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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 27, 2014 at 12:26 PM



The National Football League pulls down the curtain on its 2014 regular season with Sunday's 16 divisional games - but make sure you realize not everyone's playing "for keeps" this weekend.
Reports continue to circulate that the New England Patriots - who've already clinched top seed in the AFC - will rest a number of their starters while you do have to worry about the mindset of some teams that were eliminated with last week's results ... do the Philadelphia Eagles and/or the New Orleans Saints even bother to "show up" for their respective games at the New York Giants and at the Tampa Bay Bucs? Hmmm.

All this past holiday week we've been gladly feeding you NFL Week 17 previews (see Carolina-Atlanta, San Diego-Kansas City, Detroit-Green Bay, Dallas-Washington and St. Louis-Seattle) and now we'll deliver a pair of key NFL game previews here but first a go-around-the-league bit when it comes to what coaches figure to get canned come "Black Monday":

REX RYAN, New York Jets - It's no secret that "Gang Green" will cut loose this noisy coach after six years on the job but the $64,000 question is where will Ryan land next year and our best guess is he will have a shot to grab the Chicago Bears' head coaching gig or perhaps he'll wind up on TV as a studio/game analyst.

MARC TRESTMAN, Chicago Bears - Just don't believe this NFC North club will give Trestman a third year at the helm and thus the speculation that Rex Ryan could get the gig or perhaps "Da Bears" will turn to a high-profile assistant coach (possibly New England OC Josh McDaniels). If we were calling the shots in Chitown, we'd make a phone call to Sean Payton and see if he wants out of New Orleans.

TONY SPARANO, Oakland Raiders - Not gonna stand here and blame this one-time Miami Dolphins head coach on the whole mess in Oakland but somebody's got to take the hit and so look for Sunday's Raiders-Broncos game in Denver to be Sparano's swan song and our guess is that either Jim Harbaugh (San Francisco 49ers) or fellow Bay Area college coach David Shaw (Stanford) will get this job or the Raiders could pull out one of the surprise names - could Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin be intrigued by the pros?


CINCINNATI (10-4-1) at PITTSBURGH (10-5) - 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC
Winner cops the AFC North; loser plays a wild-card round game on the road. Yes sir, plenty on the line at Heinz Field on this final Sunday Night game of the season with the Bengals and Steelers both barreling towards the finish line with each snagging seven SU (straight-up) wins in their last nine games and keep in mind this is a revenge-plus-points deal for Cincy - a 42-21 loser at home to Pittsburgh back on Dec. 7th. If the Bengals are gonna get that revenge here than they may have to go it without WR A.J. Green (biceps) who kept coming in/out of last Monday's 37-28 rain-filled win against Denver and note the flu bug has made the rounds with Bengals QB Andy Dalton and TE Jermaine Gresham among the ill players. On the flip side, Pittsburgh's passing attack is pretty healthy these days with QB Ben Roethlisberger having thrown for 350 yards and three TDs in that aforementioned Week 14 win in Cincinnati - can the Bengals' front seven hassle "Big Ben" here or will this be a coronation night for the guys in black-and-gold?

ARIZONA (11-4) at SAN FRANCISCO (7-8) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
Hasn't it gotten a little tiresome seeing those reports this week ... first the Arizona Cardinals are saying Logan Thomas will start at quarterback, then they claim Ryan Lindley will start. Hey, does it really matter 'cause neither of 'em is really armed-and-dangerous and remember the only way the Redbirds win the NFC West is an upset win here and a Seattle loss at home to double-digit dog St. Louis. Fugetaboutit! Arizona simply doesn't trust either Lindley or the stronger-armed Thomas and so expect the strategy here against the out-of-it 49ers to include a bevy of trick plays designed to get the ball into the hands of WRs Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd (they've combined for 100 catches this year) while San Fran's more-than-likely final game for coach Harbaugh will be about pride ... and can QB Colin Kaepernick (only 114 yards passing in last Saturday's 38-35 OT loss to San Diego) get his act together in the aerial game before San Fran starts thinking someone else should lead them in 2015 and beyond.

Get all the upcoming College Football Bowl Games plus get all the NFL Week 17 games too when you check with us here at Jim Hurley's Network. And, of course, make sure you're all aboard for the NBA and NCAA Basketball daily/nightly winners all this week/weekend action either here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.


Here's a look at the three Bowl Games on tap for Monday, December 29th:

LIBERTY BOWL - at Memphis, TN
TEXAS A&M (7-5) vs. WEST VIRGINIA (7-5) -- 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
The news here is WVU slinger Clint Trickett (concussions) won't suit up for this bowl bash and that means Skyler Howard (483 yards passing with 5 TDs) gets the nod at QB for Dana Holgorsen's squad - can he work magic with WR Kevin White who comes into this game with 102 receptions this year? On the flip side, the A&M Aggies also have their quarterback issues with Kyle Allen slated to start over one-time Heisman Trophy candidate Kenny Hill - and favorite target WR Josh Reynolds (15 catches for 244 yards and 4 TDs the past four games) must be a long-ball threat in this game matching one-time Big 12 member against one of the latest new members of the Big 12 Conference.

Spread Notes - West Virginia is 7-5 against the odds this season and the Mountaineers are an ugly 3-6 ATS (against the spread) in bowl games the past 10 years. On the flip side, Texas A&M is 4-8 spreadwise this year (including seven spread losses the last eight games) and the Aggies are 13-25-1 ATS as underdogs since the start of the 2007 season.

OKLAHOMA (8-4) vs. #17 CLEMSON (9-3) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The truth is there's more questions than answers for this bowl game as Oklahoma is keeping fingers crossed that QB Trevor Knight (2,197 yards passing with 14 TDs) will be good to go after missing three games with a back injury while Clemson's kid QB Deshaun Watston (knee surgery) also is hoping to get green-lighted for this Sunshine State battle. The Tigers will enter this game without offensive coordinator Chad Morris who's moved on to take over as head coach at SMU. The OU Sooners, meanwhile, are counting on a 25-or-so carry game from frosh RB Samaje Perine who broke the NCAA's single-game rushing record a few weeks back with that scintillating 427-yard ground game against Kansas but keep in mind Perine had some injury issues too late in the year (see neck/head) and so this might be resembling a M*A*S*H report more than a game preview at this stage, right?

Spread Notes - Clemson is just 5-7 versus the vig this year and note the Tigers have failed to cover six of their last nine bowl tilts. Oklahoma is also a dismal 5-7 ATS this season and the Sooners enter this bowl bash at 6-1 spreadwise when playing their last seven non-Big 12 games.

TEXAS BOWL - at Houston, TX
ARKANSAS (6-6) vs. TEXAS (6-6) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Old rivals from the Southwest Conference days collide in the Space City and count us among the folks interested that Arkansas is a 5.5 or 6-point betting favorite for this clash - based on what!
The Hogs - who are 13-23-3 SU in its bowl history - has an injury-riddled secondary here and a one-dimension offense with the country's 26th-best ground attack starring Jonathan Williams (1,085 yards rushing) and Alex Collins (1,024 yards rushing) sharing the wealth but Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes (2,352 yards passing with 13 TDs) has been growing by leaps and bounds and gotta make first-year Texas head coach Charlie Strong at least a FG better than Arkansas' second-year man Bret Bielema.

Spread Notes - Texas is 7-5 against the prices this season and the 'Horns are just 9-15 ATS as dogs the past five seasons. Arkansas is a snazzy 9-3 spreadwise this 2014 season and the Hogs sport a 4-0 ATS log this year against non-SEC foes.

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