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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, October 1, 2014 at 12:51 PM



The NFC North gets to be in the Thursday Night spotlight this week when the Minnesota Vikings invade Green Bay for a prime-time tilt against the Packers and – did you know – this is the only division with .500-or-better teams from top to bottom after the so-called “quarter pole” of the season.

Okay, so Detroit’s 3-1 SU (straight-up) mark leads the way with Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota all at 2-2 SU after four weeks of play but the real bottom line is nobody’s dug themselves a hole here and that’s important because all of the above have “issues” from the health-and-well-being of Lions’ megastar WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) to the many injuries to the Bears’ defensive backfield to what really is Vikings’ kid QB Teddy Bridgewater gonna give his team this year … especially now with a tender ankle injury suffered late in last Sunday’s stunning 41-28 home win against 6-point fav Atlanta.

It may well be that the message sent by Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers – one to the faithful fans to just R-E-L-A-X in the days leading up to last weekend’s resounding 38-17 win in Chicago (don’t the Bears ever beat the Pack at Soldier Field these days?) – will be looked upon as a proverbial turning point for this proud franchise.

Hey, did you realize that three of the four head coaches here in the NFC North have been on the job for a year-and-a-half or less with Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy easily the greybeard as this is his ninth season at the helm for the Pack. Hmmm.

All we know is there’s an NFC North game to be played to kick off NFL Week 5, so here goes …

On Thursday Night, it’s …
MINNESOTA (2-2) at GREEN BAY (2-2) – 8:25 p.m. ET, CBS
The MRI on the left ankle of Vikings’ rookie quarterback Bridgewater came up “clean” this past Monday and so the former University of Louisville star is getting green-lighted for this tilt despite the fact it’s a short work week.

Bridgewater – fresh off a 317-yard passing game (no TDs and no INTs) versus the Falcons – sure has found a new favorite target in WR Jarius Wright who nabbed eight balls worth 132 yards but gotta wonder why second-year star WR Cordarrelle Patterson (2 catches for 38 yards against Atlanta) hasn’t been a bigger piece of Minny’s puzzle the past couple of weeks – you may want to concentrate on Patterson here if you’re the Packers’ secondary.

Meanwhile, Green Bay comes off its best and most complete game of this young 2014 season even though many key stats went in the Bears’ favor as in 33-to-21 first downs and 496 offensive yards for Chicago.

Still, the aforementioned Rodgers fired four scoring strikes and the Packers flipped the field twice with big INT returns by LB Clay Matthews and CB Sam Shields and now we’ll see if Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers cooks up some schemes that gets Bridgewater out of his comfort level – we’re fully expecting LB Matthews to drop into coverage more while you can look for some safety blitzes here to rattle the young signal-caller.

Spread Notes – Green Bay is just 1-2-1 ATS (against the spread) coming out of this year’s starting gate but note the Packers are an electric 15-6 vig-wise in divisional play since the start of the 2011 campaign. On the flip side, Minnesota is 2-2 spreadwise thus far in 2014 and the Vikes are 23-14-1 ATS as underdog sides the past three-plus seasons.

Jim Hurley’s Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to torch Las Vegas and the off-shore books with loads of NFL Week 5 and NCAA Football winners this week and that includes the Side & Totals winners on the Vikings at Packers game on Thursday Night. Plus, the college kids kick it off on Thursday too with UCF at Houston and Arizona at #2 Oregon on the ESPN menu and there’s a whole slew of great games on Friday/Saturday too! And – of course – there’s lots of Major-League Baseball post-season winners (Won The AL Wild Card) so make sure you check with the Jim Hurley Network right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 after 12 p.m. ET on week days and any time after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday and Sunday.

Last year at this very time – the first week in October – we unveiled a batch of “better-than-you-think” college football teams based mainly on the fact they were unbeaten versus the almighty vig … so let’s check out the teams that have been cashing regularly so far in 2014:

#22 EAST CAROLINA – The Pirates drew a bye last week and, heck, that may be the only thing that can slow down Ruffin McNeill’s crew that’s roared out of the starting gate with a spiffy 4-0 ATS mark that includes covers against South Carolina, Virginia Tech and North Carolina. Did you know the Buccos are averaging a haughty 43.25 points per game with slinger Shane Carden having thrown for 1,469 yards with 11 TDs and 3 INTs?
Next up: Home to SMU this Saturday and note East Carolina’s a 41 ½-point favorite at press time … va-va-va zoom!

MEMPHIS – You won’t find the Tigers (2-2 SU so far) in anyone’s Top 25 but the truth is this American Athletic Conference club is 3-0-1 versus the vig after coming off last Saturday’s 24-3 loss/push against 21-point fav Ole Miss. Note that Memphis has been hanging its hat on RB Doroland Dorceus (237 yards rushing/5.2 ypc and 4 TDs) and it’s been awhile since the Tigers could count on a decent ground game.
Next up: At Cincinnati this Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium

VIRGINIA – Believe it or not, the Cavaliers are 5-and-oh against the odds and that’s really saying something when you consider that this Atlantic Coast Conference crew entered the ’14 campaign with a wobbly 15-28-1 ATS mark under fifth-year boss Mike London … so give the man some props!
The Wahoos sport the country’s ninth-ranked rushing defense (allowing 86.6 ypg) and their most notable spread covers this year have come against the likes of UCLA, Louisville and BYU. Good stuff!
Next up: The Cavs host Pittsburgh in an ACC clash

On Thursday Night, it’s …
UCF (1-2, 0-0 AAC) at HOUSTON (2-2, 0-0 AAC) – 7 p.m. ET, ESPN

It’s your classic quarterback vs. defensive-minded head coach that takes center stage here as Houston slinger John O’Korn (846 yards passing but just 6 TDs and 6 INTs) goes against 11th-year UCF boss-man George O’Leary who generally is very good at quieting opposing passers but may have other things on his mind these days with a “racism charge” against him being alleged and made public this week by a former assistant coach.

What to watch: If UCF’s dreary 113th-ranked ground attack (averaging 94.3 ypg) can’t get its act together, then O’Korn and Company could be on the field for major chunks of time in this one.

Spread Notes – UCF is a rock-solid 12-7 ATS as underdogs since the start of the 2009 season and that includes the 38-10 loss at 10-point fav Missouri back on Sept. 13th. Note that Houston has split its first four pointspread verdicts this year but the Coogs are 19-11 odds-wise as betting favorites while dating back to the start of the 2011 season.

ARIZONA (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) at #2 OREGON (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) -- 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Since the start of 2010, the Oregon Ducks have lost a grand total of six games (while winning 51 times) yet one of those rare losses came last year – a 42-16 setback at 18 ½-point dog Arizona.

Don’t make that all about the knee of Oregon QB Marcus Mariota who was intercepted twice in that lopsided affair as the truth is the Ducks’ star was pretty healthy entering that game and suffered some blows along the way against a wired-up ‘Cats club that night.

Now, Mariota – who currently ranks second in the nation with an 11.82 yards-per-attempt average – looks for payback at always noisy Autzen Stadium but keep in mind the Ducks do have some injury woes along the offensive line and there’s mucho questions about this Oregon defense that ranks 10th in the Pac-12 while yielding nearly some 444 yards per game.

Arizona is averaging 42 points per game this year behind freshman QB Anu Solomon whose 47-yard Hail Mary pass beat California 49-45 back on Sept. 20th and note this kid slinger ranks fifth nationally among all FBS quarterbacks while passing for nearly 364 yards a game.

Will Mariota and friends get their revenge here … and by how much as the Ducks are listed as a 22 ½-point betting fav at this very moment?

Spread Notes – Oregon has failed to cover three of its first four games this year but the Ducks still own a decent 17-11-1 ATS record in Pac-12 games the past three-plus years. Arizona is also just 1-3 spreadwise out of the gate this year and the Wildcats have covered five of their last seven games when placed in the role of double-digit dog.

NOTE: Catch all our NCAA Football/NFL Week 5 Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.

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