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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 05, 2013 at 9:14 PM

Even though there was a lot of talk and excitement about the rookie quarterbacks entering the league at the beginning of the 2012 season, few fans or sports bettors expected that THREE different rookies would lead their teams to the playoffs. At least one is guaranteed of reaching the divisional round this year. And, given what we’ve seen so far, Sunday’s trio of rookies could become postseason mainstays for years to come.

*Andrew Luck of Indianapolis play so much like a cross between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that you must assume a Hall-of-Fame career is ahead.

*Robert Griffin III of Washington looks to have the talent of previous multi-faceted quarterbacks without the troubling off-the-field issues. Is Griffin destined to have the career everyone was expecting from Michael Vick several years back?

*Russell Wilson of Seattle has shown maturity beyond his years both as a Big Ten champion at Wisconsin and now the leader of the hottest team in the NFL. Could Wilson actually be the breakthrough surprise THIS year amongst the high profile rookies?

If you’re trying to pick winners in Sunday’s Wildcard action…you must, be default, be trying to figure out how rookies are going to be performing under the playoff spotlight. Let’s crunch our indicator numbers and see what we can learn.

INDIANAPOLIS at BALTIMORE (1 p.m. ET on CBS)

Las Vegas Spread: Baltimore by 7, total of 47

Home field is worth three points in the NFL, so the market is saying Baltimore would be -4 on a neutral field, and -1 at Indianapolis. This line has risen from a lower opener through the week, spurred largely by news that Ray Lewis will be retiring at the end of this postseason.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Indianapolis: 11-5 (32nd ranked schedule)

Baltimore: 10-6 (18th ranked schedule)

You can see that the Colts played the easiest schedule of anyone in the NFL, which means they’re barely a playoff team. They were probably a 9-7 squad against an average schedule, possibly 8-8. Baltimore’s slate was close to league average, meaning 10-6 tells their story pretty well. Not good enough to be a bye team. But, playoff caliber as either a Wildcard, or the winner of a disappointing division (they turned out to be the latter).

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Indianapolis: -12

Baltimore: +9

Huge difference here. Andrew Luck has had significant turnover troubles this season, particularly on the road. He’s been too aggressive throwing downfield when playing from behind. He’s been prone to fumble when the pass rush gets to him. There are many playoff matchups where turnover tendencies cancel out, and it’s something else that determines who covers. Here, Indianapolis NEEDS turnovers to cancel out if they want to have any chance to win. Whatever you think of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, he’s less turnover prone than Luck in a meeting where that could loom large.

OFFENSIVE STATS

Indianapolis: 362.4 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 352.5 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play

Very similar units here in terms of raw production. Luck stepped into the league as almost a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback outside of his turnover tendencies. He will need to push that per-play number up as he matures.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Indianapolis: 374.2 yards-per-game on 6.0 yards-per-play

Baltimore: 350.9 yards-per-game on 5.2 yards-per-play

Baltimore has a clear edge here. It’s important to note though that Indy plays a “bend-but-don’t-break” style of defense that generally shows up better in scoring stats than it does in yardage stats. If they can keep that up vs. playoff caliber teams instead of the #32 ranked schedule, they have a chance to take this game right down to the wire.

INDIANAPOLIS VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (3-2 SU, 3-2 ATS)

Indianapolis (+3) beat Minnesota 23-20

Indianapolis (+6.5) beat Green Bay 30-27

Indianapolis (+10) lost at New England 59-24

Indianapolis (+11) lost at Houston 29-17

Indianapolis (+6) beat Houston 28-16

Indianapolis did post a winning record vs. playoff teams, which is something that rarely happens when somebody plays such a soft schedule. Typically the record vs. top teams exposes them as a pretender. It’s a credit to Luck that he went 3-2 vs. playoff teams. But, it’s also a credit to home field advantage! Indy went 3-0 at home, but 0-2 on the road. Both road games were double digit losses. And, the Green Bay game saw a double digit deficit before a big comeback. You really have to cross your fingers if you’re backing the Colts on the road vs. quality.

BALTIMORE VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (2-4 SU, 1-5 ATS)

Baltimore (-7) beat Cincinnati 44-13

Baltimore (-2.5) beat New England 31-30

Baltimore (+6) lost at Houston 43-13

Baltimore (+1) lost at Washington 31-28 in OT

Baltimore (+3) lost to Denver 34-17

Baltimore (+5) lost at Cincinnati 23-17

That’s a very poor showing for a team that was supposed to be a Super Bowl contender this year thanks to their more aggressive offense. Note that the two wins came very early in the season, and that the home ATS record was a disappointing 1-2 (with non-covers vs. New England and Denver). Important to remember that Baltimore is really a Wildcard caliber team that happened to win its division, in terms of their form over the last three months.

BEST EXPECTATION

The evidence suggests this game will come down to turnovers. Baltimore hasn’t been playing at a level that would suggest they can run away and hide by themselves. Indianapolis actually has a better record vs. playoff caliber teams. Can Luck avoid key miscues on the road? He couldn’t stay within double digits of New England or Houston on the road. Solve the turnover riddle, and you’ve got the winner.

 

SEATTLE at WASHINGTON (4:30 p.m. ET on FOX)

Las Vegas Spread: Seattle by 3, total of 46

Seattle has been getting a lot of respect in the markets lately, becoming a popular choice to win the NFC out of a Wildcard slot. This line suggests the Seahawks would be -6 on a neutral field, and -9 at home.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Seattle: 11-5 (5th ranked schedule)

Washington: 10-6 (15th ranked schedule)

You can see why there’s enthusiasm for Seattle from the sharps right there. They went 11-5 against a killer schedule, which suggests 12-4 or even 13-3 vs. an average schedule. Washington is a legitimate 10-6 against a league average schedule.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Seattle: +13

Washington: +17

Amazing stuff for teams with rookie quarterbacks. Both head coaches were smart about running low-risk offenses that exploited the legs of the young signal callers without asking them to do too much downfield. Will one of these two quarterbacks start making mistakes with so much more at stake? Will the winner be well-suited to run the table because they’ve mastered the risk/reward ratio? If you’re talking about rookie QB’s, you’re talking about turnovers one way or another.

OFFENSIVE STATS

Seattle: 350.6 yards-per-game on 5.8 yards-per-play

Washington: 383.2 yards-per-game on 6.2 yards-per-play

Big edge here to Washington, though both grade out much better on a per-play basis than the AFC teams we discussed earlier. Rookie quarterbacks just aren’t supposed to be able to do this in the NFL!

DEFENSIVE STATS

Seattle: 306.2 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Washington: 377.7 yards-per-game on 5.9 yards-per-play

This is where Seattle gets its separation from Washington, and…in the minds of some of the sharps…from other contenders in the NFC. There aren’t a lot of great defenses in the playoffs this year. And, defense wins championships! Washington does not have a playoff caliber defense, which means a hobbled RGIII will have to carry a very heavy load.

SEATTLE VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (4-1 SU, 5-0 ATS)

Seattle (+3) beat Green Bay 14-12

Seattle (+3.5) beat New England 24-23

Seattle (+7.5) lost to San Francisco 13-6

Seattle (-4.5) beat Minnesota 30-20

Seattle (-2.5) beat San Francisco 42-13

On the one hand, it’s a fantastic indicator to go 4-1 against playoff teams. That’s championship stuff. On the other, Seattle really didn’t beat Green Bay (that was a gift from officials), and they were a bit lucky to survive New England. Be impressed, but keep things in perspective.

WASHINGTON VS. PLAYOFF TEAMS (2-2 SU, 2-2 ATS)

Washington (-3) lost to Cincinnati 38-31

Washington (+3) lost to Atlanta 24-17

Washington(+1) beat Minnesota 38-26

Washington (-1) beat Baltimore 31-28 in OT

The Redskins only played four times vs. playoff caliber teams, which certainly creates some “pretender” potential. Plus, that was almost 1-3 both ways because they had to rally to force overtime with Baltimore at a time of year when Baltimore wasn’t playing great football. Those poor defensive numbers look even worse in this context.

 

BEST EXPECTATION

If you love defenses, then Seattle deserves the nod here. If you’re hesitant about asking a rookie quarterback to win as a favorite on the ROAD, then Washington starts to look pretty appealing in front of their rabid home crowd. JIM HURLEY knows this game will be the key to your sports betting weekend, and he’s been working around the clock with his full team of experts to make sure clients get the right play in the NFL’s weekend finale.

The “football finale” will come in a college bowl game Sunday Night. Let’s quickly run those numbers. 

GO-DADDY BOWL (Mobile)

KENT STATE (10-2-1) vs. ARKANSAS STATE (9-3)

Vegas Line: Arkansas State by 3.5, total of 61

STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE

Kent State: 117th

Arkansas State: 97th

Slight edge here to Arkansas State. But, the fact that two MAC teams have already defeated Sun Belt teams in bowls suggests that Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings may have been giving the Sun Belt too much credit. We’re going to call this even.

OFFENSE

Kent State: 74th (15th rushing, 114th passing)

Arkansas State: 17th (21st rushing, 42nd passing)

Big edge to Arkansas State, both in volume and in balance. This is why Arkansas State is the favorite in Mobile.

DEFENSE

Kent State: 81st (40th rushing, 110th passing)

Arkansas State: 53rd (53rd rushing, 59th passing)

A clear advantage for the favorite again. Worth noting that Arkansas State is decent if not great against the run…which is Kent State’s dominant strength.

ADDING IT ALL UP

Kent State will try to use its running game to control the clock and keep a win within reach. Arkansas State is more potent, and will try to explode early so they can take Kent State out of its comfort zone.

Enough talk…go get the winners from JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK! You can purchase them right here at the website with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back with you tomorrow with a stat preview of Notre Dame-Alabama in the BCS Championship game. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!


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