2016 Super Bowl Prop Bets: Player to Score 1st TD

I am an expert at the “Player to Score 1st TD” Super Bowl prop bet. I’m not kidding. In Super Bowl 48, Baltimore Ravens vs. San Francisco 49ers, I hit on Anquan Boldin scoring the first TD at 15/1 odds. It was really awkward when I exploded in celebration like a maniac after that touchdown, at a party in New York that had no fans of either team. And then it happened again last year, hitting my Brandon LaFell pick at 17/1 odds. Ensue awkward celebration, except I wasn’t the only one celebrating this time. There were a few Patriots fans at the party. As a Jets fan, I would have rather celebrated alone.

After hitting on this bet twice in three years, I am now certain I have been blessed with a specific set of skills … to find the player who will score the 1st TD in the Super Bowl. Let me help you have an awkward celebration all of your own. The key is to find plausible options, with big odds. Picking the obvious names is no fun. This year, the Carolina wide receivers are calling my name. And all of them have good odds. Here is who I am liking:

Devin Funchess: 16/1 – I can just see Von Miller flushing Cam Newton out of the pocket, while Newton keeps his eyes downfield, and finds the 6’,4’’, 225 Funchess for a 28-yard TD down the sideline on Carolina’s first drive.

Jerricho Cotchery: 20/1 – Cotchery reminds me of a poor man’s Boldin. I can envision Newton standing tall in the pocket, as he fires a strike to Cotchery down the middle of the field for the game’s first TD.

Corey Brown: 14/1 – Not getting any premonitions here, but he seems like a logical option with good odds.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhapern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Super Bowl

We finally made it! 21 long weeks of sitting on the couch every Sunday for 8-11 hours, eating all of our favorite fried foods and drinking our favorite alcohol, is finally about to pay off … by going to a huge party where there will be unlimited fried food and alcohol. Don’t question it. We deserve this.

I absolutely nailed my Championship Round picks by going 2-0, with spot on analysis. I would understand if you think I am some kind of betting savant. Because that means you probably simply didn’t read my other playoff picks columns. The perfect round brought my overall record to 5-4 (I tied the Broncos vs. Steelers game). The worst I can do is break even, but that is no fun. I want the glory.

Denver Broncos vs. Carolina Panthers
Spread: CAR -5.5

Peyton Manning who? It is Cam Newton’s league now. Or at least it is for this season. But great defenses have a way of playing spoiler to fairy tale endings. And that is exactly what Denver has, the #1 ranked defense in the NFL. The one that turned the New England Patriots offensive line into a joke, leading to Bill Belichick firing his offensive line coach. But the challenge goes both ways. The Broncos will not be going after relatively stationary targets Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger. Newton is bigger, stronger, and faster than many of the defensive ends and linebackers that will be chasing him. Newton vs. Denver’s front 7 will be a matchup that is truly fit for the biggest stage.

The Pick: Public money is pouring in on Carolina. The beat downs Carolina handed out to Seattle and Arizona are fresh in everyone’s mind. The memory of Denver getting crushed in the Super Bowl two years ago is also lingering. But this is not Peyton Manning’s Broncos like it was in 2014. This is a team with a dominant defense that has the ability to keep the Broncos in any game.

Take the Broncos plus the 5.5 points. This game is going to be a heavyweight slugfest, and I want the points.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Championship Round

The NFL Championship Round kicks off this Sunday, matching up the 1 vs. 2 seeds from each conference. I got back on track last week by going 2-1 in the Divisional Round, tying my Pittsburgh Steelers pick. That puts my overall record at 3-4, as I look to climb above the .500 mark.

New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
Spread: NE -3

Denver: Brady vs. Manning! Kind of. Peyton Manning is a shell of his former self, but he still has the beautiful football mind to make enough plays to win. It will once again be Denver’s ground attack and #1 ranked defense that will need to carry this team.

New England: Tom Brady is still in top form, leading New England to the AFC Championship game for the 5th year in a row. By losing to the Miami Dolphins in Week 17, though, New England handed home field advantage to Denver. They will now be forced to fly cross-country, into the thin air of Denver, if they want to return to the Super Bowl.

The Pick: Take Denver plus the points. They are playing at home, have the best defense in football, and getting the 3 points is just gravy.

Arizona Cardinals at Carolina Panthers
Spread: Car -3

Carolina: People still do not get it. Carolina is the class of the NFL this season. They needed to play full throttle for only one half last week in order to beat the Seattle Seahawks. They are healthy, having fun, and it will take a herculean effort to beat them at home.

Arizona: If anybody is up to the challenge of taking Carolina down, it is Arizona. They have the #1 ranked offense and #5 ranked defense in the league. They are coming off a hard fought victory against the Green Bay Packers last week, in a game that became an instant classic. But Arizona will have to play much better this week if they plan on knocking Carolina off.

The Pick: Keep riding Carolina and be glad you only have to give 3 points.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Round, Day 2

Day 2 of the NFL Divisional Round kicks off this Sunday, matching up the 1 vs. 6 seeds from each conference. I am looking to bounce back after going 1-3 in the Wild Card Round.

Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers
Spread: Car -1.5

Carolina: I have never seen a team that went 15-1 in the regular season, and a quarterback who accounted for 45 combined passing and rushing touchdowns, get such little respect. Carolina outscored their opponents by 192 points. That is 12 points per game. They are the Golden State Warriors of the NFL.

Seattle: Seattle successfully transitioned from a run first attack, to a passing attack this year. Or, in other words, the transition from it being Marshawn Lynch’s team, to Russell Wilson’s team, is complete. It will once again be their defense, though, that will be the key to their success.

The Pick: Take Carolina and gladly give the 1.5 points. Blair Walsh let Seattle off the hook last week, but they will not be so lucky again.

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos
Spread: Den -7

Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh was all set to make a Super Bowl run before they started dropping like flies. First it was Le’Veon Bell. Then it was DeAngelo Williams. Now Antonio Brown has been ruled out for Sunday, and Big Ben’s effectiveness is in serious question with a shoulder injury. This is not your father’s Steel Curtain Steelers D, so the injuries on offense might be too much to overcome.

Denver: Denver has quarterback questions of their own, having just handed the reins back over to Peyton Manning in the 2nd half of the final game of their season. They will likely continue to rely on their run game to carry the offense. But it is their #1 ranked defense that has really been the backbone of this team all season, and will have to stymie Pittsburgh’s passing attack in order to advance.

The Pick: Take Pitt plus the 7 points. I think Denver will win this game, but do not have the offensive firepower to cover the spread.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: Divisional Round

The NFL Divisional Round kicks off this Saturday, matching up the 2 vs. 5 seeds from each conference. I am looking to bounce back after going 1-3 in the Wild Card Round.

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots
Spread: NE – 5

The public is favoring Kansas City right now, with 60% of the bets coming in on them. Always be skeptical of a public underdog. People are looking at a Kansas City team that has won 11 straight, a New England team that is banged up, and are running for the points. Vegas is more than happy to back Bill Belichick at home with two weeks to prepare. Making the spread 5 almost seems like they are goading bettors into taking Kansas City.

The Pick: Take Kansas City plus the points. I’m a sucker.

Green Bay Packers at Arizona Cardinals
Spread: Ari -7

Another game with the public backing the underdog, with 56% of the bets coming in on Green Bay. Didn’t take much to get people back on that Packers bandwagon, huh. Vegas will be backing Arizona, who just beat this Green Bay team by 30 points a few weeks ago. Aaron Rodgers told reporters earlier this week, “the pressure’s all going to be on them.”

The Pick: Take Green Bay plus the points. They were my sole victory from last week (sort of), and I am going to keep riding them.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: NFC Wild Card Round

The NFC Wild Card Round will be played this Sunday, January 10, 2016. The two clear favorites in the NFC, Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals, have first-round byes, and will be awaiting the teams that survive this round

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings
Spread: Sea – 5

Seattle: Seattle has the 4th best point differential in the league, outscoring their opponents by 146 combined points. They have the 2nd ranked defense in the NFL, and have allowed the least amount of points, surrendering only 17.3 points per game. QB Russell Wilson had a breakout season as a passer this year, throwing for 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns. Everyone just assumed this breakout would eventually happen, so nobody is really talking about it, but it is a major step forward for Wilson. Even with RB Marshawn Lynch banged up all season, Seattle rushed for the 3rd most yards in the NFL. They have won eight of their last ten games. If you have not figured it out yet, Seattle is still very, very good.

Minnesota: Minnesota has the 9th best point differential in the league, outscoring their opponents by 63 combined points. They have the 13th ranked defense and 29th ranked offense in the NFL. QB Teddy Bridgewater failed to improve on his impressive rookie season this year, throwing for only 14 touchdowns in 16 games. On the bright side, RB Adrian Peterson picked up right where he left off after missing almost all of last season. He rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns, leading Minnesota’s 4th ranked rushing attack. Minnesota comes into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents (CHI, NYG, GB) by 60 points in those games alone.

The Pick: Seattle dominated Minnesota, 38-7, when these two teams met just one month ago. With Minnesota at home for this game, I would expect them to put up a much better fight this time around. But it will still likely not be enough to topple their superior opponent. Take Seattle giving the five points, but don’t think it is going to be easy.

Green Bay Packers at Washington Redskins
Spread: Wash – 1

I would be lying if I told you I have any idea how this game is going to play out. Green Bay has been underwhelming this entire season, and has lost their last two games. Washington is on a four-game win streak, and is playing at home. Kirk Cousins had a better QB rating, 101.6, than Aaron Rodgers did this year, 92.7. And yet, I still cannot find it in me to trust Washington.

The Pick: Pass. If I was forced to pick, I would put my money on Rodgers and live with the results.

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Playoff Picks: AFC Wild Card Round

The NFL Playoffs kickoff this Saturday, starting with the AFC Wild Card Round. The AFC is wide open this year, and one of these teams can easily find themselves representing the AFC in Super Bowl 50.

Kansas City Chiefs at Houston Texans
Spread: KC – 3.5

Houston: Completely throw out KC’s 27-20 victory over Houston in Week 1. Both teams are playing at a completely different level than they were earlier in the season. Led by last year’s Defensive Player of the Year, and prolific television commercial actor, JJ Watt, Houston comes into Saturday’s game with the 3rd ranked defense in the league. QB Brian Hoyer also enjoyed a quiet breakout season, putting up a 91.4 QB Rating in 11 games. And the best WR that nobody is talking about, DeAndre Hopkins, just torched the league to the tune of 111/1,521/11. Houston has won six of their last eight games, and are fired up to avenge their Week 1 loss.

Kansas City: KC is on a 10-game win streak of their own, and have been the talk of the NFL for weeks now. They are not invincible though. They struggled to beat the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders at home the last two weeks, winning by a measly ten combined points. Alex Smith is also not the strong-armed, gun slinging QB you want to bet on in a road playoff game against the 3rd best pass defense in the league. Do not be surprised if KC finds it very hard to come by points this Saturday. KC does have a strong defense, ranked 7th in the league, but they are not the type of dominating unit that can carry the team on their own.

The Pick: If you are looking for the “nobody believed in us” team, Houston is it. Admit it, you still don’t believe in them (Update: And for good reason, as they just got blown out 30-0 on Saturday). I do though. Take Houston at home plus the 3.5 points.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals
Spread: Pitt -3

Andy Dalton got injured at the wrong time. Big Ben’s injury came at the right time. I could write a longer analysis, but sometimes it really is that simple.

The Pick: Pitt -3

By Michael Halpern
Email: michaelhalpern@imaginarybrickwall.com

NFL Running Back Roulette

In what can only be described as a big win for feminism, Christine Michael finally took hold of the Seattle Seahawks lead back role and … oh wait, Christine Michael is not a woman? Just a guy with a woman’s first name? Still, this should be considered some kind of half win, right? Either way, The Feminist led the way with 16 carries for 84 yards. The experts told you to pick up Bryce Brown, which should have had you scrambling to the waiver wire to pick up Michael, because the experts don’t know shit. Brown lagged behind with only 9 carries. The Feminist will be the preferred play next week vs. the St. Louis Rams.

If you missed out on The Feminist because you thought a woman just did not have the strength to be a starting NFL running back, which is reasonable, but also, shame on you, New England Patriots running back Brandon Bolden seemed to be the safer choice. After LeGarrette Blount got hurt last week, Bolden dominated the carries. He was the only between the tackles runner on the roster, in a game New England was sure to pound the football. But Bill Belichick does not only hate playing by the rules, he also hates your fantasy team. Joey Iosefa was signed off the practice squad the day before the game, and immediately out carried Bolden 14-10. Both players averaged 3.6 yards per carry, just in case you thought Belichick did it for any other reason than to piss you off. Bolden is not to be trusted next week vs. the New York Jets. Neither is Iosefa. And neither is Belichick, under any circumstance.

If you decided to stay away from Brown and Bolden yesterday, maybe you tested your luck with one of the Carolina Panthers running backs. In which case, it probably did not work out any better. Early in the week, the experts told you the easy handcuff for Jonathon Stewart all year, Cameron Artis-Payne, had been passed on the depth chart by Fozzy Whitaker. Then they said it could also be Mike Tolbert. And by the end of the week, they said it could be Artis-Payne after all. So the experts narrowed it down to one of the running backs on the roster. Thanks guys. Whitaker ended up with 2 carries, and Tolbert 5 carries. Artis-Payne led the way with 14 carries for 59 yards, adding 2 catches for 34 yards. If Stewart misses more time, Artis-Payne should continue to see the most carries, and is the preferred play next week vs. the Atlanta Falcons.

Tonight’s Monday Night Football game, the Detroit Lions vs. the New Orleans Saints, will have major fantasy football playoff implications for every league. The experts say New Orleans running back, Tim Hightower, is the best play tonight …

By Michael Halpern

Fantasy Football and Luck

Can we all just admit fantasy football is mostly luck? And by mostly, I mean like 99%. It makes betting on the coin toss at the Super Bowl look like a chess match.

We all pretend we are mini, fantasy Bill Belichick’s in our mind, but by the end of the season, it always comes down to whose ligaments are still attached, or which players can even still see straight.

In one fantasy league I’m in this year, my team is in the semifinals of the playoffs. In the other, I already finished second to last. So should I be patting myself on the back for my superior fantasy skills in one league, while scolding myself for not knowing crap about fantasy football in the other?

The reigning back-to-back champion in one league missed the playoffs this year. The team who made the finals three years in a row (winning one championship) from 2010-2012, finished dead last for the last three years, with a combined record of 6-33. What happened?

Even drafting Luck, could not guarantee luck would be on your side, as every Andrew Luck owner found out this year. Luck has been sidelined with a lacerated kidney for most of the season, injuries which one doctor described as, “not very common,” and similar to, “motor vehicle crashes or motorbike crashes.” Good luck trying to predict Luck would be so unlucky.

So if you find yourself curled up in the fetal position this Sunday after being eliminated from the playoffs, bemoaning the decision to bench (insert player here) who would have won you the week, take solace in the fact it was not your fault. It is just your fault for thinking you had anything to do with the outcome in the first place.

By Michael Halpern

Addicted to NFL RedZone

It felt so wrong. Like I was about to commit an act of treason.

I tried to rationalize it. It was the first week of the fantasy football playoffs. The football pick’em league I’m in with a few friends and family was coming down to the stretch run. My New York Jets were blowing out the Tennessee Titans 20-0.

So I did it. I turned off the Jets game in the 2nd quarter and turned on the NFL RedZone channel without looking back. I’m just a man.

RedZone is like the first weekend of March Madness, except with football, and it is on every Sunday for seventeen straight weeks. If crack cocaine was a TV show, this is what it would look like. Your previous relationships start to fall by the wayside, just to get some more of that RedZone.

It is no mystery how I got to this point. It started so innocently. I would flip to RedZone during commercial breaks, but would always be hyper-vigilant about getting back to the Jets game. It was never enough though. I started not minding if I missed a few plays here and there. Then all of a sudden I was missing entire drives! I no longer recognized the fan I had become.

I can’t deny it any longer. I am addicted to NFL RedZone. So please forgive me if I’m not chanting, “J E T S JETS! JETS! JETS!” next week after a big Jets touchdown, but am instead searching for the remote, muttering, “Redzone, Redzone, Redzone,” under my breath.

By Michael Halpern