NFL Championship Weekend
NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
GREEN BAY (13-4) at SEATTLE (13-4) - 3 p.m. ET, Fox
Y'all know the NFL history - no team has won back-to-back Super Bowls since the 2003 and '04 New England Patriots (and please don't ask whether they were totally "legit"!) -- but that's what stares straight ahead at these surging Seahawks who enter this one on an eight-game home playoff winning streak that includes a pair of post-season home wins against New Orleans (see 2010 and '13), San Francisco (2013) and this year's aforementioned win against the Panthers.
The Seattle defense yields less than 16 points per game and during this seven-game SU (straight-up) and ATS run you'll note that the Seahawks have surrendered single-digit scoring outputs on five different occasions. Wow!
In short, nobody's been denting this Seattle stop unit that had been pretty healthy of late until CB Byron Maxwell experienced some shortness of breath issues last weekend and Tharold Simon proved to be a not-so-adequate replacement.
If Maxwell's fine here and the Seahawks are "whole", than Mr. Rodgers (4,381 yards passing with 38 TDs in regular-season play and another 316 yards passing with 3 TDs in last week's controversial win against Dallas) will have his hands full even if the unexpected likes of WR Davante Adams (7 catches for 117 yards and one TD last week) and TE Richard Rodgers (key 13-yard go-ahead TD grab versus the 'Boys) are making contributions but what's the deal with WR Jordy Nelson who snared just two receptions against Dallas and was pretty much invisible.
Remember the Packers also have some issues with key RB Eddie Lacy who wound up with 101 yards rushing on 19 carries last week but he took himself out of the game a few times with asthma-related problems - if Lacy has to sit at times here than expect Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy to turn to WR Randall Cobb lined up occasionally in the backfield.
Gut feeling is the Seattle defense will "spy" Cobb when/if he heads into the backfield with QB Rodgers, so we believe his affect here will be minimal. No, if the TD underdog Packers are gonna win here and make it back to their second Super Bowl in the past five years, than Rodgers must get a batch of "chunk plays" through the air waves and Seattle must be passive when it comes to a pass rush and it's duly noted that Green Bay's oft-underrated O-line did a number on the Dallas pass rushers a week ago.
When Seattle has the ball, all eyes remain on QB Russell Wilson who enters this game with a sizzling 73.9 completion percentage on third-down plays in post-season play - now that's the best in the NFL in more than 20 years - and you all know what havoc Wilson creates when he turns and runs.
Wilson's 849 rushing yards in the regular season was second-best on this Seattle team - bulldozing RB Marshawn Lynch averaged 4.7 yards a pop and rushed for 1,306 yards - and so the inevitable question here is will Green Bay's defense "spy" Wilson (and maybe even with MLB Clay Matthews) or will they take the chance that they can restrict Wilson's movements to be inside the pocket only here.
Seattle has become the beneficiary of major "chunk plays" through the air waves recently too with Wilson airmailing five of last week's 15 pass completions versus Carolina for 25-or-more yards and so the Pack and DC Dom Capers better not "sleep" on WRs Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse even though they combined for just four touchdowns in regular-season play. Hybrid TE/WR Luke Willson - yes, with two l's -- has become a favorite target of QB Wilson and watch for any downfield matchups where Willson gets to face off with a linebacker - mismatch city?
Now for a pair of X-factors:
The Packers were chewed up pretty good last week on the ground by Dallas RB DeMarco Murray - in all Green Bay allowed 123 yards on 25 carries - and so if Seattle is able to gash the middle of the Packers' defensive line here with between-the-guard runs by both Lynch and backup RB Robert Turbin, then this game could well fall into a nice rhythm for the home team.
Secondly, don't overlook the all-important special teams here: The Packers trust PK Mason Crosby to make those 50-yarders while Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka did miss three FGs in that lopsided win at Arizona back in Week 16 play and it's not really known whether he's recovered or not from that shaky showing.
Pointspread Notes - The Seahawks are 11-6 ATS overall this year including a snazzy 7-2 spread log at home and note that Seattle is a dead-even but vig-losing 3-3-1 against Green Bay the past 10 years. On the flip side, the GB Packers are a collective 9-7-1 against the Las Vegas prices this year and note the NFC North champs are a dreary 0-3 ATS as underdogs with pointspread setbacks at 4.5-point favorite Seattle in Week, at 1.5-point fav Detroit in Week 3 and at 2-point chalkie New Orleans in a Week 9 Sunday Night affair. Plus, the Packers are just 6-5-1 ATS overall in playoff games under McCarthy while the Seahawks are 6-2 vig-wise in post-season tilts under Carroll.
I'VE WON 86% OF MY PLAYS ON CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY SINCE 2007!
I'll Sweep Again THIS Sunday In the Conference Championships
Packers at Seahawks (-7.5, 46.5) (3pm ET, Fox)
Colts at Patriots (-6, 53.5) (6:40pm ET, CBS)
The Jim Hurley Network has profited all year long and even more so in the playoffs. Our football experts know whether Rodgers or Wilson and either Luck or Brady will get the better of it this Sunday, or even if the QB matchup is the key. The QB's will get all the ink and all the chatter this week, but I know WHAT will really be the key to getting the money.
In addition, our Vegas pipeline have been monitoring the betting patterns on both games and what the Sharps are doing with their favorite teams. Our stat handicappers have all the numbers and trends that tell us exactly what the probabilities are for all four teams to play the game they need to advance to Super Bowl XLIX.
Overseeing this flurry of activity is Jim Hurley himself, whose winning record on Championship Sunday speaks for itself. Jim is an amazing 18-3-1 the last 8 years (86%)...and 8-1-1 the last 3 Title Game Sundays.
|49'ers / Seahawks||(OVER 40)||17/23||Push|
|49ers/ Falcons||(OVER 49)||28/24||WON!|
|Ravens / Patriots||(UNDER 50)||20-23||WON!|
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AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREVIEW
INDIANAPOLIS (13-5) at NEW ENGLAND (13-4) - 6:40 p.m. ET, CBS
Did you check out the supposed weather report for this title tilt on Sunday night? Something about "a light, icy mix late" but temps that could reach as high as 45 degrees. In other words, this could be a bad news/good news forecast for the climate-controlled Colts who did go into chilly but not frozen Denver last week and emasculate the Broncos 24-13 and lest anyone forget this does mark Indy's fourth road game in five weeks as that wild card win against Cincinnati followed on the heels of back-to-back regular-season-ending road games in Dallas and Tennessee.
So, will QB Andrew Luck( 265 yards passing with two TDs last week against Denver) and Company be "running on empty" at some point here or will the sheer thrill of getting this far catapult Chuck Pagano's team to one more glorious road win?
No question that Luck - who added a key 21 yards rushing last Sunday - really has spread the wealth around the past few weeks as eight different players caught passes in last Sunday's playoff win and that included top target T.Y. Hilton (4 receptions worth 72 yards) but what will Hilton do here in his expected head-to-head matchup against New England CB Darrelle Revis who was - dare we say - a mere mortal in New England's 35-31 come-from-behind-twice wild car win against Baltimore?
The Colts operated the NFL's numero uno passing offense this year while averaging a haughty 305.9 yards per game but there's been problems with dropped passes (Hilton included) and, let's face it, Indianapolis doesn't exactly have a dependable ground game (ranked 22nd in the NFL) with RB Daniel "Boom" Herron rushing for a modest 63 yards in the TD-plus win against the Broncos last weekend.
In short, can Indy - a 6.5-point underdog here at press time - pull off the upset without a semblance of a ground game here? The answer is "no" unless Luck can scrape together three or four drive-extending runs here and so don't discount the "spy factor" as crafty New England head coach Bill Belichick could switch off players to eyeball Luck at all times.
On the flip side, the Patriots - who have outscored the Luck-led Colts 144-to-66 in the three meetings held between these teams the past three years - rushed the ball a mere 13 times for 14 yards in that post-season win against the Ravens last week and Brady went some 19 plays at one point where he threw it 18 times … yes, the modern-day NFL at work.
Here, Brady will look to pick apart a battered Indianapolis secondary as all-everything CB Vontae Davis (knee) and fellow CB Greg Toler (groin) both missed practice time this week and anyone that watched the Colts' dominant win in Denver last week knows this secondary was the star of the show with perfect tackling techniques and fierce challenges of the Broncos' receivers.
So, if either/both Davis or Toler are hurting here, than Brady - who threw for 367 yards with 3 TDs and rushed for another score last Saturday -- could have a feast with TE Rob Gronkowski (seven catches for 108 yards and one score versus Baltimore) the chief target but don't sleep on either WR Brandon LaFell (5 catches for 62 yards and the game-winning 23-yard TD grab last week) and "little men" Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola who not only combined on that luscious 51-yard trick play score against the Ravens but teamed up for a composite total of 155 receiving yards
Finally, let's touch on New England RB Jonas Gray who has been pretty much MIA ever since that 201-yard, four-TD performance in the Patriots' 42-21 triumph at Indy way back on Nov. 16th. There's been plenty of speculation in/around greater Boston that Belichick will "unwrap" Gray here but we're not real sure of that - expect Brady to chuck it 50 times or so (he was 33-of-50 passing with one INT against Baltimore) and expect the Gray/LeGarrette Blount backfield tandem to get no more than 15 or 16 rushes between 'em.
Spread Notes - Indianapolis is 12-5-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this year and so that means since Luck arrived in 2012 his franchise is 33-18-2 spreadwise. The Colts are 13-10 vig-wise as underdog sides the past three years including last week's win at 9 ½-point fav Denver. Meanwhile, New England's just 9-8 against the odds overall this year including last week's non-cover triumph against Baltimore. The Patriots are 3-10 ATS in all post-season games since the last time this organization won a Super Bowl. Note that the Colts and Patriots have played one another a baker's dozen times since 2004 and they've split spread verdicts at 6-6-1 and that does include this year's aforementioned 42-20 Patriots' win as 3-point road underdogs in a Week 11 game.
CHAMPIONSHIP SUNDAY Q&A
Q: What - if anything - have the Las Vegas line moves meant in this year's NFL Playoffs and what's happened with the line moves this week?
A: There's really only been two post-season games so far in which the Las Vegas line moved a bit as Carolina went from 4 points to 6.5 and then back down to a closing price of 5.5 points in its 27-16 win/cover against Arizona in an NFC Wild Card Game while last week Seattle went from an 11.5-point betting favorite to 13.5 points by kickoff and the Seahawks covered the hefty price with their 31-17 triumph over Carolina.
Otherwise, the line moves in the other games have been minimal - that's either half-point moves or none at all - with NFL Playoff Betting Favorites entering this weekend's game at 3-5-0 ATS (against the spread) overall. As far as totals plays, note that Arizona at Carolina was bet under from 39 to 37 ½ (and went under) and Cincinnati at Indianapolis was bet under from 49 to 47.5 points (and went under) and otherwise all other totals prices stayed the same or moved a mere half-point during the course of the week.
In terms of this Sunday's games, Seattle opened as a 7-point choice over Green Bay and - in most venues - has gone up to 7.5 points while the totals price moved a touch up from 46 points to 46.5 while in the AFC Championship Game the host NE Patriots dropped from a 7-point opening-line price to 6.5 points while the totals number went up from 53 to 54.5 points.
In case you were wondering, here were the results last year on NFL Championship game Sunday:
(AFC) Denver (- 5) 26, New England 16 (under 57)
(NFC) Seattle (- 4) 23, San Francisco 17 ("push" 40 points total)
Q: What are the obvious advantages here for both Seattle and New England?
A: The home field advantages for both the Seahawks and the Patriots cannot be overstated especially when you consider that Seattle lost just one home game this year (see Dallas 30, Seattle 23) and the defending Super Bowl champs are a composite 25-2 SU (straight-up) and 20-7 ATS the past three years while New England's won eight-of-nine home games this year in straight-up fashion (the lone loss a meaningless one versus Buffalo in Week 17) while the pats are 5-4 versus the vig as hosts this year. Overall, New England is 24-4 SU at home the past three seasons and 17-11 ATS in its own backyard.
But now consider that both the Seahawks and Patriots were afforded the extra day to prep/heal, etc. from last week's games and that's a really big item - hey, the Packers have to fly across the country with one less day to prep and with a still ailing QB Aaron Rodgers and the question you may want to ask is this: Is 7.5 points not high enough of a Las Vegas price here for Pete Carroll's club?
Q: Okay, so what are the advantages for underdogs Green Bay and Indianapolis?
A: First off, the fact that neither the Packers nor the Colts are expected to win these conference championship road games would suggest they'll play free-and-loose and that's ultra-important when you consider that Green Bay's Rodgers and Indy's Andrew Luck are at the top of their respective games when free-wheeling a bit. Okay, so maybe Rodgers' mobility has been cut down by his calf injury but we'd expect either/both quarterbacks to make a key first down with their legs if necessary and an almost nothing-to-lose mentality could serve both offenses well here as you might well see Green Bay and Indianapolis take more chances downfield or maybe toss in a trick play or two. Also, Green Bay and Indianapolis know the environs they're heading into - the Packers having lost a Week One game in Seattle and the Colts playing in Foxborough last January in an AFC Divisional Playoff round game … in short, neither visitor will be "scared" by the surroundings here.
Q: What can we all watch for that hasn't already been analyzed/dissected/etc. by all the TV talking heads this week?
A: Well, the folks at ESPN, Fox, CBS, NBC et al haven't left much but a few crumbs but - in all seriousness - but field position will be a major factor here and both Green Bay and Indy's punt game could be crucial in making those home favorites march long ways for points. If you check out the drive charts here in both title tilts, then watch where the Seahawks and Patriots begin their drives - at or inside their own 20-yard line for much of the games surely means the dog has more than just a puncher's chance here.
Conversely, if Indy or Green Bay needs to dig out from bad field position and can't mount a semblance of a running attack, than short fields will be the demise of both dogs plus we'll also be watching to see how many "chunk plays" the Seahawks get here after QB Russell Wilson aired five completions for more than 25 yards in last week's win against the Panthers while New England must show it can have other go-to guys for QB Tom Brady in the red zone besides TE Rob Gronkowski. Can WR Brandon LaFell come up big in the red zone … how about smallish WRs Julian Edelman or Danny Amendola. Remember the Colts' secondary is coming off a brilliant game and limiting Brady and Co. to "threes" here is immense.
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THE COLLEGE HOOPS REPORT
The Utah Utes (14-2, 4-0 Pac-12) may not exactly be considered a college basketball blue-blood along the lines of Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina or Michigan State but you had better not nap on the country's 7th-ranked squad. In Thursday's potent 76-59 win at 5.5-point home dog Arizona State, the Utes handed the Sun Devils just their second home loss in the last 18 games with another defensive masterpiece.
Arizona State connected on only 22-of-56 FG tries for 39.3 percent and maybe it's about time we all knew who G Delon Wright is after he stroked home all 12 of his free throws en route to a game-high 21 points. Note that Utah entered this game with the nation's 10th-best field-goal defense and as long as unsung head coach Larry Krystkowiak's club is playing such ferocious "D" the Utes could be serious players for a Final Four spot this spring …
Lots of high-quality matchups on the college b-ball big board this January weekend including - of course - that Saturday high noon battle between #4 Duke (14-2) at #Louisville (15-2) but might Mike Kryzewski's club have hit a proverbial wall already with Tuesday's 90-74 loss to 15-point pup Miami exposing some major flaws - the defense isn't very good these days and seems there is some issue with sharing the ball too although gotta say frosh C Jahlil Okafor (18.9 ppg) must get 20 shots here against the 'Ville or else!
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On Sunday, the sports world will be glued to the above-mentioned NFC and AFC Championship Games but there will be a pair of Top 25 games to check out as Missouri State (8-9) plays at #23 Northern Iowa (15-2) and Virginia Tech (8-8) is at #15 North Carolina (13-4).
In the latter tilt, the Tar Heels will try to fix some woes at the foul line where Roy Williams' crew is hitting 'em at just 70 percent - did you realize that Kennedy Meeks and J.P. Tokoto have already combined to miss 44 foul shots this year?
Meanwhile, aforementioned Northern Iowa must show it can hold onto big leads as the Panthers nearly gagged up 23-point second-half lead before hanging on to best Bradley 63-52 as 8.5-point road favorites this past Tuesday night. So, there'll be some hoopin' along with hot NFL action on Sunday … don't forget.
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