The NFL Playoffs Are Set - Sugar Bowl Preview




By Jim Hurley:

In case you were wondering, there is more than one way to squeeze into an NFL playoff berth - just ask the Denver Broncos who lost their final three regular-season games in a row and still eked out a divisional crown.

Way to go, AFC West!

No doubt a far more effective way of landing in the post-season was how the New York Giants got "mission accomplished" with Sunday night's head-to-toe 31-14 victory against the always-disorganized Dallas Cowboys. Hey, give the Giants credit as that fierce (and born-again) pass rush collected six sacks of Cowboys QB Tony Romo while G-men WR Victor Cruz (6 catches for 178 yards receiving and one TD) proved to one-and-all that he was the single-biggest snub on this year's Pro Bowl card.

Folks, dare we say you can only count up three or four wide-outs in this league that had a better year than Cruz who has become the darling of New York City. On a night when he pulled down a couple of "jump balls" along with that scintillating 74-yard catch-and-run first-quarter score there were the Big Apple tabloids rightfully destroying New York Jets WR Santonio Holmes for his no-show/wave-the-white-flag performance in his club's ugly 19-17 loss in Miami and praising Cruz for his work.


Hey, but what about both the Cincinnati Bengals and the aforementioned Broncos who bagged playoff berths despite home losses in Week 17?

Well, Cincy has nothing to be ashamed about as Marvin Lewis' crew battled back from a 17-3 halftime deficit and were a jump ball away from possibly tying the AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens - we must admit that the Bengals have to be more than a little discouraged over the fact Baltimore RB Ray Rice shredded the home team's defense to the tune of 70- and 51-yard scoring bursts but Lewis - a defensive whiz - has been quick to assure Cincinnati fans that stuff is correctable come Saturday's AFC Wild Card game in Houston.

Sorry, but there are no words of encouragement to dole out Denver's way: The Broncos - who now have been outscored 88-to-40 while losing back-to-back-to-back games against New England, Buffalo and Sunday's 7-3 setback to Kansas City - simply don't have enough time to "fix" this offense that converted 5-of-19 third- and fourth-down plays against the Chiefs as QB Tim Tebow's magic carpet ride has crashed big-time.

Out of all the impotent offensive numbers to come out of Denver on Sunday, how about the fact Tebow averaged 2.7 yards a pass attempt while going 6-of-22 for 60 yards with one INT and one lost fumble?

Safe to say that Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel - a real defensive mastermind in his own right - schooled Tebow to the hilt and what might the Pittsburgh Steelers' defense be thinking while getting ready to head into the Mile High City for Sunday's AFC Wild Card game?

Speaking of the upcoming playoff games this Saturday/Sunday, here's some quick-hitter pointspread items worth mentioning at week's start:

On Saturday, it's ...
Cincinnati at Houston (4:30 p.m. ET, NBC) - The Texans are 4-2-2 against the odds in their own backyard this year while the Bengals are an ugly 1-5-1 vig-wise in their last seven overall games.

Detroit at New Orleans (8 p.m. ET, NBC) - The Saints have covered their last eight consecutive games this year and N'Orleans is a glitzy 8-and-oh spreadwise at home this season. The Detroit Lions, meanwhile, enter this game having failed to cover five of their last six overall tilts.

On Sunday, it's ...
Atlanta at New York Giants (1 p.m. ET, Fox) - Did you know the Falcons registered a 3-5 away spread mark this year after having gone 11-5 spreadwise on the road the past two years? The Giants, meanwhile, are 6-2 ATS in post-season games the past 10 years and NYG's covered four of its last five games overall heading into this matinee tilt.

Pittsburgh at Denver (4:30 p.m. ET, CBS) - The Steelers are a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 ATS as betting favorites this year while the host Broncos are 7-12-1 spreadwise when playing non-AFC West teams the past two years. P.S., the last time Pittsburgh played Denver in the playoffs was back in the 2005 season and then the 3-point road dog Steelers crushed the Broncos 34-17 en route to Bill Cowher's one-and-only Super Bowl championship. Remember?

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to win big-time this holiday season as we roll on with our College Football Bowl Games all this week and right through the BCS Championship Game next Monday, Jan. 9th between #1 LSU and #2 Alabama plus there's NFL Playoff action this weekend along with the NBA and tons of College Hoops action too. Get all these winners at our toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get it online right here as America's #1 Handicapper keeps up the winning beat this holiday season. Make sure to get your New Year off to a rollicking start!


SUGAR BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
MICHIGAN (10-2) vs. VIRGINIA TECH (11-2) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN

Is it us or does it only appear that everything that's been written or aired regarding this Jan. 3rd bowl game centers on the accomplishments of the Michigan Wolverines?

No doubt that 2011 was a true renaissance season for this proud Big 10 school following the flawed Rich Rodriguez Era (2008-2010) but the Virginia Tech Hokies might want to play up the "no respect" angle here as Frank Beamer's club has barely gotten credit for cranking out six wins against fellow bowl teams but it was those two losses to Clemson (including the 38-10 setback in last month's ACC Championship Game) that have marred an otherwise solid season - now the $64,000 question is can V-Tech regain some lost luster with a mild upset win here (Michigan's a three-point betting favorite at press time)?

The key for Tech is getting in the grill of Michigan's do-everything QB Denard Robinson who has thrown for 2,056 yards with 18 TDs and run for 1,163 yards with 16 scores - if the Hokies can "keep everything in front of them" here than Robinson and mates may have to resort to some gadget or trick plays against an aggressive VT defense that held eight foes to 17 points or less.

On the flip side, Virginia Tech RB David Wilson (1,627 yards rushing (a 6.1 yards-per-carry average with 9 TDs) hopes to gut the "Big Blue" defensive front at every opportunity. The Atlantic Coast Conference's Player of the Year rushed for only 32 yards in that title game loss to Clemson and so he along with the Tech O-line is in a something-to-prove state of mind here.

First bowl at Michigan for head coach Brady Hoke - will he be feeling the pressure to get the school's first bowl win since the 2007 season? Stay tuned.

Spread Notes - Michigan's covered seven of its 11 regular-season this year after having gone a composite 9-25-1 ATS from 2008-thru-2010. Note the Wolverines are a money-losing 3-5 versus the vig in all bowl games dating back the past 10 years. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, is 4-9 ATS overall this season and only 4-6 against the odds in bowl action the past 10 years. The Hokies enter this prime-time affair 36-18-1 spraedwise away since the start of the 2004 campaign.

NOTE: Catch our Orange Bowl Preview in the next edition of Jim Sez plus we'll have NFL Wild Card Playoff coverage all week long.


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