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Panthers put themselves in playoff position

Jeff Fogle
VSiN City newsletter

Carolina controls its own destiny in the NFC Wildcard race thanks to a Monday night mauling of Miami. That plus NFL Power Ratings, college futures prices, and the ball firm of Duke, Sparty, Kansas, and Kentucky.

Monday Night Football: Carolina crushes Miami to reach 7-3 before its bye week 
In the crowded mess that is the NFC Wildcard race, the Carolina Panthers now control their own destiny in the top spot with a 7-3 record. Let’s quickly crunch the boxscore stats before outlining the race.

Carolina (-9) 45, Miami 21
Yards-per-Play: Miami 5.8, Carolina 7.7
Total Yards: Miami 313, Carolina 548
Third Down Miami 58% (!), Carolina 79% (!!)
Turnovers: Miami 1, Carolina 0
Rushing Yards: Miami 100, Carolina 294
Passing Stats: Miami 22-37-1-213, Carolina 21-35-0-254
TD Drive Lengths: Miami 75-75-75, Carolina 85-20-78-48-87-83

The game started to blow up when Jay Cutler handed away a very cheap touchdown late in the first half. That made it 17-7 Carolina…which grew to 31-7 before the teams started trading garbage time touchdowns against disinterested defenses. We’ve seen a lot of blowouts already in the “contender vs. pretender” matchups. Too many pretenders this year. 

Carolina now holds the top spot in the NFC Wildcard picture with that 7-3 mark. Seattle can catch them next Monday by winning at home against Atlanta. The Panthers have the best combination of “best current record” with “most manageable remaining schedule” in the Wildcard mix. 

Open Date
At the NY Jets (where they’ll be favored)
At New Orleans (underdog)
Versus Minnesota (small favorite)
Versus Green Bay (at least a medium favorite)
Versus Tampa Bay (probably at least a medium favorite)
At Atlanta (the game might not even matter)

Great to have a bye week NOW when everyone needs a rest break. Then there’s a three-game homestand in December when teams hate to travel. What could be a testy rematch against revenge-minded Atlanta might not even matter if the Panthers are locked in or Atlanta is locked out. 

There are no sure things in the NFL. If the Panthers come out flat against the Jets, it’s a whole new ballgame. Not quite the catbird’s seat just yet. But nobody’s closer to climbing into it. 

A lot to get to today, so let’s move on to the market ratings…

NFL: New Estimated Market Power Ratings
Time for our weekly Tuesday estimate of how “the market” is rating all 32 pro football teams. You’re likely familiar with the rankings various media sources post at their websites. Our goal is to use the market as a reflection of “the sum of all models” to determine the single best evaluation. Settled point spreads reflect the initial opinions of professional oddsmakers as “sharpened” by professional wagerers. Basing ratings on that composite should paint an accurate, though probably not perfect picture.  

Here are the Monday evening lines we’ll be using…

Tennessee at Pittsburgh (-7/44)
Detroit (-3/42) at Chicago
Kansas City (-11/43.5) at the NY Giants
Tampa Bay at Miami (NL pending MNF)
Baltimore (-2.5/38) at Green Bay
LA Rams at Minnesota (-2.5/46)
Arizona (NL pending Stanton) at Houston
Jacksonville (-7.5/38) at Cleveland
Washington at New Orleans (-7.5/51)
Buffalo at the LA Chargers (-4/44)
Cincinnati at Denver (-2.5/40)
New England (-5.5/50) vs. Oakland in Mexico City
Philadelphia (-3/48) at Dallas
Atlanta at Seattle (-3/45)

If you’re new to VSiN City, we use those lines to build “couplets” that we place on the scale. We adjust the numbers you see above three points as a standard for home field advantage. Tennessee is plus 7 at Pittsburgh this Thursday night. Once you take out home field advantage, that means Pittsburgh should be FOUR points higher on the scale. We make a good faith effort to determine where that couplet should sit. (Note that New England vs. Oakland is in Mexico City this week, so we just use the neutral field spread without any adjustment.)

86: New England, Philadelphia
84: Pittsburgh, Kansas City, New Orleans, LA Rams
83: Minnesota
82: Atlanta, Seattle
80: Jacksonville, Tennessee, Oakland, Dallas (no Elliott), Carolina 
79: Baltimore, LA Chargers, Washington, Detroit 
78: Buffalo
76: Cincinnati
75: Denver 
74: Miami, NY Jets, Green Bay 
73: Chicago, Tampa Bay (w/Fitzpatrick), Arizona (w/Stanton)
72: Indianapolis
71: San Francisco (with Garappolo, maybe more)
70: Cleveland, Houston, NY Giants
68: San Francisco (with Beathard)

A few notes…

We’re moving closer to the “barbell” alignment we talked about last week…with a bunch of playoff contenders up top…hardly anyone in the middle (just one team at 78, nobody at 77, and one team at 76)…then a bunch of dregs at the bottom. This is another version of “the opposite of parity,” even though many pundits were talking about parity when underdogs were cashing a lot of tickets through the first third of the season. (To see the barbell, imagine turning the chart on its side and viewing it as a graph. The traditional bell curve would have a big lump in the middle. Current NFL reality is more like a lump on the left, a lump on the right, with little in the middle.)

Philadelphia laying -3 at Dallas is a bit out of character for recent pricing. Clearly an adjustment to Dallas looking awful in its first game without Ezekiel Elliott, Philadelphia being underpriced all season, and then the Eagles possibly getting a boost off a bye. With that price we had to make the teams SIX points apart. We went with 86 and 80, though it’s possible Dallas has fallen into the high 70s…or even that the Eagles are now seen as even better than we’re guessing. 

We have a lot of respect for what both Minnesota and the LA Rams are accomplishing. The market has the line at Vikings -2.5 at home head-to-head…which means we had to stick the Rams a point higher. That’s a strong home field…so the sum of influences must see LAR as the slightly better neutral field team. (Will be fun to see the Goff vs. Keenum QB battle after they both played for the Rams last season!)

Atlanta and Seattle play each other on Monday Night (the Biggest Big Money Monday of the season!). Seattle is currently -3, which means a dead heat. We went with both at 82, though both at 83 is certainly possible. We’ll have to see what happens when each matches up with top opponents in coming weeks. If you focus on the fact that the Falcons and Seahawks represented the NFC in the last three Super Bowls, 83 feels more reasonable. If you focus on the toe-stubbings both have endured in recent weeks, 82 is the better fit. Also, Dallas plummeting to six worse than Philadelphia “argued against" respecting Atlanta too much. We’ll see.  

College Football: National Championship futures at the South Point
We had planned on running the key stats from this past Saturday’s college football blockbusters. But most of the games turned out to be horrible. And the final scores painted an accurate enough picture that there was no need to run the numbers. Miami really did humiliate Notre Dame. Auburn crushed Georgia. 

It might be worth noting that Alabama was a bit more dominant over Mississippi State than the nailbiter finish suggested. The Tide won yards-per-play 7.8 to 4.5 and total yardage 444-330. A poor 3 of 10 conversion rate on third downs kept them from maximizing those advantages. 

Alabama is still the favorite to hoist the trophy. The South Point updated their futures prices after all the Saturday results were in. Here are the odds that were bettable as of Monday evening. Note that these are prices “to win the championship” not just reach the Final Four. 

National Championship Futures (percentage equivalent in parenthesis)
Alabama -150 (60% win expectation)
Oklahoma 6/1 (14%)
Auburn 6/1 (14%)
Notre Dame 6/1 (14%)
Miami 6/1 (14%)
Clemson 7/1 (13%)
Wisconsin 15/1 (6%)
Ohio State 20/1 (5%)
Washington 25/1 (4%)
Georgia 30/1 (3%)

If you’re new to betting futures, the percentage equivalent typically adds up to more than 100% because sports books bake in a “house edge.” Those numbers add up to 147%. 

We’ll update our estimated college football Power Ratings in the usual slot Wednesday. 

College Basketball: New plan of attack? No, Old Dominion. Digging deep into last Friday’s 20-point Over/Under move
Some college basketball coaches like to have as much control as possible over the flow of play. Their teams tend to exhibit a slow, methodical style that works patiently for good shots on offense, then races back to seal the inside on defense. This can be effective, but isn’t all that much fun for the players themselves, or for the viewing audience.

As a result, coaches who prefer this style will often talk about “pushing pace” in advance of a new season, getting players and fans excited about what’s to come. Maybe they even believe it themselves. Once the games start for real, it can be very tough for coaches to change their stripes.

That brings us to the huge “20-point” line move you have heard about last Friday in college basketball. Jonathan Von Tobel and Matt Youmans talked with Nick Bogdanvoich of William Hill about it during “The Edge” that afternoon. Mitch Moss and Pauly Howard talked with Dave Malinsky about it some more Monday morning on “Follow the Money.” The Over/Under in Towson-Old Dominion opened in the low 120’s, and was bet as high to the low 140’s before tipoff. 

Click here to see a recap from select offshore and Las Vegas sports books from Covers. Here’s a summary of the most extreme moves in that matchup…

Offshore Books
5-Dimes: low of 122, high of 144,5, closed 141.5
Bet Online: low of 122, high of 143.5, closed 142.5
Bookmaker: low of 122, high of 143.5, closed 141.5

Las Vegas Books
Boyd Gaming: low of 123, high of 144, closed 141
Westgate: low of 129, high of 143.5, closed 142

Why would a total jump THAT much? Basketball Over/Under betting is greatly influenced by projected pace. No way a bunch of “unaccounted” for talent would cause a rise of that much. It HAD to involve different perceptions of pace. Oddsmakers put up a total that would have made sense last year. Sharps had read this article from the Virginian-Pilot…

Change of pace: Monarchs want to put the pedal to the metal this season

The short version if you don’t want to read the whole article…ODU coach Jeff Jones was looking to increase pace this season, partly because personnel changes had taken some size away while bringing in wing speed. Now, the article didn’t suggest at all that the Monarchs were going to run-and-gun. But some sharps apparently believed that early market totals would underestimate this new style. Particularly after ODU won an exhibition game over Christopher Newport (a team, not just one guy) 101-46. 

Final Score: Old Dominion 57, Towson 54

Oops. The game that saw openers around 122 bet up to around 143-144 only amounted to 111 total points scored. It stayed under the openers by double digits!

Old Dominion was back on the floor Monday night at James Madison. We saw a smaller move on the total from openers around 124 to a peak around 129 before closing around 128. 

Final Score: Old Dominion 69, James Madison 53

Another Under, though this final was at least in the neighborhood at 122. Old Dominion will be back on the betting board Thursday when they face Temple on a neutral court in Charleston, South Carolina in the first round of the Charleston Classic. That’s a 3-day eight team tournament, which will give handicappers an extensive look at the ODU style dynamic. 

College Basketball: #1 Duke, #2 Michigan State, #4 Kansas, #7 Kentucky featured in huge Tuesday night doubleheader
Even though the college basketball season got under way this past Friday, Tuesday night’s high-profile blockbuster doubleheader from Chicago will be the first college hoops many of you will watch this season. YOUR SEASON begins tonight!

Early lines
Duke -2 vs. Michigan State
Kansas -4.5 vs. Kentucky

VSiN’s resident college basketball aficionado is Greg Peterson. If you missed his preseason conference previews please click here to be taken to our college basketball “headlines” page. The rest of today’s newsletter comes from Greg, up until the sign off.

Greg Peterson’s Doubleheader Preview
The first game of the Champions Classic features the No. 1 and No. 2 -ranked teams in the nation with Duke and Michigan State squaring off.  Both teams enter this game with an against-the-spread record of 1-0, with Duke getting an additional win against Utah Valley that did not have a betting line.

Duke has four of ESPN's top 10 rated prospects on its roster, including forward Marvin Bagley III. ESPN's Paul Biancardi called him a guy with Chris Bosh's outside shooting and the post defense of Anthony Davis. He has played very well in his first two games, averaging 24.5 points and 10 rebounds.

As a team, Duke is scoring 98 points per game and hitting 45.8 percent of its 3s. Utah Valley and Elon certainly is not a murder's row schedule, but senior Grayson Allen and freshmen Gary Trent Jr. both making over 50 percent of their 3s and combining for 37 points per game are both good signs for the ACC powerhouse.

After an injury-riddled season last year in which neither of Michigan State's projected starting forwards played a single minute, coach Tom Izzo's group is back and led by a likely NBA lottery pick in Miles Bridges. The 6-foot-7 combo guard had 20 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks in the team's season-opening victory over North Florida.

Much like Duke, Michigan State hung 98 points to kick off its campaign with 6-foot-11 freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. beginning his career in style with 13 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks.

The game opened Duke -1.5 and has been bet to Duke -2. This is one where both teams are equally matched and playing on a neutral court in Chicago. The geography should give Michigan State a slight advantage in regards to the crowd, but things seem to be very even across the board. The best value play is Michigan State on the money line as you'd have to likely go -110 if you pick either side on the point spread whereas on the money line you can likely get 110 or 115 on what is a game that could go either way. Another reason to go this way is Bagley III is far from a good free throw shooter, making just 22.2 percent of his shots at the charity stripe. That will likely come into play in a tight matchup.

The nightcap features No. 3 Kansas and No. 7 Kentucky facing off.  Kentucky defeated Vermont and Utah Valley to kick off the year, but could not cover the spread in either game. Kansas, on the other hand, dispatched Tennessee State 92-57

The line opened Kansas -2.5, but was bet up very quickly to -4.5.  Part of this could be due to Kansas freshman forward Billy Preston being eligible to play after missing the Tennessee State game due to suspension for missing curfew.

Kentucky also did not look sharp in its 73-69 win over Vermont. The Wildcats got out to a 36-24 lead, but the veteran group from the America East Conference clawed back in the second half and had a shot at sending the game to overtime.

Kentucky is loaded with freshmen, as seven ESPN top 100 recruits entered the program along with postgraduate Hamidou Diallo. While that's all well and good, coach John Calipari failed to put shooters on the roster.

The Wildcats shot 33.3 percent from 3-point range in its first two games while attempting a total of 24 treys.

Meanwhile, Kansas had six players score 10 or more points against Tennessee State and shot 60 percent from the floor. Mississippi State transfer Malik Newman had 12 points in his debut and Devonte' Graham did it all with 10 points, seven rebounds, and 12 assists.

With Kentucky's leadership being two sophomores that didn't receive a ton of minutes last year, it's hard to back the Wildcats in the spot, regardless of how much length and sheer talent Calipari may have brought in. Kentucky may have won 72-40 when these two played in the Champions Classic during the 2014-15 season, but the rosters were drastically different and Kentucky looked much better entering that contest.

Thanks Greg!

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