Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 12:27 PM
WE CHECK OUT PACKERS-BUCS, LIONS-BEARS & THE SUNDAY NIGHT BLOCKBUSTER BETWEEN SEAHAWKS-CARDS
PLUS MORE COLLEGE BOWL ACTION: A PREVIEW OF MONDAY AFTERNOON’S MIAMI BEACH BOWL
THE NBA NOTEBOOK: WILL RONDO NOW LEAD MAVS TO NBA TITLE?
There’s been a whole lot of chatter this year regarding three specific NFL divisions in particular - the woe-be-gone NFC South, the top-heavy NFC West and the all-at-.500-or-better AFC North.
Somehow it feels nationally as if the NFC North has gotten lost in the sauce.
Okay, so we’ll fix that right with a couple of NFL Week 16 game previews in just a sec but - of course - the biggest and best showdown on this Sunday’s menu is the prime-time offering between the surging Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals ... winner gets the NFC’s #1 seed this post-season?
On Sunday, it’s ...
SEATTLE (10-4) at ARIZONA (11-3) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Just having a little fun here, but it was just two weeks ago when Fox-TV play-by-play man Joe Buck said the “Cardinals might not win another game” following the injury to backup-turned-starting QB Drew Stanton.
Memo to Mr. Bucks: The Cards won both of their games since that “pronouncement” with triumphs over Kansas City and St. Louis but now there is no doubt that Arizona is swimming in the proverbial deep end of the pool - hey, when is the last time you saw an 11-3 NFL team taking 7 ½ or 8 points at home?
Fact of the matter is the Redbirds have shown wonderful survival skills but now it’s journeyman Ryan Lindley at the helm (see 4-of-10 for 30 yards in last Thursday’s 12-6 win in St. Loo) going against a born-again Seahawks’ defense that’s held their last four opponents to 3, 3, 14 and 7 points with Pete Carroll’s crew snagging wins/covers in all four of those affairs.
The return to the lineup of uber-active LB Bobby Wagner has been hailed as a major reason for the Seattle re-birth but don’t forget the pass rush renaissance as Seattle has a whopping 16 sacks in its last four games after compiling just 13 through the first 10 games - if Arizona’s O-line can’t hold back the likes of Jordan Hill, Bruce Irvin and Michael Bennett (among others) here than Lindley might spend a chunk of his Sunday evening staring up at the desert sky.
On the flip side, don’t forget the fact Seattle QB Russell Wilson has been sacked the fifth-most times in the league this year - sometimes he has held the ball too long and it’s quite likely that two O-linemen won’t play here for the ‘Hawks as LT Russell Okung (bruised lung) was spitting blood in last week’s 17-7 win against San Francisco and veteran C Max Unger looks to miss a fifth straight game with ankle/knee woes.
First place in the NFC West is on the line - so too is a potential #1 seed in the NFC - and now we’ll get to see whether the “next man up” mentality spawned by these Cardinals can work wonders again here or is it high time for the defending champs to lay down the law as they did in the 19-3 home win against Arizona back on Nov. 23rd.
Spread Notes - Arizona is a scintillating 20-9-1 ATS (against the spread) under second-year head coach Bruce Arians and note the Cardinals have covered 13-of-18 games during this time when in the underdog role. Seattle enters this NFC West bash at 52-32-1 ATS in the Carroll Era (2010-present) and the Seahawks are 8-3 spreadwise in divisional games since the start of last year.
GREEN BAY (10-4) at TAMPA BAY (2-12) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Here’s the proverbial elephant in the room with the Green Bay Packers ... they simply ain’t the same team away from Lambeau Field as they are in the frozen tundra confines.
In fact, the Pack’s just 3-4 SU (straight-up) away this year and you might be interested to know that the last two times the Packers travelled to Tampa Bay (in 2008 and 2009) they lost including a 38-28 defeat at a time when those Bucs were 0-and-7!
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers comes off - by far - his worst game of this 2014 season as last Sunday’s 21-13 setback at 3.5-point pup Buffalo “featured” a career-worst 25 incompletions and Rodgers and his famed pass-catchers were out of whack all game long plus it didn’t help that WR Jordy Nelson dropped a sure-fire 94-yard scoring toss.
If the heavy-duty dog Bucs are gonna put a scare into Green Bay here than they need Nelson and Company to drop a few more balls and a Bucs offense that’s not scored more 17 points in any of the team’s past four games must come alive - all eyes on rookie WR Mike Evans (948 receiving yards with 11 TDs) who could be a major red-zone menace when/if the Bucs get there!
Spread Notes - Green Bay has failed to cover its last three in a row against Tampa Bay while dating back to the 2008 season but keep in mind the Packers are a heady 33-19-1 ATS as chalk sides since the start of the 2011 campaign (that’s a snazzy .634 winning rate). Tampa Bay is 11-15 ATS as dogs since late in the 2012 season.
DETROIT (10-4) at CHICAGO (5-9) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
It’s been 21 long years since the last time the Detroit Lions won a division - but now a “W”” here and an albeit unlikely Green Bay loss at 10.5-point underdog Tampa Bay would have the Motowners clinching the NFC North.
But the $64,000 question is will it help or hurt Detroit’s cause that the Chicago Bears have decided to bench QB Jay Cutler (see 18 INTs) ... good question!
Cutler was picked off three times and sacked seven times in Chicago’s 31-15 MNF loss to New Orleans earlier in the week and claims he was “shocked” by the decision to sit here in favor of unproven Jimmy Clausen.
Maybe the Lions privately cheered that decision but keep in mind last weekend Detroit allowed Minnesota rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater to roll up 193 offensive yards with two TDs in the Vikings’ first four drives so best beware that Lions’ head coach Jim Caldwell has reminded his crew that it’s not a given that his stop unit will stifle Clausen here.
Keep in mind that Detroit busted the Bears 34-17 back at Ford Field in a Week 13 game on Thanksgiving Day as the QB Matthew Stafford-to-WR Calvin Johnson combo struck for 11 pass plays worth 146 yards and two TDs in that tilt.
Spread Notes - Detroit has split its 14 pointspread verdicts so far this season but did you know the Lions are an electric 8-1 ATS in their last nine head-to-head battles with the Bears. Meanwhile, Chicago’s 5-9 ATS overall this year and a dismal 9-20-1 spreadwise in the Marc Trestman Era that started in 2013.
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 here 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 BOWLS
MIAMI BEACH BOWL - at Miami, FL
BYU (8-4) VS. MEMPHIS (9-3) -- 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
Word is the BYU Cougars’ head coach Bronco Mendenhall - making his tenth bowl appearances in as many years - is doing his very best to “motivate” his club by claiming Memphis players/coaches are acting as if they’ve already won the game - we’ll see whether the mature BYU team “takes the bait” here but the real key to this intriguing day-time clash in south Florida is can Memphis soph QB Paxton Lynch (2,725 yards passing with 18 TDs and 6 INTs) do major damage to a BYU pass defense that ranks a lowly 104th nationally? And will BYU slinger Christian Stewart (2,273 yards passing with 22 TDs and 6 INTs) keep up his late-season scorching pace that helped carry the Cougars to a four-game SU losing streak to conclude regular-season play?
Spread Notes - BYU is just 10-14 spreadwise overall these past two seasons but note the Coogs have covered four of their last five bowl games. Memphis enters this matinee tilt at a snazzy 8-3-1 ATS this year and the Tigers own a 7-3-1 spread log away dating back to the start of last year.
THE NBA REPORT
Will the Dallas Mavericks now be able to beat the teams they need to beat in the NBA’s Western Conference?
No doubt owner Mark Cuban and Company knew they needed an “upgrade” at point guard after the Mavs had gone 0-5 against incumbent Western Conference playoff teams this year - overall the Mavericks are a sizzling 19-8 - and thus the blockbuster deal to acquire Boston PG Rajon Rondo became a reality and we say that now head coach Rick Carlisle’s crew is the “team to beat” in the West.
Rondo’s addition to the Dallas roster means one thing for sure: Everyone’s gonna get out and run more than they have been so far in this 2014-15 campaign and so expect the points-per-game numbers for F Dirk Nowitzki, F Chandler Parsons, G Monta Ellis and others to skyrocket - in fact, don’t be surprised if Dallas winds up leading the league in scoring by year’s end and don’t be shocked if this team wins 58-to-60 regular-season games which may or may not be good enough for a top seed out West depending on whether the Memphis Grizzlies (21-4) and the Golden State Warriors (an NBA West-best 22-3) ever do cool off.
Let’s say we believe the addition of Rondo will be the biggest in-season swap in years - maybe Cuban will ditch a couple episodes of “Shark Tank” to watch his club play more! Hey, how about a Toronto vs. Dallas showdown in this year’s NBA Finals where the winner probably has to score 120 points a night?
NOTE: Get all our NFL Week 16 wrap-up info plus more College Bowl Previews in the very next edition of Jim Sez.