Our MLS Is Back Tournament premiere rolls along with a look at groups C and D.
Previously, we looked at groups A and B here.
MLS is Back Tournament Group CMLS
For a franchise that has made the MLS Cup Final in three of the last four years, Toronto FC has to feel like a bit of a mess right now. First, Toronto was delayed in getting to Florida due to additional COVID-19 testing, pushing back their first match against D.C. United from Friday to Sunday. Then, the Sunday morning match was pushed back to Monday morning because an unnamed Toronto player tested positive for COVID-19. As if that wasn't enough, Toronto blew a 2-0 lead to a D.C. United team that played the whole second half with 10 men.
The pause on the regular season did help the Reds since it gave Michael Bradley additional time to recover after offseason ankle surgery. Now Toronto can focus on getting Jozy Altidore back on the pitch. Altidore didn't play in Monday's match, but expect to see the striker more as the tournament moves on.
For many squads, it would be a huge setback not have Altidore on the pitch. That isn't the case with Toronto, as the Reds have some other quality offensive options. Ayo Akinola bagged a brace against United on Monday, while Alejandro Pozuelo has scored 13 goals in 33 appearances with the club. As long as Toronto's defensive doesn't fall apart like they did on Monday, it's going to be hard to keep the Reds out of the knockout stage.
New England Revolution
New England's biggest advantage doesn't even lace up the boots. Bruce Arena is plenty comfortable with this type of tournament. Not only did Arena lead the United States to two World Cup appearances, but he also has led the USMNT to three Gold Cup titles. Arena was hired in mid-May by New England after the club stumbled out of the gates in 2019, losing eight of their first 12 matches. The rest of the way, the Revolution lost just three of their final 22 regular season matches. New England earned a spot in the playoffs, falling to Atlanta in the opening round.
The offensive attack of the Revs features some names that might not be familiar to the casual fan, but Carles Gil, Gustavo Boa, and Cristian Penilla were a huge reason for in-season resurgence for New England. Gil not only scored 10 goals last year, but the Spaniard also added 14 assists. Boa scored the lone goal in Thursday night's win over Montreal.
The Revolution didn't get any favors with the group they were placed in. Even though some of the odds might have been stacked against them heading into action, New England has the talent and coaching to make a run in the knockout stage. Never bet against Bruce Arena, as he always finds a way to get the most out of his players.
New manager, same Montreal Impact. After an ugly start to his managerial career at Monaco, Thierry Henry signed a two-year deal with Montreal in November. The Impact not only started the MLS season with four points in two games, but they also moved into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The pause on the season couldn't have come at a worse time for the improving Impact.
Of course once Montreal was able to get back on the pitch, they looked listless in a 1-0 loss to a New England team they had defeated 2-1 in the season opener. The surprise of the short season for Montreal has been Maxi Urruti, who has three goals already after scoring just four all last season. It's hard to see Urruti keeping up with this pace. If Montreal is going to be successful, they'll need more contributions from Bojan Krkic, Saphir Tarder, and Orji Okwonkwo. How the Impact respond to the match against rival Toronto in Thursday night's match will determine if they have any hope of making it to the knockout stage.
D.C. United finished fifth in the Eastern Conference last year before falling to Toronto in extra time in the playoffs. There has been plenty of turnover with Ben Olsen's squad since the loss in October. The biggest name not returning from last year's roster is Wayne Rooney, who decided to return to England to finish out his legendary career after appearing in 52 matches and scoring 25 goals for United.
To try and fill Rooney's production, United added Julian Gressel from Atlanta and Federico Higuain from Columbus. Higuain might not have a lot left in the tank, but he has already made an impact, scoring in the 84th minute on Monday to spark the comeback against Toronto.
While Gressel has struggled to find his footing with United, Ben Olsen has gotten a couple goals this year from an unexpected source. After scoring the game-winner in the second match of the season against Miami, center back Frederic Brillant scored the equalizer in stoppage time against Toronto on Monday. If United can get their attack clicking, they could make a deep run in the knockout stage.
MLS is Back Tournament Group DMLS
Real Salt Lake
It has been a pretty wild last year for Real Salt Lake. Mike Petke was relieved of his duties as head coach last year after an incident where Petke used homophobic language towards an official. Freddy Juarez was named interim head coach on August 11, and his handling of the team throughout the rest of the season and playoffs was enough for Real Salt Lake to remove the interim tag from Juarez's title.
After finishing third in the Western Conference last season, RSL's start to this year was a little underwhelming, registering two draws before the season was paused. Coming into the tournament, there was some concerns about where Real Salt Lake was going to get goals from, but some of those concerns were soothed in the first match, as RSL scored two goals in the win over the Colorado Rapids.
What is going to determine just how far Real Salt Lake goes in this tournament is going to be the play of the defense and goalkeeper. Nick Rimando retired last season, leaving Zac MacMath at goalie for RSL. So far there hasn't been an issue at goalie, but it remains to be seen how MacMath will respond when the pressure is turned up. If the transition to the new guard at goalkeeper is seamless, Real Salt Lake is going to be tough to beat.
Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City is coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs, which is an oddity for Peter Vermes' team, who had made the playoffs in eight straight seasons prior to last year. To try and make sure the absence from the playoffs only lasts one year, Sporting Kansas City brought in Alan Pulido. The striker from Mexico has already made an impact, scoring two goals in three matches this season.
Before heading to Orlando, Sporting Kansas City opened up the season red-hot, winning their first two matches by a combined score of 7-1. It looked like SKC was on their way to a third straight win in 2020, but goaltender Tim Melia was given a red card in the 74th minute. The rest of the match was a nightmare for Sporting Kansas City, as they scored an own goal in the 92nd minute to allow Minnesota to tie the match, and then SKC lost their shot at earning any points when Minnesota scored five minutes later.
The setback against Minnesota could be the difference as to whether SKC moves on to the knockout stage or heads home in a couple weeks. While Sporting Kansas City has some room for error since there are some third place teams that will move on to the knockout stage, now they can't afford any more collapses in their final two group stage matches.
Another squad in this group who has a coach in their first full year after finishing out last season as an interim head coach is the Colorado Rapids. Robin Fraser was Colorado's third coach last season, replacing Conor Casey, who replaced Anthony Hudson. The Rapids undoubtedly performed the best under Fraser in 2019, winning five of their seven matches after Fraser took over.
Prior to Sunday night's loss to Real Salt Lake, Colorado started out 2020 like they finished 2019. The Rapids won their first two matches of the season, both by a 2-1 scoreline, with all four goals coming from different players. One of those goal scorers was Kei Kamara, who scored 14 goals last season. Kamara now has recorded at least 10 goals in each of the last three seasons.
If Colorado was in any other group in this tournament it'd be almost a no-brainer to predict them to move on to the knockout round. Unfortunately the Rapids were drawn into the toughest group, and suffered a loss to their rival in their first match. It's not out of the question for Colorado to advance but they find themselves in a pretty deep hole.
Minnesota United FC
The third season was the charm for Minnesota United FC. After missing the playoffs in their first two seasons in MLS, the Loons finally broke through last year, finishing fourth in the Western Conference, Unfortunately for Minnesota the playoff run was very short, as they were downed by the LA Galaxy in the opening round.
The Loons know they have a lot more to prove this year and they did a great job at putting the rest of the league on notice in their first two matches, winning both contests by a combined score of 8-3. For quite a while on Sunday night it looked like those first two results might be a little smoke and mirrors, as Minnesota was stymied by Sporting Kansas City. The Loons proved it's not over till it's over though, scoring both of their goals during second half stoppage time to shock SKC 2-1.
Moving on from Group D is no easy task, but Minnesota already has a leg-up on their competition thanks to the comeback win on Sunday night. Kevin Molino already has three goals on the season, including the game-winner on Sunday night. Watch out for Molino to make more noise as Adrian Heath hopes his team has a deep run in the tournament in them.
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.