Sunday Divisonal Playoff Previews
Ravens up 21-7 at half, give game away. GB-Atl (Over 44.5) easily goes over 45-21 to get the split...Big profits come in basketball and horse racing...
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Northwestern (+8.5) Michigan State 67-71 WON!
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THE NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS - PREVIEWS AND TEAM LOGS FOR SUNDAY'S GAMES BETWEEN SEAHAWKS-BEARS & JETS-PATRIOTS
By Jim Hurley:
Is this gonna be "Long-Shot Sunday" - or can we expect the heavy-duty chalk to rule the roost in these pair of Sunday NFL Divisional Playoff games from Chitown and Foxboro?
NFL DIVISIONAL PLAYOFFS - THE SUNDAY GAMES
In the NFC, it's... #4 SEATTLE (8-9) at #2 CHICAGO (11-5) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Now here's a case of the Seattle Seahawks hoping that history does repeat itself: The NFC West champs - fresh off last weekend's monumental 41-36 NFC Wild Card win against 10-point road favorite New Orleans - already have clawed the 2010 Chicago Bears and now are hoping to do so again. The Seahawks sacked Bears QB Jay Cutler six times en route to a 23-20 upset win back on Oct. 17th and so now Pete Carroll's rah-rah club is banking on an encore performance but do remember that Seattle has not won a playoff road game in some 27 years ... yikes!
The Seahawks didn't commit a single turnover in that win at Soldier Field back in Week 6 action and that's a major key here - of course. Quarterback Matt Haselbeck didn't have to deal with then-injured LB Lance Briggs back in mid-October but the Bears will have their Pro Bowl'backer on the field here and you can fully expect the Chicago defense to put eight men in the box and come after Hasselbeck one week after he aired four scoring strikes against the Saints.
Still, it's the other quarterback who figures to make-or-break this game for the 10-point favored Bears: The aforementioned Cutler (3,274 yards passing with 23 TDs and 16 INTs this year) has taken more than his fair share of hits behind the line of scrimmage as a Chicago O-line that's struggled with consistency must keep him in the upright position for most of this game. If Cutler is able to pick-and-choose his downfield targets, than the Seahawks - who've surrendered 34-or-more points in six of their last eight games - could get savagely beaten on the scoreboard here.
In fact, count on the Bears' early-game plan to include some major heaves by Cutler in the general direction of speedy WRs Johnny Knox and Devin Hester so that Chicago can "soften up" the Seahawks down low - if Knox and/or Hester blisters the'Hawks with some long gainers in the aerial game, than underrated RB Matt Forte (1,069 yards rushing with a nifty 4.5 ypc average) could have a proverbial field day against a Seattle linebacker corps that often is MIA.
Note two key potential factors here: Chicago PK Robbie Gould has hit on 7-of-11 field goals from 40 yards out and longer but he must make his kicks "count" here on what could be a very windy day near Lake Michigan - if Gould misses, let's say, a 45-yarder in a tied game early second half than it could give real life to a Seahawks team that's just waiting for the right moment to steal away momentum.
Finally, Seattle WR Mike Williams must be a factor here: Williams nabbed 10 passes worth 123 yards in that regular-season win in Chicago and he's more than just a safety net for Hasselbeck here - if the'Hawks pull the upset than Williams probably needs 100-plus yards receiving in this clash.
Spread Notes - Chicago rides a three-game pointspread winning streak into this post-season game and note overall the Bears have notched spread wins in six of their eight games dating back to mid-November. Note that Chicago's failed to cover four of its five post-season games since 2001. On the flip side, note that Seattle is 8-9 versus the vig overall and that includes a pair of outright upset road wins this year including the 23-20 win at 6-point fav Chicago back in Week 6 play and also the 36-18 triumph over 3-point favorite Arizona in Week 10 action. The'Hawks are a collective 5-4 against the odds in all post-season games since 2000.
|#1||SEATTLE||+ 3||San Francisco||31-6|
|#3||SEATTLE||+ 3.5||San Diego||27-20|
|#4||ST. LOUIS||+ 2||Seattle||20-3|
|#9||NY Giants||- 7||SEATTLE||41-7|
|#11||NEW ORLEANS||- 11||Seattle||34-19|
|#12||Kansas City||- 1.5||SEATTLE||42-24|
|#14||SAN FRANCISCO||- 4||Seattle||40-21|
|#16||TAMPA BAY||- 5||Seattle||38-15|
|#17||SEATTLE||+ 3||St. Louis||16-6|
|WC||SEATTLE||+ 10||New Orleans||41-36|
|#3||CHICAGO||+ 3||Green Bay||20-17|
|#4||NY GIANTS||- 3||Chicago||17-3|
|#14||New England||- 3||CHICAGO||36-7|
|#16||CHICAGO||- 3||NY Jets||38-34|
|#17||GREEN BAY||- 11||Chicago||10-3|
In the AFC, it's ...#6 NEW YORK JETS (12-5) at #1 NEW ENGLAND (14-2) - 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS
Here's a question the New York Jets might be asking themselves following this AFC Divisional Playoff: Do they wish they would have "turned the volume down" on all their rhetoric in the days/hours leading up to this clash?
The J-E-T-S have been blurting out plenty of silly comments lately - not only second-year head coach Rex Ryan has been blabbering non-stop but CB Antonio Cromartie was the talk of the tabloids at mid-week after referring to Patriots QB Tom Brady in a derogatory way. Hey, didn't Cromartie notice how Brady (3,900 yards passing with 36 TDs and 4 INTs this season) torched a loud-mouth member of the Pittsburgh Steelers a couple of seasons back?
For his part, Brady - the no-doubt-about-it league MVP this year - had dodged the media's queries and claimed Cromartie "must like me" as he spars with the Boston and New York City media folks who sure know how to take a topic and thump it into the ground.
Brady's main concern here isn't verbal warfare but rather how can he attack a Jets team that he sliced/diced in a 45-3 win back on Dec. 6th. The Pats were all business in that 2010 revenge game - remember the Jets copped a 28-14 win at the New Meadowlands Stadium back in Week 2 action this year - and there were more than a few NYJ players who believe New England gladly "rubbed it in" during that game that had Pats head coach Bill Belichick beaming from ear-to-ear at game's end ... go look at the tape!
No question that Jets QB Mark Sanchez must answer the bell here as he's been brutally bad in two career starts at Gillette Stadium. If you include the 2009 regular-season tilt there - a 31-14 Patriots win - than you'll notice Sanchez has completed 25-of-54 passes with 1 TD and a whopping 7 INTs while throwing for a combined 300 yards ... not real good, right?
Sanchez can't win this one on his own, of course, and so the Jets need to win the field position battle when possible and so the aforementioned Cromartie (see 47-yard kick return last week to help set up the game-winning field goal in that 17-16 AFC Wild Card win in Indianapolis) and the slightly-battered Brad Smith (groin) must get NYJ into favorable field position when starting off drives and then RBs Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson (a combined 1,680 yards rushing in regular-season action) must chew yards and clock here while keeping Brady on the sidelines as much as possible.
One under-the-radar note here: The Pats need to make their rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski (45 and 42 receptions, respectively) early-game targets so that the Jets' LBs can be drawn away from the line of scrimmage - if this gets to be all about one-on-matchups for Brady than his brilliant offensive line will surely get the best of things here.
Spread Notes - New England is 10-5-1 against the Las Vegas price tags overall this season and note the Patriots are 85-54-4 ATS overall since the start of the 2003 campaign (and that's a heady .611 winning rate). The Pats, however, have failed to cover each of their last five post-season games dating back to the AFC Championship Game loss in Indianapolis in 2006. New England's 8-9-1 ATS overall in all post-season games since 2000. The New York Jets, meanwhile, enter this playoff tilt at 10-7 ATS overall this season including last weekend's one-point win in Indianapolis. The Jets are 10-5 versus the vig as underdogs in the Ryan Era (2009-present) and "gang green" is 13-7 ATS away the past two years.
NEW YORK JETS
|#1||Baltimore||+ 1||NY JETS||10-9|
|#2||NY JETS||+ 3||New England||28-14|
|#3||NY Jets||+ 2||MIAMI||31-23|
|#4||NY Jets||- 6||BUFFALO||38-14|
|#5||NY JETS||- 4.5||Minnesota||29-20|
|#6||NY Jets||- 3||DENVER||24-20|
|#8||Green Bay||+ 6.5||NY JETS||9-0|
|#9||NY Jets||- 5.5||DETROIT||23-20(ot)|
|#10||NY Jets||- 3||CLEVELAND||26-20(ot)|
|#11||NY JETS||- 6.5||Houston||30-27|
|#12||NY JETS||- 9.5||Cincinnati||26-10|
|#13||NEW ENGLAND||- 4||NY Jets||45-3|
|#14||Miami||+ 4.5||NY JETS||10-6|
|#15||NY Jets||+ 3||PITTSBURGH||22-17|
|#16||CHICAGO||- 3||NY Jets||38-34|
|#17||NY JETS||+ 1||Buffalo||38-7|
|WC||NY Jets||+ 2||INDIANAPOLIS||17-16|
|#1||NEW ENGLAND||- 5||Cincinnati||38-24|
|#2||NY JETS||+ 3||New England||28-14|
|#3||NEW ENGLAND||- 14.5||Buffalo||38-30|
|#6||NEW ENGLAND||- 3||Baltimore||23-20(ot)|
|#7||New England||+ 3||SAN DIEGO||23-20|
|#8||NEW ENGLAND||- 4.5||Minnesota||28-18|
|#9||CLEVELAND||+ 4||New England||34-14|
|#10||New England||+ 4||PITTSBURGH||39-26|
|#11||NEW ENGLAND||- 4||Indianapolis||31-28|
|#12||New England||- 6||DETROIT||45-24|
|#13||NEW ENGLAND||- 4||NY Jets||45-3|
|#14||New England||- 3||CHICAGO||36-7|
|#15||NEW ENGLAND||- 14||Green Bay||31-27|
|#16||New England||- 7||BUFFALO||34-3|
|#17||NEW ENGLAND||- 4||Miami||38-7|
COLLEGE BASKETBALL WEEKEND NOTEBOOK - TRACKING THE STILL-PERFECT TEAMS
Now that the Duke Blue Devils (15-1) finally bit the dust this past week - and can you believe that's the third time in the past seven years that Mike Krzyzewski's club went into Tallahassee as the nation's #1 team and came out a loser against always-gritty Florida State? - there's just four remaining unbeaten teams in the land of major College Basketball.
Here's the roll call while entering this weekend's action:
In alphabetical order, there's Kansas (16-0), there's Ohio State (17-0), there's San Diego State (18-0) and there's Syracuse (17-0).
The $64,000 question here is can any of'em stay perfect right throughout this 2010-11 season?
You tell us!
Better yet, would you sign up right here and right now to have these teams in this year's Final Four?
No Duke but whatta lineup this year and just about any of the matchups would be near pick'em affairs ... trust us!
Here's a look at the four undefeated squads and note below their current Associated Press Top 25 ranking along with their overall and conference marks:
#2 OHIO STATE (17-0, 4-0 Big 10 Conference) - The Buckeyes are bent on becoming the numero uno team in the land this week providing Thad Matta's club can dispose of heavy-duty underdog Penn State (10-6, 3-2 in the Big 10) on Saturday afternoon in cozy Columbus.
Hey, don't expect it to be a walk in the park.
The'Eyes really needed to weave some magic last Wednesday night en route to their 68-64 non-cover win at 10 ½-point underdog Michigan and before that Matta's men needed every ounce of energy to topple 15-point pup Minnesota 67-64 last Sunday afternoon.
In short, Ohio State has a monstrous-sized bulls-eye on its back these days and now folks are learning how to deal with sensational freshman front-court star Jared Sullinger who managed only 12 points in the win against the Wolverines. True, Ohio State guard William Buford (19 points) drained some key late-game free throws for the Buckeyes but - one of these days - Sullinger isn't going to be a stat-sheet stuffer and the'Eyes are gonna be hard-pressed to get enough points from their other forwards.
P.S., Ohio State better step up its three-point defense as Michigan poured in 11 trifectas in that mid-week tilt at Crisler Arena and word is Matta is concerned that his club isn't always playing full-tilt on the defensive end of the floor.
#3 KANSAS (16-0, 1-0 Big 12 Conference) - The Jayhawks are back up to their old tricks with a run-run offense that's averaging 84.3 points per game and twins Marcus and Markieff Morris have been the biggest/best scorers for Bill Self's gang.
Marcus Morris is averaging 16.8 ppg while Markieff Morris averages 13.2 ppg but it's point guard Tyshawn Taylor (5.3 assists per game) who's proving to be the energizer guy here for this Lawrence-based bunch.
If the Jayhawks are gonna stay unbeaten through this mid-January holiday weekend, then taking care of high-scoring Nebraska (Saturday, 2p.m. ET on ESPNU) is the next hurdle and don't be surprised if freshman guard Josh Selby looks to be more and more an impact player on the offensive end. Selby, you'll recall, served a season-opening nine-game NCAA-imposed suspension this year and so he's been eligible only since Dec. 18th and yet Kansas fans already have seen him drill some big-time long-range shots ... can we expect more of the same here against the'Huskers (13-3, 1-1 in Big 12 play)?
#4 SYRACUSE (17-0, 4-0 Big East Conference) - Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim knew this year's'Cuse club had the potential to be "special"but insiders claim that even Boeheim had no idea this squad would click so quickly.
The Orange - fresh off Wednesday's 76-59 cruise-job win inside Madison Square Garden against 3-point underdog (and overmatched) St. John's - now go home for a high noon ET Saturday tilt against Cincinnati (16-1, 3-1 in Big East play) and you can expect more workhorse minutes from Syracuse star forward Kris Joseph.
Note that Joseph logged 34 minutes against the Johnnies and that came on the heels of 37 minutes played in the 61-56 win last weekend at Seton Hall and the 39 minutes played against Notre Dame in that 70-58 home win on New Year's Day. If Joseph is turning out to be an iron man sort for Boeheim's club, than what can you say about this vaunted 2-3 zone defense that held St. John's to less than 37 percent shooting from the floor - that's 21-of-57 - and note the Red Storm canned just 2-of-12 hoops from beyond the three-point arc and that's been another strength this season for the'Cuse.
Maybe Cincinnati - an offensively-challenged team if there was one - won't be hurling up many triples in this weekend tilt inside the Carrier Dome but you can fully expect the Orange to spread the wealth on offense where active guard Scoop Jardine (14 points and 6 assists against St. John's and really coming into his own these days) and quiet assassin Brandon Triche (15 points versus the Johnnies) have a way of taking over games when things start to feel flat for the upstate New York gang.
Hey, if you wish to look ahead to the next real serious challenge for Syracuse than circle this Monday's game at Pittsburgh (16-1, 4-0 in Big East action) - now that ought to be a real doozy on "Big Monday"!
#6 SAN DIEGO STATE (18-0, 3-0 Mountain West Conference) - Just when you think that the sport's super-powers own all the might, here comes Steve Fisher's team ready/willing/able to dent the big hoops party this March/April.
The SDSU Aztecs - who are at New Mexico (13-4, 1-1 in Mountain West Conference play) on this third Saturday in the month - really needed some true grit to escape past UNLV 55-49 this past Wednesday night as San Diego State F Kawhi Leonard scored 15 points and pulled down a season-high 17 rebounds and the club's winning streak reached 18 and thus the longest in the land now that Duke's 25-game winning streak is a thing of the past.
San Diego State is athletic and tough - or didn't you note all the skirmishes with the UNLV players in that high-strung hoops game the other night?
Overall, the Aztecs held the UNLV Rebels to 22-of-61 shooting from the floor (36.1 percent) and it didn't escape Fisher's notice that his club copped 40 rebounds to UNLV's 29 boards in that grit-your-teeth home win.
When might San Diego State finally get beaten?
Well, the Jan. 26th game at BYU could be a pothole in the road for the Aztecs who will make its trip to Las Vegas on Feb. 12th and there's a good chance that Lon Kruger's club will be trying to knock off an unbeaten then ... so stay tuned.
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