Sunday's Wild Card and Bowl Previews

Network Completes A 3-1 Run Through Round 1!
Packers (+3) Eagles 21-16 WON
Ravens (-3) Chiefs 30-7 WON
Jets (+2.5) Colts 17-16 WON
Saints (-10) Seahawks 36-41 lost

Plus A Sunday Night College Cover!
Boston College (+7.5) Nevada WON

Now it's time for the BCS National Championship!



By Jim Hurley:

One thing you've got to say about the NFL Wild Card Round Weekend - it sure never lacks for drama!

Last year there was that funky overtime ending in Glendale when then-Arizona Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby helped to strip-search the ball from Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the winning score in a wild 51-45 win and who could forget two years ago when the San Diego Chargers snagged a thrilling 23-17 OT win against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts - thus kayoing Indy from the post-season for a second straight year.

No doubt there will be plenty to talk about after these two Sunday NFL Wild Card Round Games - first it's Baltimore at Kansas City on the AFC side followed by a barnburner between Green Bay at Philadelphia:


In the AFC, it's ... #5 BALTIMORE (12-4) at #4 KANSAS CITY (10-6) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe the date Jan. 16, 1994 holds some significance if you happen to be a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs:
After all, that was the last time this club won a playoff game and so you can forgive the always-hearty Arrowhead Stadium fans for having a real thirst for a "W" here. The Chiefs - who sported the NFL's best ground game in 2010 - may not have the post-season experience that the visiting Ravens have (note Baltimore played in five post-season games in the past two years alone) but KC feels RB Jamaal Charles (1,467 yards rushing) and sledgehammer RB Thomas Jones (986 yards rushing) can accomplish two things at one time here: Chew up yards and chew up clock.

Not only do the Chiefs need to get that ground game cranking early, they need to keep Baltimore's potentially explosive offenses on the sidelines for as much as possible. True, Ravens QB Joe Flacco (3,622 yards passing with 25 TDs and 10 INTs) was sacked a whopping 40 times this year by enemy defenses but just remember he had Baltimore averaging nearly 29 points a game during a six-game span this year and both WRs Anquan Boldin (64 receptions and 7 TDs) and Derrick Mason (61 catches and 7 TDs) have proven to be the dynamic duo the Ravens hoped for when they acquired Boldin last off-season.

If Baltimore RB Ray Rice (307 carries for 1,220 yards rushing and 5 TDs) gets his hands on the ball a minimum of 25 times, it says here the 3-point favored Ravens will be ultra-tough to beat but - as Ravens fans know - there have been times this year when the offense has veered off course and times when Flacco and Company simply fell flat (see six games of 17 points or less).

There's two key health-related notes regarding the Chiefs: Pro Bowl WR Dwayne Bowe (72 receptions for 1,162 yards and an NFL-high 15 TDs) missed Wednesday's practice with an illness but the team claims he's good-to-go here while Pro Bowl G Brian Waters returned to practice Friday after missing two days due to illness. No doubt the Chiefs are not deep enough to withstand some key absences here - QB Matt Cassel (27 TDs and 7 INTs) has been an efficient sort again but he needs all hands on deck to snag the team's first playoff win in nearly 17 years.

Spread Notes - Baltimore is 17-10-2 ATS (against the spread) away the past three years and that includes 2010 regular-season covers at the NY Jets and at Pittsburgh. Note that the Ravens are just 4-5 vig-wise in all playoff games since going 4-and-oh in the 2000 season that was capped with the franchise's only Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, Kansas City's a collective 11-20-1 versus the vig at home since the start of the 2007 season plus note the Chiefs have failed to cover both of their post-season games since 2003 (a 38-31 home loss to 3-point pup Indianapolis in '03 and a 23-8 loss at 7-point fav Indy in '06).

In the NFC, it's ...#6 GREEN BAY (10-6) at #3 PHILADELPHIA (10-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
If you're the Philly Eagles, you have to feel good about one bit of history: Twelfth-year head coach Andy Reid is a dazzling 7-1 SU (straightup) in his playoff openers over the years - last season's hard-to-stomach 34-14 loss at 3 ½-point favorite Dallas was the only time in the coach's brilliant history he's lost a playoff opener - and now his club enters this Wild Card Round game paying 100 percent attention to Reid after the Birds dropped season-ending home games to Minnesota and Dallas.

Okay, so last weekend's 14-13 loss against the Cowboys meant diddly to the Eagles who rested their starters - remember that Philadelphia was locked into the #3 seed beforehand - but you know the deal now:

The Eagles have spent this week hearing all about their alleged demise following that quite unexpected 10-4 SU start while the flip side of things has folks chatting up the GB Packers as an honest-to-goodness legit Super Bowl team - think that's gonna get under Philly's skin here?

No doubt the Eagles offense prides itself on making the big play - this year Philadelphia's offense has produced 80 plays of 20-plus yards and you've all seen how QB Michael Vick (3,018 yards passing with 21 TDs and 6 INTs to go along with 676 yards rushing) has started off a couple of games this year with long-range bombs to speed-merchant WR DeSean Jackson (averaging a haughty 22.5 ypc on 47 grabs this year) - might that be on the Page One menu here?

Meanwhile, it's RB LeSean McCoy (1,080 yards rushing and averaging 5.2 yards a pop) who really holds the key here for Philly - the Packers are expected to blitz Vick often with Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner LB Clay Matthews (13.5 sacks) and last year's Defensive Player of the Year CB Charles Woodson charging hard but if McCoy can dance his way past the first surge of tacklers, than Reid and Co. could get their playoff opener "W" by a more conventional means: A 100-plus yard rusher who helps keep the ball out of the hands of Packers QB Rodgers (3,922 yards passing with 28 TDs and 11 INTs).

Take note that the Packers were either feast-or-famine down the stretch this regular season as they scored just 10 points in a gotta-have-it- win against Chicago last week after pouring on 45 points the week before against the New York Giants. What side of Mike McCarthy's offense do we see here?

Spread Notes - Green Bay is 15-5 against the Las Vegas prices whenever in the underdog role dating back to the start of the 2007 season. However, the Packers have dropped six of their last eight playoff games. On the flip side, Philadelphia is 22-16 ATS as betting favorites the past three seasons and that include home covers this year against Atlanta and the NY Giants. The Eagles are 6-3 ATS in their last nine playoff games since 2004.


FIGHT HUNGER BOWL - at San Francisco, CA
BOSTON COLLEGE (7-5) vs. NEVADA (12-1) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN

The penultimate bowl game of this season takes us to the City by the Bay where Nevada - you know, the team that wrecked Boise State's hopes this year - looks to get it right at bowl time after losing its last four consecutive post-season affairs.

Senior QB Colin Kaepernick (2,830 yards passing with 20 TDs and 7 INTs along with 1,84 yards rushing and 20 scores) is the center-stage player for this prime-time tilt and you better believe Boston College head coach Frank Spaziani's club will have at least one "spy" watching every move the slithery Kaepernick makes here. If Nevada turns its Pistol offense into a more conventional hand-it-off attack here, than RB Vai Taua (team-leading 1,534 yards rushing with 19 TDs) will become the centerpiece player and don't be shocked if Taua rips off a batch of up-the-gut big runs here.

If BC - a 7 ½-point pup at press time - wants to snap a mini two-game bowl losing skid, than RB Montel Harris (1,243 yards rushing) must prove he's A-Ok after missing the Eagles season-ending 16-7 win against Syracuse with a knee injury.

Spread Notes - Boston College has notched spread wins in 12 of its last 20 games when in the underdog role the past five years but be reminded that the Eagles have gone 0-4 versus the vig in their last four bowl tilts. Meanwhile, Nevada is 1-4 ATS in its last five bowl games with spread setbacks versus New Mexico, Maryland and SMU. The Wolf Pack did conclude this 2010 regular season on a three-game spread winning streak.


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