Playoff & Bowl Previews (January 3, 2011)

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Hurley splits last night in Orange Bowl, loses with Va Tech, but wins with Under

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THE NFL PLAYOFFS ARE HERE!!!
WE EXAMINE THIS WEEKEND'S WILD CARD MATCHUPS
PLUS IT'S JIM SEZ AWARDS TIME
AS 2010 NFL REGULAR SEASON CURTAIN COMES DOWN ...
SUGAR BOWL TAKES CENTER STAGE TUESDAY NIGHT

As you might have heard in NBC's wrap-up following Sunday Night's 16-6 win of the Seattle Seahawks over the St. Louis Rams, there are five 'new' teams in this year's NFL Playoffs and they include Atlanta, Chicago, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Seattle and isn't it a tad bit interesting that three of these five teams have first-round playoff byes (see the NFC #1 Falcons, the NFC #2 Bears and the AFC's #2 Steelers)?

In other words, you could make a strong case even before the first pass is thrown this post-season that we could well get a Super Bowl XLV matchup in Arlington next month between a pair of teams that didn't even qualify for last year's playoffs. Yes, indeed, welcome to life in Commissioner Roger Goodell's NFL!

We'll get to some early-bird looks at this weekend's NFL Wild Card Games in just a moment but first this reminder:

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will rock on this New Year with wall-to-wall winners in the NFL Playoffs along with all the remaining College Football Bowl Games plus there's NBA and NCAA Basketball winners too when check with us daily at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or when you log online right here at www.jimhurley.com. Note: The check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET Monday-thru-Friday for all the weeknight Football & Basketball games and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays and Sundays.

Just go ahead and keep on piling up all the Football & Basketball Winners right into 2011!

NFL WILD CARD MATCHUPS

Here's that sneak peek look at the playoff games this coming weekend.

On Saturday, it's ...

NEW ORLEANS (11-5) at SEATTLE (7-9) -- 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Okay, so much is going to be made about the fact that the Seahawks represent the first losing team to secure a divisional crown but have you happened to consider that maybe all four teams are superior to the home teams in this weekend's wild card games?

No question that New Orleans is at a major scheduling advantage considering the defending Super Bowl champs played last Monday night (an emotional 17-14 win in Atlanta) and then fell in Sunday's bust Week 17 card (the oft-times lifeless 23-13 home loss versus 7-point underdog Tampa Bay) and now here's a half-a-country away game on Saturday afternoon meaning that Sean Payton guys will be playing three times within a 13-day day and in three different time zones and so we'll understand if QB Drew Brees is a bit rusty here.

P.S., no matter what nonsense Seattle first-year head coach Pete Carroll tries to feed the media this week, fully expect QB Matt Hasselbeck (hip) to get the start after Charlie Whitehurst threw for 192 yards but no picks against St. Louis.

NEW YORK JETS (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (10-6) -- 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC
Trust us when we say that the J-E-T-S will be barking all this week long about how last year they were '30 minutes from the Super Bowl'. True, Rex Ryan's club melted down after intermission in last year's AFC Championship Game in Indianapolis as Colts slinger Peyton Manning threw for 377 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs but the $64,000 question here is can the Indy defense stop a soul?

In the last seven weeks of regular-season play, Indianapolis allowed a per-game average of 29 points -- and that included holding Tennessee scoreless in the fourth quarter of Sunday's last-second 23-20 non-cover win against 8 1/2-point pup Tennessee -- and this NYJ team sports way more playmakers than last year's ground-and-pound unit. Is it possible that the loser of this game still could score in the 30s?

On Sunday, it's ...

BALTIMORE (12-4) at KANSAS CITY (10-6) -- 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Las Vegas folks quickly installed the visiting Ravens as 3-point betting favorites for this Arrowhead Stadium affair -- note this is the first playoff game at this raucous venue since the 2003 season (see Colts 38, Chiefs 31 in a divisional playoff round clash) -- but might this pointspread be a knee-jerk reaction to KayCee's slumbering/bumbling 31-10 home loss against archrival Oakland in Week 17 play?

No doubt the Chiefs had little play for here -- Todd Haley's club was gonna be a #3 or #4 seed no matter what transpired -- but the official announcement that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis would be one-and-done while heading off to serve in the same role at the University of Florida could continue to be a distraction. The Chiefs hardly looked focused in the 21-point loss to the hated Raiders as QB Matt Cassel completed just 11-of-33 passes for 115 yards with no TDs and 2 INTs and now here comes a Ravens crew that's held half its regular-season foes to 15 points or less and LB Terrell Suggs was a real red-zone demon against Cincy QB Carson Palmer and mates in Week 17 action.

GREEN BAY (10-6) at PHILADELPHIA (10-6) -- 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Maybe the Philly Eagles just have to take a deep, long breath. Andy Reid's gang played twice last week -- the stinker 24-14 loss last Tuesday against Minnesota made Sunday's 14-13 loss to Dallas utterly meaningless in the playoff seeding scheme of things -- but there are genuine concerns that likely league MVP runner-up QB Michael Vick is far from 100 percent after taking a series of late-season beatings and so the aforementioned Reid is keeping fingers crossed that the R&R time provided Vick and most of the Eagles starters will allow 'em to be freshened up in time for this clash against a Packers team that has its own worries despite the media's instant claim that 'nobody wants to play Green Bay in these playoffs'.

The fact of the matter is the Packers produced only one touchdown drive (5 plays for 75 yards) in Sunday's gotta-have-it 10-3 non-cover win against Chicago and GB's shoddy 2-of-11 conversion rate on third-down plays along with a 2.6 yards-per-carry rushing average should have fifth-year head coach Mike McCartney burning the proverbial midnight oil this week.

Consider this: The Eagles defense loves to blitz -- everyone knows that -- and a rudderless ground attack that likely won't be able to keep Philly's stop unit 'honest' might have to collect 100 yards minimum here ... or else.

JIM SEZ AWARDS TIME

The NFL 2010 regular season has come to a close and -- before we hand out our Jim Sez Awards -- here's a pointspread note that NFL Regular-Season Betting Favorites finished 116-126-8 ATS (against the spread) with 6 pick 'em games. So, NFL 2010 Betting Favs registered a .479 winning rate while, conversely, NFL 2010 Regular-Season Underdogs produced a .521 winning percentage.

Now, the awards ...

TEAM OF THE YEAR -- Atlanta Falcons
The NFC South champs get the slightest of nods over the New England Patriots and now go ahead and watch how many 'experts' pick this as the Supe 45 matchup.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Tom Brady, QB, New England
How about final stats that include 36 TD passes and only 4 INTs? You might want to rank this as one of the great single seasons for any individual player in NFL history and keep in mind they took away his deep threat receiver (WR Randy Moss) a couple of games into the season!

COACH OF THE YEAR -- Bill Belichick.
Go ahead and buff up that bronze bust already.

DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR -- Clay Matthews, LB, Green Bay.
Maybe some folks feel he didn't end the year with a bang but he was the sport's best player on either side of the ball for the first half of the '10 season.

 

SUGAR BOWL PREVIEW

OHIO STATE (11-1) vs. ARKANSAS (10-2) -- 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
News flash: The O-State Buckeyes are back in their sixth consecutive BCS Bowl Game but this time they enter the proceedings making all the wrong noise.

Okay, so last week's announcement that QB Terrelle Pryor (2,551 yards passing with 25 TDs and 11 INTs along with 639 yards rushing and 4 TDs) and four other teammates would be facing a 2011 suspension for five games apiece after they allegedly for selling all sorts of memorabilia raced across the bottom of the ESPNews screen all week long but -- unless 10th-year head coach Jim Tressel is playing coy -- Pryor and his mates will be playing here and may be doing so for the last time as Buckeyes.

On the flip side, Arkansas is making its debut in a BCS bowl but boss-man Bobby Petrino isn't sweating it as savvy QB Ryan Mallett (3,592 yards passing with 30 TDs and 11 INTs) knows all about Ohio State from his brief stay at Michigan and so his blood's pumped up more than anyone else on the Hogs side here.

Spread Note -- Arkansas rolls into this tile on a six-game pointspread winning streak while Ohio State's 9-2-1 ATS overall this year and 49-23-2 spreadwise since the start of 2005.

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