2016 NFL: Super Bowl LI Bettor’s Guide

2016 NFL: Super Bowl LI Bettor’s Guide
M.D. Wright

This Super Bowl will be intriguing from several standpoints, but the bottom line is if the officials stay out of the way and let the players play, that intrigue will come to fruition. Otherwise, it will be an eyesore to watch, much like the AFC Championship was for the aforementioned reasons.

Last Week:
SU: 0-2
ATS: 0-2

SU: 4-6
ATS: 1-9

Atlanta Falcons vs. New England Patriots
NRG Stadium
Houston, Texas
Sunday, February 5, 2017
6:30 PM EST
My Call: ATL +3
Over/Under: Over 58

There isn’t much that needs to be said here. League’s best offense, and the league’s best points against defense. Although most of that was garnered against subpar quarterbacks and bad teams, for New England.

Bottom line, if you believe the officials stay out of the way, you take the Falcons win. If you believe the officials will swing the game (because we know there’s no way it gets swung in Atlanta’s favor), you take New England to win.

The Super Bowl is too big of a game to have officials swing openly swing them, so we’re not taking New England here.

Atlanta                                               34
New England                                   26

2016 NFL Championship Week Bettor’s Guide

2016 NFL Championship Week Bettor’s Guide
M.D. Wright

Championship weekend, where the stakes are high, while Vegas and individual bookmakers either make a killing or get killed. We’ve gotten absolutely KILLED on spreads in the postseason, which isn’t all that unheard of, but many of the playoff games have gone against trends thus far, and, if that continues, the two road underdogs will win this week. Let’s dig in.

Last Week:
SU: 2-2
ATS: 1-3

SU: 4-4
ATS: 1-7

Green Bay Packers vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Georgia Dome
Atlanta, Georgia
Sunday, January 22, 2017
3:05 PM EST
My Call: GB +6
Over/Under: Over 60

The final game in the Georgia Dome, and they promise it will be loud (thereby opening up themselves to allegations of pumping in noise again). This will be a shootout, and for those who like watching offenses march up and down the field unimpeded by defenses incapable of offering resistance, this will be your game to take the over and keep it moving. A few things, however:

Green Bay expects to have Davante Adams and Jordy Nelson back for this game. Nelson’s probably going to get a shot or two in order to play, and it will be palpable to watch and see if he can finish the game (ribs) or how effective he can be at all. Busted ribs makes simple things such as breathing a task, much less playing wide receiver with several defenders looking to take your head off every time you catch a pass. Additionally, Geronimo Allison and Morgan Burnett were limited in practice and are true game-time decisions. At this stage of the game, it would not be wise to bet against Aaron Rodgers, regardless, although the spate of injuries could be finally catching up to Green Bay. Every one of their top five wide receivers is banged up, and that includes Randall Cobb, who just returned from a late season injury for the Wild Card two weeks ago, and Jeff Janis, who was nursing an injury, as well. Burnett’s absence, should he miss the game, would be critical.

Atlanta’s generally healthy, although they will miss Adrian Clayborn. Vic Beasley is the only legitimate threat of a pass rusher, although Dwight Freeney was kept on ice for the most part during the regular season so that he could rev it up in the playoffs. He will command attention, but he will likely only play one-fifth of the defensive snaps for the Falcons.

Green Bay may be able to get away with playing zone to neutralize big plays by Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, but, as is always the case in playoff games, 3rd down offense and defense are the determining factors, and this is where having both Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman benefits Atlanta. Despite the plethora of weapons and a young, emerging defense that has appeared to turn the corner and knowing their roles in Dan Quinn’s Seattle-based defense, it is just not a smart move to bet against Aaron Rodgers right now. Vic Beasley will have a say (at times) however.

Green Bay                      38
Atlanta                           34

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Sunday, January 22, 2017
6:40 PM EST
My Call: PIT +6
Over/Under: Over 50

The Over/Under is sketchy, because this could be a defensive battle for 2 1/2 quarters, and then a deluge of offense, or it could be a shootout from the get-go. Neither defense is really that good, although you have to give the edge to Pittsburgh. New England — in this game — is facing only their second legitimate (or third, if you want to consider Carson Palmer or Tyrod Taylor as “legitimate”) quarterback all season; and they lost that game (Russell Wilson, Seattle) and also lost to Taylor’s Bills. Add in that the Cardinals were in a season-long flux, a game that Arizona absolutely should have defeated New England, and most of the inflated defensive statistics for New England are just that: fluff. When they face good quarterbacks, which they will with Ben Roethlisberger, they are a below average defense.

Now with that in mind, all the excuses that were not heard when New England was winning are mounting: “Gronkowski’s out for season” or “Amendola’s just coming back, he’s rusty”, “Bennett’s injured and been a disappointment for weeks” or “Alls Brady has is Edelman and White.”

But we’ll hear none of it. Every team has its share of injuries to key players. As for the players who will play, New England does not match up favorably against Pittsburgh in any facet, but execution is key. Pittsburgh can be sloppy with the ball, and they must be prepared to face a good number of blitzes and exotic coverages as they want to take away Le’Veon Bell’s rushing attack, and make passing for Roethlisberger a confusing task as frequently as possible. Roethlisberger is prone to a a forced throw or two, or running into a sack while attempting to hit a home run play, and must avoid these in this game. Tom Brady will be well-acquainted with Ryan Shazier by the end of this game (we’ll predict that Shazier will get flagged for a roughing or personal foul for a legal hit at some point in this game, which may lead to points for New England on a drive). New England’s defense is as mediocre as it gets, despite the deceptive statistics. Pittsburgh’s overall speed on defense can mask a number of mistakes, but guys like Artie Burns and Mike Mitchell are going to get a lot of work in this game. Eye discipline is integral and those guys (weak side, which is generally Edelman’s side) are key to Pittsburgh stifling New England’s relatively one-dimensional offense.

We think they will.

Pittsburgh                   27
New England              24

2016 New York Football Giants Season Recap/2017 NFL Draft Outlook

2016 New York Football Giants Season Recap/2017 NFL Draft Outlook
M.D. Wright

Now that the deadline has passed  (January 16, 2017) for college underclassmen who are draft eligible to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft, we will do something of a combination article with regards to the full assessment of the 2016 season for the New York Football Giants and look ahead at team needs heading into the 2017 NFL Draft and which positions may be upgraded through free agent, as well.

We’re not going to nitpick and beat dead horses, but just go position group by position group as well as grade the coaching, while pointing out the areas of highest need via the Draft and Free Agency. There is plenty of time to gripe about what was and wasn’t in 2016, but in reality, excluding the defense, which was as good as it was expected to be, tempered expectations should have been the rule entering the season. This team was still a year away from having the type of personnel on the offensive side of the football to achieve its ultimate goals, and an 11-5 season, no matter the disappointment which concluded the campaign, gave the team something to build upon. It certainly beats the completely rudderless ship that was the team at the end of the 2015 season. With that, we’ll move into the assessment.

General Manager: Jerry Reese.
Reese finds himself in the midst of a good bit of criticism in recent years due to the team’s four straight missed playoff seasons, and an early exit in 2016, but much of the criticism is off-base (we won’t address it here) and overblown, while the several positives that have been done since 2014 are merely alluded to as footnotes while detractors highlight the moves that are disagreed with. As it is, the team secure the services of Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins and Damon Harrison, while retaining Jason Pierre-Paul, who was coming off a 2015 season where he could have been franchise tagged.

However, the Giants went from scoring nearly 27 PPG in 2015 to barely 20 PPG in 2016, despite a couple of upgrades in personnel prior to the season. It was a baffling campaign, and one that the front office will look to improve upon heading into the 2017 season.

Head Coach: Ben McAdoo.
McAdoo was in his rookie season as a head coach in the NFL, and the reviews on his initial campaign are mixed. While the Giants obviously improved upon their all-time franchise worst defensive showing in 2015 — anything would have been an improvement — the offense took just as many steps back, and some of the reasons are still confounding. Some will point to the offensive line, receivers, running back, even the quarterback, but there was no sole culprit; just a myriad of things that precluded the team from realizing its fullest abilities offensively. There were questions entering the season whether McAdoo or offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan would call plays, and, after a few weeks of fielding questions on the subject, McAdoo flatly ceased to address the matter thereafter. It was a Grassy Knoll situation; everyone wanted to know who called the plays so they could know upon whom they could direct their ire. Most of us believed it was McAdoo, but at this point, who cares? The rookie head coach appeared to be in over his head at several junctures, while also infusing the team with confidence that he would “go for it” on 4th downs. Some of the aggression was ill-conceived and cost the Giants in a couple of games. Sometimes, it was warranted and did not come. But the biggest issue with the Giants was offensive inconsistency and play calling, and it is to be expected from a rookie head coach who may or may not have also maintained play calling from his offensive coordinator days.

Eli Manning does not miss games, so this section is solely about him. Manning is what he is; a 36-year old quarterback who has never been mistaken as a “runner” or even “mobile” beyond being able to move around the pocket or occasionally flush when necessary. In recent seasons, however, the more that Manning flushes, the less frequently something comes from it. These are not designed flushes, but errors in pass protection from the offensive line, or missed blocking assignment by whichever running back was in the backfield at the time. Overall, Manning’s numbers were solid, (4,027 pass yards, 26 TD, 16 INT, 86 rating) although he can no longer blame his interception totals on Rueben Randle. Most of them were not tipped balls or wrong routes, but forced throws that should have never been made on maybe seven or eight of the 16 INT. There was a time when Manning would have INTs either on the aforementioned scenarios (and it wasn’t always Randle or any of the receivers’ fault, but MOSTLY) and taking shots downfield. Many of Manning’s INTs in 2016 came on short and intermediate throws that flummoxed even former NFL players when watching replays. In season 13. He’s not “declining,” but with a pocket quarterback, the offensive line and backs must be above average and not pedestrian to subpar, which some members of the offensive line and running back group indeed are. Couple that with McAdoo’s offensive philosophy and things really must be on point or it will be disjointed as the Giants offense was all season (and McAdoo’s former team, Green Bay’s was, before they went on their late season winning streak).

Running Backs.
Rashad Jennings is a great human being, but he’s seen his best days as an NFL running back. He obviously watches tons of film, because 2016 featured him taking parts of games from several players: ranging from end-career Thomas Jones, who constant ran blindly up the backs of his offensive linemen while missing holes, to thinking he is Le’Veon Bell with the bunny hop, skip and go style behind the line, while missing holes, to tip toeing like the Kissing Bandit on The Flintstones behind the line of scrimmage, while… yes… missing holes. It’s on film. At 6’1″ 230 lbs, relatively upright as a runner, lacking top end speed or shiftiness, those three things area  death knell to a RB. Paul Perkins immediately came in and played better behind the same line. The Giants should have gone to Perkins sooner. Not even the typical concerns about pass protection were legitimate worries for Perkins, as he had excelled at every phase of the position during his college years, as well.

Perkins has the quicker feet, shiftiness, vision and explosive play ability that Jennings obviously does not. He isn’t quite the feature back the Giants need, though. And they’re probably fine with this, as you really need two running backs to be optimal rather than running one back 350+ times and limiting his or any other back’s effectiveness due to lack of repetitions. Perkins will obviously have a larger role in 2017 and beyond, and one has to wonder how much of a role Orleans Darkwa will have beyond special teams, as we will discuss later where the Giants should be looking to shore up the RB group.

Bobby Rainey had just as many egregious gaffes as he had positive plays as a Giant. He should be shown the door as soon as possible.

Offensive Line.
Ereck Flowers badly regressed in 2016. While he played left tackle in college, he was never playing against the best of players — excluding match ups against Florida State — against whom he predictably struggled for the most part. His footwork has been sloppy since Pat Flaherty (former Giants offensive line coach, relieved of duties following the dismissal of head coach Tom Coughlin in January 2016) left, his handiwork is either awful or non-existent, he gets in over his hips — an absolute no-no for offensive linemen; particularly tackles facing speed rushers on most QBs’ blind side — and his shoddy technique lends to penalties and pressures at a higher rate than any left tackle in the NFL. The penalties are one thing, as officials pick and choose who they call penalties for the exact same things, depending on reputation. However, if Flowers were solid in his technique, he still would not yield the pressures or get flagged at half the rate that he did in 2016. The Giants need to decide whether he is cut out for the position. He has the size and mobility to pull it off, but along with concerns about his fitness level, does he have the desire to maximize his potential as a premier left tackle? If not, you cannot even put him at right tackle, and he may be too tall to play guard. The Giants have questions to answer here, and there are no more than three franchise left tackles in the 2017 Draft (none will be available when the Giants pick at #23 overall). If they want Eli Manning to finish his current contract in one piece, they better figure it out before the 2017 season commences.

Justin Pugh was once rated #1 among left guards before he was injured midseason. The team really missed him during his several games absence, and began running the football better behind he and Flowers (who is at the very least, good at road grading). He is versatile enough to move anywhere else on the line in a pinch if need be, but has found his home at left guard and is the least of the Giants’ concerns on a shaky (but not nearly as bad as talking heads and alarmist fans think) offensive line.

Weston Richburg proved to be a solid 2nd Round pick, and has anchored the middle of the offensive line, while remaining healthy, which is key.

John Jerry’s contract expires this offseason, and at right guard, the Giants will have questions. Does Jerry want to return? Do the Giants want him back? If they do not want him back, do they move Bobby Hart inside at right guard, or Flowers? Same for the right tackle position? There aren’t any game-changing offensive linemen who will actually hit (read: Riley Reiff and Earl Watford) the market, so the Giants may be wise to move Flowers or Hart to right guard and right tackle respectively, and if there is a role for Will Beatty on this team in 2016, it could be at one of the tackle positions, but this is a long shot.

Marshall Newhouse wasn’t quite the turnstile later in the season that he had been in 2015 and early in the 2016 season, but he is not the answer at right tackle, either. If the Giants have any aspirations to build upon their 11-5 season in 2016, they need to get these bookend tackle and right guard questions answered before OTAs.

Tight Ends.
Larry Donnell should be a goner, without really going into detail about his game.

Jerrell Adams has promise as a potential starting tight end, but he is still raw. The Giants have his services and those of Will Tye on the cheap, but they would still be doing themselves favors by looking to bring back Martellus Bennett (who obviously does not know how Bill Belichick does business if he thinks he’s getting the money or term that he wants from New England this offseason). There are also a plethora of highly skilled and athletic tight ends entering the 2017 NFL Draft.

Wide Receivers.
This section will be quite frank in discussion, because there are some things that must be said about this corps that many fans won’t admit to themselves.

For starters, the Giants don’t have a bona fide possession receiver; particularly one with size. This does not include in-line tight ends, but a true zone beater who can find the soft spot of a zone, sit down, box out if need be, and also command bracketed coverage on the outside and still beat it with size and strength. Given that the Giants run an offense that virtually (well, the intent is, obviously Manning is not Aaron Rodgers) mirrors that which Green Bay employs, a Jordy Nelson type player is one that is missing from the Giants receiving corps. They had hoped that Rueben Randle would have been that guy when they drafted him, but that obviously did not pan out.

Everyone was glad that Victor Cruz was healed from his severe injuries and was cleared to play, but it was evident early on in his career that he was better suited to play in the slot and could not hold up outside with consistent effectiveness, and this was part of the reason the Giants offense stalled all season. Kudos for Cruz and his determination to return, but he’s clearly lost a step with explosiveness, speed and quick cutting motions. Most guys never return from that type of injury, but this is the reality that is the National Football League, and considering how much the Giants need to utilize Sterling Shepard and Odell Beckham in the slot to create match ups, they need the big bodied possession receiver (but also preferably one who can run downfield, however infrequently such a receiver comes along) to open up the field when teams rely upon zones and trap coverages to confuse Manning when he gets into “force it to Odell” mode. Cruz is not that guy when he’s outside, although he battled on the outside and came up with some great catches on 50/50 balls at times in 2016.

Sterling Shepard was a known quantity in college and showed flashes of what he could be when he has room to roam in the slot, which he will likely be as the primary guy in 2017 and beyond. He had a fantastic statistical season as it was (65 catches, 683 yards and 8 TD) while receiving about one-third of the targets that Beckham received. He is a top tier route runner, an understanding of the nuances that come with operating out of the slot, and is quick and shifty as the best slot receivers typically are. Once the Giants have their big bodied receiver on the outside, Shepard and Beckham will really be what some thought the trio of Beckham-Cruz-Shepard was going to be entering the season. Too many fans expected 30 points per game with an explosive, unstoppable passing game, and when it never consistently materialized (take away Beckham’s solo efforts after catches and it never materialized period), the ranting began. However, none of these receivers are taller than 5’11” or weigh more than 200 lbs. With the philosophy of the offense placing an onus on the receivers to “win” every route or the play dissolves due to the lack of running ability by Manning, the Giants were too predictable to defenses, particularly when they (allegedly) tipped routes, failed to beat press, and obviously struggled to run the football, which enabled teams to play tons of 2-man and deep-thirds coverage, making finding receivers for completions a literal maze for Manning. The offensive line opening up rush lanes for running backs typically will bring a safety (or both) down into the box from many defenses, and the Giants rarely forced teams to do this. Even when teams blitzed, it wasn’t in response to the run game, but to harass Manning before he had a chance to pick apart whatever looks they were in. Giants fans will hate to admit it, but the Giants need the type of offensive line play (with similar leniency from officials that Dallas gets) and a game-changing running back in order to get what they want out of the passing game — and what some fans foolishly expected entering 2016. Until then, it will be like beating one’s head against the wall hoping and expecting for magical play calls to take the team out of its doldrums.

Tavarres King has promise, probably more so than Roger “Otto” Lewis, and Dwayne Harris (who will be 30 this upcoming season, and barely saw the field as a receiver, while having a mostly awful showing as a punt and kickoff returner, regardless of his Pro Bowl vote), although all three will likely be on the team next season, do not be surprised if Harris is cut now that his guarantees have been paid. His cap hit will exceed $4 Million after 2017, after virtually an entire season of not playing wide receiver, and his dead cap numbers are not prohibitive. Not calling for it necessarily, but do not be surprised of he is waived.

Defensive Line.
This unit was a veritable sieve in 2015, between injuries to Jason Pierre-Paul, Johnathan Hankins and Robert Ayers being in and out of the lineup all season, so any upgrade was going to be an improvement. As it were, prior to Pierre-Paul’s (in retrospect) season-ending injury in Pittsburgh, the Giants put together an immovable run-stuffing duo at defensive tackle with Hankins and Damon “Snacks” Harrison, while employing two top tier pass rushers who doubled as two of the top five run stuffing defensive ends in Vernon and Pierre-Paul. It was the chief reason the Giants went on a season-defining six-game winning streak and were stout overall; particularly once the unit gelled after Week 5 when sacks and pressures increased in exponential fashion. There is some question whether Pierre-Paul will sign a long-term deal with the Giants and for how much money (considering Vernon’s historical $80M+ contract over five years just last offseason), but the Giants have the cap space to pay him and one or two top free agents that they (should be) looking at. This unit isn’t a concern going forward, although Pierre-Paul’s departure would be noticeable, it would not cripple the team moving forward. Here’s to hoping he stays and plays his entire career with the Giants.

Hankins played very well, even if overshadowed by Harrison in the media’s eyes. Jay Bromley also emerged with increased reps in relief of either or both in injury situations and subpackages. Romeo Okwara, Kerry Wynn and Owamagbe Odighizuwa played well in their respective roles, as well.

This is where the team needs to seriously address the personnel with a top tier player. This is not to shade any of the guys who played any of the three slots this season, because they gave it their all, but teams must have at least one linebacker who can attempt to cover opposing tight ends; which was the lone shortcoming of the Giants defense in 2016 (defending screen passes, which are primarily a linebacker responsibility, as well). Kelvin Sheppard is a serviceable player, but not starting material. Jonathan Casillas has worked himself into a reliable starter, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 now. Keenan Robinson managed to — for the most part — stay healthy in 2016, something he’s never really done, even dating back to University of Texas, and played the best of the linebackers in coverage, while all excelled in flowing to the ball in run support. But the coverage deficiencies against tight ends and screen passes to running backs were the things that gave this defense fits. Some of those glaring issues were covered up by the All Pro efforts of Landon Collins, but there is room for improvement here, and plenty of linebackers with which to choose from between the draft and free agency. If the Giants do not upgrade this position group this offseason, they won’t win anything of note in 2017, either. It is too easy for the better teams in the league to exploit a unit with obvious shortcomings with the types of tight ends that most of the aforementioned types of teams employ in the passing game. There is literally no excuse for the team to not have a fast, rangy, coverage-responsible linebacker on the field in 2017. There will be that many available.

Devon Kennard had a fine season, and this discussion is not about him. BJ Goodson played almost exclusively on special teams, and the team hopes he can become a starter in the near future. J.T. Thomas’ time with the Giants is likely over. Eric Pinkins is an interesting specimen. For one, he can flat out fly. Is he one of those Telvin Smith types, or is he better suited to play free safety? Or both? He hasn’t really played much in the NFL, but there is one thing that he has that none of the other linebackers have: speed. to. burn. Mark Herzlich is exclusively a special teamer and spot player at this stage of his career.

The Giants secondary was arguably the best in the league (albeit de facto once Earl Thomas was lost to injury for Seattle) in 2016, and that’s with a rookie playing at arguably the most important position in the secondary for most of the season — Andrew Adams at free safety. By most metrics, Janoris Jenkins (who was often criticized in this space, mostly due to being a former University of Florida player and a noted gambler on the field in St. Louis) was rated the best cornerback in the NFL in 2016, and earned what he was paid. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who is often overlooked by the talking heads when discussing the Giants defense, proved his worth both in the close out game in Washington in Week 17, and in his absence in Green Bay in the NFC Wild Card, as the Giants could not cover  the slot, which is what made the defense so impenetrable all season. However, the trio of “Jackrabbit” Jenkins, “DRC” and Landon Collins all received All Pro honors.

Collins came the farthest from 2015 into 2016. For those who watch college football, everyone knew he excelled “in the box” but had major questions about his abilities in coverage; particularly in single high situations. He answered those this year, although he had a couple of major blunders, particularly in the Pittsburgh game, every safety does. He has progressed to the point where one may have figured for him to reach by his fourth season, not second. Andrew Adams played well and did not get the team beat, with the fortune of staying healthy, unlike the Thompson boys and Nat Berhe, he has a leg up in reps and experience and can now build upon 2016 with that experience to now become a big time playmaker at free safety. The Giants are set in the secondary if they remain healthy. One would think that “DRC” would want to keep his current monies and restructure, rather than risk going elsewhere and looking for a large signing bonus that may not come. However, the Giants are going to have to restructure his contract (along with one or two others and release four players) if they plan to retain Pierre-Paul and make runs at players at key positions of need.

Brad Wing was fine all season, until the Wild Card, and he, along with the kick coverage and kick return teams all came up short in critical field position scenarios. Although the weather and temperatures were not ideal for punting and place kicking, Wing will likely admit that he still did not have his best game. In fact, it may have been the worst game he had all season in terms of placement and distance. It is not why the Giants lost to Green Bay, as there were a multitude of reasons, but it was not the time for one of the best punters in the league to have one of his worst games. Overall, he was sterling the rest of the season.

Place Kicker(s).
After the Josh Brown fiasco, Randy Bullock, and later, Robbie Gould came in and did very good jobs on field goals. Gould’s short kickoffs are concerning if the Giants even have any plans of bringing him back in 2017. The return teams were actually good this season. Both punt returns for touchdowns (both by Beckham) were negated by penalties that weren’t penalties. The kickoff return team was better than Dwayne Harris (and his nonchalant, lackadaisical runs) and his statistics indicate. Anyone with real speed or explosion may have taken back a couple of kicks for touchdowns, but Harris doesn’t and never did have that gear. Coverage teams were either very good or very bad, depending on the week, and the very bad often came out of nowhere and at the worst possible times. But that’s special teams for you. Outside of Seattle and Kansas City, no one has consistently good special teams in all facets.

Areas of Biggest Need: Offensive Tackle, Right Guard (?), Running Back, X-WR, Middle Linebacker.

Available (Worthwhile) Unrestricted Free Agent Targets:
Earl Watford, Offensive Tackle.
Riley Reiff, Offensive Tackle.
Mike Adams, Offensive Tackle.
Matt Kalil, Offensive Tackle.
Vlad Ducasse, Guard
Ted Larsen, Guard
Kevin Zeitler, Guard
Ronald Leary, Guard
Larry Warford, Guard
T.J. Lang, Guard
Oday, Aboushi, Guard
Hugh Thornton, Guard
Luke Joeckel, (Converted) Guard
Brian Schwenke, Guard
Chance Warmack, Guard
Isaiah Crowell, Running Back (actually Restricted, but Browns may let walk).
Latavius Murray, Running Back.
Terrelle Pryor, Wide Receiver.
Kenny Britt, Wide Receiver.
Andre Holmes, Wide Receiver.
Sean Spence, Inside Linebacker.
Gerald Hodges, Inside Linebacker.
Zach Brown, Inside Linebacker.
Kevin Minter, Inside Linebacker.

2017 NFL Draft
As many know, the Giants’ 4th round selection in the 2017 Draft was moved to the end of the round, behind any compensatory (of which there are rarely more than one or two, if any), when they were already picking 23rd in the round. In other word, the “walkie talkie” much ado about nothing didn’t change much of what the Giants would have done in that round. With regard to what the Giants will be best served in doing with the 23rd overall pick in the 1st Round, however, there are more questions.

Making the playoffs is a great thing, it builds confidence, momentum, something to rally around going forward and the like. However, what it also does is place you farther away from picking immediate help via college eligible players via the draft. The 2017 NFL Draft promises to be a deep one, a good three or four rounds of players who will be regular starters in the league. But when you attempt to project what team will select what (or what type) of player in the 1st Round, one must consider the needs of the teams selecting earlier in the round. There’s always one or two teams that throws you for a loop either by trading future picks to move up and select sooner than slotted, or by taking a player that no one ever saw them taking. Nevertheless, those scenarios are rather infrequent, although 1st Round in-draft trades have become more common in recent years.

Look at what the 22 selections prior to the Giants’ 23rd pick are likely to consist of, based upon teams most pressing need:

1. Cleveland.
Everything. Including Quarterback, depending on who you believe within that organization. They have to start someplace, however. There is a massive talent deficiency on that team on both sides of the ball, although arguably, they can hack it with a Robert Griffin III or Cody Kessler, in the event they take a defensive end (Jonathan Allen, Myles Garrett) or a “skill position” player outside of QB. They can use a couple of linemen on both sides of the ball, to be honest. They’re likely to be looking at OL/DL or QB.

2. San Francisco.
They’re basically in the same boat, which is why they are picking here. They don’t even have QB, though. We think they move on from Colin Kaepernick. Don’t believe John Elway’s public comments about Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, he’d be a fool to tip his hand if he were actually looking to make a move to sign Kaepernick. They need almost a complete remake on defense, though.We think they’ll be looking at DL, WR and QB.

3. Chicago.
They need a QB. If they’re smart, they move on from both Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley (unless it is in a clear backup role). They have some pieces on defense, although many of them got injured within a month’s time in 2016. They need to upgrade their WR corps, as well.

4. Jacksonville.
The need at RB wouldn’t be perceived to be as high as some thing if Blake Bortles played better in 2016. It’s not as if his offensive line was bad; particularly once Luke Joeckel was moved inside to guard, which may be Ereck Flowers’ fate with the Giants. They still need another pass rusher and cornerback before taking a running back, but if Leonard Fournette is where they are looking, it’s not necessarily a bad move. Bortles’ play must improve or Fournette’s rookie season would mirror that of Todd Gurley’s in 2016.

5. Tennessee (via Los Angeles).
The Rams mortgaged the rest of their future through the end of this decade to get Jared Goff #1 in the 2016 Draft. Thus far, that has not paid dividends, but it is extremely early to judge that trade. Goff should be able to come in and pass for Aaron Rodgers’ current run type statistics to justify such a move. However, as it is, the Titans’ trade of that pick pays off, as they can draft the cornerback or safety (likely the former) that they so desperately need. They have pretty much everything else they need covered with later picks and free agency, but they need a top tier cornerback. Now, whoever you think that may be, we’ll see.

Bottom line, it is the same story with picks 6-22. Most of these teams are looking at offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and wide receivers. A couple of cornerbacks and one guy with no real position may go within those first 22 picks. There are two teams that absolutely need to look at running back as they have franchise QBs and solid WR situations: Indianapolis and Tampa Bay. This will determine where Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook land. The Colts have other needs at linebacker and in their secondary, as well, and no pass rush to speak of, so do not be so sure that the team expenses a 1st Round pick on a running back no matter how potentially transcendental the running back may be (which Fournette and Cook both project to be in the NFL).

Tampa has its franchise QB, and has two studs at linebacker, and just drafted their future star cornerback in Vernon Hargreaves, but they absolutely must shore up their RB situation, after having gone through six different ball carriers due to injury in 2016 (Doug Martin, Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers, Antone Smith, Peyton Barber, and Mike James), Jameis Winston needs a  solidified left tackle, WR2 and bona fide three-down back going into 2017. Will this be Cook?

If Tampa does not take Cook, he could fall to #23, as other teams have bigger needs than RB, and the Giants should jump all over the selection, if it is available to be made on Cook.

Otherwise, the aforementioned team needs (in order) would necessitate looking at offensive tackles such as Chad Wheeler, Roderick Johnson or Antonio Garcia, players who will still possibly be on the board when the Giants select.

The second round — should the Giants not pursue to reacquaint with Martellus Bennett — would be a good place to search for a tight end. Bucky Hodges, Jordan Leggett and Jeremy Sprinkle (a reach on the latter still being around mid-late 2nd Round) will be good targets.

If the Giants are looking at WR and MLB in the draft, presuming they don’t take either in the 1st or 2nd Round, Kendell Beckwith out of LSU is a guy who may be available as late as the 3rd Round, but that may be pushing it. The team desperately needs a guy of that ilk who is rangy and can finish plays. He has to improve his coverage skills, but most linebackers need to do the same. Raekwon McMillan is an interesting target out of Ohio State, but he would be a 2nd Round pick, unless he has a bad combine. Hardy Nickerson’s son (Hardy) would be a good 4th Round pick, and we know he knows how to play the position his father played.

With regards to the “big receiver” (if Bucky Hodges isn’t the hybrid player chosen who play in line at tight end or break out to play the “X”), Ricky Seals-Jones out of Texas A&M would be perfect, and would not be a reach in the 3rd or 4th Round. Chad Hansen out of Cal would be a good 4th Round pick and is a master of route running.

However, the most intriguing WR target who would be ideal in the late 3rd/early 4th is Stacy Coley out of Miami (FL), speed to burn, good enough size and would complement Beckham and Shepard going forward. The biggest of these targets is Seals-Jones at 6’5″, 235 lbs, and that would be great, if Coley is not in the plans.

The Giants have plenty of opportunities to get the personnel they need offensively and plug the couple of holes they need to fill on defense. There’s absolutely no excuse, barring injury, that the Giants don’t find themselves in 2017 where those who had unrealistic expectations heading into 2016. The first wave of free agency (March 1 and beyond) and the Draft will be the first signs of whether this will come to fruition.

2016 NFL Divisional Playoff Bettor’s Guide (Audio Embedded)

2016 NFL Divisional Playoff Bettor’s Guide (Audio Embedded)
M.D. Wright

Last week was a clean sweep in the loss category for spreads. And it seemed as though the officiating was especially slanted to ensure that home favorites covered their spreads; particularly Seattle and ESPECIALLY Green Bay. The Dolphins turned over the football four times in Pittsburgh territory, which was the difference in the game, and the Raiders just could do nothing positive in any facet against Houston, save for the two fluke scores they managed.

Last Week:
SU: 2-2
ATS: 0-4

SU: 2-2
ATS: 0-4

Divisional Playoff Analysis Here

Seattle Seahawks vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Georgia Dome
Atlanta, Georgia
Saturday, January 14, 2017
4:35 PM EST
My Call: SEA +4
Over/Under: Over 51.5

Media storylines aside (which we always put aside, since they have no real bearing on match ups or the outcomes of games), this game is not going to go the way the first game between these two played out during the regular season. Julio Jones got away with an egregious hands to the face to Richard Sherman, which is why he was ever open on “that play” to begin with, and Atlanta got away with multiple pass interferences on Jermaine Kearse, one in the end zone, which would have likely precluding the final drive by Atlanta being anything more than cutting into a two-score lead. Back to the match ups… For one, Michael Bennett was injured on a cheap block by Jake Matthews early in that game and did not finish. Kam Chancellor did not play in that game. Thomas Rawls did not play in that game. CJ Prosise did not play in that game. Russell Wilson was still hobbled in that game. Earl Thomas being out is important, but all it does is change the way Seattle plays.


Atlanta was stifled in the first half of that game. They proceeded to score on three straight possessions in the 3rd quarter and early 4th, and each time was against Cover 3 (or “deep thirds”) coverage, leaving the weak side outside the numbers vulnerable behind KJ Wright or Bobby Wagner and outside of what WAS Earl Thomas at the time. Seattle blitzed and gave a ton of man looks against Detroit and it worked, and expect them to do more of the same, including some Cover 1 looks to have Chancellor in the box to help slow down the passing attack underneath to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman.

Matt Ryan can move and can run when need be, but he will be running for his life at times in this game. When the Falcons are really carving up teams, opposing defenses can’t get near Ryan for long stretches. He won’t be comfortable enough to go up and down the field all game in this match up. Seattle’s offense is the main question here. Their game has not been portable this season. They’ve been decent offensively at home, but atrocious to flat out embarrassing on the road. Atlanta’s defense, sans Vic Beasley, does not offer much resistance up front, both in run defense and pass defense. Russell Wilson is just clutch in playoff games. Matt Ryan has largely been the antithesis of such. Yes, 2011 was a long time ago, but the Falcons looked similar to this that season, and then Ryan went to East Rutherford, and had happy feet all game against the Giants defense. This game will not be 24-2, but Ryan won’t be comfortable enough frequently enough to put up 30+ points unless Seattle turns over the football multiple times; something we don’t heavily factor into handicapping games.

Michael Bennett will wreck this game.

Seattle                        27
Atlanta                       23

Houston Texans vs. New England Patriots
Gillette Stadium
Foxborough, Massachusetts
Saturday, January 14, 2017
8:15 PM EST
My Call: HOU +15
Over/Under: Under 44.5

Not much to say here. Houston’s defense will slow New England SOME, but they have fared terribly against New England every time they’ve played, and their offense isn’t any better now than it was when they were embarrassed in shutout fashion in primetime during the regular season. People talk about JJ Watt, but he does absolutely nothing in these games, so they don’t (and haven’t) missed him. Jadeveon Clowney is better, and who New England was going to be more concerned with anyway. Along with Whitney Mercilus. This is all about whether you think the Texans will cover. They probably will, in backdoor fashion.

Houston                          13
New England                 27


Green Bay Packers vs. Dallas Cowboys
AT&T Stadium
Arlington, Texas
Sunday, January 15, 2017
4:40 PM EST
My Call: GB +4.5
Over/Under: Over 51.5

The regular season match up between these two teams is irrelevant. Aaron Rodgers could not have played any worse, and it was not forced by Dallas’ defense, either. Let’s get that out of the way; drawing parallels to that game.

Secondly, the other storyline is Green Bay’s win streak, which has been a combination of facing offensively challenged teams and criminal officiating helping their efforts. They won’t have the slanted officiating in this game that they had last week at home (where they typically get it), but may not really need it.

Dallas’ whole game is centered around their offensive line creating rushing lanes for Ezekiel Elliott to out run and overpower the second level of teams’ defenses. It has largely worked, although not against the Football Giants, who the league saw fit to get out of the playoffs by any means necessary last week. Green Bay has gotten back to being decent against the run, but their two safeties are the key in this match up. Clay Matthews knows that he can’t sell out to rush the passer in this game, along with Julius Peppers and Nick Perry, and sometimes stay at home and set the edge to help stuff the run. Elliott will get his, but the thing that breaks teams’ backs against Dallas is bringing one or both safeties down to stop the run and giving single coverage to the receivers, whose sole responsibility thereafter is to outflank the defender for Dak Prescott to dink and dunk on short throws and yards after the catch. Green Bay has actually been halfway decent in this regard in the past two months, but again, facing bad teams or teams whose offenses couldn’t get out of their own way all season, which was the case with their opponent last week.

Dallas’ defense can’t stop Aaron Rodgers, only the officials calling holding against his offensive line, which they are usually not wont to do, will Dallas get off against the Packers’ offense. Ty Montgomery being out would have been more of a killer than Jordy Nelson actually being out for this game (which he will be).

Green Bay                  31
Dallas                         27

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Arrowhead Stadium
Kansas City, Missouri
Sunday, January 15, 2017
8:20 PM EST
My Call: KC -1.5
Over/Under: Over 43.5

The line is 43.5? Okay.

This game is about match ups, not comparisons with Stephen Curry. Yes, the Chiefs do miss Derrick Johnson to a degree, but Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Tamba Hali have had two (Houston four) weeks to rest for this game. Ben Roethlisberger will run into a couple of sacks here and there in games, he also forces throws at times, with Marcus Peters lurking. Le’Veon Bell will be the Chiefs’ focus, and they can contain him (although that does not mean he won’t have about 85-90 yards rushing and 40-50 receiving), but it will be interesting to see how often Antonio Brown is on Peters’ side, because the Steelers would be wise to not look that way. Ladarius Green’s availability would be of the utmost concern in the Chiefs’ minds.

The Chiefs have a different element to their offense than they had last year with Tyreek Hill, along with his contributions in the return game, as well. Those are game-breaking plays that he makes week in and week out. The Steelers defense has settled in nicely since midseason, but they are by no means shutdown. Travis Kelce will take Ryan Shazier downfield and away from the line of scrimmage where he has been extremely disruptive. Everyone’s all over the Steelers, but the Chiefs are a problem, and Hill is a large reason why (as well as for those who unequivocally pick New England to make the Super Bowl when they barely beat Kansas City last year WITHOUT game-changing efforts by Hill).

Pittsburgh                 24
Kansas City               27

2016 NFL Wild Card Weekend Bettor’s Guide

2016 NFL Wild Card Weekend Bettor’s Guide
M.D. Wright

As referenced during last week’s cast, we pointed out how Week 17 can be extremely difficult to handicap. There are desperate teams fighting for their playoff lives, there are teams looking to improve their seedings, teams tanking, teams resting players for part or all of games without much notice, and it affects handicapping. As such, we had the rare week where we handicapped the spreads better than the money line. No excuses, though. This is how it goes in today’s NFL. Particularly in Week 17 of today’s NFL.

Last Week:
SU: 7-9
ATS: 9-7

2016 Season Cumulative Stats:
SU: 161-93-2
ATS: 134-116-7

Wild Card Playoff Analysis Here:
Oakland Raiders vs. Houston Texans
NRG Stadium
Houston, Texas
Saturday, January 7, 2017
4:35 PM EST
My Call: OAK +3.5
Over/Under: Under  37

A lot of people are outright giving this game to Houston on the strength of their defense, as if Oakland’s defense (particularly Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards, Jr.) won’t have a say. Needless to say, the QBs are unlikely to light up the skies, but while Connor Cook has yet to play, the Texans ALSO don’t have film on him. The Raiders know what Osweiler is after playing him a few times in the past couple of seasons.

Oakland                     16
Houston                    13

Detroit Lions vs. Seattle Seahawks
CenturyLink Field
Seattle, Washington
Saturday, January 7, 2017
8:15 PM EST
My Call: DET +8
Over/Under: Over 43.5

Seattle’s better at home, no doubt, but they are still prone to long droughts offensively even at home. And we know about their massive struggles on the road. But before we get there, they have to get this win, which won’t be easy. The spread is a sucker bet for… well… suckers. We picked San Francisco to cover the 9 they were getting last week, and they did (and had a chance to win straight up), and we’ll do the same here. Seattle can’t stop anyone since Earl Thomas was lost for the season. Excluding the Rams game, they’re giving up 32 points per game. Even 23 against San Francisco with 3rd and 4th string running backs and a bunch of #3 WRs. That’s not good. Seattle won’t miss Tyler Lockett AS much in this game, but unless they turn over Matthew Stafford multiple times, we don’t think the Seahawks win going away.

Detroit                         24
Seattle                         26

Miami Dolphins vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Heinz Field
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Sunday, January 8, 2017
My Call: MIA +10
Over/Under: Over 46

Miami just has way too many injuries on their back end defensively. They’ve been without Reshad Jones for most of the season, they lost Isa Abdul-Quddus a couple of games ago. Additionally, Byron Maxwell is unlikely to play, and we saw Tony Lippett — arguably their best remaining defensive back — get shellacked on a block by Michael Floyd in Week 17. He should play, but the Steelers have their “Killer B’s” (Ben, Bell and Brown) together for a playoff game for the first time. This is not the time for the Fins to have secondary injuries.

Offensively, the Fins ran the ball well (at home) against Pittsburgh, but this is IN Pittsburgh this time. The Steelers have been notoriously bad on the road the past couple of seasons, and this is the playoffs. We like the Fins with the points, but no way the Steelers lose this game.

Miami                         20
Pittsburgh                 28

New York Football Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
Lambeau Field
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Sunday, January 8, 2017
4:40 PM EST
My Call: NYG +4.5
Over/Under: Under 44.5

We’ve heard a large number of people talk about ancillary things that have no impact on this game (2007 and 2011 playoff match ups between these two at Lambeau, for instance), and others bringing up things that have zero impact on preparation for the game (the Giants WRs in Miami on an off day, versus being out and partying in the New York metro, as they normally would have), but the bottom line is football is about match ups, not narratives or storylines. You also heard people talk about the 2011 Giants, when the defense was awful until December when they got Osi Umenyiora back for the stretch run and playoffs, and “Eli relied on his run game, he didn’t do anything but get lucky otherwise” when the Giants run and pass blocking was worse than it is this year, despite what some claim.

One of the storylines that the media has created is the “Giants ‘can’t’ run the football, rely on their defense, and only one or two plays by Odell Beckham to win” and Aaron Rodgers this, that and Ty Montgomery the third. We don’t see how this is true since early December, and certainly going into this game.

We hate to even bring up the officials — and their proclivity to allow Green Bay’s offensive line commit every penalty in the book so that Rodgers can “escape and have all day to throw, WHOA! Look at that play!” and the thinking is that Ed Hochuli heading a crew will minimalize this, as he calls games down the middle. That said…

Green Bay has major concerns with their secondary with injuries and shoddy play from those who are healthy (excluding Micah Hyde, who got away with blatant pass interference on a critical play for Detroit in Week 17, and Hasean Clinton-Dix). As such, you can expect Green Bay to keep their safeties back a good deal and force the Giants to take underneath throws. Contrary to the narrative, the Giants have run the ball much better since Paul Perkins became more integrally involved. Maybe the Giants were saving him so that he wouldn’t hit the proverbial rookie wall, but he is far more effective than Rashad Jennings. He adds a dimension of speed, elusiveness and pass receiving that Jennings does not provide. This will force Green Bay out of their two deep shells and engage the linebackers for Green Bay (Joe Thomas is not 100% if he plays). Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers won’t be able to simply tee off rushing the passer if they’re getting gashed on the ground — one of the things you CAN compare to the 2011 playoff game, when Ahmad Bradshaw got critical big gains at important junctures in that game.

If the Giants avoid turnovers, which they’ve MOSTLY done when they’ve won, Green Bay will be hard pressed to hold them under 20 points. They may not need more than 20 or 23 to win this game.

Conversely, for all the accolades Green Bay has gotten and all of the statistics Rodgers has put up, this is the best defense (by far) the Packers have faced during their current winning streak. Their receivers will struggle to get open and no one runs well on the Giants defense. The two areas where the Giants defense has issues is defending screen passes — and you can expect to see a good deal of it if they get pressure on Rodgers early — and defending tight ends on intermediate and seams routes. Jared Cook and Richard Rodgers will be the chain movers for Green Bay, not Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb (if he plays, otherwise Geronimo Allison) or Davante Adams. The Giants have the benefit of blitzing when they want to versus being forced to do so in order to generate pressure on the QB. This enables them to mostly keep their secondary back in coverage and flow to the football, which is why they led the league in passing yardage per play and yards after the catch against on the season.

All in all, turnovers would change the projection on this game, but we are struggling to figure out where all these points that people think Green Bay will score are coming from. If they get 20, it will be shocking.

NY Giants                       23
Green Bay                       17