Network Bulletin Volume 30, Issue 12 (The Early Bowls)

Jim Hurley’s Network Bulletin Newsletter

Volume 30, Issue 12 - Saturday, December 20 through Sunday, December 28

Jim starts the weekend with a 2-0 sweep on Thursday Night Football
Jaguars (-3.5) beat the Titans 21-13, and the Total UNDER 40!

Now it's Time to:
BASH THE BOWLS AND PLUNDER THE PLAYOFFS
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THE NFL REPORT

Some folks call it “crunch time” ... yet there are NFL teams that seemingly don’t feel the heat and right now they’re playing their best ball of the year as we head into the final two weeks of regular-season play.
So, let’s examine three teams that are “peaking”:

BUFFALO (8-6) - Okay, so there’s a chance that the Bills will be eliminated from any/all post-season possibilities even before they take to the field in Oakland for Sunday’s Week 16 game but consider that Doug Marrone’s squad has won three of its last four games (and covered all four of these tilts) and note the Bills haven’t covered five straight since 2007. A defense that’s yielded a mere 50 points the past four games has Buffalo fans feeling chipper this holiday season.

NEW ENGLAND (11-3) - True, the Patriots have been “peaking” ever since that now-infamous 41-14 loss in Kansas City way back on Sept. 29th as Bill Belichick’s club is 9-1 SU (straight-up) and 8-2 ATS (against the spread) ever since that lopsided prime-time affair in KC and who would have ever guessed QB Tom Brady would enter the Week 16 game at the New York Jets with an astounding 3,847 yards passing with 32 TDs? From a pointspread standpoint, the Pats have covered their last four consecutive games when in the favorite’s role ... ‘nuff said!

SEATTLE (10-4) - Surprise, surprise! The defending Super Bowl champions ratcheted up their defensive play weeks ago with those back-to-back 19-3 wins against NFC West rivals Arizona and San Francisco but how about the fact the Seahawks have surrendered just three TDs in the past four games? Don’t look now but Seattle’s covered 11 of its last 15 games played against fellow NFC West foes and the docket says there’s the Week 16 Sunday Night game in Arizona followed by the Week 17 home game against St. Louis.

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NFL WEEK 16 & 17 PREVIEWS

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 20
SAN DIEGO (8-6) at SAN FRANCISCO (7-7)
- No playoffs this year for the Niners and so tough to trust ‘em laying any points here plus QB Kaepernick has been in major funk for a month. It’s Chargers or nothing at all in this battle in Santa Clara.

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 21
ATLANTA (5-9) at NEW ORLEANS (6-8)
- Tough to swallow the fact the Saints have lost four in a row at home but QB Brees had offense in nice rhythm in Chitown this past Monday Night in 31-15 win/cover and there is the always-important revenge factor at work here after Falcons won 37-34 in OT back in week 1.

KANSAS CITY (8-6) at PITTSBURGH (9-5) - Maybe the Steelers finally have turned the corner on their “schizo” season with back-to-back road wins against Cincinnati and Atlanta but seems like a “short Las Vegas line” here and visiting Chiefs will allow QB Smith more downfield chucks here against wobbly Pittsburgh secondary. Mild upset call here ... it’s Kansas City 23, Pittsburgh 21.

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MONDAY, DECEMBER 22
DENVER (11-3) at CINCINNATI (9-4-1
) - Depending on Sunday’s results, the Broncos still could have visions of the AFC’s #1 seed dancing in their heads but better believe QB Manning will face numerous blitzes here against Bengals bunch that has held four of last five foes to 13 points or less. Might want to check out the “under” but check with Jim Hurley first at 1-800-323-4453 or get the winner right here online

NFL WEEK 17
SUNDAY, DECEMBER 28
CINCINNATI at PITTSBURGH:
It’s almost “instant revenge” for the Bengals here as they were smoked 42-21 at home by the Steelers back in Week 14 play and now Cincy kids look to buckle down against RB Bell who pranced his way to 235 scrimmage yards in that fourth-quarter run-away.

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PHILADELPHIA at NEW YORK GIANTS: Late-season bust-out play of Giants rookie WR Beckham Jr. has every opposing defense in a deep sweat these days and gotta believe that nothing-to-lose G-men will go to Beckham plenty here (how about 15-to-20 “touches”) and sabotage Philly on this final regular-season day. Again, there’s revenge angle at work as Giants lost 27-0 in Philadelphia back on Oct. 12th. Call it New York Giants 26, Philadelphia 17.

NFL SPOILERS?

So, who’s gonna botch up the playoff plans of some NFL teams out there? Here’s a couple of potential “spoilers”:

NEW YORK JETS (3-11) - Everyone in/around Jets Nation says head coach Rex Ryan is a goner come “Black Monday” (see Dec. 29th) but this sixth-year sideline boss come make things real sticky for both New England (the Week 16 opponent) and Miami (see Week 17). Keep in mind the Jets would love nothing better than to kayo the hated Pats from the AFC #1 seed and a review of Ryan’s history with N’England shows the Jets have beaten the Belichicks four times in 12 tries and three of those losses came by a FG or less including the 27-25 non-cover Patriots’ win back in Week 7 play.

TAMPA BAY (2-12) - Here’s a refresher: The Bucs have not been to the playoffs since 2007 and they’d love to wreck the post-season plans of both the Green Bay Packers (Week 16) and New Orleans Saints (Week 17). A win against Green Bay could kayo the Packers’ NFC North title dreams and wouldn’t it be a thrill for Lovie Smith and Co. to topple the Saints in the regular-season finale after getting beaten in OT at the Superdome back in early October?

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SITTIN’ ON THE HOT SEAT

In a recent Jim Sez column here at www.jimhurley.com we wrote that the Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Oakland Raiders would be assuredly seeking out new head coaches for next year - and we raised the question about two other coaches that are sitting on “the hot seat” ...

MIKE SMITH, Atlanta - The underachieving Falcons enter Sunday’s Week 16 game in New Orleans with a 5-9 SU mark and needing to “win out” in order to land the NFC South crown and gotta believe anything less and Smith will be shown the door. Consider the Falcons are a collective 9-22 SU and 13-18 ATS since that NFC Championship Game home loss to San Francisco just two years ago and - despite a slew of offensive line injuries and some banged-up players on “D” - this team shouldn’t be four games below .500 at any point in a season.

RON RIVERA, Carolina - Let’s stay right here in the underwhelming NFC South where the Panthers (5-8-1) are a minus 70 in the points differential category this year and only seven teams are worse and their names are NY Jets, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Oakland, Washington, Tampa Bay and Chicago ... ugh. If Rivera wants to kick-and-scream about the fact the front office folks didn’t give ‘em a lot of help for QB Cam Newton, that’s fine, but this once-proud Panthers defense has been porous while allowing 31-or-more points in six different games and isn’t that supposed to be Rivera’s forte? Maybe season-ending wins against Cleveland and at Atlanta will “save” Rivera, but don’t count on it!

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HANDICAPPING THE COLLEGE BOWLS

The College Football Bowl Game count is at 39 ... really! But the $64,000 question in turning a profit and winning more often than not in these bowl games is checking out how to attack these tilts ... really, what should you pay attention to? Here are some ideas ...

GO WITH THE “SOMETHING-TO-PROVE” TEAMS AND AGAINST THOSE FACING DISTRACTIONS ...
Simply put, you want to wager on bowl teams that either finished poorly down the stretch or perhaps lost its bowl game a year ago.

Or maybe you wish to wager on a smaller conference club with an inferiority complex of sorts against a bigger/name conference team.

The “something to prove” aspect is key because it generally means you’re wagering on a focused team while, conversely, we’ll suggest wagering against a bowl team that’s going through a head coaching change or perhaps had to suspend key players because of disciplinary problems in the days leading up to the game. Distractions are bowl game killers, folks!

Take a look around and you’ll see that Colorado State (Las Vegas Bowl), Nebraska (Holiday Bowl), Wisconsin (Outback Bowl), Houston (Armed Forces Bowl) and Florida (Birmingham Bowl) all will be “coached up” by somebody other than the gentlemen that coached those clubs in the 2014 season. Yup, that’s usually a problem.

Meanwhile, the likes of Arizona State (Sun Bowl), Auburn (Outback Bowl), Miami (Independence Bowl), Northern Illinois (Boca Raton Bowl) and Notre Dame (Music City Bowl) all fall into the categories of having lost a bowl game last year or else they finished the season in poor fashion. They may be “bargains” at the current prices for their respective bowl games - guarantee all of the above here will play hard come their bowl game.

WHAT TEAMS HAVE THE “DOMINANT UNIT”?
As Jim Hurley readers have known for years, when you get to these games - much like NFL playoff games - the “dominant unit” on the field often gets the green and no doubt in this day-and-age in college football that generally means the dominant offensive unit and our motto is if you can take points with the “dominant unit” than you do so ... and that’s why Ohio State (45.2 ppg), Boise State (39.8) and Oklahoma (38.8) all should interest you this bowl season.

FINALLY, FEEL FREE TO GO AGAINST TEAMS THAT SIMPLY DON’T WANT TO BE HERE ...
Let’s face it, there’s 38 bowl games this year and you better believe at least a handful of the 76 bowl teams wanted to be somewhere else as in a “better bowl” and so it’s up to you/us to find those squads and cash in against ‘em. On our don’t-want-to-be-here list this bowl season are the following:

Marshall - The Thundering Herd was counting on getting one of those Dec. 31-Jan.1 bowls but instead spit the bit with a late-season loss to Western Kentucky. Think the Marshall kids really want to be playing Northern Illinois in the Dec. 23rd Boca Raton Bowl?

Georgia - Anything shy of a January bowl berth is a bummer for the Dawgs who have played in seven January bowl games in the past 10 years and gotta believe a trip to Charlotte to play TD-underdog Louisville isn’t likely to excite this SEC team.

TCU - Not getting into the four-team playoff field was a punch in the gut for the Horned Frogs even though Coach of the Year Gary Patterson handled it all well in public and so now you wonder if this Big 12 team will be “psyched” for the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl bash against Ole Miss.

BAYLOR - See TCU. No, but really the Bears and specifically head coach Art Briles were steaming that they didn’t get to be part of the CFP field of four and so it won’t shock us if Baylor is a “no-show” for its Cotton Bowl Classic tilt against 3-point dog Michigan State.

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BOWL PREVIEWS

SATURDAY, DEC. 20
LAS VEGAS BOWL - Utah (8-4) vs. Colorado State (10-2): The 22nd-ranked Utah Utes are listed as 3.5-point favorites against a Colorado State team that claims it won’t miss a beat even though HC McElwain is off to Florida and OC Baldwin has stepped into his shoes. The Utes must slow down the one-two-three punch of C-State QB Grayson (3,779 yards passing with 32 TDs), speedy RB Hart (1,254 yards rushing and 16 TDs) and WR Higgins (89-1,640-17) and remember Utah RB Booker (1,350 yards rushing and 9 TDs) gave Pac-12 defenses fits all year long.

TUESDAY, DEC. 23
** UPSET SPECIAL ** UPSET SPECIAL **
POINSETTIA BOWL - Navy (7-5) at San Diego State (7-5):
Here’s one of those cases where there is a “home team” in SDSU but the Navy kids could care less as QB Reynolds (1,182 yards rushing/826 yards passing and 27 TDs) is a dynamic performer and we say major advantage that Navy just beat Army on Dec. 13th while State hasn’t played a game since Nov. 29th. Navy 30, San Diego State 24.

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THE COLLEGE HOOPS UPDATE

Okay, so it’s tough to argue with folks who claim the top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats (11-0) will be a lead-pipe cinch to win this year’s national championship. After all, John Calipari’s second unit might be better than 90 percent of opposing team starters but hear us out for a moment:

There’s a couple of veteran teams out there that might well wind up “peaking” come March and we’re thinking about #7 Villanova (10-0) and #11 Wichita State (7-1). Both teams have played a challenging pre-conference schedule and that always helps to toughen up a squad while heading into January and you gotta love the unselfishness displayed here with both ‘Nova and Wichita State - they throw the extra pass, find the open man and share the wealth.

Yes, just like last year’s stirring Kentucky team that made it all the way to the national championship game before losing to UConn.

Granted, neither Villanova - featuring five players currently averaging 9.1 points a game or more with dead-eye frosh G Dylan Ennis (12.3 ppg) leading the way - nor Wichita State starring F Ron Baker and his 18 ppg average - are considered any type of “dark horse” teams but with everybody tripping over themselves to anoint Kentucky this year’s national champ, don’t be surprised if Villanova or Wichita State is there at the finish line.

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