Dallas Cowboys VS Minnesota Vikings NFC Football Playoffs Pick: This game is holding pretty steady at -3 or -2.5 at every book I’ve seen, and everyone and their mother expect this to be the closest of the playoff match-ups this weekend. It’s a cool combination, the Vikings struggling toward the end of the season and the Cowboys easily playing their best football in a long time, on both sides of the ball. Both teams have 12 wins, the Cowboys just needed an extra game to do it. These teams are actually pretty similar, just as the numbers insist.
The Cowboys averaged just about 8 more points than their opponents, while the Vikings averaged about 10 more. This number would be a little closer if the Vikings didn’t pour it on the hapless Giants in Week 17, but who’s counting? The Cowboys average about 20 more yards than the Vikings offense, 5 more through the air and 15 more on the ground. But the Vikings averaged almost a touchdown more per contest. The Cowboys rank 2nd in total offense, finishing in the top 7 in both rushing and passing. The Vikings rank 5th in total offense, but are the 2nd highest scoring team in football.
The Cowboys defense gives up about 12 more yards per game than Minnesota, but 4 fewer points. Both teams are stingy against the run as the Cowboys rank 4th and the Vikings 2nd. Both teams can run it, both can pass it, and both are better at stopping the run than they are at stopping elite passers, and both can bring pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Both have great quarterbacks (Brett Favre and Tony Romo) and dangerous receivers, which means they can make aggressive defenses pay.
This should be a great game, but in a close one, I’m taking the team playing better football down the stretch, and the Cowboys have really impressed me over the last handful of weeks, I’ll take them – but just barely, and I’m already rooting against myself.
As I said in my Just Picks Newsletter, I think Peyton and the Colts will find a way to win this game. And while only rarely do winning teams actually lose against the spread, I think this game will be one of those. The Ravens have everything you want in a touchdown cover team. They have a running game that runs roughshod over opponents, they have a defense that limits the opposing offenses opportunities, and they make big plays on both sides of the ball. Why do I think the Ravens will win? Well, they have Peyton Manning.
This game has already moved down to -5.5 at one book, and it’s slowly getting lower and lower everywhere else, as only one of the major books I “shop at” holds this game as the Colts favored by a touchdown. So far, 51% of the total bet coming in are on Baltimore to cover, but I see a couple books still show a huge public percentage taking the Colts, between 65 and 70% at some major books. With the spread shrinking and the public bet still staying close to 50%, I’m liking my Ravens pick.
The Ravens have only lost two games by more than 6 points, and their mid-season loss to the Colts wasn’t one of them, as they fell at home to Indy by just two points. They lost to Green Bay by 13 and Cincinnati by 10. And even those games were close. There are a lot of reasons to take the Ravens in this one, and at 7 points, they are always a safe bet.
How can the Cardinals play as well as they did last weekend? Kurt Warner almost had more completions than he did attempts, and that’s actually impossible. The Saints defense is tougher than it gets credit for, and though they will be missing their starting defensive end, as Grant’s out for the season, they will be as healthy as they’ve been in the secondary in a long time. That will play a big role in this weekend’s tilt with the Cardinals. Because, if I know anything, I know Captain Kurt will be winging that pigskin around.
The Saints lost their last 5 games against the spread and actually lost their final three games straight up. They were 8-8 ATS this season, just 2-8 ATS over their last 10 games, which means, yes, they were 6-0 ATS to start the season. Aside from their first loss of the season, in Dallas in Week 15, the Saints dominated playoff teams, beating the Eagles 48-22, the Jets 24-10, and the Patriots 38-17. The question is, which Saints team will show up? The team that dominated both sides of the ball during the first 13 games of the season or the team that held on for dear life in the last 3 games, two of which they were actually trying to win?
The Cardinals rarely put two solid games together all season long. They won a few big games against big time opponents (okay, they only playoff team they beat during the regular season was Minnesota) but most of their good wins were either surrounded by losses or followed by them. I expect the Saints to play their best football of the last 6 weeks, and I suspect that will be enough to beat a Cardinals team that won’t be on fire like they were last week.
Wednesday NCAA Basketball Picks: Kentucky took care of Florida last night, though they needed a strong final few minutes to slam the door, giving me a nice win to start the week. Lets hope that keeps going on Wednesday Night.
Pittsburgh Panthers @ Connecticut Huskies (-6): The 15th ranked Huskies have struggled a little bit against ranked opponents, losing to Kentucky, Cincinnati, and Georgetown in the last month. But two of those games were on the road, all three losses came by 3 points or less, and one was a loss to the currently undefeated Wildcats. So listen, it’s not as bad as it seems. Plus, the Huskies are 10-0 at home this season, and have won each home contest by at least 8 points. The Huskies have covered each of their last 5 games and still the bettors are 65% in favor of Pittsburgh covering this game. Six points could make this one interesting, but I like the home team to cover here. I think UConn will be too strong for 20th ranked Pittsburgh, and the Panthers undefeated start to the Big East will come to an end.
North Carolina Tar Heels (+3) @ Clemson Tigers: What I see is a Clemson team that struggles when they lost the rebound battle and a Tar Heel team that more often than not wins the rebound battle. I’m not saying it’s all about boards, but that tells me the Tigers struggle against other bigs, and the Heels have a couple very good bigs and a handful of other guys that will give the Tigers trouble size-wise. Clemson hasn’t beaten the Tar Heels for a long time, as I know the Heels have won at least 10 in a row against the Tigers. Deon Thompson should score, but Ed Davis should have a good time eating up the glass.
The #2 ranked Kentucky Wildcats might seem like a tough team to bet against, but the books have been even with them this year, as the Cats are 7-7 ATS in during their 16 game winning streak to start the season. Don’t get it twisted, the Wildcats will lose one of these days, they play too many good teams and too many close games, but the question is, will that happen in Florida?
Working for the Gators is the fact that the Wildcats have only played one true road game this season, a win over an out-matched Indiana ball club. The Wildcats have beat up on some teams over the last 10 games, but they barely skipped by the Heels with a 2 point win and a 3 point win over UConn was also a nail-biter. Most recently, over the last two games, they’ve gotten all they can handle from unranked Louisville and Georgia, but came out victorious in both. They didn’t win the rebound battle in either game. When they out-rebound their opponent, the score reflects it.
But the Gators don’t rebound the ball really great either. They’ve been out-boarded in 6 of their last 10 games, and I have a feeling the Wildcats will get them again on the glass. Now, 76% f the public bet likes the Wildcats to cover, and that makes sense as a small spread and an undefeated team. But the Cats should find a way to out-score the Gators, with toughness if not skill. I’ll take them, going with the public.
Green Bay Packers VS Arizona Cardinals NFC Wildcard Weekend Pick: This is my favorite upset of the week, and it has been from the get go. However, looking at it now, it looks as though I’m not the only one picking the Packers to dismantle the Cardinals in Arizona this Sunday. 63% of the public betting on the spread like the Packers to cover, and those are the late numbers. Early percentages were so high that the books responded, moving this spread all the way to even in most sports books as I write this. I see experts taking the Packers at a 2 to 1 clip, and even ESPN’s Suomi likes Green Bay.
If Anquan Boldin were playing, the Cardinals would have one advantage in this football game, but with him out, the only thing the Cardinals have over the Packers is experience. Arizona made it all the way to the big show last season, playing just one home game, and falling just a few seconds short of taking home the title. But I don’t see that same Cardinals team this season. Arizona has been very inconsistent all season long, and there’s something about the Packers final half of the season that has me admiring their team.
The Packers lost just one game over the final half of the season, as a touchdown pass by Ben Roethlisberger as time expired in Pittsburgh gave the Steelers a 37-36 win. But outside of that, the packers have dominated. During those 8 games, the Packers handled 3 playoff teams, winning by a combined 77-28. Green Bay’s offense has impressed me all year, but it’s their growth in that 3-4 defense that gives them the nod here. Great corners against a less than full strength Cardinals receiving corps, and pass rushers galore -yeah, I like the packers.
Baltimore Ravens VS New England Patriots, AFC Playoff Prediction: Like I said earlier in the week in my Just Picks newsletter, the Patriots rarely lose games against an opponent without an elite passing attack. Now, the Ravens are much better this season than they’ve been in years’ past, and Joe Flacco has definitely grown as a pro-quarterback in his sophomore season, but the Ravens are far from elite in the passing game.
In the running game, they are as scary, if not more-so than ever before. Ray Rice has transformed into one of the game’s most explosive rushing/receiving threats out of the backfield, and Willis McGahee has shown brilliant flashes of his old self when given the opportunity to run the ball. As an offensive line, the Ravens have dominated the line of scrimmage this season.
The question will be, can the Ravens keep up with the Patriots offense. And that depends which offense shows up. Already, the Patriots will be without their leading receiver this season, as Wes Welker and his 120+ receptions suffered a bad knee injury in the season finale and will likely be out into next season. But Julian Edelman is a good young player in the Welker mode, and it will likely come down to Tom Brady and the great quarterback’s accuracy. Tom has had his ups and downs this season, a year after shredding his own knee on opening day, and it’s been tough to predict which Brady will show up, and how consistent he’ll be from half to half.
But I like the Patriots in this one. They have an underrated defense, and especially in the run-D aspect of it. They are sure tacklers and have a plethora of sound tacklers. If Brady can find the same holes in the Ravens secondary that other elite passers have found, the Patriots should win and cover at home.
Philadelphia Eagles VS Dallas Cowboys, Wild Card Saturday Pick: This is a tough one for me because either one of these teams can come out and drop a little nugget right down their collective pant legs, if you know what I mean. And while Dallas has proven their worth by smacking Philly twice already this season, on the road and at home, it’s hard for me to take the Cowboys as a 4 point favorite.
I’m not saying it doesn’t make sense, I’m just saying it’s tough for me to do it. The Cowboys have turned their “late season swoon” right around, winning their last three games, including handing the Saints their first loss of the season. But prior to the Dallas game, it was Philly playing like the best team in football, climbing from mediocre to a win away from a 1st round bye. What a difference a game makes, eh? Philly came out with no pop, got dominated on both sides of the ball, and now they are playing a first round game in Dallas as a 4 point underdog. Their biggest underdog spread of the season.
But that’s part of the reason I’m taking Philly. The spread is inflated because of the substantial beatdown Dallas put on the Eagles last week. The Cowboys are hardly the best team Philly has faced. Philly won 6 straight prior to losing in Dallas, and I don’t think there’s anyway the Eagles play as poorly as they did last week.
Now I’m throwing a little caution to the masses here, the Eagles have just one win all season long against a team with a winning record. And that team, Atlanta, didn’t make the playoffs at 9-7. Interesting, huh? I still like Philly, but be careful.
I got this game when the Bengals were favored by just a single point, a little while after they opened at -4, and before the line moved by up to -3. Right now, you can find the line anywhere between the Bengals being favored by 2-3 points. And as the line has moved around with haste and ferocity, the public percentage has moved around as well. Right now, the Bengals are seeing about 61% of the bets, but the early money was on New York. Not that any of that stuff matters.
I wonder what this line would have been had the Bengals sat their starters for Sunday’s entire game. Even if the Jets had won easily, in that case, I think the Bengals would have been favored by a couple more points – but maybe not. Either way, it’s hard for me to put too much weight into one single game. The Bengals have played better with Cedric Benson running the ball. His strength and aggressiveness is a huge part of Cincinnati’s offense, and he’ll be back on the field this week, that should help the Bengals get things going. And while Cincinnati definitely got pushed around by the Jets solid run-defense, it’s hard for me to foresee that happening again this Sunday.
Both these teams are good, both are tough, and both bring it on both sides of the ball. The difference in these two teams is at quarterback where the Bengals have Carson Palmer and the Jets have a rookie, Mark Sanchez. That give the Bengals the advantage in my book. When you add that to the reality that Cincinnati played their worst football of the season last week in New York, and the Jets played one of their best all around games all season long, I think you get a Bengals victory at home. Extremes like that often have a way of evening themselves out. It’s tough to beat up a good football team twice in one year, let alone twice in one week.
As I said in my newsletter, Alabama is the best college football team in the Nation. Defensively they look superior to every other team, and offensively they often manhandle opposing defenses, control the clock, and have shown the ability to beat the snot out of opponents as well as win ugly. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they will win this game.
A month of no games can play tricks on a team, and that’s one of the reasons why this ridiculous bowl stuff makes everything a little more interesting. For an entire month, the Texas Longhorns have been hearing people talk about how they don’t have a chance against the best team in the SEC. They’ve heard about Heisman winner Mark Ingram and the powerful running game. They’ve heard about the defense with a handful of future NFL players. Yes, for one month, they’ve got to hear all the reasons they should lose. And it’s amazing how motivational that can be for a team that didn’t lose a single game all season long.
But despite that motivational push, it’s tough for me to go against Alabama here. Bowl games are special, and you never know, but the Tide look too tough in areas I think are most important. They are as tough as nails up front of offense and all over the field defensively. They allowed just 11 points per game, allowed 7 or less in 6 contests, and held normally powerful offenses like Arkansas, Florida, and Ole Miss to fewer than two touchdowns. The Crimson Tide are certainly battle tested. They easily ran throw what many people thought was the very best team in the Nation when they blistered Florida 32-13 in the SEC Championship game.
Texas struggled down the stretch, barely beating Texas A&M in a game where the Longhorns allowed 39 points (nearly twice as much as the Crimson Tide ever allowed in a single game this season) and needed a long last second field goal to beat Nebraska in the Big 12 Championship. Anything can happen in Bowl games, but if both these teams play to their potential, I think the Tide win easily. So I’ll take Alabama to cover the spread.