Week 17 NFL and The Bowls

THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL BONANZA ROCK-N-ROLLS ON

On Friday, it's...
ARMED FORCES BOWL -At Dallas, TX
BYU (9-3) vs. TULSA (8-4) -12 p.m. ET, ESPN
In case you were wondering, these one-time WAC rivals have not played one another since early in the 2007 season -a rollicking 55-47 win/cover by 6 ½-point home favorite Tulsa. Now, wouldn't a game with 100-plus points be a really nice way of getting this late December bowl weekend started?

BYU quarterback Riley Nelson has recovered from mid-November lung/rib injuries and keep in mind he threw for a career-best 363 yards and three TDs in a relief role in the Cougars' 41-20 win against 8-point home dog Hawaii back on Dec. 3rd.

On the flip side, Tulsa slinger E.J. Kinne (2,876 yards passing with 25 TDs and 12 INTs) can also tuck it and run but it says here the key to this game for the Golden Hurricane is how do RBs Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts fare here after combining for 1,727 yards rushing this season. Stay tuned.

Spread Notes -BYU rides a sizzling six-game pointspread winning streak into this bowl clash in the Lone Star State and the Coogs are an electric 15-5 odds-wise overall since the middle of last year (folks, that's a .750 winning rate). Meanwhile, Tulsa is 15-9 ATS overall since the start of 2010 and the Golden Hurricane is 10-3 vig-wise away these past two years (a .769 winning percentage).  

PINSTRIPE BOWL -at The Bronx, NY
RUTGERS (8-4) vs. IOWA STATE (6-6) -3:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
Play ball! The bowl season rolls on in Yankee Stadium where the team most responsible for there being an Alabama-LSU rematch in the BCS Championship Game takes center stage... yes, that would be the Iowa State Cyclones who shocked Oklahoma State on the night of Nov. 18th.

Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads was gushing on New York city sports talk radio last week regarding this bowl tilt and now we shall see whether the Big 12 guys can slow down Rutgers mega-star WR Mohamed Sanu (109 receptions and 7 TDs) who likely needs to get his hands on the ball 15-to-20 times here in order for the Big East "hosts" to win this game in "The House That Derek Jeter Built".

Spread Notes -Rutgers rolled up a tidy 8-4 against-the-odds mark this past regular season and the Scarlet Knights are a nifty 4-1 versus the vig in bowl games since 2005 and that includes bowl covers against Arizona State and Kansas State. Iowa State's on a three-game pointspread winning streak while heading into this clash and the giant-killing Cyclones are 7-3 versus the vig as dogs this year.

MUSIC CITY BOWL -at Nashville, TN
MISS STATE (6-6) vs. WAKE FOREST (6-6) -6:40 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you are counting up the college teams that thought at season's start they'd be playing in a January bowl game and are not, than don't forget these Miss State Bulldogs who began the year at #20 in the aforementioned AP poll and yet staggered through a .500 season.

Worse yet, head coach Dan Mullen -a supposed hot property when talk centers on the Penn State head-coaching gig -never did allow his offense to blossom as RB Vick Ballard rushed for a quiet 1,009 yards while the slip-shod quarterbacking spot accounted for 17 TDs and 11 INTs but Mullen often times didn't "trust" QB Chris Relf at crunch time.

Now, M-State looks to bag a third bowl win in the past five years but standing in the way is Wake Forest WR Chris Givens who snared 74 receptions worth 1,276 yards and 9 TDs this year. Don't be surprised if Givens runs a few reverses here too and winds up getting 20 touches -he's the key if WF wants to pull to upset here.

Spread Notes -Miss State rallied to cover five of its final six regular-season games this year (that's after starting off 1-5 ATS) and note the Bulldogs are a solid 6-3 against the odds when playing non-SEC folks since late in the 2009 season. Wake Forest has covered three-of-four bowl games in the Jim Grobe Era and the Demon Deacons are 40-29-2 ATS overall as pups since Grobe arrived on the Winston-Salem scene back in 2001.

INSIGHT BOWL -at Tempe, AZ
IOWA (7-5) vs. OKLAHOMA (9-3) -10 p.m. ET, ESPN
This marks the fourth time in the past six years that the Oklahoma Sooners wound up playing in a bowl game in the state of Arizona -but this ain't the bowl game in the cactus state that Bob Stoops' crew wanted (see Fiesta Bowl, of course) but that's what happens when your overrated team gets beat by four-TD underdog Texas Tech and than six weeks later gets summarily clubbed in the head 44-10 by rival Oklahoma State.

Maybe the Sooners can apply some salve on their wounds here against overmatched (and undersized) Iowa.

Hey, it'll be interesting to see how Oklahoma QB Landry Jones (4,302 yards passing with 28 TDs and 14 INTs) attacks a Hawkeyes defense that ranked dead-last in the Big 10 against the pass (and had just three INTs in the team's final six games).

Spread Notes -Oklahoma has lost its last three in a row to Mr. Vig while heading into this bowl game in the desert and note the OU Sooners are a collective 3-7 against the odds in all bowl games while dating back the past 10 years... ugh! Iowa has failed to cover three-of-four games as underdog sides this season but the Hawkeyes are 14-7-1 ATS as pups while dating back to the start of the 2007 campaign. 

The beat goes on in the College Football world with wall-to-wall Bowl Games - now here's all five games being played on Saturday, December 31st: Enjoy!

MEINKE CAR CARE BOWL - at Houston, TX
TEXAS A&M (6-6) vs. NORTHWESTERN (6-6) - 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Please don't tell the Texas A&M Aggies that this game is gonna be decided by a TD or less! The soon-to-be SEC squad lost five-of-six games this year where the margin of victory was seven points or less and so no wonder head coach Mike Sherman was axed on December 1st - Houston coach Kevin Sumlin takes over after this game that will be coached by interim boss Tim DeRuyter (defensive coordinator) and let's see if he can help prevent the Aggies from suffering through their chronic second-half meltdowns.

If Northwestern - 0-3 SU (straight-up) in bowl tilts under sixth-year head coach Pat Fitzgerald - wants to nab this big upset (A&M is favored by a whopping 10 ½ points at press time) than QB Dan Persa must stay in one piece and he must exploit Texas A&M's secondary flaws. Persa threw for 2,163 yards with 17 TDs and 7 INTs this season but some folks still believe he's never fully recovered from an Achilles Heel injury that cost him last year's Ticket City Bowl game against Texas Tech along with the first three regular-season games in 2011.

Spread Notes - Texas A&M covered its season-opening game this year against SMU and then proceeded to lose nine of its next 11 pointspread verdicts and so the Aggies are 25-35-1 ATS (against the spread) overall the past five years (a sour .417 winning rate). Northwestern is a composite 8-16 against the odds while dating back to the start of the 2010 season and that includes a shaky 5-8 ATS mark whenever taking points. 


SUN BOWL - at El Paso, TX
UTAH (7-5) vs. GEORGIA TECH (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, CBS
Get a load of this ... in the past 20 Sun Bowls, the Betting Favorite is 3-16 against the odds with one pick 'em affair tossed into the mix. The $64,000 question is how come?

Now, 2 ½-point underdog Utah can only hope that wild spread streak stays intact but for the first-year Pac-12 members to snag the "whole game" here than QB Jon Hays (1,110 yards passing with 8 TDs in eight starts) must manage this game well while physical RB John White IV (see 1,404 yards rushing with 14 TDs) needs the Utes to own time of possession. Hey, did you know Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham is 6-1 SU and 5-2 ATS in bowl games?

Georgia Tech floundered late in the year while losing four of its final six games SU but head coach Paul Johnson's crew did rush for 317 yards a game (third-best in FBS play this year) and the tandem of RBs David Sims and Orwin Smith (1,314 combined rushing yards) is quite capable of finding the creases in enemy front lines. P.S., Johnson's G-Tech teams are 0-3 SU/ATS in bowl games.

Spread Notes - Georgia Tech staggered to a 1-6-1 ATS mark in its final eight games this year (and that was after starting off the 2011 season at 4-and-oh spreadwise). Plus, the Yellow Jackets have failed to cover each of their last four bowl games including last year's 14-7 setback against 3-point fav Air Force in the Independence Bowl. Utah, on the other hand, is 7-2 ATS in all bowl games the past 10 years and that includes upset wins against 3-point fav California in the 2009 Poinsettia Bowl and that monumental 31-17 Sugar Bowl win against 9 ½-point fav Alabama back in the '08 campaign.


FIGHT HUNGER BOWL - at San Francisco, CA
UCLA (6-7) vs. ILLINOIS (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Who invited these guys anyhow! A UCLA team that needed a special "waiver" to make the bowl scene with a losing record following that Pac-12 title game loss in Oregon goes up against an Illinois squad that lost its last six games in a row - now how about not winning a football game since October 8th and you still make it to a post-season bowl game?

Yes, only in modern-day College Football, folks. And keep in mind neither Bruins boss-man Rick Neuheisel or Illini coach Ron Zook will be there - both were fired and so interim hires Mike Johnson (former UCLA offensive coordinator) and Vic Koenning (former Illini defensive coordinator) get the nod before stepping aside for brand-new coaches Jim L. Mora at UCLA and Tim Beckman (Toledo) at Illinois ... did you follow all that?

Spread Notes - Illinois is a money-roasting 3-6 ATS as betting favorites this season and go back to the start of the 2006 season and you'll see the Illini is a rotten 6-15 vig-wise when playing folks outside the Big 10. Meanwhile, UCLA is 9-16 ATS overall since the start of 2010 and the Bruins are just 3-10 versus the vig away these past two seasons.

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to win big-time this holiday season - there's College Football Bowl Games galore plus the NBA and College Hoops too and so don't miss out on all the terrific fun-and-profits. And then there is still a lot of winnin' straight ahead in NFL Week 17 come Sunday with a jam-packed card featuring 16 pro football games including the win-and-you're-in NFC East prime-time battle between the Dallas Cowboys at the New York Giants. Get all these winners at our toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get it online right here as America's #1 Handicapper keeps up the winning beat this holiday season!

LIBERTY BOWL - at Memphis, TN
CINCINNATI (9-3) vs. VANDERBILT (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
Here's some Liberty Bowl history - whether you like it or not! The last seven Liberty Bowl games have all been decided by one score (that's eight points or less) and the oddsmakers surely believe this is barnburner material between the get-no-respect Big East and the get-too-much-respect SEC.

Better yet, the game story for this one could revolve around quick-healing QB Zach Collaros (1,854 yards passing with 14 TDs and 8 INTs) who broke his ankle in an ugly-looking play against West Virginia back on Nov. 12th and yet word is the veteran slinger believes he's good-to-go here. If not, than QB Munchie Legaux gets the nod and he surely provides more of a threat as a runner than as a passer.

The star of the show on the other side is Vandy RB Zac Stacy who rushed for a school single-season record 1,136 yards with 13 TDs but gotta believe for the Commodores to capture its second bowl win in the past four years (see 16-14 triumph over Boston College in the 2008 Music City Bowl) than a defense that allowed just 20.8 points per game (that ranked 27th nationally in FBS play) must make some key red-zone stops here.

Spread Notes - Vanderbilt's a nifty 9-3 versus the vig this year and the Commodores covered all four of their non-SEC affairs this season including covers against UConn, Ole Miss and Wake Forest. Cincinnati has lost its last four consecutive pointspread bowl verdicts while dating back to 2006 but the Bearcats did cover four-of-five non-conference affairs this year including a rollicking 30-point win against Belk Bowl winner N.C. State.


CHICK FIL-A BOWL - at Atlanta, GA
VIRGINIA (8-4) vs. AUBURN (7-5) - 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
You might have noticed the Las Vegas pointspread for this ACC vs. SEC clash has gone up a couple of points in recent days as Auburn opened as a 1-point betting favorite and now "War Eagle" is laying a full FG - and that's a bit of a head-scratcher when you consider Auburn's top RB Michael Dyer (1,242 yards rushing and 10 TDs this year) has been suspended for this contest for violating team rules.

Maybe outgoing offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn - who's headed to take over as head coach at Arkansas State next month - will be emptying the playbook for Auburn with all sorts of pass plays here and so keep a close eye on RB Onterio McCalebb who could be a target out of the backfield a bunch on this last night of the calendar year.

Virginia's renaissance season included monstrous upset wins against Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State but if the Wahoos are gonna snag the mild upset here than the O-line must better protect QB Michael Rocco (2,359 yards passing with 11 TDs and 11 INTs this year) who was sacked four times in that painful 38-0 season-ending loss to Virginia Tech.

Spread Notes - Auburn followed up last year's national championship season (that included a 10-3 ATS) mark with a slipshod 4-8 spread log that included an 0-4 pointspread mark in non-conference affairs ... ugh! On the flip side, Virginia covered four of its final five regular-season games this year and the Cavaliers enter this New Year's Eve bash inside the Georgia Dome with a tidy 4-1 ATS mark in bowls the past 10 years.

THE NFL WEEK 17 KEY PREVIEWS - TRACKING DOWN THE TOP GAMES ON THE FINAL REGULAR-SEASON SUNDAY 

TAMPA BAY (4-11) at ATLANTA (9-6) - 4:15 p.m. ET, Fox
Don't blame the host Falcons for being just a tad shell-shocked while heading into this tilt against a TB Bucs bunch that's now lost their last nine in a row (while getting outscored 158-to-64 in the past month alone!). Atlanta's smallish corners were chewed up and spat out in last Monday Night's 45-16 loss in New Orleans and DE John Abraham was MIA from game's start-to-finish - get with it pass-rusher extraordinaire!
 
SAN FRANCISCO (12-3) at ST. LOUIS (2-13) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Hats off to a Niners team that's this-close to getting the NFC's #2 playoff seed - right now do you think SF can give Green Bay a game in the chilly air at Lambeau Field come January 22md? Here, Jim Harbaugh's guys won't mess around and so look for 25 carries by Pro Bowl RB Frank Gore, a modest short-passing game engineered by QB Alex Smith and steady play from a sure-tackling defense that keeps everything in front of them. Hope you're not playing any Rams guys here in your "fantasy league" this week!

DETROIT (10-5) at GREEN BAY (14-1) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Do the Lions wish to avoid a first-round playoff game in New Orleans (see 31-17 loss to the Saints back in Week 13 play)? Than, head coach Jim Schwartz's club better bring its proverbial "A game" here and that means lots of passion, lots of "smart" football and some QB Matthew Stafford-to-WR Calvin Johnson long balls against a Packers crew that figures to be resting everyone of note by halftime (or earlier).

DALLAS (8-7) at NEW YORK GIANTS (8-7) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The win-and-you're in Battle for the NFC East crown has a slew of subplots not the least of which is the condition of Cowboys' QB Tony Romo's right/throwing hand but wouldn't you say that if he was throwing the ball in a Wednesday practice than it's all systems go come Sunday Night? Romo - despite his many critics (and sometimes that includes us here at Jim Sez) - has been utterly brilliant in the past few weeks with only one INT in his last four outings and odds are the Giants won't be sitting back in too many zones while allowing Romo to pick-and-choose his downfield targets. Key to the game for the G-men: Hammer RB Brandon Jacobs straight at DE DeMarcus Ware and hope the physicality of the NYG offensive line does the rest because the truth is Giants QB Eli Manning (only 9 completed passes in last week's 29-14 win against the Jets) has hit a mini-slump at the wrong time of the year.

CAROLINA (6-9) at NEW ORLEANS (12-3) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Gut feeling is that Saints head coach Sean Payton will keep record-setting QB Drew Brees in this game as long as the quarterback wishes to keep chuckin' it but what we'd really like to see from the home team here is an array of defensive looks to confuse sure-shot Rookie of the Year QB Cam Newton who has powered the Panthers to point totals of 28-or-more on six different occasions and did you know last year Carolina exceeded 27 points not a single time? Maybe Brees gets all the love in/around the Crescent City but - trust us - if the Saints are gonna be sticking around the post-season for a few weeks than DE Will Smith and mates must heap pressure on enemy quarterbacks and Mr. Newton could get rocked a bit here.

TENNESSEE (8-7) at HOUSTON (10-5) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Get this: The 2011 Houston Texans have held 11 of their 15 foes to below 20 points this year and that includes a 41-7 wood-shed job win against Tennessee back in Week 7 play. If the Titans get behind by two scores here, than be sure that rookie QB Jake Locker will come in with a reckless abandon approach that could signal the start of a new era (gee, doesn't the Vince Young Era in Nashville now seem like a hundred years ago?).

BALTIMORE (11-4) at CINCINNATI (9-6) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Now that the Cincy Bengals have basically fed, clothed and bathed their fans - what, it takes buying their collective affections to get 'em to buy tickets to this "must-win" game? - the key to success for Marvin Lewis' guys will be to keep rookie QB Andy Dalton in the upright position and hope WRs A.J. Green and jumping-jack Jerome Simpson make a handful of "chunk plays". P.S., we don't wish to get into the merits of Pro Bowl voting here but why the heck is Ravens ILB Ray Lewis on the AFC squad when he missed four games and Baltimore played better without him? Just wondering!

PITTSBURGH (11-4) at CLEVELAND (4-11) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Please don't expect us to answer your query as to whether or not Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger and/or Pro Bowl C Maukice Pouncey will be playing here! Roethlisberger sat out last Saturday's 27-0 business-like home win/cover against heavy-duty underdog St. Louis (so much for that Las Vegas line move that saw the Steelers fall from a 16 ½-point betting favorite early in the week all the way down to minus 10 points) as QB Charlie Batch dusted himself off with a 15-of-22, 208-yard passing performance and who's to say he can't repeat those numbers here?

NEW YORK JETS (8-7) at MIAMI (5-10) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
It's been an awfully quiet week in Gotham City for the J-E-T-S following that above-mentioned 15-point "home" loss to the Giants - maybe third-year head coach Rex Ryan knows there is nothing else left to do than shut up but count us among the folks that believe the life lesson learned from last week's loss is that this week's Jets will run the ball 40-plus times and not make QB Mark Sanchez a sitting duck. Hmm, does soon-to-be-retired Dolphins DE Jason Taylor have another sack or two left in 'em here before he waves bye-bye?

BUFFALO (6-9) at NEW ENGLAND (12-3) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Hope you got to see that touching moment when the Patriots gathered in the locker room following last week's come-from-behind 27-24 non-cover win against Miami and presented ultra-popular owner Robert Kraft with a poster/plaque dedicated to his late wife - Bill Belichick's crew poured out its heart to Mr. Kraft and now will try and pour on the power here in this revenge match with a Bills bunch that copped one of the season's most scintillating games - tell us you have not forgotten the 34-31 Buffalo home win against NE way back in Week 3, have you?

SAN DIEGO (7-8) at OAKLAND (8-7) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
It's too bad for the Raiders that each/every game can't come down to their kicking game as Pro Bowl PK Sebastian Janikowski (27 made FGs) has enjoyed one of the great NFL seasons of all time and P Shane Lechler (averaging 50.7 yards a boot) has been marvelous and last week almost even pulled off a fake punt except for a delay-of-game penalty - if Oakland wishes to sweep the season series here against the SD Chargers for a second consecutive season that these specialists must be spot on. Memo to the Bolts: Stop blaming your coach and everyone else and learn to show up for each of your 16 games in 2012.

KANSAS CITY (6-9) at DENVER (8-7) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe you happened to catch ESPN's Tom Jackson - an old Bronco, of course - during last weekend's NFL Prime Time Show when he was the first to say KayCee QB Kyle Orton could come back to haunt Denver and KO the Broncos from the post-season with a big-time showing here ... wonder if ole #57 will be right? Orton was run out of town by impatient and unhappy Broncos fans who got their way when Tim Tebow took command of this team's unorthodox offense but odds are Tebow - who completed 13-of-29 passes in last week's miserable 40-14 loss at chilly Buffalo - will have to throw it against a cagey Chiefs defense here that's allowed just 30 total points in games against Green Bay and Oakland since DC Romeo Crennel was named interim head coach.

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