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In the NFL, the Future (Or Futures) is Now

Fall football is about to get fully underway, so I decided to stop picking apart the baseball money lines for a day and focus on NFL futures bets.

Now that Michael Vick has landed a team, Brett Favre has made his annual comeback decision, and training camps are in full swing, the NFL picture is starting to get a little clearer. This is the time to make your prediction whether last year's surprise teams were flukes or real contenders and whether the championship windows have closed on the perennial powerhouses. Can Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco fight the sophomore slumps and return their teams to the playoffs?

How will the addition of a true wildcat quarterback help the Dolphins' chances of defending their division title? Can the Detroit Lions win a game this year? Will Tom Brady recover from reconstructive knee surgery fast enough to take his team back to the playoffs? It's time for football fans to put their money where their mouths are; it's time for NFL futures bets.

A quick glance at the preseason wins lines doesn't look promising. Las Vegas' lines appear to be tightening along with the economy, but there are still some bets worth throwing.

With my strength of schedule in hand, the big surprise is seeing the Bears with the easiest schedule, statistically. That, coupled with the addition of the first franchise quarterback in decades, should allow them to win more than 8 1/2 games. Two of them will probably come at the expense of the first team in history to go 0-16 - the Detroit Lions.

Speaking of the Lions, I don't see them winning over five games. This team is not likely to pull a quick turnaround the way the Dolphins did last year.

In 2007, the Dolphins lost six games by one field goal or less, but the Lions only lost one game in 2008 by the same margin. They weren't even competitive last year, and I didn't see any offseason moves to make me think they are on the right track.

A team that seems to have made some nice additions is the Miami Dolphins. Let's face it; Bill Parcells flat out knows how to win, and he knows how to scout out his kind of players.

They are on the cutting edge of the first big offensive revolution since the West Coast offense, and they just brought in the prototype quarterback for the package. They brought back Jason Taylor to rush on the opposite side of Joey Porter and drafted two lockdown corners to slow down the Patriots' and Bills' passing games.

Despite those additions, and the fact that they won 11 games last year, Las Vegas set the line at 7 games. I know they play the toughest schedule in football, but somebody missed on this line.

I also like the Dolphins at 50:1 to win the Super Bowl. They are too good of a team to pass on these odds.

My last pick is Arizona over 8 1/2 wins and 30:1 to win the Super Bowl. I know their defense is patchwork, but a decade ago, the Rams proved you don't need defense to win a Super Bowl. If they can keep Warner healthy, the addition of Chris Wells might provide the balance needed to make another run this year. They play in the weakest division in football and have the 27th toughest schedule, so 8 1/2 should be a cake walk. They just have to keep their heads straight with all the added pressure of repeating last year's success.

I debated the Falcons over 8 1/2 games and the Eagles over 9 1/2, but those numbers are too close, given their strength of schedules. There is also some merit to the Vikings under 9 1/2, Jaguars under 8, Rams under 5 1/2 and the 49ers under 7 1/2, but those are all teams with too many variables to feel safe about the bets. Only fire at those speculation bets if the odds are too good to pass up.

Michael Sanchez is a freelance sports writer, professional poker player and staff handicapper for The Insiders Las Vegas. His email is Mike@TheInsidersLasVegas.com.

Wanders Never Cease

One would expect a man nicknamed "The Axe Murder" to be the last person you'd like to meet anywhere, let alone back allies, darkened hallways or while picking up his younger sister for the prom. In reality, the macabre imagery of Wanderlei Silva's moniker stands out in direct contrast to his true character. From my personal experience I can say Mr. Silva is unquestionably one of the most sincere, humble, and gifted people I've met since moving to Vegas from Washington State a few years ago. He is a fighter who treats every person with a respect your grandma would be proud of.

Wanderlei Silva was born July 3, 1976 and is a Brazilian mixed martial arts fighter who trained under Rudimar Fedrigo at the Chute Boxe Academy in Curitiba, Brazil. Silva was branded "The Axe Murderer" for his fearless assaults in the cage ring; a mass majority of his fights have ended either by knock out or by referee stoppage due to his intense striking ability.

Silva has faced an array of Pride and Ultimate Fighting Championship fighters including Carl Malenko, Mirko "CroCop" Filipovic, Gilbert Yvel, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, Pride Fighting champion Sakuraba, Guy Mezger, Dan Henderson and many other formidable opponents. From 1999 to 2005 Silva went on a 23 fight win streak. His lifetime MMA record is 32 wins, 3 losses and 1 draw and he prides himself on not backing down from any fighter's challenge.

His passion for the sport is powerful and Wanderlei has recently channeled this enthusiasm into the opening of Wand Fight Team, a mixed martial arts facility located in the middle of town on Dean Martin off of Highway 15.

I'm just a small time amateur fighter - you can call me Moses - and I certainly feel a slight hint of intimidation and pressure to perform when training at a gym like Silva's, a facility that caters to a plethora of big name fighters like Kit Cope, Mike Whitehead, Forrest Griffith, Gilbert Yvel, JJ Mix, Mauricio Shogun Rua and many other national and international fighters from around world.

Wand Fight Team is not your typical Gold's or 24 Hour Fitness. A local from Vegas or someone just wanting to get pool party abs might feel a bit lost in the shuffle. However, Wanderlei keeps his guests comfortable with a sincere hand shake and an inviting "thanks, come again tomorrow".

"The team atmosphere is huge here! Everyone is all about the team," Mike Whitehead, who just defeated Kevin Randleman, said about the gym. Mike has been to a lot of gyms here in Las Vegas including Xtreme Couture, Warrior Training Center and a few others, but feels most at home at Silva's gym.

JJ mix, who has a main event fight coming up against UFC veteran Diego Saraiva, had this to say about the gym. "The atmosphere is amazing here, the training is intense and the people are genuine."

I asked Wanderlei what kind of people he wants in his gym: "anyone who is hungry and driven," he replied.

To be able to interact with these big names and future stars makes a trip to Wand Fight Club well worth it. The mood in the gym is inviting and fun for the athletes and their friends and families, the local weekend warrior, beginning amateur fighters or even a spectator sitting on the benches at gym.

There are some huge differences that set Wand Fight Team apart from other Las Vegas training facilities.

For example, Wanderlei encourages people to come and watch pro-practices, differing from other gyms whose athletes hate being observed during practice and even stricter facilities that are completely closed to the public.

The gym also includes the only elevation room of any gym in Las Vegas. The elevation room is a sealed, air-tight space that simulates training at high mountain altitudes - definitely not for the faint of heart. It also includes the basics, such as showers, a locker room, seating for spectators, some clothing and fight apparel as well as an enormous playground and trampoline for the parents that bring kids and want to keep them out of trouble for awhile.

So if you're in Las Vegas for vacation, live here or just want solid mixed martial arts training and can't seem to make yourself at home in some of the high profile, "nose in the air" clubs or gyms around town, check out Wanderlei Silva's new spot. It is a welcoming environment that provides serious training. Dedication and determination are a must, and you need to be ready to sweat. Silva certainly won't take it easy on you - that just isn't his style.

Moses Lewis is a professional athlete in the Mixed Martial Arts arena by day and a local columnist by night. He covers sports figures and dynamic new sports equipment here in Las Vegas - the new home of Team Wand.

Turning the Page

Heading into last year's 2008-2009 men's basketball season, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger had nothing but excitement and expectation flowing through his veins. And why not? He was returning arguably the best senior threesome in the Mountain West Conference in Wink Adams, Joe Darger and Rene Rougeau.

This trio already had two MWC tourney titles under their collective belts along with two exciting runs through the NCAA Tournament, once making it to the Sweet 16, the other to the Second Round. The 2008-09 Rebels were built for a deep March Madness run.

That dream ended with a woodshed-type whipping at the hands of San Diego State on their home floor at the Thomas and Mack Center, 71-57. Three years of hard work and anticipation ended with team disfunction, selfish play, and, most importantly, the unfulfilled dreams of a city aching to see their beloved college basketball team return to it's rightful place among the NCAA elite.

So what of the new season?

Gone are the familiar faces of Adams, Rougeau, and Darger. In are new faces such as Kentucky transfer guard Derrick Jasper. Promising point guard Oscar Bellfield, who started out with a bang last season but quickly fizzled once conference play began, will return with another year of experience under his belt. Tre'Von Willis, the Memphis transfer who had so many clutch performances down the stretch for the Rebels, assumes the leadership role for Lon Kruger's Rebels.

An exciting and competitive schedule with a hint of revenge and attitude lie in wait for this program. The team is hungry, and rightfully so - UNLV was picked by the media to finish a measly third place in the Mountain West this season.

Here is a closer look at some of the highlights that are waiting for the latest incarnation of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels basketball team.

Examining the Runnin' Rebels roster, firepower and experience should play a key factor throughout the season. Forward Matt Shaw, who was injured last season, returns to inject his energy and enthusiasm to a young squad that should have no problem keeping up with just about anybody in the Mountain West.

The Rebels will also finally be able to man up under the boards. Sophomore center Brice Mossama at 6'10" as well as freshman Carlos Lopez, 6'11", will provide a presence in the paint that UNLV has not had in years (although it is unknown as of this printing whether or not Lopez will redshirt for 2009-10).

To go along with the explosive offensive skills of Willis and Jasper, three-point sniper Kendall Wallace returns to provide immediate energy and scoring off of Coach Kruger's bench. Darris Santee will continue his solid bench play as well.

The Rebels' pre-season schedule shapes up to be both exciting and competitive when in-state rival Nevada-Reno enters the Thomas and Mack Center on November 18th. The UNLV/UNR rivalry is intense and the game will no doubt set the tone for the entire season for the Rebels.

The long-awaited rematch between the Rebels and the Louisville Cardinals takes place on November 28th and will be the first true test of the team's mettle.

Last season, the Rebels entered Liberty Hall and shocked the college basketball world on national television by upsetting Louisville 56-55, stealing one from the nationally ranked team without the services of injured senior 2-guard Wink Adams. Louisville head coach Rick Pittino was so upset at having watched his prized Cardinals get knocked off that he refused to shake hands with Rebels' Coach Kruger at the conclusion of the game. UNLV basketball fans have a long memory and will be sure to let Coach Pittino know how they feel when he returns this season.

On December 2nd the long-time Pac-10 power Arizona Wildcats also return to Vegas looking for revenge, as the Rebels blew the doors off of the once mighty Wildcats last season.

Prior to Mountain West Conference play beginning, the Rebels travel to the big island of Hawaii to participate in the Diamond Head Classic Basketball Tournament, starting December 22nd and finishing up on Christmas day.

UNLV opens the tourney against Southern Methodist, with their remaining opponents to be determined as the exhibition tournament progresses.

The Rebel season doesn't get any easier upon their return from Hawaii as the 2009-10 Mountain West Conference schedule opens up. January 6th in Provo pairs the Rebels versus long-time conference rival and perennial contender Brigham Young, who are picked to win the Mountain West Conference this season. Once the Rebels finish with the Cougars in Utah, they get to travel to Albuquerque, New Mexico to face the Lobos in "The Pit", arguably one of the toughest arenas in all of college sports to compete in.

If the Rebels stumble out of the gate they could begin conference play at a dismal 0-2, which is never a great sign given the depth and talent of the Mountain West Conference year in and year out.

Once the Rebels return home, they get an immediate grudge match with the team that ended their season last year, San Diego State, who once again should be competitive with head coach Steve Fischer getting the most out of his Aztecs every single year.

The difference Coach Kruger hopes to see between the upcoming conference schedule and last year's season of disappointment is consistency. The Rebels have to win the games they are supposed to win-even the tough ones on the road against conference foes Wyoming and Texas Christian.

During the 2008-09 season the Rebels found ways to lose instead of digging a little deeper and using their superior athleticism and experience to garner the tough victories. In-fighting and inconsistent play helped the Rebels lose the faith and admiration of a community after two short seasons before getting Las Vegas excited about men's basketball again.

Without a deep roster of tournament experience to fall back upon, the new Rebel squad will have to use their god-given basketball skills, out-hustle their opponents, and return to the suffocating pressure defense that has become an annual trademark and necessity for the success of a Kruger-coached team.

And perhaps the celebration of the 20th anniversary of UNLV's sole NCAA Championship will rub off on the current Rebels throughout the 2009-10 season and give them the extra drive they need to live up to expectations and finish strong.

Taking the Country by Storm

A stunning victory over a ranked, well-respected opponent in Louisville, a hard-fought overtime victory against perennial PAC-10 powerhouse Arizona and their best start since their only NCAA National Championship in Men's Basketball... The UNLV Runnin' Rebels have plenty to be excited about and thankful for as the calendar turns from 2009 to the dawn of a new decade.

The Rebels are headed to Honolulu in sunny Hawaii to compete in the Diamond Head Classic, with a guaranteed 1st round match-up against Southern Methodist University. If the Rebels win, they can play up to two more games before returning home. Lose, and you come home and prepare for Mountain West Conference play, which begins January 6th in Provo, Utah against bitter conference rival Brigham Young University.

Since beginning the season back in November, the Rebels have garnered something not ever easily handed out- national respect and a ranking, reaching as high as 15th in the AP polls and 17th, according to the coaches. Of course, this is all before getting whipped by head coach Lon Kruger's alma matter, Kansas State, at the Orleans Arena. Since then their three victories in a row have gotten the Rebels ranked again, standing solid at 23rd and sure to move up as other top-ranked teams in front of them continue to stumble as they have over the last several days.

So what lies ahead for the Rebels? Four of their first six conference games are on the road; the opener is against a tough BYU squad and the Rebels then play a marquee match-up in "The Pit" in Albuquerque, taking on Indiana Hoosier legend Steve Alford's top-20 ranked New Mexico. Tough road games in Laramie against Wyoming and home court rematches against BYU, New Mexico, and one final road test in Salt Lake City against Utah during the month of February should form the backbone of what is already becoming a very nice resume for the NCAA Tournament selection committee.

Head Coach Lon Kruger has two Mountain West Conference Tournament titles under his belt, multiple 20-win seasons while at UNLV, and two impressive NCAA Tourney runs over the last couple of years. This season, the group, led by Bob Cousy Award Nominee Derrick Jasper, could provide the city of Las Vegas with more fireworks with a dominant conference regular season performance as a preview of things to come in the Conference Tournament and the NCAA Tournament.

The 2008-09 version of the Rebels left a bad taste in the community's mouth, with inconsistent play, and bearing witness to losses previously thought unimaginable at the beginning of last season. That was last season. This is a new group, reinvigorated and more mature. A more experienced group.

Thus far, the 2009-2010 UNLV Runnin' Rebels have gone back to basics, returning to Lon Kruger trademark basketball-suffocating and stifling defense, and the inner fire to dive after every loose ball, to contest every single shot, and to play selfless, fast-paced team basketball. It has worked to the tune of ten wins against only one loss so far - can the magic of a special season continue into Mountain West Conference play in 2010 and perhaps an NCAA Tournament berth? Stay tuned Rebel Nation!