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Jim Sez : 1/13/2012
THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS
IT'S TIME FOR THE"HEAVY HITTERS" TO GET INTO THE ACTION AND WE EXAMINE SATURDAY'S SHOWDOWNS AS SAINTS-49ERS, BRONCOS-PATRIOTS COLLIDE ON OPPOSITE COASTS
By Jim Hurley:
It's a rather strange-but-true factoid regarding the NFL Divisional Playoffs the past three years:
NFC/AFC #1 and #2 seeds are only a combined 6-6 SU (straight-up) and 6-6 ATS (against the spread) in this round and note the Las Vegas pointspread didn't have any say in any of these dozen games -- in other words, the six NFL Betting Favorites that won the games in this particular round won them with room to spare while the six underdog sides won the"whole game" and so keep that in mind as we grow closer-and-closer to the Saturday/Sunday action from San Francisco, Foxboro, Baltimore and Green Bay.
Meanwhile, if the top two seeds want to see for themselves than note last year NFC #1 seed Atlanta (a 1 ˝-point favorite) was beaten 48-21 by Green Bay in this round while AFC #1 seed New England (a 9-point fav) was kayoed 28-21 in this round by the New York Jets;
In the 2009 season, AFC #2 seed San Diego (a 9-point favorite) was bopped by the Jets 17-14;
And go back to the 2008 NFL season and you'll remember the NFC's #1 and #2 seeds - the New York Giants and Carolina Panthers, respectively - were bested by Philadelphia and Arizona while the AFC's top-seeded Tennessee Titans lost to Baltimore.
In short, none of this week's highly-seeded teams that had last weekend off should consider this a proverbial walk-in-the-park 'cause it's anything but!
Now, here's a look at Saturday's NFC and AFC Divisional Playoff Games ...
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAME
Okay, so the Saints claim that sour showing was put in the rear-view mirror a long time ago but consider N'Orleans has played the last four games this year indoors - the last three in a row at home in the Superdome and the Week 15 game in Minnesota - and you can see how the NFC South champs have gotten nice and cozy with the indoor settings.
Now, NFC West champ San Francisco wants to make this anything but cozy for the Saints - and the 49ers (who underwent a seven-game improvement in the won/loss standings since last season) enter this game having allowed a mere 10.9 points a game while going 7-1 SU and 7-0-1 ATS at home this year.
If the San Fran defense is gonna throw its weight around here than there's two main keys:
Get in the grill of Saints QB Drew Brees (NFL single-season record 5,476 yards passing with 46 TDs and 14 INTs) and rough him up when you have the opportunity and do everything in your power to keep all-purpose RB Darren Sproles from busting a big play. Sproles will be a major target here on screen passes and so the fundamentally-sound Niners linebacker corps starring Patrick Willis must make the stops immediately.
Spread Notes - New Orleans rolls into these NFC Divisional Playoffs riding a nine-game ATS winning streak and note the Saints overall are 13-4 versus the vig this year for a stunning .765 winning rate. However, N'Orleans is just 3-4 ATS in all post-season games under sixth-year head coach Sean Payton. On the flip side, San Francisco is a composite 11-4-1 against the odds this year (a sizzling .733 rate) and the 49ers are an electric 8-1-1 vig-wise when playing non-NFC West foes this season.
Note that all home teams below are in CAPS and the"W" or"L" or"T" in the Result category pertain to what the feature team did against the spread:
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
WC = Wild Card Game
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAME -
Or it is really Denver QB Tim Tebow now that he comes off last Sunday's 29-23 overtime win against 7-point favorite Pittsburgh in which the much-discussed and oft-ridiculed signal-caller threw four pass completions of 30-plus yards - now how many folks really thought that was possible even against a banged-up/depleted Steelers defense?
Hey, if Tebow had the opportunity to read up on things this week than he would have loved that wire-service story that claimed he"now has more playoff wins than the Patriots have in the last three seasons combined" ...gotta love it!
Tebow now challenges the NFL's 31st-ranked defense but one that has allowed only one opponent (see Buffalo back in Week 3) to score more than 30 points in a game and top target WR Demaryius Thomas (fresh off a 204-yard receiving game that included the thrilling 80-yard catch-and-run TD strike that won it in OT) must get some help from the likes of WR Eddie Royal and/or TE Daniel Fells here.
Brady - for his part - told media folks he wasn't thinking about last year's playoff loss in this round to the New York Jets or the fact the Pats have lost their last three post-season games dating back to 2007 but remember how the J-E-T-S confused him at times in last year's game and look for Broncos' head coach and defensive whiz John Fox to come up with some schemes here that sends a blitzer late or maybe drops a D-lineman into short coverage to handle slot WR Wes Welker (NFL-high 122 receptions this year).
P.S., don't make a big fuss about the fact the Pats just signed one-time assistant and one-time Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels - maybe that will help Brady a tad with OC Bill O'Brien set to bolt to Penn State but we claim it's not a real big deal.
Spread Notes - New England's 9-7 against the odds this year and note that includes a dead-even but vig-losing 5-5 ATS mark whenever laying 7-or-more points. The Patriots also have failed to cover their last six consecutive post-season games dating back to the 2006 playoffs. Meanwhile, Denver enters this prime-time affair at 8-8-1 spreadwise this 2011 season and the Broncos are 6-4 vig-wise as point-grabbers this season. Note that Denver - making its first playoff appearance since 2005 - has failed to cover three of its last four post-season wagers with the lone spread"W" coming in a 27-13 triumph over 3-point pup New England back in the '05 AFC Divisional Playoff round.
WC = Wild Card Game
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
CHECKING OUT THE SUNDAY SHOWDOWNS BETWEEN TEXANS-RAVENS & GIANTS-PACKERS
Let's get right to Sunday's NFL Divisional Playoff Round Games from Baltimore and Green Bay:
AFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAME -
You've heard all the chatter ...The Houston Texans are playing this game with "house money" after copping the franchise's first-ever playoff victory last week with the resounding 31-10 win/cover against 4 ˝-point underdog Cincinnati - maybe so but sixth-year Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and right-hand man defensive coordinator Wade Phillips believe there's still lots more ammo that's yet to be spent.
If the 7 ˝-point underdog Texans are gonna send shock waves through Baltimore here in what could be a wintry mix type game (check the accu-weather readings, folks) than the key is limiting the "touches" for Ravens' RB Ray Rice (1,364 yards rushing with 12 ground scores) as we say that if Rice gets his hands on the ball 25-or-more times than he's bound to break a big run sooner or later - hold 'em to, say, 16 or 17 carries and a reception or two and the Texans are "live" here.
No doubt the spotlight's on Houston rookie quarterback T.J. Yates who completed 11-of-20 passes for 159 yards in last week's AFC Wild Card win but look for the Texans' offensive game plan to keep things simple for Yates and have him throw some quick "out" passes to WRs Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter (a combined 72 receptions this year) as the burden will rest with hard-charging RB Arian Foster who rushed for 1,224 yards in regular-season play and another 153 yards and two TDs last weekend.
Key stat here regarding Baltimore QB Joe Flacco:
He's thrown only 4 TDs and 7 INTs with two lost fumbles in seven previous playoff games and the Ravens never really have asked Flacco to "carry" them to the finish line - or when they did he failed (see last year's 31-24 loss at Pittsburgh in an AFC Divisional Playoff Game).
Spread Notes - Houston enters its first-ever playoff game with a solid 10-5-2 ATS (against the spread) mark on the year and did you know the Texans are 3-2-1 spreadwise as underdogs this season and 5-3 vig-wise away? Meanwhile, Baltimore is 9-7 against the odds overall this 2011 season and the Ravens are a collective 41-32-2 ATS the past four years. Note that the AFC North champs covered 5-of-6 division games this year but went just 4-6 ATS outside the division after having gone 23-11-1 ATS in non-AFC North games the prior three seasons.
NOTE: All home teams below are in CAPS and the "W" or "L" or "T" in the Result category pertain to what the feature team did against the spread:
WC = Wild Card Round
NFC DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAME -
So, nobody will be using the cold as an excuse here but it is worth mentioning that this marks the first real "away" game for the Giants since that 37-34 win in Dallas way back on December 11th as the NFC East champs played their last four games at MetLife Stadium (home wins against Dallas and Atlanta with the latter being last weekend' solid 24-2 playoff triumph along with a loss to Washington and that wild Christmas Eve "road" win against the New York Jets) - so will that be a factor?
And what about the fact that Green Bay's MVP-to-be QB Aaron Rodgers (4,643 yards passing with 45 TDs and just 6 INTs) hasn't thrown a pass since that Christmas Night win against Chicago - he sat out the team's 45-41 shoot-'em-up finale win against Detroit and, of course, the top-seeded Packers drew a bye last weekend and so you might expect some rust to be built up on his right arm.
When Rodgers does start cranking it up, he must utilize his legs - one of his great underestimated features - to step up in the pocket and throw and step out of the pocket and run for first downs against a Giants defense that more than likely will operate much of the time here with four defensive ends on the field - that's Jason Pierre-Paul (16 ˝ sacks), Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Dave Tollefson.
Perhaps the Pack will counter this move with more draws, traps and screens but - let's not kid ourselves - the real threat is Rodgers going vertical with a receiving corps that loves to get big-time yardage after the catch and WR Jordy Nelson (68 catches with an 18.7 yards-per-grab average and 15 TDs) could wreck the Giants should they get consumed with one-on-one coverage down the field.
Now, how about a pair of X-factors here?
The Giants - an eight-point dog for this game (as they were for that 23-20 OT win in Green Bay nearly four years ago to the day) - need to win the "hidden yardage" battle and last week P Steve Weatherford was an extremely important if underrated star of that win against the Falcs as his first three punts pinned Atlanta inside its 15-yard line - more of the same is needed here if the Giants wish to spring the upset;
Lastly, how will the Packers handle the emotion of the week following the death of offensive coordinator Joe Philbin's 21-year-old son? No doubt it's cast a major pall over the Lambeau Field setting this week and now we'll see if perhaps Rodgers is negatively affected by possibly not having Philbin "in his ear" here.
Spread Notes - Green Bay's 11-5 overall against the Las Vegas prices this season and that includes a 7-1 ATS mark at Lambeau Field and a more modest 6-4 spread log when playing non-NFC North foes. Note that the Pack is 5-2 spreadwise in all post-season games under sixth-year head coach Mike McCarthy. The New York Giants are 9-8 ATS overall this season and that includes a current three-game spread winning streak (and five covers in the last six games). The Jints are 5-2 versus the vig in post-season games under eighth-year head coach Tom Coughlin.
NEW YORK GIANTS
WC = Wild Card Round
GREEN BAY PACKERS
NOTE: Catch our College Basketball Weekend Notebook in the next Jim Sez.
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