Points of Interest: NFL Week 4 Over/Under picks and predictions

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Yikes that was a rough Week 3. Missed all three picks (two by the dreaded half point) and the Saquon Barkley injury has my fantasy team in shambles. No use dwelling on it. Trust me, I’ve done enough of that already. Let’s move on and take a look at the state of the NFL entering Week 4.

Checking in on the top and bottom performers, we don’t see a lot of changes from Week 3. Indianapolis surprisingly joins the top offenses at No. 4. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s struggles continued and I’m not sure you need any advanced stats to know it if you watched Sunday night’s game. They sit 30th by offensive EPA and 29th in per play efficiency.

On the defensive side, we’ve got a few big surprises. The 49ers who couldn’t force a turnover to save their lives last year have seven takeaways through three games and sit second by EPA. The next two teams in the ranks also come as a surprise. Tampa Bay and the L.A. Rams were 28th and 17th respectively by EPA in 2018 but sit third and fourth while allowing just 5.1 and 4.7 yards per play

OK, time to get back on the horse with some Week 4 NFL Over/Under picks.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS AT LOS ANGELES RAMS (-0.5, 49.5)

Back to the well with the Bucs after their shootout in Week 3. Looking at that game, the Bucs had several deep completions on busted coverages by the Giants defense, which ranks 31st in both number of and yards allowed on 20-plus yard passes. The Rams meanwhile rank No. 1 in both categories, allowing just four passes of 20-plus yards for 110 total yards and zero touchdowns.

That Rams defense also ranks third in defensive EPA and has done a lot to overshadow the struggling offense. Jared Goff had a better game Week 3, but the Rams still sit middle of the pack in offensive EPA, per play efficiency, and yards per play. The Buccaneers’ stop unit predictably regressed in Week 3 but still sits among the better defenses by EPA and suffered mainly from a couple of big plays, something the Rams offense has struggled to produce so far this season.

PREDICTION: Under 49.5

 

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS AT ARIZONA CARDINALS (+5, 48)

This is a tale of two struggling defenses in Arizona. The Cardinals were widely expected to suck and have lived up to that. They sit 26th by EPA and gave up 38 points to backup QB Kyle Allen and the Panthers. Seattle was less of a known quantity but haven’t looked a whole lot better. Their slow pace has hidden it somewhat, but they’ve still allowed the eighth most points against in what should have been a pretty easy opening schedule: Bengals, Steelers without Big Ben and the Saints without Drew Brees.

While the defenses have struggled, both offenses sit Top 10 in number of big plays. With Chris Carson struggling to hold onto the ball, we’re likely to see more Russel Wilson moving forward. Speed up the pace of play and that Seattle offense starts to look a lot more dangerous (see the second half of their game versus the Saints).

As a little bonus, we’ve seen both these teams fully embrace garbage time when behind, aggressively calling timeouts, passing the ball and generally trying to score points when the game is hopelessly out of reach (even when the clock reads 0:00.)

PREDICTION: Over 48

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-7, 45)

If you’d told me the Jacoby Brissett-led Colts were 2-1 through three weeks, I’d have assumed that their defense was playing great and the offense was playing safe and doing just enough. Instead, we have almost exactly the opposite. The defense sits 29th by EPA while the offense, as mentioned at the top, sits fourth. Brissett hasn’t done anything spectacular but has played well enough and made big throws when necessary, while Marlon Mack doesn’t seem to be missing Andrew Luck at all.

The Raiders, meanwhile, after an impressive Week 1 have gone back to being the Raiders we all remember from 2018. The offense – particularly Darren Waller – has shown flashes, but sits middle of the pack while the defense has predictably struggled, ranking 27th. With two lower-tier defenses and one (and a half?) functional offenses, I’d have put this total at or above the 2019 NFL average of 46.

PREDICTION: Over 45

Week 4: 0-3
Season to date: 3-6

Longshots to consider when betting the Shoemaker Mile

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Monday’s Shoemaker Miles Stakes at Santa Anita Park is a great race for a number of reasons. For starters, the Shoemaker Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race that offers the winner a guaranteed spot in the 2020 Breeders’ Cup Mile at Keeneland.

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

The race also features last year’s Preakness Stakes winner, War of Will, making his season debut. Despite his triumphs on the dirt in 2019, War of Will started his career on the turf and his pedigree suggests that he’s very likely to be just as successful on the grass. That said, the Shoemaker Mile will be his first start off of a six-month break, and I’m going to try to take a swing or two with some horses who could upset the apple cart at longer odds.

Let’s start out with the horse on the rail, Without Parole. He won the Group 1 St. James’s Palace Stakes going a mile at Ascot back in 2018. His three other career wins have all came at this mile distance as well. Granted, he hasn’t won in six races since the St. James’s Palace but he did finish a fast-closing third two starts ago in a much tougher U.S. debut in the TVG Breeders’ Cup MileIrad Ortiz Jr. rode Without Parole in that race and he will reclaim the mount on him again on Monday.

Without Parole has only had one race this year and it was in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational in which he finished second to last. However, he had several excuses right from the start of that race when he got squeezed coming out of the gate. He also raced in traffic throughout and got cut off several times in the stretch before Frankie Dettori — who had come from Europe to ride him at Gulfstream — finally just wrapped up on him. The Pegasus World Cup Turf also was a race that didn’t allow him to run on Lasix (furosemide) after he’d shown significant improvement racing on Lasix for the first time at the Breeders’ Cup.

Stream the 2020 Shoemaker Mile live here

How much of a factor might Lasix be for some horses? Well, let’s next look at the horse who finished last in the Pegasus World Cup Turf: Next Shares. In his following start (back on Lasix) in the Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile Stakes, Next Shares finished third (beaten just a neck) to River Boyne. Both Next Shares and River Boyne return in the Shoemaker Mile and I prefer the former as a pace play who has plenty of back-class. If you rewatch the Kilroe Mile, Next Shares covered a lot more ground than River Boyne. With a similar effort, Next Shares could certainly turn the tables.

The other thing to like about Next Shares is that his trainer, Richard Baltas, has entered speedster Neptune’s Storm in the Shoemaker Mile. That horse, along with Voodoo Song, should ensure a very brisk pace up front — they’ll also be kept honest by Blitzkrieg and War of Will, both of whom usually race on or near the lead. All of that speed adds up to good news for Next Shares. He’s a Grade 1 winner who has always done his best running when he’s had some pace to run into. The other two keys for him (like all stalking or closing-type runners) is clear running room late, and hopefully he’ll get that with Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez taking the mount.

Lastly, we should take a look at True Valour. It’s hard to make much of an excuse for his flat finish in the Kilroe last out, but he’s truly performed better than what his results on paper might indicate. In the Thunder Road Stakes in February, he looked pretty keen early and it took him a few strides to settle down without throwing his head around and fighting his rider. Turning for home, it was clear that jockey Andrea Atzeni had plenty of horse under him but was just waiting for some running room. It ended up coming too late because River Boyne was in a better spot and had already taken command. True Valour did split horses nicely in the closing stages and was half a jump away from finishing second.

If you go back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile, True Valour had excuses there, too. He was up on heels early and he again took a little bit of time to settle down into a comfortable stride. Then, turning for him, he was just waiting for running room but instead got stuck behind a wall of horses. True Valour ended up steadying pretty badly and lost all chance at that point. I’m a little worried about how headstrong he tends to be early in races, but there’s a scenario here that could have at least two horses battling for the lead early and opening up some daylight on the rest of the field. That means he’ll be less likely to be running up on anyone’s heels and it also ensures that he’ll have a nice setup. Whether he can navigate clear passage late in the race is a separate matter.

Longshot Selections

#1 Without Parole

#3 Next Shares

#2 True Valour

Watch the Shoemaker Mile on Monday, May 25 from 6-8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

How to bet an exacta on a horse race

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Betting an exacta can present a challenge on several levels.

There is, of course, the primary need to analyze past performances and decide which horses are going to finish first and second.

Yet because of the inherently lower payoffs as opposed to what you’ll find in a Pick 3 or Pick 4, you’ll need to structure your wagers effectively in order to turn your selections into a profitable wager.

For starters, an exacta can be a simple wager. If you like two horses equally, you can just box them in the exacta and collect so long as they finish 1-2 in any order. If you like one of them a little more, you can then bet more on the one you prefer, say $10 on a 1-2 exacta and $5 on 2-1.

If you’re a little more uncertain, make sure you structure your bet around the size of the field and the probable payoffs.

If you like a longshot, the higher probable payoffs give you the cushion you need to wager on more combinations and still turn a nice profit.

But if you’re dealing with favorites or horses at relatively low odds, you have to wager more efficiently to preserve your profit.

In a field of six or less, you’re best to either focus on one horse or box two of them instead of boxing three or more horses because of the small payouts the bet will most likely generate.

In a field of seven, a wise strategy would be to box your top two choices and then, if you are worried about other horses, play them top and/or bottom other the other horses. For example, box 1-2, then bet 1-2 over 3-4 and 3-4 over 1-2. This way you are getting coverage on four horses without having to box them.

Once you get an eight-horse field, as long as there is not an overwhelming favorite, you can expand the number of horses you box since the payoffs will typically be higher, giving you a better opportunity to offset the inevitable array of losing tickets in a boxed wager.