Cotton Bowl & Saturday's Wild Card Previews
FRIDAY'S COTTON BOWL PLUS SATURDAY'S WILD CARDS
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By Jim Hurley
The NFL Playoffs are fast approaching - Wild Card Weekend gets us rollin' this Saturday/Sunday and we tackle the first two games in the Jim Sez column space below but let's kick-start today's goodies with a Friday Night Bowl Preview from the Lone Star State:
On Friday, it's ...
COTTON BOWL - Cowboys Stadium; Arlington, TX
#9 TEXAS A&M (10-2) vs. #11 OKLAHOMA (10-2) - 8 p.m. ET, Fox
Let's see if recent history repeats itself: Last year's Heisman Trophy-winning QB Robert Griffin III won his bowl game with a wild/wacky 67-56 Alamo Bowl triumph over Washington and now here's the newest Heisman Trophy winner from yet another school in the great state of Texas who hopes to close out his magical season with yet another "W".
Johnny Football, here's your shot at big, bad Oklahoma!
The 2012 scourge of the college football scene - that would be Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel - burst upon the scene like a real-life meteor (yes, we know that's coming in the year 2040 or so we've been told!) and now he tries to write this year's final chapter against a Sooners team that started off the 2012 season ranked #4 in the opening Associated Press Top 25 poll and you just have to wonder how anxious the OU defense is to get its hands on Manziel after hearing non-stop chatter about him for the past month or so.
The plain-and-simple stats say Manziel - a redshirt freshman - threw for 3,419 yards with 24 TDs this year plus he contributed another 1,181 yards rushing with 19 ground scores and every time the Aggies needed a first down (or so it seemed) Johnny Football got it for 'em with either a wild run or a daring pass.
If Manziel puts up big numbers here - and keep in mind the current Las Vegas totals price here is 73 points - than Oklahoma's only real chance of snagging the mild upset win is for QB Landry Jones (3,989 yards passing with 29 TDs) to stay with Manziel step-for-step and don't be surprised if Jones sits in the shotgun here and throws 65-to-70 passes. Pay special attention to Oklahoma WR Kenny Stills (75 catches and 11 TDs) who could be a real red-zone menace to A&M here.
First team to 40 points wins?
Spread Notes - Texas A&M is 7-5 versus the vig overall this season and that includes a solid 6-3 ATS (against the spread) mark when in the favorite's role. The Aggies are, however, a dreary 1-5 against the odds in all bowl games the past 10 years with the lone bowl cover occurring with last season's 33-22 win against 9 ½-point pup Northwestern (the Meineke Car Care Bowl). On the flip side, Oklahoma is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 spreadwise this year and that makes the "Boomer Sooners" a collective 25-25-1 ATS the past four years ... not quite as good as you perhaps thought, right? Oklahoma's failed to cover six of its last nine bowl tilts.
THE LAST 3 COTTON BOWL GAMES
|2011||Arkansas||- 9||Kansas State||29-16|
|2010||LSU||- 2||Texas A&M||41-24|
|2009||Ole Miss||- 3.5||Oklahoma State||21-7|
THE NFL 2012 REGULAR-SEASON FINAL POINTSPREAD CHART
Hey, it's not often that we get a four-way tie for the NFL's best regular-season pointspread record but that's the case this year with Denver, St. Louis, Seattle and Washington sharing in the top spot with identical 11-5 ATS marks and do take note that six of the league's seven-best spread sides are playoff-bound this year - only the overachieving Rams from this upper-crust spread bunch didn't make it to the post-season but feel free to send a "thank you" note to St. Loo's first-year head coach Jeff Fisher who should get a bunch of NFL Coach of the Year votes in the coming weeks.
On the flip side, how the mighty have fallen as the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles take the cake as the NFL's worst spread side with that shabby 3-12-1 ATS log and, boy, doesn't it seem like eons ago when the Eagles were busy piling up 10-, 11- and even 12-win spread seasons (see 2002, '03, '04, '06 and '08)?
NFL WILD CARD ROUND - SATURDAY'S GAME PREVIEWS
In the AFC, it's ...
CINCINNATI (10-6) at HOUSTON (12-4) - 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Wonder just how many times it's been asked already this week ... what's exactly wrong with the Houston Texans?
The team that was blazing a trail with an 11-1 SU (straight-up) mark in early December staggers into this NFL post-season having lost three of its last four games while getting outscored 110-to-65 in the last four games and whether you believe the notion that this AFC South crew is "tired" or the idea that under-the-microscope QB Matt Schaub - just one touchdown pass the past four weeks - simply has hit upon a rough patch the fact of the matter is there's major panic in the Space City.
Best bet for the Texans to get on track here in this repeat AFC Wild Card Game - see our Spread Notes below - is to have Schaub (22 TDs and 12 INTs) come out of the gate gunning it with WR Andre Johnson a likely target for 12-to-15 balls here. If the Schaub-to-Johnson (career-high 1,598 receiving yards) combo clicks, than RB Arian Foster (1,424 yards rushing and NFL-best 15 rushing scores) won't feel so much pressure but if the Bengals' defensive front seven can pressure Schaub - and keep a close eye on DL Geno Atkins - than it might be turn-out-the-lights time on this Texans' once-promising season.
Cincinnati - which has scored more than 23 points just once in the past five weeks - knows wide-out A.J. Green must be productive here after going for just 47 receiving yards in last year's playoff loss and so Bengals' OC Jay Gruden (who could wind up being the next head coach in Chicago) must roll the pocket here away from defensive end J.J. Watt and have QB Andy Dalton throw it successfully while on the move. Note that Dalton was sacked four times and threw three picks including an INT-for-TD by Watt in last year's playoff loss.
Spread Notes - Houston failed to cover five of its final seven regular-season spread verdicts after a snazzy 7-2 ATS start and did you know the Texans are 12-5-1 versus the vig at home while dating back to very late in the 2010 season and that includes last year's aforementioned 31-10 win/cover as 4-point home chalk against the Bengals. Meanwhile, Cincinnati is 6-2 ATS in its last eight spread verdicts this year and Marvin Lewis' squad is a more-than-decent 20-14-1 spreadwise in its last 35 games as underdogs spanning the last four years now.
In the NFC, it's ...
MINNESOTA (10-6) at GREEN BAY (11-5) - 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Here's a quickie question for both of these NFC North teams: Are you quite sick of each other by now?
After all this marks the third time in six weeks that Minnesota and Green Bay will collide - the host Packers copped a 23-14 win/cover as 7-point home favorites back in Week 13 and than last week Minnesota repaid the favor with a thrilling 37-34 home win as 3-point underdogs as RB Adrian Peterson fell nine yards short of the much-ballyhooed Eric Dickerson single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards - and now they duel in prime time at historic Lambeau Field and just wanted to let y'all know the Vikes won only one road game this year till those back-to-back "W's" at St. Loo and at Houston in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively.
No doubt that Peterson - who has rushed for 210 and 199 rushing yards in his two games against the Packers this year - will "get fed" 30-or-so times here (see career-high 34 totes last weekend in Minny) but expect Green Bay DC Dom Capers to throw a couple of new/different wrinkles his way as both LB Clay Matthews and S Charles Woodson (back after missing nine games with a broken collarbone) will get moved around at the last moment to confuse both Peterson and just-married QB Christian Ponder.
Hey, everyone knows the Vikes only have a real shot at winning on the playoff road if Peterson cranks out another monster game but what will make GB tick on offense one week after a clearly frustrated QB Aaron Rodgers had trouble finding open receivers for much of that game at the Metrodome?
The return of WR/return specialist Randall Cobb (ankle) will help but it's essential that Rodgers (10 TD passes and 0 INTs in his last four games against Minnesota) finds safety valve targets when coverage downfield is solid and so both TE Jermichael Finley and RB Ryan Grant must be chain-movers on third downs ... or else.
Spread Notes - Green Bay closed out regular-season play with a spiffy 6-2 ATS mark that included a spread split against Minnesota. In all, the Packers have covered 5-of-8 home games this year and are 32-17-2 ATS at Lambeau Field since the start of the 2007 season (but GB's failed to cover two-of-three home playoff games during this time with both spread setbacks coming against the New York Giants). Minnesota enters this wild card bash riding a four-game spread winning streak overall and the Vikes are 13-6-1 ATS as pups since the start of last year (a .684 winning rate).
NOTE: Get our quick-hitter NFL Wild Card Round Sunday Game Previews in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez as we tackle Indianapolis at Baltimore and Seattle at Washington -- and stay tuned for our BCS Championship Preview too!
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