Sports are slowly starting to return to the United States.
The NWSL's return to action tournament and The Basketball Tournament have been whetting the appetite of sports fans, and on Wednesday the MLS got in on the action. The MLS is Back Tournament kicked off from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando. The "World Cup style" tournament hasn't been without issues though, as FC Dallas and Nashville SC have both been removed from the tournament because of a high number of players testing positive for COVID-19.
Originally there was going to be six groups in the tournament, with Group A containing six teams. Because of the removal of FC Dallas and Nashville SC, Chicago Fire FC has been shifted to Group B and now each of the six groups features four teams. The knockout round is slated to begin on July 25 and the final is set for August 11.
MLS Is Back Tournament: Group AMLS
Orlando City SC
After a disappointing first year in Orlando, head coach Oscar Pareja is looking for some better results this year. The first two matches of the year didn't show much improvement from last year, as the Lions had to settle for a draw with Real Salt Lake before falling 2-1 at Colorado. Those results might not be indicative of what Orlando City SC will offer the rest of the year, as Nani and Dom Dwyer weren't available for the contest.
It looked to be more of the same for the Lions in the tournament opener, as they fell behind Inter Miami 1-0, but Pareja's squad didn't quit. Chris Mueller opened up the scoring for Orlando City in the 70th minute before Nani lived up to his designated player status by burying the game-winner in the seventh minute of stoppage time in the second half.
Dwyer and Nani are going to have to carry Orlando City if the "home team" wants to make a deep run in the tournament. The Lions will likely make it out of the group stage, but it's hard to see them winning a game in the knockout round unless they get some big efforts from a number of other players beside Dwyer and Nani.
Earning points against the Philadelphia Union hasn't been easy in recent years. Last year Philadelphia registered 58 points and defeated New York Red Bulls in extra time before falling to Atlanta United in the conference semifinals. It was the third time in the last four years that Jim Curtain's squad has made it to the MLS playoffs.
Philadelphia didn't get any favors in the draw, as they were matched up with New York City FC, who finished first in the Eastern Conference last year. The U weren't scared though, as they picked up a 1-0 win thanks to Alejandro Bedoya's goal in the 63rd minute, along with some huge saves from goalkeeper Andre Blake. Not only is Philadelphia solid all the way around the pitch, but they are made even stronger by having Blake between the sticks. It wouldn't be a surprise to see The U make some noise in the knockout round.
New York City FC
The first place team from the Eastern Conference last season has had a nightmare start to the season. NYCFC opened up this year's campaign by seeing defender Maxine Chanot sent off in the third minute of a 1-0 loss to Columbus. Things haven't gotten much better for the Blues since, losing their other two matches by the same scoreline. The latest of those setbacks came in their first group stage game on Thursday morning against Philadelphia.
Last year NYCFC saw Heber, Alexandru Mitrita, and Valentin Castellanos all score at least 10 goals, which makes their scoreless start to the season even more puzzling. Now NYCFC has to get their act together quickly if they want to avoid getting bounced from the tournament in the group stage.
Inter Miami CF
It has felt like decades since the MLS announced that a team in Miami would be returning to the league. Actually it was 2014 when an investment group led by David Beckham was awarded a team, but it took until 2020 for the team to take the field because of issues with stadium proposal.
The Herons are still looking for their first MLS win, but they are getting closer. In a March 7 loss to D.C. United, Rodolfo Pizzaro scored a goal in the second minute to give Inter Miami a 1-0 lead. Diego Alonso's squad would fail to win the match, but they did hold the lead for over 50 minutes.
Wednesday night's match against Orlando City SC again saw the Herons take a 1-0 lead, only to fail to earn the victory. While the setback stung, an even bigger loss for Inter Miami was when Andres Reyes was stretchered off in the 51st minute following a clash with Orlando City's Dom Dwyer.
MLS Is Back Tournament: Group BMLS
Seattle Sounders FC
One of the favorites coming into this tournament was the Seattle Sounders, but Brian Schmetzer's squad haven't quite lived up to expectations. The Sounders were held scoreless in a draw with San Jose on Friday night, and followed that performance up with an even bigger dud, falling 2-1 to a Chicago Fire team that they had beaten in their season opener.
After missing the 2018 due to a knee injury, Jordan Morris returned to action for the Sounders, Morris returned to score 13 goals last year. Most of the damage Morris did came later in the year, scoring eight of those goals after July. Morris got his season off to a strong start, scoring two goals in the opener against Chicago.
Morris won't have to do it all himself, since Seattle also has proven scorers Raul Ruidiaz, Christian Roldan, and Nicolas Lodeiro on the roster. Seattle is going to need their offensive pieces to shine when they take on Vancouver in their final game of the group stage, or they could be headed home a lot earlier than they had expected.
San Jose Earthquakes
San Jose looked primed for a playoff spot heading into the final couple months of the 2019 season, but a 2-9-1 record in their final 12 matches left the Earthquakes on the outside looking in. Chris Wondolowski scored 15 goals to lead San Jose, but there wasn't much of note on the squad aside from the aging striker. Wondolowski is back for his 17th MLS season but he'll need some help if the Earthquakes want to make some noise.
San Jose showed some scoring punch in the first two matches of the season, scoring four goals, but they were only able to earn one point from those matches. The style of head coach Matias Almeyda might not translate well in the heat and humidity that'll be seen in Orlando, as his man-marking style forces his players to use a lot of energy.
The Earthquakes were able to pass their first test, drawing Seattle on Friday night to earn a point. San Jose had a little luck on their side even before the tournament began, as FC Dallas was removed from the tournament. Instead, the Earthquakes will play a Chicago team that has a lot of new pieces instead. Add that to a matchup with Vancouver, who is one of the worst teams in MLS, and even though Almeyda's tatics sometimes leave a lot to be desired, it likely won't keep San Jose from the knockout stage.
Vancouver Whitecaps FC
One of the biggest longshots in this tournament is Vancouver, who finished last in the Western Conference last year. The Whitecaps have missed the playoffs in three of the last four seasons, and it's hard to see them making it back anytime soon. Vancouver did set a club-record transfer fee to bring in forward Lucas Cavallini in from Puebla of Liga MX, but he'll still need someone to set him up and put him in position to score.
The Whitecaps did surprise some people with a 1-0 win over LA Galaxy in their second match of the year, but it's hard to buy into what they are doing until results like that are seen on a more consistent basis. If Vancouver is going to make it to the knockout round, it's likely they'll need to get through as one of the third-place teams in the group stage with a higher point total.
Chicago Fire FC
Chicago has to be a little salty before they've even played a match in the tournament. The Fire went from playing two expansion teams to having to play the defending champs for the second time in 2020, as well as a couple other scrappy teams from the Western Conference. The Fire dropped their first meeting with the Sounders 2-1 in Seattle in their season opener, and followed that result up with a 1-1 draw against New England.
Gone are Nemanja Nikolic and Nicolas Gaitan, who each scored 12 goals last year, but C.J. Sapong is still with the squad. Chicago bolstered their midfield by adding Alvaro Medran from Valencia, as well as Luka Stojanovic and Gaston Gimenez, which should help Raphael Wicky's team a good shot at making it to the knockout round.
It's another eventful week in the NFL.
Four teams -- the Jets, Falcons, Saints, and 49ers -- are the first teams to get a bye week. After Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers narrowly escaped Thursday Night Football with a 28-22 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champs are the first team with five wins in the league. Who will join them on Sunday? We know that we'll get at least a second five-win team since the 4-1 Ravens are hosting the 4-1 Chargers. That is going to be an epic battle, so let's start with that clash of AFC contenders. Welcome to our Week 6 NFL Best Bets.
Playing on the road is a difficult task for any team, but if any team can escape with a victory, it's Justin Herbert and the Chargers. This isn't the Chargers of the last decade. This team is winning the close battles. Herbert is playing at an MVP level this season and already has led this team to big-time wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns -- two of the top teams in the AFC. This L.A. team is deep at the skill positions, can rush the passer, has an improved offensive line and a great young coach. What's not to like?
All that said, Lamar Jackson seems to be playing as he did during his 2019 MVP campaign. Not to mention, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown is actually catching passes. He eclipsed 100 yards last week and scored two touchdowns (including the game-winning catch in overtime). Simply put, this is a tough team to bet against. It did take last-second heroics for the Ravens to beat the winless Lions and a pretty pedestrian Colts team. Overall, Baltimore hasn't faced a test like this yet this season. Take the points and the better overall squad. Chargers may win this game, but if they don't, they are not going to lose by more than a field goal.
PICK: Chargers +3.5
It's been a tough start to the season for the Chiefs. They had great odds to return to the Super Bowl and are now last in the AFC West heading into Week 16 with a 2-3 record. They desperately need this game. This is a great opportunity for the Chiefs to prove they are still elite by defeating a team that made the postseason last year on the road. The Chiefs are going to turn it around against a Washington defense that is allowing the sixth-most passing yards and second-most passing touchdowns this season. Patrick Mahomes is going to blow up. Tyreek Hill is going to dominate. Travis Kelce is going to continue to provide a steady source of receptions down the middle of the field. As long as the Chiefs' offensive line holds against Chase Young, it's going to be a long day for Washington's defense. Betting on Mahomes to right the ship isn't a really difficult choice.
PICK: Chiefs -6.5
Yes, the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league. Betting on them on the road against a divisional rival might seem crazy at first. However, the Texans are 7-3 against the spread as underdogs in their last 10 games. Plus, the Colts are emotional after completely giving away the game against the Ravens in which they blew a 22-3 lead late in the game. This is going to cause a bit of a hangover in that locker room. When New England suffered a terrible loss against Tom Brady and the Bucs, the Texans managed to cover the spread the following week. Look for history to repeat itself. Texans coach David Culley has Houston playing hard in spite of its lack of talent and quarterback Davis Mills appeared to take a step forward last week against the Pats. Houston has played pretty good pass defense, too. The Texans have allowed only seven passing TDs this season.
PICK: Texans +9
Sunday night will be an interesting matchup to watch as Geno Smith will make his first start in four years as the Seahawks travel to Pittsburgh to take on the Steelers. I hate betting on Ben Roethlisberger, but it's hard to envision the Seahawks covering the spread without the services of Russell Wilson. And as much as I think Big Ben should hang up his cleats, you have to give him credit for the way he dominated a solid Broncos defense last week. Roethlisberger looked better than he did earlier in the season and was able to get the ball to his playmakers -- Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and running back Najee Harris. Seattle's defense is one of the worst in the league and their secondary is even worse than their front seven. Look for the Steelers to light up Seattle in the passing game.
PICK: Steelers -5
Both of these offenses can put up a lot of points, though they go about it very differently. The Browns are a run-heavy team, and even though they will be without the services of Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt is more than capable of getting the job done. Meanwhile, Arizona's offense runs through electric quarterback Kyler Murray. Murray is able to move the chains with his legs but he isn't afraid to toss the ball either. He loves getting his guys involved and his weapons are elite in DeAndre Hopkins, Rondale Moore, and Christian Kirk.
The Browns are coming off an 89-point slugest with the Chargers and hit the OVER in their other game against a high-end offense in a 33-29 loss to the Chiefs. Meanwhile, the Cardinals have scored 30-plus points in four of five games this year. Smash the OVER.
PICK: OVER 49.5
Week 2 of the NFL was full of breakout performances, thrilling finishes and potentially the start of the Justin Fields era in the NFC North as the Bears' win over the Bengals finds them in first place in the division.
We cap off the week with a Monday Night Football showdown between the Packers and the Lions with the winner finding themselves tied for first in the North. The Packers put up an absolute dud of a performance last week against the Saints in Week 1 while the Lions looked surprisingly effective while playing catch-up against the West-leading 49ers. The expectations for these two teams couldn't have been further apart coming into the season but with matching 0-1 starts on the books, I think there are a couple of interesting props and roster construction angles to exploit.
NFL DFS Showdown Picks
*Prices are from DraftKings
Captain: TE T.J. Hockenson, Detroit Lions ($9,600) ($14,400)
I'm normally not a fan of playing a tight end in the captain spot, but T.J. Hockenson is not your average tight end. He finished 2020 with an elite 18% target share in the Lions' offense and picked up right where he left off in Week 1, finishing with an 18.2% share on 50 routes run last week. Hockenson has always carried premium TD upside as a red-zone target but what was most encouraging about last week was that he ran nearly 55% of his routes out of the slot, leaving him a matchup against Chandon Sullivan, who's allowing a 67% catch rate in his coverage. In a game where the Lions are projected to be down early, expect Hockenson to get fed once again. His red-zone utilization gives him enough juice to take the captain's chair in my builds.
Core Consideration: QB Jared Goff, Detroit Lions ($10,000)
Two principles I take into Showdown slates apply to this play. Generally speaking, if I have a pass-catcher as my captain, I'm finding a way to get their QB into a flex spot. The second is that your build needs to tell a story. Mine is that the Packers come out with something to prove after getting embarrassed in Week 1 and that we'll likely see upwards of 50 pass attempts from Jared Goff as he attempts to mount a comeback. Goff is a surprisingly effective passer when getting good protection and this unit gave him a clean pocket on 86.7% of snaps last week. Expect that to continue tonight as Goff will continue to feast in garbage time.
Contrarian Play: WR Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers ($2,000)
I still chuckle at the thought of the return of Randall Cobb being on the short-list of demands from Aaron Rodgers in the midst of his holdout. I do, however, think there is something to be said about the importance of chemistry between a quarterback and his receiver and I expect that in a typical game (which Week 1 was not), Aaron Rodgers is going to find his spots to get Cobb involved. In a game script that figures to have the Packers up by a healthy margin, not many are going to look at the tertiary passing options for Green Bay and I think a $2,000 Randall Cobb could sneak in a handful of receptions at single-digit ownership..
Salary Relief: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, Detroit Lions ($2,400)
This one fits perfectly into my narrative for the game as well. In a game where the Lions are likely to flirt with 50+ pass attempts and coming off a week where St. Brown ran routes on 75% of the team's passing plays, I will be overweight on Amon-Ra tonight. Lining up in the slot on 74.5% of plays means St. Brown will primarily see coverage from Chandon Sullivan, the most favorable of the options GB lines up in their defensive secondary. Expect St. Brown to see his target volume increase tonight. If Detroit can be more effective in getting to the red zone, he carries decent scoring upside with the way he's utilized in this offense. Plus, who doesn't love the extra motivation of playing against their big bro?
Monday Night Football Best Bets
Taking a look at the wagering side of this game; before we determine anything else we must ask ourselves what we think of these Green Bay Packers. I tend to look at last week's performance as the exception and not the rule. With that being the case, I am laying the 11.5 points and taking GB tonight. Over the past six seasons, oddsmakers have been fairly sharp when it comes to these larger spreads and NFL teams cover double-digit spreads more than 55% of the time. The total for tonight is sitting at 48.5 and given the somewhat surprising ability of the Lions to make up ground last week, I am confidently on the "over" side of that line.
Picks: Packers -11.5, OVER 48.5 points
Taking a look at the prop market, I am again mainly investing in the "GB Blowout" narrative:
D'Andre Swift: OVER 28.5 Receiving Yard
Coming off a 65-yard performance in a very similar game script, this one feels like a no-brainer. Swift averages nearly 8 yards per reception so this really boils down to whether you think he catches more than 3 passes. I certainly do and I'm confidently on the OVER for this prop. FanDuel is currently carrying the best odds at -110.
T.J. Hockenson: Anytime TD
I'm not the biggest fan of these "to score" props, but I'll break from the norm with this one. I am projecting the Lions to at least have a go at it in this game and there simply isn't a scenario where that doesn't involve a score for Hockenson. +220 odds at FanDuel sort of feels like stealing given that I see this game going over the 48.5 total.
AJ Dillon | UNDER 8.5 Rushing Attempts
I know that the betting public is forecasting a fairly comfortable win for the Packers, but let's not get carried away. AJ Dillon would have to nearly double his career average for carries to get to this number. Plus, it's a bit unlikely that this game gets so far out of reach that Green Bay brings in their backups. Even last week when they did bring in the second-stringers, Dillon only saw 4 carries. I'm expecting Aaron Jones to have a monster day on the ground, as evidenced by my Saturday article.
Week 1 is in the books and it's time to move on to the best bets in Week 2.
If you listened to my article earlier this week, you would have started 1-0 for taking the Giants with the points against Washington in that thriller of a matchup Thursday night. Now, let's dive into Week 2's best NFL bets.
Tennessee Titans/Seattle Seahawks Over 54
The Seahawks' offense was high-flying in the first half last week. Because the Colts never really threatened the outcome of the game, the Seahawks were able to take the air out of the ball and finish the game with an easy win while only scoring seven in the second half. While both the Titans' defense and offense looked atrocious, expect Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry to have big bounce-back weeks and make this an epic high-scoring game. This has all the makings for a shootout in which both teams put up 30-plus points.
Cincinnati Bengals +2.5 @ Chicago Bears
Until that Monday night game, the Bengals had the honor of winning the craziest Week 1 game over the Vikings in overtime. The Bears' defense, which is supposed to be their strength, looked awful against the Rams, including one of the most blown coverages you'll ever see on Cooper Kupp's long touchdown. It was simply an awful week for the Bears. I don't think it gets any better until they remove Dalton and promote Justin Fields. If they don't do that prior to game time, the Bengals will run away with this one.
Los Angeles Rams -3.5 @ Indianapolis Colts
Coming out of Week 1 the Rams looked great on both sides of the ball. Matthew Stafford had a great first game, going 20 for 26 with three touchdowns. The Colts... They didn't look that great on either side of the ball. While Carson Wentz's overall numbers didn't look bad, most of the yardage and one of his two TDs came in the fourth quarter as they were chasing from two or more scores back, never actually threatening to win the game. I'm leaning towards the Rams winning this in a blowout and would consider alternate spreads.
Arizona Cardinals -3.5 vs. Minnesota Vikings
Kyler Murray appears to be a man on a mission to avenge last season's bitter ending after absolutely torching the Tennesee Titans in Nashville. The Vikings' defense, who hasn't been as formidable as years past, is going to have their hands full with Kyler. Last week they allowed Joe Burrow to complete nearly 80% of his passes, and Burrow isn't a threat to run nor has a receiver as talented as DeAndre Hopkins. If the Vikings offense doesn't step up and make this a shootout, things could get ugly in Phoenix.
Dallas Cowboys + 3.5 @ Los Angeles Chargers
Dak Prescott looked great in Week 1 and if there were any issues with his shoulder after throwing 58 times, he had 10 days to get healed up again and ready for the Chargers. I can almost guarantee, whenever the Cowboys go to play either Los Angeles team in their stadium, that there will be more Cowboys fans than LA fans. So while they aren't playing in Jerry World, they'll have more fan support. My concern for Justin Herbert and the Chargers is their efficiency in the red zone. His most potent weapons in Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler become less effective as they get closer to the goal line. That leaves Jared Cook and Mike Williams as your bigger bodies in the red zone, which isn't ideal. The Cowboys have a decent chance to win this one outright, but you can take the points for some cushion.
- Cowboys ML (+160)
- Titans +6.5 (-105)
- Steelers ML (-225)
- Rams -3.5 (-110)
Five Props To Consider
- Calvin Ridley OVER 6.5 receptions (+115)
- Tyrod Taylor OVER 34.5 Pass Attempts (-105)
- Aaron Jones OVER 88.5 combined yards (-115)
- Nick Chubb OVER 17.5 carries (-120)
- James Robinson OVER 9.5 carries (-125)
All five of these props have an excellent chance at hitting. I like the idea of wagering a three-leg prop parlay with the last three props listed (Jones, Chubb and J-Rob). Thanks me on Monday.