Ruthless NFL 2019 Preseason Preview Part II: (She Gives) Great Helmet

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This is complete bullshit. I am being forced to write this column under protest because the powers that be at Ruthlessco International Unlimited are forcing me to abandon my trusty Chromebook laptop after more than ten years of faithful service! Granted, it was responsible for the occasional inadvertent doublespace, thus mucking up the ASCII characters in WordPress and making more work for The Boss. Yeah, and the number nine was always replaced by an emoji of a kitten blowing a kiss. And sure, I lost the “J” key to overuse, but so what? I cannot recall any complaints from you, the astute, forward-thinking, and (what the hell why not) sexually attractive readership!

Except that one time, when the Acksonville Aguars got blown out by two kittens blowing a kiss. I guess that could theoretically be traced back to the same issue. But still!

For real though, the Antonio Brown helmet thing is a weird one. It seems like preposterously low-hanging fruit for smartasses like me, the lamest rationale for an athlete opting out of competition since Charles Barkley rubbed lotion in his eyes at an Eric Clapton concert, as one does.

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Honestly though, I get it. Look, despite being appreciably wide, I am not a world class wide-out, but I do have a day job that requires a uniform of sorts. For reasons unrelated to this column, I have to go to court now and then, and when I do, I have to wear a suit and tie. I fucking hate ties. They itch, they somewhat ironically ball up my neck fat like a stack of pancakes, but worst of all they serve no purpose. Taking for granted the invention of the top button, there is not a more useless garment worn in the 21st century, a point that will remain inarguable until Steven Tyler shifts his focus from ruining any shred of dignity Aerosmith had left to reestablishing those 80s feather earrings.

So when Brown wants to wear the gear of his choice in order to do his job, I can relate. If it was purely a safety issue, I would tell him to pound sand, but NOCSAE concedes that no helmet can offer protection to the neck, and all the hexagonal compression columns in the world will still leave your childhood hero dribbling on a coloring book before his daughter can walk in heels. I would even listen to an optics argument if he had whored himself around the league on a slew of one-year deals, but he’s played every pro down in Pittsburgh, so it’s not like another coat of paint would make him look like Mark “The Great Gazoo” Kelso out there.

Let’s not forget that Antonio Brown is a remarkably gifted black athlete who, at 31, needs to amass as much playing time and resultant compensation as he can in order to set his family up for life. A man who allegedly crossed paragon-of-virtue Ben Roethlesberger and was thus benched by the vaunted Rooney family despite amassing more catches and more receiving yards than anyone who has ever played the position for the same amount of time. Consider also the reputation of the entity that makes and enforces the rules. I’m not saying that this is about slapping a logo on the man’s head, but this is the part where I remind you that Dannon was once the official yogurt of the NFL.

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Nor am I saying that there is a racial element to this thing, except to say that Mr. Bundchen and the poor bastard for whom the bar still opens at noon on Thanksgiving both received prior clemency with respect to the same rule, and we never heard a Goddamn word about those distractions. As I type this, she-who-cannot-be-named is flipping between the Mets and the unofficial Jags getting unofficially mollywhomped by the unofficial Dolphins. As God is my witness, the booth is advocating for Ryan Fitzpatrick to contend for a starting job in 2019 while Kap sits at home ignoring bihourly CAN WE TALK? texts from Jay-Z.

Send me a few more emails calling me an SJW if you like, I’ll add them to the stack. But Nate Jackson says Brown has a point, even if his editors seem to think the whole thing was worked to gin up interest in Hard Knocks. Far be it from me to suggest that the shield may not be prioritizing the health and safety of a guy who counter-punched his way to a guaranteed $11.2 million dollar raise, but a hit dog will holler I guess.

HEY LOOK FOOTBALL!

Is…about to start in two weeks.

If you are new, we typically eschew preseason betting for props and futures in the weeks leading up to the competitive games, for all of the reasons you think. Even I have been reticent to put any action on any games so far this year save for one, when the Rams hosted Dallas last Saturday, and that was a small-stake insurance play in case the UFC card ended early.

That said, there is still some fun to be had if you are willing to do some studying ahead of the season, or if you are the sort that would be combing through preview materials anyway. Even though they are about baseball, the (other) boss wrote a pair of columns a while back explaining why props can be both valuable and fun, the reasons being that there are advantageous lines to exploit if you look hard enough, and a relatively small stake can keep you entertained throughout most of the season, so long as you don’t get anything profoundly wrong. Which, to be fair, is not unheard of.

With that in mind, there are a few props that have caught my eye thus far, and could be of interest to you if, like me, you are going to be glued to the TV every Sunday from two weeks from now until Chinese New Year. Happy Year of the Metal Rat, by the way. I’m still working on my gift for Matt.

A quick note on terminology: when we discuss prop bets, we are talking about betting on anything other than the final outcome of a game. So prop bets often refer to season win totals, but can also encompass league leaders in touchdown passes, most made field goals, most missed field goals, even the Super Bowl coin flip.  Futures, conversely, refer to bets placed on a game in which we do not yet know which teams are playing. So picking the winner of the Super Bowl, the NFC Championship, and/or the AFC West is a future bet. Got that? Great.

Another thing about props – but applicable to all gambling, really – is the need to shop for the best lines. Sportsbook Review will ostensibly give you odds from ten different books, but it’s important to remember that they have sponsorship and affiliate deals just like everybody else. We use the Vegas Insider consensus spreads and money lines, just because those best reflect the options most of us will have over the course of the season, but props take a bit more digging. You can certainly start with the SBR numbers, but make sure you look around to make sure you are getting the best deal, especially if you’re going to go in on either of the following.

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CINCINNATI BENGALS UNDER 6 WINS (+110)

Hang on, let me try and smooth things over with all of you from the great state of Ohio by noting that I once read former Ruthless punching bag Drew Carey’s book Dirty Jokes and Beer. What are the odds, right? It was alright. Weirdly harrowing in parts, as I recall. Anyway, in the book he explains how Matthew Perry, then at the height of his Friends fame, used to take him out drinking in order to be the perpetually good-looking guy in the club. So long as he was standing next to Carey, anyway. Decent plan, right?

In this analogy, the Bengals are Drew Carey and the Steelers, in the form of Matthew Perry, are flanked by Matt LeBlanc and even David Schwimmer, as the Browns and Ravens, respectively. Who dey is are just a hardscrabble, workaday point of midwestern pride surrounded by younger guys with better prospects and nicer resumes. And their love life is DOAAAAA *clapclapclapclap* okay I’ll stop.

This is what it looks like. The AFC North is completely up in the air between a perennial contender, last year’s champs, and the most hyped Browns team since the franchise was reincarnated in 1999. That leaves but one team out. They could lean on A.J. Green, but he tore ligaments during preseason drills and will miss six to eight weeks. They could hype their retooled line, but top draft pick Jonah WIlliams is out for the season after shoulder surgery. Andy Dalton is in the penultimate year of a contract that no longer comes loaded with dead money, meaning he could be cut or replaced with few repercussions, and is playing for a new head coach for the first time in his entire professional career.

All of this comes with the added pressure of playing six divisional games against three plausible playoff contenders, mixed with Pats, Seahawks, and Rams games, the latter two of which are on the road. Could they beeeee any more hosed? It’s not like they are an unlikeable franchise – Mike Brown is a jerk but so is every other NFL owner – but we can probably profit while they stumble through a rebuild.

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SAQUON BARKLEY OVER 11 RUSHING TDS (-115)

No, this is not particularly inventive. There is no shortage of handicappers, touts, and loudmouthed uncles leaning on Barkley to have a great statistical season, if not one that will mean a lot after Thanksgiving. Hell, my close friends and confidants are still in the throes of baseball season, with good reason mind you, and even they know that the Giants are careening toward an Eli v. Daniel Jones QB controversy by first frost.

Not that it matters all that much if neither one of them has anybody to throw to. Odell Beckham is gone, Corey Coleman is out for the season, Sterling Shepard broke his thumb, and Golden Tate pissed hot last week, which will cost him four games. One of the local tabloids they give away on the subway was pushing for the Maras to sign Michael Crabtree, which granted was a stupid idea, but even that option is gone. Just yesterday he chose to join Larry Fitzgerald in Phoenix, where they can run ten yard routes, turn around, and watch Kyler Murray get sacked in tandem.

Under the circumstances, Saquon Barkley almost has to rush for at least 1.6 touchdowns per game. Last year’s hobbled, bootleg 5-11 version of Big Boo averaged 23 points per game, and given that one man was not in fact responsible for the entirety of their offensive output – though it was close – I’m willing to bet that he gets to the end zone on his feet at least 11 times come September. He can do it in overtime, garbage time, Miller time, Morris Day and The Time, the beauty of the play is that it won’t matter to us.

So can you feel it in the air? I sure can. Two weeks from tonight we get real life football, and we can embrace something, anything, that takes even the slightest bit of media coverage away from the chosen one. We’ll spot some futures next week for you Hail Mary types. Until then, dig into your stats, study the lines, and do the work so that come September 5 we can shut the world out on Sundays and even horde a bit of cash in the process. Bread and circus, violent spectacle, meaningless distraction, call it what they will but boy do we need it right about now.

Good luck!

About J.J. Duquesne

J.J. is an attorney in New York City. He loves NFL Football...a LOT.