Predictions for All Four Games of Wild-Card Weekend

Newton
Newton
Cam Newton has played well since returning from his car accident several weeks ago.

Arizona (+6) a Carolina (O/U 38) – The Arizona Cardinals are limping into the NFL Playoffs as they have seen their defense struggle and their offense sputter behind Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley at QB. That doesn’t mean the Cardinals should be taken lightly because they still have the ability to shut you down defensively.

In Carolina, the Panthers may have finished under .500 but they are feeling great about themselves and rightfully so. The running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart and the defense gotten significantly more stingy in recent weeks.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Arizona’s last seven games… Carolina is 7-3 straight up in their last ten games against Arizona… The Panthers are 2-4 against the spread in their last six game against the Cardinals.

The Pick: Arizona will force Cam Newton to beat them with his arm, but I think his legs will be more important. Take the Cards with the points and the UNDER.

Baltimore (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell has not practiced yet this week. On Sunday night, he hyper-extended his knee and at this point, I don’t think we’ll see him play. Despite signing Ben Tate this week, I think the Steelers will use Josh Harris who has been on the practice squad most of the year.

The Ravens will need Joe Flacco to find his groove after looking pretty average if not bad in recent weeks. The defense is not what it used to be but if it doesn’t have to deal with Bell, they may find themselves just having to defend the pass.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in four of Baltimore’s last five games… The total has gone OVER in 11 of Pittsburgh’s last 16 games at home against the Ravens… Baltimore is 1-3-1 against the spread in their last five games in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I like Pittsburgh with a late score to cover and I like the OVER.

Sunday’s Games

Luck
Andrew Luck could use a little help from his running game against the Bengals on Sunday.

Cincinnati (+3) at Indianapolis (O/U 49) – Last time the Bengals came to Indianapolis they left without even scoring a single point. I have to believe they will have watched that tape a great deal this week to see where things went wrong. I definitely think you’ll see heavy doses of Jeremy Hill in order to set up play-action.

The Colts have leaked serious oil heading into the postseason and they have to hope they can find their groove. The rushing attack for Indy has been a struggle all season but they’ll need to find some semblance of it in order for Andrew Luck to have time to throw.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of the Bengals’ last eight games… Indianapolis is 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread when on the road in Indy.

The Pick: I like the Colts to cover and the OVER.

Detroit (+7.5) at Dallas (O/U 48) – The Lions received some good news when Ndamukong Suh’s suspension was overturned earlier this week which means he will play against the Cowboys. I believe his presence will have serious impact on the game but only if his team’s offense can find some success and that hasn’t been easy in recent weeks.

The Cowboys will do nothing special. They will run the ball with DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo will look for Dez Bryant in the passing game. If the Dallas defense plays well, this game could get ugly early.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in 14 of Detroit’s last 19 games… Dallas is 2-4 against the spread in their last six games at home… The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Lions’ last nine games on the road.

The Pick: Take Dallas to cover and I like the OVER.

NFL Late-Game Picks for Week 17

Lacy
Lacy
Eddie Lacy could be the 'X' factor in today's game between his Packers and the Lions.

Here are four late games I really like today.

Detroit (+7) at Green Bay (O/U 47.5) – By now you know the history… The Lions haven’t won in Lambeau Field since 1992 and while the players and coaches will scoff at that, it has to be in their minds. Unlike most indoor teams, the Lions are suddenly surviving on the defensive side while the offense continues to struggle.

Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy is an excellent game-planner and he will he have studied the team’s loss in Detroit over and over to find weaknesses. In my opinion this game is more about Matthew Stafford than it is Aaron Rodgers. Stafford has to play well and he hasn’t for much of the season.

Trends: Detroit is 4-2 straight in their last six games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in four of Green Bay’s last five games against the Lions…Detroit is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games versus the Packers.

The Pick: The Packers have been a scoring machine at home but the Lions can get after it on defense. I like the Lions getting the points and the UNDER.

Newton
Cam Newton needs a big game if the Panthers are to win in Atlanta today.

Carolina (+3) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – Both of these teams are lousy on defense. They each give up about 25 points per game but the Falcons score on average about five more points per game on offense than do the Panthers. Being that this game is an “all or nothing” proposition, I expect both teams to pull out all the stops to earn the win.

One of the key issues here is the health of the Falcons’ receivers. Roddy White has battled ankle issues but will play and Julio Jones has had a hip problem. If both can go, it’s a big boost for the offense.

Trends: The Panthers are 3-6-1 straight up in their last 10 games… The total has gone UNDER in eight of Atlanta’s last 11 games… Carolina is 1-5 SU in their last six games on the road in Atlanta.

The Pick: I like Falcons to cover and I love the OVER.

Arizona (+7) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – The Cardinals are staggering into the playoffs behind a quarterback carousel that is struggling. Drew Stanton will miss this one but could return for a the playoffs. Ryan Lindley gets the start despite being told Logan Thomas would be the man for most of the week.

For the 49ers, all signs point to this being Jim Harbaugh’s final game there. Where he goes next is up in the air, but despite missing the playoffs, he leaves the franchise far better than he found it.

Trends: Arizona is 0-5 straight up in their last five visits to San Francisco… The Niners are 0-5 against the spread in their last five games… The total has gone OVER in four of the Cardinals last six games against San Francisco.

The Pick: I like UNDER and I think the Cards find a way to keep it close so take them getting the points.

Cincinnati (+3) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The final game of the 2014 NFL regular season is the third and final battle of the day for a division crown. The winner claims the AFC North and will get a home game for Wild-Card Weekend. The loser is still in the playoffs but will have to hit the road.

The Steelers took a close game into the fourth quarter in the first meeting in Cincinnati three weeks ago and scored 25 points to win 42-21. While the Bengals struggled to slow Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers had no answer for A.J. Green. I think both are limited a bit tonight forcing other players to step up.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in five of Cincinnati’s last seven games… The Steelers are 5-2 straight up in their last seven games at home against the Bengals… Cincy is 2-5 against the spread in their last seven games on the road in Pittsburgh.

The Pick: I expect a little less scoring tonight so take the UNDER but I’ll take the Steelers to cover in a tight game.

Cardinals Hope to Follow a Path Set by the 1990 New York Giants

Stanton
Stanton
Drew Stanton takes control of the Cardinals now with the season ending injury to Carson Palmer.

The best team in professional football right now is the Arizona Cardinals. They host one of the better teams in pro football right now in the Detroit Lions coming up on Sunday. Ironically, the guy who will start at quarterback for the Cardinals actually spent most of his career in Detroit.

My how things can change in the National Football League.

Drew Stanton now finds himself at the helm for the second time this season but this time it’s different. This time it’s for good because Carson Palmer went down on Sunday with what appears in all likelihood to be an ACL tear. This ends the season for the veteran.

Stanton has seven career starts in the NFL. Three of come this season when he started in place of a dinged up Palmer and went 2-1 during that stretch. Stanton’s other four career starts took place over a two-year period in Detroit where he went 2-2.

His overall career stats are not very good. His completion percentage is just 53.6% and he has thrown eight touchdown passes to nine interceptions. There are a couple of glimmers of hope here for Cardinals’ fans though.

In his three starts this season, he has thrown three TD passes and has zero interceptions. That’s a good thing but the bigger thing is that he’s being tutored by Head Coach Bruce Arians who has a very good track record of working with quarterbacks.

From Ben Roethlisberger to Andrew Luck to Carson Palmer, Arians has made each guy just a little better than he had been previously. This is all that the Cardinals need from Stanton too. He just needs to be a little bit better than he typically is.

Hostetler
Jeff Hostetler took over for Phil Simms late in the season and led the 1990 Giants to a Super Bowl title.

The situation in Arizona is very similar to what happened with the 1990 New York Giants. For those not old enough to remember, the Giants were 11-2 and were playing Buffalo in the old Meadowlands in their 14th game of the season.

Phil Simms, who had already won a Super Bowl four years earlier, was marching the Giants towards a second when he broke his foot against the Bills.

Most assumed the Giants could not survive with a back-up QB entering what was sure to be a rough road through the playoffs. Jeff Hostetler was that back-up and he would lead the G-Men to an improbable 5-0 stretch that included a win at San Francisco (led by Joe Montana) and then a one-point win in Super Bowl XV over the Bills.

What strikes me as similar is that both the Giants of 1990 and these Arizona Cardinals are built on defense. That doesn’t mean they don’t have offensive weapons because they do, but their success starts with defense.

In most cases, both Hostetler and Stanton would be referred to as “game managers” whose only job was to make sure the offense didn’t make mistakes and turn the ball over. I think there was truth about that with “Hoss” and there will be some truth about that with Stanton but don’t expect Arians to just abandon the passing game.

He will ride Andre Ellington’s legs for certain but he will not strip Stanton of his ability to throw the ball deep as he did on Sunday.

Will the Cardinals follow the steps of the ’90 New York Giants? It’s hard to say because these really are different eras of professional football. You can be sure though that the fans in the desert are hoping for the same exact result.

A Monday Night Twin-Bill Gives You a Chance to Bounce Back

Johnson
Johnson
Calvin Johnson should see lots of opportunities against the Giants tonight.

So you went with the Buccaneers because Cam Newton was out huh? There was no way the Browns would stay within six of the Steelers right? I’m sure you had the Bears to cover over a pathetic Bills’ team too correct?

The nice thing about Monday night football is that it gives you a chance to re-coop some losses from Saturday and Sunday. This is opening week though and that means we get not one, but two Monday night games to consider. Let’s get to it!

NY Giants (+6) at Detroit (O/U 47) – The Giants went 5-0 in the preseason yet their offense struggled more than anyone else in the NFL. The Lions looked very good throughout the preseason but were victimized by that same old problem of stupid penalties. New York has a huge opportunity with both Dallas and Washington losing yesterday to get to the top of the NFC East with Philadelphia who won.

The Lions have a similar situation in front of them. The Bears and Packers both lost while Minnesota routed the Rams. Getting a head start on the NFC North is always a good way to begin things. The secret for Detroit is simple; Matthew Stafford needs to get the ball to Calvin Johnson and the defense needs to make plays and not shoot its’ self in the foot with penalties.

The Giants have to run the ball with Rashard Jennings in order to get Eli Manning an opportunity to use play-action. His receivers are limited so he needs to have time to spread the ball around. The New York defense will have to get pressure up the middle in order to disrupt Stafford.

Trends: Detroit is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games at home… The Giants are 4-8 ATS in their last 12 games on the road… The total has gone OVER in six of the Lions’ last nine games at Ford Field… The Giants are 9-3 straight up in their last 12 games against Detroit.

The Pick: Road teams have been spectacular this weekend which makes me think the Giants sneak away with a win but I’m not buying it. Take the them with the points but the Lions win and take the OVER as well.

Palmer
Carson Palmer leads Arizona into the final game of week one against San Diego.

San Diego (+3) at Arizona (O/U 47) – The Chargers finished 9-7 last year while the Cardinals went 10-6 yet it was San Diego that headed to the playoffs while the Cards were stuck at home because of their ridiculously tough decision. Arizona lost stud D-lineman Darnell Dockett to a season-ending injury in the preseason and need someone to step up in order to keep the defense near the top of the rankings.

My major question for the Chargers is how will Philip Rivers do without QB guru Ken Whisenhunt helping the offense? The first thing to do is get Ryan Mathews involved. He stayed fairly healthy in 2013 and needs to do the same this year. Rivers will focus on Keenan Allen and his other receivers while trying to avoid the very good Cardinals’ secondary.

Arizona is most likely without running back Andre Ellington who they have high hopes for this season. If he can’t go, former Steeler Jonathan Dwyer will get the call and he’s a nice fit for a game or two but not long-term. Obviously Carson Palmer needs to focus on Larry Fitzgerald and company in order to keep the Chargers’ D honest.

Trends: San Diego is 5-1 straight up in their last six games… Arizona is 5-1-1 ATS in their last seven games… The total has gone OVER in four of the Cards’ last six games at home… The total has gone UNDER in five of San Diego’s last six games on the road.

The Pick: I like the Cards to cover but I do like the UNDER in this one.

Arizona meets San Diego in Late Monday Night Matchup

Two of the teams who were most profitable down the stretch of last season clash meet on the late edition of Monday Night Football, when the Arizona Cardinals host the San Diego Chargers.

Arizona was 6-1 ATS to finish last season, while San Diego ended its season 5-1 ATS.

While San Diego’s offseason went smooth, Arizona lost three of its important defensive pieces due to suspension and injury.

The current line has Arizona favored by 3 points on Bovada and topbet. The point total on betonline and sportsbook.com is sitting on 46.

San Diego has covered the spread in each of their past four games on the road, while the UNDER is 9-4 for the past 13 games San Diego has played on grass.

Arizona was No. 1 versus the run last season, giving up only 84 yards per game. In points allowed, the Cardinals were No. 7 at 20.3.

However, Arizona lost Karlos Dansby a linebacker to free agency, Daryl Washington a linebacker to suspension and Darnell Dockett their defensive tackle to a torn ACL.

The trio combined for two touchdowns, six interceptions and 14 sacks. John Abraham a linebacker with 11.5 sacks last season reported to camp late after a DUI charge. At 36, he likely will not repeat his production from last season.

Arizona, especially Carson Palmer the quarterback, did not grasp fully the new offensive system under Bruce Arians the first year head coach last season.

However, when they finally did, the Cardinals averaged over 27 points per game during the past 8 games. Andre Ellington will be featured in the backfield this season, with John Brown a rookie speedster at wide out adding to the threats on offense.

For Monday’s game, the status of Ellington is questionable due to a foot problem. Reports have even suggested he could miss extended playing time, while others have not even ruled him out for the game.

San Diego will look to control the clock. They will look to Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown in the backfield and quarterback Philip Rivers dumping short passes.

Tyrann Mathieu who tore both his LCL and ACL last December for Arizona could play on Monday.

Mike McCoy the head coach for San Diego brought quarterback Rivers out of the dark following two subpar seasons.

Carson Palmer experienced the same thing with Bruce Arians last season and Palmer’s career was revitalized. With the two coaches and quarterbacks relationships so similar and the results being positive for both, the OVER looks good in this matchup.

Odds to Win the NFC West for 2014

Wilson
Wilson
Don't expect Russell Wilson to listen to the hype. I expect another focused year from him and the 'Hawks.

It’s our last stop in the NFC. Let’s head West and break down the toughest division in pro football.

Seattle +110 – The defending Super Bowl Champions look as good as any defending champ in recent years when it comes to their chances of repeating. Both the offense and defense are largely intact and the business-like approach seems to be there are well. My only question is how much does Marshawn Lynch have left? He declined a bit last year compared to the year before so that’s something to keep an eye on.

The last six weeks of the schedule feature five divisional games including two each against San Francisco and Arizona and one against the Rams. Toss in a trip to Philadelphia and that could be a very tough hurdle.

Season Projection: 13-3

Dorsey
Don't underestimate the loss of Glenn Dorsey to a season-ending injury for the Niners.

San Francisco +150 – A lot has been made through the first two preseason games about how poorly the 49ers have played as they are 0-2. In most cases I wouldn’t put much thought into it, but this team worries me and here’s why. They are aging rapidly on defense. They’ve lost defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey for the season and will be without Navarro Bowman to start the season. Do they have a viable replacement for Frank Gore should he go down and will guard Alex Boone ever sign?

The Niners’ schedule isn’t brutal but it has some potential road blocks right off the bat. They open at Dallas who will test their struggling secondary. They then have Chicago at home and also have trips to Arizona, St. Louis and Denver in the opening half of the season. Philly and Kansas City visit Levi’s Stadium in that stretch as well.

Season Projection: 10-6

Arizona +750 – The Cards were going to be my surprise pick in this division (and that wouldn’t have been much of a surprise based on their finish last year) but defensive tackle Darnell Dockett went down for the season this week and that’s a massive blow. He anchored the league’s number one defense against the run which is huge against division foes like the 49ers and Seahawks. Carson Palmer looks great so far this preseason and the running attack should be more balanced as well.

Despite going 10-6 in 2013, they get a third-place schedule which will help. The final seven games will decide their fate this season. They entertain Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle but must hit the road to Atlanta, Seattle, St. Louis and San Francisco. A good start to the season will benefit them in the long run.

Season Projection: 10-6

St. Louis +750 – Let’s get right to it; this team will ride or fall with quarterback Sam Bradford. The Rams flirted with taking a quarterback in the May draft but stuck by Bradford who has been hit with injuries and average play. The running of Zac Stacy and a defense that looks to be really good and aggressive will help.

If this team played in any other division I’d probably have no issue putting them in the playoffs. The reality is that they play in the NFC West and it’s going to be extremely difficult to reach the postseason. The Rams’ season may be defined by a stretch of five games from late October through November. They’ll play at Kansas City, at San Francisco and at Arizona while they host Denver and Seattle on the ends of that three-game road trip.

Season Projection: 8-8

Overall: Seattle will be tested but they’ll win the division. My one big concern in the 49ers. I can actually see them sliding down to third in 2014.

My Early Week NFL Picks Have Seen Some Movement

Arians and Palmer
Arians and Palmer
Can Bruce Arians and Carson Palmer lead the Cardinals past the Titans tomorrow?

Earlier this week I selected some key NFL games for your wagering consideration. Now, less than 24 hours before these games kick off, I’m checking to see what changed in terms of the line.

Arizona (Opened-3/Now -3) at TennesseeThis line hasn’t moved at all. The fact that Arizona has been poor on the road this year along with colder temps will make me stay with Tennessee in this one. The Cardinals travel to Nashville with an 8-5 record and hopes of still getting in the playoffs. As it looks right now, the Cards will need to win out and get some help too. They trail both San Francisco and Carolina by a game.

Arizona’s final two games are at Seattle and home with the Niners. Perhaps they can win two of their final three and have the Panthers lose twice. A tie would favor the Cardinals because they beat the Panthers in week four.

The Titans are relegated to the role of spoiler now after Indianapolis won the division on Sunday. Tennessee is still mathematically alive but the chances of getting the final wild-card spot in the AFC are slim and none.

I do not expect the Titans to roll over in this one and Arizona is just 2-4 on the road. Right now I like the Titans.

Philbin
Joe Philbin has kept the Dolphins inthe playoff race despite the off-field problems.
New England (Opened-3.5/Now -1.5) at MiamiThe line dropped by a full two points and the most likely reason is the injury report. Both teams are pretty healthy in terms of players on the roster. I liked the Fins getting the 3.5 but I’ll take the Pats now.
 
The Patriots once again return to life without Rob Gronkowski as the athletic tight end is now out for the season with serious injuries to his knee. Although the Pats have been able to go 5-1 without Gronk in the lineup, the numbers elsewhere are staggering.

Tom Brady’s rating drops significantly and the red zone scoring drops in a big way as well without number 87 on the field. Does this mean a return to the run or does Julian Edelman become a bigger target?

The Dolphins are coming off a huge win in Pittsburgh in cold and snowy conditions and against a team that needed to win too. My concern for them is Ryan Tannehill tends to throw a few bad balls each game and you can’t do that against the Pats.

Baltimore (Opened+5.5/Now +6) at DetroitThis is a bit of a teaser in my opinion. The books are trying to temp people into taking the Ravens who are burtal on the road. This is a Monday night game and Ford Field will be extremely hostile. I’m sticking with the Lions despite the tease.

The Ravens continued to hold on to the final wild-card spot by slipping past the Vikings on Sunday. The Lions saw their lead diminished in the NFC North with 4th quarter letdown and loss to the Eagles. Yes, I saw all of that snow.

This might be the biggest game of the week in terms of playoff implications because each team has so much at stake. Detroit gets a bit of a break with the Giants coming to Detroit and then they finish the season at Minnesota.

The Ravens host New England in a Sunday Night Game and then finish at Cincinnati. Thus the argument can be made this one is bigger for the Ravens.

The Lions are 4-2 at home while the Ravens are a miserable 1-5 away from Baltimore. That has to play into the hands of Detroit I would think.

Cincinnati (Opened-1.5/Now -3) at PittsburghExpect temps in the twenties and snow for this Sunday night game in Pittsburgh. The line has moved to -3 with the books again teasing those considering the Steelers. The Bengals offense has gained incredible balance and the secondary in Pittsburgh is struggling. I’m sticking with Cincinnati.

The Bengals come to Heinz Field on a three game win streak and the knowledge that they won late in the season on the same field to make the playoffs last year. The Steelers are still mathematically alive but they would need to win their final three and get a lot of help. Stranger things have happened but I wouldn’t count on it.

The Bengals are getting great play from Andy Dalton and his receivers while the defense appears to be overcoming the loss of Geno Atkins.

Seahawks Have Proven Track Record ATS

The Arizona Cardinals host the Seattle Seahawks on Thursday Night Football. Seattle has not covered in either of the past two weeks. That might not be huge news in the football betting world, but over the past two plus seasons, the Seahawks have done quite well covering.

Since the start of the 2011 season, including preseason, regular season and the playoffs, Seattle is 38-13-1 ATS, which is a 74% rate of ATS success. Therefore, when two straight weeks go by with the Seahawks not covering it is a big deal.

Nonetheless, that does not mean there are any real problems with the team, which is currently in first place in the NFC West at 5-1.

Over the short team, a loss against the spread or two is not going to change the minds of bettors about Seattle. As long as Seattle can continue to win outright, they will most likely be given status by odds makers as favorites.

For their game Thursday, the Seahawks are favored on books such as Bovada, sportsbook.com and topbet by 6.5 points.

At some books such as betonline, close to 80% of the handle for the spread were on Seattle and some books are even thinking the line will hop up to 7 points.

The total points figure at this time on Bovada is 40.5. Many of the parlays being played on this matchup have a side and the OVER.

On some books, Seattle opened on Sunday with a 4.5-point spread and that has been bet up to the current 6.5.

Seattle split their two meetings with Arizona last season. The Seahawks opened last season with a loss on the road in Arizona, but routed the Cardinals in Seattle 58-0 in the second game.

The rushing game is still the Seahawks strong point on offense, with Marshawn Lynch fourth in the league with 487 yards and five touchdowns. His brute force helps to wear down defenses.

Lynch is nursing a sore hip and did not practice Tuesday or Wednesday. However, the Seattle backups Christine Michael and Robert Turbin are very capable if called upon.

Seattle is 4-2 ATS in games against Arizona since Pete Carroll started as the head coach. Both of the losses ATS were also outright losses to the Cardinals.

Carson Palmer has thrown more than one interception for Arizona in four straight games. He cannot afford even one against the Seahawks.

Seattle owns the league’s best secondary with Richard Sherman at cornerback and Earl Thomas at free safety leading the way.

Pick: I like Seattle SU and Arizona ATS. The total will end OVER with a 24-21 Seattle victory.

Football Betting Action and Wild Card Baseball Prep

 

It’s Thursday night. What are you doing? Are you watching football? Are you prepping for the beginning of the MLB postseason tomorrow? Or are you twiddling your thumbs waiting for the NHL to pull its finger out?

Okay, nobody’s doing the latter. However, if you are missing out on some hockey action, head over to Bovada for some playful props. Ask yourself: will the Oilers go to Seattle? Is Pat LaFontaine crazy enough to buy the Islanders? And what’s the good of being favorites to win a league that probably won’t play (again) this year? The Penguins would love to know the answer to that last one.

Anyway, back to business.

Football’s back tonight with NFL and NCAA matchups. We’ll look at both below. Then, after yesterday’s stunning season finales, we’ll take a look at the Wild Card matchups on tap for Friday.

 

NFL: Arizona Cardinals @ St. Louis Rams

Thursday, 8:20 PM ET

Kevin Kolb and the Arizona Cardinals look to make it 5-0 on the season with a visit to the St. Louis Rams. The St. Louis Cardinals meanwhile are down in Atlanta for postseason play.

Preseason, this particular edition of Thursday Night Football looked dead in the water. An AFC West matchup not involving San Francisco? Why bother? Hands together then for Arizona (4-0) making this one a little more interesting.

The Cardinals, who were frankly underrated prior to this season, will look to nudge to 5-0 with a win over St. Louis (2-2). History suggests that’s exactly what will happen, with the Cards having taken the last eight road games in this fixture.

St. Louis – far from off to a bad start – could play spoilers, although oddsmakers think otherwise. Arizona opened as 2 ½-point favorites, a number that has fallen to 1 ½. Nearly 64 percent of bettors have followed suit. The over/under is 39 ½.

Take: ARIZONA — The birds will win another close one (three games this season have been decided by four or fewer) and enjoy being amongst the ‘elite’ for another week.

 

NCAAF: #13 USC @ Utah

Thursday, 9 PM ET

Remember when you wrote USC off? It was three weeks ago after that loss to Stanford. Well, #13 USC is looking to make another run at those polls and a National Championship.

After beating Cal two weeks ago, the Trojans (3-1, 1-1 Pac-12) have had an extra week to prepare for its first trip to Utah (2-2, 0-1 Pac-12) in 95 years.

If we learnt nothing more than Washington’s Thursday night win over Stanford last week, it’s always to expect the unexpected. Except in this game.

Take: USC — The Trojans will make short work of Utah and begin to ascend the ranks again, beating the 14 ½ spread in the process. Whether it’s too late for a National Championship remains to be seen.

Also playing: Arkansas State @ Florida International (7:30 ET) | East Carolina @ UCF (8 PM ET)

 

MLB Wild Card (NL): St. Louis Cardinals @ Atlanta Braves

Friday, 5 PM ET

Kris Medlen will go for the Atlanta Braves as they host St. Louis in the inaugural NL Wild Card playoff game.

Whilst you’ve got the football on, remember to start making your picks for the MLB postseason. Oddsmakers are still working on the ins and outs of odds as I write this, but expect the Yankees to enter as favorites. Of the nine other teams involved in the postseason, only Cincinnati has a winning record against the Bombers this season, although San Francisco and St. Louis have yet to face the 27-time world champions.

Before that though, Atlanta (94-68, 48-33 home) hosts the Cardinals (88-74, 38-43 road) at Turner Field on Saturday. This one looks like a cakewalk for the Braves, particularly when you factor in Atlanta’s 5-1 advantage over the Red Birds this season and St. Louis’ less than stellar road record.

But then again, upsets were made for games like this. Still, Atlanta is favorite with 80 percent of bettors taking that action.

Take: ATLANTA — Because the Braves simply don’t lose when Kris Medlen (10-1, 1.57 ERA) is on the mound.

 

MLB Wild Card (AL): Baltimore Orioles @ Texas Rangers

Friday, 8:30 PM ET

Over in the American League, Baltimore (93-69, 46-35 road) travels to Texas (93-69, 50-31 home) for the one-game Wild Card playoff.

The O’s perhaps would have preferred hosting this one – something Wednesday night’s loss to Tampa Bay made impossible – but in fairness the Maryland club hasn’t had the best of seasons against the Rangers. Texas is 5-2 against Baltimore, including a 2-1 record in Arlington.

But emotions could play a huge part in this one. How are the Rangers going to feel after allowing the AL west crown to slip away? How is the team – favorites to take the World Series just a week ago – going to cope with the knowledge that it’s do or die? Will Yu Darvish (16-9, 3.90 ERA) cope with the pressure? Who will pitch for the O’s?

There’s just about as many questions to answer here as there was going into the last day of the season. One thing we do know is that the New York Yankees lay in wait.

Take: EITHER — This one’s as good as flipping a coin. Yes, you can imagine all of Texas’ hard work unraveling and the Orioles continuing their surprising season, but you can also imagine Texas using this as motivation in the same way St. Louis did last year, leaving the Orioles to wonder ‘what if?’ until spring rolls around. Need a pick? Okay. Go with…Texas. Postseason experience pays off in the end.

The Refs Are Back But Don’t Expect the Drama To End

 

Please, a round of applause for the returning refs.

The proper officials got a very healthy ovation in Baltimore Thursday night as Week 4 in the NFL kicked off. Finally, the powers that be have seen fit to reach an agreement that means those refs and umps from Division III college ball no longer get to grace the sidelines. Coaches, players, analysts and fans alike sit jubilant in the knowledge that they’ll be no more debacles like Monday night in Seattle. Fingers crossed.

But just because the officials are back, you shouldn’t expect the drama to die down and order restored. The upset-friendly 2012 NFL season continues with everybody wondering who’s going to get knocked off next.

New England Patriots @ Buffalo Bills

With the proper referring crews back, here's hoping Bill Belichick plays nicely with others.

First up on our list of potential upsets is the Patriots’ visit to upstate New York.

New England (1-2, 1-1 road) lost a controversial one to Baltimore last Sunday night, with the winning Ravens field goal seemingly passing above the post. An enraged Patriots side – and in particular the ref-grabbing Bill Belichick – will be looking to break out of a two-game skid this week.

Buffalo (2-1, 1-0 home) on the other hand enters the game on the back of two wins. The Bills troubles of Week 1 are forgotten for the time being at least.

As you’d expect, the Patriots enter this one as favorites (-4½) but this game might not pan out how it’s supposed to. Remember, the Bills handed the Patriots their first loss last season, at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Patriots led that game 21-0 before losing by a field goal. Perhaps more notably was Tom Brady’s four interceptions. How often does that happen?

A repeat of last year would put a serious downer on an already down Pats side. Ultimately though, take New England to win this one on a dominant performance that beats the spread. Whilst their backs aren’t quite against the wall yet, this is a team with a message to send.

That being said, take the under on the 51 points being offered.

New Orleans Saints @ Green Bay Packers

Green Bay will use Monday's controversial loss as motivation, while the Saints look for win number one.

The Packers are seething. The controversial ‘call heard around the world’ that gave Seattle a last-second win has left a very bitter taste in the mouth. In a bid to move onwards, Green Bay (1-2, 1-1 home) hosts New Orleans (0-3, 0-1 road). Of course, the Saints are in quite the predicament themselves.

This contest at Lambeau Field is a tough one to predict. It has been for the past few years, with two of the league’s top quarterbacks colliding. This year is even tougher to pick a winner because of the circumstances surrounding the game.

It makes sense to take the Packers – who are eight point favorites – on the grounds that the team is pissed and looking to hurt somebody. But…

The Saints are already at that back-against-the-wall stage. Whilst an 0-3 start doesn’t eliminate New Orleans from contention, especially behind Drew Brees’ arm, losing four straight could break the backbone. That goes double when you consider the schedule the Saints face (San Diego, Tampa Bay, Denver, Philadelphia, and Atlanta make up the next five alone).

So we’re left with two teams that really want to win and probably both need to win.

The Saints haven’t lost by more than a touchdown this season – they may be 0-3 but it’s a close 0-3, if there is such a thing – so take them to beat the spread. Also go over on the 53½ over/under. Why wouldn’t this one be a shootout? So who wins outright? Go with the Packers. Just.

Elsewhere in the League

Week 4 features what should be considered a very strong card of bouts. There’s plenty of intriguing matchups, and you wouldn’t bet against a host of teams finishing the week 2-2, returning to the bizarre scenario we had after Week 2 when 20 teams had even records. Quickly, here are some of the games to keep an eye on.

Take the Giants (2-1, 1-0 road) to defeat Philadelphia (2-1, 1-0 home) in a narrow upset. Philadelphia has had some real skin-of-the-teeth moments. The Giants will be looking to step up.

Take San Francisco (2-1, 1-1 road) to beat the Jets (2-1, 1-0 home) at MetLife, making amends for last week’s loss to Minnesota while casting a few more Rockefeller-sized doubts over the Jets. The Niners’ should beat the spread (-3) also.

Take Arizona (3-0, 2-0 home) to advance to 4-0 after a win over Miami (1-2, 0-1 road). The Cards were grossly underrated ahead of the season and Miami is still struggling behind Ryan Tannehill.

Washington (1-2, 1-1 road) could upset Tampa Bay (1-2, 1-0 home) so that’s definitely worth a look.

And believe it or not, Cincinnati (2-1, 1-1 road) needs to be on upset watch as they visit Jacksonville (1-2, 0-1 home). The Bengals have yet to stop the run this season while Maurice Jones-Drew chalked up 177 yards alone against the Colts last week. Actually, Jacksonville is really worth the bet this week.

Elsewhere, expect Atlanta, Houston, Seattle and Denver to avoid upsets. Detroit could be on thin ice against Minnesota while San Diego and Kansas City will play a typically tight AFC West game.

 

Week 4 Schedule

Thursday: Baltimore 23-16 Cleveland

Sunday: (1 PM ET) Carolina @ Atlanta | New England @ Buffalo | Minnesota @ Detroit | San Diego @ Kansas City | Seattle @ St. Louis | San Francisco @ NY Jets | Tennessee @ Houston; (4:05 PM ET) Cincinnati @ Jacksonville | Miami @ Arizona | Oakland @ Denver; (4:25 PM ET) New Orleans @ Green Bay | Washington @ Tampa Bay; (8:20 PM ET) NY Giants @ Philadelphia

Monday: (8:30 PM ET) Chicago @ Dallas