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Cowboys win preseason opener; Dolphins lose QB

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

blaine
Bettors might want to keep an eye on Cards backup Blaine Gabbert, who played well in a loss to the Cowboys.
© USA Today Sports Image

The NFL is here…the SuperContest is coming…Jay Cutler may be returning…and MLB races are still percolating as we close out another week in VSiN City. 

NFL: Cowboys beat Cards 20-18 to kick off 2017 preseason
It turned out to be an entertaining game, particularly in the first half when Blaine Gabbert of Arizona and Kellen Moore of Dallas combined to throw for more than 360 yards on just 31 attempts. Let’s run the numbers... 

Dallas (-2) 20, Arizona 18

  • Total Yards: Arizona 327, Dallas 396
  • Yards-per-play: Arizona 5.7, Dallas 5.5
  • Rushing Yardage: Arizona 88, Dallas 127
  • Passing Stats: Arizona 16-28-0-239, Dallas 21-35-1-269

A high scoring first half (15-10 Arizona) helped launch the game over the market total of 35 points. The closing line on the team side is a push. But all the money that drove the game up from Dallas plus 1, Dallas at pick-em, and Dallas -1 cashes. The Dallas yardage advantage was keyed by a big edge in play count. Arizona was slightly better on a pure-play basis. 

While it’s true that you shouldn’t put a lot of weight on team stats during the preseason. Handicappers can be rewarded by studying the performance of individual quarterbacks. Backup QBs who are sharp out of the gate typically stay sharp through the month against disinterested defenses. That could be the deciding factor in later games against teams with poor or inexperienced backup QB’s. Let’s take a closer look at Thursday’s four signal callers. 

Arizona

  • Blaine Gabbert: 11-14-0-185
  • Trevor Knight: 5-14-0-68

Gabbert wasn’t just sharp…he was sharp on downfield passes into good coverage. This doesn’t mean he’s ready to challenge Carson Palmer or Drew Stanton for the top spot. But we do have evidence that an experienced QB with a chip on his shoulder may be a smart take in future Arizona exhibition games. Gabbert is up to speed already, has a head start on remaining opponents, and will be looking to pile up yardage against the backup defenders of other teams. 

Knight was not very good outside of a handful of big plays. There must have been big plays to get 68 passing yards on just five completions. Those nine incomplete passes vs. a soft defense are a concern. 

Dallas

  • Kellen Moore: 12-17-1-182
  • Cooper Rush: 9-18-0-87

Moore was almost as good as Gabbert, but had an interception. Still, he’s the kind of guy you like backing in August because he’s experienced and is trying to impress. Worth remembering in future games. 

Rush is a rookie out of Central Michigan. While performing better than Knight, a 50% completion rate is poor against exhibition defenses that often sit back a bit and let you complete short passes. 

Both Dallas and Arizona will enjoy head start advantage a-week-from-Saturday when they next take the field…

Saturday August 12

  • Dallas at LA Rams
  • Oakland at Arizona

Market prices generally acknowledge that head start advantage. But if the head coaches make it clear that either Gabbert or Moore will see extended time after guys higher up on the depth chart…that could be a trigger for a smart bet. 

We’ll do our best to keep you abreast of relevant stats through the preseason here in VSiN City. 

NFL: Tannehill, Dolphins receive bad news Thursday evening
If you went to bed early thinking the news was good regarding Ryan Tannehill’s knee injury...things have changed!

The Dolphins reported that the MRI suggested a “setback” on the knee that Tannehill originally sprained late last season. He didn’t undergo surgery at that time, preferring to use a stem cell procedure that wouldn’t sideline him from summer preparation. Looks now like the knee lacks stability. So, even though he didn’t tear any ligaments in a Thursday morning non-contact fall at practice, he will likely need surgery to repair the damage that has been done.

Obviously VSiN programming will update you throughout the day Friday and all weekend on any new developments. For sports bettors, it’s important to realize that Tannehill did not have an impressive season a year ago. Miami didn’t lose a star quarterback. 

Yes, the Dolphins made a surprise playoff run thanks to a 10-6 regular season record. Quarterbacks usually get most of the credit when things go well. But last year’s success was mostly related to:

  • A fairly easy schedule
  • An 8-2 record in games decided by 7 points or less

The coin flips went Miami’s way, and the Dolphins were coin-flipping against a below average schedule. 

You probably know that Blake Bortles, Brock Osweiler, and Colin Kaepernick had very disappointing seasons in 2017. You may not know that:

The TV networks that have contractual relationships with the NFL tend to celebrate high notes and gloss over negatives. It’s important for handicappers and sports bettors to be aware of the negatives. Tannehill is not a star quarterback on a playoff-caliber team. Last season he was a struggling quarterback on a mirage. 

Something to think about as Miami ponders a replacement. That replacement might be the pseudo-retired Jay Cutler. Miami head coach Adam Gase was the offensive coordinator for the Chicago Bears in 2015. Cutler has expressed interest in playing this season in the right circumstances despite his commitment to being a broadcast announcer. Looks like the right circumstances just opened up. 

VSiN News: We're partnering with the Westgate to help showcase the SuperContest!
Big news announced here at the website Thursday afternoon. VSiN is partnering with the Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino to provide in-depth coverage of the prestigious NFL SuperContest from before it starts to after it finishes. 

If you’re new to sports betting, that’s the world-renown handicapping contest (formerly known as the Hilton Contest) which challenges entrants to post their best five NFL selections each week. The entry fee is $1,500. This year’s first prize could top $1 million with a projected field near 2,000. 

What that means moving forward:

  • VSiN will broadcast live from the Westgate for “SuperContest Weekend” August 17-19. Brent Musburger (the first official entrant in this year’s event!) and all the other VSiN hosts will be on hand to interview experts about handicapping tips and tournament strategies.
  • VSiN will be the first to report the weekly standings every Tuesday throughout the season. 
  • VSiN will be the first to report the tournament lines when they’re announced by the Westgate on Wednesdays. These are the numbers competitors will be considering as they make their picks. 
  • VSiN will be the first to report the “consensus” games every Saturday once all the picks are in. In some seasons, the consensus picks perform so well that casual bettors will add them to their own portfolios. We’ll talk with experienced bettors to evaluate if that’s a smart strategy in 2017 as the season progresses. 

That “SuperContest Weekend” is now just two weeks away. Though, you have up until the start of the NFL regular season to make your formal entry. Don’t forget that out-of-towners have to be in Las Vegas to enter, but can use proxies to turn in their selections during the season (like current VSiN City sponsor footballcontest.com.)

We’ll talk more about the SuperContest as festivities get closer. And, also about SuperContest Gold that is a brand new “winner-take-all” event with a $5,000 entry fee. VSiN is very excited about this new partnership, and we look forward to covering the SuperContest like it’s never been covered before. 

Will we be talking about YOU this coming football season? Only if you’re up to the challenge!

MLB: Rays win third straight in Houston, Brewers back within 1.5 games of the Cubs
Once you get past teams who have already locked in their playoff spots (the Dodgers, Astros, and Nats, and probably the D-backs and Rockies), there’s a lot of day-to-day churn that can be hard to anticipate.

  • The Tampa Bay Rays (plus 120) took their third straight game from the Houston Astros, winning Thursday 5-3. The Rays had temporarily fallen out of what had been a three-team race in the AL East. These surprising victories at the runaway leader in the AL have shot them back within 1.5 games of the Yankees for the top Wildcard spot. 
  • The Kansas City Royals (-140) bounced back from a shocking sweep in Baltimore to beat the Seattle Mariners Thursday 6-4. KC is only one game behind the Yankees for that top Wildcard spot. 
  • The Texas Rangers (plus 110) fell as low as 300-1 to win the World Series at the Westgate after trading Yu Darvish. Yet, they continued holding steady with a 4-1 win at Minnesota Thursday. Both the Rangers and Twins are now four games below the .500 mark. That keeps them in contention if nobody can pull away from the field. 
  • The Chicago Cubs (-145) were overpriced again against Arizona (as Gill Alexander has been pointing out), particularly for a team that has struggled vs. winning opponents all season. After dropping two of three, Chicago is now 16-24 vs. teams at .500 or better. The Cubs lead Milwaukee by just 1.5 games because the Brewers beat the Cards 2-1 to win that critical NL Central series. 

Using our summer shorthand (games above/below .500), let’s update the races.

AL East: Boston plus 11, NY Yankees plus 7, Tampa Bay plus 4, Baltimore -2
AL Central: Cleveland plus 10, Kansas City plus 5, Minnesota -4
AL Wildcard (top two qualify): NY Yankees plus 7, Kansas City plus 5, Tampa Bay plus 4, Seattle even, LA Angels -1, Baltimore -2, Minnesota -4, Texas -4.  

NL Central: Cubs plus 7, Milwaukee plus 4, St. Louis -2, Pittsburgh -4
NL Wildcard (top two qualify): Arizona plus 16, Colorado plus 15, Milwaukee plus 4

A reminder that Arizona and Colorado would be running away with the NL Central. 

MLB: Cubs visit the Nats in potential playoff preview, plus huge ramifications in Brewers/Rays Interleague affair
It’s been enlightening so far to study big series by including league rankings in key offensive and bullpen stats. Let’s do that for the two most important weekend matchups we haven’t already covered. Remember that we use weighted-runs-created-plus on offense because it’s park adjusted, and relievers’ xFIP for bullpens. Stats are gathered from the amazing fangraphs website. 

Washington at Chicago Cubs

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Washington #2 in NL, Cubs #5 in NL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Washington #10 in NL, Cubs #3 in NL
  • Friday: Roark (4.33 xFIP) vs. Hendricks (3.91 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Undecided vs. Lackey (4.67 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Gonzalez (4.31 xFIP) vs. Lester (3.61 xFIP)

The Cubs have been outclassed by quality this season. But they miss Strasburg (out with an injury) and probably Scherzer, who left Tuesday’s start early with neck spasms. Washington has the better offense (second only to the Dodgers in the NL), and the bullpen is improving after recent trades (though far from infallible). While this is mathematically a likely playoff preview, it won’t have a playoff feel to it because frontline pitchers (including Arrieta of the Cubs) aren’t slated to go. Could be a wild series if friendly winds are helping hitters. 

Milwaukee at Tampa Bay

  • Offense (wRC-plus): Milwaukee #9 in NL, Tampa Bay #4 in AL
  • Bullpen (xFIP): Milwaukee #7 in NL, Tampa Bay #14 in AL
  • Friday: Davies (4.56 xFIP) vs. Faria (4.50 xFIP)
  • Saturday: Woodruff (MLB debut) vs. Cobb (4.57 xFIP)
  • Sunday: Nelson (3.12 xFIP) vs. Archer (3.38 xFIP)

Other matchups will get more media coverage. But, only Yankees/Indians features winning teams who need to win as badly RIGHT NOW as the Brewers and Rays do. And check out that Sunday pitching matchup! The aces will be on the mound to wrap it up. Tampa Bay might have wrapped up a playoff spot already if not for that shaky bullpen. That’s one of the most underpublicized failures of the season. Everyone recognized early in the year that Washington was blowing leads. Tampa Bay spent a few months being the Dodgers of 5-inning baseball, but is in a dogfight to reach the postseason. 

Enjoy another huge sports weekend coming up. We’ll be back with you Monday to review MLB results, CFL boxscores, and then preview important MLB matchups (beginning Monday: Orioles/Angels, Brewers/Twins, and Cards/Royals; beginning Tuesday: Dodgers/D-backs, Red Sox/Rays, and Rockies/Indians).

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See you Monday!

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