Monster Games in the NFL Today

Rodgers
Rodgers
Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers today as they host the Eagles at Lambeau.

Philadelphia (+6) at Green Bay (O/U 55) – Division leaders are set for a chilly showdown in Lambeau Field today as the NFC East leading Eagles hit the road to face the NFC North leading Packers. Philadelphia of course is now led by Mark Sanchez who has played well in a game and a half but now things get a little more serious.

The Green Bay defense isn’t without its’ problems, but they will get after Sanchez so he’s going to have be willing to take his check-downs. The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers will be in the exact same boat as the Eagles come in off a game where they sacked Cam Newton eight times.

Look for both teams to ride the running game a little more than usual.

Key Injuries: PHI Nick Foles OUT/Collarbone… GB Guard T.J. Lang PROBABLE/Ankle

Trends: Philadelphia is 6-3 straight up in their last nine games against the Packers… The total has gone OVER in all five of Green Bay’s last five games… The Eagles are 2-4 SU in their last six games in Green Bay… The Packers are 6-13 against the spread in their last 19 games against the Eagles.

The Pick: I expect a close one today so take the Eagles getting the points and take the OVER.

Stanton
Drew Stanton takes over as the Cardinals host Detroit today.

Detroit (Pick’Em) at Arizona (O/U 41.5) – The big story here is obviously Arizona now being led by Drew Stanton. He’s facing the league’s top defense in the Lions who are riding their front seven to a successful season so far. Arizona’s defense is pretty darn good too and I expect a great match-up between Calvin Johnson and Patrick Peterson.

The one thing I’m really keeping an eye here is special teams. I say this because I have a feeling both teams will struggle to move the ball. Detroit has struggled in the kicking game and that could be an issue today.

Key Injuries: DET DT Nick Fairly OUT/Knee… ARI DT Ed Stinson OUT/Toe

Trends: Detroit is 7-17-1 against the spread in their last 25 games on the road… Arizona is 5-0 straight up in their last five games at home… The Lions are winless in their last five trips to Arizona… The total has gone OVER in five of Arizona’s last seven games when playing at home against Detroit.

The Pick: Take the Cards at home and take the UNDER.

New England (+3) at Indianapolis (O/U 58) – The last time these two teams saw each other, the Patriots were running over the Colts in the AFC Divisional Playoffs en route to the AFC Title game. This one is not without drama as well because the winner gains a serious leg up on the loser in terms of home-field advantage in the playoffs.

It’s easy to assume that both teams will throw the ball all over the field today but don’t be too quick to make that judgment. New England often sets up teams to think this and I have a feeling the Colts will do the same thing.Whoever becomes one-dimensional first will more than likely lose this game.

Key Injuries: NE DE Chandler Jones OUT/Hip… IND DT Arthur Jones OUT/Ankle

Trends: The total has gone OVER in five of New England’s last seven game at Indianapolis… The Colts are 1-4 straight up in their last five games against the Patriots… The Pats are 16-2-1 against the spread in their last 19 games on the road in Indy… Indianapolis is 7-1 SU in their last eight home games.

The Pick: I love the Pats getting the three and take the OVER.

Other Games

Seattle (Pick’em) at Kansas City – Take the Chiefs at home.

Cincinnati (+7.5) at New Orleans – Must-win for both, take the Bengals getting the points.

Today’s Saturday Sports Bullets

Kershaw
Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw pulled off a double with his Cy Young and MVP wins.

Saturday has again rolled up on me and with so many things to discuss I figure it’s time to throw some more bullets your way with a variety of thoughts from around the sports’ world.

College basketball tips off this weekend so I know all of you are dying for my Final Four selections. Here goes; Kentucky, Arizona, Wisconsin, Wichita State
No surprises in the baseball voting with Clayton Kershaw grabbing both the NL Cy Young Award and the MVP. Mike Trout was the easy winner of the AL MVP as well. I have no issue with pitcher winning MVP. If he’s the most dominant guy on the field then so be it.

I have to wonder what Florida Gator fans are thinking. Will Muschamp is going to get this team to a bowl game. Even if they lose to South Carolina today and Florida State in the finale, they’re going to beat Eastern Kentucky which will give them six wins. Is this what Gators’ fans want?

Brady Hoke’s future is in the same boat. The team needs to beat either Maryland or Ohio State to get to a bowl game. Either way the only way Hoke’s job is saved is through a win at Ohio State and then a bowl win. Those things are unlikely to happen.

I think the Chicago Bulls have a serious problem with Derrick Rose. There’s no way he should be talking about his “after basketball life” the way he is. Then Thursday night he comes up lame again with a hamstring pull. I can’t see the Bulls wanting to invest another dime in him. After all, this is the city where Michael Jordan would have run through brick walls to beat the Washington Bullets.

Kobe Bryant made one of 14 field goal attempts last night in a loss to San Antonio. It was kind of a fitting scene as Bryant and Tim Duncan chatted a few times during the game. Duncan had another double-double going for 13 points and 11 boards. I applaud Bryant for coming back from his injuries but I really don’t know that he is helping the Lakers.

The NBA announced this week that when teams play on Christmas their jerseys will feature the players’ first names rather than their last. Not real sure why but OK.

Drebin
You would think Frank Drebin is running things in Tallahassee the way they do business.

I’m paraphrasing a bit here but I loved the tweet from Fox Sports’ College Football Writer Stewart Mandel who wondered if the people of Tallahassee wouldn’t be safer in the hands of Frank Drebin. I couldn’t agree more. This is of course in response to the constant blundering of the Tallahassee Police Department when it comes to Jameis Winston and Florida State.

There are some great games on tap for the National Football League tomorrow. The Eagles play at Green Bay where the tundra is expected to be frozen a bit early this year. The Patriots play in Indianapolis and this game could go a long way towards securing home-field advantage. Two of the best teams in the NFL face off in Arizona where the Cardinals host the Lions. Unless you have the NFL Sunday Ticket, you’ll most likely be out of luck. Only about 19% of the nation will get this game.

Obviously there are some great college football games on tap today but I want to focus a Big 12 game for a second. Oklahoma will face Texas Tech today without QB Travis Knight. The Sooners were ranked number one in many preseason polls and now have three losses, two of which came at home. Don’t be a bit surprised if Bob Stoops is suddenly on the hot seat. Yes he wins games, but this is a “what have you done for me lately” market place. Alumni aren’t thrilled about losing to Kansas State and Baylor in Norman.

 

 

Really Good Match-Ups in Your NFL Late Games

McCoy
McCoy
LeSean McCoy and the Eagles invade Arizona for a battle of 5-1 teams.

As is usually the case, the National Football League offers us some great games in the late time slots so let’s get to them.

Philadelphia (+3) at Arizona (O/U 48.5) – There are several god games on the Sunday schedule but I’m hard-pressed to find a better match-up than this one. Both teams are 5-1 but the Cards lead their division while the Eagles find themselves behind the surging Cowboys who are 6-1.

The match-up to watch is when the Eagles are on offense against the Cardinals’ defense. The secondary for Arizona is among the best in the league and they’ll depend on the front seven to limit LeSean McCoy and get pressure on Nick Foles.

Key Injuries: PHI Darren Sproles Quest-knee, ARI Calais Campbell, Quest-knee

Trends: Philadelphia is 6-2 straight up in their last eight games on the road… Arizona is 7-1 SU in their last eight games at home… The total has gone OVER in seven of the Eagles’ last 10 games when playing in Arizona… The Cardinals are 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six games against Philly.

The Pick: I like Philly getting the points and the OVER.

Luck
Andrew Luck has been red-hot and now plays a vulnerable Steelers' defense.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Pittsburgh (O/U 49) – The Colts enter this game as hot as any team in the league. They shut out Cincinnati last week and have beaten AFC North leader Baltimore as well. Andrew Luck has put himself in the MVP conversation with spectacular play.

The Steelers have been inconsistent all season winning every other game on the schedule to stand at 4-3. They won Monday night over Houston with a three-minute barrage that ended with 24-straight points. Outside of that, they didn’t play particularly well.

Key Injuries: IND Reggie Wayne OUT Elbow, PIT Marcus Gilbert Doubt Concussion

Trends: Indianapolis is 3-6 against the spread when playing on the road in Pittsburgh… The Steelers are 11-2 in their last 13 games against the Colts… The total has gone OVER in five of the Colts’ last seven games when playing in Pittsburgh… The Steelers are 7-3 straight up in their last 10 games.

The Pick: The Steelers tend to play to the level of their competition so I expect a good game but take the Colts to cover and I like the OVER.

Green Bay (+1) at New Orleans (O/U 56) – Remember when Packers’ Quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the fans to “R-E-L-A-X?” He was mocked by some for that but all he and the Packers have done since then is win. Winning has been important with good play of Detroit who is atop the division with them. Rodgers has been spectacular in the last few weeks and now he gets to go up against a Saints’ defense that has been abysmal through the first six games.

Last week, New Orleans blew a 13-point lead in the final four minutes to the Lions. Part of that was the defense and part of that was the offense. Drew Brees will be happy to be at home as the Saints have spent most of the early part of the season on the road.

Key Injuries: GB Sam Shields Doubtful Knee, NO Jimmy Graham Quest shoulder

Trends: The total has gone OVER in six of Green Bay’s last seven games… New Orleans is 8-1-1 against the spread in their last ten games at home… The Packers are 6-3 straight up in their last nine games against the Saints… The total has gone OVER in five of New Orleans’ last five games against Green Bay.

The Pick: Take the Packers because the Saints just haven’t proven anything to me yet and take the OVER.

Bonus Pick: Oakland (+6.5) at Cleveland (O/U 43.5)  Take the Browns to cover and the UNDER

AFC South Battle Takes the Top Spot for Thursday Night

Luck

 

Luck
Andrew Luck and the Colts face the Texans in Houston tomorrow night.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Houston (O/U 46) – These two AFC South rivals meet for the first time in 2014 and with both tied at 3-2 atop the division, the game takes on even greater significance. They won’t meet again until the Texans visit Indianapolis in mid-December.

Even though this is just week six, the game is significant because division foes Jacksonville and Tennessee are a combined 1-9 which means that both teams will stand really good chances of making the playoffs as division champs and a wild-card. The assumes they both hod serve against both the Jags and Titans.

Through the first five Thursday night games, the average margin of victory is over 20 points and only once was one of those winners a road team (Giants two weeks ago over Washington). This stat obviously bodes well for the Texans but I really think the string of blowout games on Thursday nights comes to an end tomorrow night.

Watt
J.J. Watt will do his best to slow down the Colts' offense.

The Texans will do their best to stop the run and force Andrew Luck into poor decisions with pressure up the middle from J.J. Watt and company. The Colts will follow a similar gameplan because I have to believe they don’t think Ryan Fitzpatrick can beat them without a solid running attack.

Indianapolis was pretty impressive in defeating Baltimore last weekend as the Colts defense held the Ravens to just 13 points. The Texans have to be kicking themselves for letting one slip away against in-state rival Dallas in overtime.

Trends: Indy is 2-6 against the spread in their last eight games when playing on the road against Houston… The total has gone OVER in seven of Houston’s last nine games when playing the Colts at home… Indianapolis is 20-4 straight up in their last 24 games against the Texans… Houston is 3-7 ATS in their last ten games at home.

Key Injuries: Colts DT Arthur Jones, OUT (ankle)… Texans Jadeveon Clowney LB OUT (knee)

The Pick: I like Indy to cover and the OVER but I expect a close game.

BYU at Central Florida (-3.5) – The Cougars will come to Orlando with the memories or what might have been in their minds. While they dropped a 35-20 game to Utah State, the bigger concern was the loss of do-everything quarterback Taysom Hill. Head Coach Bronco Mendenhall said this week that Hill’s broken leg, suffered late in the first half, is much worse then originally thought.

His surgery required a plate and eight screws and he had severe ligament damage as well. Back-up Christian Stewart will get the start after a less-then solid relief role against the Aggies. Stewart completed just 10 of 29 passes and had three interceptions.

The Knights aren’t exactly going to feel sorry for Hill and the Cougars. They are coming of a very nice conference win at Houston last week to get to 2-2 on the season. UCF’s two losses are to Penn State on a last-second field goal and to Missouri who beat them up pretty good.

Nothing tests a team and head coach like a injury to the quarterback especially one who is so well-thought of by his teammates. Can the Cougars rebound?

Trends: BYU is 2-7-1 against the spread in their last ten games… The total has gone UNDER in four of UCF’s last five games at home.

The Pick: UCF’s offense concerns me and that’s why I’m taking BYU getting the points and I like the UNDER.

Odds for the AFC South Division for 2014

Luck

 

Luck
Andrew Luck should have the Colts in the top spot in the AFC South in 2014.

The AFC South is on tap today!

Indianapolis -200 – Talk about having everything in place for a division title… The Colts have Andrew Luck in his third year and let’s be honest, he needs to produce another playoff win or two as he was one horrendous choke job by Kansas City from being 0-3. The biggest question I have regards Trent Richardson. If he can be  the running back he’s capable of being then the Colts will be tremendous. If not, they could struggle to remain balanced.

Last time we saw the defense, the Colts were getting run over by LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The unit has to be better and has to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well. I don’t find the schedule that difficult other than the final four games three of which are on the road in Cleveland, Dallas and Tennessee.

Season Projection: 11-5

Clowney
The Texans hope Jadeveon Clowney plays a great 'Robin' to J.J. Watt's 'Batman.'

Houston +200 – Hard to believe a team that finished 2-14 last year is the second favorite to win the division. The Texans and new coach Bill O’Brien will enter 2014 with a clear plan in place. With Ryan Fitzpatrick the QB, the running game has to be good because Fitzpatrick can’t win games with his arm. The other clear plan is to attack on defense and the selection of Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick was a clear indication of that.

Clowney has already flashed his explosiveness and will create an incredibly scary tandem with J.J. Watt. If they can create enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to the point where the secondary can just ‘ball-hawk’ then look out. The Texans schedule is not difficult but they do have five of their first eight games on the road and some of those stops include Dallas and Pittsburgh.

Season Projection: 8-8

Tennessee +700 – This is the make or break year for quarterback Jake Locker who has battled injury and sub-par play so far in his career. What’s going for him though is the fact that new head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows how to get the most out of quarterbacks. He did it with Ben Roethlisberger and he did it with Kurt Warner in Arizona. Can he now work his magic with Locker?

The defense wasn’t atrocious by any stretch finishing in the middle of the pack overall, in rushing and in passing. They have the ability to keep things close is the offense can be balanced and take care of the football. The schedule features a fairly ugly stretch in November when the Titans have three road games in four weeks. Those trips are to Baltimore, Houston and Philly with a home against the Steelers.

Season Projection: 7-9

Jacksonville +1400 – Head Coach Gus Bradley has a tough choice to make in terms of the quarterback position. Does he stay with veteran Chad Henne knowing what that he’ll get some big plays but also turnovers or will he go with rookie Blake Bortles? The original plan was to sit Bortles this season but he has been so impressive so far in the preseason that he’s making the choice difficult.

Regardless of who is at the helm, they need the running game to get going and take pressure off of the passing game. The defense is coming together nicely in Jacksonville but I think it’s a couple of studs away from really making a serious dent in the division. The Jags have a brutal opening schedule with three of four on the road in Philly, Washington and San Diego plus a visit from Pittsburgh.

Season Projection: 5-11

Overall: I just don’t know how the Colts lose this division outside of a significant injury to Luck. Take them and don’t look back.

AFC Division Winner Odds for 2014

Gronk
Gronk
Rob Gronkowski's health may be the difference for New England's success in 2014.

I gave you the odds on NFC Division winners on Sunday and today it’s the AFC’s turn. I’ll tell you right now I’ve got two big surprises for you. Lets get to the AFC.

AFC East

New England -250 – The window on Tom Brady getting his elusive fourth Super Bowl title is closing. Even if Rob Gronkowski is healthy, does he Brady have enough weapons to get another division title?

Miami +450 – The biggest question is whether or not the Dolphins can survive the early season without center Mike Pouncey. Related to that, have they gotten past the Richie Incognito situation?

NY Jets +750 – Don’t laugh, but this team could challenge for a playoff spot. Why? Because of defense and a running game and more experience at quarterback.

Buffalo +850 – The Bills suffered a horrible blow when LB Kiko Alonso went down last week with a knee injury. My question for Buffalo is can E.J. Manuel stay healthy and take advantage of a ton of weapons?

PICK: NY Jets

AFC North

Cincinnati +200 – Andy Dalton will have even better regular season success under new coordinator Hue Jackson. Can that translate into postseason success? If it doesn’t, Dalton could be gone.

Pittsburgh +200 – The Steelers haven’t missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since the late 1990’s. If they can get more pressure defensively and find a legitimate #2 receiver then anything is possible.

Baltimore +250 – The pending Ray Rice suspension might not be that big of a deal considering Rice didn’t play well in 2013. Still, can the Ravens play well on both sides of the ball consistently enough to win the North?

Cleveland +500 – Josh Gordon won’t see the field in 2014. Johnny Manziel continues to make partying a priority. There is talent in Cleveland but I don’t think this is the year it comes together.

PICK: Cincinnati

Luck
In his third year, expectations are higher than ever for Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.

AFC South

Indianapolis -140 – Everyone talks about Andy Dalton’s playoff woes, but Andrew Luck is a miracle comeback away from being 0-2 himself. The Colts need to shore up the run defense and get something out of Trent Richardson before we can hand them the division.

Houston +260 – Bill O’Brien will have this team competitive I guarantee that. The defense may be the funnest in the league to watch but will the quarterback play be enough?

Tennessee +475 – I think Ken Whisenhunt is a really good coach and I believe he will get this team in the thick of the South race. The issue is of course QB, but if Jake Locker can stay healthy, he will play better under Whisenhunt’s tutelage.

Jacksonville +1,400 – I really do like the direction the Jags are headed but I don’t see this year being the one for them to win. Chad Henne makes to many mistakes for the young team to overcome.

PICK: Indianapolis

AFC West 

Denver -275 – The Broncos should survive the post-Super Bowl hangover due to veteran leadership but Denver has a brutal schedule that could cause problems. How much does Manning have left in the tank too?

Kansas City +500 – I fully expect the Chiefs to slip a bit this year and it could be worse if Alex Smith doesn’t get the contract he desires. Andy Reid always has tough teams but this will be a step back in 2014.

San Diego +550 – Philip Rivers continues to carry the mantle of ‘only first round QB from the 2004 draft not to win a Super Bowl.’ Manning and Roethlisberger each have two and Rivers’ isn’t getting any younger. The good news is that if the defense plays well, he could get his shot.

Oakland +1,800 – The Raiders continue to be the team that just can’t put things together and this season won’t be much different.

PICK: San Diego

Could Someone Please Explain Why Roger Goodell is Asleep at the Wheel?

Goodell-Irsay
Goodell-Irsay
Roger Goodell has dragged his feet long enough on suspensions for guys like Jim Irsay and he needs to act now.

As more and more players in the National Football League continue to make poor choices, get suspended and get pulled over, the man in charge of the NFL is nowhere to be seen or heard.

In the past few days, Dion Jordan of Miami,  Rokevious Watkins of Kansas City and Lane Johnson of Philadelphia were all suspended for four games under the League’s substance abuse policy. The Colts’ LaVon Brazill was suspended for the entire 2014 season for yet another substance abuse issue. They are among a growing handful of suspended players already heading into the season.

These three incidents are easy for the NFL to deal with because of the protocols that already in place. What isn’t so easy is the plethora of decisions facing Roger Goodell and these include players like Ray Rice who is awaiting his fate following his domestic violence problem. Also expecting a decision is Aldon Smith of the 49ers.

Gordon
It may be a long time before the Browns see Gordon in a uniform again.

This past Fourth of July weekend brought us yet another chance to see Johnny Manziel partying in Las Vegas (not illegal by the way) and more importantly, another arrest of a very high-profile player in Josh Gordon of Cleveland.

Gordon is already facing the potential of a year-long suspension and now he could be looking at even longer. Gordon was arrested in North Carolina early Saturday morning for speeding and ultimately driving while impaired. To make matters look even worse, he was bailed out by a man with a significant criminal and drug history.

Don’t forget that he was also pulled over for speeding in May and his passenger was arrested for possession of marijuana. He was suspended for the first four games last season and still went on to lead the NFL in receiving. Tons of talent but all kinds of problems would be putting it mildly.

While I can respect taking one’s time in making important decisions, Roger Goodell has fallen flat on his face when compared to new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. Silver has shown swift and effective decision-making when it has come to discipline of not only players but owners as well. Just look at how quickly he acted with the Donald Sterling situation.

Goodell has taken his sweet time with the aforementioned Ray Rice who still doesn’t know his fate. What of Indianapolis Colts’ owner Jim Irsay? He is facing a significant number of charges resulting from his traffic stop and drug possession issues. Months have now gone by and Irsay has not been punished in any way, shape or form.

Obviously the players’ association is a most interested party in Irasy’s case because they want to see how Goodell handles the discipline for one of his own in comparison to that of their players. The time for patience has gone though and fans and the general public deserve answers.

Goodell has already put himself in a very unenviable position by making the game of football “safer” in an effort to do nothing more than satisfy the plaintiffs of the concussion lawsuit. He has also shown overwhelming subjectivity when he does give suspensions often hiding behind the ‘protect the shield’ mantra.

The Hall of Fame Game is less than a month away. The Buffalo Bills, who play the New York Giants in that game open camp on July 18th. If Roger Goodell has not made rulings on Ray Rice, Aldon Smith and Jim Irsay by that point then shame on him. Then again, it’s what we’ve come to expect from him.

Saturday NFL Playoff Games Could Be Classics

Wilson
Wilson
Russell Wilson points the way for the Seahawks who host the Saints on Saturday in the NFL Playoffs.

New Orleans returns to Seattle while Indianapolis goes to New England for what seems like the millionth time. I expect both games to be highly competitive and exciting with both going down to the fourth quarter. Let’s dig in.

New Orleans (+8) at Seattle – Back in week thirteen of the NFL season, New Orleans traveled to the upper Northwest to play Seattle on a Monday night. They knew it would be a litmus test of just where they were as a team. What they found out was that there was work to do as they got hammered 34-7. The Saints went on to split their final four games and wound up the wild-card rather than the NFC South champion.

The Saints return to the scene of the crime on Saturday and believe they are more prepared than they were in early December. I have to give Sean Payton and his team credit for finally winning a playoff game on the road and in colder temperatures. This however, will be a much greater challenge than the Eagles.

Seattle showed a little bit of vulnerability at home by losing to Arizona in week 16. Was that just a blip on the radar screen or did the Cardinals reveal a blueprint for winning in Seattle? Despite Carson Palmer throwing four interceptions that day, the Cardinals controlled the clock and the ball with a running game that outgained Seattle by roughly 50 yards.

They also sacked Russell Wilson four times and held him to just 11 of 27 passing. If the Saints are to have any chance, they must copy the blueprint Arizona laid out. Whether starting running back Pierre Thomas is back or they go with Mark Ingram, pounding the ball will be crucial for time management but also will keep the pressure off of Drew Brees.

The over/under is listed currently at 46 and I think the under is a good play with a 100% chance of rain on Saturday. The Saints are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven road games and are 2-5 ATS in their last seven versus the Seahawks. Seattle is 19-4 straight up in their last 23 contests. I believe the Saints put up a better fight this time around and will take them getting the points. I think Seattle wins the game though.

Luck
Andrew Luck gets his first crack at Tom Brady and the Patriots in the playoffs Saturday night.

Indianapolis (+7.5) at New England – The teams are familiar and the scene in Foxboro is familiar as well but the guy playing quarterback for Indianapolis is no longer Peyton Manning. The Colts go on the road behind Andrew Luck following their 28-point comeback last week at home against Kansas City. The faces in New England have changed too but not where it matters. Quarterback Tom Brady and Head Coach Bill Belichick are looking to erase some painful memories of recent playoff failures Saturday night.

The formula for Indy is simple in my opinion. They must not turn the ball over and they must get to Tom Brady the way they came after Alex Smith in the second half last week. Sprinkling in some solid running from Donald Brown would help the Colts’ cause as well. For the Patriots, the team must follow the lead of Tom Brady who is a seasoned playoff veteran.

I think you’ll see heavy doses of the running game from the Patriots in an effort to slow down Robert Mathis and that Colts’ front seven. I expect Brady to rely heavily on Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola before spreading the ball around more. Stevan Ridley and LaGarrette Blount each rushed for over 770 yards this season and I expect that type of balance to be on display.

With the over/under at 52, I’m really torn. I think Indy can win a shootout, but I expect New England to make it a lower scoring game by taking away T.Y. Hilton and staying with a short passing game and rushing attack. The Pats are 1-4 ATS in their last five games at home against the Colts while Indy is 8-15-2 ATS in their last 25 games against New England.

I suspect another memorable night playoff game in Foxboro and I like the Colts with the points but will take New England to win.

Sunday Thoughts Around the Sports World

Luck
Luck
Luck led the Colts back from 28 points down to defeat the Chiefs.

As the snow and cold continues to pound away outside, today seems like a perfect day hit some of the major stories around the sports world so let me put the coffee down and get to it.

You certainly could not have asked for two more exciting games to open the National Football League Playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts rallied from a 28-point second half deficit to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 in the opening game yesterday. While the Chiefs’ defense will take a large portion of the blame and rightfully so, the offense didn’t help much in the second half either.

With running backs Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis both knocked out of the game, the Chiefs were forced to try their already short passing game in order to move the ball and it just wasn’t happening. The Colts survived two Andrew Luck interceptions in the second half which turned out OK considering he sprinkled in four touchdown passes.

The Colts will await the winner of today’s Cincinnati-San Diego game to see if they head to Denver or New England next week.

Graham
Graham kicks the Saints past Philly in the NFC Wild-Card Game last night.

The night game wasn’t quite as exciting as the opener but still had some drama at the end. New Orleans, desperate to kick the ‘can’t win outside’ moniker, did just that by beating Philadelphia 26-24. The win came off the foot of recently acquired Shayne Graham who nailed the winning field goal as time expired.

Both teams struggled to put points on the board in the first half and Philly didn’t take their first lead until the fourth quarter. Drew Brees, himself under the gun to play well outdoors, did that in the second half after two first half interceptions. Credit must go to Sean Payton and the dedication to the running game despite not having leading rusher Pierre Thomas who was out with a chest injury.

Back-up Mark Ingram rushed 18 times for 97 yards and a touchdown. New Orleans will now travel to Seattle for a second shot at the Seahawks.

It appears Charlie Strong has finally decided to accept the job at the University of Texas after a period of about 48 hours where he seemed unsure about leaving Louisville. On the surface, we outsiders were thinking, “Why are you waiting Charlie?” Louisville is and always will be a basketball school and in Austin, good seasons will make you a god.

Strong is a great defensive mind and is a tremendous recruiter which appeals to Texas who needs to keep its’ homegrown talent in Austin. That will be Strong’s first challenge although winning the Big 12 will help too.

Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers is out three to five weeks after he separated his shoulder the other night. The loss of Paul hurts for obvious reasons but also because the Clips are trying to hold off both Golden State and surprising Phoenix in the Western Conference’s Pacific Division. They lead those teams by a half and full game respectively.

The injury comes at time when trade rumors are surrounding a ‘Blake Griffin for Carmelo Anthony’ deal. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers called the rumors “stupid” which doesn’t mean it won’t happen but I tend to think it won’t happen either.

Also in the NBA, the Pau Gasol for Andrew Bynum deal appears to be getting closer. The Lakers would save about $20 million by trading Gasol and then cutting Bynum after the trade. Bynum is currently suspended by the Cavaliers for ”conduct detrimental to the team.’ I honestly don’t know why any team would want the troubled big man on it’s’ roster.

Wild-Card Weekend Kicks Off Today

Bowe
Bowe
Bowe will need to be a factor if the Chiefs are to win in Indianapolis today.

Typically, the divisional round is the weekend that features some of the greatest memories of an individual playoff season but I expect some great memories to be made starting today. There are two games today and two tomorrow but I’m focusing on today’s match-ups taking place in Indy and Philly. Let’s get to it.

Kansas City (+1) at Indianapolis – It appears we have a candidate for ‘hottest team entering the playoffs.’ Indianapolis has won three straight games and the second of those was a 23-7 win over the Chiefs in Kansas City. If anything is fueling the Colts right now it could be the defense where they have given up just 20 points combined during this three-game winning streak.

Despite taking the San Diego Chargers into overtime, the Chiefs essentially took last week off in preparation for this playoff opener. Starters like Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith didn’t even dress last week and now must prove the ‘off week’ will not result in any rust.

The one area that concerns me for the Colts is in stopping the run. Although they won that week 16 game, Charles still managed over 100 yards on the ground. For the season, the Colts rank 26th in the NFL with about 126 yards given up on the ground per game. I have to believe Andy Reid will try to expose that as much as possible.

For Indy, Andrew Luck is 0-1 in the playoffs but his first time at home and I expect him to play well. Part of that will be whether or not the Colts can get Donald Brown going in the running game. Balance will be key for Luck who will need to avoid a heavy KC pass rush.

The over/under this afternoon is 46.5 and I’m going to take the under. I think this will be a more defensive battle than some think. The Chiefs are 3-11 against the spread in their last 14 games against the Colts. Meanwhile, Indy is 12-2 straight in their last 14 at home and is 12-2 straight up in their last 14 against the Chiefs. This has really become a ‘pick’em’ type game and I will go with the Colts at home to cover.

Kelly
Kelly has the Eagles in the playoffs in his first year and I expect a win tonight over the Saints.

New Orleans (+3) at Philadelphia – It’s going to be brutally cold in the City of Brotherly Love tonight and we know what that means for Drew Brees and the Saints. What it means is that we should expect a New Orleans’ loss because they just don’t play well outdoors. This year for example, the Saints were 8-0 at home and just 3-5 on the road.

In the Superdome, the Saints averaged 34 points per game and on the road; they average just half of that with 17 points per game. Factor in today that Saints’ leading rusher Pierre Thomas will not play due to a chest injury and suddenly the Saints offense is short-handed.

The Eagles are not exactly a defensive juggernaut so they will give up some plays but I expect a good performance and a lot of attention focused squarely on Saints’ tight end Jimmy Graham. Offensively, the Eagles will look to get LeSean McCoy involved early and often in an effort to take pressure off of Nick Foles who makes his first career playoff start tonight.

The Eagles are 3-10-1 against the spread in their last 14 games at home while the Saints are 3-7 ATS in their last 10 games against the Eagles. The over/under tonight is 53.5 and I expect the over to dominate here despite the weather.

Drew Brees just doesn’t play nearly as well on the road as he does in the dome and I believe that’s a huge factor tonight. Look for a couple of turnovers from him. Although they haven’t played well at home the last couple of seasons, I’ll take the Eagles to cover tonight.