Trying to Right My Ship With College Games This Saturday

Franklin
Franklin
James Franklin leads the Tigers against Toledo in Saturday action this week.

Season Record 1-4, Last Week 1-4

I think I know how Oregon State and Kansas State felt last week. After they both lost to good FCS teams, they were still nevertheless, losses to FCS teams. I really liked the slate of games I had last week and although I was very close on a couple of them, that doesn’t exactly win you points with the bookie.

Here are the five games I like this weekend in college football.

Toledo (+17) at Missouri – Tigers’ Head Coach Gary Pinkel welcomes his old team to Columbia this week and the Rockets have to come in with some confidence despite losing at Florida. Toledo lost in the Swamp just 24-6 and although the Gators had several players sitting out due to injuries and suspensions, the Rockets gave them a game.

Missouri meanwhile laid waste to Murray State 58-14 at home behind an offensive outburst. On the surface, this game seems tighter than expected but consider that Toledo was more than doubled in offensive yards by the Gators including by 212 yards on the ground. I like the Tigers to win by more than 17.

Navy (+13) at Indiana – Last season in Annapolis, these two played an epic game with the Midshipmen coming out on top 31-30 with a TD late in the fourth quarter. Navy was off last week but had plenty of film of the Hoosiers to study as they defeated Indiana State 73-35. What concerns me with Navy is that this is their first game and often with the triple option offense they run, you need a game or two to get the kinks out.

Make no mistake that the Middies will score on a less then stellar Hoosiers’ defense. The problem will be stopping the balanced attack of the Hoosiers. Last week the Hoosiers put up over 300 yards rushing and over 300 yards passing. I think Navy keeps this close early but I like Indiana to pull away. Take the Hoosiers.

Gardner
Gardner must take better care of the ball against the Irish than he did against the Chippewas.

Notre Dame (+4) at Michigan – The Irish return to Ann Arbor for another classic under the lights at the Big House. Last time they were here, they gave up a late score behind the heroics of Denard Robinson. Last season, Notre Dame forced the Wolverines into numerous turnovers and uncharacteristic mistakes in a defensive struggle in South Bend.

‘Shoelace’ Robinson is now in the NFL but Michigan now has a guy in Devin Gardner who is a dangerous dual-threat guy. He isn’t as fast as Robinson, but he’s a much better passer. Both the Wolverines and Irish were good in opening game wins last week against far lesser opponents and now tackle each other.

Tommy Rees isn’t Everett Golson, but he is a darn good passer who threw for over 300 yards last week. I give him the edge over Gardner who looked shaky at times against Central Michigan to whom he threw two interceptions. I expect another defensive battle but I like the Irish here getting four points.

Arizona (-10.5) at UNLV – If ever there were a misleading score last week it was UNLV’s 51-23 loss to Minnesota. The Rebels outgained the Gophers 419-320 but gave up a kickoff return for touchdown, a blocked field goal returned for touchdown and an interception returned for a touchdown. That was certainly bad news for the Rebels but it gets worse with Arizona coming into Las Vegas.

The Wildcats defeated Northern Arizona 35-0 behind solid defense and a back-up running back who rushed for over 100 yards and a touchdown. The Wildcats get the nation’s leading rusher from last year, Ka’Deem Carey back from a one game suspension and he will be primed to run through the Rebels.

I think UNLV puts up a fight but I expect the Wildcats to pull away. Take ‘Zona.

September NFL Betting Trends

The NFL regular season starts tonight with a great matchup in Denver with the Broncos host the Baltimore Ravens. With the start of the season, a bettor’s eye should be kept open for the trends during the month.

These September trends could help those interested in wagering online on sites such as Bovada, betonline, topbet and sportsbook.com.

Best Home Teams

Home teams during September are led by San Francisco. The 49ers are 23-14 ATS in September and play the Packers and Colts this year. Baltimore is 24-15 ATS at home in September and faces Cleveland as well as Houston on their home field.

Worst Home Teams

The Cincinnati Bengals will be attempting to make the postseason for the third consecutive season, but it does not mean they have been successful at home in September.

The Bengals are just 11-25 ATS at home in September. That might not improve this season as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers on a Monday and Green Bay just six days later.

The Arizona Cardinals are also a bad home team in September. The Cardinals have just one home game during the month this season against Detroit, but are just 12-22 ATS.

Best Road Warriors

Dallas has played well on the road and has a record of 26-14 ATA during September. The Cowboys play the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers both in September on the road.

Denver is successful on the road as well at 24-16 ATS during September when not playing at home

Worst Road Warriors

September has not been kind to the Philadelphia Eagles away from home. The Eagles are 14-26 ATS during September when on the road. Even worse is Pittsburgh with a 14-27 road record ATS.

Worst Favorites

These teams do not perform well as favorites in September – Carolina is 7-16 ATS, Cincinnati is 9-19 ATS and Pittsburgh is 11-23 ATS.

Best Dogs

Since Dallas has a great road record in September it would be logical their record as an underdog would be equally good. Well that happens to be the case, the Cowboys have a record of 21-9 ATS as a road dog.

Worst Dogs

The worst of the bunch is Philadelphia. The Eagles when getting points in September are just 9-18 ATS and play Washington and Denver in September this season.

Division Games

When playing against divisional opponents in the month of September, no team is worse than the Oakland Raiders at 11-22 ATS. This season they face Denver in September. However, do not jump too soon and bet against the Raiders. Against the Broncos, of late in Denver, Oakland is 6-1 ATS.

Watch out For

The Cowboys have two road games in September with AFC West teams the Kansas City Chiefs and the San Diego Chargers and play well on the road in September. Facing two mediocre teams could help the Cowboys improve that road record. Those two games will be interesting depending upon the spread.

My Super Bowl Picks for Your Consideration

Brees
Brees
I like Drew Brees and the Saints to get hot late in the season and make a run to the Super Bowl.

Predicting the Super Bowl participants used to be a fairly easy proposition. Long before the days of free agency and the salary cap, all one had to do was look at rosters, consider coaches and make their selection. In the 1960’s, the Green Bay Packers were always a safe bet. In the ’70’s, you could pick amongst the Steelers, Dolphins, Raiders and Cowboys and feel confident.

In the decade of the 1980’s, you felt good about San Francisco and Denver and then in ’90’s teams like the Redskins, Bills and Cowboys would give you cause to sleep well at night.

My how things have changed in the National Football League. No longer do we just consider the best roster or the best coach. We know must consider injuries more than ever because of weak depth charts and we must consider ‘strength of schedule’ as well.

Perhaps more important than all of those things though is trying to figure out what teams will be the hottest when the playoffs start. Back in 2005, the Pittsburgh Steelers had to win their final five games just to make the playoffs. They did and then won three playoff games on the road before winning Super Bowl XL.

Not long after, the New York Giants accomplished the same feat and the Green Bay Packers rode a wave of momentum to a Super Bowl XLV victory. The Packers (and Patriots) also serve another point. Both teams recently had historical regular seasons only to be knocked out of the playoffs or Super Bowl by ‘hot teams.’

Baltimore was just such a team last season and although it took a blown coverage in Denver and the usual Peyton Manning choke-job to do it, the won their second Super Bowl title.

For the 2013 season, there are once again a handful of suspects that everyone has on their list of potential Super Bowl participants. San Francisco, Atlanta and Seattle are popular picks in the NFC while Denver, New England and Cincinnati are garnering lots of attention in the AFC.

Fox
John Fox and the Broncos should take advantage of a weak division and roll to a big regular season.

My two participants are a combination of a team I believe will get hot and one that I believe will roll to a great regular season record and home-field advantage.

In the AFC, I like the Denver Broncos to emerge from the pack and represent the conference in Super Bowl XLVIII. Despite the fact that they have to play the NFC East, I believe their division in the AFC West is extremely weak. Although Kansas City will be improved, I still see the Broncos going 6-0 in their division.

While the defense will miss Von Miller for the first six games, the offense should carry them. Denver has five of their first eight games at home and then the schedule lightens up late in the season despite being on the road in four of the final six. They’ll get the Titans, Chiefs, Chargers and Raiders in that span.

I believe you’ll see Denver hosting New England in the AFC title game and advancing with a win.

In the NFC, I like a team to catch fire late and the team I like is the New Orleans Saints. Make no mistake about it; Sean Payton and company have not forgotten their lost season due to ‘BountyGate.’ The offense behind Payton and Drew Brees is loaded with talent at running back, wide receiver and tight end.

The defense will not be dominant but they won’t have to be because of the offensive prowess. Team leader Jonathan Vilma is not 100% and it will take him some time before he is. If they can return to the form that helped to create all those turnovers en route to Super Bowl XLI then I really like them to get back there.

San Francisco and Seattle will both be very good, but I think they will peak early as will Atlanta. I can envision a scenario where New Orleans wins on the road in San Francisco and then defeats Atlanta in the Georgia Dome to advance.

It’s a bit of a long shot, but I like the Saints and Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.

NFC West is the NFC Best

The NFC West may be better referred to this season as the NFL Best. From top to bottom, the division is strong with the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks at the top and the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals not far below them.

Just three seasons ago, the NFC West was the punch line of many jokes as the Seahawks finished with a dismal 7-9 record that was good enough for first place and the NFC West title.

That was the first time in NFL history a division winner finished with a record below .500. and hosted a postseason game to boot.

Just three seasons later and the NFC West is now rock solid with the most competitive division in the NFL.

Even if some football fans consider the Cardinals and Rams as mediocre clubs, the 49ers and Seahawks are two of the top four teams in all of football.

Seattle has been turned around by Head Coach Pete Carroll, quarterback Russell Wilson and running back Marshawn Lynch. The 49ers have one of the league’s best coaches in Jim Harbaugh.

Seattle’s offense is tough to stop with the aforementioned Wilson and Lynch, but it is their defense and particularly their defensive secondary that is by far the best in the NFL, led by Richard Sherman.

For San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick has added a dual threat of run and throw at the quarterback position but it is their defense and particularly their linebackers that are the backbone of the team.

Depth is another key element both Seattle and San Francisco possess. Both can have injuries take place during the season and sustain them without missing a beat. San Francisco will miss Michael Crabtree and Seattle, Percy Harvin for the majority of the season, but odds makers have not lowered their odds of winning the division or the Super Bowl.

After the top two elite teams in the division, there is a drop in talent but the Rams and Cardinals will surprise many this season. The Rams were 4-1-1 in division play in 2012. St. Louis should protect Sam Bradford at quarterback better this season, giving him time to show critics how good he is.

The Rams have Tavon Austin who might just win the Offensive Rookie of the Year, while Chris Givens will complement Austin. The Rams picked up tackle Jake Long to solidify their blocking and pass protection. Defensively they are tough in their front seven, but could have problems in the secondary.

Arizona might be considered the fourth team and not given much of a chance, but they will prove many wrong this season. The team was hit hard with Daryl Washington being suspended and Jonathan Cooper the team’s first round guard shattering his leg.

Carson Palmer ended his disastrous tenure at Oakland and is now a Cardinal. If Larry Fitzgerald can return to being Larry Fitzgerald, then Palmer to Fitzgerald could become one of the top tandems in the NFL.

Defensively the Cardinals will be strong with Tyrann Mathieu making an impact from his first down on the field.

Look for the 49ers to claim the NFC West title, with Seattle second, St. Louis third and the Cardinals fourth.

SI’s Peter King is Out of Bounds

Redskins
Redskins
The Redskins' name is once again under fire.

There was once a time when the first thing I read every single Monday morning of the National Football League season was Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback. MMQB was the first and foremost piece for pro football fans on the si.com website. It became so popular that King has done what ESPN’s Bill Simmons did with Grantland and has made MMQB its’ own entity.

King is one of the preeminent NFL writers and one of its most senior. While he’ll never hold a candle to the great Paul Zimmerman, King is well read and well researched. The problem I have come to find with King over the last several years is that he has become a New England Patriots’ homer and shill for the commissioner Roger Goodell.

King is a denier of Spygate and instead of accepting that it was much more than what the league made it out to be, he went along with them. In turn, he lost a lot of fans along the way.

His writing during that time has also become political in its’ nature. He has used his forum to spew sermons on such things as gun control and his disdain for the former President Bush. I have my opinions as well on those subject but I know where and when to share them.

King
Peter King has apparently decided to stop using the term 'Redskins' when discussing them.

To be fair, King has done positive things too. He is a major supporter of the Pat Tillman Foundation and has called attention to the plight of former players battling diseases such as Lou Gehrig’s and the like. I think King means well in most of what he does but if the reports are true about his latest political stance then I have a problem.

According to the websites awfulannouncing.com and deadspin.com, King’s MMQB has informally announced they will not use the term ‘Redskins’ any longer when writing or reporting on them. While King himself has yet to say anything publicly, it sounds as if the foundation for this political stance has been laid.

As you and I know, King has the Constitutional right to say, write and do as he chooses on his website. He is also fully aware that there will be a backlash because he’s seen it before when commenting on other testy political topics.

Owner of the Washington Redskins Daniel Snyder has made it clear he has no plans to change the name despite very minor political pressure to do so. I say “minor” because there are not a lot of people calling for this name change. It’s being pushed by a small group who find the term offensive and you know what? It is in fact an offensive term for a Native American. Not the point however.

Someone said it’s no different than calling them the Washington N-words. I disagree with that because the original intent of Redskins did not start out as racially insensitive. The term was coined by the British who saw a tribe of Native Americans who had painted their faces red using tree roots and other materials. It has since been used

Maybe that doesn’t matter in all of this because it is still ‘offensive.’ Is it offensive because it details the skin color or is it offensive because of it’s’ relationship to Native Americans? If it’s the latter, then King should stop using the term ‘Chiefs’ because that also deals with Native Americans. In fact, King should also stop using the term ‘Patriots’ because I know descendants of Great Britain who live here and they are offended by that name.

King should also not use terms like ‘Celtics’ because that could upset someone who isn’t Irish. He should also avoid ‘Packers’ because that would offend vegetarians and he should also avoid the term ‘Saints’ because that might upset non-Catholics or perhaps some atheists.

Maybe what King should be doing is working with Native American tribes and the Redskins to bring together an understanding of the culture much in the way the Seminole tribe of Florida has done with Florida State University.

If Peter King is going to report on all 32 NFL teams then he should respect that portion of his job and save his political stances for another forum. Sports are the release for millions and the last thing they want to be inundated with is more political opinion.

 

Top Five Teams Entering the 2013 NFL Season

The NFL season is days away and these five teams will have the best shot at playing for and possibly lifting  the Vince Lombardi Trophy in early February.

Denver Broncos

Last season Denver finished 13-3 in its first season with Peyton Manning under center. Most online books including Bovada have the Broncos as the favorite to win this season’s Super Bowl with Manning returning in top form and new additions to the lineup.

The Broncos added Wes Welker to their receiving corps. His acquisition may have just rounded out the offense.

However, they have had a hiccup or two on defense with injuries to key players and the Von Miller the All Pro linebacker’s suspension. Nevertheless, they were and still are the class of the AFC.

New England

Last season the New England Patriots finished 12-4 and led the league in total offense. The Patriots have made the postseason in all but one of the past 10 seasons and sportsbooks such as Topbet have made them the favorite for the AFC East title.

Their troubled offseason with Aaron Hernandez being arrested for murder has been a distraction but any time Tom Brady is on the field of play, the Patriots have a chance to win the game.

Welker got away from them and Rob Gronkowski their all world tight end is still trying to overall nagging injuries, including back surgery.

Look for the Patriots to be their deep in the postseason with a possible matchup between them and the Broncos for the AFC Title.

Seattle Seahawks

The NFC West has two of the top five teams in football and one of them is the Seattle Seahawks. Last season they finished 11-5 and will attempt to win the first Super Bowl of their franchise this season.

With Russell Wilson at quarterback, they have a dual run/pass threat and a top-flight running back in Marshawn Lynch.

Defensively the Seahawks have the best secondary in football led by Richard Sherman.

Injuries have slowed the defensive line a bit but by the second or third game, the defense will be back to top form.

San Francisco 49ers

The other great team in the NFC West is the San Francisco 49ers who finished last season 11-4-1.

Colin Kaepernick gives San Francisco an equally great of better run/pass option than Seattle. Odds are against the 49ers as they lost the Super Bowl last season and only two teams in the history of the game have returned to win the Super Bowl the following season.

The 49ers own one of the league’s best defenses led by Patrick Willis at linebacker. They will be without starting wide out Michael Crabtree, but offseason acquisition Anquan Boldin a veteran possession receiver will help.

Green Bay Packers

Last season the Green Bay Packers finished 11-5. At the start of each season, the Packers always come up when the Super Bowl is discussed thanks to quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

The Pack re-signed Rodgers to a long deal and retained his three receivers Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson making them a solid threat to win the NFC North and reach the NFC Championship.

Green Bay has been in the postseason all of the past four seasons with a Super Bowl win in 2011.

Best Bets on Who Makes the Playoffs in the NFL

Arians
Arians
Are Bruce Arians' Cardinals a good pick to make the playoffs?

This is always one of my favorite things to discuss when it comes to betting on the National Football League because there are so many factors that can come into play that it might make one absolutely nuts. Our friends at Bovada have posted their over/under odds on the chances for each team to make the NFL playoffs and I think there are some really good mid to long-shot opportunities for you to consider.

Keep in mind, these aren’t teams that are heavily favored to make the playoffs because hey, where’s the fun in that?

Will Arizona make the playoffs? Yes +1000/No -2000 – The biggest problem facing the Cardinals is their division. Both Seattle and San Francisco are favorites to go to the Super Bowl and St. Louis will be improved on both sides of the ball. I like the pairing of Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer.

Arians will allow Palmer to throw the ball down the field which benefits Larry Fitzgerald and I really like the athleticism of the defense which looks like they’ll create a lot of turnovers. Arizona will be a better team this year but they won’t make the playoffs simply because they’ll get lost in the shuffle of the NFC West.

Will Baltimore make the playoffs? Yes -105/No -125 – I know, “You said these were teams not heavily favored to make the playoffs and these are the Super Bowl Champs!” Consider this however; the Ravens will enter the season with more new starters than any Super Bowl winning team in history. Gone are Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Paul Krueger, Ed Reed and so on…

Baltimore is also in a division that I believe gets much closer together in terms of competitiveness. Cleveland will be improved, the Steelers are the Steelers and the Bengals enter as the favorites. I say the Ravens make it to the playoffs riding the offense and a younger defense.

Turner
Will Turner improve the Browns' offense enough to get them into the playoffs?

Will Cleveland make the playoffs? Yes +350/No -500 – Norv Turner is two different people. There’s the head coach Norv Turner and the offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Give me the coordinator over the head coach Norv Turner any day. This is the one the Browns have and I believe he’ll immediately upgrade the offense and the play of Brandon Weeden.

The defense was very solid for the most part last year and if Turner can get Trent Richardson the ball and he stays healthy then that makes Weeden that much more effective. I look at the Browns the same way I do the Cardinals. They are in a very competitive division and will get lost in the shuffle. I see vast improvement, but I see no playoffs this year.

Will Detroit make the playoffs? Yes +250/No -325 – The Lions were a lot better than their 4-12 record last year. They suffered numerous close losses and Calvin Johnson was tackled inside the five yard line eight times last year and Detroit only punched it in half the time. That trend should change in 2013.

Reggie Bush will improve the running game and will be a monster catching passes out of the backfield. The front four defensively will be outstanding but what is behind them is the question mark. Can the linebackers and secondary make plays? I see the Bears and Vikings taking steps back this year so look for the Lions to make the playoffs.

NFC East tighter than any division top to bottom

With the NFL season starting in four days, teams are making their final preparations to jump out of the gate running.

The NFC East is expected to be one of the league most competitive divisions in football, with very little if any gap between the first place team and the fourth place team.

Odds makers such as topbet, betonline, sportsbook.com and Bovada were giving at one time 8 to 1 odds on every team in the NFC East to be Super Bowl Champs, not a bad thing, to have those odds for the Cowboys, Redskins, Giants and Eagles.

All four teams have positive attributes, with most being on the offense. Even Philadelphia, with Michael Vick again calling the signals under center, is an interesting betting proposition.

With new head coach Chip Kelly putting into place an up-tempo offense, the Eagles, could surprise many if Vick can hold onto the ball.

Each team has a legitimate shot to be crowned NFC East champion. The past four seasons have seen each of the four teams in the division, win a division title, with the most recent being the 2012 Washington Redskins.

However, over the past three straight seasons, only the team to win the division has qualified for the postseason, which is due to parity in the division and no one team dominating their divisional games.

Most odds makers and online sportsbooks reflect the feeling that the division is an open race. Currently the Giants are favored to win the division with 7 to 5, while the Redskins and Cowboys are both at 9 to 5, with the long shot going to the Eagles at only 4 to 1.

As of now, the Eagles have more bets in their favor to win the NFC East than any of their other division rivals.

Some are backing the Cowboys and must have confidence Dallas has found a way to defeat Washington, as they lost both meetings against the Redskins last season.

Those betting on Washington have to feel that Robert Griffin III will return from his knee surgery and lead them to victory. As of this morning, the win total for Washington was still on 7.5 with some decent plays for the OVER.

The win total for New York was 9, with Dallas at 8 and Philadelphia 7.

Just two games are separating the four teams from the top to the bottom in the NFC East in win totals and no other division in the NFL is packed so tightly as this one.

Prediction: Dallas 11-5, division champs.

Making Some Sense of College Football’s First Saturday

Manziel
Manziel
Johnny Manziel's play was solid but his mouth and antics were the story.

College Football kicked off its’ first full Saturday of the 2013 season yesterday. In typical fashion there were big-time blowouts, games that went down to the final seconds and big individual performances. I’m going to do my best to break some of the key action down and give you something to think about moving forward.

Manziel Returns – The second half of yesterday’s Texas A&M-Rice game in College Station couldn’t come fast enough for Aggies’ fans. After sitting out the first half, Manziel threw three touchdown passes to rescue the Aggies from the Owls who were more than up to the challenge. Rice trailed by just seven at the half and by just 10 in the fourth quarter before A&M pulled away.

For the most part, Manziel looked much like himself yesterday but also looked like a complete jerk too. He was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct after getting into several smack-talking sessions with Rice players. I say kudos to the Owls who let Manziel know time and time again about his autograph allegations. They goaded Manziel into it and he got caught. Get used to it Johnny.

If I’m Kevin Sumlin though, I’m more concerned about the fact my defense got torched for over 500 yards by the Owls. If they can do that, what will SEC foes do to them?

Price
Price was excellent in a huge win over Boise State.

Whipping Out West – Lost in the East Coast bias that is college football was Washington’s 38-6 drubbing over #19 Boise State in Seattle. While I believe the win by the Huskies wasn’t totally shocking, the dominance in which they did it was.

Boise was seen as the BCS buster once again by many experts but that isn’t going to happen as the Broncos gave up over 550 yards of offense. Huskies’ quarterback Keith Price threw for 324 yards and two touchdowns while running back Bishop Sankey ran 25 times for 161 yards two scores. Washington is serving notice that they won’t be an easy out in the Pac-12 but they must be consistent to prove that.

FCS Serves Notice – On Friday night, defending Football Championship Subdivision Champion North Dakota State knocked off an FBS team for the second straight year when they scored with under a minute to play to beat Kansas State in Manhattan. Yesterday, Eastern Washington traveled to Corvallis, Oregon to play the 25th ranked Oregon State Beavers and the Eagles escaped with a wild 49-46 upset.

The two teams combined for 1,100 yards of offense with 635 of those yards rung up by the Eagles. Despite leading by double-digits at the half, EWU had to rally in the second half after the Beavers took the lead late in the game. Eagles’ QB Vernon Adams scored the game-winner with :18 remaining. Both Adams and OSU quarterback Sean Mannion were brilliant with both guys throwing for over 400 yards without an interception.

There was a time when any FCS team could play an FBS team and it wouldn’t have to worry about being beaten. Those days are long gone even for the FBS teams that are ranked.

Also from Saturday… Notre Dame and Michigan each did their part to enter next weekend’s showdown in Ann Arbor unbeaten. The Irish defeated Temple 28-6 while the Wolverines crushed Central Michigan 59-9… Nebraska held on late to defeat Wyoming 37-34 to keep the nation’s longest-active opening game winning streak alive. The number now stands at 28 straight opening victories. Virginia Tech has the record at 40 straight… Speaking of the Hokies, they were defeated by #1 Alabama last night in the Georgia Dome 35-10. Don’t let the score fool you though. The Bama offense mustered just 206 total yards while the Hokies had just 212. The Tide benefited from two Christion Jones returns for touchdowns (one punt and one kickoff).

Steelers to win AFC North in 2013

With the NFL Season less than a week away, teams have reduced their rosters and are looking forward to the opening kickoff.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had a mediocre season last year finishing just 8-8 on the season. This season fans, are expecting the Steelers to reach the postseason.

However, critics say the defense is getting too old and they have to play in a tough AFC division against the Baltimore Ravens, the defending Super Bowl Champions and the Cincinnati Bengals who are on the rise.

Many, including odds makers like Bovada, betonline, topbet and sportsbook.com have the Steelers for the AFC crown at 11/1 and the Super Bowl at 25/1. The Steelers win total has been set at 9, with the over at -130.

Nevertheless, the Steelers will surprise many this season and should win the AFC North and battle for the AFC Championship. Reaching the Super Bowl might be a long shot, but they will be their trying.

One reason the Steelers should play well is that important players have returned from injury. Lamarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu are both completely healthy again to start the season. Polamalu was once the defensive player of the year, but suffered from a calf problem the entire year last season.

Last season the defense of the Steelers was No. 1 in yards given up, but they did not have the sacks they needed or create enough turnovers. Woodley will help with the pass rush, as he knows how to get to the quarterback and keep him from being too comfortable in the pocket.

This will also be the second season the Steelers have used the offense of Todd Haley. Last season they were inconsistent and some of that can be attributed to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger being out injured.

Some thought Big Ben would not take to the changes, but the professional that he is has accepted them and is moving forward.

The offensive line is once again healthier than it has been in quite some time. Last season the team lost David Decastro its first round pick for more than half the season. While Marcus Gilbert one of the starting tackles was placed on injured reserve following week 6.

This season all should be healthy and experienced and the line should not only open holes for the Steelers running game, but also protect Big Ben for the passing game.

Pittsburgh also enjoyed a solid draft this offseason. They were able to address some of their needs. Jarvis Jones will be an impact defensive player at linebacker from the start.

Le’Veon Bell at running back was listed to be the team’s starter but injured his foot in preseason. He should return before week 5 and will help the sluggish running attack.

Overall, the Steelers look strong top to bottom, with the only exception being their running attack until Bell returns from injury.

Prediction: Win total 9 – Over. Division: AFC North Champion