Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, January 3, 2014 at 8:54 AM
THE NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND IS HERE AND WE PREVIEW SATURDAY’S TWO TILTS FROM INDIANAPOLIS AND PHILLY …
PLUS THE COLLEGE BOWLS ROLL ON AS WE PREVIEW THE HOUSTON-VANDY GAME
By Jim Hurley
The National Football League’s post-season chase to get to Super Bowl XLVIII in New Jersey figures to have lots of twists and turns to it … even if everyone and his brother-in-law seems to be picking a Seattle vs. Denver showdown at MetLife Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 2nd.
Those two top seeds will sit tight this weekend and let the wild card round clubs battle it out and no doubt the frosty conditions that some “prognosticators” are calling for come Super Sunday may, in fact, be a big part of this weekend’s playoff games in Philadelphia, Cincinnati and Green Bay.
Brrrr is right!
Okay, so we’ll preview the NFL’s two Saturday playoff games in just a moment here in today’s "Jim Sez", plus we’ll remind you that the Sunday game previews/forecasts – that’s the San Diego Chargers at the Cincinnati Bengals and the San Francisco 49ers at the Green Bay Packers – come your way in tomorrow’s Jim Sez and we’ll (of course) have complete and in-depth NFL coverage all throughout the post-season so make sure to check us out each/every day.
NFL WILD CARD SATURDAY –
KANSAS CITY (11-5) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) – 4:35 p.m. ET, NBC
Maybe you happened to notice that there are three “new” head coaches participating in this weekend’s four NFL playoff games, and the gentlemen who made the biggest splash – KayCee’s Andy Reid – here tries to get the Chiefs their first post-season win since 1993.
No doubt the buzz word here for KC is health – as the team’s injury list is long and includes pass-rushing whiz LB Tamba Hali (swollen knee), who didn’t practice Thursday and is iffy here, and the Chiefs have to get their long-lost pass rush back in order if they’re gonna rattle second-year star QB Andrew Luck, who comes off his second straight 23-TD season (not bad considering he didn’t have veteran WR Reggie Wayne most of the year).
Luck threw for 241 yards in a 23-7 win at 7 ½-point favorite Kansas City in a Week 16 clash at Arrowhead Stadium, but don’t put too much emphasis on that game ‘cause the Chiefs were short-handed at several positions back then, and note the AFC West runners-ups are keeping fingers crossed that WR Dwayne Bowe (concussion) and LB Justin Houston (elbow) – among others – get green-lighted for this road game.
If you’re looking for a key game plan item here, then let’s see how often KayCee gets the ball into the hands of in-space stars RB Jamaal Charles and WR/RB Dexter McCluster here – against a Colts defense that ranks a lowly 25th in the league against the rush (yielding 125.1 ypg) the forecast here is for Charles (1,287 yards rushing) to get at least 25 carries while McCluster should be in the mix with a couple of reverses that could well flip the field.
Spread Notes – Indianapolis is 9-6-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and so that makes the Colts a heady 19-12-2 spreadwise since the start of last year (a spiffy .613 winning rate) and did you realize that this AFC South crew is 11-4-1 ATS as hosts the past two years? Meanwhile, Kansas City is 9-7 versus the vig in the first year of the Andy Reid Era and the Chiefs enter this playoff game at 7-1 spreadwise away.
NEW ORLEANS (11-5) at PHILADELPHIA (10-6) – 8:05 p.m. ET, NBC
Can we pose a question to ‘ya right here:
If the New Orleans Saints are such a rotten road team, than why are the NFC South guys only a 2 ½-point underdog at NFC East champ Philly here?
The gist of what we’re saying is despite the fact the Saints have lost five of their eight road games this year – and done even worse spreadwise (see Spread Notes below) – here’s the Las Vegas price tag showing the Eagles as less-than-FG favorites for this prime-time affair and do keep in mind first-year boss Chip Kelly’s club has won seven of its last eight games while dating back to early November.
The Eagles sport the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack starring RB LeSean McCoy (1,607 yards rushing), but McCoy must be a factor as a pass-catcher here against a Saints defense that went nearly from worst-to-first against the forward pass this year while allowing just 194.1 aerial yards per game.
Okay, so we know Philly QB Nick Foles (27 TDs and just 2 INTs) has been fantastic ever since landing the starting spot over Michael Vick, but how will Foles react to a bevy of blitzes dialed up by Saints’ DC Rob Ryan – and will the likes of McCoy, WR DeSean Jackson (82 receptions and 9 TDs) and others crank out lots of “chunk plays” here after the Birds registered an NFC-best 247 offensive plays that covered 10-or-more yards?
New Orleans – which has scored a per-game average of only 17.4 ppg in its eight road games this season – may be chucking all its eggs into the basket of veteran QB Drew Brees (5,162 yards passing with 39 TDs), but we believe the old time-of-possession stat will be key here as Brees & Company must make a concerted effort to limit Philly’s offensive snaps:
If you wish to pin us down, we say that if the Eagles get off 75 snaps or more here, they’ll survive and advance to next weekend’s NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Still, don’t be silly and think the Saints’ well-documented road woes is gonna automatically mean Payton’s crew is finished ever before it gets started here – if TE Jimmy Graham (86 catches for 1,215 yards and an NFL-best 16 TDs) is the red-zone menace he usually is at home, then the Saints will be the ones marching on in this chase for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Spread Notes – New Orleans is 8-7-1 against the Las Vegas prices this season, and no surprise here that the Saints are just 1-7 ATS away with the lone spread win on the road coming in a 26-18 Week 5 triumph at Chicago (a pick ‘em affair). Note that N’Orleans is just 3-5 ATS in the post-season under boss-man Sean Payton. On the flip side, Philadelphia is a dead-even but vig-losing 8-8 spreadwise this season and the Eagles are 6-17-1 ATS as hosts since the start of the 2011 season (a wobbly .261 winning percentage). Note that the Birds have failed to cover their last three consecutive post-season games going back to the 2008 season.
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Extra, extra …
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THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT –
Here’s a look at the Saturday, Jan. 4 Bowl action:
COMPASS BOWL – at Birmingham, AL
HOUSTON (8-4) vs. VANDERBILT (8-4) – 1 p.m. ET, ESPN
Go ahead and whet your weekend bowl appetite with this tilt in the Deep South as Vandy’s back in the bowl wars for an unprecedented third consecutive season, but the SEC guys will be without oft-injured QB Austyn Carta-Samuels, who underwent knee surgery, and now will be replaced here by mobile Patton Robinette – still the big star for this Vandy team is WR Jordan Matthews (107 receptions for 1,334 yards this year), and it’s incumbent on Robinette to get his star receiver at least a dozen targets against a Houston defense that ranks a dismal 109th nationally in pass defense.
On the flip side, the UH Cougars – who missed the bowl fun-and-games last year following a 5-7 SU (straight-up) season a year ago – hope to keep the heat on the Vanderbilt defense here with freshman QB John O’Korn, who threw for 26 TDs and only 9 INTs this year as the American Athletic Conference club beat the likes of bowl guys Rice and Rutgers and lost to “name teams” such as BYU, UCF and Louisville by a grand total of 13 points.
Keep an eye on Houston WR Deontay Greenberry (76 catches for 1,106 yards and 10 TDs), who has a habit of making big plays when the Coogs need it most.
Spread Notes – Houston is a sizzling 10-2 versus the vig overall this season and the Coogs covered all five of their games when placed in the underdog role (after going a collective 2-7 ATS as pups from 2010-thru-2012). Meanwhile, Vanderbilt is 6-6 against the odds this season but keep in mind the Commodores have notched spread wins in eight of their last dozen away games.
NOTE: Get Sunday’s NFL Wild Card Round Games in the next edition of "Jim Sez" and we’ll also continue our College Bowl coverage too with a look at Arkansas State vs. Ball State in Sunday’s Go Daddy Bowl … an extensive BCS Championship Game Preview comes in our Monday Jim Sez!