Thursday Football Stat Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

THURSDAY PREVIEWS: VIKINGS/SAINTS PLUS AUBURN/MISSISSIPPI STATE

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

There are two very appealing games on the Thursday Night schedule. The Minnesota Vikings visit the New Orleans Saints in a replay of their NFC Championship showdown to kick off the 2010 regular season on NBC...and Auburn visits Mississippi State in an early SEC West battle over in the colleges on ESPN.

Let's crunch some numbers right now so you'll have a deeper understanding of what you're watching tonight!

We start in the NFL with our traditional "preview" numbers. These are Drive Points (those scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more), plus turnover differential. Here are the final numbers from the 2009 season for both teams.

Minnesota: 17.5 on offense, 10.3 on defense, (+6 turnover differential)
New Orleans: 19.4 on offense, 12.8 on defense, (+11 turnover differential)
Tonight's Vegas Line: New Orleans by 5½, total of 48½

NOTEBOOK: These teams were very evenly matched last season. Both were about plus a TD in Drive Point differential. New Orleans scored a couple more long distance points per game, but gave up a couple more too. You can see that the Saints got the better of it in turnover differential...but only by about a third of a turnover per game.

Everyone remembers the Saints won the Super Bowl. It's easy to forget they weren't significantly better than Minnesota at the end of last season. The Vegas line this evening is giving New Orleans a bit of a boost as defending league champs (the public loves betting on champions), and because Brett Favre was late getting started with his Preseason preparation. Our stats are saying the teams are about even when Favre is in regular season or postseason form. He's not right now. Handicappers have to determine how much of an influence that will have.

Last year the Hurley Network cashed in the Vikings (+4) in their cover in the NFC Championship Game. Click here to get our winner again tonight!

Since this is a replay of the last NFC game from the prior season, we thought it would be a good reminder to crunch the numbers from that game. Once we saw the numbers, it became a GREAT reminder! Most everyone remembers that Brett Favre threw an idiotic interception that ruined Minnesota's chances to go to the Super Bowl. Did you remember the utter yardage domination enjoyed by the Vikings last year?

Last Year's Playoff Game:

NEW ORLEANS 31, MINNESOTA 28
Total Yardage: Minnesota 475, New Orleans 257
Rushing Yardage: Minnesota 165, New Orleans 68
Passing Stats: Minnesota 28-46-2-310, New Orleans 17-31-0-189
Turnovers: Minnesota 5, New Orleans 1
Points Scored on Drives of 60+: Minnesota 21, New Orleans 14
Vegas Line: New Orleans -4, total of 54
Comments: Minnesota outgained the Saints by more than 200 yards! Favre threw more more than 300 yards, while highly celebrated Drew Brees couldn't reach 200 yards. Minnesota won the battle on the ground by almost 100 yards. Frankly, it was utter domination except for one category.

TURNOVERS!

Move Minnesota down to 4 turnovers, and they win the game straight up. Move them down to 3...and they win by about a touchdown. Equalize the category...well, you can imagine what a 475-257 yardage advantage means if turnovers are equal.

As you handicap the game tonight, don't forget that it was the Vikings who were the better team at moving the ball up and down the field last year. Yes, New Orleans annihilated Arizona the week before, and snuck by Indianapolis in the Super Bowl. They weren't head and shoulders above the Vikings even though a casual memory can trick you into believing that after all the parades and Regis & Kelly appearances for the Saints.

What's going to happen tonight? We can't post our official selections here. We can tell you that any side or total selections from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK will be directly related to Brett Favre's readiness. Our SOURCES and SCOUTS have been on the case to find out what we can. Our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS have been running simulations with Favre at 50%, 70%, 90%, and 100% so we know what the line should be based on our scouting reports. Our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS have been monitoring sharp action to make sure we're in synch with the pro's. Make a few clicks here at the website a few hours before kickoff to get our final decision on the game. You can purchase tonight's slate with your credit card, or sign up for a longer term BLUE RIBBON or CLOSED CIRCUIT package.

Moving to the colleges...

AUBURN AT MISSISSIPPI STATE
Vegas Line: Auburn by 2, total of 55

STAT RANKINGS LAST SEASON
Auburn: 16th on offense, 68th on defense
Miss. State: 65th on offense, 58th on defense

We start with a look at how these teams ranked last season. Then we'll adjust in a moment based on returning starters. You can see that Auburn fixed many of the offensive problems that had been plaguing them in recent years...and surged to a top 20 finish on that side of the ball. Defense took a bit of a hit, but was far from a disaster. Auburn basically had a strong offense and an average defense on the way to a New Year's Bowl appearance against Northwestern (where both were on display in a high scoring shootout).

Mississippi State is actually improving on offense, so they were excited to scoot up to "average" in terms of the nation. The defense will hit you, but tends to get overmatched by quality.

RETURNING STARTERS
Auburn: 8 on offense, 8 on defense
Miss. State: 4 on offense, 5 on defense

You can see why Auburn is getting some attention as a possible darkhorse in the SEC West. They return a lot of starters from a team that gave Alabama all it could handle last November...and then played in a marquee bowl. Mississippi State is in more of a rebuilding situation in comparison. They weren't "ravaged" by graduation, but will have to find quality replacements if they don't want to fall back to irrelevancy.

We looked at last year's meeting in the NFL...let's do the same for this game in the colleges...

Last Year's Meeting:

AUBURN 49, MISSISSIPPI STATE 24
Total Yardage: Miss. State 297, Auburn 589
Rushing Yardage: Miss. State 167, Auburn 390
Passing Stats: Miss. State 11-21-2-130, Auburn 11-24-0-190
Turnovers: Miss. State 2, Auburn 0
Halftime Score: Miss. State 17, Auburn 28
Vegas Line: Auburn -15, total of 46½

Comments: Wow...huge performance for Auburn and a game Mississippi State would like to forget. Auburn was overshadowed in the SEC last year...as Tim Tebow was grabbing a ton of headlines before the upset loss to Alabama...and Alabama went on to grab the trophy at the end of the year that everyone is striving for. Let's not forget that this was a team that could really post some results when everything was clicking. They need to work on consistency this year.

And, in fairness to Mississippi State, this came early in the season while they were still getting the hang of coach Dan Mullen's approach. They would cover five of next seven games as the betting public overreacted to this blowout loss.

Will Mississippi State get some revenge tonight? Or, will the fact that Auburn has an edge in returning talent be the difference-maker in a game Vegas expects to go right down to the wire? We've uncovered some very interesting information about this game. We won't say much...just that we expect the pointspread winner to cover by at least a touchdown.

Our Auburn/Mississippi State play is part of the Thursday Night package you can purchase here at the website.

Back tomorrow for an expanded preview of the Miami of Florida/Ohio State game that everyone's talking about. That will be an afternoon kickoff on ABC/ESPN. Saturday's edition of the NOTEOOK will preview the prime time battle between Penn State and Alabama.

A truly great weekend of football is on tap...starting with that Vikings/Saints game tonight, and going all the way through the Monday Night Football doubleheader on ESPN (Baltimore/NY Jets and San Diego/Kansas City). Be sure you're reading our daily NOTEBOOK before making your final decisions if you're a do-it-yourselfer. If you want the best plays money can buy from the most successful name in handicapping, LINK UP WITH JIM HURLEY RIGHT NOW!

23
Aug

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