Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, November 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM
HOW WILL THE NEW HOT-SHOTS HANDLE THEIR BUSINESS HERE AND THE REST OF 2014?
THE LEAGUE’S TOP 5 MVPs (AS WE SEE IT) AND WE DO HAVE ONE DEFENDER IN THE BUNCH
THE SUNDAY NIGHT PREVIEW: PATS-COLTS GET IT ON!
The Cleveland Browns have not been in the playoffs since 2002 - and they’ve not won a post-season game since the 1994 season (see Cleveland 20, New England 13).
Check the here-and-now standings, though, and the Browns are an AFC North-best 6-3.
The Arizona Cardinals have been to one Super Bowl in their history (see 2008 season) and haven’t so far as won a playoff game in five years but the Redbirds enter their Week 11 game against Detroit with a fancy 8-1 SU (straight-up) record and atop the NFC West.
The $64,000 question now is will either/both the Browns and Cardinals show they can handle prosperity - heck, even embrace it - or will they wilt in the final seven weeks of regular-season play?
Let’s take the Browns first: Rookie head coach Mike Pettine - not exactly the organization’s first choice this past off-season - has guided Cleveland to as many or more wins in the AFC than everyone save for New England and Denver (both of them are 7-game winners right now while entering Week 11 play) and the fact that last week the Browns snapped that dreadful 17-game divisional road losing streak with the 24-3 win in Cincinnati shows this is a whole new era in Browns’ history ... but now comes the really hard part.
More than likely, the Browns will be the betting favorites in four of their next six games including this Sunday’s home tilt against the well-rested Houston Texans (4-5) and it’s worth noting that Cleveland is just 3-7 versus the vig as point-layers dating back to the start of last year and that includes a shaky 2-3 ATS (against the spread) mark as favs this year.
Note that Cleveland’s won three games this season decided by five-or-fewer points and you wonder aloud if Pettine’s club can continue to win the close games with a defense that ranks 20th in the NFL (and note 28th against the rush) - and can they handle the growing expectations placed on ‘em both inside the championship-starved city of Cleveland and from outside forces too?
If you believe that an AFC team probably needs 11 wins to ensure a playoff berth this year - go ahead and just check out the standings that right now includes nine teams playing .600-or-better ball - then Cleveland really can’t afford to go 4-3 in its final seven games and so is asking a Browns bunch that hasn’t ever been down this road before to win 11 games in all a tad too much?
Then there’s Arizona: The Cardinals have gotten off to the franchise’s best start since - gulp - 1948 when they went by the name Chicago Cardinals -- and all the buzz these days is whether or not Bruce Arians’ club is gonna be hosting Super Bowl 49 which will be held February 1, 2015 in Glendale.
Arians - who has never lacked for confidence (arrogance?) - is imploring his players “not to give up their lockers to someone else” when it comes to the aforementioned Super Bowl but this team that enters Sunday’s home game against the Detroit Lions (7-2) riding a five-game winning streak that includes triumphs over Philadelphia and at Dallas but the Cards have their own bit of adversity here with QB Carson Palmer (knee) gone for the season.
So, can a career backup such as QB Drew Stanton be good enough to pull this off and will a Cardinals’ defense that ranks 29th in the league against the pass (allowing 274.2 ypg) be able to hold off the likes of Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, Seattle’s Russell Wilson and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan these next three weeks.
Let’s face it: The 2013 Cardinals won 10 games and didn’t make the playoffs and so they know about heartache but this particular club is playing “from ahead” versus divisional foes Seattle and San Francisco in the NFC West standings and we’re about to discover if there’s a comfort level there or whether the Palmer-less Cards are gonna “spit the bit”.
Just so you know, the Cards conclude the 2014 season home to Seattle and then at San Francisco - we’ll see if ‘Zona can grit its teeth and get past these games or will they be too much against these high-quality rivals.
Keep this in mind: Arizona is a rollicking 7-2 against the odds this year after going 10-5-1 spreadwise last season - a less-than-two-year run that adds up to a 17-7-1 ATS mark but the best two-year spread mark this franchise has enjoyed the past 10 years came in 2007-08 when Arizona registered a 22-14 ATS record.
Maybe the Birds will be coming back down to earth these next two or three weeks ... we shall see.
My handicappers and bloggers will have all the weekend winners and you can get NCAA Football, NFL Week 11 play and all the NBA/NCAA Basketball action when you check with us here at Jim Hurley’s Network at the toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or right here online. Check is any time after 1 p.m. ET today and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday/Sunday.
THE NFL’S TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES
We happened to catch the back end of a sports talk radio show topic that questioned whether or not Houston Texans DE J.J. Watt would be the first player picked if some new hypothetical NFL team was opening up shop and quickly the discussion turned to whether or not Watt was this year’s league MVP ... whoa, Nellie. Watt may have 8.5 sacks, 3 fumble recoveries and an interception but, sorry, he is not this league’s MVP even though we will grant him a spot in our Jim Sez Top 5:
Here’s our here-and-now NFL MVP race heading into Sunday’s Week 11 action:
PEYTON MANNING, QB, DENVER - We know, we know. A boring/conventional pick but what are you gonna do with a guy that has 2,912 yards passing with 29 TDs and 7 INTs for a Broncos bunch that sports a 7-2 SU record. Manning threw five TDs in last week’s 41-17 coast-job win in Oakland and so now he’s thrown at least two TD passes in 15 straight games - yet another NFL record. P.S., Manning is so far ahead of his fellow MVP candidates right now we simply don’t see a way that he blows it.
BEN ROETHLISBERGER, QB, PITTSBURGH - Okay, so last week’s 20-13 meltdown loss at the New York Jets did major damage to “Big Ben’s” MVP candidacy but the way we see it is he still is way behind Mr. Manning and yet still ahead of everyone else. Roethlisberger - who famously aired 12 TD passes in a recent two-game stretch against Indianapolis and Baltimore - has thrown for 23 TDs and 5 INTs with 3,063 yards.
DEMARCO MURRAY, RB, DALLAS - The 7-3 Cowboys are idle this weekend after burying hapless Jacksonville 31-17 in London last Sunday and so Murray can catch his breath after rushing for 1,233 yards (a 5.1 ypc average) with 7 TDs after the season’s first 10 weeks. Murray’s five fumbles are troublesome but not enough to kayo him from this third-place spot right now.
ANDREW LUCK, QB, INDIANAPOLIS - We’ll go on record to state if we were starting an NFL team, this third-year star would be our numero uno pick and despite a slowish start this year Luck has an NFL-best 3,085 yards passing with 26 TDs and 9 INTs.
J.J. WATT, DE, Houston - The Texans’ heart-and-soul leader right now edges out Kansas City sack maven Justin Houston (NFL-leading 12 sacks), Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers and Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown for our fifth/final spot here.
SUNDAY NIGHT PREVIEW:
NEW ENGLAND (7-2) at INDIANAPOLIS (6-3) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
The aforementioned QB Luck pretty much has mastered everything/everyone in his young NFL life ... except for the New England Patriots.
Luck’s 0-2 against the Pats with a 2012 regular-season loss by 35 points and a 20-point playoff loss last year - both in Foxboro - and so this is a little revenge-minded Luck who takes the field here at Lucas Oil Stadium and do keep in mind he’s thrown seven INTs in those two affairs.
On the flip side, the Patriots zoom in off a bye week riding a five-game SU winning streak and with QB Tom Brady having thrown 18 TDs and just 1 INT during this run ... but might it be the team that runs the ball the best wins here in this prime-timer?
New England ranks just 19th in the league at 101.2 yards rushing a game; Indianapolis ranks 14th league-wide rushing (at 113.8 ypg) and everyone’s still wondering when (if ever) is Colts RB Trent Richardson gonna get untracked as he’s rushed the ball 108 times for 391 yards or just 3.6 yards a pop.
If Colts’ RB Ahmad Bradshaw - averaging 5.1 ypc on 20 less totes - is allowed to be the main ball carrier here when Luck isn’t chucking it to wide-outs T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne, then maybe the Colts snap this little mini losing streak against the Pats.
Spread Notes - New England is 5-4 versus the vig overall this season but a solid 18-12 ATS in non-divisional games the past two-plus seasons while Indianapolis is 7-2 spreadwise this year and a collective 28-15-1 ATS since Luck’s arrival prior to the 2012 season.
NOTE: Lots more key topics to be tackled in the next edition of Jim Sez, so don‘t miss out!