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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 29, 2014 at 12:00 AM


We see y’all rubbing your hands together – you just can’t wait for the NFL Playoffs to begin, right, and you can’t wait to tell your buddies who’s gonna “win it all”.

Let’s just say that if you’re a chalk guy and believe that the two #1 seeds – that’s the New England Patriots in the AFC and the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC – will get to Glendale for Super Bowl 49 than you’re actually going against the grain.

Sure, last year’s Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks showdown in the Super Bowl in New Jersey did indeed pit a pair of #1 seeds against one another but the only other time it’s happened in the past 20 years was back in the 2009 season when the New Orleans Saints beat the Indianapolis Colts in SB 44 … remember?

So, here we are now less than a full week away from the start of the NFL Wild Card weekend and one of the really popular questions asked – we heard NBC’s Bob Costas already ask it of studio analyst Tony Dungy – is which team from this week’s quartet of games can get hot and make a long post-season run?

Dungy, in case you missed it, thinks the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers can be a proverbial dark horse and we’ve already heard some sentiment for the likes of the Pittsburgh Steelers – providing do-it-all RB Le’Veon Bell’s hyper-extended knee is okay – and the Indianapolis Colts for making extended playoff runs.
And what do you think?

It’s worth noting that the only team that had to play a first-round/wild-card round playoff game last year that wound up winning a pair of playoff games were the San Francisco 49ers as they beat Green Bay and Carolina back-to-back on the road before the journey ended in Seattle with a 23-17 NFC Championship Game loss.

As far as the teams that are back in the playoffs this year after getting there in the 2013 season, note that Carolina, Cincinnati and Indianapolis combined for a 1-3 SU (straight-up) post-season mark while the likes of Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Dallas and Detroit are playoff-bound this weekend after not even getting into the “tournament” a year ago.

And one other loose end before we deliver our early-bird, thumbnail-sketch, quick-hitter wild card round previews …
NFL Betting Favorites went 119-130-4 (with 3 pick ‘em games) against the spread this year for a .478 winning rate, so if you thought this was a regular season in which pups were barking, you were right on!

Now, here’s our first look at this weekend’s NFL Wild Card Games with a reminder that we’ll have in-depth previews/forecasts on all four games later this week:

On Saturday, it’s …
ARIZONA (11-5) at CAROLINA (7-8-1) – 4:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
Guess it comes as no major surprise that the aforementioned Panthers are listed as a 4 ½-point betting favorite for this tilt considering QB Cam Newton and mates soar into this one on a four-game winning streak

In Sunday’s slam-dunk 34-3 win in Atlanta that featured more Newton magic (see 114 yards passing/51 yards rushing and two total TDs) and a pair of defensive scores, the Panthers played their best all-around game of the year while the wounded Cardinals are hoping QB Ryan Lindley (316 yards passing and two TDs in 20-17 loss-but-cover at San Francisco) can make some flip-the-field plays here providing Drew Stanton (right knee) can’t go.

Obviously, the oddsmakers don’t have a whole lot of confidence in Lindley (or Stanton) or this punch-less Cardinals attack that’s scored 87 points in their last seven games

BALTIMORE (10-6) at PITTSBURGH (11-5) – 8:15 p.m. ET, NBC
Maybe it’s only a tad ironic that in a year in which the Ravens waved bye-bye to troubled RB Ray Rice, it’s the Steelers who may wave bye-bye to their post-season dreams should RB Bell be out of the lineup here.

The helmet-on-knee hit that Bell took from Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson that kayoed the Pittsburgh mega-star from that 27-17 Steelers’ win/cover – one that stoked Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin into a more-than-brief argument with the Bengals’ defensive back – could well be the blow that cripples the AFC North champs but the bigger problem may be a secondary that managed to piece together a key divisional win against Cincy but try doing that now against playoff-experienced QB Joe Flacco who finally awoke in time to deliver that 20-10 non-cover win against Cleveland in Week 17.

Best news for the Ravens is they’ll get back suspended NT Haloti Ngata who is eligible to play here after missing four regular-season games because he violated the league’s substance abuse policy.

On Sunday, it’s …
CINCINNATI (10-5-1) at INDIANAPOLIS (11-5) – 1:05 p.m. ET, CBS
It’s been a swing-and-a-miss three years in a row come playoff time for the Bengals who now limp into Indianapolis quite possibly without star WR A.J. Green who took a severe hit to the head in the Sunday Night game at Heinz Field.

Green had snagged eight balls worth 82 yards before getting whacked and the truth is QB Andy Dalton simply doesn’t trust many other targets these days … what’s happened to WR Mohammad Sanu (see one catch for 16 yards versus the Steelers)?

On the flip side, the Colts really need to show they’re “for real” in this year’s playoffs as the QB Andrew Luck Era included a one-and-done playoff showing in 2012 and then that wild comeback win against Kansas City last year before getting ousted 43-22 at New England.
Is Luck – who became the eighth quarterback in league history to throw 40-or-more TDs and more than 4,000 yards in a season – to be blamed for salivating Sunday night when he saw Cincinnati barely put any heat on Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger for most of the game?

DETROIT (11-5) at DALLAS (12-4) – 4:40 p.m. ET, Fox
Dig this … these two teams have combined for one single/solitary playoff win the past 10 years (see Dallas 34, Philadelphia 14 in the 2009 season) and so we’re not exactly talking rich recent post-season tradition but the stars certainly have aligned for the NFC East champion Cowboys who have scored 44, 42, 38 and 41 points in their last four games and suddenly there’s a debate as to whether or not QB Tony Romo-to-WR Dez Bryant is the best pass/catch combo in the league.

Meanwhile, the Lions actually will be playing their third consecutive road game here after winning in Chicago in Week 16 action and then losing 30-20 at Green Bay in Week 17 play.

Of course, there’s talk that Lions’ DT Ndamukong Suh might get suspended here for stepping on Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers’ lower left leg – we believe the NFL will give Suh a pass here (the ref said he thought it was not intentional) and keep in mind Detroit’s welcoming back fellow bad boy C Dominic Raiola.
Footnote on the Lions:

They’re now 0-18 on the road against winning teams with Stafford in the lineup.

Extra, extra …
Get all the College Football Bowl Games including all the upcoming College Football Playoffs – that’s Oregon vs. Florida State and Alabama vs. Ohio State on New Year’s Day -- plus get all the NFL Wild Card Round games this weekend 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 online here at or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453.

Here’s a look at the Three (3) Bowl Games on tap for Tuesday, December 30th:

MUSIC CITY BOWL – at Nashville, TN
NOTRE DAME (7-5) vs. #23 LSU (8-4) – 3 p.m. ET, ESPN
The College Football Playoffs will go on later this week without either Notre Dame or LSU – and it wasn’t all that long ago both schools tasted defeat the hands of the Alabama Crimson Tide in BCS Championship Games.

Now, this bowl bash is more a pride thing although it’s worth noting Notre Dame is looking to snap a four-game losing skid here while LSU is trying to nab its seventh bowl win in 10 years under head coach Les Miles.

One problem with the Bayou Bengals is this remains a one-dimensional offense with QB Anthony Jennings no real passing threat (see 1,460 yards passing with only 10 TDs) and so if the Irish can stack the box and hunker down against this LSU ground game starring frosh RB Leonard Fournette (891 yards rushing and 8 TDs) then the South Bend squad could have a real shot for the bowl upset.

P.S., Notre Dame QB Everett Golson (3,355 yards passing with 29 TDs) did commit 22 turnovers (14 INTs/8 lost fumbles) this season.
Spread Notes – LSU is 7-4-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this year but the Tigers have failed to cover their last three consecutive bowl games. Notre Dame is 5-7 versus the vig this year and 11-8 ATS as underdogs in the Brian Kelly Era.

BELK BOWL – at Charlotte, NC
#13 GEORGIA (9-3) vs. #21 LOUISVILLE (9-3) – 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Did you know that the U of L Cardinals are a composite 32-6 SU the past three years?

Okay, so the Charlie Strong Era was wonderful but the Redbirds really didn’t miss a beat under prodigal son head coach Bobby Petrino who guided this 2014 edition to wins against Miami, Boston College and Notre Dame and maybe you didn’t realize it but Louisville ranked third nationally in rush defense while yielding just 94 yards a game.

Now, here comes the run-first Georgia squad that ranked 12th in FBS in rushing yards (255 yards per game) and remember no RB Todd Gurley here (knee), so Nick Chubb is the centerpiece player here after rushing for 1,281 yards and 12 scores.
If the ‘Ville does get down here, than either freshman QB Reggie Bonnafon or backup Kyle Bolin will get to shine in the absence of original starter Will Gardner.

Spread Notes – Georgia is 7-5 against the odds this year and the Bulldogs have failed to cover eight of their last dozen away games. Louisville’s also 7-5 ATS this season and the Cardinals are 16-8 ATS as point-grabbers the past four seasons.

MARYLAND (7-5) vs. STANFORD (7-5) – 10 p.m. ET, ESPN
After back-to-back Rose Bowls, the Stanford Cardinal could be excused for not being “jacked” here even if this bowl game is in its own Bay Area backyard.

Still, fourth-year head coach David Shaw believes his veteran team will be pumped for this clash against a Big 10 team – the crowd figures to be approximately 90 percent Stanford fans – and Shaw’s counting on QB Kevin Hogan (2,603 yards passing with 17 TDs and 8 INTs) to play efficient ball against a Maryland defense that surrenders 29 points per game.

If there’s an X-factor at work here for the two-TD underdog Terrapins, it’s that WR Stefon Diggs (team-leading 52 catches) is expected back here after suffering a lacerated kidney against Penn State back on Nov. 1st.

Spread Notes – Stanford is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 ATS this season but the Cardinal is 12-6 spreadwise when playing non-league foes the past five years. Maryland, meanwhile, is also 6-6 spreadwise this season but note the Terps have covered six of their last nine away games.

NOTE: Catch the Three (3) New Year’s Eve Bowl Game Previews in tomorrow’s edition of Jim Sez.


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