Le’Veon Bell

Peter King’s news, rumors entering NFL free agency

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Things I’ve heard over the weekend about this legal-tampering period beginning today, and why I expect it to be more of a dud than electric free-agency period.

• Not sensing the verve out there for this class. Lots of things conspiring to make that happen. The two spots with mega-options in veteran free agents, the defensive line and safety, are overrun with strong prospects in the draft. One GM told me Sunday there would six to eight pass-rushers taken in the first round alone, and maybe six safeties picked in the top 50. When the number one guy in the class might be a guy who sat out the 2018 season (Le’Veon Bell) and plays a position that’s been severely devalued because of young guys after the first round becoming impact players early (Alvin Kamara, Kareem Hunt), it’s a pretty meh season.

• Why are teams talking about trading their tagged players? I’ll put myself in Chiefs GM Brett Veach’s shoes. Kansas City has franchised pass-rusher Dee Ford (last 39 games: 26.5 sacks) but is listening to offers. My guess—just a guess—is the Chiefs would be open to taking a low second-round pick or high three for him. If they got, say, the 60th pick in a defensive-line rich draft, they’d be investing about four years and $4.8-million in cap dollars there (or in a pick somewhere in the first three rounds to replace Ford) instead of the four years and maybe $70-million in Ford … and they’d be able to use their money to go get a needed player at another position in free agency like C.J. Mosley or Earl Thomas. You know what this is, at least in part? It’s the Patriot Effect. You see New England let go of valuable vets every year and still win. I do believe there is some of that in play with teams dangling their franchise guys. Footnote on Dee Ford that should not be forgotten: He led all edge players in snaps (1,022) last year.

• I don’t see the Colts, with their treasure, breaking the bank in the next two weeks. No team has ever entered free-agency with this kind of loot. Indy, including the money carried over from 2018, has $134 million to spend if they desired. I doubt sincerely GM Chris Ballard will go freaky in free agency. It’s not his way. Of all the GMs in the league, Ballard’s not one to let cap money burn a hole in his pocket. Take running back. The Colts got 1,104 yards out of Marlon Mack in 12 games last year … and he costs $749,912 against the cap this year. Could they do better there? Probably. But when you’re coming off a season averaging 4.4 yards per rush with a young core in the backfield and up front, it’s not exactly a position crying out for help.

• Le’Veon to the Jets? New York, with $116 million in cap room and the motivation to spend with a GM who has to win this year, is the favorite to sign Bell. I can’t see Bell to the Colts except at a discount, and Bell will be motivated to make up what he lost last year (which he’ll never do). Smart football people think the Jets are the leaders in the Bell derby, with Washington and Miami possible too.

• Earl Thomas is a hot name. He’ll be 30 in May, and he’s missed 23 of 51 Seattle games in the last three years. But Thomas is a highly respected player with motivation to stick it to Seattle, with the ability to be a playmaking centerfielder and a good hitter too. Houston, San Francisco, Dallas and Kansas City all could be players for Thomas, though I doubt the Chiefs would be a player in the $12-million-a-year range. They just don’t have that money.

• It’s an tepid QB market, to put it mildly. Nick Foles will likely be disappointed at the action and money his entry into free agency will trigger. Like everyone, I’m guessing Jacksonville. … Teddy Bridgewater has a tough call to make. Sean Payton would love to have him back for Drew Brees insurance at maybe $6 million for the year. But if you’re Bridgewater, sitting in 2019 would mean you wouldn’t have played for four seasons. And what would your worth be in 2020 after four years of inactivity? If the Dolphins or Jags offer him real money and the promise of a starting job in 2019, he might have to take it.

• The underrateds. Guys under the radar who will get paid: Washington edge player Preston Smith, Carolina right tackle Daryl Williams (trying to rebound from knee surgery), Patriots left tackle Trent Brown, big Chargers wideout Tyrell Williams, Oakland tight end Jared Cook (why in the world Gruden is letting him walk is beyond me), Bears safety Adrian Amos, and Chiefs center Mitch Morse.

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Steelers are road favorites against Texans on Christmas

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On top of missing wide receiver extraordinaire Antonio Brown, the Pittsburgh Steelers also take a dubious track record as a big favorite into their game against the Houston Texans on Christmas Day.

The Steelers are a nine-point road favorite (after opening as 10.5-point chalk) against the host Texans with a 45.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com for their NFL Week 16 Monday matchup.

The OddsShark NFL Database states that since 2004, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie, Pittsburgh is 5-14 against the spread when favored by 7.5 or more points on the road. The Steelers, however, are 5-0 straight-up in their last five games on a Monday, while the Texans are 0-6 SU in their last six games as an underdog.

The Steelers, who are 11-3 SU and 6-8 ATS, were having enough trouble scoring points on the road when they had Brown, the 1,500-yard receiver. By the same token, Roethlisberger has other reliable receiving complements such as WR JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR Martavis Bryant and TE Jesse James, who are facing a Texans pass defense that is next-to-last in the NFL in yards per pass (8.2) and touchdown passes (27) allowed.

Despite all their injuries this season, the Texans have played the run well, so it might not be smooth sailing for RB Le’Veon Bell.

The Texans, who are 4-10 SU and 7-7 ATS, are reduced to starting third-string QB T.J. Yates behind an offensive line that has lost three starters since the outset of the season. Yates has completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes, while the makeshift O-line will have to stop Steelers DE Cameron Heyward.

Pittsburgh, which is 3-1 SU and ATS in its last four games against Houston, has been leaky against both the pass and the run lately, though. On the former count, CB Joe Haden is expected to play and help cover WR DeAndre Hopkins.

In the rushing phase, the Texans are reliable but unspectacular with veteran RB Lamar Miller. The success of Miller and the short passing game could help the Texans, who are 8-3 ATS in their last 11 late-afternoon starts, manufacture some time-consuming drives that keep the Steelers offense off the field.

The total has gone under in each of the Steelers’ last seven road games as a favorite of 7.5 or more points. The total has gone under in five of the Steelers’ last seven games in Week 16. The total has gone under in six of the Texans’ last seven games in Week 16.

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

Sunday Night Football: Steelers favorites against Packers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have been indomitable in prime time, while the Green Bay Packers were a shaky play in tough road games even when franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers was healthy.

The Steelers and veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger are listed as 14-point favorites against the Packers with a 43-point total for the Week 12 Sunday Night Football matchup, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Pittsburgh is 6-0 against the spread in its last six games at night and is also 14-2 straight-up in its last 16 home games as the favorite, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. Green Bay is just 3-8 against the spread in its last 11 November road games.

The Packers are 5-5 SU and 4-6 ATS on the season, which of course includes being 1-4 SU and ATS since the game when Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. Fill-in quarterback Brett Hundley offers mobility and a strong arm, but is still very raw in his mechanics and pocket awareness, which will likely limit the impact that WR Jordy Nelson, WR Davante Adams and WR Randall Cobb will be able to make against a Steelers pass defense that allows 6.7 yards per attempt, 12th in the NFL.

Pass protection could also be an issue, given that DE Cam Heyward and the Steelers are second in the NFL in sacks while the Packers have allowed the second-most.

Green Bay, which is 2-7 ATS in its last nine road games against teams with winning records, may be drawn down to rookie RB Jamaal Williams with starter Ty Montgomery hobbled.

The Steelers are 8-2 and 6-4 ATS, but the whole has been less than sum of its parts on offense, where they rank 27th in the NFL in yards per rush and have also tossed 10 interceptions. With the Packers having SS Morgan Burnett in the lineup to help with containment, there is a chance Green Bay can keep the scoreline tight, especially if the Steelers remain intent on feeding the ball to Le’Veon Bell instead of trying to force the issue downfield.

In the passing phase, it’s probably just a matter of when WR Antonio Brown will bust loose for some big plays, especially against an opponent that is allowing 7.7 yards per pass (27th in the league).

That said, the Pittsburgh passing game could be affected by the absence of rookie WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (hamstring). Either Eli Rogers or Martavis Bryant would draw in as the No. 2 wideout.

The total has gone over in 13 of Green Bay’s last 17 games, but much of that is attributable to the absent Rodgers. The total has gone under in eight of the Steelers’ last 10 games as a favorite, and given Green Bay’s offensive woes they would likely have to account for a lion’s share of the points for the over to hit on the 43 total.

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