NHL Betting: Three Keys To Success For The Chicago Blackhawks in 2013-14

1-chicago-blackhawks-toews-hossa-2013-stanley-cup-playoffsThe Chicago Blackhawks were the undisputed best team in the NHL for the 2012-13 season. Chicago breezed through the regular season and won the President’s Trophy handily. Then Chicago did something that has not been done since 2007-08; they won the Stanley Cup in the same season they won the President’s Trophy. The Blackhawks made sure that it retained its Stanley Cup winning roster this time, avoiding the fire sale that happened the last time the team won the Cup. Chicago is the odds-on favorites to win it all again this year, and there is little that could really stop this team from repeating as Stanley Cup champions. Then again, sports fans were saying the same thing about the Los Angeles Kings retaining their Stanley Cup championship and that did not work out well at all.

2014 Stanley Cup Odds: 6/1

Key #1: Corey Crawford needs to be consistent.

Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford finally got the big contract that every goalie dreams of and he deserved it as well. He not only backstopped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup championship last season, he and his former backup Ray Emery also won the Jennings Trophy for the best goals against in the league. But Emery and Crawford split time last season, which had a lot to do with Crawford’s development. With Emery gone to Philadelphia, Crawford is on his own and it could be a scary thing for this very young goaltender. He has talent, now he just needs to put that talent to work and show everyone that he deserves that big contract.

Key #2: Stay focused.

There were times last season when the Chicago Blackhawks actually made playing NHL hockey look easy. They would destroy the top competition in the league and, in many instances, without breaking a sweat. They were a focused team and they were rewarded for their focus with a Stanley Cup championship. Lately, the Blackhawks have been doing television commercials and making public appearances that glorify their talents. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but it can cause a team to lose that focus. The Blackhawks know what it takes to win a Stanley Cup championship. We will all find out this season if they are able to maintain that focus, or if the glory has gone to their heads.

Key #3: Change nothing else.

When you are a Stanley Cup champion that is the undisputed best team in the NHL and you retain your entire roster, then change nothing else. The one noticeable difference is the loss of Ray Emery and that could be significant if Crawford cannot handle the heat. But, otherwise, the Chicago Blackhawks should just keep everything the same and take the same approach this season that they took last season. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it.

Click here to get a full list of NHL futures for the 2013-14 NHL season.

NHL Betting: Three Keys To Success For The St. Louis Blues in 2013-14

hi-res-159739503_crop_650x440When Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach of the St. Louis Blues two years ago, everything instantly changed for St. Louis. The team went from being a Western Conference cellar dweller to being one of the top three teams in the conference in one season. But St. Louis has been unable to translate its regular season success into playoff rewards. Over the past two playoff runs, the Blues have not made it to the Stanley Cup finals and that is starting to irritate the players and the fans. This season, the Blues are one of the favorites to win the Cup, but they will need to make some pretty drastic changes to their approach if they want to win the big prize.

2014 Stanley Cup Odds: 12/1

Key #1: Score goals.

It doesn’t matter where the goals come from, but the St. Louis Blues need to score more goals. The team has been stocking up on defensemen who can put the puck in the net, and that is going to help. But the offensive forwards in St. Louis need to start putting the puck in the net. St. Louis needs to start getting away from one-goal games and start finishing teams off in the third period. There is a lot that the Blues can do to score more goals, but the bottom line is that the Blues need to put the biscuit in the basket a lot more often if they want to win games.

Key #2: Jaroslav Halak must stay healthy.

Goaltender Brian Elliott has been repeatedly called on to finish playoff series after starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak has been injured. Halak only played two playoff games for the Blues in 2011-12 and he was injured prior to last season’s playoffs and missed the whole thing. During the regular season, Elliott and Halak provide a potent 1-2 punch that is able to keep Halak rested for the playoffs. But Halak has been unable to answer the bell because of injuries. If the Blues are going to be a successful playoff team in 2013-14, then Jaroslav Halak needs to stay healthy and he needs to be the goalie that the team can rely on in the playoffs.

Key #3: The Blues need to be just a little better on the road.

When a team posts a road record of 14-9-1 for the shortened 2012-13 season, it can be difficult to find a fault with the team’s approach. But the Blues are a little too inconsistent on the road and many of those wins were one-goal games. The Blues are extremely comfortable at home, but they will need to be just a little more dominating on the road if they want to live up to the expectation of being a real Stanley Cup contender.

Click here to get a full list of NHL futures for the 2013-14 NHL season.

NFL Monday

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Miami DolphinsMIAMI DOLPHINS (3-0) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (3-0)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New Orleans -7.5 & 49
Opening Line & Total: Saints -6 & 48

Both the Dolphins and the Saints look to remain undefeated when the two square off in New Orleans on Monday night.

Miami is coming off a last-minute victory over the Falcons that helped them remain unbeaten. The Saints, on the other hand, improved to 3-0 with a 31-7 blowout victory over the Cardinals. Since head coach Sean Payton returned from a year-long suspension, New Orleans looks like a completely different team than they did a year ago. Since 1992, these teams have met just five times with New Orleans holding the 3-2 overall advantage and 2-1 home edge, both SU and ATS. The most recent meeting was a 46-34 win-and-cover in favor of the Saints in October of 2009, when QB Drew Brees threw for 298 yards and scored three touchdowns (1 passing, 2 rushing), but also tossed three picks. Brees has won his past eight Monday night games, throwing for 2,467 yards (308 YPG) with 24 TD and just 5 INT. The Saints are 17-6 ATS (74%) in dome games and 18-7 ATS (72%) in all games played on turf over the past three seasons. They are also 10-1 ATS as home favorites of seven points or less during that span. One trend that favors Miami is that the Dolphins are 7-0 ATS off a non-conference game over the past three seasons, winning those seven contests by an average score of 27 to 12.

The Dolphins are coming off of an impressive home victory over the Falcons in which QB Ryan Tannehill led a game-winning drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dion Sims with 43 seconds remaining to give Miami the 27-23 win. Tannehill played a strong game for the Dolphins, going 24-of-35 for 236 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT. Tannehill connected with four different receivers for at least four receptions in the game. His top target on the day was WR Brandon Gibson, who had six catches for 49 yards. WR Brian Hartline also hauled in four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. The one disappointment was top WR Mike Wallace who caught just two passes, which came one week after a monster nine-catch, 115-yard performance. RB Lamar Miller had only eight carries in the game, but they were productive as he rushed for 62 yards (7.8 YPC). However, Miami still needs to improve its offensive balance with an above-average passing game (249 passing YPG, 14th in NFL), but the fifth-worst rushing attack (70 rushing YPG). On defense, Dannell Ellerbe was a standout last week as he recorded 10 tackles and was all over the field making plays. The Dolphins, however, failed to record a sack, and lost DE/LB Cameron Wake (15 sacks in 2012) for 2-to-3 weeks with a knee injury. Miami’s defensive ranks are below average both against the pass (263 YPG, 20th in NFL) and the run (109 YPG, 19th in league), but it has forced six turnovers.

The Saints are undefeated this season and while a lot of the praise may go to Sean Payton, plenty of it should be going to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. New Orleans hasn’t let an opponent score more than 17 points so far this season, after being one of the worst defense in the league last year when they surrendered an NFL-high 440 total YPG and gave up the second-most points at 28.4 PPG. In Sunday’s 31-7 victory over Arizona, the Saints allowed just 247 total yards, recorded four sacks and forced two turnovers for the third straight game. On offense, QB Drew Brees went 29-of-46 with 342 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also added 21 yards on the ground with a 7-yard rushing touchdown. TE Jimmy Graham was his number one target and he was absolutely unstoppable, catching nine of the 15 passes intended for him for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Top WR Marques Colston pitched in five receptions for 71 yards on the day. While the Saints will look to throw early and often with their fourth-ranked passing offense (319 YPG), the ground game needs some work, gaining just 86 YPG (24th in NFL) with zero running back touchdowns. RB Mark Ingram (toe) is doubtful for this contest, meaning RBs Pierre Thomas (4.0 YPC) and Darren Sproles (3.6 YPC) will be the main ball carriers.

MLB Monday

USATSI_7214689_160320754_lowresTAMPA BAY RAYS (91-71) at TEXAS RANGERS (91-71)

Sportsbook.ag Line: Tampa Bay -117 & 7.5 under -115

Despite winning eight of their final 10 regular-season games, both the Rays and Rangers still have to square off against one another Monday night to see who will earn the second Wild Card spot in the American League.

The winner of this tiebreaker game will head to Cleveland to face the Indians who won the Wild Card with 10 straight victories to close out the season. This contest features of pair of left-handers, ace David Price (9-8, 3.39 ERA) for Tampa Bay and Texas 22-year-old southpaw Martin Perez (10-5, 3.55 ERA). The Rays had won seven straight games heading into the final series of the year at Toronto, but lost two straight before a tight 7-6 victory on Sunday put them in this game. The Rangers needed to win seven straight contests just to reach this spot, and they did so in dominating fashion by outscoring the seven opponents by a 46-19 margin. They certainly have the advantage at home, going 46-35 (.568) in Arlington this season, and also have history on their side, as the home team is 5-1 in one-game tiebreakers since 1995. Tampa Bay is 40-41 on the road, but it has won seven of its past 10 away tilts. Texas holds a slight 4-3 advantage in the season series, including 2-1 at home. In the past three seasons, the Rangers have won 16 of 29 meetings, including an 8-6 record in Arlington. Texas All-Star OF Nelson Cruz is eligible to return from his PED suspension for this game, and he is expected to start. Tampa Bay CF Desmond Jennings hasn’t started since Sept. 22 because of a hamstring injury, and is questionable for this contest.

David Price (1.11 WHIP, 5th in AL) is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner, and has put together another strong season despite his team’s 13-13 record when he takes the mound. He’s actually been much better on the road this season, going 7-3 with a 3.21 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and 88 strikeouts in 95.1 innings (8.3 K/9). The left-hander has held each of his past four opponents to exactly two runs, going 1-1 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and 8.5 K/9 in these four starts. However, facing the Rangers has not been kind to the lefty over the years. In 11 career starts against them, he is 1-7 with a 5.57 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. This includes three career postseason matchups, all of which were in Tampa Bay, when he was 0-3 with a 4.66 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 7.9 K/9. As bad as these numbers are, Price has been completely shellacked at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, going 1-2 with a 10.26 ERA and 1.98 WHIP in his four career starts at this stadium. Including the postseason, the current Texas players that have hurt Price the most are OF Alex Rios (.435 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI in 23 AB), OF Nelson Cruz (.429 BA, 3 HR, 5 RBI in 21 AB), SS Elvis Andrus (.407 BA, 4 RBI, 5 walks in 27 AB) and 3B Adrian Beltre (.346 BA, 1 HR, 4 RBI in 26 AB). 2B Ian Kinsler is the rare Rangers player that has not been successful off Price, hitting just .222 in 27 at-bats. If Price gets into trouble again at this ballpark, he has a quality bullpen to rely on, as Rays relievers are 27-24 with a 3.57 ERA and 1.20 WHIP this season. However, those numbers are considerably worse on the road where they are 7-15 with a 4.44 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

Perez (1.35 WHIP) has led his team to a 12-7 record this season, including 8-3 in his past 11 starts where he is personally 7-2 with a 3.05 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 6.2 K/9. Perez has been better at home this season despite a 3-3 record, as he’s produced a 3.18 ERA in eight starts in Arlington. This includes a strong performance on Wednesday when he allowed just three runs in seven innings to the Astros and recorded a career-high-tying eight strikeouts. The left-hander has never started against Tampa Bay, but he did throw five innings of relief against them on Sept. 9, 2012. In that contest, he allowed two runs (both solo homers) on seven hits, while walking one and fanning three. Perez has faced just four current Rays hitters in his career. OF Matt Joyce and 3B Evan Longoria are both 1-for-2 off Perez, while C Jose Molina and 2B Ben Zobrist are both 0-for-2. The youngster has averaged 6.3 innings per start, but the Rangers won’t hesitate to go to their excellent bullpen early if Perez can’t handle the biggest game of his life. Texas relievers are a whopping 35-18 this season (.660) with a 2.91 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 46 saves in 57 chances (81%). These numbers have been even more impressive at home, where they have a 22-7 record (.759) with a 2.63 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.

College Football Saturday

hi-res-157276532_crop_650x440LSU TIGERS (4-0) at GEORGIA BULLDOGS (2-1)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Georgia -2.5 & 61.5

Opening Line & Total: Bulldogs -3 & 61.5

No. 6 LSU will look to remain unbeaten as it travels to No. 9 Georgia as slight road underdogs.

LSU is 4-0 SU and 2-2 ATS to start the season, failing to cover wide margins in their last two contests against Kent State and Auburn. The Tigers have yet to be truly tested though since week one, when they won and covered with a 37-27 victory against TCU. Georgia, on the other hand, played an extremely difficult schedule to start the season and began it with a loss to Clemson in a 38-35 barnburner. They bounced back nicely, however, with a 41-30 win and cover against South Carolina, and after a bye week romped North Texas in an ATS loss, 45-21. These two teams have played just once over the past three years, meeting at a neutral site in the 2011 SEC Championship game when the Tigers cruised past the Bulldogs 42-10. Covering against top-notch teams has been a struggle for Georgia head coach Mark Richt, who is 1-10 ATS at home in his career against teams with a winning percentage of at least 75%. Georgia is 2-1 SU in the program’s only three series meetings in Athens since 1992 while LSU is 2-1 ATS in those meetings. Overall since 1992, Georgia is 5-4 SU while LSU is 5-4 ATS against one another.

Though he’s always had some doubters, LSU QB Zach Mettenberger has been spectacular to start the 2013 season with 1,026 yards through four games on 59-of-91 passing for 10 TD and only 1 INT. The burly 6-foot-5 senior is a pure pocket passer and hadn’t thrown a pick until last week against Auburn. He has two main receiving targets in Odell Beckham (20 catches for 389 yards, 4 TD) and Jarvis Landry (24 catches for 364 yards, 6 TD). LSU’s rushing game has also been very effective to begin this 2013 campaign, led by Jeremy Hill’s 42 carries for 350 yards and six touchdowns. Supplementing his touches is Terrence Magee, who has 29 carries for 219 yards and three touchdowns. Meanwhile, the LSU defense has held opponents to 3.6 yards per carry, but has allowed foes to rack up 6.0 yards per pass attempt.

 

Georgia also has a dangerous offensive attack that can be threatening both through the air and on the ground. QB Aaron Murray has put up big numbers to start the year, completing 59-of-82 passes for 1,040 yards through only three games (347 YPG). He has seven touchdowns and two interceptions. Like Mettenberger, Murray is not a threat to run. He leaves the running to Todd Gurley, who has 63 carries for 377 yards and four touchdowns, which includes a 75-yard touchdown scamper. Unlike Mettenberger, Murray spreads his passes out to many more targets with six different players having more than 100 yards and six different players picking up touchdowns. The No. 1 option has been Justin Scott-Wesley (10 catches for 234 yards) while Chris Conley (10 catches for 142 yards) and Michael Bennett (10 catches for 124 yards) tie him for the team lead in receptions. You also can’t forget about Reggie Davis, who has only two catches, but one of them was the team’s longest play of the season, a 98-yard touchdown pass. The Georgia defense is giving up 4.0 yards per rush, which isn’t bad, but it must improve against the pass to have a shot against Mettenberger. The unit is giving up 7.7 yards per passing attempt and 12.3 yards per completion this season.

 

USC TROJANS (3-1) at ARIZONA STATE SUN DEVILS (2-1)

 

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Arizona State -5.5 & 49.5

 

Opening Line & Total: Sun Devils -6.5 & 50

 

USC head coach Lane Kiffin’s seat only gets hotter every day as the Trojans head to Sun Devil Stadium Saturday night to face a now-unranked Arizona State squad.

 

The Trojans have only one loss this season, but the season hasn’t been pretty. They lost as a 16-point favorite to Washington State, and last week only barely beat Utah State 17-14, improving to 3-1 SU but falling to 1-3 ATS. The Trojans are now 4-13 ATS over the past two seasons and 1-8 ATS coming off a straight-up win. The Sun Devils are now 2-1 SU and 1-2 ATS after falling 42-28 to Stanford last week as 6.5-point underdogs. Arizona State is 3-11 ATS coming off an Over during the past three years. These two teams have split their past two meetings SU and ATS, with both teams winning and covering at home. While USC is 6-3 SU against Arizona State on the road since 1992, the Sun Devils are 5-4 ATS in those games. Overall dating back to 1992, USC is 15-4 SU and 11-8 ATS in this series.

 

Sophomore QB Cody Kessler leads the USC attack, completing 46-of-76 passes to start the season for four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has been inconsistent, however, as he was ultra-efficient while completing 15-of-17 passes in the team’s week three blowout of Boston College, but in last week’s nail-biter, he was 13-for-27. His immobility can also be an issue as he has minus-8 rushing yards so far this season. The guy they can trust on the ground is Tre Madden, who is averaging 5.1 YPC with 90 touches and 455 yards in 2013, finding the end zone twice. Also with two rushing touchdowns is Justin Davis, who has 32 carries for 189 yards. The most dynamic threat in the offense, though, is Kessler’s top target Marqise Lee (23 catches for 293 yards, 1 TD) who can make plays if Kessler is successful in finding him with the ball. The Trojans’ rushing defense has been a highlight in 2013, yielding only 2.2 YPC while the passing defense has also had its moments, limiting opponents to 4.8 yards per attempt. The 9.3 yards per completion, though, needs to be improved upon for this defense to be considered anything close to elite.

 

The Sun Devils have a much more aggressive passing attack led by QB Taylor Kelly, who has already surpassed the 1,000-yard mark with 1,019 through three games on 82-of-137 passing. He has eight touchdowns but three interceptions this year, two of which came in the team’s loss to Stanford while he was forced to sling the ball a whopping 55 times. Kelly’s top target is Jaelen Strong (24 receptions for 330 yards, 2 TD) but he is good at spreading the wealth, with two other receivers pulling in two touchdowns apiece. To take the pressure off Kelly, RB Marion Grice must be more than a goal-line threat. He has six touchdowns already, but only 193 yards on 53 carries (3.6 YPC) this year. The Sun Devils defense has been mediocre against the run, giving up 4.7 YPC, and has been equally as questionable against the pass, allowing 6.7 yards per attempt and 12.2 yards per completion. That was the problem against the Cardinal, surrendering a hefty 13.7 yards per completion.

 

OKLAHOMA SOONERS (3-0) at NOTRE DAME FIGHTING IRISH (3-1)

 

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Oklahoma -4 & 49.5

 

Opening Line & Total: Sooners -3.5 & 49.5

 

No. 14 Oklahoma looks to make up for last season’s loss in Norman as they head to South Bend to take on No. 22 Notre Dame on Saturday.

 

Last season, the two teams were tied at 13 with 5:05 left before Notre Dame scored the final 17 points of the game. The biggest reason for the Irish victory was their terrific job against the Sooners rushing attack (24 carries for 15 yards). However, this is not the same Notre Dame defense as last season, and QB Blake Bell has the Oklahoma offense rolling right now. In a 51-20 victory over Tulsa in their last game two weeks ago, Bell threw for a career-high 423 yards and showed that he is more than just the “Belldozer.” His favorite target in that game was WR Sterling Shepard, who finished with 123 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Sooners are not the only offense in this game that has been able to throw the ball as QB Tommy Rees has Notre Dame’s offense rolling as well. With Everett Golson suspended due to academics, it was expected that the Fighting Irish offense would slip. However, Rees along with DaVaris Daniels and TJ Jones have formed one of the most dynamic offenses in the country. Against Purdue, Daniels grabbed eight catches for 167 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-tying touchdown. The key matchup in this game will be Oklahoma CB Aaron Colvin matched up against the receiving corps. Bob Stoops is 12-4 ATS (75%) when the line is +3 to -3 as the coach of Oklahoma, but Brian Kelly is 10-1 ATS (91%) after his teams gains 125 rushing yards or less in two straight games as a college head coach.

 

While Michigan State has a very good defense, their offense is absolutely abysmal. They allowed a subpar Notre Dame defense to look a lot better than it really is last week. That will not be the case with the Sooners however, as they are once again one of the premier offenses in the country. Through four weeks, the Sooners rank 16th in the country with 272 rushing yards per game. Brennan Clay has led them on the ground, averaging 87.3 yards per game while scoring two rushing touchdowns. The offense is once again explosive, but the Sooners appear to be playing the type of defense that Oklahoma did in the early 2000’s. In three games, the Sooners have given up just nine points per game, ranking fifth in the country. With Aaron Colvin, they have one of the elite cornerbacks in the country. With Julian Wilson on the other side, the Sooners have the guys that can match up with the Notre Dame receivers. If Jordan Phillips and the rest of the Oklahoma defensive line are able to get pressure on Rees, then there is a good chance that the Sooners will be able to get the victory. If not, then Notre Dame could once again pull off an SU upset.

 

Notre Dame currently heads into its game against Oklahoma with 13 straight home victories. While it has not been pretty the past two weeks, the Fighting Irish made enough plays late in both games to beat Purdue and Michigan State. Junior RB Amir Carlisle is starting to give Notre Dame a solid rushing attack to complement their high-flying passing attack. Against Michigan State, the Fighting Irish were called for eight penalties, totaling 86 yards. They must play mistake-free football if they want to get their third straight victory, and the defense needs to force more turnovers than its four takeaways in four games this year. Notre Dame’s run defense has been pretty strong this season, holding opponents to 114 yards per game on 3.7 yards per carry.

 

OLE MISS REBELS (3-0) at ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE (3-0)

 

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Alabama -14.5 & 56

 

Opening Line & Total: Crimson Tide -17 & 56

 

 

No. 1 Alabama faces another tough test on Saturday night when it hosts the explosive offense of No. 21 Ole Miss.

 

 

Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Alabama SU since 2003, averaging a mere 13.1 PPG during nine straight defeats in this series. But the Rebels have covered in four straight visits to Tuscaloosa, losing by just 9.8 PPG in the four ATS wins. As 31-point underdogs, they lost only 33-14 a year ago, holding the Crimson Tide to 305 yards of offense. Ole Miss enters this one winners of five in a row SU, and has covered in five of its past six contests. This season, the Rebels are averaging 38.0 PPG and 490 total YPG in their three victories. Alabama essentially took last week off against Colorado State, resting numerous starters in a 31-6 victory. It was the second straight week the Tide have failed to cover, winning 49-42 at 8-point underdog Texas A&M the previous week. However, this is a good sign considering Alabama is 15-3 ATS (83%) off two no-covers as a favorite since 1992. However, Ole Miss has had plenty of time to prepare with last week’s bye, and they are 19-6 ATS (76%) on the road when playing with 2+ weeks of rest since 1992. Both teams also have favorable coaching trends, as Hugh Freeze is 12-4 ATS (75%) since arriving at Ole Miss and 13-3 ATS (81%) in the first half of the season as a college coach. Nick Saban is 18-8 ATS (69%) off a home win by 17+ points, and 25-14 ATS (64%) after 3+ straight wins as the Alabama head coach.

 

 

The Rebels have shown tremendous offensive balance this season with 250 rushing YPG (21st in nation) and 240 passing YPG (55th in FBS). QB Bo Wallace is a true dual-threat under center, throwing for 648 yards (7.5 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT, but also running for 120 yards and 3 TD. Wallace is looking to make amends after a dreadful performance at Alabama last year when he completed just 15-of-26 passes for 123 yards (4.7 YPA), 0 TD and 2 INT. He has a great chance to improve upon that with the return of top WR Vince Sanders who has missed the entire season after suffering a broken collarbone in the first fall practice. Sanders caught seven passes for 46 yards in last year’s loss to the Tide. Without Sanders, Wallace has relied mostly on three players who have all surpassed 10 catches and 150 yards this year– TE Evan Engram (175 yds, 2 TD), WR Donte Moncrief (173 yds, 2 TD) and Laquon Treadwell (154 yds). It’s never easy to run on Alabama, but the Rebels have an excellent ball carrier in RB Jeff Scott, who has galloped for 330 yards on just 35 carries (9.4 YPC) with a pair of touchdowns. He scored on a 75-yard game-winning scamper with 1:07 left in his team’s SEC-opening win at Vanderbilt. The Ole Miss defense has been much improved this season, especially against the run where it has held teams to 114 rushing YPG on 3.1 YPC. The passing defense has also been decent, allowing 218 YPG on 6.8 YPA, including 5.4 YPA in its last game, a 44-23 win at Texas. The Rebels are really hoping to have sophomore LB Denzel Nkemdiche (knee) back in action. He was all over the field in last year’s meeting with Alabama, racking up 11 tackles, 3 TFL and two forced fumbles. His brother, highly-touted freshman DE Robert Nkemdiche, has yet to record a sack, but he does have 10 tackles (eight solo) in his first three collegiate games. Ole Miss knows it needs to create some turnovers, something it has done five times this season.

 

Alabama’s offense has not been very consistent, especially on the ground. The Tide tallied just 96 rushing yards (2.5 YPC) in the season opener versus Virginia Tech and 66 yards (3.1 YPC) in last week’s victory over Colorado State. However, none of this blame should go to RB T.J. Yeldon who has gained 5.6 yards per carry on his 49 attempts. Despite the ground game underachieving, QB AJ McCarron has been outstanding in his decision making over the past two weeks, completing 40-of-55 passes (73%) for 592 yards, 5 TD and just 1 INT. McCarron was very efficient in last year’s win over Ole Miss too, completing 22-of-30 passes (73%) for 180 yards, 2 TD and 0 INT. Both of those touchdowns went to WR Amari Cooper, who finished with 84 yards on eight receptions. Cooper did not play last week because of a minor toe injury, but he will be back on the field Saturday. If he’s still limited, McCarron has three other receivers that have topped 100 yards this year, including explosive junior WR DeAndrew White, who has a hefty 20.1 yards per catch with a pair of touchdowns. Fellow junior WR Christion Jones leads the Tide with 12 receptions, piling up nine grabs for 90 yards last week. The Tide defense and special teams have provided a great source of offense with five combined touchdowns already. Alabama’s defense looked extremely shaky in its only SEC contest, allowing Texas A&M to compile a whopping 628 total yards of offense. The Tide were predictably much improved in this department last week, holding CSU to a mere 279 total yards, including 51 yards on 26 rushes (2.0 YPC). In last year’s defeat of Ole Miss, the Tide picked off three passes and gave up only 218 yards to the Rebels.

 

WISCONSIN BADGERS (3-1) at OHIO STATE BUCKEYES (4-0)

 

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Ohio State -7 & 55.5

 

Opening Line & Total: Buckeyes -7.5 & 55

 

No. 23 Wisconsin bounced back nicely last week from its heartbreaking loss to Arizona State, and will look to keep rolling with a huge road victory over No. 4 Ohio State, winners of 16 straight games, on Saturday night.

 

Year in and year out, the Wisconsin Badgers have proven to be one of the premiere teams in the country when it comes running the ball. That has not changed under new head coach Gary Andersen. Entering week 5, Wisconsin leads the country with 1,399 rushing yards, which is 150 more than Ohio State, the nation’s second-most prolific ground game with 1,244 yards. Even more impressive, the Badgers are averaging an incredible 8.0 yards per carry. It has been a two-man crew as Melvin Gordon (624 yards, 11.8 YPC, 7 TD) and James White (442 yards, 3 TD) do an outstanding job of following their offensive line and getting to the second level. However, QB Joel Stave has done a very good job of making defenses have to respect the Badgers’ passing game as well. While the Badgers are 7.5-point underdogs going into this game, that suits Andersen just fine considering he’s 15-2 ATS as a road underdog as a college coach. When Ohio State star QB Braxton Miller went down with his injury, there were questions on what direction the Buckeyes would go with their offense. Two games and 10 touchdown passes later, backup QB Kenny Guiton hasn’t missed a beat. Both quarterbacks are expected to guide one of the nation’s highest scoring offenses (52.5 PPG, 4th in FBS). Buckeyes RB Carlos Hyde was suspended for the first three games because of off-field issues, but RB Jordan Hall leads the nation with eight touchdowns. He is not the biggest running back at 5-foot- 10, 200 pounds, but he is extremely shifty. A very interesting thing to look for in this matchup is the way Urban Meyer game plans for the Badgers. Andersen was an assistant for Meyer at Utah.

 

Wisconsin is 18 seconds away from being undefeated heading into this game after its controversial loss to Arizona State two weeks ago. The Badgers currently rank 25th in the country in scoring (41.0 PPG) and will look to use their offense to control the time of possession on Saturday. Last season, Wisconsin was able to rush for 206 yards, but more importantly, had the ball for over 37 minutes in a 21-14 overtime loss to Ohio State. However, the Badgers are more than capable of stopping the Buckeyes, currently ranking 10th in points allowed at 10.5 per game. Freshman Sojourn Shelton has shown the potential to become of the best defensive backs in the country, grabbing two interceptions in the first four games of his career. He has also done a very good job in helping with the run, something that is extremely rare to see in a young cornerback. Look for him to get matched up with top WR Devin Smith, who has produced many big plays for the Buckeyes in his career.

 

The Buckeyes have reached 40 points in all four of their wins, which includes a hefty 76-point performance against Florida A&M last weekend. With Miller back in the lineup, look for Ohio State to look to get back to really using the rushing attack, while not throwing the ball nearly as much. The Buckeyes defense has some major flaws to look out for though, especially in the secondary. Even though they defeated their lone BCS opponent (California) two weeks ago, they gave up 503 total yards, including 371 through the air. The defensive line has to win the battle and not let Gordon and White get to the second level, or the Buckeyes could see their 16-game win streak and national title dreams go down the drain.

NFL Sunday

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Houston TexansSEATTLE SEAHAWKS (3-0) at HOUSTON TEXANS (2-1)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Seattle -3 & 42

Opening Line & Total: Seahawks -3 & 43

The Seahawks try to stay perfect with a tough road tilt against the reeling Texans on Sunday afternoon.

Seattle has thrown for an NFC-best 9.2 yards per pass attempt and pummeled its past two opponents (49ers and Jaguars) by a combined score of 74 to 20. Houston won each of its first two contests on the final play of the game, but despite holding the Ravens to 236 yards (4.1 per play) last week, the club still lost 30-9 as the result of a conservative offense and poor special teams. It also hurt that top WR Andre Johnson left with a shin bruise, making him questionable for Sunday. The home team has won big in both all-time meetings in this series with the Seahawks prevailing 42-10 in 2005 and the Texans rolling to a 34-7 victory in 2009 when Johnson caught 11 passes for 193 yards and 2 TD. Seattle has plenty of betting trends in its favor on Sunday. In the past two seasons, the club is 16-5 ATS (76%) overall, 11-3 ATS (79%) after a win, 8-0 ATS after gaining 6+ yards per play and 7-0 ATS versus a team with a winning record. But since 1992, the Seahawks are just 3-18 ATS (14%) off a home blowout win by 21+ points and 11-25 ATS (31%) on the road after a double-digit home win. Houston also has some favorable trends in the past three seasons, including 6-0 ATS at home following a loss, 8-1 ATS (89%) where the line is +3 to -3, and 21-8 ATS (72%) on a grass field.

Seattle QB Russell Wilson is coming off a phenomenal game in the 45-17 blowout over Jacksonville, completing 14-of-21 passes for 202 yards, 4 TD and 1 INT. He has completed 64.4% of his throws on the season and ranks third in the NFL in both passer rating (109.6) and yards per pass attempt (9.1). The Seahawks don’t have a superstar receiver, but they do have great balance with 10 players having already caught multiple passes this season. WRs Sidney Rice (16 targets) and Golden Tate (15 targets) are usually Wilson’s first two looks when he drops back, but TE Zach Miller has been nice safety valve with seven catches on his 10 targets, two of which have been in the end zone. But the Seahawks haven’t possessed the football for 33:10 (6th in NFL) just by throwing. The ground game has chewed up 133 YPG (8th in league) thanks mostly to RB Marshawn Lynch who has carried the football 62 times (T-4th in NFL), but has a career-low 3.4 yards per carry this season. Backup RB Robert Turbin has been more effective with 4.4 YPC, but has only 12 carries with many of those coming after the game was no longer in doubt. Defensively, Seattle has just been incredible. In addition to forcing 10 turnovers, the unit leads the NFL in scoring defense (9.0 PPG), total defense (242 YPG) and passing defense (147 YPG), while allowing a mere 4.3 yards per play (4th in league) and a 32% third-down conversion rate (6th in NFL). Shutdown CB Richard Sherman will be tasked with stopping Andre Johnson while the defensive line will look for its third straight game with at least three sacks. The team has a pretty small injury list, but both LB Malcom Smith and S Jeron Johnson are questionable with hamstring ailments.

Houston’s offense has been erratic this season, but the team still leads the NFL with a +139 yards per game advantage. QB Matt Schaub has posted some gaudy passing numbers (66.4% completions, 279 passing YPG and 6 TD), but he has also thrown four interceptions, with two of those returned the other way for touchdowns. Although he has the tendency to force-feed WR Andre Johnson (35 targets, 6th-most in NFL), he has also relied on two others frequently, rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins (26 targets, 18 catches) and TE Owen Daniels (20 targets, 12 catches, 3 TD). The Texans will try to be a run-first offense on Sunday, especially considering how great the Seahawks pass defense has been. RB Arian Foster takes the majority of hand-offs with 49, but has averaged a pedestrian 3.9 yards per carry with just one touchdown. RB Ben Tate, on the other hand, leads all NFL running backs with 6.8 YPC, rumbling for 184 yards on his 27 attempts. Although Houston allowed 30 points last week, only 16 of those were offensive points as it was burned by a punt return touchdown and interception return TD. The Texans rank second in the NFL in both total defense (249 YPG) and first downs per game (14.7), frequently producing three-and-outs to put their offense back on the field. They have allowed a mere 4.3 yards per play (3rd in league) and place fifth in the NFL in both yards per carry (3.3 YPC) and yards per pass attempt (5.7 YPA). Houston has no major injuries on defense with FS Ed Reed making his team debut last week.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-2) at DENVER BRONCOS (3-0)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Denver -11.5 & 58.5

Opening Line & Total: Broncos -11.5 & 58.5

Two explosive offenses prepare for a shootout when the unbeaten Broncos host the Eagles on Sunday afternoon.

Philly’s offense has piled up an NFL-best 7.0 yards per play and 6.6 yards per rush thanks to RB LeSean McCoy’s 514 total yards. But the Eagles defense has allowed 438 total yards per game (3rd-worst in NFL) with a league-worst 35:35 defensive time of possession. Denver has assaulted its first three opponents with an NFL-leading 42.3 PPG and 487 YPG thanks to QB Peyton Manning throwing for 1,143 yards (381 YPG), 12 TD and 0 INT. Philly won the most recent meeting, 30-27 in 2009, but its past two trips to Denver have ended in lopsided losses of 49-21 and 41-16. The Eagles committed five turnovers and forced none in last week’s home loss to the Chiefs, but they are 9-1 ATS after a game with a TO margin of minus-4 or worse since 1992. However, Philly has been a horrible wager in the past two seasons (4-14 ATS, 22%), including 2-10 ATS (17%) when coming off an ATS loss. On the other hand, the Broncos are 13-5 ATS (72%) in all games over the past two seasons, including 12-2 ATS (86%) as a favorite. But they also had turnover issues last week (minus-2 TO ratio), and head coach John Fox is just 6-16 ATS (27%) in his coaching career after a game in which his team had a TO margin of minus-2 or worse.

Philadelphia’s sped-up offense has snapped off 198 plays (66 per game) this season, but has allowed 227 plays (76 per game) to its opponents. QB Michael Vick has been electric this year with 9.1 yards per pass attempt and 10.4 yards per carry, but he’s also had too many negative plays, absorbing 11 sacks and turning the ball over four times (2 INT, 2 fumbles), including three giveaways last week against the Chiefs. He has relied heavily on RB LeSean McCoy who not only has 6.4 yards per carry (3rd in NFL), but also boasts 19.8 yards per reception (7th in NFL). Top WR DeSean Jackson is also having an incredible season with 359 receiving yards (2nd in NFL) on 18.9 yards per catch, and is starting to get some help from teammate WR Jason Avant who caught five passes for 87 yards and a touchdown last week. Although the defense has given up a ton of yards by being on the field so often, it has limited opponents to 3.98 yards per carry which is right about the league average. Philadelphia was able to generate five takeaways in its first two games of the season, and although it had none in Week 3, it did post a hefty five sacks. The one key injury to the Eagles secondary is S Patrick Chung who is questionable with a left shoulder contusion.

Denver’s offense has been able to score at least 37 points in all three games due to great decision making by QB Peyton Manning who has absorbed just four sacks and has turned the ball over only once, losing a fumble against the Raiders last week. He leads the NFL in both yards per attempt (9.4) and completion percentage (73%) because he has so many excellent receivers to throw the football to. Four players already have 14+ catches this season led by the trio of WRs Demaryius Thomas (20 catches, 307 yards, 2 TD), Eric Decker (19 catches, 252 yards, 1 TD) and Wes Welker (19 catches, 190 yards, 4 TD). Manning has kept all three of these guys happy with 27+ targets apiece. TE Julius Thomas has also been outstanding with 194 receiving yards and 4 TD on his 14 grabs. But the Broncos aren’t just a one-dimensional passing team. They have averaged a solid 3.9 yards per carry with the committee of RBs Knowshon Moreno (160 yards on 4.7 YPC), Montee Ball (99 yards on 3.2 YPC) and Ronnie Hillman (84 yards on 6.0 YPC) to average 112 rushing YPG, good for 14th in the NFL. Denver’s run defense has been top-notch with 43.3 rushing YPG allowed and 2.3 YPC allowed, leading the league in both categories. However, opponents have been quick to abandon the run and take to the air, throwing for 327 YPG (3rd-worst in NFL) and 6.9 YPA on this Broncos secondary. Star CB Champ Bailey has yet to play this season because of a foot injury, but it’s possible he could make his season debut on Sunday. Top LB Von Miller is still serving a suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy and won’t be eligible to return until Week 7.

CHICAGO BEARS (3-0) at DETROIT LIONS (2-1)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Detroit -2.5 & 48

Opening Line & Total: Lions -2.5 & 47.5

The unbeaten Bears try to dominate the Lions again on Sunday when the NFC North foes clash on Sunday at Ford Field.

Chicago is 9-1 SU in the past 10 meetings in this series, but Detroit is 4-1-1 ATS in the past six matchups, losing by two and six points last year. The Bears crushed the Steelers 40-23 on the road last week despite being outgained by 201 yards. They forced five Pittsburgh turnovers to increase their total to 11 takeaways in 2013. The Lions also won on the road, 27-20 at Washington, without top RB Reggie Bush (hip), who is probable to return in Week 4. QB Jay Cutler has 12 TD and 1 INT in this series since coming to Chicago, while Lions QB Matthew Stafford has struggled mightily with just 4 TD and 11 INT in this series. This matchup is difficult to handicap as both teams possess multiple glaring negative trends. The Bears are 0-8 ATS coming off a non-conference game over the past three seasons, and 3-19 ATS (14%) versus excellent offensive teams (6+ yards per play) since 1992. But in the past three seasons, Detroit is 0-10 ATS versus excellent passing teams (64% or better completion pct.) and 4-14 ATS (22%) after gaining 6+ yards per play in its previous game.

Chicago QB Jay Cutler has been very comfortable in new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense this season, getting sacked only three times combined in three games. This great protection has led to a career-best 67.3% completion rate (5th in NFL) with 693 passing yards, 6 TD and 3 INT. WR Brandon Marshall is still Cutler’s first look when he drops back, completing 20 of 27 targets to Marshall for 269 yards and 2 TD. However, three other players have also earned 20+ targets this season, RB Matt Forte (18 catches, 138 yards), WR Alshon Jeffery (13 receptions, 104 yards) and TE Martellus Bennett (12 catches, 135 yards) who has provided a reliable red-zone target with three touchdown grabs. The Bears have also done a decent job rushing the football with 105 YPG on 3.8 yards per carry. Forte has been the workhorse with 55 carries for 225 yards (4.1 YPC) and a pair of scores. On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago has stuffed the run nicely, ranking eighth in the NFL in both rushing defense (89 YPG) and yards per carry (3.6 YPC). However, opponents have thrown for 294 YPG (9th-most in NFL) on a hefty 8.5 yards per attempt (4th-worst in league). The pass defense also has to adjust to star CB Charles Tillman’s groin injury that will prevent him from shadowing Lions stud WR Calvin Johnson like he usually does.

Detroit’s offense will certainly benefit from do-it-all RB Reggie Bush returning to the field, but it will be missing No. 2 WR Nate Burleson for the next six weeks or so after he broke his arm in a car accident early this week. Burleson’s absence will put more onus on WR Ryan Broyles, who is still recovering from last year’s torn ACL, and WR Patrick Edwards, who missed last week’s game with a sprained ankle, but does expect to return on Sunday. But the Lions have other perfectly healthy weapons in QB Matthew Stafford, WR Calvin Johnson and RB Joique Bell (296 total yards, 3 TD). Stafford has taken just two sacks over the first three games, which has given him the confidence to throw for 1,020 yards (4th in NFL) on 8.4 YPA (5th in league) with 6 TD and only 2 INT. Although Stafford has been terrible versus the Bears in his career, a lot of that has to do with Johnson being limited by Bears CB Charles Tillman. Last season, Johnson set an NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards (123 per game), but gained only 106 yards (53 per game) against the Bears. With Tillman hurting, Stafford and Johnson could both enjoy a huge afternoon. Detroit has better offensive balance this year with both Bell and Bush capable of rushing the football, but the team is averaging just 75 rushing YPG (7th-worst in NFL) on 2.9 YPC (4th-worst in league). Detroit’s defense has been below average in terms of total yards per game (366 YPG, 18th in NFL) and yards per play (5.7 YPP, 22nd in league), but has produced the best stoppage rate on third downs in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert a mere 26.5% of its third downs. The Lions have also done a nice job of making plays with seven takeaways (5 INT, 2 fumbles), but have only a half-dozen sacks on the season. Losing DT Jason Jones to a season-ending knee injury will hurt, but Detroit still has plenty of talent on its front line with three former first-round draft picks in DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley and rookie DE Ezekial Ansah, who recorded two sacks last week.

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (3-0) at ATLANTA FALCONS (1-2)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Atlanta -2.5 & 50.5

Opening Line & Total: Pick ‘em & 49.5

The Falcons look to get back to .500 while the Patriots try to stay undefeated when the two teams square off at Georgia Dome on Sunday night.

The last time New England and Atlanta played was in September of 2009 where the Patriots held a 445 to 257 yards advantage and prevailed 26-10. New England was a 4-point underdog in that game and was able to win-and-cover for the third straight time against Atlanta. The Falcons have allowed 296 passing YPG this season (25th in NFL), which doesn’t bode well against a Tom Brady-led offense that could have TE Rob Gronkowski (back) for the first time this season. However, Atlanta also has a potent air attack (289 passing YPG, 7th in NFL) and will provide the first real test for New England’s suspect secondary, which has faced three of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks (Josh Freeman, Geno Smith and EJ Manuel). The Patriots are 39-16 ATS (71%) as an underdog under head coach Bill Belichick, but the Falcons are is 8-1 ATS in September home games under head coach Mike Smith. Although New England is 14-4 ATS (78%) coming off of a Belichick-coached game where his team allowed six points or less, Atlanta is 19-5 ATS (79%) after a loss under Smith.

The Patriots are 3-0 SU to start the season, but their offense hasn’t played well at all, gaining just 4.5 yards per play (3rd-fewest in NFL) and scoring only 19.7 PPG (22nd in league). New England is coming off a 23-3 victory over the Buccaneers in which Tom Brady’s receivers finally provided him with some competent play. Aaron Dobson had seven catches in the game for 52 yards while Kenbrell Thompkins was the recipient of two red-zone touchdown passes. WR Julian Edelman also chipped in with seven receptions for 44 yards, as he’s tied for the NFL lead with 27 catches this year. Brady was 25-of-36 for 225 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT in the game, marking his 51st straight game with at least one touchdown pass. Many of those touchdown passes during his streak have gone to TE Rob Gronkowski who has an incredible 39 TD catches in 43 career games. The Patriots rushing offense really sputtered in Week 2 versus the Jets (24 carries for 54 yards), but chewed up 156 rushing yards as a team versus the Bucs, led by LeGarrette Blount’s 65 yards on 14 carries and Brandon Bolden’s 51 yards on just three rushing attempts in his season debut. One the defensive end, New England was near perfect, allowing just 323 yards of total offense against a weak Buccaneers team. For the season, the Patriots have allowed just 11.3 PPG (T-2nd in NFL) and 309 total YPG (T-8th in league), while forcing an impressive seven turnovers. With the offense beginning to get healthier and the Patriots still undefeated, it’s interesting to see just how good this team will be in a couple of weeks when Gronkowski and top WR Danny Amendola (groin) return healthy.

Atlanta’s defense has really struggled this season, allowing 24.7 PPG (T-19th in NFL) and 375 total YPG (23rd in league). They defense hasn’t been able to get stops when it has needed to, both on third down (48% conversion rate, 5th-worst in NFL) and in the red zone (70% efficiency, T-23rd in league). Without RB Steven Jackson, who is out for a month with a thigh injury, the Falcons’ backfield duo of RBs Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling was very productive last week, combining for 139 yards on 29 carries (4.8 YPC). Snelling also caught four passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. QB Matt Ryan went 23-of-38 for 231 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in the game. WR Julio Jones continues to give opposing defenses nightmares as he caught nine passes for 115 yards. He now has a league-high-tying 27 receptions for an NFL-best 373 yards and two touchdowns on the year. Jones also leads the league with 194 yards after catch, which has been key because fellow WR Roddy White is still dealing with a high-ankle sprain that has really limited his usually stellar production. TE Tony Gonzalez is also off to a slow start with just 11 catches for 93 yards and one touchdown, a big drop-off from his 2012 season when he caught 93 passes for 930 yards and eight scores.

NBA Atlantic Division Preview

bargnani_andrea640Sportsbook.ag begins its run of previewing all six NBA divisions before the regular season tips off on Oct. 29. First up is the Atlantic Division, which the New York Knicks won by five games last season.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

BOSTON CELTICS

2012-13 SU record: 43-44 SU (49.4%), 17th in NBA

2012-13 ATS record: 40-44-3 ATS (47.6%), 20th in NBA

Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 60-to-1

Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 125-to-1

GUARDS

RAJON RONDO is the last man standing in Boston. Coming off a torn ACL and with a weakened supporting cast, it’s going to be a long year . . . Avery Bradley is the favorite to start alongside Rondo. He’s still lost on offense, but his defense will be much needed . . . Courtney Lee continues to tease with flashes of talent, but hasn’t shown consistency and is no longer “young” . . . Jordan Crawford will hoist a lot of shots . . . MARshon Brooks fell out of favor in Brooklyn and is just hanging on to an NBA roster spot . . . Keith Bogans is in Boston because a new deal made the numbers work on the Nets trade . . . Local product Phil Pressey, an undersized point guard, will try to stick as a back-up.

FORWARDS

Suddenly, Jeff Green is Boston’s first option on offense. He showed an ability to score with 20.1 PPG over 17 starts last season, but he’ll be in for a whole new world of attention as the only legitimate scorer on this team . . . Brandon Bass should continue to hold down the power forward spot, and he’ll get to take more shots with the team rebuilding . . . Durability is a major issue for Jared Sullinger, but he has a chance to play big minutes for a team in need of his offensive skill set . . . A washed-up vet with arguably the worst contract in the NBA, Gerald Wallace is of little use to the Celtics (or any other team) . . . Kris Humphries is also dead weight, but is a more enticing trade chip due to an expiring contract.

CENTERS

Rookie Kelly Olynyk is going to get pushed around, but he has some rare shooting and ball-handling skills for a 7-footer. Boston has little to lose by letting him learn on the job . . . Vitor Faverani is a tough-nosed Euro import who gives them insurance behind Olynyk.

BROOKLYN NETS

2012-13 SU record: 52-37 SU (58.4%), 9th in NBA

2012-13 ATS record: 43-44-2 ATS (49.4%), 16th in NBA

Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 15-to-2

Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 14-to-1

GUARDS

DERON WILLIAMS will surely take on more of a distributor role this year, but he’s still this team’s best option from three-point range, as well . . . Joe Johnson started to break down last season, so along with fewer shots (with the upgrade to the rest of the roster), he figures to play fewer regular-season minutes as well . . . Jason Terry is clearly in the decline phase of his career, but is still the top scoring option among Brooklyn’s second unit . . . Alan Anderson gives them another shooter off the bench . . . Shaun Livingston steps into the back-up point guard spot vacated by C.J. Watson. The injury-prone vet will be one of the more rarely used back-up PGs . . . Tyshawn Taylor will be a non-factor.

FORWARDS

Paul Pierce still has something left in the tank. While his athleticism is fading, he’s still a cagey scorer who can also play some point forward to set up Williams . . . Andrei Kirilenko will be a Swiss army knife sixth man and should see plenty of starts as new head coach Jason Kidd rotates which veterans rest . . . Reggie Evans was retained for his rebounding ability and willingness to look ridiculous while flopping . . . Andray Blatche will continue to settle in as a second-unit big. He’s a name to remember for the future, as Kevin Garnett doesn’t have much left in the tank . . . Mirza Teletovic will be a seldom-used option as a stretch four . . . Tornike Shengelia is still years away from contributing, and the influx of veterans will further delay his development.

CENTERS

Last year did a lot to assuage durability concerns for BROOK LOPEZ. He’s highly skilled, and he may be forced to grab more rebounds now that Reggie Evans is on the second unit . . . Kevin Garnett will start at power forward. He’s still an effective pick-and-pop shooter and pick-and-roll defender, but he’ll have to rest often during the regular season . . . Mason Plumlee is in no position to help this season.

 

NEW YORK KNICKS

2012-13 SU record: 60-34 SU (63.8%), 7th in NBA

2012-13 ATS record: 52-41-1 ATS (55.9%), 5th in NBA

Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 13-to-1

Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 35-to-1

GUARDS

Raymond Felton is still the best the Knicks can do at point guard. With his shortcomings in the half court, head coach Mike Woodson’s desire to go up-tempo should play to Felton’s skill set a little bit better . . . Iman Shumpert should be ready for a slightly bigger role. He’s their best perimeter defender and a good enough spot-up shooter to play off Carmelo Anthony . . . J.R. Smiths offseason knee surgery is a bit of a concern, as is the fact that he’s no longer in a contract year. Still, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year should light it up on many nights . . . Pablo Prigioni will be Felton’s primary back-up. He disappears at times, but can at least knock down threes . . . BENO UDRIH will provide quality backup minutes after another solid year seeing big minutes in Orlando…Tim Hardaway Jr. is likely looking at a redshirt year in 2013-14.

FORWARDS

Last year was Carmelo Anthony’s dream offense, with lots of isolation plays. With his improved three-point shot, Melo should make a run at a second-straight scoring title . . . Andrea Bargnani might start by default, but he’s more suited to a part-time role as a one-dimensional floor spacer . . . Expect to see a lot of lineups with either Anthony or Metta World Peace at the four. MWP is still good enough defensively to justify his erratic shot selection . . . Amar’e Stoudemire will likely be limited to a part-time role due to injuries. He’ll try to re-invent himself as a second-unit scorer . . . Kenyon Martin will be counted on to play some four and five off the bench . . . Athletic rookie C.J. Leslie is ticketed for the D-League. <P>

CENTERS

Tyson Chandler will be relied on heavily on the glass for what could be the weakest rebounding team in the NBA. The Knicks would like to keep his regular-season minutes down, but they may be forced to play him a lot if they’re going to get home court in a first-round playoff series . . . The Knicks will try to develop Jeremy Tyler into a useful No. 2 center.

PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

2012-13 SU record: 34-48 SU (41.5%), T-19th in NBA

2012-13 ATS record: 39-42-1 ATS (48.1%), 19th in NBA

Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 200-to-1

Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 500-to-1

GUARDS

Welcome to Tankadelphia. Michael Carter-Williams will be handed the reigns at the point, and has the size and savvy to create some offense. But a work-in-progress jumper and too many risky passes will lead to plenty of lost possessions . . . The Sixers would love to unload perennially disappointing ex-No. 2 pick Evan Turner. He’s yet to develop a jump shot, and while he’ll start for a laughably thin Philly team, he looks more and more like a second-unit player . . . James Anderson could end up playing a lot of minutes off the bench, simply because the Sixers don’t have enough NBA-caliber players . . . Jason Richardson will miss at least half the season after major knee surgery. He may never contribute in the NBA again…TONY WROTEN could see the floor plenty as a high-upside player who must cut down on his turnovers and improve his jump shot.

FORWARDS

Thaddeus Young will likely step up as the No. 1 option, and he very well may be the only player on this team that would make a rotation of a playoff contender. We’ll see what he can do with defenses focused on stopping him . . . Lavoy Allen will be leaned on for heavy minutes as one of their few proven players . . . Arnett Moultrie might end up with a very big role this year, as the Sixers are especially lacking post players. He at least rebounds and gets in people’s way defensively . . . Philly will try its hand with Royce White, who has plenty of talent but just as much baggage. He and the Rockets couldn’t see eye-to-eye with how to manage his anxiety issues . . . Tim Ohlbrecht might actually see the court on this team.

CENTERS

Spencer Hawes should start at center, especially early. His mid-range shooting makes him one of the few offensive options on this team . . . Coming off a torn ACL, Nerlens Noel probably won’t be ready until December. He should contribute as a rim protector and rebounder, but will be pushed around and doesn’t have much on offense . . . Kwame Brown is waiting for his contract to be bought out.

TORONTO RAPTORS

2012-13 SU record: 34-48 SU (41.5%), T-19 in NBA

2012-13 ATS record: 41-40-1 ATS (50.6%), 13th in NBA

Odds to Win 2013-14 Eastern Conference: 65-to-1

Odds to Win 2013-14 NBA Championship: 125-to-1

GUARDS

Kyle Lowry was banged up last season, but he enters this year healthy and has the potential to be one of the league’s best two-way point guards . . . DeMar DeRozan does a nice job attacking, but he’s a flawed player unless he develops a jump shot . . . The Raptors want Terrence Ross to attack the basket more often. But whether he develops a three-point shot could determine where he fits into this rotation . . . After a disastrous season in Indiana, D.J. Augustin will have to earn his rotation spot. Toronto could use his shooting, though . . . Dwight Buycks comes back from Europe to back up Lowry . . . Versatile Julyan Stone is an interesting bit piece, as he reunites with GM Masai Ujiri, who brought him to Denver.

FORWARDS

Despite all that talent, Rudy Gay’s poor shot selection and disinterested defense will have him on the trading block . . . Amir Johnson will get another chance at full-time minutes. Despite some inconsistency, he still has the upside to be a good rebounder and shot-blocker . . . Tyler Hansbrough brings toughness and a decent mid-range jumper. He’s a second-unit talent, but could challenge Johnson for minutes . . . Landry Fields is a well-compensated reserve . . . Steve Novak gives them a legitimate shooter among the second unit . . . Toronto will try to shake some of that upside out of Austin Daye . . . Quincy Acy will move to the three, likely making this a redshirt year.

CENTERS

Jonas Valanciunas is set to become Toronto’s new centerpiece. Talented enough for them to run the offense through him, he’s rapidly improving on both ends of the court . . . Aaron Gray will stick around as a decent back-up, a 7-footer who can get in the way defensively.

College Football Thursday

270744_10100314519128069_1411081535_n.0_standard_352.0VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (3-1) at GEORGIA TECH YELLOW JACKETS (3-0)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Georgia Tech -7.5 & 44

Opening Line & Total: Yellow Jackets -8 & 44

Unbeaten Georgia Tech attempts to stay hot and continue its march back to the ACC championship on Thursday night when it hosts a Virginia Tech squad trying to regain its footing as a top team in both the conference and in the nation.

Coming into the 2013 season the two ACC “techTech” teams were moving in different directions. Last year, VT was a preseason favorite to win the Coastal division and disappointed with a 4-4 record in the conference and fourth-place finish in their division. On the other hand, Georgia Tech tied with North Carolina and Miami for the division’s best record and represented the Coastal in the ACC Championship, losing 21-15 against Florida State. Overall, these two teams have played each other 10 times, with the Hokies winning seven of those games including their past three matchups. Even though Virginia Tech has dominated SU, it is only 1-4 ATS in its past five games against Georgia Tech. Hokies QB Logan Thomas will look to gain some consistency back for the offense as they have struggled all year long with turnovers and dropped passes. This first ACC matchup will be an important one for the growth of the young quarterback and a chance for VT to put itself back on the map. Georgia Tech will bring in its No. 4 nationally-ranked rushing offense lead by senior RB David Sims and dual-threat QB Vad Lee. This early divisional battle could very well set the tone for the rest of the season.

Virginia Tech may be 3-1 on the season, but it has not been very consistent. Senior QB Logan Thomas has high expectations as a possible mid-round NFL quarterback with a build similar to Cam Newton, but has already thrown at least one interception in each of their four games. A mixture of dropped passes and poorly thrown balls have resulted in a subpar 48.5% completion percentage and six interceptions. Thomas was clutch in the Hokies’ 29-21, triple-overtime win over Marshall though, as he ran in the game-winning TD and two-point conversion. Freshman RB Trey Edmunds will be very important in this game and will need to continue his excellent play so far. Edmunds has 352 rushing yards on 4.5 YPC. Virginia Tech’s rush defense, led by senior DE James Gayle, has held up well this year and currently ranks 15th overall in the nation. This run stop-unit will be extremely important against the explosive option offense of Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech is only 2-5 SU in its past seven road games, and will have to keep the ball on offense and slow down the rushing attack of the Yellow Jackets to have any chance of a win in this contest.

Georgia Tech has proven that its berth in the ACC Championship was not a mistake last year, as the team is looking to win a seventh straight regular season conference game. When you play the Yellow Jackets, you know what you are going to get — running, running and then more running.Senior RB David Sims has seen the bulk of the carries for the option offense whose 345.3 yards per game on the ground ranks fourth in the nation. Sims has averaged 5.6 YPC this season and has also scored three touchdowns. The other key player in the Yellow Jackets offense is sophomore QB Vad Lee. He has done exactly what is expected of him in the option offense, running the ball 52 times for 180 yards and not turning the ball over when he throws. Lee has averaged only 13 passing attempts per game this season, but has made the most of them with seven touchdowns and only one interception. Georgia Tech has been strong on the defensive side as well, allowing only an average of 17 PPG in its first two ACC games. Senior DE Jeremiah Attaochu will attempt to lead the Yellow Jackets defense and throw Hokies QB Logan Thomas off his game. The combination of both their explosive offense and solid defense may be too difficult a task for the Hokies to handle.

NFL Thursday

26matchup-articleLargeSAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (1-2) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (1-2)

Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: San Francisco -3.5 & 42.5

Opening Line & Total: 49ers -4 & 43

Both the Rams and 49ers are looking to get back into the win column following two straight defeats when the two NFC West foes collide at the Edward Jones Dome on Thursday night.

St. Louis is coming off of an embarrassing 31-7 loss against the Cowboys while the 49ers were crushed 27-7 at home by the double-digit underdog Colts on Sunday. Last season, these teams had some very interesting battles as they tied their first meeting in San Francisco 24-24 in November. The teams then played again in St. Louis in December where the Rams came away with a 16-13 victory in overtime. St. Louis QB Sam Bradford was solid against the 49ers defense last year, passing for 496 yards and two touchdowns while throwing no interceptions in the two games. St. Louis is 3-1 ATS over the 49ers in the past three seasons and they are 2-0 ATS when playing at home in that span. This season, however, both teams have struggled ATS. The Rams have opened the season 0-3 ATS while the 49ers are 1-2 ATS. St. Louis is 4-17 ATS after gaining 75 or less rushing yards in two straight games since 1992, but San Francisco happens to be 30-14 ATS when coming off an upset loss in that same period. <P>

San Francisco opened the season with a dominant offensive performance in a 34-28 win over the Packers, but has done very little since then. The team has scored a combined 10 points over its past two games, due largely to the awful play of QB Colin Kaepernick. In the two defeats, he has completed just 26-of-55 passes (47%) for 277 yards (5.0 YPA), 0 TD, 4 INT and two lost fumbles. He has looked lost on the field without the help of any of his playmaking receivers. Star TE Vernon Davis didn’t play last week because of an injured hamstring and is questionable for Thursday’s game. The 49ers are also going to need WR Anquan Boldin to step up, as he has just six receptions for 74 yards in the two games since his 13-reception, 208-yard performance against the Packers. San Francisco’s defense has struggled as well this season and will need to find a way to account for the loss of DE Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks in 2012), who is out indefinitely after checking himself into rehab for a substance abuse issue. The Niners defense has allowed 351 rushing yards (4.1 YPC) over the past two weeks, but has held those same opponents to a mere 5.98 passing yards per attempt.

St. Louis is also coming off a game to forget in which it lost 31-7 to the Cowboys. The Rams defense, which is usually not a concern, allowed Dallas RB DeMarco Murray to run for 175 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. Their pass defense wasn’t much better as they were able to sack Tony Romo only once as he went 17-of-24 with 210 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. On offense, St. Louis QB Sam Bradford did everything he could in the game going 29-of-48 for 240 yards with 1 TD and 0 INT, but his offensive line failed him, allowing him to get sacked six times for a loss of 43 yards. The Rams receivers also did little to help their quarterback as they dropped plenty of catchable passes while failing to make plays on the rare occasion they did have the ball in their hands. The loss of RB Daryl Richardson to a foot injury hurt the Rams offense as they rushed for just 35 yards on 12 carries, failing to top 70 rushing yards for the third straight game. Richardson is questionable for Thursday’s game, and if he can’t go, Isaiah Pead will get the bulk of the carries. Pead has just 21 yards on seven carries this season, but he has 61 receiving yards on nine catches in his two games. The Rams will need to be more efficient in the run game if they are going to make Sam Bradford’s job any easier.

NFL Odds: Seahawks Test Might in Week 4 Clash with Texans

11529--nfl_large_580_1000The Seattle Seahawks haven’t wasted any time living up to their projection as one of the biggest Super Bowl contenders available on the NFL moneyline. This Sunday they’ll look to add another notch in their belt with a significant Week 4 victory over a formidable Houston Texans squad.

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While the Texans started off their 2013 campaign with a disheartening loss to the Baltimore Ravens, there’s no denying that, after there rebound in Weeks 2 and 3, they have NFL odds worth taking a look at of their own. So long as running back Arian Foster continues to hold up, they could be an eventual postseason contender in the AFC.

With 20/1 odds of winning Super Bowl XLVIII, Houston is just revered enough to be dangerous. They may lack the hoopla that some of their conference counterparts share (cough, New England and Denver, cough), but that doesn’t mean they can’t still win when it counts.

Sadly for Gary Kubiak and company, regardless of their efforts over the weekend, they may not have what it takes to knock off these Seahawks. Seattle’s 17/4 NFL futures are good enough for the second spot in the league behind the Broncos. A win over one-time AFC favorite like Houston could propel their stock to new heights.

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