Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, January 5, 2013 at 12:10 AM
Here's a burning question that's coming out of Baltimore and Washington D.C. this week: Will this be the last-ever playoff game for future Hall of Fame LB Ray Lewis and will this be the first of many playoff games in the future of Washington Redskins rookie QB Robert Griffin III?
The folks in these parts of the country could be having one of those "you say goodbye and I say hello"moments on this NFL Wild Card Sunday and so let's jump right into the fray and get you our Jim Sez previews:
In the AFC, it's ...INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) at BALTIMORE (10-6) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Think there will be any emotional energy inside M & T Bank Stadium for this one? The mid-week announcement that the aforementioned Lewis would be calling it quits following his 17th year in the NFL - 13 of which included Pro Bowl appearances - will make this a love-fest situation between Lewis and the always-noisy Ravens and we still haven't said Word One about former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano who has been the NFL's biggest single story this year as he makes a comeback from cancer and the first-year Indy Colts head coach could wind up being a big-time factor here:
Will his game-day involvement be a plus or a minus considering the Colts have been magical for most of the time Pagano was being treated at a hospital and at home? Stay tuned.
If Indianapolis is gonna strike up the upset chord here than rookie QB Andrew Luck - who has thrown 5 TDs and 0 INTs in the team's final three regular-season games this year - must not self-destruct and PK Adam Vinatieri must make all his long field goals because the Ravens have a tendency to score lots of points at home (see 31.8 ppg average in their own backyard) and it's become crystal clear that new Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is bent on getting RB Ray Rice 25-or-more "touches"- bless his heart!
No doubt Baltimore will look for some "home run"balls and so QB Joe Flacco (3,817 yards passing with 22 TDs and 10 INTs) will feel some early-game heat to produce and so let's see if WR Torrey Smith (team-high 8 TD receptions) can break the Colts' back - if not, than Rice won't have the running room he needs and the Lewis Era could be kaput.
Spread Notes - Baltimore is just 7-8-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this 2012 season but the Ravens do march into the wild card playoff round off back-to-back spread wins against the NY Giants and Cincinnati Bengals. Note that Baltimore's played in nine playoff games under fifth-year head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens are 5-4 versus the vig in these tilts but only one of 'em came at home (see last year's 20-13 non-cover win against Houston in the AFC Divisional Playoffs). Meanwhile, Indianapolis is a spiffy 10-5-1 vig-wise this season and that includes a 6-4 ATS mark as underdogs. The Colts are a collective 9-8 ATS in all post-season games the past 10 years. The last time these clubs clashed was last year when 16-point home fav Baltimore failed to get the cash in a 24-10 win.
In the NFC, it's ...SEATTLE (11-5) at WASHINGTON (10-6) - 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
It's a bit of NFL Wild Card Round déjà vu here as you might recall last year the final of the four weekend games featured a home underdog getting the win with Denver's 29-23 OT triumph over 7 ½-point fav Pittsburgh and now here's Wild Card Weekend wrapping up and there's another home dog on the card - but this Washington Redskins crew is a whole lot hotter than that 2011 Broncos bunch that staggered into the post-season on a three-game SU (straight-up) losing streak.
The loosey-goosey 'Skins - and we hope you saw the aforementioned "RG3"interviewing his head coach Mike Shanahan the other day in a cute press conference moment - rock-n-roll their way into these playoffs on a seven-game SU/ATS winning streak and Griffin (20 TDs and just 5 INTs) might not even be the most important Redskins rookie here as RB Alfred Morris (1,613 yards rushing) appears to be peaking and an offense that finished regular-season play with an NFL-best 2,709 yards rushing could play keep-away here from Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson (3,118 yards passing and more than a few key runs this year).
Still, count us among the folks who believe that road favorite Seattle must win the in-the-trench warfare games and consider it a must that Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch (1,590 yards rushing) has to get 25 carries and close to 150 rushing yards here.
Spread Notes - Seattle and Washington both enter post-season play with identical 11-5 ATS marks this year but did you know the visiting Seahawks have only split their eight road spread verdicts games in the 2012 season and they're just 11-21-1 ATS away since the start of the 2009 campaign. On the other hand, the Redskins are 5-3 versus the vig at home this year (including the last four in a row) and Washington steamrolls into the playoffs on a sizzling seven-game spread winning streak. The last time these teams played - minus the rookie quarterbacks, of course - was in the 2011 regular season when 3-point road dog Washington downed Seattle 23-17.
MORE COLLEGE BOWL COVERAGE
On Saturday, it's the COMPASS BOWL - Legion Field; Birmingham, AL
PITTSBURGH (6-6) vs. OLE MISS (6-6) -- 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Welcome back, Pitt Panthers. It's the third year in a row that the Big East team - and soon-to-be ACC squad - is closing out its gridiron campaign in Birmingham as note the Panthers have split their first two Compass Bowls (see accompanying chart below) and now have yet another different coach leading the way here but at least first-year boss-man Paul Chryst will be staying put in the Steel City.
If the Panthers want to bang out a third bowl win in the past four years than RB Ray Graham (1,042 yards rushing) must dent an Ole Miss rush defense that ranked a respectable 28th nationally while yielding just 133.3 yards per game.
On the flip side, the SEC Rebels - making their first bowl appearance since the 2009 season - believe first-year head coach High Freeze will push all the right buttons and that could well mean having QB Bo Wallace chuck the ball 35-or-more times here. Note that Wallace (2,843 yards passing with 19 TDs and 15 INTs) aired five scoring strikes as Ole Miss battered Egg Bowl rival Miss State 41-24 back on November 24th.
Spread Notes - Pittsburgh cranked out an 8-4 ATS mark this season under first-year boss Chryst and, believe it or not, the Pitt Panthers are now a collective 29-17-2 vig-wise the past four years (a .630 winning rate) and that includes a pair of bowl covers: A 19-17 win against 1-point pup North Carolina in the 2009 Meineke Car Care Bowl and a 27-10 triumph over 4-point dog Kentucky in the 2010 Compass Bowl. Overall, Pittsburgh is 3-4 spreadwise in its bowl games dating back the past 10 years. Meanwhile, Ole Miss turned out to be one of the country's best-kept spread secrets as the Rebels finished regular-season play at 9-3 against the odds including a spiffy 4-1 ATS mark when in the favorite's role. The Rebs are a perfect 4-and-oh spreadwise in all bowl games the past 10 years with Ole Miss' last bowl appearance coming in the 2009 season (under then-coach Houston Nutt) with a decisive 21-7 win against 3 ½-point dog Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
THE LAST 3 COMPASS BOWL GAMES
|2009||Connecticut||+ 4||South Carolina||20-7|
NOTE: Catch our BCS Championship Game Preview coming soon in Jim Sez!