DO OR DIE NFL PREVIEWS AND TOP WEEK 17 PICKS
Here’s a little message from Santa Claus to the likes of the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Tennessee Titans ... Okay, so you got the proverbial lump of coal in your Christmas stocking all year long but maybe next year you’ll get off the “naughty list” and onto the “nice list” with the expected additions of quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Jameis Winston - either team should be happy drafting either one of these Heisman Trophy-winning signal-callers.
Here’s hoping you’re both better than just two-win teams at this stage of the 2015 NFL season.
And speaking of naughty lists, it was a long one for the NFL this year from Ray Rice to Adrian Peterson to - yes, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell - maybe the whole league will have cleaned up its act by the time the 2015 season swings into gear. All we know is that Santa wasn’t handing out all that many presents to NFL players this year, you know!
But back to the here-and-now ... there’s a batch of NFL teams looking to get the “gift” they’re really after this Christmas week and that’s a Week 17 win and so let’s examine some of the do-or-die teams in their respective hunt for a post-season berth:
CAROLINA (6-8-1) at ATLANTA (6-9) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
So, this sad-sack NFC South is gonna crown a champ with the winner of this game hosting a wild card tilt next weekend and here’s what you should know: The visiting Panthers have squeezed out back-to-back 2- and 4-point wins the past couple of weeks -- one with QB Cam Newton in the lineup and one without -- and no doubt this former Heisman Trophy winner will get his turn at running the ball a batch of times here as he was effective toting the pigskin in last weekend’s 17-13 non-cover win against Cleveland (see 12 carries for 63 yards).
On the flip side, the Falcons are fresh off that 30-14 win in New Orleans where QB Matt Ryan (30-of-40 passing for 322 yards and one TD) was nearly flawless and if you tell us now that Atlanta won’t turn the ball over for a second consecutive week then Mike Smith’s club will nail down the divisional crown.
An X-factor here? Let’s see if Falcons’ return specialist Devin Hester can “flip the field” a couple of times.
Spread Notes - Atlanta is 7-8 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and the Falcons are a collective 6-1 spreadwise against the NFC South since late last season. Meanwhile, Carolina is also 7-8 against the numbers this year and the Panthers are a sour 6-9 vig-wise away since the start of last season (and that includes last year’s 21-20 non-cover win at the Georgia Dome as 5.5-point favorites).
SAN DIEGO (9-6) at KANSAS CITY (8-7) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The formula is simple for the SD Chargers: Win and you’re in to the post-season for a second straight year under second-year head coach Mike McCoy but the fact of the matter is San Diego’s allowed an average of 27.4 ppg the past five weeks and KayCee’s in a foul mood after losing four of its last five games to make their playoff hopes a major longshot.
If the Chiefs need QB Alex Smith to chuck the ball 45 times here (see loss to Pittsburgh last week) than Andy Reid’s club really doesn’t have a shot but look for KC to get the ball into the hands of RB Jamaal Charles and WR/RB DeAnthony Thomas and make San Diego’s defense play chase for a full 60 minutes.
Note that Kansas City won at San Diego 23-20 back in Week 7, so this is revenge-plus-points for the Bolts.
Spread Notes - San Diego’s 7-8 against the odds this year despite that stupendous 5-and-oh pointspread start. The Chargers are 0-5 ATS when playing fellow AFC West rivals this year after having gone a collective 8-5 ATS against ‘em the prior two seasons. Kansas City enters this Week 17 tilt at 9-5-1 ATS overall this year and the Chiefs have covered six of their last nine regular-season finales (remember when KC always/always covered their finales?).
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DETROIT (11-4) at GREEN BAY (11-4) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
You know the deal: Both the Lions and Packers have clinched playoff berths but the winner here gets crowned NFC North champs and thus grab a home game (and maybe even a first-round bye) and so lots on the line and we’ll remind you that the Motowners have not won in Wisconsin in 23 years!
Last week’s two-INT, no-TD game by Detroit slinger Matthew Stafford was a bummer even though the Lions did survive a 20-14 non-cover victory in Chicago - Stafford’s take-one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back game needs to get cleaned up here and note that Green Bay should bring pressure up the middle with Lions C Dominic Raiola suspended here for his idiotic ankle stomp of a Bears player last week. Meanwhile, no secret that Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers (31-of-40 for 318 yards passing in last Sunday’s 20-3 win/cover at Tampa Bay) has not always been on the “same page” with his receivers the past couple of weeks, so we’ll see if they get that cleaned up here. Looks like a game where both WRs Jordy Nelson (92 catches) and Randall Cobb (87 receptions) could be deep threats providing Rodgers can climb up the pocket and evade that pass rush.
Spread Notes - Detroit is 7-8 spreadwise overall this season and the Lions own a rotten 7-13 spread log in their last 20 head-to-head games versus Green Bay. Note that the Packers are 8-6-1 odds-wise overall this 2014 season and GB’s an electric 17-7 ATS when playing fellow NFC North teams the past four years.
NFL WEEK 17 PICKS
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.
SATURDAY BOWL PREVIEWS
MILITARY BOWL - at Annapolis, MD
CINCINNATI (9-3) vs. VIRGINIA TECH (6-6) - 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
You can argue all you want as to whether or not the Virginia Tech Hokies “deserve” a bowl berth this year but fact of matter is the Gobblers make their 22nd consecutive bowl appearance and good news that venerable head coach Frank Beamer is back along the sidelines after some throat-related surgeries.
Beamer’s bunch is the only team in the land to beat Ohio State but overall the Hokies floundered badly this year with a pedestrian offense with erratic QB Michael Brewer here hoping to steer clear of the silly turnover.
Cincinnati rolls into this bowl bash on a seven-game winning streak and the Bearcats have outscored those last seven foes by 20.4 points a game - here head coach Tommy Tuberville may go with both QBs Gunner Kiel and Munchie Legaux - the former threw for 3,010 yards and 30 TDs this year and the latter shined in a end-of-season win against Houston by completing 10-of-14 passes for 158 yards.
Spread Notes - Cincinnati is 7-4-1 ATS this year and that includes the current 6-0-1 spread run that the Bearcats have been on since mid-October. Note that Cincy has failed to cover five of its last seven bowl games. Virginia Tech is 5-7 against the odds this season and that makes the underachieving Hokies 16-31-2 ATS since the start of the 2011 season.
SUN BOWL - at El Paso, TX
#15 ARIZONA STATE (9-3) vs. DUKE (9-3) - 2 p.m. ET, CBS
It may not be a New Year’s Eve/New Year’s Day bowl but this’ll due for two teams that sparkled throughout much of this 2014 campaign ... Arizona State lost at Oregon State and Arizona in the season’s final three weeks or else Todd Graham’s club might well have been part of the playoff mix and here WR Jaelen Strong (75 catches) powers up an offense that scored 35-or-more points on seven different occasions but don’t be surprised if State has two different quarterbacks chucking him the ball as both Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici should see time here while the Duke mission is simple: Get the ball in the hands of WR/return specialist Jamison Crowder as often as possible - his 5,402 career all-purpose yards is amazing and he comes off a 78-catch season.
Duke has not won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl while A-State is looking to win a second bowl game in three years after losing 37-23 last year as 17-point favorites versus Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl ... think Graham reminded his guys about that showing a few times this month?
P.S., we’d give Duke head coach David Cutcliffe a third-place finish for Coach of the Year this season behind TCU’s Gary Patterson and ohio State’s Urban Meyer.
Spread Notes - Arizona State is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 against the odds this year but the Sun Devils own a decent 16-11 ATS mark as betting favorites the past three seasons. Duke is 7-4-1 vig-wise this year and the Blue Devils have covered eight of their last 11 games when placed in the underdog role.
INDEPENDENCE BOWL - at Shreveport, LA
MIAMI (6-6) vs. SOUTH CAROLINA (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, espn2
Call this a major consolation prize for both these high-profile programs - now good luck figuring out which team “wants it” more. No doubt that Miami’s late-season slump that followed after the 30-26 meltdown loss to Florida State has Hurricane backers bothered and so the game plan here is get the rock in the arms of RB Duke Johnson (1,520 yards rushing and 10 TDs) and hope the “U” defense can handle a Carolina attack that won’t have WR Shaq Roland (26 receptions and four TDs this year) here as Gamecocks’ head coach Steve Spurrier says Roland left the team.
South Carolina has a three-game bowl winning streak heading into this game; Miami has not won a bowl since a 21-20 triumph over Nevada in the 2006 Computer Bowl.
Spread Notes - South Carolina is a rotten 4-8 against the odds this season and the Gamecocks are just 3-5 vig-wise in bowls the past 10 years. Miami is 5-7 spreadwise this season and that makes the Hurricanes a modest 25-21 against the odds in the Al Golden Era.
PINSTRIPE BOWL -- at The Bronx, NY
BOSTON COLLEGE (7-5) vs. PENN STATE (6-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Maybe bowl games were “no big deal” in the Joe Paterno years but this bowl berth is very much a big deal for the here-and-now Penn State Nittany Lions - basically left for dead after the whole Jerry Sandusky sex scandal this born-again team rode the nation’s top rushing defense (84.8 yards per game) and second-best total defense (269.8 ypg) to six wins including triumphs over fellow bowl squads UCF and Rutgers.
First-year head coach James Franklin would have liked to see more consistent play from soph QB Christian Hackenburg (8 TDs and 15 INTs) as Penn State lost four different “one-score games” and there precious little punch coming from this Nittanies attack. If Hackenburg can’t flip the field here with some chunk pass plays, then Penn State’s likely sunk against 2.5-point fav Boston College.
The Chestnut Hill gang lives and dies with the dual-threat play of QB Tyler Murphy (1,079 yards rushing and 1,526 yards passing) - he was the major factor in BC’s early-year 37-31 home win against 17-point fav USC and if Penn State’s defense doesn’t set the edge against Murphy here than Steve Addazio’s crew should roll … note Penn State leads the all-time series here 19-4.
Spread Notes - Penn State is 5-6-1 against the Las Vegas prices this year and the Nittany Lions are a rotten 2-8-1 ATS away since the start of the 2013 campaign. Meanwhile, Boston College is 8-4 against the odds this season but the Eagles have failed to cover five of their last six post-season bowl games while dating back to the 2006 season.
HOLIDAY BOWL - at San Diego, CA
NEBRASKA (9-3) vs. #24 USC (8-4) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Two of the country’s most preeminent gridiron programs failed to live up to the preseason hype - remember USC was ranked #15 at the start of the season while Nebraska was ranked #22 - and so a byproduct of the Cornhuskers’ campaign that included losses to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Minnesota is that head coach Bo Pelini was axed.
Okay, so that move surprised more than a few folks in Nebraska but Pelini’s inability to even get the ‘Huskers to challenge for major bowls plus his fiery temper caused his demise and so interim boss Barney Cotton takes over here before former Oregon State head coach Mike Riley takes over for real right after this bowl game.
Happy to say the USC coaching carousel finally ended - after Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton formed a three-ring circus of coaches last year, Steve Sarkisian steered the ship in 2014 but close losses to Boston College, Arizona State and Utah really dampened the year but here the Troy Boys are solid 7-point betting favorites thanks in large part to unsung QB Cody Kessler (3,505 yards passing with 36 TDs and 4 INTs).
No doubt the ‘Huskers will be shadowing top USC pass-catcher Nelson Agholar (97 catches for 1,223 yards and 11 TDs) but good luck keeping him in check.
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (1,523 yards rushing and 18 TDs) was in our Jim Sez Heisman Trophy Watch List for a good chunk of this 2014 season but a sprained left knee has hampered Abdullah and so watch for his movements here - if he’s cuttin’ and jivin’ early than USC could be on the ropes late.
Spread Notes - USC enters this tilt at 7-5 against the odds this year but did you know the Trojans are a snazzy 6-2 ATS in bowl games the past 10 years? On the other side of the coin, Nebraska’s also 7-5 spreadwise this season, but the Cornhuskers are a dead-even 4-4 ATS in bowls the last 10 years and Big Red is 8-2 vig-wise away the past two years.
NFL WEEK 17 NEWS AND NOTES
Okay, so not everyone is hotter-than-a-pistol while heading into NFL Week 17 play ...
The Kansas City Chiefs - who host San Diego this Sunday needing to win and get lots of help for a playoff berth - have failed to cover four of their last five games down the stretch here and head coach Andy Reid and staff deserve plenty of blame for the multiple red-zone woes.
The Miami Dolphins just announced that head coach Joe Philbin will return for the 2015 campaign but his Fish stink lately with four consecutive pointspread losses while heading into Sunday’s home game against the New York Jets. Did you realize that Miami has not lost five in a row to Mr. Vig since early in the 2011 season (a/k/a the Tony Sparano Era) ...
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The San Francisco 49ers won’t be playoff-bound this year for birthday boy Jim Harbaugh as the Niners are 0-5 vig-wise since Nov. 23rd. Now, San Fran’s laying a price at home against QB-needy Arizona and did you know the 49ers are now 6-12 ATS against divisional foes these past three years?
Finally, the woe-be-gone Tennessee Titans have lost five straight to the Las Vegas price tags and now are listed as a full TD home dog against Indianapolis this Sunday afternoon -- the Titans are an awful 22-37-4 ATS overall since the start of the 2011 season.
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