NFL Betting Preview: MVP, Rushing and Receiving Title Offer Loads of Value Plays

For all of my fellow degenerate gamblers out there, I think you will agree with me in saying that there's nothing quite like flipping that calender from August to September and knowing that football is right around the corner. Whether one is a lines junkie, a future forecaster or a value hunter, the season provides hundreds of different options for gamblers of all shapes, sizes and bank accounts to dip their toes into predicting the future of the NFL season. Some predictions, like Chad Pennington making a shocking return comeback to the league or more likely, hearing that there's actual interest from some team to sign a quarterback who throws the football as well as a pitcher fresh out of Tommy John surgery throws a baseball is drawing significant interest, shouldn't have you holding your breathe. Others, like Jimmy Graham continuing his explosive rise into stardom by leading the league in receiving yards due to the added benefits he'll receive from the stricter regulations on pass interference, definitely have intrigue. 

Personally, though the weekly betting is something that can be very lucrative, I've always seen value betting on futures and props as a major cash cow that not enough people try to capitalize on, mostly due to the fact that waiting around for half a year for money to potentially be made isn't everyone's cup of tea. However, if you're like me and go through those lists countless times, thinking about scenarios and likelihoods of those scenarios coming to pass, than you've come to the right place. Without further delay, here are my value plays for this year's NFL MVP award


Logical Pick: Aaron Rodgers (5/1, Bodog)

Value Plays: Andrew Luck (28/1, Bet365), Lesean McCoy (25/1, Bodog), Robert Griffin III (40/1, Bodog)

Explanation: I won't linger too much on why one should lay money down on Rodgers winning the MVP because frankly, there are about a million analysts out there that have done it for me, not to mention the game tape of the man playing over the course of the past half decade. Simply put, armed with a great receiving duo in Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, a rising star who will take pressure off of the passing game in Eddy Lacy, a fast pace of play and a defense that will do it's share of the lifting, the Packers are going to be one of the best teams in the league and video game numbers will be put up by their quarterback.

Now, if laying your money on a low rate of return favorite isn't exactly your cup of tea, the three I've listed above have all of the ingredients in place to make a push for the award this coming season.

With Luck, all that we needed to know about him as a professional football player was on display in the stunning comeback victory versus the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Immensely skilled, big bodied, smart and clutch are a few of the words that came to mind after witnessing that heroic effort. That said, for a quarterback to win the award, they usually have to have the ideal combination of team success and outstanding individual numbers that are matched or surpassed by few if any. Last season, the focus on establishing an ineffective run game stalled the offense and undoubtedly costed Luck his share of opportunities to leave his mark on a game. Now, with word out of various parts of the Indianapolis Colts' organization that this approach will be loosened, allowing Luck to take the game into his own hands, one can't help but think that team success might not be the only portion of the two part MVP formula for a quarterback that Luck achieves this season. With a receiving core consisting of T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Hakeem Nicks and company, the weapons are in place for his breakout. 

In McCoy's case, the route to legitimate consideration, especially considering the team situation, is a much tougher one. Last season, he managed to be part of an upstart Philadelphia Eagles team that flipped their fortunes around while leading the league in rushing and yet, he was a mere afterthought in the conversation for legitimate MVP candidates. Entering this season, I'm not as high on the Eagles as many others out there are. I believe that their defense will keep a lot of teams around during the course of their schedule and that a regression for Nick Foles is all but a certainty. With these things in mind, for the Eagles to achieve what they are capable of attaining this season, beginning with an NFC East division title, they will need McCoy to lead the charge. Playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and within one of the quickest tempo systems in the league, the opportunities will be there to rack up yards and scores this season. Last season, though McCoy won the rushing title, he was kept in check on six difference occasions, failing to gain over 50 yards in those contests. While the goal of 2000 yards might be a stretch because of his importance in the passing game and opposing defenses lining up to stop him, approaching 1700-1800 yards on a team that will be as dependent on his contribution as the Eagles will be makes McCoy an interesting play.

Finally, in RG3, you have my biggest gamble in this article. If we are to take preseason performances and news reports to heart, everything right now is screaming to forget about a seeing an MVP worthy season from Griffin. I fully understand the views of the critics out there and also acknowledge that there is definitively a good chance that they might be right about him. That said, people forget too quickly what we saw from Griffin as a player in his Heisman trophy winning campaign at Baylor and first year in the nation's capital. With a great arm, accuracy, a precise deep ball and the ability to make big plays or simply extend them with his legs, Griffin was the poster boy for the new breed of NFL quarterback. Now, after a year riddled by locker room turmoil and, largely due to health concerns, less than stellar play on the field, everyone has forgotten about the man who weaseled his name into the conversation during his rookie season. Last year, with Jay Gruden calling the shots on a team that won 10 games and tried to kill a lot of clock, Andy Dalton threw the football 586 times for 4,293 yards. Unless your a member of the Dalton family, in which case I apologize in advance, I think it's a pretty safe assumption to believe that we all think that Griffin is a much more talented quarterback than Dalton in most facets of the game. With Desean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Andre Roberts catching balls in a pass heavy system and Alfred Morris taking pressure off of him, if he remains healthy, a monster statistical season is something that isn't much of a stretch to imagine. Personally, I believe that the Washington Redskins are a better overall team than the Eagles and win the NFC East, giving Griffin the first portion needed, team success. Though it might sound like a stretch right now, the media has always has a certain love for Griffin and as the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity. It's one thing to break out in a big way and be mentioned here and there on Sportscenter but when, under the microscope reserved for only those few select athletes in the media, you break out in a big way and potentially elevate yourself into the conversation of elite while lifting your team from obscurity, that's something different altogether. Yes, it is a stretch and the early signs are pointing against it coming to fruition but if you believe in the talent he possesses and talk yourself into believing even half of my rant above, throwing a few bucks on a 40/1 long shot with legitimate chances if he plays to his ability isn't a bad risk to take. 

Remain risky planet Earth. 

The Former Reality of the Canadian NBA Hoops Dream

Growing up in Canada, like so many other aspiring basketball players that pushed themselves every waking moment to become the best they could be, I held the dream of playing in the NBA close to my heart. Unfortunately, I also held the knowledge of how farfetched such a leap would be, a knowledge that was nothing short of dream shattering as it really began to sink in during my later teens. Raised within a family where the passion for the sport bordered on obsession, it only made sense that somewhere along the line during my early years I picked up a basketball on the playground and decided that it was my favorite toy. After the passing of my father, seeing that having some kind of constructive outlet would be best for such a young child, my uncle, who played professionally in Bosnia, along with the rest of my family, saw it fit that I become involved in organized basketball.

Over the years, the game brought me many great memories and lessons that I would take with me for the rest of my life, from the perseverance that one must show in the face of adversity and the rewards of hard work and dedication to something you put your full effort towards achieving. That said, as I became more obsessed with the dream of one day playing professionally, the insurmountable odds of such a dream being achieved really began creeping into the forefront. If I was being honest with myself at the time, I would have looked at my abilities and the cards that I had been dealt in life and realized that I didn't have a chance of making that dream a reality. At the end of the day, though I was 6'6 and had put in plenty of work over the years both technically and physically to become the player that I aspired to be, I would still lose just about every footrace and struggle to clear a small-town phonebook on a day that my body felt right. All of that said, until I allowed that dream shattering realization to take away my dream, I still worked tirelessly for it.

While I can only speak for myself, it wasn't so much the realization of my physical limitations that destroyed my hopes as much as it was the understanding at the time that even with all of the hard work that I could put in, no one would be there to see it and reach out to pull me into the next stage of journey if I had proved myself worthy of it. Though not exactly a great comparison, looking at it like a handicapped game of Monopoly is a good way of looking at the prospects of coming out of Canada in those days. Basketball, like anything else, is a competition in which the cream of the crop eventually rises to the top, that top being division one and, if you prove yourself elite at that level, the NBA. If we were to look at the sport like a game of Monopoly, in which winning would translate into making it to the NBA, a player aspiring to such a dream from Canada would be one that would play the entire course of the game without picking up $200 after passing go. Sure, with enough lucky bounces of the dice and some savvy business, winning the game is still very possible. That said, the odds are really stacked against you. It's something that should never have been a factor in so many careers ending prematurely but sadly, many others faced that same bleak reality as well. Unfortunately, unless you had the privilege of ending up on a travel team that ventured into the states for exposure, you were essentially playing for a half empty gym full of people that would forget anything meaningful you had accomplished during the game by the time dinner rolled around. When it came to eyes that would care, they were on the other side of the border and in all honesty, it was crushing.

Though I realistically never had a shot at playing division one, I still remember watching my high school teammate and good friend shoot and score the ball better than I've ever seen anyone do so to this day. I remember watching him work tirelessly in the gym to improve his game and, to this day, see the passion and fire that he still holds for playing it. Unfortunately, I also remember recognizing the frustration that he felt over not getting the attention from the division one schools that he deserved. I'm not talking about some kid who was living in the clouds thinking he had a shot to play college ball in the states, I'm talking about someone who was definitely a division one player but that never got a chance to show it due to the lack of scouting in our country at the time. Fortunately, whereas we struggled with the notion that our hard work might never be recognized, the same can't be said for the youth that aspire to the very same dream on this day.

In recent times, seeing Canadian players has become more and more commonplace in the NCAA, with 97 suiting up for division one teams in 2014 alone. Likewise, with the likes of Tristan Thompson, Corey Joseph, Anthony Bennett, Andrew Wiggins, Nik Stauskas, and Tyler Ennis all being selected in the first round of the NBA draft over the course of the past three years, witnessing a Canadian put on an NBA jersey is slowly becoming the norm as well. A decade ago, one would hear about success stories like Denham Brown or watch the standouts, such as Steve Nash, Jamaal MaGloire and Todd MacCulloch, who beat the odds and made it to the NBA and know that the dream was somewhat possible. Today, one only has to look at the past few NBA drafts to understand the message loud and clear: if you work your tail off and are good enough, your dream can be made into a reality.

Many of the players listed above have pointed to the influence that Vince Carter made in the early part of the last decade on basketball in Canada as one of the reasons that they ultimately pursued and reached their goal. Now, with each of them beginning or well on their way to a successful career in the NBA, it is their presence that will further fuel the next generation of Canadian prospects to strive for the same goal. As many can attest to who went through the same frustration, there was a time when working hard and being great at the game wasn't enough if you lived in Canada and dreamed of playing in the NBA. It was a time when many hoop dreams weighed down by doubt and uncertainty which crushed many aspirations before they were fully stretched out. That time is over.

LeBron James: What the Rational Thoughts About the Miami Heat Should be for the Decision 2.0

A few years ago, with the free agency fiasco that was LeBron James, we experienced something in the world of sports that probably has never happened before and probably will never happen again. Yes, we've seen Wayne Gretzky switch jerseys at a time when he was still the undisputed best player on the planet but that was largely due to poor financial standing, a desperate ownership and an interested team that took the situation into their own hands. We've seen Peyton Manning take his talents to the Denver Broncos at a time when he was still right in the thick of things in the conversation of best quarterback in the NFL, not to mention of all time. Finally, we've seen the likes of Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson sign on the dotted line at points in their careers when they were not only superstars and perennial award candidates year in and year out but players that stood shoulders above each and every one of their peers.

All of that said, none of these players moving on to different teams can be compared to what took place a few years ago. In the case of Gretzky, it was a decision that in many ways was taken out of his hands and one that he was forced into making rather than one where he could freely roam the market looking for the ideal situation to continue his career. With Manning, while undoubtedly still one of the best if healthy, he was entering his twilight years and made you pray that he wouldn't be hit often in a sport where eleven men line up across from him looking to pound him into the ground every minute or so. Finally, though they can match James when comparing their talents within their own sport, the game of baseball is one where one player cannot bring significant success to an organization. At their peaks, Rodriguez was good for a wins above replacement of 9, topping out at 10.1 with the Seattle Mariners in 2000, while Johnson reached similar results, peaking at 10.4 WAR with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002. Though impressive, the fact remains that even with Rodriguez bringing the Texas Rangers arguably the best production of his career, they were a cellar dweller. In baseball, you need a lot more than one player to be a good team, that's just the nature of the sport.

However, in the NBA, it's a completely different story. When James stepped into the free agent market in 2010, he was the best player in the league that could be dominated by one player. At 26, he was yet to even hit his prime years and yet, aside from the voices that cried out Kobe Bryant's name in retaliation that grew quieter and quieter, there was no doubt in anyone's mind who the undisputed best player in the sport of basketball on the planet was. Now, four years later, we've come to the same situation. At 30 years of age, though he showed small signs of wear and tear over the course of the season, in large part due to extended seasons in each of the previous three years along with a heavier load to carry in 2014 due to the decline and injury issues surrounding Dwyane Wade, he is still the greatest player on the planet. Though one cannot expect him to carry an organization to consistent contention through his mere presence like he once did in Cleveland and did when he needed to in Miami, he is more than capable of producing at least another half decade of results similar to what we've seen thus far in his career. Simply put, in a sport where one player can change the entire complexion of the league, it's best player is now in a position to choose where he wants this power to rest. And that, for lack of a better term, is the decision that he has to now, taking all things into account.

In Miami, where he has seen the majority of his coveted championship success during the course of the past four seasons, he knows what to expect. With a great front office, good ownership and one of the most desirable markets to play in from a location and tax dollar point of view, it's arguably the most attractive package without looking at the product on the court. That said though, once one begins looking at the roster situation, the questions begin to surface. In an interview conducted a few years ago, Kevin Garnett, a player that very much could relate to what James went through during his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves, talked about the factor of loyalty costing him many years of his career, stating "Loyalty is something that hurts you at times because you can't get youth back." 

A deep friendship with Chris Bosh and Wade is not something you just toss away. That said, if they are truly your friends and understand your reasoning for it, there would be nothing wrong with James jumping ship. At the beginning of their partnership, Wade was arguably the second best player in the entire league. Not a slouch himself, Bosh was a consensus all-star who had carried teams into the playoffs by himself while playing at a level that few others in his position matched. Sadly, that was four years ago. At present date, Wade is a player that has all but broken down physically, making his perimeter shooting shortcomings all the more glaring and his presence on an opposing sideline all the less intimidating. Likewise, though not as drastic, Bosh is no longer the dominating interior and midrange presence he once was. In the pair, one no longer has two consensus all-stars but instead a player that can still be explosive when healthy on some nights and a stretch four who doesn't rebound at anywhere near the same clip that he use to. 

Regardless of whether all three opt out of their contracts and sign team friendly deals that can bring new legs into the organization, when pondering to whom his next commitment should be made, James must understand what his running mates have become. Yes, in a weak conference, the Heat, as currently constructed, could still continue their run of representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. That said, ignoring the scenario where Carmelo Anthony joins the organization, the fundamental problems of age and attrition that is plaguing this team is not something that can be solved confidently with one or two role players brought in from a free agent crop. Four years ago, the main issue facing the Heat was building a roster to surround the Big 3 effectively with the little money that was left after securing their signatures. Now, with James, Wade, and Bosh together still likely demanding $45-50 million dollars of the $63.2 that NBA teams will be allowed to spend in 2014-2015, how can their issues be addressed when, in the words of James himself, they need an upgrade at every position?

At the end of the day, Miami might still be his best destination but with the Western Conference only getting better in the coming years, James must be careful in thinking through and choosing a situation that gives him the best chance at winning multiple championships in the near future, not simply getting to the finals and finishing in second place.

MLB Player Props: Home Run Leader Betting Predictions

There are few things that excite baseball fans quite like the crack of the bat that immediately let's you know that the player in the box just destroyed a pitch that most likely is destined to break through someone's windshield in the Fenway parking lot.

Over the past few seasons, we've seen players come out of no where to lead the league in home runs. A few seasons ago, a little known Jose Bautista made one of the most unpredictable jumps into the elite power hitter plateau in major league baseball history.

Unfortunately for me, I ended up wasting a few hundred dollars trying to become the man above before I realized that I was significantly less coordinated, not a baseball player and about as likely to become one as Kobe Bryant transforming into an unselfish pass first point guard or a Google search of Farrah Abraham turning up something besides video stills and parenting advice.

Similarly, last season saw Chris Davis, a player who had eclipsed 30 home runs in 2012 but one that had a notorious reputation of struggling with off-speed pitching at the major league level explode for 53 long balls.

Of all the awards that usually lead to big money for someone, none are more profitable than the MLB long ball leader should you pick the right horse to ride. At the end of the day, a short stint on the DL or a cold week or two at the plate usually separate the winners from the rest of the field.

Simply, you need a lot of luck in combination with the immense talent the sluggers of the league possess in order to lead the league at the sport's premier statistic.

At the end of the day, the usual suspects, such as Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis and Giancarlos Stanton are obvious choices at reduced values but for the sake of actually providing something not known to the reader, I'm going to give you my three sleeper picks that I believe will all end up in the top five to ten in the category if not win it all.

Bryce Harper (40/1, Williamhill)

If you've been keeping tabs on the third year phenom, you have probably heard him described as a tad bigger than he's been in his career. More likely, however, is that you've heard the name Harper and the saying "big as a house" thrown into the same sentence. After an off-season dedicated to gaining strength to his already impressive physique, something that has him tipping the scales at around 230 pounds, it's safe to say that the quick bat will get a big boost of sheer power, something that Harper didn't lack in the least bit to begin with.

Personally, if he stays healthy, I see Harper not only hitting the most home runs in the league but also taking home the NL MVP award in the process as the Washington Nationals ride him, Ryan Zimmerman and their impressive starting rotation to an NL East crown. 

Prince Fielder (33/1, Williamhill)

Let's take Prince Fielder, a year removed from an off-season marred by a nasty divorce and all sorts of distractions, and move him from one of the worst hitter parks in the entire league and into the Ballpark in Arlington, arguably the friendliest hitter's park in the entire league, especially for left handed power bats. Now, let's slot that low strikeout-rate power hitter into the number three slot in the lineup and surround him with Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios as protection.

More pitches to hit, a notorious jet stream in right field in his home tadium and a sorter way to hit them in order for them to get out.

That sounds like a formula for forty to fifty home rums if ever I've heard one.

Jose Bautista (16/1, Bodog)

He's done it before and is still one of the premier power hitters in the game. With Edwin Encarnacion, one of the best power hitting first baseman, slotted behind him as protection along with a lineup containing the likes of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie (about to explode in 2014), Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind, pitchers will have no choice but to pitch to Bautista.

Add that to the fact that a large portion of games will be played at Fenway, Rogers Centre and Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, all great hitter parks, and you can rest assured that if he remains healthy, he will be right there at season's end.

NBA Fiction: The Day That the Ball Stood Still, An NBA Ball Hog Story

Whether one is a fan, media member or intense NBA 2K gamer, the 1992 USA Dream Team created an obsession with creating just such a team on an NBA roster. Some, like former Phoenix Suns general manager Bryan Colangelo, felt that the way to go was to construct a team that ran a nightly track meet. Others, like Pat Riley, sought to convince players to stray away from the alpha dog mentality made famous by Michael Jordan and instead chase the title as a collusion of talents that in the past would try to step over one another for that allusive championship ring. Needless to say, some of these strategies worked better than others but one man changed the entire landscape of the term dream team, a man known all too well within NBA circles. It is the story of what happens when strategy goes very, very wrong and one that while not true,  could very well become the airline passenger safety manual of how not to run an NBA organization. This is the story of the summer that David Kahn took reigns of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Kahn has never been the type of executive that has shied away from making the tough calls as an executive. As we saw his desire to floor the first starting unit constructed entirely out of point guards, Kahn has always thought outside of the box. You see, although Kahn was a fan of the seven-seconds-or-less-system that revolutionized the offensive tempo of the NBA and envied the success that Riley achieved by constructing a Miami Heat roster of unselfish stars, he believed that returning the Lakers into title contention needed a different touch. Almost overnight, the talk among fans of the game turned to the latest gift that Kahn bestowed onto the NBA, the two-passes-or-less offense.

With the same fire that burned deep in his eyes the day that Ricky Rubio, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson were all selected by him in the same draft, Kahn got to work on putting together a roster that would excel within his masterpiece. After the dust settled from the wave of strings pulled, backs scratched and draft picks shipped off, a starting five for the ages through the eyes of the controversial general manager had been established.


In Russell Westbrook, Kobe Bryant, Rudy Gay, Carmelo Anthony and Michael Beasley, the belief was a simple one: defense and size simply did not win titles in the modern era while the idea of ball movement was something that needed to be minimized or even abolished all together in order to keep defenses off balance. Furthermore, the notion of five players that looking for their own before that of others seemed to comfort Kahn because he believed that rebounding, something he held as vital to success, would get a kick start with just such a group of personalities. Simply put, with each shot taken, five guys would be crashing the boards because the one that grabbed that ball would probably be the one that dribbled and shot it over the course of the following possession.

In the case of the two-passes-or-less Lakers assembled by Kahn, it took a mere two preseason games to see what would happen if the NBA`s greatest collection of ball hogs were stuck under one roof. With every out of control drive by Westbrook, unnecessary fading jump shot by Gay, forced three pointer by Bryant, and contested step back by Anthony, the tension and lack of cohesion on the floor grew more evident. After escaping with a narrow victory over the Charlotte Bobcats, a game that many marked as the biggest fluke in NBA history as Bismack Biyombo went off for 45 points against a suspect interior defense, the following game against the Toronto Raptors served as the nail in the coffin for the system that seemed destined for failure.

Entering opening shoot around, the Lakers made their way onto the court with renewed optimism that the five key cogs in the system could make it work. Sadly, the shot heard around the world, a simple corner three pointer during that warm-up by Gay, sealed their fate. The ball, after dropping seamlessly through the basket with the perfection that can be expected from Gay on about a third of his in-game attempts, was picked up by Westbrook. After a successful long range attempt of his own with that very same basketball amid cries of `respect` from Gay, the loose ball made its way squarely between the likes of Anthony and Bryant. The scene that ensued, as described by Beasley and the baffled ball crew who sat two feet away from two full racks of basketballs, is to go down as one of the dark marks in league history.

Witnesses to the scene described the argument between Bryant and Anthony as one that they could not quite understand, stating that it seemed that both demanded the ball in mental preparation of a final in-game shot that neither had the chance to take in the closing seconds of the previous contest. After deciding on a one-on-one game to resolve the issue, their diplomatic solution was interrupted as Westbrook and Gay entered the fray. Demanding for the ball due to a breach of the unspoken rules of basketball that would take place if the ball was not handed over, the argument became heated. After half an hour of conflict, tempers looked to have cooled as the group collectively decided that the best course of action was to simply leave the ball at center court and proceed with the shoot around with the remaining balls sitting untouched at the baseline. As the four superstars slowly made their way to the baseline, betrayal reared its ugly head as the group of players, almost in unison, turned and sprinted toward the idle basketball. With chants of "give him the chair" echoing throughout the now packed Air Canada Centre, the four players wrestled and fought for that lone basketball until security finally made its way to the floor to break up the melee.

In the following weeks, all save for Bryant were scattered throughout the league in a series of trades while Kahn was relieved of his active duties as general manager of the organization. Once believed to be the future of the league, the team assembled to become legend within the sport`s history instead became one that would forever remain its greatest myth, the one forever known in the books as "David Kahndalf and the `you-shall-not-pass Lakers."


NFL Futures Betting: New Orleans Saints are the Post-Christmas Present Everyone Can Enjoy

Once in a while, Vegas baffles me with some of the odds they release.

I'm not even talking grade twelve calculus baffling, more like Tila-Tequila-just-said-she-was-a-Nazi baffling.

Anyways, that brings me straight to the New Orleans Saints, my pick from a few months back to take the ship this coming February when MetLife Stadium plays host to Superbowl XLVIII.

At the moment, Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and the rest of their Saints teammates are pegged by as 25/1 long shots to win the Superbowl and 14/1 bottom dwellers among NFC teams to win the conference.

Let that sink in for a second.

Give it a minute.

Ok, now let's tackle this beast to hopefully make a few people some money.

First of all, the NFC playoff picture looks as follows:

1. Seattle Seahawks

2. Carolina Panthers

3. Philadelphia Eagles

4. Green Bay Packers

5. San Francisco 49ers

6. New Orleans Saints

Which, after accounting for the bye weeks that the Seahawks and Panthers have earned, leaves us with the following match-ups:



Personally, I believe that the Eagles are a good football team but one with a defense that has no chance of stopping Brees and co. from getting whatever they want on the offensive side of the football. That being the case, should the Saints win this upcoming week, they will be the first team asked to do something that has seemed all but impossible the past few seasons, to stop the Seahawks in CenturyLink Field

If they find a way past that stiff test, the sky is the limit.

Now I understand that entering the playoffs as a number six seed, one that will have to fight its way to February solely on the road, will be a tough test for the Saints, a team that has struggled on the road this past season. That said, we've seen the New York Giants and Packers win the Superbowl in recent times while stuck just such a position, a fact that surely will be underlined and preached throughout the Saints locker room.

Not only that but in the Saints, we might just have the most talented number six seed in the history of the NFL, something that 14/1 and 25/1 fail to take into account.

On offense, the return of Sean Payton to the Saints' sidelines has brought back with it the kind of genius play-calling and offensive explosiveness that just seemed a hair off last season. In Brees, the Saints put their trust into one of the best in the game at the quarterback position and one who has experience leading a team to the Vince Lombardi trophy. With the likes of Graham, Darren Sproles, Marquez Colston, Kenny Stills and the rest of the weapons at his disposal, the team finished 4th in total yards while averaging 25.9 points per contest, good for 10th in the NFL.

Sure, the Saints offense is good and we've come to expect that but personally, what sets them apart to me and pushes me strongly enough to promote them as such is their defense.

As a team, the Saints finished 4th best in the league at total yards given up, 2nd best at yards conceived through the air and 4th in regards to sacks on the quarterback. If one ignores their lack of appeal in terms of forcing turnovers to lead to extra possessions for the offense, this just might be one of the better defenses in the entire NFL.

In Cameron Jordan (12 sacks) and Junior Galette (12.5 sacks), the Saints have one of the best young pass rushing duos in the league and in a league where the air rules the kingdom. More importantly, it is a league where disrupting and cutting the time the quarterback has can lead even the best to struggle and given enough consistency that quarterback faces, can lead to a season full of disappointment and epic struggle faces for even the most decorated of individuals.


Aside from the duo, the rest of the Saints defense will strive to give the opposing offense different looks throughout the contest to keep them off-balance and at worst, are a bend-but-don't-break type of unit which can still be combined with an offense as explosive as the Saints' to give someone as good a chance as anyone's to be successful in the playoffs.

The road will be a tough one but one that definitely has big potential at a payoff, play responsibly.

BONUS: As far as exact Superbowl match-up predictions go, look into the Broncos-Saints (22/1) and Patriots-Saints (50/1) odds as the two most intriguing ones.

Is Carmelo Anthony To Blame For Early Season Struggles of New York Knicks?

We've gotten pretty use to teams like the Charlotte Bobcats and Sacramento Kings sitting at well below .500 in recent times. Over the course of the past few years, they've provided the fuel to the dumpster fire and basically been nothing more than teams that were around to pad stats, extend winning streaks and see Michael Jordan up close and personal while trying not to gush over the greatest of all time like one was an eleven year old just picking up the sport.

For the New York Knicks, at least over the course of the Carmelo Anthony era, these are uncharted waters.

Now, for some teams that come into a season with high expectations, the term struggling can mean playing around .500 or even attaining a record beyond that but doing so in a way that sounds alarms over some deficiency while doing so. Sitting at 3-13 on the season, the Knicks have gone from a team that some thought to be a dark horse contender in the Eastern Conference to one that seems destined to headline sports news for all of the wrong reasons.

In simple English, it's been about as big of a dumpster fire in New York as the days when Eddy Curry was still around gobbling up tasty fatty treats on the sidelines and the likes of Jared Jeffries and Renaldo Balkman were getting significant minutes in front of the MSG faithful.

Is there any hope for the Big Apple?

First of all, as long as the Knicks have Anthony suiting up for the team, they have a chance any given night. No matter what argument people attempt to throw around to kick dirt at his status within the NBA, Anthony is a superstar and arguably the league's greatest scorer. That said, I believe the struggles with this team began when the issue of his impending free agency was handled in such a way that as a fellow player in the locker room, would have me questioning his commitment to the team. Many of us presume that all of the trade talk and free agency talk that gets thrown around in the media gets tuned out by the athletes that actually take the court.

A few seasons ago, we had Dwight Howard trade rumors envelop the entire sporting world, something that the Orlando Magic would like to very much forget. Imagine for a minute, you are sitting in that Magic locker room, let's assume as either Hedo TurkogluJameer Nelson or even Stan Van Gundy. You are neck deep in a dog fight in your pursuit of an NBA championship, something you came within a few games and a healthy roster from grasping only a few years prior to that one, when a certain story begins to circulate. As time goes by, that one story becomes two, two becomes ten and before you know it, Skip Bayless is seen ranting and somehow relating Tim Tebow to the whole ordeal with regards to the situation on ESPN First Take.

You enter the locker room, whether home or away, and you look at the guy the rumors are circulating around. Yes, the teammate before you still puts on the very same jersey that you do, runs up and down the same court and even produces at a high level. That said, if one questions the commitment to the team, the extent to which that player is in it through thick and thin, how can you trust that player? How can you look at that player in the eyes and get into the trenches with them when somewhere deep inside, you know that player might not want to be in them with you? 

Are the days where Carmelo himself would jump in front of a teammate to prevent a heated exchange with a fire extinguisher gone?

Sadly, such is the case for Anthony and the Knicks thus far this season. Yes, injuries have played a big part in the struggles as losing defensive anchor Tyson Chandler while having J.R. Smith and Amare Stoudemire hobbled have made winning ball games consistently a tough task for the team. That said, can we honestly assume that the team doesn't have significant locker room issues, especially stemming from its best player?

A few seasons ago, we saw the exact same events transpire as Anthony suited up for the Denver Nuggets, one in which we saw the passive aggressive style of stress resolution used by the star in just such a conundrum. Looking at the way that the situation was handled by the 29 year old small forward, doesn't it ring any bells of similarity, possibly to the season unfolding before the eyes of Knicks fans this season?

At 3-13 in a weak Atlantic division, the season is not over for the Knicks but in order to save their season from becoming a complete disaster, they will need their best player on board the ship, not dipping his foot in the water checking if its warm enough to swim in.

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Green Bay Packers, Jermichael Finley and the ICU: Could There be a Green Bay Packers Logo on Madden 25?

Well, this is just getting a little bit silly.

I've heard about the Madden Curse that derailed Shaun Alexander, Eddie George, Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis and Donovan McNabb to name a few. That aside, I've never seen a curse follow a team more closely than what has transpired the past few weeks for the Green bay Packers .  

This past Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Jermichael Finley was the latest to join the Packers' long list of impact players sidelined with injuries. The resulting blow to the head of Finley was one that was serious enough that a trip to the intensive care unit followed the always scary sight of a player being stretchered out. As an athlete, even when facing the grimmest of injuries, there's always that pride that one refuses to swallow when it comes to being unable to fight through the pain of an injury. If a player can crawl to the sideline under his own player, they usually will. That said, this is why it's always scary to see the stretcher scenario unfold before your eyes. It's a rare time when we see these proud behemoth human beings simply accept that they are too battered to pick themselves up off of the ground. Although the reports on Finley indicate that all major muscle movement has returned, it nonetheless comes at the most dire of times for the Green Bay Packers .

Entering Sunday, the Packers roster looked more like the combined medical reports of Gren Oden and Grant Hill than they did an NFL roster. Somewhere in Wisconsin, its dairy farmers are probably blaming themselves for not investing enough into public service announcements about the benefits of milk on the strengthening bones. Moreover, a few probably regret buying their kids voodoo dolls that had green and yellow shirts that suspiciously looked as though they might be Packers' jerseys. For those affected, no matter how many pins you pull out of that Malibu Stacy lookalike Clay Matthews doll, it's not bringing him back any time soon and that goes for the other pincushions too. 


With the addition of Finley to the list of wounded, the list of significant players lost for the Packers look something like this:

Randall Cobb: Out until week 15 at the earliest

Nick Perry:  Out at least 2-4 weeks

Clay Matthews: Out at least a few weeks

James Jones: Sprained PCL

Casey Hayward: Out until at least week 9

Needless to say, the Green Bay Packers could certainly use some luck right about now.

At 4-2, they sit atop the NFC North but have the Chicago Bears  and Detroit Lions  breathing right down their back. Although the schedule remains one that is less than stellar from a competition standpoint, if the Packers are to not only get into the playoffs but make some noise once they enter, they'll not only need their hobbled bodies to regain some of their health but also to pray that the wave of injuries is a thing of the past.

Drink your milk Green Bay Packer players, it's good for you and what do you have to lose at this point?

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Andre Drummond, the Detroit Pistons and the Journey towards Superstardom and Contender

Every now and again, we are witnesses to an athlete who seemingly defies everything we learned in a high school physics class. In the 1990s, a 7'1, 350 pound man named Shaquille O'Neal dropped jaws with athleticism and speed that we've only seen in one other man in the history of sports. That man, of course, is probably the greatest athlete in the history of the world and the only one to score 100 points in an NBA game while resembling what I imagine a volleyball Greek god would look like if we took a trip back through time, took some LSD and got a game going in a sandy field in Athens. For anyone slow to catch up on that rollercoaster of references, Wilt Chamberlin, not Greg Ostertag, was the man with the modest intro granted upon him. In this era, LeBron James basically is to the NBA what Michael Vick was to Madden 2004 as the only real question left to ask is whether or not he could outrun a cheetah if we brought one into the American Airlines Arena.

Last season however, I believe we've finally gotten the opportunity to see the next in line in the Dwight-Howard-athletically-gifted-big-man-who-could-build-a-school-in-Kenya-with-all-of-his-FT-bricks, a prestigious class of athletes for the Gambit Chronicle. Simply put, although Ben Wallace and his chronic dislocating wrist look like Ray Allen at the free throw line compared to the man, Andre Drummond is a human being that defies what we believe is possible for a human being at that size. Furthermore, not only is he driven along with Anthony Davis to become synonymous with the title of the NBA's next great big men, he's someone that you have no reason to expect anything but a steady improvement from because of his work ethic.

At 6'11, 280 pounds, Andre Drummond was once heralded as being the fastest athlete on the court during his freshman season at the University of Connecticut. Let me rephrase that, on a team with Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and a load of other athletic guards, a center took the floor that could consistently beat them in a foot race. Did we mention that he's 280 pounds, strong as an ox and has a 35 inch vertical jump?

Athleticism aside, Drummond has a skill set for a post player that screams star potential. He combines world class athleticism with great instincts on the court and ideal offensive awareness in knowing where the ball and his man are at all times on offense, leading to lobs that we've seen and lobs that are yet to come. He possesses great finishing ability around the basket and throughout the past few years in college and the NBA, has shown the ability to hit a short jumper, something that with consistency can become the weapon that opens up the rest of his game. On defense, he is a weak-side defensive terror and is already one of the better instinctual rebounders in the NBA. To say that a package such as the one Andre Drummond presents us with doesn't have superstar written all over it is to say that Kate Upton doesn't have sex appeal, both blasphemous unless you just happen to be the type that prefers Mehmet Okur and female librarians.

Last season, I believe that Andre Drummond gave the NBA a glimpse of what probably will become a career lamented by accolades of all-star appearances, defensive player of the year awards and titles such as being the best center in the NBA. Although the season averages of 8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocks seem counterintuitive to someone looking simply at statistics, let's not forget that he was brought along slowly and just turned 20 years of age this past August. In the NBA, the average course of development for a big man to reach his prime is usually about five seasons. In comparison to guards who have had the hand checking rule among others aid to their exploits in the past decade, the post position is one which hasn't really changed in terms of the physicality that occurs and as such takes time to adjust to as a young post just entering the league. In his second season, I believe that Andre Drummond will take that next leap from promising young player into borderline all-star and someone that a lot of conversations will be centered around. If my eye test is right and it usually is, the 2013-2014 season could be the season that we see the emergence of the next great NBA center.  

As a team, the Detroit Pistons are night and day when Drummond is on the court which can only bode well for their future as they continue to establish one of the up-and-coming young rosters in the NBA. With the consistent presence of Greg Monroe along with the acquisition of Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith, the Detroit Pistons are slowly starting to assemble what many could come to see as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference. Although the skillset of Josh Smith and his fit with the rest of the Piston roster will be a question that will always draw more doubts than legitimate answers, one cannot deny that the defensive potential and star power on this roster are legitimate and more importantly, young and healthy. Whether Drummond does so this year or the next, the night and day within his own game and maturity as an NBA star is something NBA fans eagerly await to witness. At present, we are in the midst of watching LeBron James and Kevin Durant toy with the league and carry the titles of alpha dogs on alpha teams but there are storm clouds approaching, storm clouds that originate in Motor City.

As always, you can follow me @Gambitguru77 to get notified when I come out with new material, hope to see you back here!

Anthony Davis and The New Orleans Pelicans: Witnessing the Birth of the NBA's Next Superstar

The upcoming NBA season will be one that will most likely be dominated by the headlines involving the looming early termination clause of LeBron James, the exploits and progression of the Brooklyn Nets as the NBA's newest super team and the hurt that lone ranger Kevin Durant will put on the league as he regularly threatens to break the 50 point mark with running mate Russell Westbrook sidelined for the foreseeable future. With those, we'll have the have our share of stories about Jason Terry getting a "BKN > NYK :P" tattoo on his forehead and joining teammate Andrei Kirilenko in forming the league's most dominant one-two Google search combination of tattoo-looks-bad-already-but-I'll-be-wearing-turtlenecks-everywhere-in-twenty-years duo. As well, I've got a feeling we'll probably see Blake Griffin finally clear Pau Gasol like a hurdle on a dunk which creates "neck beard sobbing", the newest trend to rival planking.

Hell, I'm pretty sure the rapid evolution of Richard Jefferson from basketball talent to least listened to and respected player-coach in league history is all but guaranteed like a Josh Smith bad decision in a game.

 That said, if you keep your eyes and ears open just long enough each morning during your routine of checking the highlights while scarfing down a bowl of cereal to allow the other teams to graze your television or computer screen, you'll see the headline that I believe we'll see as one of the biggest by season's end. You keep those eyes fixed on the screen and I guarantee you'll slowly see the birth of the next great NBA superstar. The world is about to take notice as we're about to see the birth of Anthony Davis, the next great big man of the NBA.

Last season, the majority of the 2012-2013 rookie crop attention was paid to Damian Lillard and with good reason as he lit up the league playing alongside a promising Portland Trailbrazers squad. Meanwhile, Anthony Davis, the player selected with the first pick in the 2012 NBA draft, struggled to stay healthy but still produced a very good rookie season while playing amongst men in a body that would rival Frankie Munez in regards to muscularity. On the season, Davis averaged 13.5 point, 8.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 29 minutes per game while showing glimpses throughout the season of the promise most saw in him entering the NBA.

Although never reaching Lillard's level of consistent excellence in his rookie year, Davis managed to put together a few games that you had to take notice of as a fan. Although not as common as a Pelicans fan would've hoped entering the season, impressive games like the pair against the Memphis Grizzlies in March, putting up 20/18/2 and 18/15/2 against the NBA's toughest post tandem in March gave us a glimpse of what could be. More importantly, despite giving up significant weight to the post players of the NBA, Davis managed to shoot 51% of his field goals and 75% of his free throws which are ideals for any big man let alone one in his first season. On a per 36 clip, that comes out to 16.9 point, 10.2 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, numbers that we could very well expect from the talented young big man if we assumed his young 20 year old legs would get all the burn they can handle this season we weren't expecting any growth.

               Simply put, we'd be idiots to even consider such a thought as the growth we're about to witness can only be rivaled by the physical growth of Barry Bonds in the first months of steroid use in the late 90s which I have a feeling we don't have to worry about seeing with Davis.

               Entering the 2013-2014 NBA season, a lot of hype is surrounding the New Orleans Pelicans as the acquisitions of all-star point guard Jrue Holiday and fellow young budding star Tyreke Evans have brought optimism to a franchise that hasn't had the term associated with it in quite some time. While the duo might represent an infusion of talent to a team that sorely lacked talent and required a makeover in order to compete, the greatest acquisition coming into this season is an Anthony Davis with a season under his belt and an offseason in which he knew how to prepare for the 82 game grind. Through the first four preseason games, to say that Davis has been impressive would be like saying that the US economy is kind of in a mess or that The Godfather was a decent movie as he's all but dominated the competition. By putting up high scoring games, pulling down rebounds and enforcing the paint defensively in a way very few players do in the NBA, we're being point on notice. The arrival of Anthony Davis into the conversation of not the best young players in the game but the best players in the game period is quickly approaching if it hasn't already arrived.

               As a talent, what Davis might lack in physicality (although he's reportedly put on 10-15 pounds this offseason) he more than makes up for in his diverse talents. There are very few players in the NBA that can be a Swiss army knife, possessing a plethora of tools on both sides of the court as the names LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Derrick Rose and a few others usually come to mind when we begin to ponder the thought. As a big man who can shoot the jump shot with great accuracy and technique, run the floor like a gazelle, make free throws, score in the post with a go-to move on each block, and defend the paint to the point of scaring off penetration, does Anthony Davis not sound like someone who should be right in that conversation? Although I am jumping ahead a tad because we're talking about a player just entering just his second full NBA season in comparison to the game's elite, we cannot deny that Davis' repertoire of talents doesn't at least remind us of some of the game's best in recent times at the power forward position. Personally, I can't watch Davis on the court without being reminded of Kevin Garnett. Both are lanky big men, skilled jump shooters and face up players, gifted physically and change the game with their defense alone. Similarly, I look at Davis and see the same kind of impact that Tim Duncan has on a basketball game as both have a refined and fundamentally sound skill set that very few big men can achieve on both ends of the floor. Although Duncan will always have a size advantage, the NBA's shift to a more athletic versus larger-than-life-post-player era means that Anthony Davis fits the bill as a hybrid next-era type of dominant post player that we've been waiting on players like Blake Griffin to become for years.

Many NBA fans see a player like Carmelo Anthony or Stephen Curry as someone they'd regard with the label "superstar" when throwing the term around. Personally, while those players might be stars, a true superstar is someone who changes the game on both ends enough to totally change a team's fortunes for a season, not a stretch of games. It is the players that you place into a situation that immediately change your status from "alright" to "potential contender" by their mere presence that signifies the difference between a "star" and a "superstar". At the moment, the list of names that fit that bill in the NBA is a sort one in my opinion: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose and Chris Paul. That's it. Every other player either has a massive flaw in their game (i.e. Dwight's post game and free throw shooting, Carmelo's rebounding and defense, etc.) or has seen their prime pass them.

With the upcoming season mere weeks away, just as we saw Tim Duncan ascend to the cream of the talent crop of the NBA, I believe we're going to be seeing a new face slowly creep into this conversation as the jazz playing in the streets of New Orleans and Anthony Davis become a mainstay among basketball conversations for a decade to come.