MAKING A PLAY

Gambling guide: Forecast of a low Tide in Championship game; recapping the NFL Wild-Card weekend

Nick Saban leads Alabama against Georgia tonight. Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Alabama -4 vs. Georgia  O/U 46

50-1, the odds you could have got on Georgia to win the National title over the summer. Tonight, you will see a team that can match up with anyone in the nation.

Nick Saban the dominator

How good has Saban been exactly? Well, within his conference when listed as a favorite he is 49-39 ATS. Even more impressive, is his dominance over his former assistants. In games when facing his disciples, he is 11-0 straight up and 9-2 ATS. In these games, the master always makes statements covering the spread by double digits.

xThe clock is our friend

We all know about the potent rushing attack the Bulldogs embark onto the field. The duo is now the all-time FBS leaders in career rushing yards by a pair of running back teammates, surpassing SMU's Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The same two phenoms that set the Rose Bowl on fire with a combined 326 rushing yards on 25 carries. Alabama will need to figure out how to limit the big play. Another key stat we lean to when analyzing how to stop teams with such dominant run games is defensive adjusted line yards, where both of these teams rank inside the top 15. Converting on third downs is crucial in keeping the clock running, and the Bulldogs hold a significant advantage in Power success rate.  Look for UGA to have success in short yardage situations through the ground game, keeping the clock ticking.

Being extra " Special" on special teams

Keeping these teams outside of the red zones will be pivotal for both sides. Georgia ranks 5th in the country in red zone efficiency where they score on 95.7% of their drives inside the 20. Nick Saban's bunch not far behind at 88.1%. Limiting the opponent to playing outside the 20's is a ritual both teams will be looking to exercise throughout the night. Another factor in the special teams tonight will be the inconsistency of both kickers from the 40-49 yard range. Alabama's kicker from such distance is 4-8; Georgia's kicker 4-7.

Turnovers

When handicapping a game with such a low total, you have to try to unveil any possible ways of getting extra opportunities to tack points on the board. Turnovers are a good way to juice a low scoring game, but the truth is turnovers are one of the more random stats in football. In Monday night's matchup, we have two teams ranked inside the top 35 in TO margin. Alabama leads the Nation with only nine turnovers the entire season and much has to do with the ability of Jalen Hurts to make smart decisions. Hurts has only thrown one interception all season! The Bulldogs haven't been exactly sloppy on the offensive side either; they only gave the ball away 14 times this year, five more than the tide.

A game that will be won in the trenches, I think the value is on the under. Georgia is aware of Bama's injuries to the linebacker group. They know if they can get past the defensive line, beating a linebacker group that shares three career starts, could be the way to the title. Look for Georgia to keep pounding away looking to break one open on an inexperienced linebacker group. The last thing Alabama wants is these Georgia's running backs in the open field vs. those linebackers. On the other side, Saban's bread and butter with Hurts under center is the read pass option. This is what hides his quarterback's inability to throw downfield and limits his turnovers. The only problem is the Georgia front seven is more than prepared for this having faced the RPO multiple times shutting it down vs. Brandon Wimbush(Notre Dame), Nick Fitzgerald (Miss St), and Jarrett Stidham(Auburn). Most recently they saw it with the Heisman Baker Mayfield, and although they didn't entirely "shut" him down, in the closing half, they limited Oklahoma to 171 yards and one touchdown including OT. The path to the 2018 College Football National Championship will be through the ground game, ideal for the under 46 -(-120)

Under 22.5 First Half

Under 46 full game

Lines as of 1/8/18 3:15 pm Bovada

Stats provided by Sports Insights

Wildcard Weekend: Book It

Wildcard weekend was huge for the books in the opening weekend of the NFL postseason. Bettors that chased last year's results were torched, let's see how the numbers differed.

Last Years Wild Card Weekend
Raiders vs. Texans (-4)  27-14 HOU
Lions vs. Seahawks (-8.5)  26-6 SEA
Miami vs. Pittsburgh (-11)   30-12 PITT
N.Y. Giants vs. Greenbay (-5)  38-13 G.B
4-0 Favorites

2017-2018
Titans (+9) vs Chiefs 22-21 TENN +350
Falcons (+6) vs Rams 26-13 ATL +210
Bills (+9) vs Jauguars 10-3 JAX
Panthers (+7) vs Saints 31-26 NO
 

Favorites 0-4
With all four contest being covered by the underdog, this year's trend lived on as two won outright. 72 of 110 underdogs won their games outright during the regular season 65%.

Totals
The over/under went 1-3 this week compared to a 2-2 record in last years Wildcard Weekend. An impressive number to keep your eye on, last year starting in the divisional round, the over dominated going 6-1. Did the books adjust their opening numbers anticipating action to the over?

Divisional Round lines
Falcons -2.5 at Eagles  O/U 41
Titans at Patriots -14   O/U  47
Jaguars at Steelers -7.5 O/U  41
Saints at Vikings -3.5  O/U  45

Play action or pass went 3-5 bringing our record to 51-43-2 (54.2%)   52-44 Updated after CFB Title Game
Titans/Chiefs under 44.5 WIN
Jaguars-9 LOSS
Panthers +7  WIN
Falcons+6   WIN
Falcons/Rams over 48.5   LOSS
Titans Teams Total under 17.5  LOSS
Teasers 10 point
Chiefs +1/ Jags+1/ Falcons-Rams over 38.5 (2X) Ties on 10 point teasers are a LOSS (X2) Keep your records honest!
Update

Alabama /Georgia Under first half 22.5 WIN

Alabama/Georgia under 46 LOSS
Updated Super Bowl Odds

New England Patriots    +200
Minnesota Vikings    +375
Pittsburgh Steelers    +500
New Orleans Saints    +550
Atlanta Falcons    +700
Philadelphia Eagles    +1400
Jacksonville Jaguars    +1800
Tennessee Titans    +5000

Any questions or comments reach me at @JerryBoKnowz on Twitter.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

The Astros now have several arms they can depend on. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Most people considered the Houston Astros bullpen to be the team's biggest hole. Considering Will Harris and Hector Rondon left in the offseason, while no veterans were brought in to replace them, Joe Smith opted out of the shortened COVID season, and Roberto Osuna threw less than 60 total pitches, it makes sense that the 'pen would be thin. Even former bullpen mainstays like Chris Devenski, Brad Peacock, and Josh James missed most or some of the season with injury. The exodus of talent and numerous trips to the IL presented some young arms with an opportunity, and a handful of them seized those opportunities.

Ryan Pressly

Once Osuna went down for the season, Pressly stepped in as the team's closer, and he did an admirable job. He converted 12 of 16 save opportunities, had a 3.43 ERA, 12.43 K/9, and 3.00 BB/9. He wasn't lights out by any means, but he certainly wasn't poor.

The advanced numbers say the Astros should be comfortable with Pressly as their closer next season. Pressly's 2.74 xERA (Expected ERA) was lower than his ERA, and same with his 2.81 FIP. Pressly was even better in his 7.1 postseason innings, when he had a 2.45 ERA and 1.42 FIP.

Pressly has two traits the Astros envy:

  • Velocity
  • Spin

Pressly was in the 99th percentile in curveball spin. Only Garrett Richards and Lucas Sims had higher spin rates on their curveballs. He was also in the 95th percentile in fastball spin, and he pairs that with average fastball velocity of 94.6 MPH.

All-in-all, Pressly does a great job of limiting damage and free bases while missing bats. His walk rate spiked in 2020, but it was back in line with his career norms by the postseason, signaling that the walk issues could be tied to the quick ramp-up of Spring Training 2.0. Aside from that, the numbers being as high as they are (which aren't even that high), seems to stem from some bad luck.

Enoli Paredes

Paredes burst onto the scene in 2020, bailing the Astros out of tough situations with electric stuff and moxie. By season's end, he was the team's second most reliable reliever behind Pressly.

Was Paredes' breakout a fluke or is he legit?

Similar to Pressly, Paredes is elite in two categories: velocity and spin.

Paredes was in the 90th percentile in curveball spin and 75th percentile in fastball spin. His 95.7 MPH fastball was in the 86th percentile. Put simply, Paredes has some electric stuff.

He also has a trait that new Astros General Manager James Click likely envies: a unique look.

Paredes has a release point just 5.1 ft off the group. He's an old school "drop-and-drive" pitcher, so despite being 5'11" tall, the ball comes out of his hand nearly a foot lower than that to the ground. His fastball explodes out of his hand with incredible life, and it's why he got so many swings-and-misses on a fastball that he threw 68% of the time.

Now, it isn't all good news. Paredes' 5.76 xERA is significantly higher than the 3.05 ERA he actually posted. His 3.63 FIP is closer, but it's still higher than how he actually performed. His 4.79 BB/9 is high.

All that being said, Paredes is only 25, has incredible stuff, a great attitude, and the best pitching coach in baseball to aid his development. As he continues to develop his secondary pitches, he should continue to be a reliable arm in the back of the Astros bullpen.

Blake Taylor

Blake Taylor was another young arm that entered Dusty Baker's circle of trust by the end of the season. Acquired in the Jake Marisnick trade, Taylor was considered an afterthought, but by season's end he was considered a great parting gift from Jeff Luhnow.

Taylor pitched his way into the hearts of Astros fans with a 2.18 ERA in 20.2 IP. He also had a 1.59 ERA in 5.2 postseason innings. Taylor's 2.99 xERA suggests his 2020 performance was legit, while his 4.55 FIP suggests he may have gotten lucky. Regardless, he's an interesting case.

Taylor's success comes from an ability to miss barrels. He induced tons of weak contact, as his Average Exit Velocity Against, xBA, and xSLG were all in the 94th percentile or better. He induced tons of weak contact, as he was 30th amongst relievers in soft hit % and 12th in hard hit %.

It is a little perplexing how he does it. Taylor is roughly average in fastball velocity, and he's exactly average in fastball spin. Same with his breaking pitches. Taylor doesn't have unique pitch usage either. He threw his fastball 76.5% of the time and his slider 22.6% of the time, essentially making him a one pitch guy. Most hitters are eliminating his slider and changeup (he threw it 0.9%) before they step into the box. Most hitters would salivate over an at-bat with those odds at average velocity, but hitters didn't have success.

Taylor doesn't do it with pinpoint control either. He walked 5.23 per 9, and he certainly didn't live on the edges.

He didn't experience success in a stereotypical Astros way, as they usually rely on velocity and spin, but his ability to induce soft contact is impressive. Similar to Paredes, there are reasons to believe Taylor can develop and continue to get better.

Andre Scrubb

Andre Scrubb is yet another arm that didn't figure to factor into the Astros 2020 plans, but by the end of the postseason, was one of the more trustworthy relievers on the roster.

Scrubb is closer to the mold of the stereotype Astro pitcher. While he doesn't have overwhelming velocity -- he was exactly average -- he does have slightly above average fastball spin and well above average curveball spin. The lower fastball velocity and spin probably stems from the fact that he doesn't throw a true four-seam fastball, opting for a cutter instead.

Scrubb is heavy on curveball usage, and he was nearly 50/50 between his cutter and his curveball. The cutter and curveball play well off of one another, as one pitch has some glove side run to it while the other is essentially a true 12-6 curveball.

Scrubb didn't rack up lots of strikeouts, yet another league average category for him, but he did rack up a ton of soft contact. He was in the 99th percentile in Hard Hit % and 92nd percentile in Barrel %.

The .195 xBA and .298 xSLG against him explain his 1.90 ERA. He limited damage so well that, despite being average in totally missing bats and walking batters left and right, he usually left the game having not allowed anyone to score.

Both xERA and FIP agree that Scrubb got lucky, as xERA has him at 4.06, while FIP has his at 4.25. Regardless, those two numbers aren't even all that terrible for a middle reliever, especially one that had never pitched above AA prior to 2020. He has to lock in on his command, as a pitcher that walks 7.61 per 9 will never have a long track record of success. If he can learn to be around the plate more, he's another arm the Astros can count on for the long haul, as he is 25-years-old like Taylor and Paredes.

Brooks Raley

Brooks Raley entered the 2020 season with the Cincinnati Reds before being DFA'd after just 4.0 IP. The Astros liked what they saw enough to trade away a PTBNL for the DFA'd left-hander, and he performed well enough that the Astros will likely exercise his $2M club option for 2021.

What did the Astros see that they liked so much? Well… what if I told you he spins the ball well?

Raley was in the 93rd percentile in fastball spin and 94th percentile in slider spin. Brooks Raley doesn't throw hard, as he only averaged 90.1 MPH on his fastball, but he does command the ball well, as he had a 2.70 BB/9.

Raley relies most heavily on his slider and cutter, and he does a good job at hitting that outside corner to lefties. In fact, lefties batted .121 with a .194 SLG off of Raley. That's an impressive platoon advantage. Raley induces a ton of soft contact. He actually had the best Average Exit Velocity Against in all of MLB. He was in the 99th percentile in Hard Hit % Against. He was in the 95th percentile in xBA. He was in the 84th percentile in xSLG. Guys just didn't hit the ball hard off of him.

The other impressive part is that, despite barely throwing 90 MPH, he missed a lot of bats too. He was in the 87th percentile in MLB in K%. His 12.2 K/9 was the same as Kenley Jansen's.

While Raley's 4.95 ERA is far from elite, four of the 11 runs he gave up on the season were in a Cincinnati uniform. He had a 3.94 ERA as an Astro, and his 3.11 xERA and 3.94 FIP suggest his performance warranted better. The quick turnaround as an Astro likely stemmed from pitch usage. While he was a Red, Raley threw his cutter 59.1% of the time and his slider 1.5% of the time. In August, when he was an Astro for the full month, he threw his cutter 38% of the time and his slider 18.7% of the time. Brent Strom loves spin, and when you spin it and command it as well as Raley does, he is going to tell you to throw it more.

Look ahead

The Astros found five relievers worthy of roster spots in 2021. Josh James had a poor season in 2020, and his time to put it together is running out, but he still has an intriguing combination of velocity and spin. James battled injuries in 2020, and the poor performance could be tied to that.

On top of those five arms and a possible sixth in James depending on health, the Astros will add Joe Smith back to the fold in 2021. Smith is a reliable veteran arm. While the sidewinder doesn't bring the typical velocity or spin to the table like the rest of the Astros arms, he does bring something to the table that James Click will bring with him from Tampa Bay...funky looks.

Here were the release points of Rays pitchers from the catcher's point of view versus the Astros in the playoffs (Chart via MLB.com).

Now...here's the Astros bullpen pitchers discussed in this story.

There's not exactly a ton of difference. Now look at the element Smith brings to the table.

Houston does need to add a couple of bullpen arms in the offseason, but they already have six or seven they can rely on. Look for Click and Co. to add arms with diverse release points, plus velocity, and plus spin.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome