Wildcard Weekend Preview + Compass Bowl
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THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IS HERE AND WE PREVIEW SATURDAY’S TWO TILTS FROM INDIANAPOLIS AND PHILLY …
PLUS THE COLLEGE BOWLS ROLL ON AS WE PREVIEW THE HOUSTON-VANDY GAME
By Jim Hurley
The National Football League’s post-season chase to get to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey figures to have lots of twists and turns to it … even if everyone and his brother-in-law seems to be picking a Seattle vs. Denver showdown at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 2nd.
Those two top seeds will sit tight this weekend and let the wild card round clubs battle it out and no doubt the frosty conditions that some “prognosticators” are calling for come Super Sunday may, in fact, be a big part of this weekend’s playoff games in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Green Bay.
Brrrr is right!
Okay, so we’ll preview the NFL’s two Saturday playoff games in just a moment here in today’s "Jim Sez", plus we’ll remind you that the Sunday game previews/forecasts – that’s the San Diego Chargers at the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers at the Green Bay Packers – come your way in tomorrow’s Jim Sez and we’ll (of course) have complete and in-depth NFL coverage all throughout the post-season so make sure to check us out each/every day.
NFL WILD CARD SATURDAY –
KANSAS CITY (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) – 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
Maybe you happened to notice that there are three “new” head coaches participating in this weekend’s four NFL playoff games, and the gentlemen who made the biggest splash – KayCee’s Andy Reid – here tries to get the Chiefs their first post-season win since 1993.
No doubt the buzz word here for KC is health – as the team’s injury list is long and includes pass-rushing whiz LB Tamba Hali (swollen knee), who didn’t practice Thursday and is iffy here, and the Chiefs have to get their long-lost pass rush back in order if they’re gonna rattle second-year star QB Andrew Luck, who comes off his second straight 23-TD season (not bad considering he didn’t have veteran WR Reggie Wayne most of the year).
Luck threw for 241 yards in a 23-7 win at 7 ½-point favorite Kansas City in a Week 16 clash at Arrowhead Stadium, but don’t put too much emphasis on that game ‘cause the Chiefs were short-handed at several positions back then, and note the AFC West runners-ups are keeping fingers crossed that WR Dwayne Bowe (concussion) and LB Justin Houston (elbow) – among others – get green-lighted for this road game.
If you’re looking for a key game plan item here, then let’s see how often KayCee gets the ball into the hands of in-space stars RB Jamaal Charles and WR/RB Dexter McCluster here – against a Colts defense that ranks a lowly 25th in the league against the rush (yielding 125.1 ypg) the forecast here is for Charles (1,287 yards rushing) to get at least 25 carries while McCluster should be in the mix with a couple of reverses that could well flip the field.
Spread Notes – Indianapolis is 9-6-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and so that makes the Colts a heady 19-12-2 spreadwise since the start of last year (a spiffy .613 winning rate) and did you realize that this AFC South crew is 11-4-1 ATS as hosts the past two years? Meanwhile, Kansas City is 9-7 versus the vig in the first year of the Andy Reid Era and the Chiefs enter this playoff game at 7-1 spreadwise away.
NEW ORLEANS (11-5) at PHILADELPHIA (10-6) – 8:05 p.m. ET, NBC
Can we pose a question to ‘ya right here:
If the New Orleans Saints are such a rotten road team, than why are the NFC South guys only a 2 ½-point underdog at NFC East champ Philly here?
The gist of what we’re saying is despite the fact the Saints have lost five of their eight road games this year – and done even worse spreadwise (see Spread Notes below) – here’s the Las Vegas price tag showing the Eagles as less-than-FG favorites for this prime-time affair and do keep in mind first-year boss Chip Kelly’s club has won seven of its last eight games while dating back to early November.
The Eagles sport the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack starring RB LeSean McCoy (1,607 yards rushing), but McCoy must be a factor as a pass-catcher here against a Saints defense that went nearly from worst-to-first against the forward pass this year while allowing just 194.1 aerial yards per game.
Okay, so we know Philly QB Nick Foles (27 TDs and just 2 INTs) has been fantastic ever since landing the starting spot over Michael Vick, but how will Foles react to a bevy of blitzes dialed up by Saints’ DC Rob Ryan – and will the likes of McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson (82 receptions and 9 TDs) and others crank out lots of “chunk plays” here after the Birds registered an NFC-best 247 offensive plays that covered 10-or-more yards?
New Orleans – which has scored a per-game average of only 17.4 ppg in its eight road games this season – may be chucking all its eggs into the basket of veteran QB Drew Brees (5,162 yards passing with 39 TDs), but we believe the old time-of-possession stat will be key here as Brees & Company must make a concerted effort to limit Philly’s offensive snaps:
If you wish to pin us down, we say that if the Eagles get off 75 snaps or more here, they’ll survive and advance to next weekend’s NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Still, don’t be silly and think the Saints’ well-documented road woes is gonna automatically mean Payton’s crew is finished ever before it gets started here – if TE Jimmy Graham (86 catches for 1,215 yards and an NFL-best 16 TDs) is the red-zone menace he usually is at home, then the Saints will be the ones marching on in this chase for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Spread Notes – New Orleans is 8-7-1 against the Las Vegas prices this season, and no surprise here that the Saints are just 1-7 ATS away with the lone spread win on the road coming in a 26-18 Week 5 triumph at Chicago (a pick ‘em affair). Note that N’Orleans is just 3-5 ATS in the post-season under boss-man Sean Payton. On the flip side, Philadelphia is a dead-even but vig-losing 8-8 spreadwise this season and the Eagles are 6-17-1 ATS as hosts since the start of the 2011 season (a wobbly .261 winning percentage). Note that the Birds have failed to cover their last three consecutive post-season games going back to the 2008 season.
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Extra, extra …
Get all the remaining College Football Bowl Games and the NFL Wild Card Round games this Saturday/Sunday too when you check with us here at Jim Hurley’s Network.
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THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT –
Here’s a look at the Saturday, Jan. 4 Bowl action:
COMPASS BOWL – at Birmingham, AL
HOUSTON (8-4) vs. VANDERBILT (8-4) – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Go ahead and whet your weekend bowl appetite with this tilt in the Deep South as Vandy’s back in the bowl wars for an unprecedented third consecutive season, but the SEC guys will be without oft-injured QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, who underwent knee surgery, and now will be replaced here by mobile Patton Robinette – still the big star for this Vandy team is WR Jordan Matthews (107 receptions for 1,334 yards this year), and it’s incumbent on Robinette to get his star receiver at least a dozen targets against a Houston defense that ranks a dismal 109th nationally in pass defense.
On the flip side, the UH Cougars – who missed the bowl fun-and-games last year following a 5-7 SU (straight-up) season a year ago – hope to keep the heat on the Vanderbilt defense here with freshman QB John O’Korn, who threw for 26 TDs and only 9 INTs this year as the American Athletic Conference club beat the likes of bowl guys Rice and Rutgers and lost to “name teams” such as BYU, UCF and Louisville by a grand total of 13 points.
Keep an eye on Houston WR Deontay Greenberry (76 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs), who has a habit of making big plays when the Coogs need it most.
Spread Notes – Houston is a sizzling 10-2 versus the vig overall this season and the Coogs covered all five of their games when placed in the underdog role (after going a collective 2-7 ATS as pups from 2010-thru-2012). Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is 6-6 against the odds this season but keep in mind the Commodores have notched spread wins in eight of their last dozen away games.
NOTE: Get Sunday’s NFL Wild Card Round Games in the next edition of "Jim Sez" and we’ll also continue our College Bowl coverage too with a look at Arkansas State vs. Ball State in Sunday’s Go Daddy Bowl … an extensive BCS Championship Game Preview comes in our Monday Jim Sez!
THERE’S MORE NFL WILD CARD PREVIEWS PLUS SUNDAY’S GO DADDY BOWL TILT TOO
Let’s keep revvin’ it up with more NFL Wild Card Round games as we tackle the Sunday tilts from Cincinnati and Green Bay …
NFL WILD CARD SUNDAY
SAN DIEGO (9-7) at CINCINNATI (11-5) – 1 p.m. ET, NBC
You might have to tune to the History Channel to find the last video proof that the Cincinnati Bengals actually won a playoff game – it was, after all, 23 years ago and so the Queen City natives have grown restless and you do wonder if that means the pressure’s been building all week/season long for Marvin Lewis’ club to finally produce.
If Cincinnati – a solid 6 ½-point betting favorite – is gonna survive-and-advance to an AFC Divisional Playoff game next weekend in Foxboro – than any genius would tell you QB Andy Dalton better take care of the football after last week airing four INTs in a 34-17 win/cover against Baltimore.
Dalton’s stats the past two playoff games – both in Houston – are not good as he’s thrown four INTs and been sacked six times without tossing a single TD but here he’ll look to chew up a San Diego pass defense that ranks a lowly 28th in the league (allowing 258.7 ypg) and expect both WR A.J. Green and do-everything RB Gio Bernard to get targeted plenty – can they both make significant YAC plays here?
On the flip sides, San Diego QB Philip Rivers (4,478 yards passing with 32 TDs and 11 INTs) is back in the playoff picture after a three-year franchise drought and his downfield threat WR Keenan Allen comes into this game having collected 16 receptions of 20-plus yards this year while scoring eight TDs.
If the Chargers take an early lead here, the Bengals could push the panic button – but if the 2013 history of this Cincinnati team remains “true” than the Bengals will win/cover at “The Jungle” one mo’ time (see Spread Notes below).
Spread Notes – Cincinnati is 10-5-1 ATS (against the spread) this season and as everyone by now knows the Bengals are a perfect 8-and-oh spreadwise at home. But did you know Cincy’s covered its last four in a row against San Diego while dating back to 2009? On the flip side, San Diego is a healthy 9-6-1 against the odds this season and the Bolts are 11-7-1 ATS away since late in the 2010 campaign.
SAN FRANCISCO (12-4) at GREEN BAY (8-7-1) – 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Did someone say anything about the weather outside being frightful? The reports ‘round Green Bay is that we could see temps fall to 28 degrees below zero with the wind chill and so both the 49ers and the home underdog Packers better bring their ground games here and do keep in mind San Fran ranked third in the NFL with 137.6 yards per game via the ground route while Green Bay ranked a better-than-you-thought seventh while averaging 133.5 ypg.
Still, the game plan for the Packers is to do everything in their power to keep their own leaky defense off the field and so QB Aaron Rodgers – fresh of last week’s 318-yard passing performance that featured the game-winning 48-yard TD strike to a wide-open WR Randall Cobb with 38 seconds left in the 33-28 win in Chicago – must steer clear of picks against an opportunistic Niners defense that ranks third league-wide in scoring (17 ppg).
Gut feeling is that even without star LB Clay Matthews (broken right thumb) the Pack will load the box and stuff RB Frank Gore and QB Colin Kaepernick more than a few times but it’s those occasional chunk play runs by Kaepernick that the Packers cannot afford to happen (see last year’s playoff win by SF when he rushed for a QB-record 181 rushing yards).
Spread Notes – San Francisco is 10-5-1 ATS overall this season and the Niners now are a collective 32-18-3 vig-wise in the Jim Harbaugh Era for a .640 winning rate. Note that Green Bay is 6-9-1 versus the vig this season and the Packers enter this post-season tilt at 7-13-1 ATS in their last 20 games against non-divisional foes.
Get the BCS Championship Game Side & Totals Winners when you check with us on Monday after 1 p.m. ET as we put a wrap on this College Football season with #1 Florida State vs. #2 Auburn playing for all the marbles with kickoff set for 8:30 p.m. ET on Monday Night. And get Side/Totals winners on today’s NFL Wild Card Round games too when you check with us at Jim Hurley’s Network either right here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 – and get all the Hoop Winners every day too!
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT –
Here’s a look at the Sunday, Jan. 5 Bowl action:
GO DADDY BOWL – at Mobile, AL
ARKANSAS STATE (7-5) vs. BALL STATE (10-2) -- 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Go ahead and tell us if you’ve heard this script before: Ball State is still looking for its first bowl win (the Cardinals are 0-7-1 straight-up lifetime in bowl games) while Arkansas State has another head coach for this bowl tilt … yes, defensive coordinator John Thompson guided the Red Wolves to a 17-13 win against 3-point pup Kent State in last year’s Go Daddy Bowl as he temporarily replaced Gus Malzahn and now Thompson’s keepin’ the seat warm for Blake Anderson who believe it or not will be ASU’s fifth different head coach in as many years.
Is your head spinning yet?
In this prime-time tilt, Ball State QB Keith Wenning (3,933 yards passing with 34 TDs and just 6 INTs this year) will look to attack an Arkansas State defense that surrendered 30-plus points in six different games this year while the TD underdogs from the Sun Belt Conference are banking on soph RB Michael Gordon (717 yards rushing with a 6.8 ypc average and 10 TDs) to dent a B-State bunch that failed to cover games against fellow bowl crews North Texas and Northern Illinois.
Will David Letterman’s alma mater finally break through at bowl time? Stay tuned.
Spread Notes – Ball State is 8-4 ATS overall this year and the Cardinals are 13-5 vig-wise as betting favorites since midway of the 2011 campaign. Meanwhile, Arkansas State’s 7-5 spreadwise overall this year and note the Red Wolves are a nifty 19-8 ATS away the past four years.
NOTE: Get our BCS Championship Game Preview plus NFL Wild Card Round re-caps in the next Jim Sez!
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