Packers open season as clear betting favorites on Sunday Night Football

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Aaron Rodgers’ ballyhooed return after an injury-shortened season might well be a lesson in being skeptical when a divisional matchup has many extreme trends.

The Green Bay Packers are 7-point betting favorites against the Chicago Bears with a 46.5-point total for Sunday Night Football at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. The OddsShark NFL Database has no end of ways to show that it’s been a near-decade of dominance by Green Bay in one of the NFL’s oldest rivalries, as the Packers are 12-3 against the spread in their last 15 games against the Bears, as well as 7-0 straight-up and 6-1 ATS in their last seven home games at Lambeau Field.

The Bears are also 0-9 SU in their last nine divisional games, with an average margin of defeat of 10.11 points.

The proof will be in their play, but the Bears may be on an upswing after going 5-11 SU and 9-6-1 ATS last season. First-year head coach Matt Nagy has put second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky and primary targets such as wide receivers Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton in a new offensive scheme, and they will be facing a Packers defense that was third-last in the NFL last season in yards allowed per pass.

In the rushing phase, Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will try to keep the Chicago offense on the field and Rodgers idling on the sideline. Winning outright will be a tall order, but the Bears have been respectable as a big road underdog, going 4-5 ATS in their last nine road games as an underdog of at least 6.5 points, with the total going UNDER in seven of those contests.

The Packers, sixth on the Super Bowl 53 odds at +1100,  finished 7-9 SU and ATS last season after Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone during their sixth game of the season. Rodgers’ credentials as a future Hall of Fame quarterback barely need burnishing, but the big question with the Packers involves whether the supporting cast, such as wide receivers Geronimo Allison, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb and veteran tight end Jimmy Graham, are good enough to give Green Bay a chance at competing in the Super Bowl.

The Bears’ two big additions on defense, linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith, will be limited on Sunday since neither has had time to get up to speed on Chicago’s schemes. But their collective presence should help the Bears with occasionally slowing down a Packers offense that had pass protection issues in 2017, allowing the fifth-most sacks (51) in the NFL.

The total has gone OVER in seven of the Bears’ last nine games against the Packers, with an average combined score of 50. The total has also gone OVER in six of the Packers’ last seven games in Week 1.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

Read more from Football Morning in America here