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WE GET YOU THE THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEWS AS NFL WEEK 13 BEGINS WITH SAINTS-FALCONS PLUS THE BIG EAST'S MONSTER SHOWDOWN PITTING LOUISVILLE AT RUTGERS ...

IT'S A COLLEGE HOOPS NOTEBOOK TOO AS WE CHECK OUT A COUPLE OF UNDER-THE-RADAR SQUADS

By Jim Hurley

Just how strange of a year has this been in the National Football League?

Well, all four of the AFC's division-leading squads have a minimum three-game lead against their closest rivals and so get ready for some fast-and-furious clinchings in the next couple of weeks (beginning with the possibility/probability that Denver will clinch the AFC West this Sunday!) while in the NFC we could well be looking at a .500 team nabbing a wild-card post-season berth at year's end when you consider that the second-place team in this conference with a two-games-over-.500 mark is the Green Bay Packers (7-4) and they didn't exactly look like world-beaters this past Sunday Night in that 38-10 trouncing at the hands of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

Is this gonna be one of those years when somebody gets hot late in the season and then keeps it rollin' right through the playoffs - the folks in places such as Cincinnati (6-5) and Washington (5-6) hope that's the case -- or will we get a couple of 14-and-2 type teams squaring off in the Super Bowl ... yes, we're talking to you Atlanta and Houston!

There's five weeks still remaining on this wacky NFL season that's produced the following:

Betting Favorites are now 74-95-6 ATS (against the spread) with one pick 'em affair tossed into the mix - that's a crummy .438 winning rate for the chalk sides - and we'll see if dogs can roar again beginning with the NFL Week 13 clash from the Georgia Dome. Here goes ...

In Thursday Night NFL Week 13 action, it's ...
NEW ORLEANS (5-6) at ATLANTA (10-1) - 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
The Falcons have been absolute masters of winning the one-score games this year as Mike Smith's crew has won seven games by 7 points or less including last Sunday's 24-23 nail-biter win at Tampa Bay but if Atlanta's gonna get a season split in its series against the Saints, PK Matt Bryant must step it up (see missed field goals from 22 and 48 yards out last week at Ray James Stadium) and WR Julio Jones (see 80-yard touchdown grab from QB Matt Ryan) must stay in one piece while fending off the effects of a recent ankle injury.

No doubt the Saints have no margin for error anymore - and check out the New Orleans sked and you'll see road games at the Giants and at Dallas too - but of bigger concern is QB Drew Brees who threw a pair of "pick sixes" last week in the 31-21 home loss to San Francisco plus the deep passing game was virtually non-existent with TE Jimmy Graham barely heard from at all!

Spread Notes - Atlanta is 6-4-1 versus the vig overall this 2012 season but did you know that the Falcons have failed to cover their last four in a row in this NFC South rivalry? Meanwhile, New Orleans is 6-5 ATS this year but note the Saints have notched spread wins in six of their last eight games while dating back to late September.

In Thursday Night NCAA Football action, it's ...
LOUISVILLE (9-2, 4-2 Big East) at RUTGERS (9-2, 5-1 Big East) - 7:30 p.m. ET, espn2
This one - as you all know - serves as a de facto conference championship game but who's gonna win the health war here first?

Note that Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater (331 yards passing in last weekend's 23-20 triple-OT loss to UConn) comes into this prime-timer with a broken left (non-throwing) wrist while Rutgers slinger Gary Nova has a bum right (throwing) shoulder after getting slammed into the ground in last Saturday's non-competitive 27-6 loss in Pittsburgh. If Nova's unable to really get any "mustard" on his throws here, the Scarlet Knights will resort to an almost pre ground game but one that last week churned out a mere 50 yards on 24 carries.

Spread Notes - Louisville enters this late November prime-time game at just 4-7 against the odds this season and overall the U of L Cardinals are 1-3 ATS away (after going a combined 11-2 ATS away in the 2010-2011 seasons). On the flip side, Rutgers has covered 7-of-11 pointspread verdicts so far this season and the Scarlet Knights are a solid 20-13-1 spreadwise in all conference games while dating back to the start of the 2088 campaign.

THE COLLEGE HOOPS NOTEBOOK

WHY CREIGHTON AND COLORADO DESERVE YOUR ATTENTION

Okay, so the current Associated Press Top 25 rankings have both #11 Creighton and #19 Colorado as part of the mix - but who's really paying any national attention to either one of these guys, right? Well, we are here to tell you that both are true "dark horses" to go far in this year's 2012-13 season - here's a little primer:

#11 CREIGHTON (6-0) - The Bluejays just copped the Las Vegas Invitational with twin-figure wins against Longwood, Wisconsin and Arizona State and - don't look now - but Greg McDermott's team is not just a one-man show starring his kid Greg who poured in 29 points in last Saturday's rollicking 87-73 triumph over the ASU Sun Devils. Sure, the burly guard - who also collected nine rebounds in that tourney-clinching win - only seems like he's been at Creighton forever but now in his final year at this Missouri Valley Conference school he has major supporting characters like reserve F Ethan Wragge who registered 13 points in just 19 minutes against A-State. Keep any eye peeled on the Jays who might be en route to one of those very special 30-win type seasons here. Creighton averages 85.2 points a game these days (that's 11th-best in the land) and they prefer an up-tempo style right out of the starting gate.

#19 COLORADO (5-0) - Talk about a carryover effect from a year ago! That's when the Colorado Buffaloes won four games in as many days to win the Pac-12 Tournament (and in their very first try at it, to boot!) and now underrated head coach Tad Boyle has this club cookin' with gas as Colorado just recently snagged the Charleston Classic with back-to-back-to-back tourney wins against Dayton, than-#16 Baylor and Murray State and did you happen to notice that the Buffs allowed a per-game average of just 63 points a game in that tourney? Colorado gets true balanced scoring - right now there's four plays averaging in double digits including leading scorer G Askia Booker (17.2 ppg) and this dude's not afraid to take (and make) the big hoop late in the shot clock ... just ask Baylor about that, okay? If Colorado can just get a few hoops from its reserves, than you might want to mark down the Buffs as a "team to watch" come March. Got it?

NOTE: There's more big-time NCAA Football Previews straight ahead as we get you Friday Night's Mid-American Conference clash (that's Kent State versus Northern Illinois) and the Pac-12 title tilt between UCLA at Stanford plus our Heisman Trophy Watch List too.

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