available, we'd snatch up Heath Miller. He's the furthest thing from a boom-or-bust player. Miller is Ben Roethlisberger's safety blanket in Pittsburgh, and has racked up 4 catches in each of his games this year. Last season, Miller found the endzone just once, but secured at least five receptions in seven of his 14 games. We know, those numbers aren't exactly dazzling, but compared to what's on the wire, you should consider yourself lucky to get consistent production at this position.

Recommended targets: Heath Miller (PIT), Jared Cook (STL), Coby Fleener (IND), Dwayne Allen (IND), Owen Daniels (BAL)

DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart, and Mike Tolbert, RB (CAR)

Carolina's backfield completely imploded this week. DeAngelo Williams didn't play at all with a nagging hamstring injury. As if that's not bad enough for a 31-year-old running back whose best years are behind him, both of his backups went down as well. Stewart is perennially injured, and Ron Rivera told the Associated Press Monday that Stewart's already troublesome knee is "severely sprained." Mike Tolbert, the converted fullback, stepped into action when Stewart went down against Pittsburgh. He looked good too, until the injury bug bit again. An x-ray revealed a fracture in Tolbert's right leg, and he'll be out a while. 

We can't stress enough to stay away from the Panthers' RB situation. Williams may return soon, so play him if you have him, but don't go out on a limb to pickup fourth-stringer Fozzy Whittaker. Just because he'll be on the field doesn't mean he'll offer production. In fact, Cam Newton will probably absorb most of those carries. Let's go off the board:

Of course, running backs get snatched up quickly, so if you can't grab any of the five guys we named above, you'll have to hope to catch lightning in a bottle. If you're going for boom-or-bust, speed backs are usually your best bet. If you're really that desperate, try to nab some of these guys...

Recommended targets: Dexter McCluster (TEN), Roy Helu Jr. (WAS), Jaquizz Rodgers (ATL), Jordan Todman (JAX), Antone Smith (ATL)

Nobody wants to rely on fantasy free agents to win weeks, but with BYE weeks coming, owners would be smart to put some time into their decisions. Every championship fantasy team generally has a well-chosen injury replacement on their squad. Give these moves careful thought, it could make or break your year.