Sunday Bullets On a Variety of Topics

Gronkowski
Gronkowski
Rob Gronkowski's big day helped the Pats rally to beat the Ravens.

Once again my ADD has set in and I can’t focus on just one or two or even three specific items for the blog this Sunday morning so once again I firing some bullets your way in an effort to cover numerous thoughts in my mind.

-Tom Brady and the Patriots were staring yet another loss at home in the playoffs to the Baltimore Ravens. Down 14-0 and then 28-14, the Patriots rallied and finally took their first and only lead of the game with five minutes to go to win 35-31. Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco who had been so unflappable in the playoffs threw two crucial interceptions to allow the Pats’ comeback.  New England will play the winner of today’s game between Indianapolis and Denver in the AFC Championship game next Sunday.

-Is it just me or are more NBA stars missing games at a higher rate than ever before? We know how the San Antonio Spurs operate and who can argue? Resting their aging stars has paid dividends but now we see even more teams doing the same thing. While LeBron James is on his two-week rest due to his knee and back, there are rumors that he was convinced to take the time off to rest period. Maybe it’s just me but I don’t remember so many stars missing so many games in the 1980s’.

Wilson
Rusell Wilson accounted for three TDs as the Seahawks beat the Panthers.

-In Seattle, the Seahawks relied on three Carolina turnovers and a couple of big plays en route to a 31-17 win. While I thought Seattle would cover, I didn’t expect to the Panthers out-gain the Seahawks and hold the ball considerably longer. Regardless, the Seahawks are into the NFC Title Game and will await either the Dallas Cowboys or Green Bay Packers next week.

-Ravens’ Coach John Harbaugh was steamed after the game because of a formation the Patriots used three times. In it, the Pats only had four offensive linemen and six eligible receivers. One of those players reported as “ineligible” and was not involved in the play other than to block. Harbaugh claims this is illegal and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for running onto the field to argue it. He claimed his players didn’t have time to determine who was eligible and who wasn’t. I’ll be checking the rule book today.

-The Major League Baseball hot stove was burning hot this fall but has since cooled dramatically. Oddly enough the most sought-after free agent is still unsigned. Right-hander Max Scherzer is still a man without a team. It was thought he would never be able to return to Detroit simply because the money he wanted would be too much. Maybe not… The latest rumors I’m hearing are that Scherzer has narrowed his choices between the Tigers and his hometown St. Louis Cardinals. Stay tuned.

-The NFL Regular Season officially ended December 28th but a few players have wasted little time in getting in trouble with the law. Saints’ LB Junior Galette was arrested for domestic violence while Vikings’ DB Jabari Price was arrested for a DWI. Then yesterday, the Jets’ Chris Johnson was arrested for having a registered firearm out in the open when he was stopped for a traffic violation. There will sadly be more of these as the offseason comes.

-There has been substantial talk this season about John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats going unbeaten for the entire 2014-2015 season but in the last week the Wildcats are finding out just how tough it will be. Yesterday they defeated Texas A&M in two overtimes while earlier in the week they survived Ole Miss winning by three points. Calipari says his team isn’t very good right now and perhaps he’s right.

 

 

Saturday’s NFL Divisional Round Games for Your Betting Pleasure

Brady
Brady
Tom Brady has seen his Super Bowl chances crash before because of the Ravens.

Both of Saturday’s National Football League Divisional Playoff games have stayed pretty stagnant in terms of their lines and I don’t think you’ll see too much in the way of changes. The only exception might be the night time tilt where the Carolina Panthers will be without a key defensive player.

Baltimore (+7) at New England (O/U 48) – Tom Brady has lost just three times at home in the NFL Playoffs but two of those losses were to the Baltimore Ravens who come to town yet again. The Patriots are typically very good coming off of a well-deserved bye, but questions will certainly arise about whether they are all in sync with the time off.

The Ravens come to Gillette Stadium with nothing to hide. They know they have a pedestrian secondary and will rely heavily on the pass rush to slow down the Patriots. Offensively Joe Flacco will need to be his unflappable-self in order for the Ravens to win and advance. Ultimately however, the Patriots’ offensive line will do a better job than did Pittsburgh’s and Tom Brady will expose that secondary.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in six of Baltimore’s last eight games on the road in New England… The Patriots are 16-1 straight up in their last 17 games at home… The Ravens are 3-4-1 against the spread in their last eight games on the road in New England… The Pats are 2-3-1 ATS in their last six home games against the Ravens.

The Pick: There is no reason this game shouldn’t be another close one. It’s just what these two teams have done in the playoffs and I don’t see this being any different. I like New England to cover but it’s going to be with a late score and take the OVER.

Lynch
With Star Lotulelei out, will Marshawn Lynch have an easier time running?

Carolina (+11) at Seattle (O/U 40) – This is more than likely going to be the least interesting game of the weekend yet somehow it has garnered the Saturday night primetime spot. That probably isn’t fair because if the Carolina defense can limit the Seahawks’ offense then there’s a chance this could be a close game.

My gut tells me otherwise though. Cam Newton is less than 100% and running back Jonathan Stewart can only do so much. I have to believe the Seahawks will be primed for this game as a return to the playoffs has been their top goal since day one.

As I mentioned in the opening, the Panthers will head to Seattle bigger underdogs then they had planned as stud defensive tackle Star Lotulelei is out with a broken foot. The Carolina defense was already facing an uphill challenge in stopping the running of Marshawn Lynch and QB Russell Wilson. Whether or not Lotulelei’s absence will force the line to move I can’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it bump another point.

Trends: The total has gone OVER in six of Carolina’s last seven road games… Seattle is 6-1 straight up in their last seven game at home… The Panthers are 2-4-1 straight up in their last seven games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in nine of the Seahawks’ last 13 games at home.

The Pick: While anything is possible the playoffs, I just don’t see the Panthers hanging around with the defending champs. Take Seattle to over and the UNDER.

 

NFC Divisional Playoff Underdogs Face Tough Challenges

NFL teams that are compromised offensively have to be play outstanding in other areas in order to cover a January point spread. That was obvious in the wildcard round last weekend.

Arizona suffered numerous injuries to its quarterbacks and running back, which limited overall offensive output. While fearless and talented, the Arizona defense could not hold their own against Carolina.

When the Cardinals special teams finally gave out, the game was over and a 27-16 loss ended their season.

The Bengals similarly needed great play from the defense against Indianapolis. That did not happen and the Bengals lost 26-10.

Teams such as Cincinnati and Arizona do win games and cover numbers, but the wins come tougher when the competition is stronger, such as during the postseason.

This weekend’s NFC divisional playoffs will have a game where both teams are known for their strong defense and one game where both are known for high-powered offenses.

The Carolina Panthers who are 8-8-1 SU and 9-8 ATS visit the Seattle Seahawks who are 12-4 SU and 10-6 ATS.

The current line at Bovada and topbet has Seattle favored at home by 11 points with the point total on just 40.

Carolina’s field position is critical if the Panthers have any hope of winning. With the Seattle defense playing so well, the offense for Carolina will likely have three and out multiple times. The Panthers likely will also struggle finding wide receivers outside and the ground game will be tested.

Greg Olsen the Panthers tight end could become quarterback Cam Newton’s favorite target in the game.

For Carolina to have any upset chance, its defense must dominant. The Panthers defense must stop Seattle from sustained drives.

The Dallas Cowboys 13-4 SU and 10-7 ATS travel to face the Green Bay Packers 12-4 and 9-6 ATS. According to betonline and sportsbook.com, Green Bay is favored by 6.5 points with the point total on 53.

As the underdog, the Dallas Cowboys will need to rush the passer well up the middle. Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay star quarterback has had two weeks to heal his calf injury. However, he will not be the same and will have limited mobility, especially with frigid temperatures expected on Sunday.

Dallas sacked Matthew Safford last week three times in their win over Detroit. They cannot give Rodgers time to look over the field.

Rodgers has such a quick release and strong arm that he often times does not need to set his feet to produce an accurate on-time dart down the field, but he does require space.

If Dallas cannot pressure Rodgers and take away the space he needs, Green Bay will score often, turning the Dallas offense into a pass-first one, which is not their optimal style.

Dallas is 0-6 on the road in the postseason since 1994. Overall, the Cowboys are 4-11 SU and 5-10 ATS in road games in the playoffs since 1978.

An Early Look at the NFL Divisional Playoff Lines and Latest Super Bowl Odds

Suggs
Suggs
If Suggs has the same impact in New England that he had in Pittsburgh then another Ravens' win is possible.

Things are liable to change slightly as injury reports come out later this week, but right now I’m focusing on the lines for the Divisional Playoffs as they stand today. Below, you’ll find the latest Super Bowl odds as well.

Baltimore (+7) at New England – Tom Brady has lost just three times at home in the NFL Playoffs but two of those losses were to the Baltimore Ravens who come to town yet again. The Patriots are typically very good coming off of a well-deserved bye, but questions will certainly arise about whether they are all in sync with the time off.

The Ravens come to Gillette Stadium with nothing to hide. They know they have a pedestrian secondary and will rely heavily on the pass rush to slow down the Patriots. Offensively Joe Flacco will need to be his unflappable-self in order for the Ravens to win and advance. Ultimately however, the Patriots’ offensive line will do a better job than did Pittsburgh’s and Tom Brady will expose that secondary. I like the Pats to cover as of right now.

Newton
Cam Newton will need a Superman-type performance if his Panthers are to pull the upset in Seattle.

Carolina (+11) at Seattle – This is more than likely going to be the least interesting game of the weekend yet somehow it has garnered the Saturday night primetime spot. That probably isn’t fair because if the Carolina defense can limit the Seahawks’ offense then there’s a chance this could be a close game.

My gut tells me otherwise though. Cam Newton is less than 100% and running back Jonathan Stewart can only do so much. I have to believe the Seahawks will be primed for this game as a return to the playoffs has been their top goal since day one. Right now, I like Seattle to cover.

Dallas (+6) at Green Bay – If the forecast holds, it’s going to be extremely chilly in Green Bay and that will favor the hometown Packers unless the Cowboys resist the temptation to throw it too much and stick the ground game. DeMarco Murray can in fact lead the Cowboys to victory if that offensive line gets rolling.

The Packers will hope that Aaron Rodgers’ bad calf has had enough time to heal. Either way, I expect them to stay as balanced as they can be behind Eddie Lacy. of all the games this weekend I think turnovers will dictate more about the outcome than the others.

I like Dallas getting the points but Green Bay wins a tight one.

Indianapolis (+7) at Denver – Don’t be a bit surprised if the Colts come into Denver and pull off the upset. Yes the running game is pathetic and the defense is susceptible to getting beat either on the ground or through the air but if any game has the feel of an upset it’s this one. The Broncos have relied heavily on C.J Anderson in the second half of the season and I’m guessing the Colts will look to take him away first.

That will more than likely give us a passing duel between Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. While I believe Luck will turn the ball over once or twice, I’m also not convinced that Manning isn’t 100% especially with regards to his arm strength. If you’re looking for a game to go with the underdog then I love the Colts in this one.

Latest Super Bowl Odds

Seattle 2/1

New England 10/3

Green Bay 11/2

Denver 6/1

Dallas 7/1

Indianapolis 16/1

Baltimore 18/1

Carolina 28/1

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.

Your Latest Super Bowl Odds as We Head Into the Playoffs

Lynch
Lynch
Marshawn Lynch is the key to a Seattle Super Bowl repeat.

The National Football League Playoffs begin on Saturday and before we dive too far into those games let’s take a look at the latest Super Bowl odds for the 12 teams still standing. I’ll give “why they can win it” and I’ll give you “why they can’t.”

Seattle Seahawks 12/5 – Top-seed and first-round bye

Why they win it? Defense and Marshawn Lynch

Why they don’t? The officials. If they call it tight in the secondary, a close game could easily be turned.

New England Patriots 3/1 – Top-seed and first-round bye.

Why they win it? The defense forces many turnovers and Tom Brady is Tom Brady.

Why they don’t? Brady has had less than stellar playoff performances in recent years. If he falters and the defense can’t create turnovers then forget it.

Green Bay Packers 6/1 – Two-seed and a first-round bye.

Why they win it? Offensive balance and consistent pressure from the defense.

Why they don’t? Aaron Rodgers’ calf injury persists and the defense becomes susceptible to the run.

Denver Broncos 13/2 – Two-seed and a first-round bye.

Why they win it? The continued balance with C.J. Anderson running the ball keeps on rolling and the defense makes teams one-dimensional.

Why they don’t? The playoff demons of Peyton Manning rear their ugly heads and that’s a real possibility as he is under .500 in the playoffs.

Romo
Can Tony Romo finally get over his late-season hiccups?

Dallas Cowboys 15/2 – Sunday vs. Detroit.

Why they win it? Tony Romo is turnover-free and the defense plays well and creates turnovers.

Why they don’t? Romo becomes “late season Romo” and the defense struggles to stop the run.

Pittsburgh Steelers 14/1 – Saturday vs Baltimore.

Why they win it? The defense continues to gel while Ben Roethlisberger has an epic playoff run.

Why they don’t? The Le’Veon Bell injury. This offense will not be the same without him.

Indianapolis Colts 28/1 – Sunday vs. Cincinnati

Why they win it? The running game suddenly emerges and the defense finds consistency.

Why they don’t? Andrew Luck is asked to carry them. He can for stretches but not to a Super Bowl title. He is too prone for turnovers throwing it that much.

Carolina Panthers 33/1 – Sarturday vs. Arizona

Why they win it? They ride Jonathan Stewart and a defense that keeps coming together.

Why they don’t? The defense cracks and Cam Newton tries to do too much.

Baltimore Ravens 40/1 – Saturday at Pittsburgh. Ravens +3.5

Why they win it? Joe Flacco snaps out of his funk and the defense creates numerous turnovers.

Why they don’t? Justin Forsett is limited, Flacco keeps struggling and the defense can’t make stops.

Cincinnati Bengals 40/1 – Sunday at Indianapolis. Bengals +4

Why they win it? Andy Dalton gets over the hump and Jeremy Hill becomes a major factor.

Why they don’t? The defense can’t get pressure and Dalton turns it over as he has all season.

Detroit Lions 40/1 – Sunday at Dallas. Lions +7.5

Why they win it? Matthew Stafford gets hot and the defense limits opposing offenses to field goals.

Why they don’t? The suspension of Suh dooms them in the first round along with continued poor play from Stafford.

Arizona Cardinals 66/1 – Saturday at Carolina. Cards +6

Why they win it? The defense becomes an impenetrable wall and the QB play is flawless.

Why they can’t? Quarterback issues plain and simple.

 

Playoffs are Set; Questions are Many in the National Football League

Jets
Jets
Jets' Owner Woody Johnson (center) has parted ways with his General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan.

The National Football League is now into its’ second season and there is no shortage of great story-lines so let’s get to it.

Ryan/Idzik Out

Earlier this morning the inevitable came down from New York Jets’ Owner Woody Johnson. Both General Manager John Idzik and Head Coach Rex Ryan have been fired and now the Jets will have to bring in a whole new regime there.

Whoever comes in will have a quality front-seven to work with but a whole bunch of questions on offense especially on offense. I have to believe you’ll see the Jets look for an offensive-minded guy but there’s no guarantee especially when you’re talking about the Jets.

AFC Playoff Breakdown

The New England Patriots and Denver Broncos are your top seeds and have next week off. The Pats will play the lowest remaining seed from Wild-Card Weekend while the Broncos will host the higher one.

Bell
The Steelers' playoff success will hinge on the health of Le'Veon Bell.

Rematches are the name of the game on Saturday and Sunday in the AFC. In primetime, the AFC North Champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host Baltimore. This will be the rubber match as the teams split earlier this season with both winning at home. The Steelers are currently listed as 3.5 point favorites.

The Sunday afternoon game features a rematch from earlier this season as the Indianapolis Colts host the Cincinnati Bengals. In week seven, the Bengals traveled to Indy and were crushed 27-0 in a game where their offense mustered just eight first downs.

The Colts are struggling though as the playoffs arrive. The running game is nearly non-existent and they have banged up receivers. For the Bengals, it always comes back to Andy Dalton who will make his fourth start in the playoffs and is still looking for his first win. The Colts have opened as six-point favorites.

NFC Playoff Breakdown

The defending champion Seahawks are your top seed in the NFC while the Green Bay Packers are the two-seed.

The first NFC game on Wild-Card Weekend will be Arizona traveling to Carolina. The Panthers blew out the Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South yesterday and despite having a losing record, Carolina will not be an easy out. The defense is playing better and the running game is thriving behind Jonathan Stewart.

Obviously the issue for Arizona is the QB position. Drew Stanton is expected back from his sprained knee but will he be able to generate enough offense? This was the same place Arizona started their Super Bowl run in 2009. The Cards are a 4.5 point underdog.

The final game of the opening weekend features the Detroit Lions playing at the Dallas Cowboys. An interesting point here is that the Cowboys were unbeaten on the road this season. That means they went 4-4 at home in ATT Stadium.

The Lions come in with a struggling offense and a defense that is licking its’ wounds after Aaron Rodgers beat them on basically one leg. If Matthew Stafford can’t get himself right then this will be yet another one and done for the Lions in the postseason. Detroit is opening as a seven-point underdog.

What to Expect in the Playoffs

I don’t believe Seattle and New England are 100% infallible but they are clearly the favorites. Going in to either team’s stadium will not be easy but neither team was unbeaten at home.

If you’re looking for teams to cause trouble then go with the Panthers in the NFC and the Steelers in the AFC. The only issue with Pittsburgh is Le’Veon Bell who hyper-extended his knee and is uncertain for Saturday.

I think this is a season where chalk holds. Dallas at Seattle in the NFC title game and Denver and New England in the AFC Championship.

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.

Intriguing NFL Storylines for the Final Week of the Season

Harbaugh
Harbaugh
By all accounts, Jim Harbaugh is coaching his last game in San Francisco tomorrow.

The 2014 National Football League Season comes to an end this weekend and while you can find all the playoff scenarios at nfl.com, I’m looking at those but also a lot more. Let’s get rolling.

Monday is of course now known as “black Monday” because this is typically the day that NFL coaches who are on the hot seat are in fact fired. My expectation is that you’ll see several coaches packing up their offices.

If I’m a betting man, I have to believe Rex Ryan is finally out in New York although there are arguments to be made that General Manager John Idzik is a bigger problem. I also believe Tony Sparano will be removed as the Raiders’ interim tagged coach and will be looking for new employment. I his case, it’s hard to to avoid the decent success his team has had but I believe the Raiders will look elsewhere.

Also on the chopping block will be Mike Smith in Atlanta if the Falcons lose tomorrow. Even if they advance to the playoffs I expect him to be gone unless they make a miraculous run to the Super Bowl.

The biggest name will of course be Jim Harbaugh. Michigan officials were reportedly already in San Francisco yesterday and will be at Harbaugh’s door as soon as the official word comes down that he is fired. Reports are that that will come very soon after the Niners’ final game. My feeling is that the 49ers are making a mistake. Harbaugh has been hugely successful and rescued this franchise from mediocrity. If anyone should go it’s the GM Trent Baalke but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

Other potential unemployed coaches: Tom Coughlin, Marc Trestman, Jeff Fisher, Doug Marrone

Green
A.J. Green went for over 200 yards last time the Bengals faced the Steelers. Can he do it again?

Three Division Champs to Be Crowned Sunday

In the AFC, Pittsburgh hosts Cincinnati at Heinz Field on Sunday night in the final game of the regular season. The winner gets the AFC North title and a home playoff game next week while the loser hits the road to open the postseason.

In their first meeting three weeks ago, the Steelers scored 25 points in the fourth quarter to win 42-21. I expect a much closer game this time around but you have to like the Steelers and Ben Roethlisberger who plays well at home especially late in the season.

In Green Bay, a similar situation exists. The Packers host the Lions and the winner earns the NFC North title and possibly a top seed in the NFC while the loser becomes the fifth or sixth seed and starts the playoffs on the road. While the chances exist for Detroit to to be anywhere from a one-seed to a six-seed, they have to get past the Packers in Green Bay.

The last time the Lions won at Lambeau Field was 22 years ago when Rodney Peete was the quarterback and Barry Sanders was the running back. Matthew Stafford has to play better for the Lions to have a chance Sunday.

Last but not least is the showdown in Atlanta where it’s all or nothing for the Falcons and Panthers. A win gets either into the playoffs while the loser goes home and possibly looks for a new coach. The winner of the NFC South will also become the second team since the 1970 merger to win a division with a record under .500 and will create more discussion about re-seeding for the playoffs.

In all likelihood, the Falcons or Panthers will host a team with at least three or four more wins then they have and that doesn’t sit well with many. Take the Falcons with the home-field advantage tomorrow.

 

Saints, Panthers in a Key NFC South Showdown While the Seminoles Visit Louisville in College Football

Newton
Newton
Cam Newton needs to engineer some points if the Panthers are going to beat the Saints tonight.

Thursday night brings two very big games to us with one fro the National Football League and one from College Football. Even though both teams are under .500, tonight’s game between New Orleans and Carolina is for the lead in the NFC South.

Meanwhile, the defending national champion Florida State Seminoles invade Papa John’s Stadium to play ACC newcomer Louisville. If anyone is expecting the ‘Noles to walk out with an easy win then they need to remember the Cardinals are not exactly new to the big game scene.

New Orleans (-3) at Carolina (O/U 48.5) – I take no pride in saying the NFC South is the worst, or at least the most disappointing, division in professional football. At 3-4-1, the Panthers currently lead while the under-achieving Saints are 3-4. New Orleans appears to have gotten back on track now with a big win over Green Bay but that was in the Superdome where the Saints always play well.

This game is on the road though and if the Panthers’ defense plays as well as they did against Seattle then they’ll have a fighting chance. The problem is the inconsistency on offense. New Orleans is going to score at some point but the Panthers must score some points of their own and not put all the pressure on their defense to keep in the game.

Look for Carolina to try and establish the running game early to give Cam Newton more time to find his receivers. Saints’ defensive coordinator Rob Ryan will of course be bringing the heat so the Panthers’ offensive line has to be up to the task.

Trends: New Orleans is 3-9 against the spread in their last 12 games against Carolina… The Panthers are 4-2 straight up in their last six games at home against the Saints… The total has gone UNDER in nine of New Orleans’ last 11 games on the road against Carolina… The total has gone UNDER in 10 of the Panthers’ last 14 games at home.

Key Injuries: NO – Jimmy Graham Shoulder QUEST, CAR – DeAngelo Williams Ankle QUEST

The Pick: As bad as the Saints have been defensively, I think they are starting to put some things together. Take them to cover and the UNDER.

College Football

Fisher
I think Jimbo Fisher and his Seminoles are in for a battle tonight.

Florida State (-3.5) at Louisville (O/U 50.5) – When I initially started writing this piece, the ‘Noles were favored by as many as seven points. I’m not sure what is causing the rapid drop other than the issues with running back Karlos Williams but I’m not sure even that has the power to move the line like this.

Either way, I expect FSU to struggle with the Cards. Louisville is no stranger to big games and Bobby Petrino isn’t either. The Cards most recent of their two losses was 23-17 at Clemson. The Seminoles needed overtime at home to defeat Clemson by the same exact score albeit was without Jameis Winston.

Cards’ QB Will Gardner has a completion percentage under 55% but has thrown for 11 touchdowns versus just two interceptions. If takes care of the ball Louisville will be right there in the end.

Trends: The Seminoles are 1-7 against the spread in their last eight games… The Cardinals are unbeaten in their last five games at home… The total has gone OVER in seven of FSU’s last eight games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in five of Louisville’s last seven games at home.

Key Injuries: FSU C Austin Barron, Out-Arm

The Pick: I suspect the Seminoles will have some “Notre Dame hangover” but I think they score late to cover. Take the UNDER as well.