Soccer Handicapping Analytics: Expected Goals (xG)

by Hollywood Sports

Tuesday, Jul 14, 2020

Analytics can be a powerful tool in the handicapper toolbox when assessing potential value versus bookmaker odds. While statistical analysis has existed with sports since someone started keeping score, the analytics movement examines data to foster a better understanding of the sports we study and follow rather than relying solely on traditional statistics. Often this data can be more predictive of future activity and results than the conventional statistics. This offers exciting possibilities for sports bettors with the opportunity to deploy more accurate predictive data that a majority of the bettors in the market are not using. In baseball, the two most prevalent statistics associated with starting pitchers are Win-Loss record and Earned Runs Average. A statistical analysis of Win-Loss record determined that those numbers had little predictive value for that starting pitcher’s future performance. Data analysis went even deeper to discover that Fielding Independent Performance data such as strikeouts, walks, and batted ball activity offer a more accurate perspective of how a starting pitcher will perform in the future. Statistics such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA are attempts to provide more accurate descriptive and predictive measurements of how many runs a pitcher allows. In soccer, the idea of expected goals serves a similar vision. Goals scored and goals allowed may be definitive in determining a final score but that does not mean that those numbers are the most predictive regarding future scores. What are other statistics that are important in scoring goals? Most goals are scored by shooting at the net in open play (with exceptions being penalty kicks and opponents scoring own goals which do not appear to be reliable events that can be created without luck and the random behavior of an opponent). The more shots a team takes at the net, the more likely they will score. And the better quality of these shots, the more likely they will get past a keeper. Expected goals is a metric that determines a statistical probability on every scoring chance a team generates in a match. In this adventure of quantitative analysis, similar scoring situations are logged to determine a scoring probability from a deep data set in a way similar to measurements that predict the accuracy of an NBA shooter attempting a 22-foot corner 3-pointer. Shot attempts that have an empirical success rate of 35% or higher have been categorized as Big Chances. By reassessing a soccer match from the expected goals (xG) and expected goals allowed (xGA) given the activity and nature of all the shot attempts in a match. If xG analysis offers a better evaluation regarding how a team is playing, then it could provide a more precise way to measure subsequent action. For example, Southampton entered match week 32 of the 2019-20 English Premier League season with 38 goals scored. However, their xG of 44.20 suggested that they should have scored at least six more goals on the season given the average likelihood of events regarding their scoring opportunities. Bettors that decided that this information was evidence of the Saints covering the goal-line spread with their match at Watford or that the final score would finish over the 2.5 total were rewarded with Southampton’s 3-1 victory. Armed with expected goals and expected goals allowed data for both teams in an upcoming match can offer handicappers a powerful weapon in exposing the hidden value against the posted side and totals numbers of the bookmaker. But these potential strengths of using expected goals data do come with some caveats. There are some disadvantages to relying on expected goals data exclusively. For starters, one should not consider this objective data. At the beginning of the statistical endeavor, there is a human being assessing and categorizing shot attempts (even if eventually this analysis is then replicated by artificial intelligence). The mathematical formulas are all creations by human beings that are deployed in the quantitative analysis. As long as we live in a pre-Singularity world, this phenomenon is inevitable. And it is ok! Just remember that with the human eye and the touch comes the possibility of human error. There are competing expected goals systems in the marketplace. While ERA and field goal percentage are agreed upon statistics, xG remains a proprietary activity with different agents developing and propagating their numbers. Second, the concept of overachieving or underachieving can be misused. Expected goals attempt to determine the most likely outcomes. But not all outcomes are created equal. Lionel Messi is going to score more goals than Glenn Murray dribbling up the left-wing and talking a shot from 30 yards out. Ederson is more likely to make a spectacular save in that situation than Tom Heaton. While xG attempts to minimize outlier efforts, some players have earned their outlier status on both ends of the equation. Betting against Real Madrid (or taking more Unders) because their number of goals scored seems to be overachieving their expected goals may be foolhardy because they have Lionel Freaking Messi! Similarly, banking on bad teams to start playing closer to their expected points calculation (xPTS — a formula attempting to incorporate xG and xGA to reproduce their expected points for the season) may be foolhardy because that team may truly embody the outlier bad xG and xGA numbers. Third, be careful to not confuse recent results as overachievement (or underachievement) when what may be going on is the in-season improvement (or decline) of a team’s quality of play. Teams do get better (or worse) as the season moves forward. Coaching matters. Players improve. Injuries sometimes have disproportionate impacts. Teams can suffer from a loss of morale. An assumption in analytics that attempts to describe past results for predictive value moving forward is that those past results remain a credible assessment of the team’s quality. Yet team quality can be fluid. Fourth, regression to the mean is a long-term expectation so finding discrepancies between current results with expected goals results may not immediately produce dividends. Be patient. And remember what John Maynard Keynes said about the long-run (to paraphrase, we are all dead). Waiting for what may seem to be inevitable regression can be Fool’s Gold. Last, keep in mind that because the margins are thinner in soccer, the impact of expected goals is smaller. In basketball, identifying discrepancies between an expected score and a projected score using Points-Per-Possession analytics can be more fruitful since a college basketball game averages around 130 combined points per game with an NBA averaging over 200 combined points per game. Because soccer generally sees one zero to six combined goals scored per match, there are fewer scoring opportunities for which the discrepancies exposed via expected goals analysis translates into an actual difference in score. Your team can dominate their opponent on the pitch but still settle for a 1-1 draw. Because there are more scoring opportunities in basketball, the expected value identified from Points-Per-Possession analysis has more opportunities to demonstrate itself. These caveats aside, expected goals is a valuable tool to help the handicapping of soccer. Despite Liverpool winning the 2019-20 English Premier League championship, the xPTS analysis still projects Manchester City to be the better team this season. Those of us that used that information to help to conclude side with Man City in their July 2nd meeting were rewarded with a 4-0 victory. Relying on expected goals analysis alone will probably not be profitable. However, adding expected goals into the array of angles from which to determine value relative to the numbers that the bookmakers have posted should make successful soccer handicapping even more lucrative. Best of luck for us — Frank.

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2020 NFL Futures: Will the Pittsburgh Steelers Make the Playoffs?

by Jack Banks

Monday, Jul 13, 2020

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be bolstered by the return of Ben Roethlisberger and I expect it to be enough to propel the team back into the postseason following a two-year absence. Pittsburgh got off to an 8-5 SU start last season despite not having Big Ben available, only to lose their final three games. Defensively, the Steelers are talented and in fact, finished last season with one of the best stop-units in the league in the metrics we care about the most. The 2020 home schedule shows a solid chance at a 7-1 or even an 8-0 SU mark. I have them losing four to five road games and expect a 10-6 season at the very least as long as Big Ben stays healthy.  The tools on both sides of the line of scrimmage are in place and we expect a return to the playoffs in 2020. - Jack Banks.

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Football Handicapping: Five Factors

by Wayne Root

Saturday, Jul 11, 2020

There are many ways to handicap football games when broken down to the basics. Here are 5 of the most important factors to share from 35 years of beating the Vegas number. In most match-ups, a combination of all factors weighs into the final outcome. However, many handicappers choose to rely on one of the following methods more than another. It is the “identify” of that handicapper. As any CEO in the business world can do, handicapping "numbers" is very similar to crunching the numbers of a financial report. Let's review the 5 most popular methods I've used during my 35 year career as “America's Oddsmaker” and “The King of Vegas Sports Gambling.”1) TECHNICALThere are more "technicals" available for each game than any other method. For example, when one hears that team A is 9-1 versus team B over the last 10 years- that is a technical. There are teams that are 9-2 at home and 2-9 on the road. Night games vs. day games and grass vs. turf are common examples of "techs". One has to consider how teams play within their division, as opposed to outside their division. A team like the Oakland Raiders was once labeled as "unbeatable" on Monday Night Football. That technical trend is no longer applicable. Trends must be updated often. One can go back into the history of numbers and find all these "stats and trends". Many trends follow patterns that don’t change for the way teams play. West coast teams traveling to play on the east coast with that early 1:00 start had always favored the east coast teams. The time change and travel took its toll. But the oddsmakers have offset that by adding more points to the east coast team adjusting the spread. This is not an automatic bet any longer. Another one (the NFL is trying to avoid) is playing three consecutive games on the road. It used to be another automatic play going against the road team on that third road game. The oddsmakers have adjusted their point spreads but the average gambler has not. These are the type of technical points of reference to be careful. 2) EMOTIONALOne has to watch certain games where emotional factors are involved. This is especially true in college where emotions can run especially high (due to youth and bitter long-term rivalries). Revenge is good for "an emotional outlook" of playing a game. An embarrassing loss from the previous year also needs to be considered. There are certain rivalry games where all stats can be thrown out and the underdog will play like the World Champions. In the NFL, what you watched last week may be a huge change of play this week. A team that looked embarrassing and pathetic in week four might come out in week five and play completely opposite from the previous week. The oddsmakers are guaranteed to have made the line adjustments to trick the bettors. Beware and check with Wayne Root. There's usually at least one game each week which this applies. 3) SITUATIONALThis is a combination of technical and emotional scenarios. There could be a "key" injury that is "situational" to that game. The weather could become a major factor in analyzing the game. Be careful of placing too much emphasis on injuries, as the team with the injured star often rises to the occasion for that situation. And when it comes to weather, wind is the number 1 factor- far ahead of rain or snow. This factor and by me usually betting live underdogs are the reasons to bet these games as close to kickoff as you can. There’s rarely an instance where betting a Sunday game on Friday is paramount. 4) FUNDAMENTALHandicapping by using "fundamentals" is simply looking at basic fundamental “X and O” football stats. When team A is ranked number 1 in passing versus the number 27 passing defense, one has to look at betting team A. There are teams- due to age and lack of speed- that have trouble on turf. Make sure the fundamentals are in place in terms of statistics when doing the analysis. The playoff teams that rush the ball the most seem to win more often. Be sure to check rushing stats versus "against the rush" stats before placing a wager in this method of handicapping. And separate regular season versus Playoff stats- it's a whole new season.5) BETTING AGAINST THE PUBLICWayne Allyn Root used to notice that most of his friends and fans lost nonstop in sports wagering. So a light bulb went off in his head over 30 years ago AND still applies to this day. Wayne began studying public opinion- and betting against it. He simply calls it "going against the public.” Experts might call it “Contrarian Betting Strategy.” His thinking is 90% "contrarian" to the public. And he has been the most successful handicapper in America for 35 years- starting with his days as co host with Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder on Financial News Network (now CNBC). Wayne's track record for over three (3) decades has been the source of the media declaring him "America's Oddsmaker,” “The Face of Las Vegas Gaming” and “The King of Vegas.” It is the reason that Wayne was awarded a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars- alongside Elvis, Liberace, Wayne Newton, Bobby Darin and Siegfried & Roy. He is the only professional sports handicapper ever honored (and the youngest recipient ever). All these years later, Wayne's focus remains on betting against the public. The public has a difficult time betting underdogs- so WAR bets on the underdogs. That's where the point spread value is found. When the point spread is rapidly escalating because of a "key" injury, WAR bets on the injured team. WAR loves to bet against popular “public teams” and wager on what he calls “orphans” (teams the betting public ignores or believes has virtually no chance of winning). 

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2020 NFL Futures Odds: New England Patriots Unchanged

by AAA Sports

Saturday, Jul 04, 2020

Signing QB Cam Newton hasn’t really impacted the Patriots betting odds for the 2020 NFL Season … yet.  The Pats remain pegged for 9.0 wins at BookMaker, although that’s a heavily juiced number and other sportsbooks have moved to 9.5. Their odds of making the playoffs are -230 at Bovada, which isn’t much different from where they were at (across the board) before signing Newton.New England has enjoyed a historic run of dominance in the AFC East. Tom Brady took over as the starting QB for the franchise in 2001. Since then, the Patriots have won their division all but two seasons. One of those two seasons was 2008 when Brady basically missed the entire season (team still went 11-5 SU). The other was 2002, his first full year as the starter. That’s 17 division championships in 19 seasons, if you’re keeping score at home.The last time that the Patriots won fewer than nine games in a season was the year 2000, Bill Belichick’s first on the job. They almost certainly will experience a drop in wins from last year (when they won 12 games). But are oddsmakers too pessimistic towards the 2020 Patriots?New England’s only competition (in the AFC East) this season figures to be the Buffalo Bills. Ironically, the Bills have not won the division (or a playoff game) since 1995 -- when Cam Newton was just six years old. The Bills have made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons and improved their roster this offseason. BookMaker has them projected for 9.0 wins this year as well and they are “favored” to make the playoffs at Bovada. It’s not that the Bills are without question marks entering 2020. Quarterback is probably the biggest one as Josh Allen isn’t an accurate passer. The Bills seem to have a better overall roster (right now) compared to the Patriots, but I hardly love them to go Over the win projection of 9.0 either.For the record, don’t expect much from either the New York Jets or Miami Dolphins in 2020. I expect both of those teams to finish with 10 or more losses. If you’re a firm believer in Belichick and like the Newton signing, then by all means bet the Patriots to go Over the season win total. It’s a two-horse race in the AFC East this season. 

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PGA Golf Preview: Rocket Mortgage Challenge

by Matt Fargo

Tuesday, Jun 30, 2020

The fourth event since the PGA Tour restart takes place this week with the Rocket Mortgage Challenge taking place from Detroit Golf Club. This is the second year DGC has hosted this event so course history is meaningless when looking for a winner. Defending champion Nate Lashley won at -25, six shots clear of Doc Redmond, so there was not a lot of Sunday drama which has not been the case so far this season since the shutdown.Detroit Golf Club is a par 72 course that measures in at 7,334 yards and the players tore it up last year. Part of the reason was that a lot of rain hit the area leading up to the event so greens were soft and receptive and players were able to take dead aim at flags. That should not be the case this year with conditions being dryer so there will be more of a risk reward factor. Additionally, the rough will be longer and with no patrons to trample down the grass, keeping the ball in the fairway is a priority. The past three events have seen a star-studded field but that is not the case this week as only 10 of the top 20 players ranked in the FedEx Cup standings are projected to participate with a pair of events at Muirfield on deck. All players ranked in the top ten in the OWGR were in the field the last two weeks but only three are teeing it up this week, Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed and Bryson DeChambeau. Similar to last year’s edition, it should be a wide open event.Key performance stats for this week include Strokes Gained: Approach and Par 4 Scoring. Over the first three weeks, Doc Redmond leads the field in SG: Approach followed by Harold Varner III, Lucas Glover, Viktor Hovland and Tyrell Hatton. As for SG: Par 4, the top five are Hatton, DeChambeau, Bubba Watson, Patrick Rodgers and Kevin Na. This is the first event with four par fives and leading the way Eagles gained is Hovland, followed by Alex Noren, Cameron Davis, Redmond and Maverick McNealy. At Bovada Sportsbook, DeChambeau is the odds on favorite at +650 as he has posted finishes of T3, T8 and T6 over the last three weeks to go along with three other tops fives prior to the shutdown. Simpson is next at +1100 following a win at the RBC Heritage two weeks ago. Hatton is +1200 as he has a pair of victories and a four top six finishes in his past five starts. Reed comes in at +1400 but he has been pretty uneven with T7, MC and T24 the last three weeks. Closing the top five is Hideki Matsuyama at +1800 who missed the cut last week.Other notables include Tony Finau +2500, Rickie Fowler +2800, Brandt Snedeker +4000 and Jason Day +5000.

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Major League Baseball's Back (Fingers Crossed)

by Larry Ness

Monday, Jun 29, 2020

After negotiations between owners and players failed to produce a settlement, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred instituted a 60-game schedule. It's expected to begin July 23 or July 24 and last until late September. Teams will play their four divisional opponents 10 times each and five interleague opponents in the same geographical area four games apiece (example: NL East will play AL East). The playoff structure remains the same (10 teams) but significant changes are that the National League games will use a designated hitter and when a game moves to extra innings, teams will begin with a runner on second base (that will NOT apply for postseason games).Before continuing, let me first address 'the elephant in the room.' Covid-19 hovers over almost all aspects of our lives and each sport has protocols to be followed. However, to face reality, they are all 'flying blind.' As generals say during war time, "Conditions on the ground will dictate." Here are three conditions (according to reports) that could lead to the season being canceled: 1) if restrictions on travel throughout the country are imposed; 2) if the season poses "an unreasonable health and safety risk to players or staff to stage those games,"; and 3) if the competitive integrity of the season is compromised by the number of players who are available.The above is beyond our control, so let's talk baseball. Before the start of the 2020 season was postponed in March, the Dodgers and Yankees were favored to meet in the 2020 World Series. Following the announcement of a 60-game season, the World Series title odds were released by various sportsbooks. At Bovada, the Dodgers and Yankees were co-favorites at +375, followed by the Astros at +800. No other team was better than 15-1. At the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates were 400-to-1, with the Orioles and Marlins listed at 300-to-1.When the coronavirus pandemic suspended the start of the baseball season back in March, the Dodgers had the highest season win total at Caesars Sportsbook at 102.5. Caesars' adjusted win totals for the 60-game season look like this (note: teams must play a minimum of 59 games for season win-total bets to be valid, according to Caesars Sportsbook's rules). The Dodgers opened at 37 wins and the Yankees checked in at 36.5. 18 teams had win totals between 34.5 (Astros/Twins) to 30.5 (Brewers/Red Sox). The Orioles (20.5) and Tigers (21.5) had the fewest win-total predictions (five teams had predictions of under 25 wins).Here's some history you may want to know before you make a future bet. The most wins through 60 games over the past five years were 41, 41, 42, 42 and 39. The average winning percentage of the worst playoff team in each league over the last five seasons is .549 (that translates to 33-27 over 60 games). The worst "playoff" team through 60 games was between 31 and 33 wins in each league in each season (again over the past five years).The volatility of a 60-games season could see some "surprise teams." Remember, the Nationals (2019 champs) were just 19-31 after 50 games last season and 27-33 after 60 games. I think it's possible to make the case that as many as 15 teams are capable of going 39-21 over a 60-game stretch but most would be incapable of sustaining that over 162 games. There's a pretty decent chance that a 31-29 team will make the playoffs, while a 32-28 team will miss it. Could the "third wild-card" team" (the one just missing out), actually have a better record than at least one division winner? It would hardly be a shocker.MLB has always been my favorite sport to bet/handicap but clearly we will be faced with unique challenges this season. It's unlikely that starters will pitch 'deep' into games the first few weeks and we could see many more teams turning to the practice of using "Openers," a la Tampa Bay (the depth of the Rays' bullpen could give them an edge in this shortened season).With the launch of Al's new site this upcoming August, I will feature a daily "Ness Notes" feature, EXCLUSIVELY at It will run Monday through Friday, available by 1:00 ET."Let's play ball!" The NBA and NHL are scheduled to join the 'party' in late July as well, virus permitting.Good luck...Larry

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2020 NBA Futures Betting: Dallas Mavericks to Win Western Conference

by Power Sports

Saturday, Jun 27, 2020

When it comes to predicting future outcomes, I’ve always been of the belief that a team’s point differential is a far more useful tool than their actual won-loss record. This goes for any sport. If this holds true for the Dallas Mavericks, then they very well may emerge as a team you’ll want to be betting on when the NBA resumes games on July 30th.The Mavs owned the league’s 6th best point differential (+6.1 per game) at the time of the stoppage. The only teams to have outscored their opponents by a higher margin per game were: Milwaukee (+11.2), the Lakers (7.4), the Clippers (6.5), Toronto (+6.5) and Boston (+6.3). Collectively, that quintet owned the five best won-loss records in the league. Dallas posted 23 victories by 10 more points in their first 67 games. So they won more than a third of their games by double digits. Only four teams can say they won a higher number of games by 10 or more points.So why didn’t the Mavs have a better record than 40-27 (straight up)? Simple - they were a league-worst 2-9 SU in games decided by three points or less. They also lost three overtime games. Something I have constantly harped on through the years is that a team’s record in close games is NOT a sign of skill, but rather good (or bad) luck. Through its first 67 games, Dallas was clearly snakebit in this regard. Despite the unprecedented way in which the NBA has chosen to conclude its season, the Mavs should experience better results in close games moving forward. One negative sign for the Mavericks moving forward is their 10-16 SU record versus teams that have a .500 or better record. With the bottom-feeders no longer playing games, Dallas will be unable to “beat up” on those opponents. They’ll have to be better against stiffer competition. Of course, many of the close losses that the Mavs sustained in their first 67 games came to .500 or better teams. Again, look for them to be better in that situation.From a personnel standpoint, the Mavs are of course led by Luka Doncic, who has the most 30+ point triple doubles in the league. They won’t have either Willey Cauley-Stein (opted-out of playing) or veteran guard Courtney Lee (calf injury), but are expected to sign Trey Burke as a replacement for Lee.The Mavs lead the league in offensive efficiency and were a league-best 21-10-2 ATS in road games. Remember that homecourt advantage is now “out the window.”  Dallas is currently 15-1 to win the Western Conference at Bovada Sportsbook. Normally, I’d never consider a team at those odds in the NBA Playoffs, but if there was ever a year for a long-shot, it’s definitely this one. Something to keep an eye on - it’s fairly imperative that the Mavs move out of the 7th spot in the Western Conference. Finishing there would likely result in a first round playoff matchup with the Clippers. Even if they can move into 6th place, Dallas will be much better suited for a playoff run. 

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Sports Betting in 2020: A Summer Like No Other

by Scott Rickenbach

Saturday, Jun 27, 2020

With the Covid-19 Pandemic still on the minds of everyone in the summer of 2020, sports bettors and professional handicappers can at least finally take some solace in the fact that North American sports are set to resume in July. Below I am providing a few quick hitters or food for thought on each of the 3 sports that are about to be underway. Of course, we will soon all be turning most of our attention toward football. Indeed, preparation for the upcoming college and NFL seasons is already underway but now is the time to talk about NBA, NHL, and MLB action!In my 3 decades of exposure to sports betting and my 2 decades as a professional sports handicapper, I certainly have never seen anything like this - none of us has! The fact remains the Covid-19 Pandemic will continue to impact the sports world even as we now, finally, play on! It looks like MLB finally has figured things out and is set to resume in the final week of July just prior to NBA and NHL resuming.In terms of MLB, I feel the handicapping world needs to pay special attention to the scheduling for this shortened season. With playing each divisional foe 10 times and then the corresponding division foes (East vs East, Central vs Central, West vs West) being played 5 times I feel this could have a big impact on teams’ success factors. I will use the NL East as an example. Many feel that the Braves, Nationals, Mets and Phillies each have a respectable shot at winning the divisional title. However, the Marlins are nowhere close to being in that discussion. When also factoring in that Miami’s AL East foes will include the Yankees and Rays plus respectable Blue Jays and Red Sox teams, I just do not foresee the Marlins winning many games at all. This is just one example so keep scheduling in mind in a strange 2020!As for the NHL, I feel this could be the least impacted of the sports. These teams will be going quickly into post-season action and I feel the neutral ice venues will not be a big factor. That said, the usual post-season success factors of riding teams with strong team chemistry and grabbing hot goalies as well as watching for big coaching or other match-up edges in the series match-up are all important. Use these factors as “bread and butter” for profits at the betting window throughout the NHL post-season.The NBA, like the NHL, will have the neutral site factor in play. Some believe that teams with a sub-par road performance factor may not perform as well in this situation. However, keep in mind that going away for a true road game at enemy territory is one thing. But, traveling just once to stay at a neutral site location for the length of a post-season is another thing altogether. Take the 76ers as an example. They were so strong at home but so unimpressive on the road this season. However, per my above argument, I feel that does not mean they should be automatically faded. In fact, a bigger factor for the post-season is now the health factor that has been afforded by the time off. Now the Sixers have Ben Simmons back and Joel Embiid healthy again. That is likely to prove to be a bigger factor to consider! The point being that health factors or roster changes since the season was shutdown are worth considering.

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NBA Restart: Western Conference #8 Seed Prediction

by Oskeim Sports

Friday, Jun 26, 2020

When the NBA resumes its 2019-20 season in late July, there will be five Western Conference teams with a realistic shot at earning the eighth and final playoff spot. Memphis currently holds the No. 8 position and four others are within four games of the Grizzlies. In my opinion, one team has a greater chance of securing the No. 8 seed than all the rest.  Before deciding whether my conclusion is sound, one must understand the format for the remainder of the season.Return to Play PlanWhen NBA commissioner Adam Silver, team owners, and the NBA players association met to determine how to complete the 2019-20 season, there was no shortage of ideas. Ultimately, the powers-at-be decided to finish the regular season, include a play-in tournament, and incorporate a postseason.When the season restarts at the end of July, the 22 teams that were invited to Orlando will each play eight regular season games. Once those games are finished, the top eight seeds in each conference can be determined.The idea of a play-in tournament received an overwhelming amount of support If the No. 9 seed finishes within four games of the No. 8 seed at the conclusion of the regular-season, the two teams will meet in a two-game play-in tournament.The No. 8 seed has to win just one game while the No. 9 seed must win two in order to claim the eighth and final playoff spot. Once the top eight teams are set, the postseason will continue as normal with seven-game series in each round to determine the NBA champion.Understanding the Return to Play Plan, bettors can find the best value bets while also finding a longshot in the mix.Playing It SafeMathematically, the remainder of the season favors the Memphis Grizzlies. Memphis (32-33) checks as a modest favorite to make the postseason. The Grizzlies will earn the No. 8 seed (-190 at BetOnline) as they are seven games behind seventh-place Dallas Mavericks.  It’s difficult to imagine a scenario under which Memphis makes up seven games on the Mavericks.The Grizzlies can go 0-8 (+550 for any team to go 0-8 after restart at BetOnline) and still finish with the eighth seed if the other teams involved – New Orleans, Portland, Sacramento, and San Antonio – go 3-5 or worse. The likelihood of four teams going 3-5 or worse does not seem all that probable until you consider the opponents. The final eight games for the 22 remaining teams will be against very good teams. There will be games against the Lakers, Clippers, and Rockets, for example. When you think of it that way, four teams at the bottom of the conference going 3-5 is possible. With rookie Ja Morant at the point, it’s hard to imagine the Grizzlies losing eight straight. Morant is shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor and averaging 17.6 points and 6.9 assists for the season. Morant and New Orleans star Zion Williamson are the top two candidates for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year.Memphis is worth a consideration for grabbing the No. 8 seed in the West.The LongshotOf the five teams realistically in the mix – Phoenix trails Memphis by six games and should not be a factor – one stands out as the best of the underdog bets. Portland is given +450 odds at BetOnline to make the playoffs and if you’re willing to take the risk, is worth a wager. The big reason why is the return of two Trail Blazers that will make a difference up front – Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins. The Trail Blazers backcourt is outstanding with perennial All-Star Damian Lillard (28.9 ppg, 7.8 apg) and C.J. McCollum (22.5 ppg) running the offense. Portland’s issue is on defense where both Nurkic (7-feet) and Collins (6-11) can shine. All Portland has to do is maintain its hold on ninth place. Currently, Portland, New Orleans, and Sacramento are tied for ninth place. They are all 3.5 games behind No. 8 Memphis. Remember, the format … if the eighth-place team is within four games, there is a play-in tournament.But, what if all three teams remain tied? Who advances? That would be Portland. Yes, the Pelicans beat the Trail Blazers in all four matchups this season, but the Trail Blazers would still get the nod to advance. The tiebreaker, in this case, is winning percentage. Heading into the remainder of the season, Portland has a .439 winning percentage. New Orleans and Sacramento are tied at .438. With Portland in ninth place at the end of the regular season, they would then have to beat Memphis twice to advance to the playoffs. In the two teams’ only meeting this season, Memphis won 111-104. However, that game was played with Nurkic and Collins. That pair makes Portland a solid bet to advance to the postseason.

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2020 NHL Playoffs: Stanley Cup Futures Bets

by Sean Murphy

Friday, Jun 26, 2020

The NHL is set to return to the ice with a revamped playoff format in late-July. That means it's an excellent time to revisit some Stanley Cup futures bets that I still feel hold considerable value, even in these admittedly unusual circumstances. Here are two plays from each conference to consider (odds courtesy of BetAnySports).Eastern ConferencePittsburgh Penguins: 12-1The Penguins didn’t make any big moves on deadline day – their biggest acquisition was Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild two weeks prior. Zucker has proven to be an excellent fit on a line with Sidney Crosby, providing some nice secondary scoring over the month leading up to the Covid stoppage.That’s not to say the Pens didn’t tinker with their lineup a little, adding veteran forward Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks while also re-acquiring Conor Sheary along with Evan Rodrigues from the Buffalo Sabres.I like the make-up of this Pens squad as it stands, particularly on the blue line where Pittsburgh has built a solid but unheralded defensive corps that matches up with most teams they’ll face come playoff time. The x-factor could be between the pipes where Pittsburgh will need Tristan Jarry and Matt Murray to round into form quickly if they're going to go on a deep run.Carolina Hurricanes: 45-1This may be my favorite Stanley Cup value play on the entire board. The Hurricanes bolstered their blue line prior to the trade deadline, acquiring Sami Vatanen from the Devils and Brady Skjei from the Rangers. Carolina, of course, gained immeasurable playoff experience during last year’s improbable run to the Eastern Conference Final, where it was ushered out by what was simply a strong Bruins squad. This year, I believe the Canes can match up with anyone in the East, noting they already took down the mighty Washington Capitals, who were then defending Stanley Cup champions, in the opening round of last year’s playoffs. The Canes young corps has only gotten stronger this season and I liked the savvy move of bringing Justin Williams back out of retirement for one more run at the Cup. It’s probably only a matter of time before head coach Rod Brind’Amour brings a cup back to Raleigh – why not this year when there may be more variance than ever?Western ConferenceVegas Golden Knights: 7-1The Knights appeared to be rounding into form at the right time as they ascended the Western Conference standings prior to the Covid stoppage. This is a roster that has only gotten stronger since going all the way to the Stanley Cup Final in the team’s NHL debut season in 2017-18. Given last year’s somewhat surprising early playoff exit, the hunger will certainly be there for the Knights to go on a deep playoff run this year. Vegas didn’t stand pat in the days leading up to the trade deadline, acquiring Stanley Cup winner Alec Martinez to strengthen their defensive corps while also adding some depth between the pipes with Robin Lehner coming over from the Blackhawks. Even Nick Cousins looks like a nice under the radar pickup to add to their depth up front. The Western Conference is wide open this Summer and I would put the Knights right up there with the Blues as one of the favorites to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup Final.Vancouver Canucks: 50-1While the Canucks won’t be a sure thing to get out of the first round, let alone go on a Stanley Cup run, I do like them at the current price point as they offer a lot of upside, albeit with a young roster that doesn’t have a great deal of playoff experience to lean on.Bringing in two-time Stanley Cup winner Tyler Toffoli from the Kings was arguably one of the biggest moves leading up to the trade deadline, and since joining the team he has proven to be a tremendous fit by all accounts. With Brock Boeser sidelined, Toffoli provides some much needed scoring punch up front.While the Canucks future is bright, I do think they’re in ‘win now’ mode as well. Once again, with the West there for the taking, this might just be the year that a Canadian team finally ends the 27-year drought and hoists Lord Stanley’s Cup. 

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2020 NFL Preview: AFC Conference

by Jim Feist

Friday, Jun 26, 2020

Preparing for the NFL has been remarkably different for the 2020 season than any other in my nearly half of a century of handicapping.  I do not have to tell anybody out there how crazy the first half of 2020 has been and how the Pandemic has seen the cancelling of sports along with a devastating toll on the lives of people all around the world.  We have witnessed personal and business economies hurt or ruined in some cases and many businesses that have not survived.  This has been one of those years you just have to live through and hopefully come out the other end stronger.   We recently have seen baseball looking to start their season on or around July 24 with a 60-game season. Plus, the NHL looks to return around the same time and proceed directly to a playoff format.Still be determined is the effect this Covid-19 year will have on the NFL season. The NFL still appears on schedule for a preseason in August and a regular season week one in early September. Albeit with many new protocols in place which likely will include no fans in the stadiums. I have been doing my work and have some very in-depth analysis of each team in each division. However, for the purposes of this article, I’ll limit my analysis to an abbreviated look at the AFC divisions. AFC EAST:  You cannot mention the AFC East without talking about the team that has dominated this division for a long time now, the New England Patriots.  This will be a new Patriots team for 2020. Gone is future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, who departed for the warmer climate of Tampa Bay.  The Pats dominance of this division may be coming to an end. I am not saying they can't win the East, especially when no team might come out of the AFC East with a record much over the .500 mark. The Patriots main challenger will be the Buffalo Bills, who have that excellent defense and exceptionally good coaching. The Jets looked to have improved in the draft and the Dolphins will likely still struggle.  Pats might not have much to contend with in this division other than the Bills. AFC NORTH: The Baltimore Ravens should once again be the team to beat in the North. The Cincinnati Bengals got the number one draft choice and took QB Joe Burrow from LSU. While Burrow looks to be a great NFL prospect, I still see too many shortcomings with the Bengals for them to be any factor this season.  The Steelers welcome back QB Ben Roethlisberger, who knows how to win games.  This will automatically make the Steelers a contender again for the division.  As for the Browns, it is hard to predict a good year ever for this team. No matter how much talent they possess, the team fails to produce consistently year in and year out.  I do not expect the Ravens offense to surprise teams as they did last year with their unique offensive attack. Defensive coordinators will be prepared this year for the Ravens and that should tighten this division considerably between the Ravens and Steelers.AFC SOUTH: The AFC South has seen the Houston Texans rise to the top as the team to beat in this division. They came awfully close last year as we all remember that big playoff loss at Kansas City where they led 24-0 before the Chiefs rallied for a 20-point win. Still, they have an excellent coach in Bill O’Brien to keep moving them forward.  The Tennessee Titans just made the playoffs last year and came close to making a big impact in the post season behind an incredibly good rushing attack. They beat the Patriots and Ravens before losing to the Chiefs, 24-35. Quarterback still looks to be an issue however and that likely will hurt them once again this year. The Jacksonville Jaguars will be a dumpster fire this year and any wins they get will be surprising. The Indianapolis Colts went out and got veteran QB Phillip Rivers in the offseason. Rivers is getting old but still knows how to win and that is what this team needs, veteran leadership at quarterback. Does he have much left in the tank?  For me, the Texans are once again the team to beat here but if Rivers is anything like his old self, we will see this as a close race for the South. AFC WEST:  Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs look to defend their championship and appear to have all the pieces returning to do just that. I think their main competition in that division is going to come from the Denver Broncos.  I like what Denver did in the offseason. I do not usually give a lot of credit to John Elway, but he did a great job and they are going to be much tougher this season. If the Chiefs stumble at all, I think it can be the Broncos that derail them. The LA Chargers will be in a rebuilding mode this year as I do not expect much out of this club. The Las Vegas Raiders have a new home, but I do not see much improvement for the team. They picked up QB Marcus Mariota to challenge for the starting spot, but this club will likely remain right around the .500 mark. What I will say about the NFC is that I expect the 49ers to come right back this season and be the team to beat in that conference.  Let’s hope for a full NFL season and hopefully the return of the fans to the stadiums.

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2020 MLB: National League Futures Bets

by Brian Bitler

Thursday, Jun 25, 2020

I am really looking forward to the start of Major League Baseball.  Maybe it’s the total lack of sports, or maybe this shortened 60-game season with the enhanced inter-league schedule and other facets of the game that have been streamlined. This has given tremendous values for futures bettors out there if you know what to look for in a baseball team.  In this article we will now look for value in the National League Pennant futures odds, as posted at Bovada Sportsbook.I really think this short schedule will help the younger teams, as they are the ones that typically fade as the season wears on, and we get past the all-star break. But none of that will happen this season, and each team's shortfalls will not be as pronounced.  My future World Series bet in 2018 was the Red Sox which paid out nicely for me as I got in on that one in early spring training.  I fell just short with the Houston Astros last season, as they fell to the Washington Nationals, but that was one great series for viewers.This season, I have circled a few bargains to be had at Bovada.  Let’s first start with the National League Pennant winner.  I have 3 top bets.  One is the Cincinnati Reds at 12-1.  I think Cincy's value is extremely high, as it made a lot of great moves in the offseason.  Another is the always-competitive St. Louis Cardinals at 11-1 odds.  The Cards always seem to be in contention at the end of the year but since this is a shortened season it does take away some value for me.  Last, but not least, on my NL Futures short list is the New York Mets at 9-1 odds at Bovada. The Mets are my #1 choice to win the National League overall at 9-1 odds with the key being their starting rotation.  Jacob DeGrom is a back to back Cy Young award winner and just a horse out there on the mound.  New York's #2 pitcher in this fantastic rotation is Marcus Stroman, who had a shaky first year with the Mets, but I look for him to bounce back. Rounding off their Top 3 is Rick Porcello.  Yes, he was a big-time flop in Boston but he would be a strong #2 on most pitching staffs.  I look for him and Michael Wacha to be effective at the back-end of the rotation, and keep the Mets in it all season and into the post season. I will be betting on the Mets as my BEST BET to win the National League pennant.  Good luck!

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