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Free NFL Pick Sunday

#124 San Francisco 49ers +3 over Denver Broncos 3:05 PM CT

Denver has faced a difficult schedule this season while looking the part against some of the league’s top teams including wins over the Chargers and Steelers. Denver also lost to the Jets however and is is a challenging scheduling spot this week facing a third road game in four weeks and a second straight road contest after winning in Cincinnati last week. The Broncos caught a break on the schedule last week vs. the sinking Bengals drawing the first start from Jeff Driskel.

Denver won 24-10 but Cincinnati had three turnovers and 12 penalties. The Broncos had a solid edge on the ground but fewer first downs while losing the time of possession battle as well. 10 Denver points came on drives of just 33 and 7 yards as there was good fortune for the Broncos. This could be a dangerous game in San Francisco with the Broncos back in the playoff race and now a healthy road favorite for the second straight week. 2-10 San Francisco has a top 10 run defense and the 49ers have had some misleading results this season thanks to a NFL worst -20 turnover margin juggling three different quarterbacks and numerous injuries on offense.

The 49ers are also a top 10 rushing team as Denver isn’t likely to enjoy a big rushing edge in this matchup. San Francisco has out-rushed six of the past eight foes while out-gaining three of the last four foes by at least 97 yards. The 49ers are the more productive passing team with Denver posting only 6.8 yards per attempt and Denver actually allows a higher completion rate and more yards per attempt on defense than San Francisco despite the perception of these defenses. Emmanuel Sanders is also out of action to greatly limit Denver’s passing potential. Denver is on a 5-11 ATS run in road games and this could be the biggest road favorite spread since 2015 for the Broncos.

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NFC West Staff Changes

NFC WEST 2018 COACHING STAFF CHANGES

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Over/Under Win Total: 5½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

Staff Change: Bruce Arians retired and Arizona hired Steve Wilks as the new head coach. Wilks has been an assistant with Carolina since 2012 and a defensive assistant in the NFL since 2006. Al Holcomb comes with Wilks as a Carolina assistant and is the new DC. Former Chargers HC Mike McCoy is the OC after being let go midseason in that role with Denver last season and there is an entirely new set of QBs in Arizona.

Probable QB Rotation:

Sam Bradford

Josh Rosen (rookie – via UCLA)

Mike Glennon

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LOS ANGELES RAMS

Over/Under Win Total: 10

Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1

Staff Change: After leading the NFL in points the Rams have to replace OC Matt LaFleur who signed with Tennessee. With big shoes to fill OL coach Aaron Kromer and TE coach Shane Waldron are sharing the OC duties in 2018. Wade Phillips is back as DC for a second season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Jared Goff

Sean Mannion

Luis Perez (rookie–via Texas A&M-Commerce)

Brandon Allen

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Over/Under Win Total: 8½

Odds to win Super Bowl: 20/1

Staff Change: Keena Turner and DeMeco Ryans were given promotions on the staff but DC Robert Saleh is back for a second season while head coach Kyle Shanahan did not hire an offensive coordinator at his hiring and will remain handling those duties in his second season.

Probable QB Rotation:

Jimmy Garoppolo

C.J. Beathard

Jack Heneghan (rookie – via Dartmouth)

Nick Mullens

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Over/Under Win Total: 8

Odds to win Super Bowl: 50/1

Staff Change: Kris Richard was let go as DC for the Seahawks despite great numbers and former star linebacker Ken Norton, Jr. will be in that role in 2018 after stops in Oakland and San Francisco. Darrell Bevell was also let go after seven years as OC with Brian Schottenhiemer now with his seventh franchise in two decades though not as a NFL OC since 2014 with the Rams.

Probable QB Rotation:

Russell Wilson

Austin Davis

Alex McGough (rookie – via FIU)

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Pointspread Previews NFL Week 1

POINTSPREAD PREVIEWS

NFL WEEK 1 – Weekend of September 9

Our preseason Annual should be in the mail in early August but here is a look at the NFL Week 1 schedule with five situational angles for the opening week in the same format that we feature in the Annual for each week of the college football regular season. Our official newsletter predictions for Week 1 will be in our September 3 issue of the Green Sheet as our opinion on these games could change but at this point here are a few things to think about looking ahead to the opening week NFL schedule.

Revenge Spot: Cleveland Browns over Pittsburgh Steelers:

The 0-16 season for the Browns was bookended with Week 1 and Week 17 losses to the Steelers. Both games were highly competitive despite the contrasting final records for these division rivals fueled by a few big mistakes from rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Cleveland has covered in the past three meetings in this series and the Browns now have a solid veteran quarterback known for taking care of the ball in Tyrod Taylor who led the Bills to the playoffs last season. Cleveland finished last season -28 in turnovers as improvement in that area should make the Browns a candidate to improve by a handful of wins on the season  and this game will have extra meaning for Cleveland’s new offensive coordinator Todd Haley who has spent the past six seasons with the Steelers in that capacity. Always one of the league’s most popular teams the Steelers are often overvalued in the opening week, currently on a 1-5-1 ATS run in Week 1 with four S/U losses in that span since 2011 and the Steelers are 4-6 ATS in the last 10 trips to Cleveland including three S/U losses despite the contrasting results for these franchises over the past decade. Pittsburgh lost at Chicago early last season and only twice in eight games won by more than six points on the road last season.  CURRENT LINE: PITTSBURGH -5½

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Road Trip: Baltimore Ravens over Buffalo Bills:

In Week 1 the playing field is supposed to be level in regards to travel but Bills have a late week Sunday preseason Week 3 game at home before playing the preseason Week 4 game in Chicago the following Thursday. The Bills are then on the road in Week 1 facing the Ravens. While the travel mileage isn’t overly demanding for that stretch the Bills are likely to start an unproven quarterback on the road against a defense that had some success last season. Baltimore pitched three shutouts last season and had a great turnover margin despite missing the playoffs at 9-7. The overall prospects for the Ravens are discouraging this season but knowing that they will be on the road in four of the first six weeks of the season will put extra emphasis on this home opener. The Ravens are at home for the final preseason week for a favorable set-up ahead of this game and the Ravens are 10-2 S/U in the past 12 home openers, covering as well in five of the past seven instances. A playoff team from a year ago the line should remain under a touchdown with the lower scoring potential for Baltimore but it should be a favorable opening week game for the Ravens no matter who ends up starting at quarterback for Buffalo. CURRENT LINE: BALTIMORE -5½

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Historically Speaking: Tampa Bay Buccaneers over New Orleans Saints:

Tampa Bay is 16-12 ATS at New Orleans since 1981 while going 19-13-1 ATS as an underdog in this series in that span while also covering in five of the past eight meetings. The Saints overcame a slow start last season to win the NFC South and expectations are high considered one of the top NFC contenders this season by many. The Saints have lost S/U in Week 1 in six of the last seven seasons however as it often takes some time for Drew Brees and the offense to reach full capacity. There are also concerns with the big defensive improvement last season being due to some scheduling breaks. Jameis Winston is currently suspended for this game which will put the Buccaneers as an even greater Week 1 underdog but Ryan Fitzpatrick is a capable veteran and the Buccaneers have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. Expected to be a NFC sleeper last season not much went right for the Buccaneers last season with a hurricane postponing the Week 1 game plus injuries taking a significant toll. Tampa Bay was only -47 in scoring differential despite a 5-11 record with seven losses by less than a touchdown last season as this wasn’t a typical last place team. Week 1 teams laying 7 or more points are just 16-23-2 ATS since 2006 including just 2-4 ATS with two S/U losses the past two seasons.  CURRENT LINE: NEW ORLEANS -9½

Look-Ahead: New York Giants over Jacksonville Jaguars:

The Giants were a stronger team than last season’s 3-13 record indicated with a number of narrow misses early in the season before things spiraled out of control for Ben McAdoo. New York had terrible luck with injuries with the receiving corps decimated early in the season and new head coach Pat Shurmur steps into a pretty good situation with a team that was in the playoffs two years ago. Shurmur didn’t have success as a head coach in Cleveland but he will have an established quarterback and a promising rookie running back to go up against one of the league’s top defensive teams. Jacksonville nearly made the Super Bowl last season but gave away the lead in the AFC Championship against the Patriots. Next on the schedule is a rematch with the Patriots for the home opener and that game certainly will be the focal point of September for a Jaguars team unaccustomed to coming off a season of success and now facing elevated expectations. The Giants will catch a home underdog spread and could be a threat against a Jaguars team that can still be erratic offensively with the Jaguars just 4-4 S/U on the road last season. CURRENT LINE: JACKSONVILLE -3½

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Letdown: San Francisco 49ers over Minnesota Vikings:

Last season everything lined up for the Vikings to have a special season, with the injury to Aaron Rodgers opening the door in the NFC North while claiming the #2 seed in the NFC and knowing that the top seeded Eagles were playing with a backup quarterback in the playoffs. Minnesota looked like a team of destiny with a miracle win over the Saints sending the team to the NFC Championship with a berth to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis at stake for an incredible storyline. Things didn’t work out with a blowout loss in Philadelphia for another devastating NFC Championship result added to the depressing postseason history of the franchise. Minnesota is considered one of the top NFC threats this season with the big free agent signing of Kirk Cousins but making a quarterback and offensive coordinator change adds for some early season adjustments that could lead to a slow start plus offensive line coach Tony Sparano passed away in late July to add to the turmoil on the staff. Meanwhile San Francisco closed 2017 with five straight wins and Jimmy Garoppolo is undefeated as a starting quarterback. The 49ers featured a formidable defense late in the season particularly against the run and the underdog will be worth a look in Week 1 in a big NFC battle.  CURRENT LINE: MINNESOTA -5½

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NFC West Preseason Preview

NFC West Preseason Preview

08/01/2016

The West has been one of the strongest divisions in the NFL with three of the last four NFC Super Bowl representatives from the West and a wild card out of the division each of the last four years as the division has 12 postseason wins in that four-year span. Most expect Arizona and Seattle to be serious contenders in 2015 while the NFL is finally back in Los Angeles in the return season for the Rams.

ARIZONA CARDINALS

Over/Under Win Total: 9.5 (-165 OVER, +135 UNDER)

Odds to win the NFC West: 7/5

Odds to win the NFC: 6/1

Odds to win Super Bowl: 12/1

STAFF CHANGES: The Cardinals promoted James Bettcher before the 2015 season to defensive coordinator and he had a strong season replacing Todd Bowles. Head Coach Bruce Arians has retained assistants Tom Moore and Harold Goodwin to lead the offense again in 2016 as most of the staff has returned after the team lost in the NFC Championship last season.

KEY POSITON BATTLE: Center

The Cardinals expect A.Q. Shipley to be the starting center but 4th round draft pick Evan Boehm has put a lot of pressure on in camp, impressing after a strong career at Missouri. Earl Watford is another versatile lineman that will get looks at center. Shipley’s job looks safe but the team will be excited to see Boehm in live game action.

OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: There is a lot of sorting out to do in the secondary with three starting spots potentially open at corner and safety and solid groups of players competing. There will also be special teams tests done to organize those groups. The defensive line will also be under watch for the Cardinals in the preseason.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The season ended poorly with an ugly loss to Carolina in the NFC Championship but it was a great season for the Cardinals with a 13-3 record and a dominant point differential on the season. Arizona figures to be on the short list of NFC favorites and they have a very favorable early season as the Cardinals could be the pace-setters in September and October.

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LOS ANGELES RAMS

Over/Under Win Total: 7.5 (+120 OVER, -150 UNDER)

Odds to win the NFC West: 15/2

Odds to win the NFC: 33/1

Odds to win Super Bowl: 66/1

STAFF CHANGES: Some expected a change after the announcement that the team was moving from St. Louis to Los Angeles but Jeff Fisher is a native to the area and played his college ball at USC, looking like a great candidate to lead the renewal of the NFL in the area despite four straight losing seasons with the Rams. Five assistants were released in January however including changes on special teams, running backs, and wide receivers positions. Rob Boras is the team’s new offensive coordinator, promoted from leading the tight ends while Gregg Williams is the defensive coordinator.

KEY POSITON BATTLE: Quarterback

The Rams traded to get the #1 pick in April’s draft and selected Jared Goff out of California. He may get a chance to start right away as Nick Foles was recently released. Case Keenum has some NFL experience and looks like the main option if Goff is not deemed ready to start from Week 1. Sean Mannion is also on the roster after briefly appearing once last season in his first season out of Oregon State.

OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Cory Harkey and Lance Kendricks are holdover tight ends with the departure of Jared Cook to Green Bay. The Rams also drafted both Tyler Higbee and Temarrick Hemingway as the position could turn over significantly. The Rams could be without both of last season’s starting safeties as Rodney McLeod signed with the Eagles and T.J. McDonald had an off-season incident that may leave his role in question. Kenny Britt and Brian Quick could be pushed by rookie Pharoh Cooper at wide receiver as well.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Enthusiasm will be high with the move to Los Angeles but the Rams reside in a tough division and the move will increase the travel demand significantly in a year where the Rams will also give up a home game to play in London. Los Angeles has some talented pieces on defense and at times the unit shined last season but getting consistent results from the offense has been an ongoing problem throughout Fisher’s tenure with the franchise.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

Over/Under Win Total: 5.5 (-115 OVER, -115 UNDER)

Odds to win the NFC West: 20/1

Odds to win the NFC: 40/1

Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1

STAFF CHANGES: Chip Kelly was fired before last season ended in Philadelphia and while the Eagles were a big disappointment last season Kelly has a winning NFL record in three seasons. He inherits a challenging situation in San Francisco as Jim Tomasula was released after just one season. Kelly brought on former Lions assistant and Curtis Modkins as his offensive coordinator, a role he had with the Bills from 2010-12. Leading the defense is Jim O’Neil who was the defensive coordinator with the Browns the past two seasons. A handful of 2015 assistants were retained on the staff including former 49ers fullback Tom Rathman who has been an assistant on the team through four coaching changes.

KEY POSITON BATTLE: Quarterback

The 49ers mostly had better success behind Blaine Gabbert last season, touting a much more accurate arm but lacking the dynamic ground presence of Colin Kaerpernick. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl just a few years ago and remains the face of the franchise but he is recovering from off-season surgery and the quarterback decision will be the biggest decision Kelly will need to make for 2016. San Francisco did pick up Jeff Driskel in the 6th round of the draft and he will get some snaps in August as well.

OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Cornerback features a group with limited experience but a lot of draft picks have been used on the position in recent years as there should be suitable options. Tramaine Brock started last season and is the most established in the group while Kenneth Acker also saw some productive time last season. Jimmie Ward and Dontae Johnson will be in the mix along with three rookie draft picks led by Will Redmond from Mississippi State who was picked in the 3rd round.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Not much was expected when Chip Kelly took over the Eagles but in year one a division title was delivered, led by unheralded quarterback Nick Foles. Kelly will hope to work similar magic on a 49ers roster that has turned over significantly in recent seasons after the fallout from Jim Harbaugh’s departure two years ago. Delivering a division title with this group in year one would be a remarkable accomplishment as the West appears to have a pair of serious contenders and by most accounts the 49ers were one of the league’s worst teams last season.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

Over/Under Win Total: 10.5 (-140 OVER, +110 UNDER)

Odds to win the NFC West: 10/11

Odds to win the NFC: 9/2

Odds to win Super Bowl: 9/1

STAFF CHANGES: Seattle made a few minor changes under Pete Carroll as he enters just his sixth season with the franchise, leading a great run of success. Kris Richard will be in his second season as defensive coordinator and Darrell Bevell remains the offensive coordinator despite annually being in the rumor mill as a potential head coaching hire elsewhere.

KEY POSITON BATTLE: Offensive Line

While the retirement of Marshawn Lynch made the biggest waves the Seahawks also lost Russell Okung and J.R. Sweezy in free agency and the running game could suffer greatly. It is a young group and with the team having to pay Russell Wilson and some of the defensive stars the offensive line was not the priority. Garry Gilliam and Bradley Sowell will be in the mix at left tackle while rookie Rees Odhiambo could push Mark Glowinski at right guard. Justin Britt and Patrick Lewis also figure to have a head-to-head battle at center.

OTHER POSITIONS TO WATCH: Running back is assumed to be led by Thomas Rawls but Christine Michael is also back with the team after finding some success late last season after bouncing around with three teams. Three running backs were picked up in the draft led by C.J. Prosise in the 3rd round. A new back-up quarterback will also be on the roster for the Seahawks with free agent Jake Heaps and rookie Trevone Boykin in play for that spot but a veteran could also be signed at some point. The defense figures to remain fierce but the biggest question mark could be at linebacker on the strong side, needing to replace Bruce Irvin. Mike Morgan is a solid option but from other positions Cassius Marsh and Eric Pinkins could get a look in that role.

SEASON OUTLOOK: The Seahawks should remain on the shortlist of NFC contenders. The 2015 team was relegated to a wild card with a handful of narrow losses and with a favorable early season schedule the West could be Seattle’s to reclaim. It would be a surprise if the Seahawks didn’t return to the playoffs but the line and running game will need to hold up once the schedule stiffens in the second half. Now paying their star quarterback a real quarterback salary the Seahawks have had to pinch the numbers in other areas and that could start to show up this season.

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NFL Schedule Review: NFC West

NFL Schedule Review:  NFC West

05/10/2016

The recent NFL Draft dominates the conversation in the spring but the release of the NFL schedule can often have a bigger impact on the success or failure of the season for most teams. Here is brief breakdown of the schedules for the four NFC West teams.

Toughest Opposition – 49ERS: The West is a loaded division and while the Rams have moved cities San Francisco is the team in the more major transition with Chip Kelly overhauling the team for the third head coach in three seasons for the 49ers. San Francisco draws the toughest schedule in the entire league based on last season’s records, facing teams that went 142-114. San Francisco faces just six 2015 playoff teams with only two games outside the division but they also draw three other teams that were 8-8 or better that didn’t quite make the playoffs.

Weakest Opposition – CARDINALS: All of the teams in the NFC West have difficult rated schedules but Arizona may catch a bit of a break with a 1st place schedule as Washington and Minnesota don’t look like typical 1st place squads and the Cardinals will avoid the Packers and Cowboys. The Cardinals have the weakest rated schedule in the division based on the 2015 records and unlike Seattle the Cardinals will get to host the game with New England and with that being a Week 1 game Tom Brady may not be playing. Seattle does get to host Carolina unlike Arizona but the Seahawks have late season games at New England and Green Bay in potentially challenging weather while Arizona shouldn’t have to play a cold weather game all season.

Toughest Travel – RAMS: By giving up a home game for a London slot the Rams will have significant travel this season. Not counting the overseas trip the Rams have four other games at least 1,600 miles away as giving up the centrally located St. Louis home for the west coast will add a lot of travel miles for the team, particularly with the NFC South and AFC East draw this season. Los Angeles travels at least 300 miles for every road game while only featuring two trips of fewer than 900 miles. The early season travel is particularly difficult with five of the first seven games away from home before the week 8 bye.

Lightest Travel – CARDINALS: Arizona still has six trips of over 1,200 miles on the schedule as every team in this division will log serious mileage but the Cardinals don’t have any trips over 2,000 miles compared to every other team in the division having at least four such trips.  Arizona does close the season with road games in five of the final seven games for some taxing late season travel but the Cardinals should be favored in at least three of those road games and the early season schedule looks very favorable before a run of marquee games in October.

Weakest Coaching Draw – RAMS: Despite all the changes for the Rams the team resisted the urge to make a coaching change and in the new city Los Angeles will draw five games vs. new head coaches this season. The Rams face the Buccaneers and Giants early in the season as well as facing Miami and the 49ers twice as Los Angeles will have some reasonable opportunities and the 3rd place draw might actually be preferable to the 4th place draw that the 49ers have that features the Cowboys and Bears.

Most Exposure – SEAHAWKS: The Seahawks have been in the Super Bowl two of the last three years and Seattle will again be on the short list of contenders in 2016. As such the Seahawks will get significant national coverage, currently slated for three Sunday night games plus Thursday and Monday games on the schedule as well. Seattle won’t play a 2015 playoff team until a Week 7 Sunday night game with the Cardinals and they will have Monday and Sunday night games back-to-back in Weeks 9 and 10, actually featuring a primetime night game five times in the span of nine weeks.

Lightest Quarterback Draw – SEAHAWKS: Seattle has five games vs. the top 10 Total QBR quarterbacks from last season but early in the season the Seattle defense has to like its matchups with the Dolphins, Rams, 49ers, and Jets in the first four weeks. Things will get tougher in the middle of the season but ultimately Seattle has to feel pretty good about its draw even with several well qualified veteran quarterbacks on the schedule.

Toughest Quarterback Draw – 49ERS: A San Francisco squad in transition will face a tough crop of opposing quarterbacks, particularly early in the year facing Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, Tony Romo, and Carson Palmer in succession from Weeks 2 to 5. Tyrod Taylor, Drew Brees, Jay Cutler, and Matt Ryan are also on the schedule as the new look 49ers defense will have its work cut out for it.

Best Overall Schedule Draw – CARDINALS: While Arizona’s 2015 season ended disastrously with an ugly NFC Championship performance the Cardinals have a schedule that should allow the team another opportunity in the playoffs. If Tom Brady’s suspension holds it will provide a big boost with the matchup with New England in Week 1 and Arizona should feel good about its chances for a great start to the season heading into huge games with the Seahawks and Panthers in succession before a centrally located Week 9 bye. The late season schedule is a bit road-heavy but the matchups are manageable and it would be a big surprise if the Cardinals did not wind up with a strong home record in 2016. Overall the NFC West has a tough draw with the four NFC South teams and the four AFC East teams looking formidable in addition to significant travel miles across the board as matching the 2015 records won’t be easy for any NFC West team.

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