Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 30, 2013 at 8:58 AM
THE NFL WEEK 17 REPORT – COWBOYS, BEARS & STEELERS AMONG THE HANDFUL-PLUS TEAMS TO GET SHUT OUT OF LEAGUE’S PLAYOFF PARTY … PLUS WE GET A “FIRST LOOK” AT THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND …THE COLLEGE BOWL UPDATE: #24 DUKE VS. #21 TEXAS A&M HEADLINES TUESDAY’S ACTION AS DEVILS/AGGIES HELP TO “RING OUT THE OLD” AND ALL OF NEW YEAR’S DAY BOWLS ARE RIGHT HERE IN TOMORROW’S JIM SEZ
By Jim Hurley
Unfortunately for fans that root, root, root for “America’s Team,” the sight of beleaguered head coach Jason Garrett answering questions late on the final Sunday night of regular-season play has become all too commonplace the past few years:
True, last night’s down-to-the-wire 24-22 non-cover win by the Philadelphia Eagles over the Dallas Cowboys in the de facto NFC East championship game had plenty of terrific moments for a team forced to play without star QB Tony Romo, but – in the end – the script read just like it did the past two years with an 8-and-8 Cowboys team getting their fingers slammed shut by the NFL’s playoff window.
Hey, Dallas, you were not alone.
It’s safe to say that both Kansas City Chiefs PK Ryan Succop and the officiating crew that didn’t flag San Diego for having too many defenders on one side of the line during that ill-fated Succop 41-yard field goal try with four seconds left in regulation will be cursed from here to doomsday by fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but maybe next year you black-and-gold guys shouldn’t count on “everybody” losing on the season’s final Sunday in order to cop a post-season bid!
Pittsburgh did spank 9-point underdog Cleveland (and bye-bye Rob Chudzinski already!) by a 20-7 count, and did get the early-game necessary help via losses by Baltimore and Miami, but this will have to go into the category of “wait till next year” for Mike Tomlin’s team – maybe that’s some sort of karma handed out after that Thanksgiving Night sideline stunt by the coach in Baltimore.
Think about it.
And there will be plenty to ponder in the “Second City” following Chicago’s drop-dead 33-28 last-minute loss to Green Bay on the final Sunday in December:
No doubt by now you’ve seen the footage where one unnamed Bears defensive back (aw, shoot, it’s FS Chris Conte) played zone and not man-to-man on that QB Aaron Rodgers-to-WR Randall Cobb 48-yard game-winning scoring strike on fourth-and-eight, and thus rookie head coach Marc Trestman was unable to join the likes of Andy Reid (Kansas City), Chip Kelly (Philadelphia) and Mike McCoy (San Diego) – all of whom will be headed to the playoffs this weekend as first-year head coaches of their respective teams.
Word to the wise for the Bears … you play to the whistle and not when you think a play is over (see wacky 15-yard fumble return for a score by Green Bay’s Jarrett Boykin).
So, we close the book on a 2013 NFL regular season that had more twists and turns than a Greek belly-dancer and we bring you the first look at this weekend’s NFL Wild Card Games with a reminder that we’ll have in-depth previews/forecasts on all four games later this week:
On Saturday, it’s …
KANSAS CITY (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) – 4:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Don’t know why anyone would be knocking the Indy Colts (we’re talking to you, NBC studio dude Rodney Harrison), but Chuck Pagano’s crew surges into the post-season on a three-game SU (straight-up) and ATS (against the spread) winning streak, and this QB Andrew Luck-to-WR T.Y. Hilton tandem is the real deal after the latter snagged 11 balls worth 155 yards in Sunday’s out-of-the-gate-quick 30-10 home win versus Jacksonville … will that Chiefs pass rush that once upon a time was so fierce show up here?
NEW ORLEANS (11-5) at PHILADELPHIA (10-6) – 8 p.m. ET, NBC
Count us among the folks who believe the Philly Eagles are getting the short end of the proverbial stick by playing on the first night of the playoffs after beating Dallas (and then travelling) this past Sunday evening … sure, the home field is nice and everything but league uppity-ups should have fixed this sked deal. The truth of the matter is Philly’s gonna survive-and-advance or get beat pending the play of NFL rushing king RB LeSean McCoy (27 carries for 131 yards against Dallas), and we dare Saints’ DC Rob Ryan to play eight men in the box here.
On Sunday, it’s …
SAN DIEGO (9-7) at CINCINNATI (11-5) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Cincy Bengals finished regular-season play a perfect 8-0 SU and 8-0 ATS at home, but QB Andy Dalton was anything but perfect in Sunday’s 34-17 win/cover against TD underdog Baltimore as he threw two picks on his team’s first two possessions and wound up airing four INTs in all – gotta believe the Chargers are “playing with house money” here, and they might bring the house in order to rattle Dalton. Note that San Diego does sport road wins this year against Philadelphia, Kansas City and Denver and Bolts’ QB Philip Rivers (229 yards passing and three TD strikes on Sunday) may have had the best QB season of anyone this side of Peyton Manning.
SAN FRANCISCO (12-4) at GREEN BAY (8-7-1) – 4:30 p.m. ET, Fox
Let’s stop hearing all this talk about how the SF 49ers “should” be home here because of the better won/loss record – memo to NFL honchos, don’t ever change this format where winning one’s division gets you a home game reward … got it? If the home pup Packers are gonna extend their season with savior Rodgers back in the saddle then they better get ready to draw/screen this active Niners’ defense to death … or else. Hey, maybe WR Anquan Boldin (9 catches for 149 yards and one TD in 23-20 win at Arizona in Week 17) will be usual wrecking-ball self in these playoffs as he was a year ago while helping to lead Baltimore to the Super Bowl title … remember?
Extra, extra …
Get all the College Football Bowl Games including all the upcoming the BCS bowl games beginning Jan. 1st plus get all the NFL Wild Card Round games this weekend too when you check with us here at Jim Hurley’s Network.
And, of course, make sure you’re all aboard for the NBA and NCAA Basketball daily/nightly winners all this week/weekend action either online here at www.vegassportsmasters.com or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-888-777-4155.
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT –
Here’s a look at the four Bowl Games on tap for Tuesday, December 31st
ADOCARE V100 BOWL – at Shreveport, LA
BOSTON COLLEGE (7-5) vs. ARIZONA (7-5) – 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
There’s back-to-back ACC vs. Pac-12 bowl games to start off this final day of the 2013 calendar and this is a real interesting matchup with the Boston College Eagles ranking 20th in the land in rushing (218 yards a game) behind Heisman Trophy finalist RB Andre Williams, while the ‘Zona Wildcats come into this tilt ranked 11th in rushing (266 yards a game).
No question that Williams (2,102 yards rushing and 17 TDs) needed some down time after suffering a late-season shoulder injury, but maybe the star of this game in Cajun Country will be Arizona RB Ka’Deem Carey (1,716 yards rushing and 17 TDs), who has rushed for more than 100 yards in his last 15 consecutive games.
Who wins if this one comes down to the passing game?
Boston College’s underrated QB Chase Rettig (17 TDs and 6 INTs) could improvise if under duress here and so maybe the 7 ½-point underdog BC Eagles do have more than a “puncher’s chance” here.
Spread Notes – Boston College is 7-5 ATS overall this year and the Eagles are 2-10 spreadwise away since the start of last year. Arizona, meanwhile, is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 ATS this season and the U of A ‘Cats have failed to cover their last three bowl games while dating back to the 2009 campaign.
SUN BOWL – at El Paso, TX
VIRGINIA TECH (8-4) vs. UCLA (9-3) – 2 p.m. ET, CBS
In case you had lost count, this marks the 21st consecutive post-season bowl game for the Virginia Tech Hokies under 27th-year head coach Frank Beamer … so UCLA’s Jim Mora has something to shoot for long-term now that he’s brought the Bruins back to their second bowl game in as many years in his tenure.
Mora was on the alleged “short list” for the University of Texas job, but he recently inked a six-year extension in Tinseltown and now he guides his Pac-12 team deep into the heart o’Texas for this bowl affair starring his own QB Brett Hundley (2,845 yards passing with 22 TDs and 9 INTs) against the country’s fourth-ranked defense.
In fact, the Hokies – who held seven foes to 17 points or less in what was a scoring-crazy regular season – must not forget that Hundley can be dangerous on the run too after rushing for a team-leading 587 yards with 9 TDs.
No doubt V-Tech needs QB Logan Thomas (16 TD passes and 13 INTs) to stay on the straight-and-narrow here, but keep in mind the Hokies have scored just 20 and 13 points the past two bowl games with Thomas in control (a 3-point OT loss against Michigan in 2011 and a three-point win against Rutgers last year).
Spread Notes – UCLA is a solid 8-4 versus the vig this season (remember the Bruins started out 5-0 ATS) and note this Pac-12 club has covered six of its last seven games played against non-conference foes. Virginia Tech’s 4-7-1 against the odds this season and did you know the Hokies are 11-24-2 ATS overall the past three years … ugh!
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Georgia Tech (+7.5) USC WON 21-7
Clemson (+6) LSU WON 25-24 Vanderbilt (-7.5) NC State WON 38-24
Vanderbilt (-7.5) NC State WON 38-24
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LIBERTY BOWL – at Memphis, TN
RICE (10-3) vs. MISS STATE (6-6) – 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
The mighty SEC placed 10 teams into the bowl wars this year, but Miss State – playing in a bowl for the fourth straight year under fifth-year boss-man Dan Mullen – only got in after winning its final two regular-season games and both strangely enough were overtime affairs against Arkansas and Ole Miss.
Now, Mullen’s gang will enjoy a true home-field edge here in Memphis (just 165 miles away from the Bulldogs’ campus in Starkville) and those dreaded cowbells will be heard plenty comin’ from the stands although the Rice folks claim they’ll combat the noise with the country’s 15th-best rushing attack starring RB Charles Ross (1,252 yards rushing and 14 TDs).
Hey, this is Rice’s first back-to-back bowl appearances (beat Air Force 33-14 in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl) since 1960-61.
Spread Notes – Miss State is 7-5 spreadwise this year and that includes a current four-game spread winning streak plus the Dawgs are 17-10 ATS as betting favorites since the start of 2010, Meanwhile, Rice is 8-5 against the odds this season and the Owls enter this bowl bash 9-4-1 ATS when grabbing points since late in the 2011 season.
CHICK-FIL-A BOWL – at Atlanta, GA
#24 DUKE (10-3) vs. #21 TEXAS A&M (8-4) – 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The best of the New Year’s Eve bowls comes from the Georgia Dome where – get this – the 11 ½-point underdog Duke Blue Devils will be facing their second Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in as many games …
Now let’s see if the Dookies fare better against QB Johnny Manziel (3,732 yards passing with 33 TDs plus 686 rushing yards with 8 TDs) than they did against Florida State’s Jameis Winston!
Note that “Johnny Football” – who is expected to go pro following this game – has a new play-caller in co-offensive coordinator Jake Spavital, but gotta believe whoever’s calling the shots here Manziel will do his best to get the ball deep downfield to WR Mike Evans (65 catches for 1,322 yards and 12 TDs) against a Duke defense that ranked a middling 66th nationally in pass defense while surrendering 233 yards per game.
On the flip side, a Duke offense that scored 35-or-more points on seven different occasions this year must have an error-free game from QB Anthony Boone, who totaled three turnovers in that 45-7 loss to Florida State in the recent ACC Championship Game. Boone threw 11 INTs this year – to go along with just 10 TDs – and so if David Cutcliffe’s club is gonna ring out the old year here than defense/special teams may have to score some points.
Spread Notes – Duke is a spiffy 10-3 versus the vig this spectacular season and the Blue Devils have covered 5-of-6 away games after going 1-5 ATS away last year. Texas A&M is a sub-par 5-7 against the Las Vegas prices this year and how about the fact the Aggies failed to cover all four of their away games this year (at Arkansas, Ole Miss, LSU and Missouri)?
Note: Get all the New Year’s Day Bowl Games – that’s six of ‘em in all – in tomorrow’s edition of Jim Sez.