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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 27, 2014 at 3:00 PM

Barring a huge surprise during the day in Denver, we already know that the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are in the playoffs…and will be playing next week in the Wildcard round because neither was able to earn a bye. We DON’T know who they will be playing…and where those games will be played.

At stake Sunday Night…a home game in the Wildcard round for the winner…and a road game against a tough opponent for the loser. It’s not exactly do-or-die…but the winner will be a slight home favorite next week, while the loser will be a road underdog out of the gate…in a sequence where they would likely play nothing but road games all the way through the brackets if they keep winning.

Both Cincinnati and Pittsburgh definitely need to win! Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about who’s likely to claim the AFC North crown…


Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)

Cincinnati: 10-4-1 (#24 schedule in USA Today)

Pittsburgh: 10-5 (#32 schedule in USA Today)

These teams played at comparable levels all season. Pittsburgh did so against the easier schedule. It’s not getting much publicity that Pittsburgh played the softest schedule in the NFL (at least according to Jeff Sagarin’s computer). Cincinnati’s tie at home to Carolina was a virtual loss because they were big favorites. Those numbers would suggest that Cincinnati is the slightly better team. The problem is…when they played in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh CRUSHED them! That’s a major monkey wrench.



Cincinnati: 5.5 on offense, 5.3 on defense

Pittsburgh: 6.2 on offense, 6.1 on defense

These teams were very similar in terms of having a slight edge over opponents. But, Pittsburgh did that by outscoring teams in shootouts, while Cincinnati did that while out-defending teams in lower scoring battles. Once again, we have the issue of Cincinnati grading out slightly better overall against the tougher schedule despite getting waxed when they played head-to-head. Home field advantage is certainly enough to make Pittsburgh the favorite based on what we’ve seen already. If you believe in revenge…that could shade things back to Cincy. If not, the picture so far is full of terrible towels waving through the crowd.


Turnover Differential

Cincinnati: even

Pittsburgh: even

No difference here. Neither team played like a champion in terms of risk/reward, which is a strike against both lasting deep in the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s defense continues to play too soft, having lost the ability to force mistakes a few seasons ago. Hard to see either of these teams scaring New England in Foxboro, or Denver a mile high.


Market Performance

Cincinnati: 8-6-1

Pittsburgh: 8-7

Once again, virtual lockstep for these teams. Neither was really overrated or underrated. Slight profits for backers of both. Note that we do have a difference in Over/Unders. Consistent with what you saw in the yards-per-play category…Cincinnati tended to play Unders (6-9 to the Under) while Pittsburgh games went Over (9-6 to the Over). The one game they played against each other FLEW over because Pittsburgh’s offense had a huge game. Clearly, whoever can enforce their preferred style on the game will be at a great advantage. Figure that out, and you probably have the side and total winner.


Current Line: Pittsburgh by 3.5, total of 48

The market is anticipating that the home team will control tempo and flow. Three is a huge number in the NFL…and the Steelers are now sitting above it. That’s from a combination of home field advantage, an extra day to prepare (Cincinnati played Monday Night vs. Denver), and probably what happened head-to-head too.

JIM HURLEY knows this is the most important “betting” game of Week 17 in the NFL because it’s the final matchup of the day, week, and season! You want to end on a winning note as you head into the major bowls and the full NFL postseason. He’ll leave no stone unturned in finding you the right way to play!

You can purchase the final word for the entire Week 17 NFL slate right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-888-777-4155 Sunday morning before the games kick off. That’s a great time to take care of business for the major bowl bonanza and all NFL through the Super Bowl. An intense football run is about to get kicked up another notch!

Back to the bowls Monday here in the NOTEBOOK. Here’s what’s ahead through New Year’s Week as we work through the greatest college football matchups of the season and into the NFL Wildcard round…

Monday: Texas Bowl Preview…Arkansas vs. Texas on ESPN

Tuesday: Early Look…#6 TCU vs. #9 Ole Miss in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on ESPN

Wednesday: Early Look…#2 Oregon vs. #3 Florida State in the Rose Bowl

New Year’s Day: Sugar Bowl Preview…#1 Alabama vs. #4 Ohio State

Friday-Sunday: NFL Wildcard Previews

For now….the focus is on the NFL. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh will determine the AFC North champion Sunday Night. And, that’s after the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers determine the NFC North champion earlier in the day, along with the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers determining the NFC South Champion. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!


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Jim Hurley on twitter @vsm_hurley

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