Tag Archives: Football

Fantasy Impact of Romo Injury

With the recent news that Tony Romo is out for the season after a re-fracture of his left clavicle today against the Panthers, it’s time to quickly examine the injury’s impact on our fantasy teams.

To be honest, there really isn’t that much of a fantasy impact. Romo was back for one full game, so all we have to do is go back to the seven previous Romo-less games to gain a reasonable idea of what we can expect from Cowboys players through the rest of the season.

Matt Cassel will take over at quarterback for Dallas for the remainder of the season. He should obviously be avoided all fantasy teams, but he’s still important due to his effect on his teammates. Put simply, his return as the starter lessens the fantasy value of every one of his receivers.

Darren McFadden should keep his fantasy value barring a seemingly inevitable injury. Feel free to ignore the stacked boxes he’ll undoubtedly face as he dealt with the same earlier this season and still was able to produce. Even if he’s unable to be efficient, it doesn’t matter for fantasy. Remember: tons of touches equals tons of points.

At wide receiver, Dez Bryant is the biggest loser. A WR1 with Romo, he’ll be at best a high-end WR2 with Cassel. There’s more uncertainty about Bryant’s outlook because he was injured earlier this season while Romo was out and thus has yet to play a full game with Cassel. Still, it’s Matt Cassel, so we can’t expect much from Bryant until we’re shown otherwise.

I’ve been down on Jason Witten since the beginning of the season, and I continue to expect him to perform as a low-ceiling borderline-TE1. Witten didn’t play well with Cassel, but it’s not like he played much better with Romo. Outside of scoring his only two touchdowns in the first game of the season, Witten has failed to put up many points. For owners who had been holding on to Witten in the hopes that Romo’s return would rejuvenate his season, it’s time to let go.

Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the only other players worth mentioning in this offense, shouldn’t have been owned in any leagues to begin with, and now that Romo is out for the season, they definitely shouldn’t be owned in any leagues.

Hope everyone had a spectacular Thanksgiving full of family, fun, and fantasy points.

 

 

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Thanksgiving Picks for DFS and Against the Spread

Thanksgiving is a fine American tradition. The turkey, the family reunions, and the annual football game you play with your cousins that ends almost immediately when the rotund Cousin Dave claims he’s “cramping up”. Of course, the best tradition of them all is the ever-present football game on the TV that’s a perfect excuse to escape your Aunt Edna’s smothering hugs.

In the true spirit of Thanksgiving, let’s break down today’s games and in the true spirit of America, let’s do so from a gambler’s perspective.

(Home team in caps)

LIONS -2.5 over Eagles

Honestly, it’s amazing that it’s taken this long for Vegas to sour on the rapidly imploding Eagles. Last week they were somehow giving seven points against Tampa Bay. Yeah, the Bucs aren’t a spectacular team, but when was Philly even a solid team this season? Their best two games came against the Saints and the Giants, two teams that aren’t particularly good. Two weeks ago, they somehow needed overtime to beat a Cowboys team that was led by Matt Cassel. Need I say more?

Panthers +1 over DALLAS

Here’s a strange looking line: the undefeated Panthers getting a point against a 3-7 team. However, once you look at it a little more closely, the line starts to make a little more sense. For one, conventional wisdom states that home field advantage is worth three points, so this line shows that the oddsmakers think that Carolina is the better team by two points. Despite this, it still looks a little off. Again, once you break it down a little further, it makes plenty more sense. The Cowboys may be 3-7 this season, but they’re 3-0 in games started by Tony Romo and 0-7 in games started by the horrendous combination of Cassel and Brandon Weeden. So yeah, I still think the Panthers are the choice in this game, but at least there are clear reasons for Dallas being considered the favorite.

GREEN BAY -8.5 over Chicago

The Packers are looking to lay down the law. After a distressing three-game losing streak which included an embarrassing contest against the Lions, Green Bay demolished the Vikings last week to take back the lead in the NFC North. While the Bears are getting back Matt Forte, the linchpin of their offense, his return won’t help as much as you might think. The guy Forte will be replacing, Jeremy Langford, filled in spectacularly for him during his absence so the star’s return won’t be a massive upgrade. Additionally, Martellus Bennett, the tight end, has already been ruled out for the game, and Alshon Jeffery, the stud wide receiver, is questionable for tonight’s game and has been hobbled all year. The Bears have actually recovered somewhat from their 2-5 start to the season with two wins in their last three games, but on the road in Lambeau Field, the Pack Attack is the choice.

Now, since many state governments have decided that DFS is gambling, let’s proceed with that premise and talk about a few solid Thanksgiving DFS plays on DraftKings.

Jonathan Stewart, at a mere $5200, is one of the best plays of the slate. He’s getting a ton of carries, with a streak of six games and counting with at least twenty carries.

Devin Funchess is another worthy choice. He costs only $3900, and as we discussed in yesterday’s article, he’s becoming a much bigger part of the Carolina offense.

Calvin Johnson and Greg Olsen are the two studs I’d pay up for. Although expensive, both are the only reliable players at their positions.

None of the defensive matchups are appealing, so for your D/ST, why not choose Detroit? Priced at a reasonable $2200, the Lions face a Butt Fumble-led Eagles team which scored seventeen points last week. Sanchez threw in three interceptions for good measure.

As always, if you enjoyed this article, sharing it on social media would be much appreciated, but even if you don’t, good luck in all your gambling endeavors today, enjoy the turkey, and (ready for an awful pun?) thanks(giving) for reading.

Who is This Year’s CJ Anderson?

Last year hundreds of thousands of fantasy leagues were decided by one player: CJ Anderson. Anderson came out of nowhere in Week 9 against the Raiders, racking up 163 all-purpose yards along with a touchdown, for 23.3 points in standard leagues. The next week he salvaged a poor rushing day with eight receptions for 88 yards. From then on, Anderson was a high-end RB1, with only one game below 18.5 points (standard scoring) the rest of the way.

There were other guys who broke out in the latter half of the 2014 season to carry teams to championships. Jeremy Hill was very good, but not nearly as good as Anderson. Odell Beckham Jr. was spectacular, but he was good before the stretch run for the average fantasy league.

Even though Anderson wasn’t owned before the stretch run and Hill and Beckham Jr. both were, there are two important similarities between these three players. Each took advantage of a struggling incumbent starter. Giovani Bernard ceded his job to Hill, Victor Cruz’s injury freed up a ton of targets for Beckham Jr., and Montee Ball was ineffective, which allowed Anderson to fill up that gap in production. Each player was new to the league. Hill and Beckham Jr. were rookies and Anderson was a second-year player who had seven touches across two games in his rookie season.

Let’s use these two criteria to find a few likely breakout candidates. This player needs to have been in the league for less than two seasons and have a starting job ready to be seized after an injured or ineffective starter vacated it.

First and foremost on this list is Thomas Rawls. With the recent news that Marshawn Lynch will be out for at least four weeks after a sports hernia surgery, the running back has a clear path to the starting job in Seattle. Rawls is a rookie, who went undrafted but was then signed by the Seahawks. Adding to Rawls’ appeal, in the four games Lynch has been out so far this season, Rawls has averaged 132.5 rushing yards on 21.5 carries, with three touchdowns. Those are RB1 numbers and with the shaky RB situation this season, Rawls could easily be a top-5 RB the rest of the way.

Javorius Allen is another easy choice. Like Rawls, he’s a rookie and the incumbent starter, Justin Forsett, broke his arm and is out for the season. Not only is the starting running back job his for the taking, the QB, Joe Flacco, is also out for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL, with Matt Schaub set to take over. Schaub was last seen in 2013, setting a record by throwing a pick-6 in four straight games for the 2-14 Texans. I have a feeling the Ravens won’t give Schaub much responsibility, especially because their wide receiver corps doesn’t inspire any confidence. That’ll lead to a ton of touches for Allen, and in fantasy football, tons of touches equals tons of points.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs haven’t missed a beat after Jamaal Charles went down for the season with a torn ACL. Charcandrick West,  took over the starting job and has produced RB1 numbers with a massive workload. Now, West, should be owned in any competitive league, but he went down with a hamstring injury this past week, opening the door for Spencer Ware to fill in. Ware’s in his third season, but until last week he had a total nine touches in his career. He doubled that on Sunday, totaling eleven carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns along with a five yard reception. Should West miss this week, Ware will have a chance to prove his viability as a feature back, a role which could provide him with the rich usage needed to be a bona fide fantasy stud.

Devin Funchess was a breakout pick at the start of the year. He’s a rookie, drafted in the second round out of Michigan. After Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL before the season began, Funchess’ ADP began to rise. However, he did almost nothing for the first half of the season, and guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery soaked up the newly available targets. Over the last three weeks, Funchess has turned his season around, averaging three receptions for 59 yards and catching a pair of touchdowns. With his relative youth and the wealth of targets available to him, Funchess has a good shot at a solid finish to the season.

It’s tricky to predict how long players will be out from concussions, and although Devonta Freeman isn’t expected to miss more than a game from the one he suffered last week, should his ailment keep him out for longer, the Falcons will need to find someone to soak up the a ton of touches. Enter Tevin Coleman, yet another rookie, a third round pick out of Indiana University. He was actually expected to be the starter entering the season, but after an injury sidelined him for a couple of weeks, Freeman took hold of the job and never let it go. Now that Coleman has little competition for running back touches in the Atlanta offense for at least a week, could he perform well enough to steal back the job from Freeman? Admittedly, it’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Last of all, one player with a shot to become this year’s CJ Anderson is…CJ Anderson. This is still only his third year in the league so youth is on his side. Denver’s QB combo of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler doesn’t inspire much confidence, so if Anderson can wrest the starting job back from Ronnie Hillman, he could have a spectacular stretch run, leading teams to victory for the second straight year.

Sushi’s Week 1 Picks

As promised, I’ll be writing an article a week picking that week’s football games against the spread. Of course, I also promised that I’d write an NFL Preview but let’s not talk about that.

In lieu of a comprehensive four-thousand word NFL Preview, I’ll spend eighty words doing a half-assed job of it. Running through division leaders, I like the Pats, Bengals, Colts, Broncos, Eagles, Saints, Packers, and Seahawks with the Wild Cards being the Chargers and Dolphins in the AFC and San Fran (barely squeaking in) and Chicago in the NFC. I think Denver will make it to the Super Bowl against either New Orleans or Seattle, whichever one manages to get home-field advantage in the NFC. Since Seattle has a tougher schedule, I pick a Broncos-Saints Super Bowl, which I predict the Broncos will win.

Let’s get started with the Week 1 picks. Remember, each pick is against the spread. The home team is in caps.

SEATTLE -5.5 over Green Bay

This paragraph was written on Wednesday, the day before this game.

Super Bowl champs, playing at home, fired up and ready to defend their title and only giving six? Count me in! Yeah, I suppose Green Bay has a very good team and they’ve got Aaron Rodgers, but how are they supposed to compete with the Hawks, on their turf, on opening night?

I like Green Bay a lot this year, with Aaron Rodgers and the passing game, by and large Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, finally being supported by a strong running game in Eddie Lacy. I like them a lot, just not enough to defeat Seattle, even when getting 5.5 points.

New Orleans -3 over ATLANTA

Yes, Atlanta was wracked by injuries last year. Yes, Atlanta is now healthy. Yes, Atlanta now has Julio Jones and a full strength Roddy White. Yes, Atlanta will be better than last year.

However, this line seems to have overcorrected. While the Falcons got much better by merely getting back their injured stars, they also lost Tony Gonzalez, the future Hall of Fame tight end. This is all without mentioning the improvements that the Saints made. They traded up to draft Brandin Cooks, a wide receiver, in the first round. He’s been great this preseason and in camp, and while we all know that the preseason isn’t a good indicator of future success, he has gotten praise from Drew Brees which speaks to Cooks’ ability. In addition, Rob Ryan has gotten another toy to play with in Jairus Byrd, the star free safety signed away from Buffalo so their underrated defense should get even better.

There’s not even cold weather to mess with the Saints. The line should be higher than it is, but I’ll happily take New Orleans.

ST. LOUIS -3.5 over Minnesota

Let’s play a betting game I like to call Would You Bet Your Life On?

In this week’s edition of Would You Bet Your Life On? the question is:

Would you bet your life on…

  1. A fearsome defensive team at home giving only three points or…
  2. A team starting Matt Cassel (which in itself is enough) facing the aforementioned intimidating D-line?

If you want to bet your life on the shaky right arm of Matt Cassel then the real question is whether you’d like to die by lethal injection or by firing squad.

And by the way, there’s a 79.3% chance that Cassel leads a comeback win over the Rams causing me to lose whatever credibility I may have built up after my successful “Germany wins the World Cup” prediction.

Cleveland +6.5 over PITTSBURGH

Is it just me or does Cleveland seem like this year’s early favorite for the Sneaky Good Team, as the team that doesn’t necessarily have a great record but is surprisingly good and plays everyone close? (For reference, last year’s winner was the Rams.) I mean, they’ve got a top 5 corner in Joe Haden to shut down the opposing number one receiver, a pretty good defense overall, and a not-too-bad offense. Hamstrung by their offense, it’s unlikely they’ll win much, but their defense will at the very least keep things close.

That defense, against their overrated opponent, will make sure, if they don’t win outright, that at the very least they’ll cover the spread.

PHILADELPHIA -10.5 over Jacksonville

Let’s see, do I take a high-octane offense playing at home against a weak defense or the team starting Chad Henne? Hmmmm….

By the way, I’m all in on this game. In my main fantasy league I’m streaming both the Eagles’ defense and their kicker, Cody Parkey. Here’s to a 42-7 point old-fashioned ass-whupping by the Eagles!

NEW YORK JETS -5 over Oakland

New York’s intimidating run defense will swallow up MJD and Darren McFadden alive. Their impressive D-line (probably the second best in the league behind the Rams) should get after Carr enough to mask their deficiencies in the secondary. Last year’s horrendous offense should be improved with the Decker and Johnson signings, and again, Oakland isn’t good enough to stop even the Jets’ feeble offense.

Against superior teams to the Raiders (pretty much every team in the league) the Jets won’t be able to do much at all, but in this matchup, a 1:00 game on the East Coast, the Jets should roll.

Cincinnati +2 over BALTIMORE

This line mystifies me. The Bengals are superior to the Ravens in every single facet of the game. The only non-special teams position that isn’t clearly in Cincinnati’s favor is at QB, and even so, I’d rather have Dalton than Flacco this year.

Yes, the game is in Baltimore, but even so, having home field advantage is only an extra three points in your favor. I can’t believe that the Bengals are only considered to be a single point better than the Ravens at a neutral site. That makes this pick pretty easy for me.

This, by the way, is my Taco Bell Upset Pick of the Week, named in honor of what Taco Bell’s food will do to your stomach.

CHICAGO -7 over Buffalo

The Bears will have a top 3 offense, along with the Saints and Broncos. That’s one of my big predictions this the year. They’ve got Trestman running the show, Cutler’s healthy (for now), their offense has Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Santonio Holmes, and Martellus Bennett. That’s two superstars (Forte, Marshall), three studs (Jeffery, Trestman, Cutler), and two above average players for their position (Holmes, Bennett).

Last year, the Bills’ defense was criminally underrated. This year, it’s lost much of its luster. They’ve lost two important players off of last year’s squad in linebacker Kiko Alonso, who’s out for the year after an injury, and free safety Jairus Byrd, who went to New Orleans through free agency.

The Bears should smash through the Bills this game. Buffalo has no one to cover Marshall or Jeffery and their weak offense won’t be able to attack Chicago’s defense.

HOUSTON -3 over Washington

The Washington Professional Football Team (which will henceforth be known as the WPFT) is boom or bust this year. Their defense is okay, nothing special. Their offense has the potential to be a top 5 unit or a bottom 5 mess.

The WPFT has acquired a number of players to help RGIII shine on offense. Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson, Alfred Morris, and Jordan Reed all combine to form a formidable passing attack. However, they need someone to throw them the ball. If RGIII is hurt or ineffective, the WPFT will have to turn to Kirk Cousins, who, while he’s a good backup, is almost certainly not starting material.

Also, I’m looking forward to watching Jadeveon Clowney and JJ Watt in action. Not so much Ryan Fitzpatrick, but the WPFT’s defense isn’t good enough to properly take advantage of Fitzpatrick’s shortcomings.

KANSAS CITY -4 over Tennessee

Last year, Kansas City was the league’s Good-Bad team, meaning that they beat all the bad teams and lost to all the good ones. The only good team they beat last year that I can recall offhand was the Colts, 20-6, in Week 16.

Luckily for the Chiefs, the Titans aren’t a good team so they’re in good shape.

NEW ENGLAND -5 over Miami

Gronk is back! Gronk is back! Gronk is back! Gronk is back!

Seriously though, who are the Dolphins gonna use to cover Gronk? Dannell Ellerbee. Yeah, that seems likely…

For both my fantasy team’s sake and Tom Brady’s, GRONK IS BACK!!!! WOOHOO!!!!

TAMPA BAY -2.5 over Carolina

I was a little surprised at this line when I saw it. Last year’s Tampa Bay Staph Infections were favored at home against the 12-4 breakout team of the year! Then I thought about it a little and was kinda like “Huh”. Surprisingly, this line is actually quite reasonable.

Lovie Smith, the defensive guru, is now Tampa Bay’s head coach. He’s got a bunch of skilled players with which to mold his defense from Gerald McCoy to Lavonte David to Alterraun Verner. Now he faces the Panthers’ crappy offense, with a hurt QB who’s not going to run (which is his biggest skill), poor wide receivers, and a nonexistent line.

Carolina’s defense isn’t anywhere near as good as it was last year after losing three out of the four starters in their secondary, so they won’t be able to take advantage of Josh “The career backup who somehow parlayed a half season of playing unsustainably well into a starting job and a new contract” McCown and the rest of the Buccaneer’s offense.

DALLAS +4.5 over San Francisco

Dallas’ defense is nonexistent. They’ve lost players to injury, to free agency, and they’re hamstrung by cap concerns so they’re unable to sign any good new players.

Scott Linehan is their new offensive coordinator and he throws a ton. Also, they’re going to have to score to keep up with their horrendous defense, leading to more passing. Luckily, their offense is well built to account for that defense. Their O-line, led by Tyron Smith, is great, and should give DeMarco Murray a chance to run. They’ll also keep Tony Romo upright so he can throw to Dez Bryant. The Cowboys won’t be good this year per se, but they’ll stay in games, and will be able to steal a few. Anyways, the Cowboys are great at the two most important things in football: they’re gonna be fun to watch because of their high-scoring games, and because of their prolific offense and horrible defense, they’ll likely be the team that swings the most fantasy matchups (including mine as I’m starting Tony Romo and my opponent is starting the 49ers D/ST).

However, I don’t like San Francisco at all this year. Their defense is overrated after the defections in their secondary, the suspension of Aldon Smith, the injury to NaVorro Bowman, and the increasing age of Justin Smith and Patrick Willis. Their offense is okay, but nothing special. I think they’ll squeak into the playoffs, but barely.

Anyways, in this game, Dallas, even if they don’t win outright, should keep it close enough to cover the spread.

DENVER -7.5 over Indianapolis

The .5 scares me. I can’t lie. It’s the difference between getting your money back from the casino if Denver wins by a touchdown and losing it all. While we’re here, the two most important milestones in football lines are 3 and 7, as those are the most common margins of victory.

Still, I think Denver will mash Indianapolis. If you look at the Colts, their whole team is bad other than Andrew Luck. Only Luck (and luck) prevented the Colts from being a crappy team the past two years. The Broncos, on the other hand, upgraded their defense a ton this offseason with the acquisitions of TJ Ward, DeMarcus Ware, and Aqib Talib, and their offense is still great, even if it’s not necessarily going to be the unstoppable force it was last year.

The scary thing is that Denver might even be a little underrated this year, if that’s possible for the preseason favorite to win the Super Bowl.

Also, an important lesson for a fledgling bettor to know is to never bet against Peyton Manning in a night game. Would you like to take the “unless it’s in the playoffs” joke, or should I?

DETROIT -6 over New York Giants

Can anyone cover Calvin Johnson? A double or triple team usually can (although not always (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8tCdCWB1LM), which is why Johnson is probably not quite reaching his immense potential stats-wise. Now he finally has the opportunity to dominate because of his teammates finally being able to take some defensive attention off him. Instead of the likes of Nate Burleson lining up opposite him, he’s now got big free agent signing, wide receiver, Golden Tate, and first round pick Eric Ebron, a tight end, playing with him, along with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell.

Of course, that whole last paragraph is irrelevant in this game. The Giants have a bad defense and won’t be able to stop Matt Stafford and Co.

San Diego +3 over ARIZONA

Arizona’s impressive defense of last year is no longer as spectacular after defections and injuries. San Diego’s defense was never good in the first place.

The Cardinals’ offense is improving. Their offensive line could finally be more than a turnstile, and they’ve got three good receivers in Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and John Brown. Their rushing attack is led by Andre Ellington and Carson Palmer hasn’t been too bad on the downside of his career.

The Chargers have a three-headed committee and running back between Ryan Matthews, Donald Brown, and Danny Woodhead. They’ve got Keenan Allen leading the pass attack and a couple of good tight ends in Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates.

Based on talent alone, Arizona has a slight edge over San Diego. However, as far as I can tell, they’re more or less equal, leading me to take the points as the deciding factor.

Or maybe I should take the Cards with Peterson. Or the Chargers with Rivers. Or ‘Zona with Mathieu. Or San Diego with… You know what? I think I’m just gonna end this article before I go crazy trying to figure this game out.

Last Week: 0-0-0

This Week: 1-0-0

Total: 1-0-0

The NFL Gambling Preview

The NFL season is coming up soon. Woohoo! With that American pastime coming up, let’s take a look at another one of our favorite things to do: gambling.

Now, most of you are probably aware of game lines, (i.e. Team X -7) but although you can bet on individual games at this point, it’s a crapshoot for the most part because the games are too far away.

Luckily, before the season starts, you can bet on bets called “Futures Bets”.

Note for people who know all this stuff already (either geniuses or degenerate gamblers): the next paragraph is just explaining about betting so you can skip it if you want to.

What are futures bets? I’m glad you asked. Futures bets, as the name implies, are bets on the future (I’m happy I could clear that up for you). Specifically, you bet on something to happen far in the future. Also, futures bets aren’t on specific games, but on overall events. A future bet wouldn’t be predicting the Jets to win a game in Week 17, but picking the Jets to make the playoffs would be.

As an example of futures bets in practice, some of my regular readers might remember that I mentioned a few weeks ago that if I had followed my hunch on Germany before the World Cup, a futures bet on them to win the World Cup would pay out something like 1100$ for a 200$ bet. Another example is betting on the, let’s say, the Athletics to win the World Series. Again, you’re gambling on something for the future.

Okay gamblers (and geniuses)! Come back for this paragraph!

So we’re going to go through the best futures bets that are available right now. For the fun of it, let’s pretend I’ve got 2500$ with which to make bets (I end up using 2320$ of my allotment). At the end of the season we can check back with these picks to see how much money I would’ve lost and what lessons we can learn from my failures (other than the fact that I’m an idiot).

Just so you know, in the third to last paragraph of this column, there’s information on a football games picking pool for Sushi on Sports, if you want to check it out before reading the rest of the article.

(All lines are according to Bovada. All lines are accurate as of the writing of this article.)

Let’s start with a sample bet, just to show you how it works:

Kansas City Chiefs: 8 wins

Over: +105

Under: +135

Now that we have this sample line let’s take each part step by step.

The first part says that the over/under win total for the Chiefs is 8 wins. The next two lines show the odds on each bet. Let’s say I bet the under. If the Chiefs win more than 8 games, I lose. If they win less than 8 games, I win. If they win exactly 8 games, it’s a push, and the casino would give me my money back.

The numbers next to over and under refer to the odds on the bet. It’s pretty simple. The odds refer to a bet of 100$. If you bet the over, you’d bet 100$ to win 105$, because of the plus sign in front of the 105. If you bet the under, because of the minus sign, you’d have to put 135$ to win 100$. Not too hard, huh? With that, let’s get started!

Oakland Raiders

UNDER 5 wins: +105

500$ to win 525$

The logic is simple here: the Raiders have a crappy team, are stuck in a division with three good teams, and they play the NFC West this year. Then the casino gives you +105 odds to take them? Count me in. This, for me, is one of the easiest bets of the year, which is why I’m betting a lot of my (admittedly, fake) money on them.

Saint Louis Rams

UNDER 7.5 wins: +120

150$ to win 180$

In almost any other division, I’d take the over, but in the NFC West, every team’s win total is pushed down by having four good teams in the division. Sam Bradford is shaky and usually gets injured, when combined with the odds of +120 makes this a pretty easy call.

Dallas Cowboys

OVER 7.5 wins: +105

100$ to win 105$

The Cowboys have gone 8-8 for the past three years and always seem to be competitive down the end of the season. The NFC East is always wide open and has a lot of parity, meaning that it’s more likely than not that the Cowboys will win about 7 to 9 games. If a couple of bounces go their way, then they win 8 or 9 games and I win my bet.

Detroit Lions

UNDER 8.5 wins: -125

125$ to win 100$

Let’s just put it this way: it’ll be a lot more fun to watch Detroit self-destruct when I’m winning money (albeit nonexistent) out of it.

Pittsburgh Steelers

UNDER 8.5 wins: +120

100$ to win 120$

Pittsburgh’s old, with a QB who always misses at least two games a year. In their division are three solid teams. The Steelers have been on a downward trend for a couple of years, now, and it’d be surprising if they turn it around.

Also, Pittsburgh has to be over .500 for me to lose this bet, something I find laughable. I suspect that this is an instance of where the public has shifted the lines. The Steelers are a recognizable brand with recent success, meaning that the public is more likely to bet in their favor. That much is clear; the over on this bet is all the way up to -150. Anyways, here’s a gambling rule of thumb: always go against the public. They’re the ones who let bookies drive expensive cars. Always go against the grain when gambling.

Green Bay Packers

OVER 10.5 wins: -115

115$ to win 100$

Put simply: as long as Green Bay has Aaron Rodgers, they’ll be fine.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WILL make the playoffs: +400

50$ to win 200$

I like this bet for two reasons:

  1. The odds are great, especially for a wide-open division and
  2. The Buccos have a sneaky-good team, with a great defense and a decent offense.

See, gun to my head, I’d say that Tampa Bay won’t make the playoffs. However, gambling isn’t always about what you think is going to happen. Instead, it’s about finding value in bets. Let’s say Tampa Bay wins their division 25% of the time, an average projection. Then, let’s say that the Bucs win a wild card 10% of the time. That adds up to 35% for those of you out there who aren’t exactly math geniuses. Now, the odds of +400 say that Tampa Bay has 4:1 odds to make the playoffs, implying that the Buccaneers will make the playoffs 25% of the time. Well, 35%>25%, which means that we’ve found value in this bet. Now, you can quibble with the specific numbers (which were rough guesses), but the overarching idea is the same.

Quick side note: I wrote this section one day and then a couple of days later I checked back for the odds to see if they had changed. They had. The line on this bet was moved down from +400 to +350. What does that mean? Glad you asked. It means that the bettors are betting heavily on Tampa Bay, meaning that they need to adjust the lines in an attempt to spread the bet evenly on both sides in order to ensure a profit, or at the very least not a huge loss.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WILL win the NFC South: +550

100$ to win 550$

The biggest reasons are the same as before: a wide-open division and great value. Going back to the last section, the odds of +550 imply that Tampa Bay will win the division just over 18% of the time. That means that if the likelihood of the Bucs making the playoffs that we stated earlier was correct (or at least reasonably close), then we’ll have found value.

My secondary reasons are the strong defense led by Lavonte David and Lovie Smith and the offense filled with playmakers, although it’s led by a prime candidate for regression: Josh McCown.

By the way, you may be wondering why I didn’t bet on the Tampa Bay over/under for wins if I’m so confident in their ability. To answer the question you didn’t ask, the main reason why is because of the odds. For the making the playoffs and winning the NFC South bets, I feel like I’m getting good value. However, the over/under is 7 wins, which I don’t feel great about in the first place, but the line is -140 to take the over. Those odds are too steep for my taste, especially as I’m not exactly enamored with Tampa Bay.

Indianapolis Colts

WILL NOT make the playoffs: +175

40$ to win 70$

As with the bet on Tampa Bay, if pressed, I would pick Indy to make it to the playoffs. However, I think that there’s a decent shot they don’t, for two reasons:

  1. Houston will be rejuvenated and as long as Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t suck, they’ll ride a great defense and a solid running game to a playoff spot. Now, the caveat of needing Ryan Fitzpatrick to not suck is a rather big one, but on the off chance that he’s half-decent, I want to be there to take advantage of it.
  2. The Colts have been incredibly good in one-touchdown games, going 14-2 over the last two years. Teams are expected to win 50% of one-touchdown games over the long run. No matter how much of Indy’s success in one-touchdown games you attribute to Andrew Luck, they’re due for some regression to the mean, which could push their record down a couple of games.
  3. Outside of Luck, the Colts are horrible. Their horrible-ness includes their offensive line which has done everything other than put out a welcome mat for marauding defensive ends to get past them to maul Luck. If Luck gets injured for any significant period of time, they’re screwed. Now, you might say something like “Oh, Luck isn’t injury-prone. He’ll be fine”. However, even QBs that are considered to be healthy can get hurt in the violent game of football (see: Rodgers, Aaron, 2013 season). If Luck gets hurt for six games, the Colts will not make the playoffs.

Overall, I think those two concerns combined are enough to make it a decent bet to gamble against the Colts making the playoffs. However, the odds aren’t that great which is why I’m not making this bet a very big one.

Philadelphia Eagles

WILL NOT make the playoffs: +120

100$ to win 120$

Here are five reasons why I don’t think the Eagles will make the playoffs:

  1. They lost their biggest offensive weapon (outside of LeSean McCoy) over the offseason when Washington signed DeSean Jackson.
  2. Nick Foles, owner of an impressive 27-2 TD/INT rate last season, is guaranteed to get worse, due to the Plexiglass Principle and regression to the mean. It took that superhuman effort to pull Philadelphia into the playoffs, an effort that’s unlikely to be repeated. When Foles gets worse (even if he’s still a good quarterback overall) the Eagles will have to have other players on their roster get better. With Jackson gone, that task gets harder and harder.
  3. They play the NFC West.
  4. The NFC East, as it usually is, is pretty much a tossup. All four teams are more or less equal. If a couple of bounces don’t go their way, Philadelphia won’t win the division, meaning that they’ll have to win a wild card to get into the playoffs but…
  5. The wild card race is STACKED. One of the two spots is going to the loser of the dogfight in the NFC West between San Francisco and Seattle. That leaves one spot for the other two teams in the NFC West, the loser of the Chicago/Green Bay battle for the NFC North, and the second place team of the NFC South. If they don’t win the division crown, Philadelphia has almost no shot at winning a wild card, making this a great bet for me.

Miami Dolphins

WILL make the playoffs: +250

200$ to win 500$

This is a pretty high confidence bet for me. If you look at the AFC, you’ll see that it’s very top heavy and after the two or three elite teams, it’s a scrum for the rest of the playoff spots. As far as I can tell, Denver will win their division, New England and Indianapolis almost certainly will, and… well, that’s it for guaranteed playoff participants in the AFC. That leaves three spots for the rest of the teams, although one is earmarked for the AFC North. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say that the Bengals win the AFC North. That means that four teams (Houston, San Diego, Kansas City, and Miami) are competing for the two wild card spots.

By the way, I’m counting out the rest of the teams because they’re either too old (Pittsburgh, Baltimore) inexperienced and counting on an unproven QB (New York, Buffalo, Cleveland), or because they just plain suck (Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland).

Anyways, of those four teams in realistic contention, let’s pick nits with each of them:

San Diego: Tough schedule, facing the NFC West and KC and Denver twice.

Kansas City: Ditto, except they (obviously) play San Diego twice instead of themselves.

Houston: Relying on an unreliable QB (Ryan Fitzpatrick) and are unlikely to rebound from last year by winning eight extra games that they’d need to win to go 10-6 to win a wild card.

Miami: Relying on a porous offensive line, had a negative point differential last year, are starting an unproven QB.

All of these concerns are valid and warranted, but I believe that Miami’s are more easily surmounted.

Cleveland Browns

WIN the AFC North: +500

20$ to win 100$

The Browns, along with Tampa Bay, are my two big sleepers for this year. I doubt that Cleveland ends up winning their division but I think they’re the second best team in the AFC North (behind Cincinnati) and the odds were too good to pass up.

Cincinnati Bengals

WIN the AFC: +1600

30$ to win 480$

Again, if I were betting my life, I’d bet on the Broncos to win the AFC, however, the Bengals offer the most appealing combination of good odds and a good team…

Denver Broncos

WIN the AFC: +225

200$ to win 450$

…But I might as well go with the almost sure thing too, just to cover my bases.

San Francisco 49ers

WIN the NFC: +450

100$ to win 450$

Seattle Seahawks

WIN the NFC: +375

100$ to win 375$

I know that it’s uninventive to pick the two best teams in the league to win the league, but the main tenet of gambling is that you’re just there to make money. There’s no need to be a hero by betting on the huge underdog. If you do that then you’re just throwing your money away. Here’s a good tip for life: don’t throw your money away.

Anyways, the road to the Super Bowl runs through the NFC West. Whichever team comes in first place in the division will have the upper hand and will be favored to advance to the Super Bowl. Because of the importance of the division title, the two games between Seattle and San Fran will be even more hard-fought than usual (if that’s possible). It’ll be like having an extra two playoff games.

However, while I’ll bet anything that it’s one of those two teams that represents the NFC in the Super Bowl, the question is which one. To eliminate that question, I bet on both. Now, it doesn’t matter who wins; I make money either way.

Denver Broncos

WIN the Super Bowl: +650

100$ to win 650$

Seattle Seahawks

WIN the Super Bowl: +700

100$ to win 700$

San Francisco 49ers

WIN the Super Bowl: +750

100$ to win 750$

As far as I can tell, there are three genuine Super Bowl contenders: Seattle, San Francisco, and Denver. I’m almost completely certain that the eventual Super Bowl winner will be one of those three teams. There are no underdogs this year that I like enough to back them for a Cinderella run. There’s little parity at the top; after the top three teams, there’s a steep drop off to teams like New England, Indianapolis, and Green Bay. I figure that one of my bets will hit, which means that I’ll win between 450$ and 550$.

For the player props I don’t really like any of the choices. I feel like player props are even more of a crapshoot than the other kinds of bets. However, for the sake of completeness, here are my favorite bets for each of the player props, which combine a chance at winning with good odds:. Just keep in mind that I’m not making these bets personally because I don’t think they’re very good, I just think that these are the best of the bunch. Anyways, here they are:
MVP: Matthew Stafford +2800

If he cuts down on his interceptions and his team has a good season, then he’ll have a decent shot at the MVP. The odds make this a good bet, though.

Most Passing Yards: Matthew Stafford +750

It’s either Stafford or Drew Brees for this (with Peyton Manning looming as a dark horse), except that Stafford’s odds are at +750 and Brees’ are at +275, making Stafford a decent value play.

Most Rushing Yards: C.J. Spiller +3300

In a bet like this one, you’re looking for an explosive back who’s indisputably the starter and who plays for a team that won’t be a throwing very much. Spiller checks all those boxes and has decent odds to boot.

Most Receiving Yards: Antonio Brown +2000

Checks the same boxes as Spiller: explosive, the clear number one on the depth chart with no close competitors on a team with a good quarterback who throws a lot.

I was also intrigued by A.J. Green (+1600), Larry Fitzgerald (+4000), and T.Y. Hilton (+4000) before ultimately deciding against them.

At the end of the season we’ll follow up on these bets and see what happened, where we went wrong, and what we did right.

The next NFL related article to come out on this site is probably going to be some massive NFL Preview. That’ll be out by the end of the month.

Throughout the football season, I’ll be keeping our betting tradition alive. Each week I’ll pick each game against the spread. At the end of the season we’ll tally up the score and see whether I know nothing about football or almost nothing about football.

Speaking of which, I’m starting a Pigskin Pick‘em tourney on ESPN for Sushi on Sports. If you’d like to join (so you can show me how much smarter you are than me), the name of the pool is “Sushi on Sports Pool”. The passcode is (inventively, I know) SushiOnSports. If you’d like to join, feel free. It should be a lot of fun.

Anyways, if you enjoyed this article, a great thing you could do is merely click follow (I think it’s on the right hand side) and to share the link to this site with your friends, family, coworkers, and random people on the street.

Thanks for your help and I hope you enjoyed the column!

 

 

The Knockout Rounds Preview

https://i0.wp.com/i.imgur.com/N3H6MAp.png

That certainly was an exciting Group Stage. There were blowouts, shutouts, high scoring games, and low scoring games, and that was all in just Group G. Favorites crapped the bed (looking at you, Spain), underdogs pulled off surprising and unlikely victories (nice job, Nigeria, Greece, Costa Rica) and there was craziness throughout. Luis Suarez even got so hungry during a game that he had a bite of Italian food. Of course, that “Italian food” was really the shoulder of Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini, but still.

In my pool, I came in second, losing narrowly in a competition that went down to the wire. In the end, I ended up losing on that horrible play by Ivory Coast when they fouled someone on Greece INSIDE THE PENALTY BOX, DURING EXTRA TIME, DURING A TIE GAME, WHEN ALL THEY NEEDED TO ADVANCE WAS A TIE!!!!! I mean, how stupid can you get?!?!?! In case you hadn’t noticed, I may be a little bit bitter about that.

Anyways, I figured that, rather than rehashing my picks again, I’d preview each match in the knockout rounds, along with my picks for each game, all the way to the championship game.

Round of 16:

Brazil vs. Chile:

Chile plays a frenzied and energetic style that often leads to high scoring games, either because they score a bunch of goals, or give a bunch of them up. Their game against the Netherlands was huge because the loser had to play Brazil, the favorite to win the tournament, while the winner got to play Mexico, a much easier opponent. Chile lost, 2-0, so here they are.

Brazil didn’t look very sharp in its first two games, but really rounded into form against Cameroon, winning 4-1, showing that they deserved the pre-tournament status as the favorite.

As you know, I like South American teams a lot, but, since both teams are from South America, there’s no advantage for either team. Although I like Chile a lot, I think Brazil has more than enough to beat them.

THE PICK: Brazil

The Netherlands vs. Mexico:
Mexico is a pretty good team. They drew an easy group, and took advantage of it, beating Cameroon 1-0 (should have been 3-0), beating Croatia 3-1, and tying the tournament’s favorite, Brazil, 2-2. Outside of a shaky few months during qualifying, Mexico has been a pretty good team for a few years.

The Netherlands have been one of the surprise teams of the tournament. In the tough Group B with three very good teams, most people (including me) predicted that the Netherlands would be the odd team out. Instead, they won their group in resounding fashion with the maximum nine points. They were the first to show the world that Spain was no longer a very good team, winning 5-1, regressed slightly against Australia, winning 3-2, before easily beating Chile 2-0, to capture first place.

The Netherlands have Robin van Persie, ripped through a tough group, and have been playing very well. Mexico did well in an easy group, and have been playing very well for three games. Although it’ll be closer than expected, the Netherlands should beat Mexico with relative ease.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

Columbia vs. Uruguay

Uruguay beat England and Italy, two good teams, with Luis Suarez. Without him, they lost 3-1 to Costa Rica, a team that is generally not considered to be among the soccer powerhouses of the world. Luis Suarez makes a huge difference for this Uruguay team, and without him, they’re crippled. After the biting incident, FIFA banned Suarez for the next nine matches (and four months), meaning that he’s out for this game, along with the rest of the World Cup.

Columbia ripped through a creampuff group, with a combined score of the three games of 9-2. Because of their easy draw, no one is quite sure how good Columbia is. Uruguay was supposed to be that test, but it seems as though it’s not meant to be. If they advance and Brazil doesn’t get upset by Chile, Columbia should be able to test their mettle against the Brazilians.

With Suarez, Uruguay would be a trendy upset pick to defeat Columbia. Without him, they have next to no chance. Columbia should easily defeat Uruguay.

THE PICK: Columbia

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Greece only advanced because of a brain fart by the Ivory Coast. A Greek player was fouled inside the box in a tie game in extra time, needing a victory to advance. They scored on the penalty kick and advanced.

Costa Rica took advantage of the weakened Uruguay team when they didn’t have Suarez, barely beat Italy, and tied against England. Although they’re probably better than what they were originally assumed to be, they’re still not a great team. Of course, the lucked into an easy matchup, so they’ll continue to seem like a better team than they are.

In the most underwhelming matchup of the knockout rounds, Costa Rica should beat Greece, continuing its Cinderella run for at least another round.

THE PICK: Costa Rica

France vs. Nigeria

Nigeria is not a particularly good team. It was good enough to advance, but that’s largely due to being in an easy group alongside Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Argentina, not because of their own talent.

France, after years of disappointing showings by their national team, destroyed Honduras and Switzerland, 3-0 and 5-2, respectively, before tying Ecuador 0-0 in a game that they didn’t care much about.

France has looked dominant so far and against a weak opponent in Nigeria, they should easily advance.

THE PICK: France

Argentina vs. Switzerland

Switzerland, despite being ranked in FIFA’s top eight, is not a great team. It escaped against Ecuador, was whipped by France, and easily dispatched Honduras. They’re not a bad team per se, but when compared to other teams in FIFA’s top eight, Switzerland is found sorely lacking.

Argentina didn’t play very well in the Group Stage, despite being in an easy group. They won all three games, coming away with the maximum nine points, but never really dominated, only winning each game by a single goal. Still, they have Lionel Messi, the best player in the world, and in the end, that’s really all that matters.

Switzerland will show why it shouldn’t be considered a top eight team worldwide, Messi will continue to be Messi, and Argentina should easily advance.

THE PICK: Argentina

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria was considered to be the worst team in the tournament but somehow managed to advance because of their easy group. Outside of an explosion against South Korea in which they scored four goals, they have mostly looked like the team people thought they were at the start of the tournament.

Germany was my pre-tournament pick to win it all, and, on the whole, they’ve largely vindicated my prediction. They dominated Portugal (albeit a ten-man one), tied Ghana, and beat the United States.

In a game between one of the best teams in the tournament and one of the worst, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a huge blowout by four goals, but Germany should dominate Algeria with ease and move on to the quarterfinals.

THE PICK: Germany

Belgium vs. United States

The United States have looked very good so far. They beat Ghana, dominated Portugal for most of their game, and played Germany tough. With the rising interest in soccer throughout the United States, they’re going to have the whole country behind them.

Belgium, although it advanced with nine points, did not play well. They won 2-1 against Algeria before winning consecutive 1-0 games against Russia and South Korea. They should have dominated in an easy group, but did not do as well as they should have.

Call me a homer, but I haven’t made an upset pick yet, and I think the United States has a better chance than most underdogs to upset their opponent to advance to the quarterfinals.

THE PICK: United States

The Quarterfinals:

Brazil vs. Columbia

Columbia, although less heralded than Brazil, is a very good team. Unfortunately for them, Brazil is a superior team to them on a neutral pitch. When they’re playing in Brazil, in a stadium with thousands and thousands of Brazilian supporters cheering on their team, I can’t imagine that Columbia manages to overcome the overwhelming home field advantage of the Brazilians.

THE PICK: Brazil

The Netherlands vs. Costa Rica

Here’s where Costa Rica’s Cinderella journey comes to an end: against a superior team that isn’t weakened by injuries that has rolled through its competition so far. It would be a huge upset for Costa Rica to play on an even level against the Netherlands, let alone defeat them.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

France vs. Germany

France has looked like a great team during this World Cup. They’ve looked like they deserve to be in the first tier of favorites, alongside Germany, Argentina, and Brazil, after dominating . However, they have yet to play a team that’s half as good as Germany.

Germany, on the other hand, has played some tough teams in Group G, and despite advancing past Algeria in an easy win, has proved itself worthy of the title “co-favorite”. Their run won’t stop against France, and Germany should continue to advance.

THE PICK: Germany

Argentina vs. United States

The United States have played well so far. They beat Ghana, dominated Portugal before tying them, played Germany tough, and beat Belgium. Still, they have yet to see an individual player as dominant as Lionel Messi, nor a team as good as Argentina (I think that Germany is slightly worse than Argentina). Their run to the championship game should fall short in the quarterfinals against Argentina.

THE PICK: Argentina

The Semifinals:

Brazil vs. Germany

While Columbia is a very good team, it’s clearly not on the level of Brazil. Germany is a different story. Germany, while slightly inferior to Brazil, is an elite team. This is the game where I think that home field advantage will turn out to be a curse for the Brazilians. I talked about this more in The World Cup Preview (go read it), but I believed then and I believe now that both the social and political pressure on the Brazilian team will finally make the team collapse. I figured that the pressure wouldn’t matter against inferior opponents, but Germany is on Brazil’s level. I thought then that the team that beats Brazil would be Germany, in the semfinals, and I still believe that.

THE PICK: Germany

The Netherlands vs. Argentina

Argentina will make it to the semifinals because their quarter of the bracket is the weakest one, alongside the quarter that the Netherlands is in. Argentina is a team that needs Messi to be incredible every game and to be otherworldly against good teams.

On the other hand, the Netherlands has a multifaceted attack, speared by Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. This attack dominated Group B, winning all three games with a couple of resounding victories. In this game, at least, the Netherlands has the advantage, and will likely be rewarded with a second consecutive trip to the World Cup Finals.

THE PICK: The Netherlands

The Third Place Game:

Argentina vs. Brazil

Both teams rely on an elite attacker (Messi and Neymar, respectively). Both teams are not as deep overall as some other teams. Both teams are South American. There are a lot of similarities between these two sides.

In this potential match, the most important factor is the reaction of Brazil (not the team, the country) to their loss to Germany in the semifinals. Do they support the team? Are they disappointed or angry, further exacerbating the cracks in the team’s foundation? That question will determine the results of this match.

In the end, I’ll have to lean towards Argentina. I think that the Brazilian fans will be devastated by the loss and will blame the team for the government’s lavish spending on hosting the World Cup. Of course, I could be completely wrong as I’m not exactly an expert on the reactions of South American fans to brutal losses to their national soccer team, but this is my column and my picks, so you’re just gonna have to roll with it. Okay? If you disagree or just want to lob insults at me, just head over to the comments section to voice those complaints.

THE PICK: Argentina

The Championship Game:

The Netherlands vs. Germany

The famed home field advantage of the South American teams won’t come into play in this scenario as both teams are from Europe. This scenario will result in the first time a European team wins a World Cup on South American soil.

Germany is deep throughout its roster, with players young and old melding seamlessly into an elite team, the best offensive team in the world, and a member of the Elite Three (no longer the Elite Four after Spain’s demise).

The Netherlands is a little more top heavy than Germany, but still has a relatively even roster. It’s got elite players in van Persie and Robben and was good enough to dominate in a Group of Death and to advance this far in my predictions. Still, I think that for the second straight World Cup, the Netherlands will fall short in the Finals.

THE PICK: Germany

No matter what happens, it’ll be great to watch the best teams in the world go head to head in the battle for supremacy and I, like the rest of the world, can’t wait to see it.

The World Cup Preview

Image

Well, the biggest sporting event in the world is finally here after a long, four year wait. In my opinion, the World Cup is much like the Olympics, with the four year cycle, way too expensive stadiums, and worldwide attention, except that people actually want to watch the World Cup. I thought I’d write a short (warning: it’s really, really, really long) preview of the Cup, starting off with talking about the pool I started and created for the group stages of the tournament before getting to my picks for the aforementioned pool (you can post your picks in the comment section too!). Then we’ll talk about my picks for part of the knockout rounds and a few other things as well. Sound good? I can only assume you’re saying yes, as you’re reading this article and I can’t hear you through your computer screen, no matter how loudly you scream.

So here’s how the pool works. It’s quite simple:

For the group stages: Pick the order of the teams’ finish. For example in Group G, you might choose

1. Germany

2. Portugal

3. America

4. Ghana

For each pick exactly right, three points are earned, and for each pick that’s missed by one point, one point is earned. Outside of that, no points can be earned.

So that’s the pool. My picks later on in the article reflect the parameters put in place.

Now, when I make picks for a pool, I’m serious about doing so. I research, I use online tools, and I watch games. For the picks below, the ones I’m using for my pool, you’ll find my an explanation combining both my reasoning and a very useful online tool from FiveThirtyEight.

For March Madness, FiveThirtyEight made an online, interactive bracket using data and fancy stats, to create winning probabilities for every team in every game.

They used the same principles for the World Cup. Here’s the link to their interactive forecasting model: http://fivethirtyeight.com/interactives/world-cup/. For most teams, I agreed with their assessments. For teams that I didn’t know so much about, I followed their opinion. In a couple of rare cases, I went with my gut, against their predictions, including once that was caused by patriotism. ‘Murica!

Group A:

  1. Brazil
  2. Mexico
  3. Croatia
  4. Cameroon

Brazil is going to advance with ease. They’re at home and lucked into one of the easiest groups. They’re from South America, (which is important to me, as we’ll get to later) home field advantage matters a lot in the World Cup, and they have a very good team. In fact they’re good enough to be in the Elite Four (you’ll see that mentioned a few times throughout the article and I’ll explain later on, closer to the end of it). I suspect that the pressure of a riotous, soccer-crazed nation will get to them, but with this creampuff of a group, I doubt it will affect them in the group stage.

Mexico and Croatia are essentially a tossup for the second spot according to FiveThirtyEight. I picked Mexico as, outside of the recent stretch in which they were so bad that they barely made it into the World Cup, have been very good for years. Also, I suppose, if Mexico advances, then Americans can say “Well, we beat Mexico, so if we weren’t in the Group of Death, (which they really aren’t, as we’ll get to later) then we would have advanced too!” What can I say? I’m just a patriotic American.

Cameroon is clearly a cut below the rest of the group, although, as the gap between them and the Croatia-Mexico level isn’t a chasm, so if a couple of goals and 50-50 calls go their way, they can certainly advance as well.

And yes, I am aware that the Croatia and Brazil have played (Brazil beat Croatia 3-1) but I wrote this long before the game started, so my predictions are untainted by any future knowledge.

Group B:

  1. Spain
  2. Chile
  3. Netherlands
  4. Australia

This is the real Group of Death. Spain is the defending World Cup champions from when they won in 2010. That win is sandwiched between two victories in. the Euro Cup in 2008 and 2012. While their core is getting older, they still have enough left in the tank to remain in the Elite Four and to take this group with relative ease.

Chile is a very good team. In 2010, they were in Spain’s group and advanced to the quarterfinals where they were summarily dismissed by Brazil, 3-0. I’ve always been rather bullish on South American teams, AND in this World Cup, they’re playing close to home, giving them an advantage (although I’m not sure how big that advantage is). FiveThirtyEight’s model also sees them as a lot better than the Netherlands, and even gives them a decent shot to upset Spain to win the group.

The Netherlands were the runner-up in the 2010 World Cup, losing to Spain, 1-0. They’re also getting old, but they haven’t handled it quite as well as Spain has. Robin van Persie is still a beast, although he’s been hindered by injuries as this past year as he scored just twelve goals in 21 games, playing for Manchester United in the Premier League. Between van Persie’s injuries, the growing age of the team, and the tough group, it’s hard to believe in the Netherlands. Of the top three teams in this group, one has to be the odd one out, and I’m betting that it’s going to be the Netherlands.

Australia. Poor Australia. Not a very good team to begin with, they get stuck with three other title contenders? Kinda sucks for them. I’d wouldn’t be surprised if they failed to notch any goals, let alone any points. Well, the consolation for Australia is that at least they’re there at the World Cup. For them, it’s triumph just to have made it. Anything else they accomplish is just gravy.

Group C:

  1. Colombia
  2. Ivory Coast
  3. Greece
  4. Japan

This group one of the most balanced groups, although Colombia is clearly the class of it. It would be a major upset if they failed to make it out of the group stage.

The intrigue comes with the next three teams, the Ivory Coast, Greece, and Japan. The Ivory Coast has historically disappointed in big tournaments, but I think that this year is going to be the year they finally advance, due mostly to their relatively easy draw.

Speaking of draws, it’s impossible to overstate the foolishness of FIFA in continuing with their antiquated method of determining groups. Their methods may seem fine on the surface, but what method would have such disparities between groups as the one between Group A and Group B? Let’s say that Brazil and Spain are equal (which they are normally, although since the World Cup is in Brazil, Brazil has a big home field advantage). Which one is more likely to make it to the knockout rounds: the team with two okay teams and a bad team (all relative to teams in the World Cup) or the team with one very good team, one good team, and one bad team? It’s no contest. It penalizes teams for nothing other than dumb luck! How is that in the spirit of competitive balance and exciting games?
On the flip side, you have the Ivory Coast, which is likely to advance out of the group stage merely because of the group it was handed by FIFA. Then, when they advance, we get to watch them get blown out of the water by the first place team of Group D (which is close to a tossup). Not exactly an exciting game. For the good, of all, FIFA should finally get rid of its’ useless method for determining groups.

A good article that really hashes this out and explains it in detail, along with offering solutions is at http://grantland.com/the-triangle/group-of-fairness-how-the-world-cup-would-look-with-straight-seeding/. Grantland overall is great—I really enjoy it—and it might be worth checking out.

Wow, that was a long tangent. Getting back to business, I don’t know much about Greece or Japan, but the projection model favors Greece by a decent sized margin so I’m going to roll with it.

Oh, and another tangent, this time about the roll part of the sentence: I was once playing pickup basketball with some friends and I set a pick. The other guy says “Sushi, roll!” leading to us having to pause the game so we could all laugh for a bit. It’s great having an awesome name like Sushi.

Anyways, I seem to be always going off topic in my old age, so before I can run off on another tangent, on to Group D!

Group D:

  1. Uruguay
  2. England
  3. Italy
  4. Costa Rica

This is also clearly a Group of Death. You’ve got Uruguay, a team that I’m very bullish on, England, a team that’s rebuilding but still has very good players, Italy, a team who is also pretty good, and Costa Rica, a team that hasn’t been too bad and which solidly beat America, 3-1, only a few months ago.

I picked Uruguay to win the group because, as you know, I like the South American teams. In addition, they’re playing close to home, and they have Luis Suarez. For those of you who don’t pay attention to the Premier League, Suarez scored 31 goals for Liverpool this season, a staggering amount. That’s more than enough for me to take Uruguay.

I have England and Italy in the same tier for this group, the fighting-for-second-place tier, and was leaning towards Italy (because, after all, England is rebuilding) but FiveThirtyEight’s model thought England was almost as good as Uruguay in terms of likelihood to advance and to win the group, so I chose England to advance alongside Uruguay.

Costa Rica, in my opinion, not a bad team in and of itself, got screwed over by the selection process, and, while they may have even advanced in an easier group, will likely find themselves in last place due to the luck of the draw.

Group E:

  1. France
  2. Ecuador
  3. Switzerland
  4. Honduras

While France’s individual players are very good, their results have been highly inconsistent on the national team level. In a weak group, I’m hoping that their talent outweighs their history and that they place first in their group and advance to the knockout rounds. The projection system agrees with me, pegging France’s odds of advancing at just over 80% and their odds of capturing the top spot at nearly 54%.

I chose Ecuador for four reasons: one, the model believes them to be better than Switzerland, two, they’re South American, three, they’re playing close to home, and finally four, because of their easy draw. That’s enough for me.

Switzerland is third. I don’t exactly have a reasoned opinion about it, I just don’t like their chances. I like their chocolate, I like their cheese, I just don’t like their soccer team. So sue me.

Honduras comes in last place. While I’ve already outlined why I chose Ecuador and France to advance, I figured that there was probably a reason that FIFA put Switzerland in the top eight of the world (other than FIFA being based in Switzerland, bribes, or that FIFA isn’t exactly the sharpest knife in the drawer. That pun was unintentional, I didn’t mean to call attention to the fact that they’re bad at the World Cup drawing. Oh wait I just did! Wow, I’m really on a bad crappy joke run, I’d better stop now) so I ended up choosing them over Honduras.

Group F:

  1. Argentina
  2. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  3. Nigeria
  4. Iran

I picked Argentina to take the group for a bunch of reasons. I won’t rehash all of the reasons related to Argentina being located in South America, as you’ve probably memorized it by now and I’d bet that you’re a little sick of it. In addition to those aforementioned reasons, Argentina is in the Elite Four and they have Lionel Messi. I like Messi because he’s a beast, has beautiful passes, (while also scoring plenty of goals) and because, as he’s only 5’’4, he brings hope to smallish people like me.

Departing from the usual order of teams, I’ll talk about the second-place pick last. Why? I’m simply a daredevil, living life on the wild side.

Iran is a tough team to predict. They haven’t played much against international competition so it’s challenging to determine exactly how good they are. Still, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Iran isn’t a good team, and place them firmly in last place.

Nigeria also isn’t a great team. I’m bearish on African teams, partly because they’ve historically not done well in the World Cup, partly because of their lack of competition against elite teams. However, when in doubt, as always, let’s go check out the projection system. The model gives them a 68% chance of failing to advance and sees them to be worse than Bosnia and Herzegovina, so I’m going to trust the math and put Nigeria third.

Finally, we’ve got Bosnia and Herzegovina. They’re a solid team, by all accounts, and as there are two teams clearly a cut below them, they fall into the second spot, almost by default.

Group G:

  1. Germany
  2. America
  3. Portugal
  4. Ghana

Germany, the last member of the Elite Four, (yes, we’ll get to what that is soon) and is a very, very good team. It has exceptional players such as Mesut Özil, Thomas Müller, and Phillip Lahm, their captain. There’s no South American team to upset them. They’re clearly a cut above the rest of they’re group and it’d be extremely surprising if someone other than them took first place in the group.

“Why in the world would you pick America?” you might ask. My answer might be that I’m a red blooded American, who likes guns, gets fat, and expects the government to pay for my problems. Whenever my Yanks take part in a competition, my patriotic pride swells up, and I have to believe in them.

Well, to be honest, none of that is actually true. The real reason why I’m picking America is because of their schedule. America plays Ghana first, and is likely to beat them according to FiveThirtyEight. If they can tie or beat Portugal in their second game, something the projection system gives a 58% chance of happening, then they’ll be in good shape heading into their third match, with Germany.

See, America can’t play with Germany—they’ll just be overwhelmed. America’s only chance is to hope that Germany beats Ghana and Portugal and rests most of their starters and plays its second team instead. If that happens, America would have a decent shot at winning or tying (although, even against Germany’s second team, there’s still a decent chance they might lose), which would push them ahead of Portugal and into the second spot. Of course, this might not play out the way I hope it will, but at the very least I can dream a little, for at least a few days.

Portugal is next. They’re a good team, but a more accurate team name might be “Cristiano Ronaldo and ten other guys”. Ronaldo is an amazing player so I couldn’t put his team any lower than third in this group, but if an opposing team can shut Ronaldo down, Portugal will be in deep trouble.

Ghana, as we all know, has eliminated America in the last two World Cups. Still, I think this’ll be the year that we finally get rid of Ghana for a couple of reasons: one, America has gotten better over the past four years while Ghana has stagnated, and two, Ghana’s in Africa which, as we talked about earlier in the Nigeria section, is generally a no-go for me. In a group with three superior teams, Ghana seems destined to finish last.

Group H:

  1. Belgium
  2. Russia
  3. South Korea
  4. Algeria

Belgium has a few good players, including Thibaut Cortois, the keeper who led Atletico Madrid to a second place finish in the Champions League, Eden Hazard, and Romelu Lukaku. In a weak group, their good players should push them to a first place finish in their group.

The projection model sees Russia as the likely second place finisher, although they have a decent shot to vault past Belgium and into firs placet.

Of the two other teams, South Korea and Algeria, South Korea has about a 40% chance of pulling an upset and advancing to the knockout rounds, while Algeria has about a 20% chance of doing so, deciding the last two spots in this group.

Wow, that was certainly a long-winded explanation and analysis. Now, we’ll move onto a couple of storylines to watch throughout the World Cup.

The Top Heavy Tournament:

Throughout the article, you may have noticed that I’ve referred a few times to the “Elite Four”. You may have wondered what that referred to. Well, now, you’re about to find out! *cue game show music and people happily screaming* When deciding on predictions for tournaments, drafts, and everything else, it’s useful to separate teams and players into different tiers to make it easier to choose between them. In this World Cup, the highest tier consists of Brazil, Germany, Spain, and Argentina. The next tier is just Uruguay, and there are a number of teams in the third tier. Still, as you can see, this years’ tournament is very top heavy. There’s a chasm between the Elite Four and the third tier. Because there’s very little parity, this tournament will not be conducive to Cinderella runs by any third or fourth tier teams. It’s too bad for fans of specific teams, but it’s incredible for fans of soccer. Why? The Elite Four are very likely to meet in the semifinals, meaning that those matches should be competitive and the best soccer in the world. It should be great.

The Many Groups of Death:

It’s annoying how often the term “Group of Death” is used, but even worse are the confusing qualifications to be one. Can there be multiple Groups of Death? Is it just the hardest group? The best team in the group or the teams in the group’s average level? There are so many befuddling and vague requirements to be a Group of Death to make sense of. If you think you have an answer to any of the questions, let us all know in the comments section.

America and Saving Face in the Group of Death:

Speaking of Groups of Death, Group G has been hyped up by the American media to be considered one of said Groups of Death. The question, of course, is why. While America seems to have a harder group than most, it certainly isn’t as hard as Group B (which is why we need clear rules for being a Group of Death like I outlined in the last paragraph). I think that the reason why the American media has decided that America is in the Group of Death is to lower expectations for the team.

To explain, here’s an example of that in every day life. Sometimes, a job of mine at home is to unload the dishwasher. Let’s say I dutifully unload the dishwasher every time that it needs to be done for a month. If I continued doing it, no one would notice it or thank me for it because it’s become expected of me.

Now let’s say that I rarely unloaded the dishwasher. If I unload the dishwasher, since the expectations for me were so low, I’d be praised and what I had done would be appreciated more.

Now apply that to what the media has been doing. They’re setting America up so that if they fail, it’s okay because it’s because they were stuck with in a Group of Death, and if they advance, they’ve exceeded expectations and are worthy of much praise. That’s a lot better than the situation that Brazil has been stuck with.

Pressure on Brazil:

Speaking of Brazil, they have a couple of inherent advantages in this World Cup, outside of the variables that are able to control. One, they have an easy group, as we discussed a while ago. Two, they’re playing at home, which has historically been a boon for whoever gets to host the tournament. Still,  I suspect that home field advantage might prove to be a curse in this year’s World Cup.

Think of the political situation in Brazil: people are rioting in the streets, upset that their government is spending money on a tournament when that money could be used to help get better schools, better housing, and more food. Think of the social situation in Brazil: a soccer-crazed nation is hosting the World Cup and which has a team that’s considered the favorite to win. That’s a lot of pressure on a team. The pressure won’t matter in Group A when they’re playing against inferior competition. The pressure will grow steadily until they finally face a team their equal. If they fall behind against a team as good as them, I suspect that the pressure will get to them and they will lose. That’s why I don’t have them winning the World Cup, although we’ll get to that in greater detail once we reach the knockout rounds.

I’m saving my picks for the knockout rounds until we actually know who’s participating, although I’ll be sure to let you know my picks once the bracket is locked. Right now, my final four teams are Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay (upsetting Spain in the quarterfinals) with the pressure finally getting to Brazil in the semifinals and Uruguay pulling of another big upset of an Elite Four team, this time Argentina, resulting in a Germany-Uruguay Finals, which I pick Germany to win.

I’m looking to possibly do a pool for the knockout rounds, so if you’re interested, send me an email at sushi.krox@gmail.com or just post in the comments section. If enough people answer, we can have a SushiOnSports pool, which I’ll be sure to write about.

Quick alert about the NBA Finals: the Spurs’ offense has been incredible, and after blowing out Miami last night, 107-86, they look like a lock to win the championship. I’m saving my extended thoughts for another time, probably in a new article after the series is over.

Anyways, enjoy the World Cup action! It should be great!