Final Two Games of Wild-Card Weekend on Tap

Dalton
Dalton
All eyes will be on Andy Dalton today as he looks for his first playoff win.

The opening games of the National Football League’s Wild-Card Weekend left us wanting more as both games were lacking in my opinion of big plays and “down-to-the-wire” drama. The Carolina Panthers held the Arizona Cardinals to less than 100 yards of total offense in their win in the NFC while the Baltimore Ravens went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Steelers.

The Panthers will find out their destination today while the Ravens will head to New England where they’ve had some good playoff success. On to my thoughts for today’s action.

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.

Let’s face it; all eyes will be on Andy Dalton who is 0-3 in the playoffs. He hasn’t played well in any of the three previous postseason games. The good news? He plays much better during day games than he does night games.

Key Injuries: CIN WR A.J. Green OUT/Concussion, TE Jermaine Gresham QUEST/Knee… IND G Hugh Thornton OUT/Shoulder

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.

Stafford
Matthew Stafford has to shake off an average regular season and play well today in Big D.

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. The only way it doesn’t is if the Lions’ top-ranked rushing defense can force Romo to be the only source of offense.

Matthew Stafford needs a signature win and his play this season doesn’t make me think this is the week but the talent is there. He must avoid the bone-headed plays that seem to haunt him. If he can, a close game may be in store today.

Key Injuries: DET G Larry Warford OUT/Knee, DT Nick Fairley DOUBT/Knee…DAL T Doug Free DOUBT/Knee, G Zack Martin PROB/Ankle

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.

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.

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.

 

Your NFL Lines for the Upcoming Weekend

Johnson
Johnson
Calvin Johnson will need some big plays if the Lions are to end their streak of losses in Green Bay.

I’ll spend less time on the non-playoff games for obvious reasons.

Detroit (+7.5) at Green Bay (O/U 48) – This one is simple; the winner gets the division and a first-round bye at worst. The loser will end up as the fifth or sixth seed and will head out on the road. The suspension of Lions’ center Dominic Raiola will be a huge story in this game. I think the Lions’ defense will keep this close but the Packers pull away and win. Take GB to cover.

Jacksonville (+10) at Houston (O/U 40) – Another audition for Case Keenum and a final shot to see J.J. Watt in 2014. The Texans cover.

Cincinnati (+3.5) at Pittsburgh (O/U 48) – The winner wins the AFC North and at best gets a three-seed which means they’ll open the playoffs at home but won’t have a bye week. The Steelers blitzed the Bengals with a 25-point fourth quarter four weeks ago but I see this one much closer with so much on the line. Take the Steelers to cover with a late score.

Indianapolis (-7) at Tennessee (O/U 46.5) – The Colts need to right their ship because they aren’t playing well with the playoffs approaching. They need a Cincinnati win over the Steelers coupled with a win of their own in order to grab the three seed. Look for Andrew Luck to get things going early before taking a seat in the second half. I like the Titans here because the Colts will empty the bench in the second half.

Cleveland (+9) at Baltimore (O/U 41.5) – Do we have any idea who is playing quarterback for Cleveland? No Manziel and no Hoyer means rookie Connor Shaw gets the start. The Ravens still have an outside shot at the playoffs but they need lots of help. My gut feeling here is that Joe Flacco bounces back from a horrible game and plays well. Take the Ravens to cover.

Buffalo (+5) at New England (O/U 44) – By virtue of Denver’s loss Monday night, New England has home-field advantage throughout the AFC Playoffs. That means Bill Belichick will get his starters out quickly after a couple of series. Take the Bills who have slim playoff hopes as well.

NY Jets (+6) at Miami (O/U 42) – Dolphins’ owner Stephen Ross says Joe Philbin will return. Let’s see how his team plays knowing that. Take the Jets.

Smith
A loss pretty much ends the tenure of Mike Smith in Atlanta. Of course a win might not help him much either.

Carolina (+4) at Atlanta (O/U 48) – The battle for the NFC South will boil down to a simple question; whose defense can make the most stops? We know Atlanta can score and we know the Panthers play good defense but what about the other scenario? The Falcons defense is really bad but I have a feeling based on the last few weeks that they make enough plays. Take the Falcons to cover.

Chicago (+6.5) at Minnesota (O/U 44) – Gimme the Vikings to cover.

San Diego (+3) at Kansas City (O/U 42) – Both teams have playoff hopes especially the Bolts who just need to win. A loss brings KC and Houston into play. Can the Chiefs generate enough offense and can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Take the Chargers and the points.

Philadelphia (+3) at NY Giants (O/U 52) – I predict lots of scoring. Giants to cover.

Dallas (-6) at Washington (O/U 49) – The Redskins will not roll over in this game especially after a nice win last week over Philly. The Cowboys can clinch home-field throughout the playoffs with a win so I believe it will be all hands on deck. They’ll ride the offense to a big win. Take Dallas to cover.

New Orleans (-4) at Tampa Bay (O/U 47) – Saints to cover.

St. Louis (+13) at Seattle (O/U 41) – The Seahawks look to wrap up at the very least a first round bye with a win. Should Dallas stumble then they get home-field advantage. I think the Rams will fight valiantly but I like the hawks to cover.

Arizona (+6) at San Francisco (O/U 37) – All signs point to this being the final game for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco. The Cardinals are hoping for losses by Dallas and Seattle but I don’t think it will matter with their current quarterback situation. Take the Cards getting the points in this one.

Oakland (+14) at Denver (O/U 48) – I’ll be surprised if Peyton Manning doesn’t sit a bit here as poor as he’s looked recently. I like the Raiders getting the points.

 

Broncos, Bengals Hook Up With a Lot to Play For Tonight

Dalton
Dalton
Andy Dalton must play well in order for the Bengals to beat the Broncos tonight.

Playoff implications abound as the Broncos head into Cincinnati for a Monday night battle.

Denver (-4) at Cincinnati (O/U 48) – Here’s where these two teams sit heading into tonight’s game in Cincinnati: The Denver Broncos are 11-3 and have won the AFC West. They trail the New England Patriots who are 12-3 in the race for the top seed in the AFC. The Pats own the tie-breaker with Denver because of their win over the Broncos earlier this season. They can clinch at worst the two-seed with a win or tie this evening.

For the Bengals, they are 9-4-1 and can get a playoff berth with a victory tonight or a tie. Regardless of what happens though this evening, next Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh will determine the champion of the AFC North. At this time that can mean two things; either a home game or a wild-card game on the road.

Fox
John Fox has been relying heavily on running back C.J. Anderson to power the Broncos rushing attack.

Both teams come in tonight with pretty good offenses. Denver ranks fifth overall and Cincinnati ranks 14th. The difference between the two units however is consistency. The Broncos have found a running game behind C.J. Anderson and that has taken some of the pressure off of Peyton Manning to do every, single thing for the team.

The Bengals’ offense has seen some success with both the running and passing game but the consistency has been lacking. One week they are a house of fire and the next they can’t seem to find their way to the line of scrimmage. It goes without saying that they’ll need to bring their ‘A’ game against the Broncos.

Defensively, the Broncos are among the best in the NFL and have sacked opposing quarterbacks 38 times so far in 2014. They are actually better against the run though limiting teams to just 3.4 yards per rush.

The Bengals have struggled to find consistency on defense just like they have on offense and now they are without tacking machine Vontaze Burfict for the season. The major problem for Cincy has been the lack of pass rush. They have just 18 sacks on the season which ranks them second to last behind Atlanta.

To be utterly honest here, Andy Dalton needs to play well. This offense cannot function at a high level unless he takes care of the ball and can distribute it to his playmakers. Most notably among those of course is A.J. Green who will need to be a part of Dalton’s “good game.”

Key injuries: DEN LB Brandon Marshall OUT/Foot, CIN TE Jermaine Gresham PROB/Toe

Trends: Denver is 5-2 straight up in their last seven games on the road at Cincinnati… The Bengals are 12-4-1 against the spread in their last 17 games at home… The total has gone UNDER in six of the Broncos last nine games when they play the Bengals… The total has gone OVER in four of the Bengals’ last five games at home.

The Pick: The last time the Bengals were at home they were blitzed by the Steelers 41-21 but have since gone on the road to gain two wins. Denver has won four in a row despite very “normal” stats by Manning. I think they ride Manning a bit more tonight as Cincy loads up to stop the run and the Denver defense gets after Dalton.

Take the Broncos to cover and the OVER.

Bengals Home Underdogs in Huge Game against Broncos

The Denver Broncos visit the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football. Cincinnati will have one of the biggest regular season games in the 12-year tenure of Marvin Lewis the head coach.

Cincinnati is 9-4-1 SU and 7-6-1 ATS. The Bengals can clinch a spot in the playoffs with a win over Denver. The Broncos are 11-3 SU and 7-7 ATS and have clinched the AFC West.

Not only is the game important from a playoff standpoint for Cincinnati, but it gives them the opportunity to defeat one of the powers in the NFL.

Denver is banged up heading into this matchup. The Broncos injury report of last week included 14 players, including Peyton Manning who is nursing an injured thigh.

Cincinnati has been strong at home as an underdog of 3 or more points since Lewis took over 12 seasons ago. The Bengals are 14-14-1 straight up and 16-13 record against the spread according to Bovada and topbet.

Still, Cincinnati has to prove to the football public since they have yet to win a postseason game in close to 24 years.

A week 16 win will not change that, but defeating Denver would give the Bengals confidence and a trip to the postseason.

According to betonline and sportsbook.com, Denver is favored by 3 points with the point total sitting on 48.

Denver is 14-3 SU and 12-5 ATS when favored by a field goal or more when Manning starts.

Manning is 8-0 SU and 6-2 ATS in his career versus Cincinnati.

Cincinnati is 5-1 ATS this season as the underdog.

Denver is 6-6 ATS this season as the favorite.

The last three games Denver has played have cashed on the UNDER.

Though fighting the flu and dealing with his thigh injury, Manning nevertheless had 233 yards passing on 14 of 20 and one touchdown last week over San Diego.

While the arm strength of Manning looked a bit questionable last week against San Diego, he was not hurt by it.

Andy Dalton the Cincinnati quarterback will be tested since the Denver defense is tough against the run and will make Dalton beat them passing.

The Broncos secondary is very strong and Dalton will have to hit third down opportunities if the Bengals hope to win.

The Bengals defense will be tested. Cincinnati’s defense is weak against the run, but if they stop the run, will Manning make them over commit and pay the price deep against the pass.

Denver should utilize the rush against a Cincinnati defense weak against the run. Cincinnati is 0-2 SU in its past two home games, but is 4-1 SU in its past five games overall.

The UNDER is a solid play as is taking the Broncos to cover.

Early NFL Lines With Playoff Implications All Over the Place.

Bortles
Bortles
Blake Bortles and Jacksonville host division rival Tennessee in what could be a real yawner on Thursday night.

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville – The Jags nearly upset Baltimore on the road; the Titans nearly beat the Jets at home.

The Pick: Jags getting the points at home.

San Diego (+2.5) at San Francisco – Talk about contrast… The Niners are playing for nothing while the Chargers need a win and a loss by someone in the AFC North to sniff the playoffs.

The Pick: Take the Bolts getting the points.

Philadelphia (-8.5) at Washington – The Eagles have looked awful the last two weeks so maybe the game away from home will do them some good. Either way, Mark Sanchez has to play better. Washington continues to be an absolute mess.

The Pick: Take the Eagles to cover.

Philbin
Is Joe Philbin down to his final days as head coach in Miami?

Minnesota (+6.5) at Miami – The Vikings deserved a better fate in Detroit on Sunday but they’ve still shown tremendous improvement under Mike Zimmer. For Miami, another late-season slide appears to be dooming the job of Joe Philbin.

The Pick: I like the Vikes getting the points.

Green Bay (-10) at Tampa Bay – I take little consolation in calling Green Bay’s loss at Buffalo other than this; “I told you so!” Now that that’s over I expect a much better and much more focused Packers team on Sunday.

Tampa will not just let them Packers come in and roll over them though. They are keeping games close and I expect them to play hard again here.

The Pick: Take the Bucs getting double-digit points.

Detroit (-4.5) at Chicago – At some point the pathetic Lions’ offense is going to cost them but it won’t be this week. The Bears are a mess from inside the locker room to out on the field. I have no reason to believe the Lions defense won’t stifle Jay Cutler the way they did on Thanksgiving Day after giving up early scores.

The Pick: Still, I like the Bears getting the points.

Atlanta (+6.5) at New Orleans – This is week one of the Battle for the NFC South.

New England (-10) at NY Jets – If this were week 17 I’d probably tell you to take the Jets because the Pats will rest everyone. Still, I think you may see Jimmy Garapalo in the second half. The Jets are just lousy and Bill Belichick hates them.

The Pick: Take the Pats to cover.

Kansas City (+3) at Pittsburgh – Monster game for the Chiefs who need to win to keep their playoff chances alive while Pittsburgh can get into the playoffs with a victory. Big match-up here will be how the Steelers offensive line handles the pass rushers of the Chiefs.

Steelers have dropped home games to Tampa and New Orleans already this season.

The Pick: Take the Chiefs getting the points.

Cleveland (EVEN) at Carolina – Johnny Football take two.

The Pick: Take the Panthers at home.

Baltimore (-4.5) at Houston – The Texans will be starting Case Keenum or Tom Savage against a defense that recorded eight sacks last week.

The Pick: Take the Ravens to cover.

NY Giants (+5) at St. Louis – Can the Rams slow down Odell Beckham? Does it matter? Look for the stingy Rams D to give a little but they’ll get enough offense I think.

The Pick: Rams to cover.

Buffalo (-6) at Oakland – Bills have a great pass rush but can they win on the road?

The Pick: Take the Raiders getting the points.

Indianapolis (+3) at Dallas – This is a huge game for the Cowboys against a Colts’ team that tried its’ hardest to give away a game at home on Sunday to Houston.

The Pick: Take the ‘Boys to cover.

Seattle (-7.5) at Arizona – This doesn’t look good for Arizona. They’ll play hard but Seattle smells blood in the water. Take the Seahawks to cover.

Denver (-3.5) at Cincinnati – The Broncos have wrapped the division out West while the Bengals, who have led the North all season, could see it slip away in their final two games against Denver and Pittsburgh. The Bengals’ defense was impressive against Manziel but this will be a different test.

The Pick: Take Denver to cover.

 

Battle of Ohio Round One On Tap for Tonight

Hoyer
Hoyer
Can Brian Hoyer find some consistency tonight on the road in Cincinnati?

Two games for your Thursday night football experience.

Cleveland (+7) at Cincinnati (O/U 45) – At 5-2-1, the Cincinnati Bengals lead the AFC North. Their rivals to the North are 5-3. Thus for the first time in a long time these two teams are playing a very crucial game. Also in the division is 6-3 Pittsburgh and 5-4 Baltimore making the AFC North the only division in football with all four teams above .500.

Besides these four teams, there are six others in the AFC that are above .500 as well which means every game for these teams is even more crucial. Falling even a game behind can spell doom not just for the division title but for the wild-card as well.

Neither team is heading into to this game at 100%. The Bengals are without leading tackler Vontaze Burfict and will also be without top cornerback Leon Hall. Meanwhile the Browns are without their top tight end Jordan Cameron so both teams are without key parts of their teams.

The Bengals’ A.J. Green will give it a go with his bad toe and could finally make an impact for the Bengals’ offense after weeks on the sidelines. My gut feeling tells me he will see some action but I don’t know how much of a factor he’ll be.

Both teams are scoring just over 20 points per game and both teams are surrendering about 20 points per game as well. The seven-point spread therefore I find a little large but the Bengals are pretty good home. The major question for Cleveland is Brian Hoyer who has been inconsistent of late. If he gets off to a rough start tonight, could Johnny Manziel finally get his shot?

Key Injuries: CLE TE Jordan Cameron OUT/CONCUSSION, CIN LB Vontaze Burfict OUT/Knee, RB Giovanni Bernard DOUBT/HIP

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in four of Cleveland’s last five games… The Bengals are 12-2-1 against the spread in their last 15 games at home… The Browns are 5-14 straight up in their last 19 games against the Bengals… The total has gone OVER in eight of the Bengals last 11 games at home.

The Pick: I think this game is played in the 20’s and I’ll take the Browns getting those seven points. Take the OVER as well.

Dabo
Dabo Swinney and the Tigers head to Wake Forest as heavy favorites.

Clemson (-21) at Wake Forest (O/U 42.5) – The Demon Deacons come into this one averaging barely over 14 points per game while they give up almost 25 points per game defensively. Despite having to replace Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant on offense, the Tigers have managed to piece together a 6-2 record to this point.

The Tigers have won five in a row in this series and they’ve beaten Wake in eight of their last 10 games. The Deacons have lost four straight games by an average margin of 19.7 points per game. In the meantime, Clemson has won their last five games by an average margin of 15.2 points per game.

Key Injuries: CLEM QB Deshaun Watson OUT/Hand

Trends: Clemson is 6-3 straight up in their last nine games at Wake Forest… The total has gone UNDER in four of the Demon Deacons last five games at home against Clemson… The total has gone UNDER in 17 of the Tigers’ last 25 games on the road… Wake Forest is 2-4 against the spread in their last six games at home.

The Pick: With QB Watson out, I think the Tigers’ offense struggles a bit so take Wake Forest getting the points and take the UNDER as well.

[UPDATE]: Clemson HC Dabo Swinney says that QB Desean Watson will start at QB. If this holds true than take the Tigers to cover.