NFL Pre-Season Update + A Look at the Big 10

Network 6-0 In Preseason Opening Weekend! Ravens & Broncos Win Thursday! Falcons and Bills cover Friday Night! Titans and Steelers/Giants total gets the sweep Saturday!

THE NFL PRESEASON REWIND MACHINE:

HERE’S A COUPLE OF “FANTASY LEAGUE”
FOLKS YOU SHOULD HAVE YOU’RE EYE ON …

PLUS THE COLLEGE GRIDIRON UPDATE:
WE DELVE INTO THE BIG 10 AND CLAIM MINNESOTA IS A POSSIBLE SLEEPING GIANT AMONG THE OTHER BIGGER-NAMES SCHOOLS

One thing about these NFL Preseason Week 1 games is that “shooting stars” can appear at any moment:

Take the Thursday night game out west between the Dallas Cowboys and the host San Diego Chargers:

There were the Chargers all hyped up about their so-called three-headed running back system that included Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and Donald Brown, and yet it was rookie RB Branden Oliver (Buffalo) who stole the show by rushing for a team-best 64 yards on seven carries (that’s a haughty 9.1 yards-per-carry average). Oliver scored on a 16-yard first-half run for a touchdown and—as the Chargers announcers Dan Fouts and Billy Ray Smith both said more than once—he sure looked a lot like former San Diego scat-back Darren Sproles.

Maybe you’re in one of the gazillion “fantasy leagues” out there in America and be aware that Oliver is probably a nice little pick-up in one of your later rounds—you have been forewarned.

Then how about the Kansas City Chiefs’ expected starting tight end Travis Kelce?

Last year the third-round draft choice from Cincinnati played just one game before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but KayCee believes he is their answer at the position and in Thursday’s rollicking 41-39 win/spread push win against the 2-point underdog Cincinnati Bengals, there was Kelce snagging two passes worth a team-high 73 yards including a 69-yard scoring play right before halftime.

In Andy Reid’s pass-first offense, everyone is a potential target and it could well be that the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Kelce could be a real sleeper and so maybe you wish to consider him a mid-to-late round pick in your “fantasy league” this season.

In other NFL Preseason News & Notes …

Okay, so with all the chatter regarding the Cleveland Browns’ quarterback spot, it’s safe to say that the battle in the backfield has taken on back-burner status.
However, check it out as Cleveland RB Ben Tate—a free-agent pick-up from the Houston Texans this past off-season—“welcomes” the challenge being put forth by rookie Terrance West (Towson) and you might see this late third-round pick make the Brownies roster and take some of the work load from the veteran Tate …

Speaking of the Texans, they enter this 2014 season with brand-new head coach Bill O’Brien and a sack full of dreams one year after losing 14 straight games to conclude the 2013 campaign.

Safe to say that O’Brien will “shake up” the roster big time, but a quickie look at Houston’s quarterback position might get Texans’ fans a bit scared and a tad woozy —how would you feel with Ryan Fitzpatrick, Case Keenum and rookie Tom Savage (Pittsburgh) listed 1-2-3 on the depth chart?

Gotta say that right now we don’t consider any of these gentlemen NFL starting quarterbacks and so you do have to wonder if O’Brien and Company will be looking to be up a late-summer “scrap” from someone else’s pile of rejects … we could see a different slinger in there come Week One when Houston hosts the Washington Redskins …

One guy it probably won’t be is current New England Patriots second-string QB Ryan Mallett.

True, everyone’s been trying to push Mallett out the door for the past couple of years now but here’s the real skinny on the guy that backs up 37-year-old icon Tom Brady:

He still has a cannon arm and it helps his cause to stay in New England in that second-round draftee QB Jimmy Garoppolo has not looked sharp in practice thus far.

Note that in Thursday’s 23-6 loss at Washington, Mallett completed only 5-of-12 passes for 55 yards but a couple of completions were negated by offensive penalties.

A “showcase” start there for Mallett?

Don’t think so and Texans’ fans should not get their hopes up that the former Arkansas stud will be their slinger this year or anytime soon.

Folks, Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers want to welcome you to the start of the 2014 Football Season.

It all began with Sunday’s annual Hall of Fame Game between the Giants versus the Bills but remember now there’s another four weeks of money-making NFL Preseason Games that get revved up continuing Saturday night with four more games on the docket plus the College Football campaign swings into high gear later in the month with a full weekend card scheduled for Thursday, August 28th through Monday, September 1st.

Also, take note that America’s #1 Handicapper continues to bang out lots of winners in Major-League Baseball these days and all you need to do is check in either right here online at www.jimhurley.com or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 any time after 1 p.m. Eastern time for the weeknight action, after 11 a.m. ET for weekday games and after 10 a.m. ET for Saturday/Sunday/Holiday Winners and get all the Football & Baseball winners … can’t beat that, right?

The NFL Preseason, the start of the College Football year and Baseball action too -- always a major money-making time of the year for the Jim Hurley Network!

Here are some Saturday evening previews:

CLEVELAND at DETROIT—7:30 p.m. ET
Can’t have any sort of Cleveland Browns game preview without mentioning rookie QB Johnny Manziel… right?

Well, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner will indeed begin this game on the bench as Brian Hoyer gets the start for rookie head coach Mike Pettine’s club—the coach told media folks this week that Manziel will start next week’s Preseason game against Washington—but here Hoyer has a shot to open some eyes against a Lions defense that last year ranked 23rd against the pass (allowed 246.9 yards per game) and just 28th in sacks (with 33).

Note that Detroit has listed rookie TE Eric Ebron (North Carolina) as “questionable” for this bash with an undisclosed injury but even before this announcement there was Ebron looking awful in camp with a slew of dropped passes, incorrectly wrong routes and failure to line up right in many plays.
Not really what an NFL team wants with its first-round draft pick, eh?

PITTSBURGH at NEW YORK GIANTS (1-0)—7:30 p.m. ET
It’s been an emotional week in Giants camp as popular RB David Wilson was forced to announce his retirement after his most recent neck-related/spinal injuries but there were some good moments that NYG liked about last weekend’s 17-13 Hall of Fame Game win against Buffalo such as the fact rookie RB Andre Williams (five carries for 37 yards including an impressive 21-yard dash) looked really sharp.

Meanwhile, in this preseason debut game for the Steelers, they’ll be keeping a close eye this entire summer on RB Le’Veon Bell who trimmed down from 244 pounds to 232 pounds this past offseason—you might see Bell get a handful of first-quarter carries here as he challenges a reshaped Giants defense that last year ranked only 25th in the NFL with its 34 sacks.

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GREEN BAY at TENNESSEE—8 p.m. ET
The Packers —who last year ranked sixth in the league in passing (266.8 yards per game) despite the fact star QB Aaron Rodgers missed seven games with a broken collarbone—have some early-camp issues as WR Randall Cobb has been virtually invisible and one media report claimed Cobb (31 catches last year after missing a ton of action with a fractured leg) “hasn’t stood out” so far while opposite WR Jordy Nelson has been sharp.

Tennessee, meanwhile, is hinting that its running back spot is up for grabs with a seemingly three-headed duel going on this summer that includes Shonn Greene (the listed starter here), Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey (Washington). The post-Chris Johnson Era could get messy in the Titans’ backfield if someone doesn’t put a chokehold on the position sometime this month.

HOUSTON at ARIZONA—8:30 p.m.ET
Don’t look for second-year S Tyrann “Honey Badger” Mathieu to be on the field this week or next week for the Cardinals—Mathieu is dealing with a knee injury from a year ago that’s been keeping him off the practice field and will continue to do so for the next several days.

Note that Houston—fresh off last year’s humbling/bumbling 2-14 SU (straight-up) season that included a 14-game losing skid to close out the 2013 campaign—will play here without top RB Arian Foster (hamstring) and WR Andre Johnson (hamstring) but first-year head coach Bill O’Brien has claimed neither injury is serious and both players will get their needed reps in practices.

One guy to watch for here on the Texans is second-year WR DeAndre Hopkins who has been a veritable vacuum while catching everything in sight in practice and it’ll be fun to watch Hopkins duel Arizona CB Patrick Peterson for a few plays in this Saturday night tussle in the desert.

THE COLLEGE GRIDIRON REPORT: THE BIG 10

If you happened to check out the recent Jim Sez chart of BCS Odds to Win it All, then you noted that Ohio State (+ 1200 to $100 to win it all), Michigan State (+2500 to $100) and Wisconsin (+ 3000 to a bill) were the top choices to win it all from this venerable league … but might there be a dark horse in the group to get out of the Big 10 and play in College Football’s first-ever playoff system?

Here’s a team that we’ll consider a “long shot” to win the Big 10, but you never know!

MINNESOTA— The Golden Gophers are part of “The Field” at + 10000-to-$100 and so nobody’s getting all hot-and-bothered over Minny’s national title prospects but do consider the following:

Last year Minnesota won eight games—went a sparkling 9-4 ATS (against the spread) and beat the likes of 12-point favorite Northwestern 20-17, 10½-point fav Nebrasska 34-23 and 7½-point home fav Indiana 42-39 --  and so head coach Jerry Kill’s club showed some real fight.
Now, the Gophers bring back star TB David Cobb (1,202 yards rushing and seven touchdown last year) along with a veteran/experienced offensive line and keep in mind there’s seven starters back from a defense that last year allowed 22.2 points a game that ranked fourth-best among Big 10 sides.
If QB Mitch Leidner—a 6-foot-4 soph who still can expect some growing pains on the field— can move the chains with key-yet-conservative third-down passes, than Minny might well be on the move towards a Big 10 West title … and more.
Check out the sked and you’ll see the Gophers play at Michigan on the final weekend in September and there’s tough back-to-back road games to close out the year in Nebraska and Wisconsin but—it’s possible—by the time we get to these November 22nd and 29th games this Minnesota team will be ultra-mature and ultra-tough.

BIG 10 SPREAD STANDINGS (2013)

Folks, let’s take a step back and see what the Big 10 teams did last year spreadwise with their overall pointspread marks and conference records both listed below …

TEAMOVERALLPCTLEAGUEPCT
Minnesota9-4-0.6926-2-0.750
Wisconsin9-4-0.6925-3-0.625
Michigan St.9-4-1.6927-2-0.778
Iowa8-5-0.6155-3-0.625
Maryland7-6-0.538N/AN/A
Michigan7-6-0.5385-3-0.625
Nebraska7-6-0.5384-4-0.500
Illinois6-6-0.5003-5-0.375
Indiana5-6-1.4543-4-1.428
Ohio State6-8-0.4283-6-0.333
Penn State5-7-0.4173-5-0.375
Rutgers5-8-0.385N/AN/A
Purdue4-7-1.3643-4-1.428
N’western3-9-0.2501-7-0.125

As you can see, we’ve listed new Big 10 members Maryland and Rutgers on this spread chart though they obviously were not part of the league’s spread stats a year ago.

Overall, there were three teams that played .692 ball overall versus the vig—and Minnesota, Wisconsin and league champion Michigan State all pounded on the little guys along the way.

Note that we’ve included Michigan State’s 34-24 win against 5 1/2-point fav Ohio State in last year’s Big 10 Championship Game—one of three outright upsets on the year for Sparty as Mark Dantonio’s team also beat 2-point home fav Iowa 26-14 and— of course—toppled 7-point favorite Stanford 24-20 in last season’s Rose Bowl game.

On the down side, Northwestern bottomed out the Big 10 spread standings with that above-listed 3-9 ATS mark and note the Wildcats have gone 3-9, 5-7 and 3-9 in three of their last four years with the exception to the rule coming in 2012 when the Evanston gang rock-n-rolled to an 11-1 spread log.

NOTE: Get more NFL Preseason News & Notes in the next edition of Jim Sez plus get all the NFL Preseason Week 2 previews all next week.

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