NFL Conference Championship Weekend Part One: The Props

RussellWilsonNew

Welcome to Conference Championship weekend. We have a very deserving final four battling for one of those elusive golden tickets to play in the 49th Super Bowl.

I always like to pause right here to have a moment of silence for the 28 teams who could not navigate their way through the grueling NFL season successfully. More importantly, let’s hang our heads in disappointment for just a second as we realize there are only three meaningful games left on the football calendar.

hanging head

OK, blog resumed.

As usual, I’ve got plenty to say about this upcoming weekend so I’m going with two columns. Today’s is the general NFL news & tidbits along with everything I love from a prop bets perspective. Check back Friday for my game picks.

Going into the Divisional Round, most objective football fans would have picked three of these conference finalists as the ideal teams to advance to a final four. Of course we would have swapped Denver in for Indianapolis, but after seeing Peyton Manning’s corpse last Sunday, we now know that Andrew Luck and the Colts are a much better candidate to put up a fight in Foxboro.

And really, you can’t go wrong with the eventual Super Bowl matchup. This weekend we’ll see four very marketable teams led by four of the league’s marquee quarterbacks.

Incredibly, these four teams have only missed the playoffs three combined times in the past six seasons. Green Bay and New England have been in the postseason every year since 2009. The Colts have been in for five of the six years (their only miss was the year Manning was out). And Seattle’s added four years of playoffs in that timeframe. That is a TON of playoff experience and public exposure (which translates to popularity across the country).

The Super Bowl is going to be fun. It’s nice having that guarantee more than two weeks before the actual game.

After all, when’s the last time we had two of the best regular season teams facing each other in the Super Bowl and it didn’t turn out to be a great game?

Oh…just one year ago, huh? OK, nevermind. Let’s just move on.

General NFL News

  • Coaching changes dominated the headlines this week. The most surprising development was the Broncos firing John Fox after he had an extremely successful four-year run that saw his team put up a combined 46-18 record, win the AFC West all four years, make one Super Bowl appearance, but lose in the Divisional Round the other three seasons. Was that what ultimately doomed him? Because if so, the Broncos management must have a very different definition of success than a team like the Bengals. Fox won three playoff games in that time. That would be cause for a parade in Cincy (or Chicago, where Fox is presumably heading).
  • The Denver and San Francisco head coaching situations seemed very similar once Fox was let go. These were two teams that were legitimate Super Bowl contenders every year Jim Harbaugh and Fox were at the helm (not counting the Tebow year in Denver). My thoughts on Tuesday were that these teams better have damn good plans in terms of a replacement.
  • And then the 49ers announced on Wednesday that incumbent defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was being promoted to head coach. San Francisco and its fans can spin it whatever way they want, but my thoughts immediately went to the last time a team hired a head coach who didn’t even have coordinator experience. Washington fans will be happy to tell you how well that went. 
  • I’m also a little dubious at how well a defensive line coach will help Colin Kaepernick develop, and that’s clearly this team’s biggest question mark.
  • Hey, congrats to Jason Garrett on his 5-year, $30 million contract extension. I do speak for all non-Cowboys fans when I say I can’t wait to see this team back at 8-8 next year with Garrett bungling game management decisions like usual (after all, he got started in last week’s loss to Green Bay with his atrocious decisions at the end of the 1st half).
  • So George R.R. Martin, author of the famous Game of Thrones books, hates Bill Belichick and the Patriots. And he totally seems like a true sports fan we should all be listening to considering he likes the Ravens because their mascot reminds him of Edgar Allen Poe. That’s how I choose my teams too, Georgey. Anyway, I fully expect that his next installment of the GoT series will have a character named Bill of House Belaryan who wears his cloak with the sleeves cut off and video tapes all the Small Council meetings in King’s Landing. Sure, it might be really jarring to be reading this story and all of the sudden electronics have been invented, but Martin seems pretty fixated on this hatred.
  • Earlier this week I wondered which incompetent officiating crew would be assigned to the Super Bowl, and yesterday we got our answer. It will be Bill Vinovich and his crew. They were assigned to the Patriots-Ravens game last weekend. We should probably brace ourselves now for zero consistency on pass interference and defensive holding calls. And if the Patriots make it, then at least they know this crew already defers to Belichick’s expertise in terms of the rulebook.

Last Week’s Gambling in Review

I once again did very well with my prop bets during the Divisional Round, but you probably wouldn’t think that just by reading last week’s post with my favorite bets. The problem for my readers was that I changed/added a few things after I submitted that post.

  • I told you to bet on Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers for the most passing yards of the weekend, but neither of them was the winner. But if you read closely, I also said “If you’re feeling lucky, put some money on Tom Brady.” I did put money on Brady and he ultimately won the week with 367 passing yards.
  • I lost outright with my over bet on Andrew Luck’s passing yards total of 310.5. What can I say? I didn’t expect the Colts to dominate so thoroughly that Luck would spend most of the 4th quarter handing off to his running backs.
  • I won on the over of Justin Forsett’s rushing total, which was set at 66.5 yards. I think he locked this one up by midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • Hopefully you skipped out on my longshot bet of “Yes, there will be a game-winning field goal or touchdown as time expires in one of the four games.” But I’m a little pissed off because I said the Dallas-Green Bay game had the best chance for that..and if they had ruled Dez Bryant’s efforts to be a catch, there’s a very decent chance Green Bay would have driven into field goal range and won the game on a last-second kick.
  • And finally, I threw money down on a prop bet just before kickoff of the Denver-Indy game. It was the over on the longest field goal in the game, which was set at 44.5 yards. I figured it was a gimme in the thin Denver air. I won the bet, but not quite the gimme I expected as Denver’s Connor Barth snuck in a 45-yarder, which was the only one of that length.
  • So while I’m not exactly on fire with the prop bets, I am turning a profit and you might say I’m “heating up.”
  • Also, I went 3-1 against the point spreads. It was a huge bounceback after the Wildcard debacle.

This Weekend’s Prop Bets

As we wind down here in the playoffs, I like to ramp up my gambling. After all, in 17 short days, there won’t be any football to bet on for a while. So this week I’m rolling out six prop bets I feel confident about and one that I’m not touching (you’ll see why), but maybe you should. Here we go.

The first score of the Green Bay @ Seattle game – Exact Outcome

I’m rolling with Green Bay field goal (9/2) and Seattle field goal (11/4). This is another situation where I’m perfectly happy betting two scenarios knowing I can only win one because I’ll make a profit as long as one of these hits. And if you’re like me and expect a relatively low-scoring game with both offenses struggling, then this feels like a great bet.

Who will record the most passing yards in the Conference Championships?

While the conservative play would be to grab Luck (5/4) and Brady (2/1) and turn a very small profit if one of them wins, I’m going with a bit of a hail mary here. (get it?) I like Russell Wilson at 7/1 odds. While the Packers’ run defense is much worse than its pass defense and you’d expect the Seahawks to want to run a ton, I think Green Bay might do everything in its power to force Wilson to throw a bunch. Green Bay’s season the last two years ended because Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers were able to run wild on them to the tune of 490 yards in two playoff games. We know this Seattle offense is very similar to those 9ers teams, and the Packers should be prepared to make Wilson beat them with his arm. Call me crazy, but you’ll be kicking yourself at about 10PM eastern time on Sunday if you don’t make this bet.

Total Receiving Yards – Randall Cobb – Over/Under 72.5

I like the over here (-115). Cobb may be second banana to Jordy Nelson on this receiving corps, but with all the attention paid to Nelson and the likelihood that Nelson sees a lot of Richard Sherman in coverage, I think Cobb is freed up for a good day. Also, Cobb has topped this number in nine of 17 games this year, and he ended a 10th game with exactly 72 yards.

 Total Receiving Yards – Luke Willson – Over/Under 29.5

Who? Luke Willson, star tight end for the Seahawks, that’s who. OK, he may not be a star, but the Wilson-to-Willson connection has been happening a lot more in the second half of the season. The lesser-known Willson has cracked this 29.5 total in his last three games and five of the past eight when he’s caught at least one pass. I love the over (-115). After all, how hard is it to get 30 yards in the NFL. I could do that.

Total Receptions – Julian Edelman – Over/Under 6.5

I’m going over and gladly paying the juice (-130) on this bet. Edelman is a targets and receptions machine right now. He’s only come in under that number once in his past seven games. He’s had 10 or more targets in six consecutive games. I’m not confident enough to project his receiving yards or say he’ll definitely have a touchdown, but he’s Brady’s most reliable receiver at the moment.

Player to score the first Colts TD in the game

These bets are always a crapshoot, but I’m taking Dwayne Allen (7/1), who has supplanted Coby Fleener as the Colts’ most reliable tight end. Allen has scored touchdowns in nine of Indy’s games this year. And the Patriots are particularly generous to tight ends. It seems like they’re either giving up a touchdown or huge yardage totals every game to this position. I like Allen a lot, especially in the red zone.

Indianapolis @ New England – Margin of Victory

Here’s the one I wouldn’t touch with a 500-foot pole because I’m a Pats fan and I already hate myself for even suggesting this. But if you’re pretty confident that Patriots are going to do to Indy what they’ve done the past three meetings with them, then you should bet on both of these results: New England to win by 13 to 18 points (5/1) and New England to win by 19 to 24 points (8/1). The Patriots’ margins of victory in the three games they’ve played vs Indy since Luck came into the league are: 35, 21 and 22 points.

Be sure to check back on Friday for my picks against the spread for the two games.

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TV Preview: A First Date, A Great Fling and A Complicated Lover

(WARNING: There might be some spoilers for those who aren’t up to date on Game of Thrones.)

The end of football season in early February is so cruel.

A weekend during football season means 51 hours of enjoyment. It starts Friday at 5pm and goes right through Sunday Night Football. And those Sundays, oh boy, those Sundays…11 straight hours of football…11 straight hours of indoors, on the couch, getting your fat on.

A weekend during the other seven months of the year means a fun Friday and Saturday but a boring Sunday spent thinking about that dreadful Monday morning. Worst of all, you’re expected to go outdoors on these Sundays!

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution that will get you back in front of the TV for the entire day, but I can give you a few hours of awesomeness to look forward to starting this coming Sunday, April 6th.

Fine, I’m not giving this to you so much as HBO is giving this to you.

Starting Sunday we get a brand new and very promising comedy called Silicon Valley (the first date), the return of one of the best comedies you’re probably not watching, Veep (the great fling), and finally, as you may have heard, a little fantasy drama called Game of Thrones is premiering its fourth season (the complicated lover).

All on HBO. Consider me a subscriber for life at this point.

Let’s tackle these three shows in detail.

Silicon Valley – Series Premiere, Sunday at 10pm

I was in on this show the moment I heard the words “Mike Judge” and “Silicon Valley.” Mike Judge because he has an incredible track record (Office Space, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill). Silicon Valley because I lived there for seven years and have always thought there was plenty ripe material for a TV show.

In fact, one of the first ideas I worked on when I moved to LA was a TV pilot about a group of young sales guys making way too much money in Silicon Valley.

Judge’s Silicon Valley has this as its premise: “Six programmers live together and try to make it big in Silicon Valley.”

He went with programmers; I went with sales guys. He actually wrote it and followed through with the idea; I wrote enough first drafts to fill a warehouse but never returned to it. The lesson? The line between success and wannabe in Hollywood is razor thin.

It seems to me a comedy about the fast-paced world of technology on a channel that allows for plenty of swearing, sexual content and whatever the hell else this show wants to do is easily worth tuning in to on Sunday night.

Fingers crossed that this is a good first date and not one of those encounters that ends with an awkward hug at the car while the girl waits for me to say I’d like to see her again.

Veep – Season Three Premiere – Sunday at 10:30pm

I wrote earlier that this is the best comedy you’re not watching. Maybe you are watching it, but I just haven’t heard enough people say that they are. Either way, you should be. This is Julia Louis-Dreyfus at her finest. This is political humor, satire and subtle comedy at its finest. This is intelligent humor at its finest. In fact, if you try watching Veep and “don’t get it,” well, I hear there’s a great lineup on CBS that’s probably more your speed.

And to pat myself on the back just a bit, I’m the king of finding niche comedies right before they blow up and go mainstream (see: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, August 2005).

I’m calling this show the great fling because it shows up once a year for a short time (10 episodes), we always have a good time with each other, and there’s never any drama or seriousness. No emotional baggage. I love it when it’s around, but don’t think about it too much when it’s gone.

Game of Thrones – Season Four Premiere – Sunday at 9pm

And then there’s the complicated lover who leaves me with plenty of emotional baggage at the end of each season. This isn’t a fun, easy-going fling. This is an intense relationship with weekly roller coaster rides that leave me feeling exhausted.

But I haven’t looked forward to a TV show this much since the early days of Lost.

In fact, my GoT withdrawals got so bad a couple weeks ago that I ordered all five of George R. R. Martin’s books during a random Amazon.com binge. I haven’t read a book in quite some time so trying to take down roughly 4,500 pages of a fantasy world is going to be quite the feat. But I simply needed my Khaleesi fix.

Game of Thrones is currently the crown jewel of television. I won’t accept a single argument against that statement.

And starting on Sunday maybe we’ll finally get to see the good guys of Westeros live long enough to take down the bad guys. But based on past performance, I won’t hold my breath for that.

Game of Thrones…she’s a complicated bitch, but she’s my complicated bitch.

And now I’ll leave you with six random thoughts about the best show on TV:

  1. The best part of GoT is that it could legitimately go on for 10, 15, 20 years. It’s self-perpetuating. Who wouldn’t want to see these story lines play out over decades? The amount of family backstabbing, the juggling of power and priorities, the 150 or so different people with claims to the Iron Throne. I see no end in sight.
  2. At this point if you’re not rooting solely for Arya and Khaleesi (really the only interesting “good” people left), what the hell are you doing with your life?
  3. And if it came down to choosing, I’m going Khaleesi over Arya 100 times out of 100. And yes, it’s a completely sexual thing.
  4. There’s a very decent Game of Thrones the Politics of Season 3 playing on HBO this week. Watch it.
  5. This really has nothing to do with GoT per se, but all this talk about strategy, intricacies and roller coaster rides got me thinking about Settlers of Catan. It’s simply the greatest board game ever invented. And I just felt like giving it a plug. Try not to be confused when you play it someday and it has nothing to do with Game of Thrones.
  6. Even with only three seasons in the books, Joffrey has already established himself as a lead candidate for the most evil villain in cinematic history. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, makes my girlfriend’s blood bubble like the site of Joffrey (even when she once saw a picture of the actor not in Joffrey character in Entertainment Weekly). One more indefensible murder by him and I might think about permanently removing my girlfriend from LA so we don’t accidentally bump into Jackie Gleeson (the guy who plays Joff) some day and then 10 months later I’m sitting in a courtroom at my girlfriend’s 1st degree murder trial.

Enjoy Sunday night all you HBO subscribers (and those of you “borrowing” your friend’s HBO GO login information).

Fall TV Preview: TV Feels So Insignificant In The post-Breaking Bad World

fall TV

It seems ridiculous this morning to be previewing new TV shows after saying goodbye to one of the best shows of all time just about 12 hours ago (Breaking Bad obviously). It’s like if a widower set up a Match.com profile while standing in the receiving line at his late wife’s wake. Too soon.

But of course the shows must go on. After a brain-frying 12 hours of TV on Sunday, it’s a good thing we only need to review one show for tonight. It’s a brand new show that I’m guessing some people are going to love and some are going to hate. No in between.

Here it is.

We Are Men

When & Where: 8:30pm on CBS

What: A comedy about a guy who gets left at the altar and the fallout from that disastrous moment. For some reason he has to move into a short-term apartment rental complex where many other recently-single men live. And obviously they bond. Most likely they make a lot of raunchy man jokes. And almost definitely they try to act like college frat boys.

Who: Kal Penn (of Harold & Kumar fame), Jerry O’Connell (of stealing John Stamos’ wife fame) and Tony Shaloub (of Monk fame) are all featured actors on the show.

Ross’s Take: This whole thing makes me sad because the opening 30 seconds of the trailer looks exactly like the opening of the most recently great-TV-show-to-be-cancelled, Happy Endings. But aside from that, I get the sense this show will have some hilarious moments and some awfully cliche and uninspiring moments. I could totally imagine a scenario where watching this show makes you feel like you’re watching a group of old sleazy men desperately trying to hit on good looking women at a bar. My guess is that the unfunny stuff will dominate the funny stuff, which means I’m only giving this show a 2 out of 5.

Julie’s Take: The setup in the beginning looks largely unoriginal, but it looks OK and I like a lot of the actors. I give it a 3 out of 5.

 

After the past two weeks, we have a very light schedule of premiering shows this week, and then no blogworthy TV premieres until the new year when shows like Game of Thrones return. Hope you’re enjoying some of the new Fall shows.

Adventures in Relocating: Losing My Mind over Home Entertainment Choices

I worry that I’ll come home one day to find Julie trapped inside my wire jungle

I have already lost two full days trying to solve this riddle, and there’s no end in sight.

In my current apartment, we have DirecTV, a DVR for recording shows, and a Blu-Ray player.  Our DirecTV package has most of the regular cable channels as well as HBO & Cinemax.  We have typically bought the NFL Ticket and MLB Extra Innings packages to watch football and baseball when they’re in season.  Our Blu-Ray player can stream Netflix Instant content.  Those are all of the options we have available at this time. While Netflix Instant is affordable at $8 per month, DirecTV rapes us to the tune of $124 per month.

With the move to the new place in LA only two weeks away, I thought this would be the right time to do a reset of my home entertainment packages to see if I can A) leverage different services and devices to have a broader choice in TV shows and movies, and B) cut out some significant costs from my current situation.

As I started researching this topic via the web and chatting with friends, I came across an endless amount of options: Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Instant Video, HBO GO, Roku, AppleTV, iTunes, DirecTV, Comcast, On Demand, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, illegal downloading…

Don’t worry, this can go even one layer deeper in complexity when you start to consider the following: Netflix has its instant service and its regular/ship you dvd’s service; HBO GO only works if you have an active HBO subscription through a participating cable or dish provider, Hulu has free and plus services, Roku has four different devices with options on picture quality as well as having ports for your USB cable.  Not a single service seems to have “everything.”  For instance, Netflix Instant has almost every well-known TV show, but lags in making the newest seasons of shows available to you.  Hulu Plus’s claim to fame is that the newest episodes of currently airing TV shows are available the day after they air.  But their problem is they don’t have deals with all the major network and cable channels so some shows are missing.  Amazon looks awful for current TV shows but awesome for movies.

It also seems like if you were to create a spreadsheet that matched up all content providers (i.e. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon) with all the physical devices that the content can be streamed through (i.e. PS3, Xbox, Roku), your computer would probably explode.  Just like my head was about to do when I started to consider all these options.

Maybe the first thing I should figure out is what I really want access to. Ideally I want to be able to watch any new/currently airing TV shows close to the date that the new episodes actually air.  I also want to catch up on old seasons of still-airing shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones and 30 Rock.  I need the ability to watch the playoffs of all major sports.  But I also need access to every Red Sox and Patriots game. Movies don’t matter as much: I just want the option to see most new movies that are coming out on DVD.

I know some people who have gotten rid of cable/satellite service all together and get their content exclusively from the Netflix and Hulu’s of the world.  This is the dream scenario, and I eventually want to get there. But here are three reasons why I’m reluctant to get rid of DirecTV/cable: playoff sports still have a lot of games on channels like ESPN, TBS, TNT; without cable I feel like I might miss out on something (there’s no logic to this feeling, it’s just an emotional reaction); and Julie will go ApeShit on me because all of the ridiculous shows she watches are on Food Network, MTV, E!, and TLC, and I don’t think she could get access to all of that content from another service.

I guess I’m leaning towards keeping DirecTV (but going back to the most basic package possible), and then buying a Roku to stream Netflix Instant and the MLB.tv package on my TV.  This will probably satisfy me for three months, at which time I will buy AppleTV, subscribe to Hulu Plus, buy a PlayStation 3, add HBO to my DirecTV package again so I can access HBO GO, and of course activate the NFL Ticket just in time for football season.

I’m exhausted from this talk we just had…any better suggestions for me?