Thursday and Key Sunday NFL Previews
THURSDAY NIGHT BROWNS-STEELERS PRIME-TIME PREVIEW
NFL POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART: WHY THE 49ERS ARE THE LEADERS OF THE PACK
By Jim Hurley:
The scramble for playoff berths is on!
There's four weeks left in this here-and-now 2011 National Football League regular season and so we'd call that"full-speed ahead" mode - and so let's take a moment to note some real key facts and figures as we swing into NFL Week 14 play beginning with tonight's AFC North tilt between the Cleveland Browns at the Pittsburgh Steelers:
In the NFC where Green Bay and San Francisco have clinched divisional titles the major storyline is what happens in the NFC East where Dallas (7-5) looks to hold off the slumping New York Giants (6-6) and - while these two rivals get set to play one another twice within the final four weeks of play (including this Sunday Night, of course) - note from a tie-breaker standpoint that the Cowboys are 5-3 right now in conference play while the Giants are 3-6. No doubt that could decide who parties on in the playoffs and who goes home following New Year's Day.
In the AFC there's a raging battle for the"second" wild-card berth - the Baltimore/Pittsburgh runner-up in the rough-and-tumble AFC North is nearly assured of grabbing hold of one wild-card spot - and so the battle rages among a batch of 7-5 teams including the New York Jets, Cincinnati, Tennessee and the Denver/Oakland loser in the AFC West.
Again, keep in mind some key facts/figures such as the Jets lose tiebreakers against both Denver and Oakland (see head-to-head losses against 'em earlier this season) while Cincinnati could be as good as 8-4 in conference play providing the suddenly-sagging Bengals beat Houston this weekend and beat Baltimore in Week 17 play - yes, both games ate in Cincy, folks.
P.S., for anyone holding out hope for the 5-7 San Diego Chargers - we've heard all the"run-the-table" comments ever since the Bolts battered Jacksonville 38-14 this past Monday Night - keep in mind SD's 4-5 SU (straight-up) in conference play and can do no better than split its season series with Oakland (see Week 17) as the Raiders already snagged a 24-17 win in San Diego back in Week 10. Just sayin'!
Now, let's get the NFL Week 14 sked started with tonight's game ...
CLEVELAND (4-8) at PITTSBURGH (9-3) - 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
It is rather amazing - in a year in which the 12-and-oh Green Bay Packers snag all the headlines (and rightfully so) -- here's the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers marching along with only one SU (straight-up) loss since Oct. 2nd.
Yes, we kinda did a double-take on that one ourselves but it's true as Mike Tomlin's club has bitten the dust just once since that Week 4 loss in Houston (see Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 20 in Week 9 action) and now can at least take temporary hold of first place in the AFC North here should they beat the 14-point underdog Browns.
Forget all the strategy, folks, the key here is Pittsburgh's healthier than it's been in a while with LB James Harrison (three sacks in last Sunday's 35-7 beat-down win against Cincinnati) firming up a defense that's surrendered 17 points or less on eight different occasions this year ... and it's not as if the Browns are an offensive juggernaut!
Cleveland's averaging a meager 14.6 points per game this season while ranking a rotten 30th in the league in total offense (290.7 yards a game). Now comes word that Browns back Peyton Hillis - who either has been hurt or doggin' it or both this season - may not suit up here after straining his hip in last weekend's ugly 24-10 home loss to Baltimore. Gulp!
Spread Notes - Pittsburgh's covered 11 of its last 15 head-to-head showdowns versus Cleveland while dating back to the 2003 season and did you know the Steelers are a collective 34-20-1 ATS (against the spread) in divisional games since the start of the '03 campaign (that's a snazzy .630 winning rate)? Meanwhile, the Browns are 2-6-1 vig-wise since Week 4 this season and they're just 7-11-1 ATS as underdogs since the start of last season.
NFL WEEK 14 SUNDAY KEY PREVIEWS
Here's the top Sunday afternoon games in NFL Week 14 play ...
OAKLAND (7-5) at GREEN BAY (12-0) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Love it how everyone's calling 'em the"Perfect Packers" these days but one thing that the defending Super Bowl champs need to perk up is the pass rush ... did you know that Green Bay has just 26 quarterback sacks this season and that ranks 'em just 18th in the NFL and you wonder if the lack of sacks will cost GB here or down the road.
No doubt the visiting Raiders will be putting the ball in the air waves here but can mistake-prone QB Carson Palmer (9 INTs in 177 pass attempts this year) steer clear of the"pick six" that's haunted him since he signed on the dotted line with the silver-and-black back in mid-October?
HOUSTON (9-3) at CINCINNATI (7-5) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Here's a question worth posing: Could the Houston Texans - playing with a third-stringer at quarterback - still wind up with the AFC's #1 playoff seed?
The T.J. Yates Era got off to a flying start with last weekend's 17-10 hang-on-for-dear-life win against 1-point road favorite Atlanta - the replacement for injured QBs Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart completed 12-of-25 passes for 188 yards and he didn't throw a pick (see decent 86.8 QB Rating) - and note this figures to be the Texans' toughest remaining regular-season game as Gary Kubiak's club finishes up home to Carolina, at winless Indianapolis and than home to Tennessee.
NEW ORLEANS (9-3) at TENNESSEE (7-5) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
No doubt the Saints are holding out hope they can catch/pass San Francisco for that all-important #2 playoff seed in the NFC but keep in mind N'Orleans is one game back of the Niners (10-2) in terms of the standings and two games back in terms of the conference tie-breakers as San Fran's 8-1 in NFC play while the Saints are 6-3 against same-conference foes.
And what can folks expect from the Saints here - consider that Sean Payton's crew has shown two sides with N'Orleans 6-0 SU/ATS at home but just 3-3 SU and 2-4 ATS away. The key here is how does the Saints defense handle born-again RB Chris Johnson? Note that New Orleans allows 4.9 yards an enemy rush.
CHICAGO (7-5) at DENVER (7-5) - 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox
Were the Denver Broncos really 1-4 SU at one time this year? You betcha they were until"Tebow Time" but here's what continues to get lost in the shuffle with Denver's sizzling streak of six wins in its last seven games: The defense has held four of the last seven foes to 15 points or less and somebody on"D" always seems to make the big play whether it's DB Andre Goodman (see INT-for-TD against the Jets and than last week's last-minute pick in Minnesota that set up the game-winning field goal) or somebody else. Who plays the defensive hero here against beleaguered Bears QB Caleb Hanie (29-of-60 passing for 387 yards with 2 TDs and 6 INTs in relief of injured starter Jay Cutler)? Yikes!
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time in NFL Week 14 action with the Thursday Night tilt between the Cleveland Browns at the Pittsburgh Steelers (yes, that's the Side & Totals winners) and don't forget all the College Football action including Saturday's Army-Navy showdown plus all the NCAA Basketball too. Go ahead and make sure you get all the Football and Basketball winners at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or else go online right here.
THE NFL POINTSPREAD BREAKDOWN CHART
Hope you did a little clip-n-save with our Jim Sez College Football Bowls Pointspread Breakdown Chart that we published right here in yesterday's column space. Now, we'll give the NFL"equal time" and so here's the up-to-the-very-minute NFL Pointspread results for all 32 teams while heading into Week 14 action:
Hey, the San Francisco 49ers are the kings of the NFL pointspread hill here at the three-quarter pole of this 2011 season and they've thrived versus the vig thanks to stout defense - did you realize the Niners are an electric 9-1 against the odds when holding opponents to 20 points or less this year and that lone loss was the 16-6 setback at 3-point fav Baltimore on Thanksgiving Night.
And that brings us to a second factoid: If you happened to wager on the Harbaugh brothers - SF's Jim and Baltimore's John - so far this season than you would be a collective 18-5-1 spreadwise (a dazzling .783 winning percentage). Not bad, bro'!
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