Miami Dolphins

Breaking Vegas with Garrett Thornton – Wild Card Round

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USA Today

Breaking Vegas with Garrett Thornton – Wild Card Round

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Last year I was better than 53% in my Breaking Vegas picks and I aimed for 60% this year. As the regular season comes to a close I finish slightly over 50%.

While this might not be the best way to “Break Vegas”, I look to the Playoffs to keep up my late-season momentum.

I will pick all 11 games of the Playoffs and also have prop bet picks before the Super Bowl.

This Wild Card Round is completely bi-polar. The games are either must-watch television or they are matchups that fans of the teams don’t even have interest in.

Let’s see who I pick this week…

Oakland Raiders +4 @ Houston Texans

Let me start with one of the most lackluster Playoff matchups in NFL history. If you polled the 100+ players on these two teams, I doubt 50 of them would even watch this game if they weren’t in it.

The Texans are a bad team that won the worst division in the AFC. Even though they won the division, I would much rather watch Andrew Luck and the Colts or Marcus Mariota and the Titans. This Texans team has underwhelmed all year but is hosting a game in the Wild Card Round. The worst investment in the NFL was the contract given to Brock Osweiler. He can earn some of that contract with a home Playoff win.

On the other hand, the Raiders were one of the feel-good stories of the NFL season. A late-season injury to Derek Carr brought that to a screeching halt. Carr is one of the good guys of the NFL and was really developing into the franchise quarterback that the Raiders so desperately needed for so long. All of that is in the past and not the Raiders are starting fourth round pick Conner Cook under center. It will be the first time ever that a rookie quarterback made his first start in a Playoff game. Not a lot of precedence here, but let me give you a hint, it won’t go well.

Neither team can score enough points to run away with it, but the Texans find a way to win.

Texans 16 – Raiders 14

Detroit Lions +8 @ Seattle Seahawks

Seattle is one of the toughest places to play in the NFL. That only gets intensified entering the Playoffs. Home field advantage is absolutely crucial for the Seahawks this year because this is not the team that people are accustomed to. Without Earl Thomas, this defense is missing their captain. The passing game has been hot and cold. The offensive line and running game have been abysmal at points. If the Seahawks want to make a run, they need major efforts from Russell Wilson and Jimmy Graham.

The Lions are a sleeper in my opinion. If Matthew Stafford can adjust to his finger injury on his throwing hand, this team has the offensive firepower to play with anybody. The last two weeks of the regular season the Lions lost to the Cowboys and the Packers. Those two teams just so happen to be two of the best teams in the league. There isn’t a lot of belief in this Detroit team right now and that has driven this line. Bet the Lions in this one.

Seahawks 24 – Lions 20

Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers -10

This is the line that I have the least faith in. This is also the first time that the Steelers will play a Playoff game with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, and LeVeon Bell on the field at the same time. That will be the difference.

Pittsburgh can score 50 any given night. In the Playoffs, with a little bit more motivation, I expect their best performance of the year.

Steelers 38 – Dolphins 27

New York Giants @ Green Bay Packers -4.5

I fully admit that I am a Cowboys fan and I am hoping they can go to and win the Super Bowl this year. If I take my biased lenses off, I don’t know that there is a hotter team in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers.

Despite several flaws, the Packers have won 7 games in a row and have a healthy Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is, arguably, the most talented quarterback to play the game. He is playing at the top of his abilities and has the team around him believing in him. He is the rare quarterback and leader that has every other person on that team bought in. This is a dangerous Packers team heading into January.

Although the Giants have some very quality victories this season, and have a track record of success in the Playoffs, I just don’t see this team a legitimate contender. This team is not a great offensive team, despite having Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. The Giants only scored 310 points this season, good for only 26th in the NFL. The other NFC Playoff teams…

Atlanta Falcons scored 540 (1st)

Green Bay Packers scored 432 (4th)

Dallas Cowboys scored 421 (5th)

Seattle Seahawks scored 354 (18th)

Detroit Lions scored 346 (20th)

While you can make the case that defense wins championships, you still have to score points to win games. This Giants team just hasn’t scored enough points for anyone to have much faith in them. The stakes get bigger and the opponents tighten down their defenses come January. Giants just won’t have enough to make a dent in the NFC Playoffs.

Packers 28 – Giants 21

  Wins Losses Push Percentage
Week One 1 3 1 30%
Week Two 1 4 0 20%
Week Three 2 3 0 40%
Week Four 2 3 0 40%
Week Five 3 2 0 60%
Week Six 2 2 1 50%
Week Seven 3 2 0 60%
Week Eight 2 3 0 40%
Week Nine 3 1 1 70%
Week Ten 3 2 0 60%
Week Eleven 3 2 0 60%
Week Twelve 2 2 1 50%
Week Thirteen 1 4 0 20%
Week Fourteen 3 2 0 60%
Week Fifteen 4 1 0 80%
Week Sixteen 3 2 0 60%
Week Seventeen 3 2 0 60%
OVERALL 41 40 4 50.6%

*All betting lines provided by Bovada.LV on the Thursday preceding particular NFL week.

Confident Seahawks will overwhelm Dolphins

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USA Today

Confident Seahawks will overwhelm Dolphins

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It’s week one, and not much is on the line.

Nothing on the line anyway, except for saving face, proving your status as a contender, and showing your fans and your critics that you can win without one of the game’s best running backs. It all starts with a home contest against Miami and a chance for both sides to prove they have a new identity.

Enough time spent on “small potatoes”, let’s get acquainted with this week’s challenger.

Miami comes to town with a new head coach in Adam Gase, who was the offensive coordinator in Chicago last season, after making a name for himself as Denver’s offensive coordinator in 2013-14, overseeing one of the best offenses in league history. He won’t be working with a legend like Peyton Manning this season, and it remains to be seen if Dolphin’s QB Ryan Tannehill is even on Jay Cutler’s level.

Gase isn’t the only new face in town, as Miami’s entire coaching staff has been shaken up. Clyde Christensen, formerly the QB coach in Indy, will take over as the new OC and help Gase with Tannehill’s development. New DC Vance Joseph, who was the defensive backs coach in Cincinnati from 2014-15, will try bring the Dolphins’ defense back to a respectable level.

A 6-10 team in 2015, Miami will try to climb out of the AFC basement and make the playoffs for the first time since 2008 when they had Chad Pennington at QB and Tom Brady sat out 15-3/4 games. Miami did little correctly last season under the guidance of former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philben, as they finished 26th in total offense (19th passing, 23rdrushing) and were the league’s 27th worst scoring team.

Defense wasn’t much better, as the Dolphins gave up the 25th most yards overall, and were 21st against the pass and 28th against the run, finishing as the 19th ranked scoring defense.  Needless to say, they have plenty to work on, while trying to implement a new scheme on both sides of the ball.

There are new faces on both sides of the playing field as well, as RB Lamar Miller and CB Brent Grimes were replaced by Arian Foster and Byron Maxwell in the offseason, and the early returns do not look promising. Miller is one of the best dual-threat rushers in the league, while Grimes is an elite corner, nearly on the level of Richard Sherman. Maxwell has not shown he can be a shut-down corner without Sherman covering the other side, and will face plenty of scrutiny for chasing a big payday without being able to support his worth as a standalone player.  Foster has all the talent in the world, but age and injuries appear to have slowed him down to being an average back, and Foster looks very similar to the way Marshawn Lynch looked last season, lacking burst and lateral quickness.

New defenders Kiko Alonso and Mario Williams should help solidify a defense in dire need of leadership and playmakers, and if 2015 free agent acquisition Ndamukong Suh plays to his ability and gels with the new talent around him, Miami’s front seven could be as scary as Carolina’s, and that’s saying something.

WR Jarvis Landry has talents similar to Odell Beckham Jr and could give the Seattle secondary fits if he has a big day, but Tannehill’s overall accuracy and deep ball placement continue to need improvement, and could hurt Landry as much as he helps him.

On the Seattle side, you could not ask for a better week one opponent. Seattle’s front seven mauled Denver in the 2013 Super Bowl and week 3 of the 2014 regular season, which were both offenses run by Gase and the new-look Dolphins appear to be a very, very poor man’s version of the 2013 Broncos. Miami simply does not have the offensive talent or chemistry going yet, so there could be quite a few drives ruined by three-and-outs and turnovers as the Dolphins lack playmakers aside from Landry, even if Foster is 100%.

On offense, even if RB Thomas Rawls is limited (as recent reports suggest), Christine Michael appears more than ready to handle the role of an every down back. Doug Baldwin is looking to improve on a very impressive 2015 season, and prove his 1000+ yards and 14 TDs was not a fluke.

QB Russell Wilson hit numerous career highs while taking control of a new pass oriented offense last season, and looks primed to have a great day against an average Miami secondary.  2nd year speedster Tyler Lockett could have a big afternoon burning Miami’s second and third corners, and if TE Jimmy Graham is a full-go, it could be a very long day for the Fins.

Based on last year’s final numbers, this contest shouldn’t even be close, as Seattle finished in the top-5 on both sides of the ball and were a playoff team. However, week one is always difficult to predict, especially with so many new faces on the field and the sideline for the opposition.

I expect to see a big day from Seattle’s offense, and a Miami offense struggling to move the ball on a hungry and healthy Seahawks defense. While it won’t be a laugher, Seattle wins this one with room to spare.

Final score: 34-17

Seahawks, Dolphins Set For Opener: Week 1 Preview

Seahawks, Dolphins Set For Opener: Week 1 Preview

It was over before it began.

That’s the reality for the Seattle Seahawks as they reflect back to last season’s chastening playoff defeat to the Carolina Panthers.

“We’re not really satisfied with how that game went and we don’t want to have a season end like that again,” linebacker Bobby Wagner told the MMQB this summer. “We didn’t start playing our style of defense until the second quarter.”

Even in finding their style, Seattle’s 31-24 loss – which was made respectable only by a 24-0 surge to end the game - capped what was a trying year from the get-go. A perplexing off-season trade that sent Max Unger to New Orleans for Jimmy Graham; a faltering 2-4 start; an offense that never got its footing.

From the outset, Seattle’s magical two-year run, which ended in two Super Bowl appearances, was doomed.

The only thing left to do is turn the page.

On Sunday, 238 days after Cam Newton Dabbed all over their dreams, the Seahawks get to begin anew. The Miami Dolphins (6-10 in 2015) are challenge number one; but, for all intents and purposes, it doesn’t matter as much who’s on the other sideline for this Seahawks team. Not yet, at least. Because for all the certainties – the Legion of Boom; the linebackers; Russell Wilson and his emerging crop of receivers – it’s the unknowns that will determine just how far this team can go.

Can an offensive line that’s scattered with inexperience and performance questions come together? Can Christine Michael and Thomas Rawls come close to duplicating the impact of Marshawn Lynch? Can Frank Clark step in for Bruce Irvin and be a force on the defensive line?

These answers will begin to play out on Sunday, but we won’t have a full grasp of them for a few weeks.

Miami may not present the most menacing of challenges, but their strength – a mayhem-wreaking defensive line – coincides perfectly against Seattle’s biggest weakness: their young and mostly unproven offensive line.

When the Seahawks released their Week 1 depth chart on Tuesday, the line – which includes rookie Germain Ifedi – comes with a combined nine years of experience, led mostly by 5th-year left tackle Bradley Sowell.

The Dolphins counter-punch? Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams.

Wake and Suh, who combined for 13 sacks last season, provide a 1-2 punch that could disrupt all of the Seahawks’ plans. Despite his struggles to fit into the culture during the 2015 season - his first with Miami - Suh is still a top-tier defensive tackle.

It will be a baptism by fire for the line, which will be cause for concern early, but could pay off exponentially. Pete Carroll and his staff are putting a lot on the shoulders of this young group, knowing full well the rewards that may come down the road.

If they can hold up – giving Russell Wilson enough time, and opening up some holes for Michael and Rawls – Seattle will be 1-0.

If Suh, Wake and Co. blow it up, and Seattle’s offense can’t run the ball, putting the whole game on the shoulders of Wilson, things will get dicey.

 

Prediction: Seattle 24, Miami 21. As to be expected, look for a slow start offensively for the Seahawks. There’s no way around it – the offensive line is going to have its growing pains, and they’re breaking in two new running backs. But with every passing series, things will begin to mesh together. You simply cannot replicate live, in-game snaps during practice, so Sunday will be their first test.

But there’s too much skill on the outside, and Wilson is in charge at QB. Though it hasn’t really been mentioned yet, the Seahawks defense is still the Seahawks defense. They’ve had to carry the team before; to start the season, they’ll be called upon again.

 

Fantasy Player to Watch: Odds are that Wilson will have precious little time to get the ball to his receivers with the Miami defensive line barring down. There’s a good chance we’ll see lots of quick hitches, out patterns and slants – which could mean a huge day for Tyler Lockett. No one on Seattle’s roster has a running style as elusive and ethereal as that of Lockett. He excels in weaving through tight spaces, and that’s all that can be expected on Sunday. Look for Lockett to have a big game as he continues his rise from special teams star to an all-around threat.