Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 14, 2012 at 5:32 PM
Hope you caught our NFL Week 15 quick hitters this past Wednesday in this Jim Sez column space - but in any event here today we'll dig deeper into the three afternoon games involving teams with 10-or-more wins plus a reminder that we'll have a major preview in our next column featuring the star-studded Sunday Night Football Game between the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) at the New England Patriots (10-3) ... and so don't miss out!
Let's kick off our Week 15 action with the day's biggest marquee matchups ...
NEW YORK GIANTS (8-5) at ATLANTA (11-2) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
There's something we simply don't understand regarding these Atlanta Falcons - they're always worrying about "getting respect" and yet their track record in this Mike Smith Era (2008-to-present) merits them little of the "R" word.
Now, it's Atlanta WR Roddy White - who is having an outstanding year with 77 receptions for 1,140 yards - yapping about which of the teams' wide receiver corps is better: Hey, Roddy, we love 'ya and everything but how about winning a single playoff game before getting into a war of words with the defending Super Bowl champs?
The Giants - for their part - are experiencing the usual second-half-of-the-season roller-coaster ride with last week's 52-27 win against New Orleans not nearly as impressive as one might have thought considering rookie David Wilson accounted for 327 all-purpose yards. Okay, so that one-two WR tandem of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz did account for 12 receptions worth 188 yards and two TDs between 'em - but now both can expect to be bumped/banged at the line of scrimmage here after receiving no resistance at all from a sluggish Saints secondary.
Will this one come down to a "who's better" at wide receiver question?
Maybe the pre-game chatter leads you to that summation but gotta believe a Giants pass rush that only collected one sack last week of New Orleans QB Drew Brees is gonna have to be way more active here against Atlanta QB Matt Ryan ... or else!
Spread Notes - Atlanta is 7-5-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this year but did you know the Falcons have notched spread wins in six of their eight non-NFC South games this season? On the flip side, the NY Giants are a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6-1 spreadwise this season but Tom Coughlin's crew is an electric 41-20-1 ATS away since the start of the 2006 campaign.
DENVER (10-3) at BALTIMORE (9-4) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Now what were the odds back in September that this Broncos team would be enjoying an eight-game SU (straight-up) winning streak at any point this year?
Remember that the AFC West club had a real jerky-jerk start to the season with losses in Week 2 (at Atlanta), Week 3 (home to Houston) and Week 5 (in New England) before everything really started to take shape beginning with that epic come-from-behind MNF win in San Diego. The Broncos were in a 24-0 halftime hole in that game but roared back to beat the Bolts 35-24 and since intermission of that game the Broncos have outscored their foes 240-to-119 - yeah, we'd call that domination!
No question that Denver QB Peyton Manning - who has tossed an AFC-best 30 TDs this year - has been razor sharp save for a couple of moments ever since that Week 6 game in San Diego but for the Broncos' slinger to personally beat the Ravens for a ninth consecutive time here, he better hope both LB Terrell Suggs (bicep) and/or LB Ray Lewis (triceps) sit this one out although the rumor mill is claiming both will be in uniform and good-to-go.
Want an off-the-beaten-path key here?
Baltimore's new offensive coordinator/play-caller Jim Caldwell - once upon a time the Colts head coach when Manning played there - may opt for a ball-control attack thus keeping Manning on the sidelines and so don't be shocked if the Ravens run the ball 40 times - and that'll be music to the ears of Pro Bowl RB Ray Rice.
Spread Notes - Denver's 8-5 against the odds overall this 2012 season and the Broncos boast a solid 10-6 ATS mark away since the start of last year. Meanwhile, Baltimore is 5-7-1 spreadwise this season but the Ravens are 15-12-2 vig-wise as underdogs in the John Harbaugh Era that started in 2008.
INDIANPOLIS (9-4) at HOUSTON (11-2) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Okay, so we've already touched on the rather strange scheduling here as these AFC South clubs will collide at Lucas Oil Stadium in Week 17 action (Dec. 30th) but the host Texans are banking on the notion that the end-of-the-year game won't mean anything to 'em as Gary Kubiak's club looks to wrap up a second straight divisional crown right here and right now just six days after suffering through that 42-14 embarrassment in Foxboro.
Take your pick as to what humbled the Texans most in that prime-time affair - we say the fact Houston's defense allowed New England to average 7.8 yards a pass attempt should have sufficiently woken up DC Wade Phillips gang, wouldn't you say!
And right now dealing with Indy rookie QB Andrew Luck will be problematic and especially when you consider the Colts rank eighth in the NFL in passing (277 yards a game) and Luck's really gotten great rapport with veteran WR Reggie Wayne and kid T.Y. Hilton who both can be dynamic playmakers here if J.J. Watt and mates don't put more than just a little heat on Mr. Luck.
No doubt the Texans need to get their ground game in working order - star RB Arian Foster has rushed for just 84 yards total in 29 carries dating back the past two games - but remember he did rush for a career-best 231 yards and three TDs in a 2010 season-opening 34-24 win against the Colts.
Hey, Indy wins here and KOs lowly Kansas City at Arrowhead Stadium next week and the Colts will control their destiny come that second meeting with Houston later this month.
Spread Notes - Believe it or not, Houston is just 8-5 vig-wise this year after that rollicking 7-2 ATS start and the Texans enter this clash 8-2-1 odds-wise in all divisional duels while dating back to late in the 2010 season. Indianapolis, meanwhile, is a tidy 8-4-1 ATS this season and that includes road pointspread losses at Chicago, the NY Jets and New England. Overall, the Indy Colts are 6-8-1 ATS in divisional play the past two-plus seasons.
COLLEGE HOOP NOTES
Lots of college kids taking their final exams these days but there's still plenty of fun matchups on a busy Saturday card - now here's a look at the country's top team in action against a solid in-state rival and this one deserves your undivided attention:
BUTLER (7-2) vs. #1 INDIANA (9-0) - (at Bankers Life Fieldhouse) 2 p.m. ET, CBS
The nation's top-ranked team has not played in a week - see last Saturday's 100-69 triumph over Central Connecticut State - but don't expect there to be much rust buildup as Tom Crean's team is averaging a nation's-best 89.1 points per game and there's a solid rotation that gets legit scoring from up to eight players with F Cody Zeller (19 points and 19 boards against CCSU) the main stalwart here. Can Butler push him out beyond the foul line here and neutralize his board work? Only if seven-foot C Andrew Smith - who had eight offensive rebounds in last weekend's 74-65 win at Big 10 member Northwestern - steers clears of foul woes.
P.S., Butler's already beaten North Carolina and Marquette and so the Bulldogs are "for real" again.
NOTE: Get all the Bowl Previews right here in Jim Sez -- and watch out this week for more NFL Week 15 and NCAA/NBA coverage too!