Super Bowl 52 might come down to Gronk or Ertz

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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) Rob Gronkowski gets to play in this year’s Super Bowl after missing last year’s game with a bad back. Zach Ertz gets the chance to match his wife, Julie , a soccer star who’s already won a world championship.

Super Bowl 52 could come down to which of these terrific tight ends shines brighter.

The two had similar statistics and impact on their team’s fortunes this season.

Gronkowski led the New England Patriots with 69 catches for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns.

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Ertz led the Philadelphia Eagles with 74 catches for 824 yards and eight TDs – double his previous career best.

Ertz also has 11 grabs for 125 yards in the playoffs and Gronkowski has seven catches for 102 yards and a touchdown in the playoffs despite missing most of the AFC championship against Jacksonville after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from Barry Church before halftime.

That led to concerns Gronkowski might miss his second straight Super Bowl. He was sidelined for last year’s 34-28 overtime win against Atlanta after undergoing back surgery.

Gronk, however, returned to practice Thursday and said he is “ready to roll” after clearing the concussion protocol.

He said he never doubted he’d get to play Sunday.

“There was no reason to get frustrated,” Gronkowski said. “We had that extra week, which was awesome.”

The return of the All-Pro tight end gives Tom Brady another key option against a punishing Eagles defense that ranked fourth in the league.

“He’s a dynamic player. He means a ton to our offense. He really has since he got to our team. It’s always great when he’s out there,” Brady said.

“I’ve played with him a long time, I’ve thrown him a lot of footballs. He knows exactly what to do, he knows where to expect the ball, when to expect it. He’s just a tremendous player for our team.”

Ertz is just as important to Nick Foles and the Eagles’ offense.

The fifth-year pro made his first Pro Bowl this season, leading all NFC tight ends in receptions. He added eight catches for 93 yards in the NFC championship game against Minnesota.

Despite his breakout season and postseason, Ertz knows he won’t be the best tight end on the field Sunday. Gronkowski led all NFL tight ends in receiving yards for the fourth time.

Gronk is the gold standard.

“He’s a beast after the catch, I think that kind of separates him from all the other tight ends,” Ertz said. “And he’s also able to be open even when he’s not open because he’s got such a big frame and extremely good ball skills. And obviously Tom Brady is a phenomenal quarterback, too, but even without Tom, I think he would still be doing the same type of things regardless of where he was.”

Ertz knows the numbers off the top of his head, too.

“He has all the (single season) tight end records in the league,” Ertz said. He’s got the yards – 1,327 – and he’s got the touchdowns – 17 – he’s just a phenomenal player.”

With a pair of Super Bowl rings.

That’s what Ertz really covets, a world championship like the one his wife won in 2015 as a midfielder for the World Cup-winning U.S. national soccer team.

“Julie won a World Cup two years ago,” Ertz said, “so I need to hold up my end of the bargain.”

The “It” couple in the NFL was married last March after a romance that started when Julie, then Julie Johnston, was an emerging soccer star at Santa Clara and Zach was playing at Stanford.

The two were apart when the Eagles clinched their spot in the Super Bowl with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Julie was in San Diego for a national team match against Denmark. She was among the players who scored in the 5-1 victory.

Afterward, when she was told Zach was going to the Super Bowl, she burst into tears .

“Zach knew I was there obviously in spirit and I was praying for him and I was excited for him and cheering him from miles away,” she said.

“It’s a part of our job and we sacrifice a lot, and time’s the biggest thing. But to find out that they are going to the Super Bowl was amazing, exciting, emotional. It’s really cool to see your loved one’s hard work pay off.”

Ertz said it was hard for him watching other players’ celebrate with their wives “but seeing that video kind of showed me that she was struggling not being there, too.

“And it was extremely difficult for us not being together like it is anytime we’re not together. But she’s here now, I’m lucky she’s here. I’m blessed that she’s here and I’m excited hopefully to be able to experience that again.”

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Sunday Night Football odds: Eagles laying touchdown against Cowboys

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The fact that the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off a bye while the Dallas Cowboys had a short week to work on their road woes should tip off straight-up bettors, but the spread might be another story.

The Eagles, led by quarterback Carson Wentz, are 7-point favorites on the Sunday Night Football odds against the Cowboys with a 43.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Philadelphia is 16-3 straight-up and 12-6-1 against the spread in its last 19 games after having at least a full week off, while Dallas is 0-9 SU in its last nine games after playing the Monday prior.

Dallas carries a good head-to-head trend of being 5-1 SU and ATS in their last six road games at Philadelphia, according to the OddsShark NFL Database, and is also 6-3 ATS in its last nine road games as an underdog of 6.5 or more points.

The Cowboys are 3-5 both SU and ATS after a home loss against the Houston Texans on Monday. Dallas and quarterback Dak Prescott have habitually struggled to score points on the road, and a nicked-up offensive line faces a very strong Eagles defensive line led by tackle Fletcher Cox. For all the formidability of its front four, though, the Eagles are giving up 4.5 yards per rush and Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott should find some room to the outside as both a rusher and pass receiver.

Dallas will be without wide receiver Tavon Austin (groin) and will need more out of Amari Cooper in the passing phase as the ex-Oakland Raider enters his second game for the Cowboys.

The Eagles, who are 4-4 SU and 3-5 ATS and need the win to have any reasonable chance at defending their Super Bowl crown, are 7-1 SU and 6-2 ATS over their last eight games at night. Bettors’ confidence in the Eagles’ offensive capabilities might come down to the health of right tackle Lane Johnson (knee), who is expected to play and provide resistance to the Dallas pass rush.

Quarterback Carson Wentz now has wide receiver Golden Tate, recently acquired via trade, in his arsenal against a Cowboys pass defense that allows the sixth-worst opponents’ passer rating (101.1) in the NFL.

The ground game has generated middling results for the Eagles, who are still hoping either Corey Clement or Wendell Smallwood can take a lead role. Dallas also allows the second-least yards per rush in the NFL, which is a small reason to think the Cowboys will offer some resistance by forcing Wentz into obvious passing downs.

Wentz will likely face some long-yardage scenarios, though, as the Cowboys allow the second-least yards per carry.

There are pronounced UNDER trends in this matchup. The total has gone UNDER in the Cowboys’ last three games against the Eagles, with an average combined score of 30.67 points. The total has gone UNDER in the Cowboys’ last eight games on the road, with an average combined score of 31.25 points. And the total has gone UNDER in eight of the Eagles’ last nine games at home, with an average combined score of 31.89 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL Week 6 odds: Bengals, Eagles, Patriots are all betting favorites

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The Cincinnati Bengals usually handle struggling teams, but it’s fair to wonder if that trend will be cancelled out by their long-running difficulties against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Bengals, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, are 2.5-point favorites against the Pittsburgh Steelers on the NFL Week 6 odds with a 53-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

According to the OddsShark NFL Database, it is only the sixth time in the last 14 seasons that the AFC North-leading Bengals are favored at home against the Steelers, but they are 14-4 straight-up in their last 18 home games against teams with losing records, and are also 6-1 SU and against the spread in their last seven games.

The Steelers, 2-2-1 SU on the season, have dominated the matchup with a 16-2 SU record in their last 18 road games against the Bengals, but they are also 1-6 ATS in their last seven games in the early afternoon.

The Philadelphia Eagles are 3-point road favorites against the New York Giants  with a 43-point total for the Thursday Night Football matchup. The Eagles are 14-6 ATS in their last 20 games against the Giants. The total has gone OVER in the Eagles’ last five games against the Giants, with an average combined score of 54.6. The Giants are 2-8 SU and 3-7 ATS in their last 10 home games.

The Seattle Seahawks are 3-point favorites against the Oakland Raiders with a 48-point total in a matchup at Wembley Stadium in London. The Seahawks, who will be idle in Week 7, are 7-0 SU and 6-1 ATS in their last seven games before a bye. The Raiders are 2-5 SU and 1-5-1 ATS in their last seven games before a bye. The total has gone UNDER in 10 of the Raiders’ last 12 games, with an average combined score of 43.33.

The Chicago Bears are 3-point road favorites against the Miami Dolphins with a 42-point total. The Bears are 1-9 SU in their last 10 games on the road against teams with winning records. The total has gone UNDER in five of the Bears’ last seven games, with an average combined score of 37.43. The Dolphins are 0-7-1 ATS in their last eight games at home after consecutive road games.

The Washington Redskins are 1-point favorites against the Carolina Panthers with a 44.5-point total. The Panthers are 4-0 ATS in their last four games against the Redskins. The Redskins are 3-10 SU in their last 13 games in Week 6. The total has gone UNDER in four of the Redskins’ last five games in the early afternoon.

The Los Angeles Rams are 7-point road favorites against the Denver Broncos with a 52.5-point total. The Rams are 8-2 SU and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games in the late afternoon. The total has gone OVER in eight of the Rams’ last 10 games on the road, with an average combined score of 54.5. The Broncos are 4-13 SU and 2-14-1 ATS in their last 17 games.

The Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-point road favorites against the Dallas Cowboys with a 40.5-point total. The Jaguars are 4-22 SU and 6-20 ATS in their last 26 games in the late afternoon. The Cowboys are 0-5 SU and ATS in their last five games in the late afternoon.

The New England Patriots are 3.5-point favorites against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 59.5-point total in the Sunday Night Football matchup. The Chiefs have covered in every game so far this season and are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 games after consecutive ATS wins. The total has gone OVER in 10 of the Chiefs’ last 14 games at night. The Patriots are 10-4 ATS in their last 14 games at night.

And the Green Bay Packers are 9.5-point road favorites against the San Francisco 49ers with a 46.5-point total for Monday night’s game. The 49ers are 0-14 SU and 5-9 ATS in their last 14 road games as an underdog of 7.5 or more points. The Packers are 8-2 SU and 6-4 ATS in their last 10 home games as a favorite of 7.5 or more points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.