Ness Notes: Tuesday, Sep 29

by Larry Ness

NFL concluded Week 3 with a highly-anticipated MNF showdown between 2018 MVP Pat Mahomes and 2019 MVP Lamar Jackson. By game's end (KC won 34-20), Pat Mahomes won by KO. The Super Bowl MVP passed for 385 yards with four TDs, no INTs and earned a QB rating of 133.5. Jackson threw for just 97 yards (1 TD / 0 INTs / 73.1 rating) and added 83 yards rushing  but no TDs, Mahomes had now thrown nine TD passes without an interception in 121 attempts (QB rating of 114.3), as the Chiefs joined the Bills, Steelers and Titans at 3-0 in the AFC. The NFC still has three unbeaten teams, the Bears, Packers and Seahawks. The Packers and Seahawks are also 3-0 ATS, while the Titans stand with an 0-3 ATS record. The Bears, Bills, Chiefs and Steelers are all 2-1 ATS. 

The NFC 'Least' is back, as NFC East teams are a combined 2-9-1 SU and 2-10 ATS (combined minus-97 in point differential). There was a time when the NFC West was saddled with an NFC 'Worst' label but that hasn't been the case for quite awhile now. Seattle sits atop of the division that is a collective 9-3 SU and ATS, with a combined plus-100 point differential. Four playoff teams from the 2019 field are all in some early trouble. Houston (AFC South champs) are 0-3, NFC East champ Philly is 0-2-1 and NFC wild card entrant Minnesota is also 0-3. New Orleans won the NFC South with a 13-3 record in 2019 but dropped to 1-2 after losing a SNF game to the Packers. Those teams are a combined 1-10-1 SU and 2-10 ATS.

Speaking of pointspread numbers, here is the up-to-date tally on the season's first three weeks. Home teams went 6-9-1 SU and 7-9 ATS in Week 3, including home dogs going 0-3 SU and 1-2 ATS. Week 3 games averaged 52.2 PPG but unlike in Week 2 when games averaged 53.3 PPG with 11 of 16 games going over, Week 3 games saw nine games go over and seven stay under. Y-T-D totals have home teams 25-22-1 SU and 23-24-1 ATS (home dogs are 3-11 SU but 7-6-1 ATS). Over bettors are winning the 'battle' so far, with 29 overs and 19 unders (60.4%). Week 4 kicks off on Thursday, as 0-3 Denver plays at the 0-3 NY Jets. TV ratings should be sky-high.

Let's hear it for the Lightning. Brayden Point scored his playoff-best 14th goal and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday night to win the franchise's second Stanley Cup (won first in 2004). Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy, the 10th defenseman to win the award. The Lightning went 2-1 in the seeding round and then 16-6 in the playoffs, as last night's win made Tampa Bay a perfect 7-0 after a loss. Everyone remembers last season's shocking first-round sweep by Columbus after the Lightning had tied the NHL single-season wins record (62) and won the Presidents' Trophy with 128 points. However, the Lightning also exorcised playoff demons from 2015 in the Finals when they lost four consecutive games to Chicago after going up 2-1 plus Tampa Bay also blew 3-2 series leads in the Eastern Conference final in 2016 and 2018. Kudos to the NHL, which played 130 games in a bubble, 25 of them going into overtime. After more than 31,000 tests, there were zero positive coronavirus cases reported among players, coaches and staff inside the bubbles and just a handful among hotel, arena or restaurant employees. There was nothing close to a breakout. The NHL has targeted a tentative Dec 1 start date for next season, but even commissioner Gary Bettman acknowledged a later December or January start is possible. However, even that is no guarantee given the uncertainty.

We were never quite sure a MLB season (of ANY length) would be played in 2020 but "here we are!" Amazingly, the two teams most-affected by COVID-19, the Miami Marlins and the St Louis Cardinals, BOTH made the expanded 16-team playoff field. So did the Blue Jays, who were not allowed to play home games in Toronto and were forced to play 'home' games at their Triple-A park in buffalo (Toronto played its first 13 games on the road, while that stadium was made MLB-ready). Getting back to Miami, the Marlins became just the second team in MLB history to reach the postseason the year after losing at least 100 games, joining the 2017 Minnesota Twins. Their 16-season playoff drought was the second-longest active streak in the majors, behind the Seattle Mariners (19). The Marlins have been to the playoffs only twice before in franchise history but they won the World Series both times (watch out!). 

MLB's 60-game schedule was limited to regional play, so SEVEN of the eight wild card series features teams that haven't met since 2019! The exception is the series between AL East rivals Toronto and Tampa Bay. The Padres (NL's No. 4 seed) are in the postseason for the first time since 2006, the White Sox (AL's No. 7 seed) are in for the first time since 2008 and the Reds (NL's No. 7 seed) are in for the first time since 2013. Tampa Bay won the AL East for the first time since 2010 and is the AL's No. 1 seed. Oakland won the NL West for the first time since 2013, a comfortable seven games ahead of the Astros. Houston, which had won three AL West titles with 101, 103 and 107 wins from 2017-2019, is one of two teams to make the postseason with a losing record (29-31). The Brewers are the other team as Milwaukee also went 29-31, making the playoffs for a third straight season. 

The Yankees and Dodgers were favored to meet in the 2020 World Series and while the Dodgers put together MLB's best record (43-17), the Yankees fought through injuries to go a much more modest 33-27, entering as the AL's No. 5 seed. The Dodgers are solid favorites at BetOnline to win the NL at +140, followed by the Padres (+450), the Braves (+575) and the Cubs (+750). All other teams are 10-1 or higher. The AL race is tighter, with the Rays at +325 and the Yanks at +350. The Twins (+575), A's (+650), White Sox (+700) and the Indians (+700) follow, with the remaining teams at 10-1 or higher. The Dodgers are +300 to win the World Series, while the Rays and Yankees are both listed at +650. All others are 10-1 or higher.

The Four AL series begin Tuesday, with the four NL Game 1s set for Wednesday. All four AL series will also play on Wednesday (EIGHT games in all), as FOUR teams will be one loss away from elimination. This season's wild card round could be nicknamed, "The Fast and Furious," Play Ball!

Good luck...Larry

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