Packers Host Falcons in Wintry Green Bay

Eddie Lacy and the Packers host the Falcons tonight in Monday Night Football.

As of right now, the forecast for Green Bay, Wisconsin for tonight is ice pellets. For those of you that are weather-challenged, ice pellets are larger versions of freezing rain. Let’s put it this way; ice pellets generally mean that the conditions are conducive for just about any type of winter weather there possibly could be.

Tonight in Lambeau Field, the elements will provide us with whatever they choose, I’m here to provide you with the knowledge you need to do well should you throw some money down.

Atlanta (O/U 56) at Green Bay (-13) – Before we get too far into this match-up, let’s discuss what’s at stake for each team based upon games played yesterday. For Green Bay, they need a win to keep their one game lead over the Detroit Lions in the NFC North. The Lions defeated Tampa Bay yesterday to move to 9-4 on the season and a loss by the Packers tonight would drop them into a tie although the Lions won the first game between the two teams.

For Atlanta, the Falcons got a nice surprise with New Orleans getting smoked at home (the fourth straight time) by Carolina. That drops the Saints to 5-8 on the season. A win by the Falcons would get them to 6-7 and a full game up on the Saints. They can’t sleep on the Panthers though who moved to 4-8-1 with their win in New Orleans.

Julio Jones needs a big game in order for the Falcons to win on the road tonight.

Now that we know what the stakes are, let’s get down to business.

Neither team is overwhelming on defense with the Packers ranking 24th in the league and the Falcons ranking 31st. Green Bay is respectable against the pass ranking 11th while Atlanta really struggles and ranks 31st. Green Bay’s Achilles’ Heel is against the run where they rank 28th. Atlanta does a decent job comparatively speaking by ranking 19th.

Offensively, the stats for Green Bay shouldn’t be surprising. They rank eighth overall, 19th in rushing and ninth in passing. For the Falcons, they rank ninth in total offense, 25th against the run and sixth in passing.

Common sense tells us that both Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan will thrive on the passing game but the difference is likely to be the rushing attacks. The Packers’ Eddie Lacy has picked up his play considerably in recent weeks and his ability to run the football only makes Rodgers more dangerous.

Ryan has largely had to depend on himself to move the ball and score points this year. With Roddy White dealing with an ankle issue, he isn’t going to be 100% so the pressure falls on Julio Jones to make big plays. Atlanta still has to try and look like they are going to try and run the football. If they don’t then the Packers and Dom Capers can dial up the pressure without fear of the run.

Key Injuries: ATL WR Roddy White Probable/Ankle, GB CB Sam Shields Questionable/Concussion

Trends: The Falcons are 7-15 straight up in their last 22 games… Green Bay is 0-5 against the spread in their last five games at home against Atlanta… The total has gone OVER in four of Atlanta’s last six games when playing at Green Bay… The Packers are 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home.

The Pick: Rodgers has been just tremendous at home so it’s hard to go against him. As much as I hate giving up all those points, Green Bay has been just too good at Lambeau. Take them to cover and the OVER.

Odds to Win the NFC South for 2014

I expect Jimmy Graham and the Saints to capture the NFC South in 2014.

With the NFC North and NFC East already knocked out, it’s time to focus on the NFC South where I can listen to valid arguments about all four of these teams winning the division. Off we go…

New Orleans -150 – Jimmy Graham has his new deal and regardless of what position he actually plays, he’ll be the number one threat for Drew Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton. The offense will be good but if Mark Ingram can prove to be an effective runner in 2014 then the offense will be even better. The addition of speedster Brandin Cooks will help with the loss of Darren Sproles as well.

The defense improved a ton in 2013 under Rob Ryan and that should continue this year with more experience in some of the younger guys. The Saints’ season may come down to a stretch of games between October 19th and December 15th. That span includes road games at Detroit, Carolina, Pittsburgh and Chicago. Home dates during this span include Green Bay, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Baltimore and Carolina. They will need to come through this above .500 or they could be in trouble.

Season Projection: 11-5

I'm just not sold on Matt Ryan and the Falcons this year.

Atlanta +450 – The Falcons suffered from Murphy’s Law last year which was really bad as they came off a year in which they were just yards from the Super Bowl. Atlanta is a bit healthier this year, but did lose starting left tackle Sam Baker to a knee injury this past weekend. I don’t know how many more opportunities Matt Ryan will have to prove he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks. Until he gets his team to the Super Bowl I’m not buying the hype.

The defense should be better. The pass rush was poor at best last season and of course the injuries didn’t help there either. Like New Orleans, Atlanta will need to start well because the schedule down the stretch is loaded. They finish with Arizona, at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at New Orleans and Carolina at home in the finale.

Season Projection: 7-9

Carolina +450 – The Panthers were the surprise winners of the NFC South last season edging out the Saints in the final weeks. In order to repeat they’ll need to replace Steve Smith who anchored the receiving corps for years. Cam Newton will need a running game for him to flourish and that’s possible behind a nice stable of backs.

The defense should be excellent again despite the loss of safety Mike Mitchell to the Steelers. If they continue to get pressure on the quarterback and create turnovers then the division is within their grasp once again. The Panthers’ tough stretch comes through the month of October when they have Chicago, at Cincinnati, at Green Bay, Seattle, New Orleans and at Philly. That portion of the schedule should define their season.

Season Projection: 10-6

Tampa Bay +550 – Let me be frank here even though my name isn’t Frank; this will be one of the most improved teams in the NFL in 2014. Lovie Smith’s presence will have that kind of impact. Talent has never really been the problem. Putting it all together with good quarterback play has and that should be solved with the addition of Josh McCown. He will have monster receivers to throw to in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans.

The defense will move to the Tampa 2 which should fit their personnel a little better and should compliment a good front four. The Bucs have a three-week stretch on the road following two home games to start the season. Those three games are at Atlanta, at Pittsburgh and at New Orleans. They then have Baltimore at home before their bye week. If they can start in the .500 range they should be in contention all season.

Season Projection: 9-7

Overall: I like the Saints to win the division but the surprise may be that I see the Falcons under .500. I expect the Buccaneers to challenge Carolina for second.

Top Five Offenses in the NFL

The 2013 NFL regular season starts this Thursday with teams hoping to reach the Super Bowl in February. Most football pundits will tell you that defense wins Super Bowls and most would be right, but you need to score points if you are going to win games as well.

Offenses have changed over the past 10 years with teams spreading out their receivers to open up opposing defenses. The running game is still deemed vitally important, but today’s offense leaders are quarterbacks who can hit receivers in the flats, over the middle, down the sideline or over the top.

Here are the top 5 Offenses to start the 2013 season.

Topping my list is the Denver Broncos. When Denver signed Peyton Manning in 2012, they were unsure what he could still do as a quarterback. He quickly put the fears and doubts to rest and led his offense to a No. 4 ranking in the league. The Broncos averaged nearly 398 yards per game on offense and during the offseason got even stronger.

Denver signed Wes Welker away from New England, giving Manning another weapon to throw to. His presence will take pressure off Demaryius Thomas and Erick Decker on the outside.

The running game will be led by rookie Montee Ball who will take over for the departed Willis McGahee. Manning makes any offense better than it actually is, but the players he has around him this season, could make this team unstoppable.

In second place offensively are the Atlanta Falcons. Quarterback Matt Ryan led the offense to an average of 369 yards per game. He won his first playoff game and signed a huge contract during the offseason. The Falcons have the best group of receivers of any team in the NFL with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez at tight end.

The Falcons added veteran running back Steven Jackson to the team, which will provide a much needed complementary running game to Ryan’s passing offense.

In third place, amongst NFL offenses are the New Orleans Satins led by Drew Brees. Last season the Saints had a difficult year, but look to bounce back. The Saints however, ranked No. 2 overall in offense with 411 yards per game. Brees is one of the league’s best quarterbacks and has good receivers like Lance Moore and Marques Colston along with Jimmy Graham at tight end to throw to. Their running game is sporadic at best. However, look for a strong season for the Saints offensively.

Fourth place goes to the Detroit Lions. The Lions were the No. 3 ranked team overall last season with 408 yards per carry. Any team with Matthew Stafford at quarterback and Calvin Johnson at wide receiver will be dangerous. Johnson will gain between up to 2,000 yards in any season, while Stafford will throw for 4,500 or more. With the addition of all-purpose back Reggie Bush, the Lions will be putting up large numbers on the score board this season.

Most people will think the fifth place choice goes to the New England Patriots who last year led the NFL in total offense, but my fifth place goes to the San Francisco 49ers. With Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, the 49ers have a dual pass/run threat that most other teams do not enjoy. Add to that veteran Frank Gore in the backfield and receivers Vernon Davis and Anguan Boldin and you have a recipe for success. A player who could surprise is AJ Jenkins.

Early NFL MVP Candidates

Rodgers should benefit from an improved running game and put up big numbers.

Believe it or not it’s just a matter of hours before some National Football League teams open training camp in preparation for the 2013 season. Unlike college football, every team in professional football enters the season with aspirations of playing for a championship regardless of how they fared last year.

Last season, Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings was the MVP despite coming off an ACL tear just nine months prior. Peterson’s 2,000 yard season was one of the best in the history of the game and now comes the hard part for Peterson. Can he top last season?

There are any number of candidates to choose from so I’m going to break the favorites listed as such by our friends at Bovada. I’m going to tell you why they could win it and why they might not.

1. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay, 13-2 Why He Wins? Rodgers will have Randall Cobb, James Jones and Jordy Nelson as well as tight end Jermichael Finley to throw to and the running game will be better with rookies Eddy Lacy and Jonathan Franklin. Why He Doesn’t? The offensive line lacks improvement and Rodgers runs for his life for a second-straight season.

1. Peyton Manning, Denver, 13-2 Why He Wins? Because he’s Peyton Manning! He actually has a solid receiving corps that got better with Wes Welker joining the team. I expect the schedule to offer plenty of opportunities for Manning to have big numbers. Why He Doesn’t? If the running game slips, Manning will not be as effective. He isn’t 26 anymore either and the injury concern is always there.

Brees will have big numbers but his defense could cost him a shot at the MVP.

3. Drew Brees, New Orleans, 10-1 Why He Wins? I have no doubts that Brees and Head Coach Sean Payton will treat this season as a form of ‘revenge’ tour after “BountyGate.” Brees has a mutlitude of weapons and a nice runing game as well. Why He Doesn’t?  If the Saints’ defense doesn’t improve, Brees could be forced to throw more than he wants to and that means turnovers.

3. Tom Brady, New England, 10-1 Why He Wins? Brady has proven that he works well with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and even despite the issues with Gronk and Aaron Hernandez, Brady will still elevate the play of others around him. Why He Doesn’t? Last seasons’ running game was a surprise. If that doesn’t return, Brady will not be able to pass this team to victory as he has in the past.

5. Colin Kaepernick, San Francisco, 12-1 Why He Wins? Kaepernick has really good talent around him and with Anquan Boldin, he has a veteran target who will make him look even better. Throw in the running game and Vernon Davis and Kaepernick could have an amazing season. Why He Doesn’t? Many teams this offseason spent countless hours working to stop the spread option. That, along with the Niners being the hunted may have an impact on his play.

6. Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, 15-1 Why He Wins? Because he’ll have the sentimental vote that’s why. Can you imagine if he rushes for another 1,800 plus yards? On a rebuilt knee? Peterson thinks he can eclipse 2,000 again. Why He Can’t? The schedule for one thing. The Vikes play the AFC North where all four teams are solid against the run and no back has ever rushed for 2,000 in consecutive seasons.

Other Guys to Consider… Matt Ryan, Atlanta 15-1. Calvin Johnson, Detroit, 20-1. Both guys will put up big numbers.

Guys I’m Not Touching… Robert Griffin III, Washington, 18-1. Health is a major concern. Matthew Stafford, Detroit, 25-1. Until he can be more efficient with the ball, the turnovers will kill his chances despite monster yards.

Who Wins? I think Brees makes a strong run at it, but I have to go with Rodgers who will benefit from a more diverse offensive attack and put up huge and efficient numbers.

Conference Championship NFL Betting Tips

Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens will look to score an upset for the second straight week, as they travel to New England to face the Patriots.

So here we are. It’s game day in the NFL and by the time Sunday rolls into Monday we’ll know the two teams going to New Orleans in two weeks to battle for the Vince Lombardi trophy.

Whilst this weekend won’t feature a Denver Broncos side many expected to win it all just one week ago,  nor will it feature a big do-over matchup between Green  Bay and Seattle – whose Week 3 matchup still sits on the NFL’s results page like an ugly blot – it will feature two very intriguing matchups. That’s two matchups that look easy to pick on the surface, but root around and you’ll find it’s anything but.

Read on to find out how Casino Review will be betting this week, and then take our picks straight to your bookie.


San Francisco 49ers @ Atlanta Falcons

3:00 PM ET

The ongoing indifference to Atlanta (14-3, 8-1 home) has continued this week with bettors and experts alike shirking the Falcons in favor of a more popular side. The Falcons won an opening postseason game for the first time in four attempts last week, knocking off a fan-favorite Seattle side.

San Francisco (12-4-1, 5-3 road) provided an offensive display to rival any that came before it, handing the Green Bay Packers a heavy defeat, with quarterback Colin Kaepernick winning his first ever playoff start. The Niners will look to replicate that result and head to the Super Bowl for the first time since the end of the 1994 season.

Lost in the haze of the Atlanta bashing that has gone on this season is the advantage the historical Falcons take into the game.

Atlanta won the only postseason meeting between the two sides, a 20-18 affair in Jan. 1999. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year. Atlanta also owns a 19-18-1 advantage in the head-to-head series when playing in the Georgia city. Granted, one game is not much of an advantage, but this far into the season, any advantage is sought out regardless of how slim it might be.

The Falcons have won two straight against the Niners in Atlanta, with San Francisco’s last win coming on Oct. 14, 2001.

Whilst Atlanta has gone 1-1 in conference championship games, San Francisco has con 5-7. Granted, all five wins have preceded a Super Bowl victory, but that’s still a losing record. Additionally, the Niners are 1-3 in conference championship games played on the road. Only a 1989 win over Chicago saw the side victorious. The win in Chicago was actually the Niners’ last road playoff win; the team has gone 0-5 since.

In the regular season the Falcons had higher averages in points scored, total yards, and passing yards than the Niners. Yes, San Francisco’s bully defense ranked higher, but Atlanta was still excellent when it came to preventing teams scoring, allowing just 18.7 points per game, good enough for fifth in the league.

So, those people that thing Atlanta is out of this one before it even starts might want to reconsider.

Now, will Atlanta win?

The Falcons will be up against a San Francisco side that has been on fire of late. The team has won two straight and four of the last five, and the move at quarterback – with Kaepernick replacing Alex Smith – has sparked a more offensive-minded team; an offensive-minded team that happens to be a beast defensively. Well, except last week, and that’s where San Francisco might come unstuck.

We all know the Packers can score, but Atlanta was right behind Green Bay in points scored this season, so the Niners should beware.

Atlanta however has not fared well against dual threat quarterbacks, with Cam Newton and Russell Wilson having solid outings against the Falcons this side. Injury may have been the only thing stopping Robert Griffin III from having a big day also.

Odds: San Francisco opened as a three-point favorite on the road this weekend, but bettors like the Niners and that number has risen to five. The over/under has risen also, increasing from 47½ at opening to 49½ on game day.

Take: SAN FRANCISCO – The Niners came so close to a Super Bowl appearance last year, and this year, the team is better. More versatile than the 2011 side, expect the Niners to give Atlanta a heavy dose of the running game, something the Falcons were not great against this season. While The Falcons showed a rare glimpse of a running game last weekend, expect the Niners to quash any such attempt this week. This game is likely to be close, but take the Niners to cover the spread by the end of the game, with the total going over.


Baltimore Ravens @ New England Patriots

6:30 PM ET

In a rematch of last year’s AFC championship game, Baltimore (12-6, 5-4 road) makes the trip north to New England (13-4, 7-2 home).

The Patriots made short work of the Texans last week, covering a 10-point spread. Bettors pounded that action, with the hapless Houston side entering the game more like a victim than a contender. Whilst the spread has risen to an identical number, bettors are less sure that New England can handle the Ravens in a similar manner.

Baltimore may have crawled to the end of the regular season with four losses from five, but a revitalized side that features Ray Lewis has taken care of business this postseason. Last week’s shock upset in Denver has many wondering if this Ravens side is destined for a Super Bowl win. Of course, destiny plays no part in sports betting.

During this postseason, Baltimore has improved on most of its offensive stats, including points scored, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards. Believe it or not, the Ravens average more offensive yards per game than the Patriots this postseason.

But the Ravens will be up against history.

New England is 7-1 in conference championship games. That one loss came against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts on Jan. 21, 2007.

Conversely, Baltimore is 1-2 in conference championship games, defeating Oakland on the way to Super Bowl XXXV, and losing to Pittsburgh and New England.

New England is 4-0 in conference games played at home.

Both sides have scored one victory against the other in the postseason.

Odds: New England opened as 7½-point favorites, but that number has risen to 10. The over/under is 52, up from 51 at opening.

Take: NEW ENGLAND – Whilst there is undeniably an urge to go with Baltimore in this one, at the end of the day, New England should get out alive. The Ravens defeated the Patriots 31-30 on Sep. 23, but this New England side has found form since then. Take the Ravens to cover the spread, as they have done in both postseason games against the Patriots. Take the total to go over, as has been the trend for both these sides this season.

Atlanta Hosts Dallas on Sunday Night Football

Tony Romo's 13 interceptions have been a huge problem for the Cowboys this season, but his 19-2 record in November will give the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons something to think about on Sunday Night Football.

As Sunday Night Football rolls around again this week, viewers will get their chance to see the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons host the reeling Dallas Cowboys.

This marquee match-up between the team with the only perfect record in the league and America’s favorite team will have bettors on the edge of their seats. It’s highly likely that they’ll remain on the edge of their seats until the very end as well.

If you’re unsure who to pick in this one and need a few pointers, read on to find a few nuggets of truth that may sway you one way or another.


Unbeaten Falcons Looking for More

There’s still an air of criticism surrounding the Atlanta Falcons (7-0, 3-0 home), and rightfully so.

The Georgia side may well be perfect but that is a record achieved against a very soft schedule. Atlanta has faced just one team (Denver) that currently has a winning record. The team’s opponents have gone a combined 19-33 (.365), hardly a record that is going to be imposing to any semi-decent side. But, as the old adage goes, you are what your record says.

Atlanta will look to ride this unbeaten streak further towards the playoffs. And ride the Falcons can. At this point in time, the schedule going forward is almost as soft as that which has passed. Future opponents have a record of 27-38 (.415), and only one team with a winning record (NY Giants) lies in wait.

Of course there’s a big difference between what happens on paper and what happens on the gridiron. With five games remaining against divisional rivals, Atlanta can expect the run to the postseason to be tougher than it appears. And it might not take until next week’s showdown with New Orleans for the Falcons to chalk one up in the loss column.


Dire Times in Big D

Anyway you slice it up, Dallas (3-4, 2-2 road) has had a bizarre season so far. It’s not that the Cowboys’ 3-4 record is that strange. The team has certainly played like a 3-4 team for much of the year. It’s not even that there is a huge imbalance between the almost non-existent running game and the passing game. It’s the fact that this is a team with obvious talent, but nothing to show for it.

Dallas has the number three passing offense in the league in terms of yards per game (297.3). It also has the number three pass defense in the league (187.7 YPG). Those two statistics should translate to a high-scoring offense akin to New England or New Orleans. It doesn’t.

Dallas scores just 19.6 PPG (25th). Part of this is down to a weak rushing game that has seen neither DeMarco Murray nor Felix Jones put in any kind of consistent play. Murray (foot) will be missing for the third straight game Sunday. Part of it is down to Tony Romo.

Romo has thrown a completion rate of 65 percent this season with nine touchdowns. He’s even ran one in, putting him one behind Murray for the team lead in rushing touchdowns. But he’s thrown 13 interceptions! Far too many drives have finished with Romo giving the ball to the other side.

If the Cowboys are to achieve anything against the Falcons on Sunday night it starts with looking after the football. In an ideal world, Romo would hand the ball off and let the Cowboys’ running game punish a weak Atlanta rush defense. That perfect world wouldn’t include Murray out and Jones trying to cope with a niggling injury. Come kickoff time, the Cowboys may have no option but to put all of their eggs in the basket that is Romo’s inaccurate arm.

But then again, Tony Romo is 19-2 in the month of November!


Looking for an Edge

Dallas leads the all-time head-to-head 16-8 and has been dominant in recent years. The Cowboys have won seven of the last 10 meetings, including the last time the two sides met, a 37-21 victory in October 2009. Dallas is 7-5 all-time when playing the Falcons in Atlanta.

Atlanta is favorite heading into this one. A three-point advantage has risen to four points as kickoff approaches.

Dallas has gone 3-4 ATS this season while Atlanta is 5-2 ATS. The two games dropped by Atlanta came in close wins over Oakland and Carolina, and go some way to suggesting that the Falcons are not as dominant as their record might suggest.

The over/under is 47½. The last two times the sides met, the total exceeded that number, but neither has rewarded bettors taking the over this season. Both sides have seen the total go under four times in seven games. Dallas has also seen the total go under in seven of its last 10 games and six of seven on the road. All signs point to taking the under this Sunday in Georgia.