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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-2) at CAROLINA PANTHERS (6-3)
The Panthers are hoping to win their sixth straight game when they host the Patriots on Monday night.
Carolina is coming off of a defensive battle with the 49ers in which it came out on top 10-9, marking its fifth consecutive win (SU and ATS). New England, however, won a 55-31 shootout with the Steelers before last week's bye. That win moved the Patriots to 5-4 ATS for the season, but they are just 1-3 ATS on the road. The Panthers are 6-3 ATS overall, and 3-1 ATS at home. The last time these teams met was in December of 2009 when New England won 20-10, but failed to cover a 12.5-point spread at home. Since the Panthers entered the league in 1995, the Patriots hold a 3-2 SU series advantage, but Carolina is 4-1 ATS in the series. Both teams have some positive trends, as New England is 23-7 ATS (77percent) after gaining 175 or more rushing yards in their last game since 1992 and they are 79-45 ATS (64percent) as an underdog during that time. However, over the past three seasons, the Panthers are 14-4 ATS (78percent) after playing their last game on the road, and 7-3 ATS after allowing 14 points or less in their previous game. The Patriots are excited to finally have RB Shane Vereen (wrist) back on the field, but top CB Aqib Talib (hip) is still questionable for Monday night. Carolina enters this one pretty healthy, with the biggest concern being G Chris Scott, who is questionable with a knee injury.
New England finally got its offense going against the Steelers last game, racking up 610 yards of total offense. QB Tom Brady threw for 432 yards and four touchdowns in the game, giving him 13 touchdown passes on the season and just six interceptions, a far cry from his 34 TD and 8 INT in 2012. TE Rob Gronkowski and WRs Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson all had more than 120 receiving yards and a touchdown, with the rookie Dobson scoring twice. RB Stevan Ridley extended his touchdown game streak to four with 115 yards and two touchdowns on 26 attempts (4.4 YPC). Brady now plays against the Carolina defense, which has been dominant all season. New Englands defense will have to do a better job stopping the run in order to slow down QB Cam Newton and his Panthers offense. The Patriots allow 128.2 rushing yards per game (30th in NFL) and that does not bode well for them against Carolina. They are, however, a solid team against the pass as they allow just 232.8 yards per game through the air (12th in NFL). New England's defense has done a poor job of getting of the field on third down (40.3percent conversions, 24th in NFL), but has held strong in the red zone (48.3percent, 7th in NFL). CB Aqib Talib, who is the Patriots best man-to-man defender in the secondary hasn't played since injuring his hip in Week 6, and could be a key addition if he's able to suit up on Monday night. New England will be looking to strip the football, having produced 11 takeaways over the past five games.
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Odds to Win 2015 Kentucky Derby
Heisman Trophy Dark Horses
The Heisman Trophy is unique because oftentimes, the winners come from virtually nowhere to have amazing seasons. Just last year, Mark Ingram won the award after virtually nobody talked about him as a preseason contender. Here are some dark horses who could have amazing years and walk away with the trophy:
Jake Locker- Locker may be this year’s version of Tim Tebow: a dual-threat quarterback capable of scaring teams just as much with his legs as with his arm. He has incredible speed and his rushing stats of 338 yards and seven touchdowns would have been much higher had his coach given him more carries. He improved greatly as a passer last year, throwing for 2,800 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions with his rocket arm. Locker stayed in school rather than potentially being taken with the number one overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and is determined to lead his team to a bowl game for the first time since he’s been there. The Heisman is often predicated on team success and if Locker can put up Tebow-esque numbers and lead his team to eight or more wins, he may become the first Heisman winner in the history of the University of Washington. www.sportsbook.com has Jake Locker at a +1200 to win the Heisman this year.
Jacquizz Rodgers- Rodgers is one of the most dynamic players in the country, a running back who gets it done as a rusher and receiver. As impressive as his 1,440 rushing yards and 21 rushing touchdowns were last year, his ability to catch 78 passes for over 500 yards out of the backfield is perhaps more impressive and unusual for a running back. The Pac 10 is wide open this year and Rodgers’ Heisman hopes would get a tremendous surge if his Oregon State Beavers were to prevail in a tough division.
Jacory Harris- Harris was the centerpiece last year on a much-improved Miami team. He orchestrated important drives in some big upsets, especially early in the season against Florida State, Georgia Tech, and Oklahoma. He put up big numbers, throwing for over 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns. Harris has the poise and talent needed to continue his vast success, but the one improvement he’ll need to make is to limit his mistakes. He threw 17 interceptions last year, far too many for a potential Heisman winner. If he can become more consistent and limit his spurts of bad play, he should become a bona fide Heisman contender. With his penchant for clutch play, he could deliver some game-winning drives that would sear him into the conscience of Heisman voters.
Dion Lewis- Lewis may have been the best true freshman in the country last season, surpassing all realistic expectations with nearly 1,800 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. He saved his best performances for last, rushing for over 150 yards in each of Pittsburgh’s last four games. He’ll carry this momentum into the upcoming season on a Pitt team that won ten games and is poised to win The Big East and a spot in the BCS. If he can separate himself from the herd of elite running backs and his team lives up to the expectations, he’ll be in the thick of the conversation.
Ryan Williams- Virginia Tech’s Williams is another standout underclassman running back. Although a redshirt, he turned heads with a forceful season last year after not even being expected to start. He ran for 1,655 yards and showed a penchant for finding the end zone, scoring 21 rushing touchdowns. Williams should expect his quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, to continue to mature and take some of the burden off of him. Williams scored 10 touchdowns and had a combined 420 yards in Tech’s last three games last season. If he can continue this pace and play well in his team’s nationally televised opening game against Boise State, he should get lots of early attention that may last.
Andrew Luck- Stanford’s Luck is getting tons of attention from the NFL and scouts are raving about his ability and potential. However, if he wants to grab the attention of Heisman voters, he’ll need to make up for the loss of Toby Gerhart, his running back and the Heisman runner-up last year. Defenses will be focused on Luck but he has proven to be incredibly poised, throwing only four interceptions last year and leading the Pac 10 in passing efficiency while at the helm of the Cardinal. Although Gerhart is now gone to the NFL, Luck has one of the best receiving duos in the country with Chris Owusu and Ryan Whalen. Luck complements his passing ability with a running ability that is a threat to all defenses. Although only a redshirt sophomore, recent history has shown that underclassmen can win the Heisman. Luck would be the fourth straight sophomore to win the award. At +1500 at www.sportsbook.com to win the Heisman Andrew Luck might just be that Dark Horse that could net you a big win.