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Cook’s 2021-22 NFL Gambling Picks: Divisional Round

With the Divisional Playoffs having some unlikely franchises clash; Cook decides to continue his picks! Will his Bengals keep this momentum going?

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People often say that Wild Card Weekend is the best weekend of the NFL year, and with added games increasing the amount of football, it’s easy to see why. I’ve always said that the Divisional Round is just a little bit better. Two games on Saturday, two games on Sunday, and none of the riff-raff that sometimes sneaks into the playoffs. One week is enough to get rid of the filler, the second week gives you all killer with the top-seeded teams entering the fray.

Making things even better this season, at least on a personal level: The Cincinnati Bengals are part of the proceedings for the first time in thirty-one years. It’ll sound silly to those of you that root for teams that regularly win championships, but you have to keep the context in mind here. Let me tell y’all a little story…

Winter 1991. The Cincinnati Reds won the World Series a couple of months prior, sweeping the overwhelmingly favored Oakland A’s. The Cincinnati Bengals beat the Houston Oilers in the wild card round, only to fall short against the Los Angeles Raiders in the divisional round. Six year old Steve Cook was bummed out, but not overly worried. The Bengals had been in the playoffs a ton recently, making the Super Bowl a couple of years prior. The Reds had a pretty good tradition of winning baseball. Surely, there would be plenty more opportunities for these teams to win championships.

There would not be.

The Reds made one more NLCS appearance in 1995 before sinking into irrelevance for most of the next three decades. As pathetic as their plight has been, the Bengals became even more of a joke. The 90s Bengals teams were good for about three wins a season. Wins started becoming more prevalent once Marvin Lewis came to town, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t get over the hump in the playoffs. Couldn’t even win one measly playoff game! It’d be one thing if the Bengals were getting stopped in the AFC Championship Game multiple times in a row, or even if they pulled a Buffalo Bills and lost four straight Super Bowls. They couldn’t win one playoff game.

So you’ll excuse Bengals fans for getting a little excited over winning one playoff game. It’s been thirty-one years! Many of us weren’t born, or barely even remember a time where the Bengals were seen as a threat in the playoffs.

Easily the biggest sports result for this fan since 2013, and the NCAA says that University of Louisville men’s basketball season didn’t happen. As long as the NFL doesn’t vacate the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals season due to prostit-er, sex workers visiting the players’ houses, this one should stay in the record book. It’s a beautiful thing.

Now, we move on. We went 2-4 last week, mostly because we gave too much credit to teams like the Cardinals & Steelers that put up miserable efforts. We don’t have teams like that to fool us this week, so let’s get to it.

Saturday, January 22

Cincinnati at Tennessee (-3.5)

I hate to say it, but this is nothing new for Nashville sports teams. As much as I love the Predators, I would be delinquent in my duties if I didn’t point out the multiple occasions where that franchise has undertaken methods to try and keep fans of rival teams out of Bridgestone Arena. Chicago Blackhawks fans are a frequent target when their team is good. The problem the local teams run into is that Nashville is a pretty great place for a road trip. Tons of things to see & do, plenty of locations to hold pre & postgame activities. Nice location too, as Nashville is just four hours away from Cincinnati. Local businesses are doing their part to dissuade Bengals fans by jacking up prices on everything.

However, Bengals fans know good & well that divisional playoff game appearances for their team have been few & far between. No matter how high Nashville hotels want to price themselves, there will be Bengals fans taking up a portion of the rooms. It’s a special occasion. Hell, I’d consider heading down there myself if I wasn’t working this weekend and had two non-blurry eyes. Some things are worth braving a pandemic for.

People ask me why the Bengals won’t beat the Titans, and I have two words for them: Derrick Henry. He still finished in the top ten in rushing yards despite missing the last half of the season due to injury. Jonathan Taylor had a great season and finished more than 500 yards ahead of second-place Nick Chubb, but odds are he would have been second place had Henry played the full season. The Bengals have been good but not great against the rush, and Henry’s one of those guys where you don’t worry about the matchup anyway. Add in the fact that all of the Titans’ wide receivers are actually healthy, and this is going to be the best Tennessee offense we’ve seen all season.

The Titans’ defense has been better against rushers than the Bengals, and slightly better against the pass. They’ll create a lot of pressure on Joe Burrow, making it tougher to get the ball to Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins & Tyler Boyd. One thing to keep an eye on: Bengals head coach Zac Taylor was with Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M and with the Miami Dolphins. So he knows Tannehill pretty well…to me, that means the Titans give Derrick Henry the ball even more than they would have otherwise.

I think the Titans have heard the buzz from certain outlets how they’re the worst #1 seed of all time, and are going to be looking to prove some people wrong.

San Francisco at Green Bay (-6)

I don’t want to read too much into recent playoff meetings with these teams. The 49ers with Colin Kapernick at quarterback & the 49ers with Jimmy G at quarterback are two different animals. So the fact that the 49ers have won three straight playoff games against the Packers doesn’t matter much for this exercise. What does matter: The 49ers have a darn good track record of covering as an underdog. You see Garoppolo’s record up there, and Kyle Shanahan’s record is in the same boat. 11-6 as road underdogs outside the division. That ain’t bad. Six points seems like too much to give the 49ers to me, even on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field.

I still think the Packers will win the game, though I can’t help but think that things would be so much more interesting if they lost. If Aaron Rodgers flipped his lid over last season’s finish for Green Bay, what would happen if they went out in the divisional round? More whining, pissing & moaning would be my guess. No offense to Packers fans, I think your tradition is pretty cool! But as somebody that roots for interesting outcomes, I sure wouldn’t mind seeing San Fran win this outright.

(I also might be rooting for the Bengals/49ers Super Bowl trilogy to unfold like the Rock/Austin WrestleMania trilogy did. Tough to say. It’s also tough to say if you can have a trilogy with more than thirty years between parts. Can I get a ruling from George Lucas?)

Sunday, January 23

LA Rams at Tampa Bay (-3)

They made it easy for me this week. You’re giving me Tom Brady as only a three point favorite? I know the Rams are peaking at the right time. They decimated the Arizona Cardinals in impressive fashion. Odell Beckham Jr. is finding his role in the offense. The Rams defense made Kyler Murray look more like Jake “The Snake” Plummer than the eventual greatest QB in Cardinals history. I’d be picking the Rams against most teams in this bracket.

I ain’t picking against Tom Brady & the Buccaneers. Maybe I end up being wrong (it’s happened more often than not this season), but if I’m wrong it’s not because I did something stupid like pick against Tom Brady twenty years after we all should have learned better.

Buffalo at Kansas City (-1.5)

Neither of these teams had much trouble handling their opposition last week, so we get a rematch of last year’s AFC title game. The Bills lost that game, but came out strong in Week 5 and handled a Chiefs team that didn’t look like the Chiefs we knew the last couple of years. Kansas City got back on track and are once again the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. Can the Bills change the script?

It’s not as much of a guarantee as Tom Brady is, but the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium are pretty close. They’ve won five straight & covered as home favorites. You know the place will be as loud as possible no matter what the weather might be. The Bills have been hot lately, but it seems like whenever they get too hot they end up cooling off at an inopportune time. Sunday night would certainly be one of those, and I see the Chiefs taking advantage.

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter for great in-game insight like I showcased earlier.


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NFL

Cook: Super Bowl LVI Final Thoughts

The Super Bowl worked for Cook’s betting picks, but not his fandom. He unfurls some feelings and thoughts about the Super Bowl, and the season that was.

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As a fan of the team that lost Super Bowl LVI, I should probably feel disappointed. Distressed. Discouraged. Disgruntled. Disenchanted. Despondent. Disconcerted. Dissatisfied. Depressed. Dejected. Despondent. Down. Downcast. Downhearted. Lots of D words, basically.

Don’t get me wrong. A sports fan’s favorite team losing any type of game comes with a bit of a sting. You want your team to win. Even those mid-September baseball games where your team has already been mathematically eliminated come with a little sting upon defeat. So yeah, I won’t deny that the Bengals coming up a little short at the end of the game stung a bit. It wasn’t the optimal result.

With that being said…I’m not disappointed or distressed or discouraged or disgruntled or disenchanted or any of those other D words I mentioned earlier. There were plenty of Bengals seasons that left me in that state of mind. Most of the pre-Marvin Lewis seasons. A lot of those Marvin Lewis seasons did, even the ones where they made the playoffs.

The 2021 version of the Cincinnati Bengals gave me nothing to be ashamed of. There were certainly some ups & downs in the regular season, but we all know that the postseason is what matters in football & every other sport. The postseason was the downfall of the Marvin Lewis Era of the Bengals. They could make it there. They just couldn’t win a game. Against anybody. I’m pretty sure I could have found 22 people on the street and beat the Marvin Lewis Bengals in a postseason game.

These Bengals made us forget about the past. Three decades of not winning in the playoffs came to an end. They were favored against the Raiders, but not really favored because they were the Bengals. It was a big hump for fans to get over. I was more gobsmacked after that win than what followed.

I could barely even text people afterward. It was unreal. Once that happened, things got more real. There was this Tennessee Titans team that was the #1 seed but was doubted because of their quarterback and injuries that happened but still got the #1 seed. (Those fans are still very bitter towards Bengal folks, btw.) The Titans even sacked Joe Burrow 9 times and still managed to lose because their offense couldn’t take advantage. But their coach won an award so everything’s ok.

The Chiefs, now there’s a beast I still can’t believe the Bengals managed to beat twice somehow. They’re cutthroat sumbitches just like Dustin James, and have the best quarterback of modern times in Patrick Mahomes. We know they’ll be one of the top teams in the AFC for years to come. Beating them in Week 17 in Cincinnati was one thing. Beating them in the AFC Championship Game in Arrowhead Stadium? Another thing entirely. Crazy stuff, unimaginable before it happened.

The Super Bowl didn’t end well, obviously. There were still moments that Bengals fans wouldn’t have believed before they happened. Joe Mixon throwing a touchdown pass, for one. The experts expected the Rams to blow the Bengals out of the water, and that isn’t quite what happened.

So what did happen?

The Rams’ stars rose to the top, as cream always does eventually. The Bengals could keep Cooper Kupp & Aaron Donald down for so long. You can’t keep the cream down forever. The Bengals’ offensive line could hold the Rams back for 2.5 quarters. They hit a wall eventually. The Rams ran out of weapons other than Cooper Kupp. Odell Beckham had a good game early, got hurt. Kupp was their last option after that, and the Bengals could shut him down for a minute, but not forever. When it was the end of the game and time for stars to step up to the plate, Cooper Kupp got the ball. You have to tip your hat to him.

The Bengals didn’t capitalize off of certain opportunities. As much as we love Evan McPherson, an extra touchdown instead of a field goal would have helped. That early 4th down call that led to a Rams touchdown didn’t help. Why was Samaje Perine in & having the ball directed towards him during the last two Bengals offensive plays of the game instead of Joe Mixon?

Maybe we’ll understand someday. Maybe we won’t. At the end of the day, the result is the same. The loss hurts, but seasons have come to an end in much bitter fashion. The future is still bright. The Cincinnati Bengals may not have shed all of their stereotypes, but few can deny that this isn’t a different team than previous versions. Joe Burrow is still with us, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. Ja’Marr Chase is pretty good, along with Tee Higgins. The main thing the Bengals need? Offensive line, which this upcoming draft seems to have a deep pool of.

No, I’m not any of those D words. I’m optimistic about the future of the Cincinnati Bengals. The main thing that worries me? Given how fleeting existence on this mortal coil seems to be these days, I just hope to be around to see that moment where the Bengals finally shut the mouths of those critics. If only for a moment. Critics will always critic, as I well know being one myself.

Who Dey.


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Cook’s 2021-22 NFL Gambling Picks: Super Bowl LVI

Get some of your Gambling Pick insights for the Super Bowl! Cook’s heart may be with the Bengals, but where is his money?

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Hi, hello & welcome to Super Bowl LVI speculation! I’m Steve Cook, and I’m in a bit of an unfamiliar position here. In years past when I’ve done Super Bowl predictions & projections, I haven’t had any skin in the game. My Cincinnati Bengals are typically done for the season long before early February hits. Usually, I’m watching the Super Bowl as an impartial observer that doesn’t really care which team wins. This year, I have some interest.

Before we make the official Super Bowl LVI Against The Spread pick, we’ll look at some of the prop bets. Nothing in the world has more prop bets than the Super Bowl. Most of them are pretty ridiculous. I mean, we’re really betting on whether singers are going to show some cleavage? (Take “Yes” on that one, LA’s going to have some record heat on Sunday.)

Odds via BetOnlineVegas Insider!

Super Bowl MVP:

  • Matthew Stafford: +115
  • Joe Burrow: +225
  • Cooper Kupp: +600
  • Ja’Marr Chase: +1600
  • Aaron Donald: +1600
  • Joe Mixon: +2500
  • Odell Beckham Jr.: +2500
  • Cam Akers: +3000
  • Tee Higgins: +5000
  • Von Miller: +5000
  • Sony Michel: 6600
  • All others: +10000 or above

We all know that quarterbacks are the most likely Super Bowl MVPs, so Stafford & Burrow are the most likely to win it. As far as a less likely option goes? If Jalen Ramsey (+10000) shuts down Ja’Marr Chase and gets an INT in the process? He’d be my pick, and the best pick to get some money on. Von Miller might be a good pick at (+5000) since the voters know who he is.

Will the Super Bowl field goal record of 54 yards be broken?

  • No: -320
  • Yes: +210

Evan McPherson has made four field goals in each of the Bengals’ playoff games. This includes three over fifty yards. His longest field goal during the regular season was 58 yards. It’s definitely within the realm of possibility for him to get it done, so throw some money on Yes.

Largest Lead

  • Over 14.5 (+100)
  • Under 14.5 (-130)

You might think this will be a close game, and it could end up being one. But we’ve seen both the Bengals & Rams come back from double digit deficits during the playoffs. We’ve also seen the Bengals & the Rams have double digit leads, only for their opponents to manage to tie the game. So it wouldn’t surprise me at all if one of these teams got out to a big lead, only to see their opponent come back. Take the over.

Overtime Odds

  • Yes (+950)
  • No (-2000)

We’ve only had two overtime games in these playoffs, both involving the Kansas City Chiefs. One of them also involved the Bengals, so Yes might be worth throwing a few bucks on just in case it happens.

Over/Under: 48.5

I’m liking the under here. We’re talking about two teams without a ton of Super Bowl experience. Will the moment get too big for some of these players? Maybe playing at home helps the Rams like it helped the Bucs last year, but it’s still the Super Bowl.

Sunday, February 13

LA Rams (-4) vs. Cincinnati

The best argument for the Bengals just might be their inexperience. They’re the youngest team on average in Super Bowl history. They don’t know what they don’t know, which can be an advantage in big situations. Of course, Joe Burrow has plenty of experience leading teams in big situations, as we saw him lead LSU to a National Championship just before the pandemic started. His coolness has been a large part of the Bengals’ success so far, no matter what happens he doesn’t seem to get rattled. Of course, if there’s a time where something like that could happen, it might be one’s first Super Bowl.

The Rams defense worries me, as a Bengals fan. They have a couple of top-notch pass rushers in Aaron Donald & Von Miller. Tough to find faults in their games, and everybody else can capitalize off of being unnoticed. Joe Burrow might not mind being blitzed, but we all know that the main Bengals weakness is their offensive line.

Then the Rams have Jalen Ramsey working the cornerback position. He’ll have a lot of receivers to keep track of, but I feel like Ramsey Island is something for the Bengals offense to worry about, like Revis Island back in the day. If Ramsey can shut down Ja’Marr Chase, then Tee Higgins or Tyler Boyd need to take advantage. Maybe they can, but here’s the difference: I don’t doubt that Cooper Kupp or Odell Beckham can take advantage off of whoever’s covered. The Bengals just don’t have that secondary depth.

If the Rams can get the same pressure on Joe Burrow that the Titans did, there’s no reason they shouldn’t win this game by at least a touchdown.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy Super Bowl LVI!


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