Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, December 19, 2014 at 10:14 AM
IT’S A GREAT HOLIDAY WEEKEND ON THE GRIDIRON - AND WE’VE GOT KEY NFL WEEK 16 PREVIEWS PLUS SATURDAY’S FIVE (5) COLLEGE BOWLS
Hey, don’t ever sell the end-of-season guys short in the NFL. Okay, so the schedule-makers drew up a so-what Tennessee vs. Jacksonville game last night for your “viewing pleasure” (and Jim Hurley won both the side and total!) but rest assured there are 13 games (out of 15 games) being played here in NFL Week 16 that do indeed have playoff implications the Week 17 menu might just bring us a batch of doozies too ... so time to get in the holiday spirit, put some new batteries in your remote control and get ready for a grand gridiron weekend. Among the key NFL Week 16 Sunday games are ...
ATLANTA (5-9) at NEW ORLEANS (6-8) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
So, does anyone really want to win the woe-be-gone NFC South? The Saints finally stepped it up with last Monday’s 31-15 win in Chicago as QB Drew Brees threw for 375 yards to reach the 4,000-yard mark for an amazing ninth consecutive year. If Brees - 7-1 SU lifetime at the Superdome against the Falcons - can “climb the pocket” and find open receivers against a banged-up Atlanta secondary, than Sean Payton’s club is gonna get sweet revenge from that season-opening 34-31 OT loss at the Georgia Dome. Now doesn’t that seem like a million years ago?
KANSAS CITY (8-6) at PITTSBURGH (9-5) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Let’s just things have not always gone smoothly for these two playoff-hopeful AFC squads but the Steelers - winners of six of their last eight games - have the hottest offense on record lately with QB Ben Roethlisberger (a franchise-record 4,415 yards passing) getting plenty of help from RB Le’Veon Bell (2,043 yards from scrimmage) and WR Antonio Brown (NFL-best 115 receptions). If the 3-point underdog Chiefs are gonna stay alive in the playoff chase, then sacking/hurrying Roethlisberger is a top priority and so too is getting some help from the KC wide-outs who still have not scored a receiving TD this year. Gut feeling is Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (5 TD catches) could do some middle-of-the-field damage here.
INDIANAPOLIS (10-4) at DALLAS (10-4) - 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS
Are the Cowboys sunk here if RB DeMarco Murray (NFL-best 1,687 rushing yards) is unable to play here after undergoing surgery to repair a broken left hand? No doubt that Dallas will have to seriously tweak the game plan if Murray is a no-go in this clash and so that gets one to thinking the Colts’ pass rush might well be the most important part of this game because Dallas QB Tony Romo might well be in the market for a 45-to-50 pass attempt game. On the flip side, Indianapolis QB Andrew Luck may not have his full complement of weapons on hand here as wide-out T.Y. Hilton (hamstring) might sit and there’s talk that the Colts will rest other players (see WR Reggie Wayne) because their playoff spot as either a #3 or #4 seed is pretty much locked in.
My handicappers and bloggers have everything all mapped out and you can get the upcoming College Football Bowl Games beginning with Saturday’s Five (5) games including #22 Utah vs. Colorado State in the Las Vegas Bowl plus all the NFL Week 16 games too when you check with us here at Jim Hurley’s Network - make sure you’re all aboard for the week/weekend action online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Plus don’t forget all the daily/nightly action on the hardwood as there’s NBA and NCAA Hoops action all winter long right here with Jim Hurley!
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT - Here’s the Bowl Games set for Saturday, December 21st:
NEW ORLEANS BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
NEVADA (7-5) vs. UL-LAFAYETTE (8-4) - 11 a.m. ET, ESPN
Nobody in bowl history has ever won the same exact bowl game four consecutive years but that’s what UL-Lafayette shoots for here against a Nevada team back in the post-season wars after an eight-year bowl streak ended in 2013.
Nevada QB Cody Fajardo (2,374 yards passing and a team-high 997 yards rushing) caps his college career here and while stopping him is key for this Ragin’ Cajun defense the fact remains the Wolf Pack defense forced 26 enemy turnovers this year and a “pick six” in this clash could be the diff between winnin’ and losin’.
UL-Lafayette RB Elijah McGuire (1,165 yards rushing and 14 TDs) is a dynamic runner who also snagged 40 pass receptions this year.
Spread Notes - UL-Lafayette covered six of its final seven games this year while heading into bowl play and the Ragin’ Cajuns have famously won/covered the past three consecutive New Orleans Bowl games. Meanwhile, Nevada’s covered 5-of-6 away games this year including covers at Arizona and BYU.
NEW MEXICO BOWL - at Albuquerque, NM
UTAH STATE (9-4) vs. UTEP (7-5) - 2:20 p.m. ET, ESPN
The UTEP motto is “make history” - the Miners have not won a bowl game since 1967 (they’re 0-and-5 in bowls the past 47 years) - but this is a major tough task against 10-point fav Utah State which may be on its fourth quarterback of the year (Kent Myers) but still boasts a solid defense that allows less than 21 points a game.
In fact, Utah State LB Zach Vigil has 19.5 tackles for losses this year and won the Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year and S Frankie Sutera has seven picks for a stop unit that’s forced 29 turnovers - UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers (1,732 yards passing with 12 TDs and 5 INTs) has thrown only one pick in his last seven games but playing mistake-free ball against Utah State ain’t gonna be easy here.
Spread Notes - Utah State is a sizzling 17-7-1 ATS (against the spread) as betting favorites since the start of the 2012 season. UTEP, conversely, is just 4-12 against the odds when in the point-grabbing role the past two seasons.
LAS VEGAS BOWL - at Las Vegas, NV
#22 UTAH (8-4) vs. COLORADO STATE (10-2) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC
There’s five bowl games (out of 38) that involve coaching changes and here’s the first as Jim McElwain has exited Colo State for Florida and that means offensive coordinator Dave Baldwin calls the shots here - will that be a distraction for the Rams who averaged 498 yards a game to rank 12th among all FBS offenses?
If the QB Garrett Grayson-to-WR Rashard Higgins combo can make hay with some vertical passes then the 3-point underdog Rams could steal this one away - note Grayson has thrown for 3,779n yards with 32 TDs and Higgins has caught 89 balls for 1,640 yards and 17 TDs but they’ll be going up against a Utah defense that leads the nation in sacks (52) and allows just 245 passing yards per game and that was good for third-best in the pass-happy Pac-12.
The Utes figure to lean heavily on RB Devontae Booker (1,350 yards rushing with 9 TDs) but a subtle reminder to WR Kaelin Clay not to drop the ball in celebration till after he’s crossed the goal line!
Spread Notes - The Utah Utes rattled off an 8-4 ATS mark this year after going a composite 29-30-1 the prior five campaigns. On the flip side, Colorado State is an electric 19-8-1 against the odds since late in the 2012 season and that includes blast year’s come-from-way-behind 48-45 win against 4-point fav Washington State in the New Mexico Bowl.
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL - at Boise, ID
WESTERN MICHIGAN (8-4) vs. AIR FORCE (9-3) - 5:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
It’s been turnaround city for both these programs as Air Force went from a two-win team a year ago to a nine-win squad while Western Michigan also was a plus 7 in the win category having gone from 1 win in 2013 to 8 wins while heading into this Potato Bowl - so what’s gonna separate these teams here in what’s basically a pick ‘em affair?
Western Michigan QB Zach Terrell (3,146 yards passing with 23 TDs) has a pair of go-to wide-outs in Corey Davis (1,232 yards receiving and 12 TDs) and Daniel Braverman (70 receptions for 912 yards) and if either/both “go off” here than the Fly Boys are in trouble. Note that Air Force - which hasn’t won a bowl game since 2010 - needs the country’s seventh-best ground game (272.2 ypg) to get powered up with RB Jacobi Owens (1,054 yards rushing) the central cog.
Spread Notes - Air Force is a rotten 5-13 versus the vig away since the start of the 2012 season. Western Michigan is a money-making 10-2 against the prices this year - the Broncos failed to cover their first and their last regular-season game but covered everything in between.
CAMELLIA BOWL - at Montgomery, AL
BOWLING GREEN (7-6) vs. SOUTH ALABAMA (6-6) - 9:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
There’s a home-field regional edge here for the South ‘Bama team - the Jaguars hail from Mobile - and thus the current 2.5-point price line as otherwise this one’s a real toss-up. Bowling Green QB James Knapke (13 TDs, 12 INTs) has been a bit too hot-and-cold for our taste while South Alabama’s main offensive weapon is WR Shavarez Smith (50 receptions for 714 yards and 8 TDs) who could be a real red-zone diff-maker here.
Spread Notes - Bowling Green’s 4-8-1 ATS this season and the Falcons also have failed to cover their last four consecutive bowl games. Meanwhile, South Alabama is 4-8 spreadwise this season but the Jaguars have split their six verdicts when in the chalk role.
NOTE: There’s more NFL Week 16 Previews/Forecasts in the next Jim Sez including the Sunday Night showdown between the Seattle Seahawks at the Arizona Cardinals plus a look at Monday’s matinee bowl tilt - the Miami Beach Bowl pitting BYU vs. Memphis.