Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 30, 2015 at 11:53 AM
OUR JIM SEZ MID-WEEK REPORT FEATURES A THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEW AS HURTIN' RAVENS PLAY BIG BEN-LESS STEELERS
PLUS OUR COLLEGE GRIDIRON NOTEBOOK INCLUDES THIS YEAR'S "BETTER-THAN-YOU-THINK" TEAMS
By Jim Hurley:
Memo to those of you - and we're not saying all of you! - that don't believe the quarterback position is the be-all and end-all when it comes to pro football: Just check out what's happening or about to happen to those NFL teams that have already lost their starting quarterbacks ...
The Chicago Bears, well, they may have been toast even before the Week 2 hamstring injury suffered by QB Jay Cutler but here's the Bears heading into Sunday's home game against Oakland at 0-3 SU (straight-up) and 0-3 ATS (against the spread) and looking all the world like a team that simply cannot function on offense. What, you thought Jimmy Clausen (9-of-17 for 63 yards passing in last weekend's ugly 26-0 loss at Seattle) was gonna be a capable replacement for the oft-criticized Cutler ... now think again!
The Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, may go down in NFL history as the "most scared" team to ever start off a season 2-and-oh because when QB Tony Romo (clavicle) went down in that 20-10 Week 2 win in Philadelphia you could palpably feel the air come out of the team's balloon. Okay, so you'll argue that the 'Boys roared out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead en route to last Sunday's 39-28 home loss to Atlanta but the reality is even Dallas owner/spokesman Jerry Jones was fretting the rest of this season when Romo was slinged-up in Philadelphia and all you really needed to see was journeyman QB Brandon Weeden float that over-the-middle airy INT against the Falcons to know he's certainly not the answer these next several weeks when Romo's sidelined. Paging Matt Cassel!
It's rather amazing that diminutive QB Drew Brees never missed a single game due to injury in his New Orleans Saints' career until last Sunday's close-but-no-cigar 27-22 loss at Carolina. Now, the Saints are saying their prayers that Brees won't be out much longer - word is N'Orleans should know by Friday whether Brees is a "go" for the Week 4 Sunday Night prime-time game against the visiting Cowboys - but let's just say an 0-3 Saints team (see 1-2 ATS) will be official history with a loss this weekend. Yes, long-time backup Luke McCown (31-of-38 for 310 yards with one INT against the Panthers last week) was solid in that tilt but Saints Nation is sending out a collective "Get Well Soon" wish to Brees - who someday will rank as a borderline top 10 QB all-time in this league where they play for pay.
Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play a bunch of games without QB Ben Roethlisberger - by our count, Big Ben's missed 17 regular-season games in his career that dates back to 2004 - but check out his recent years and you see Roethlisberger played in all 16 regular-season games in both 2013 and '14 (plus a single playoff game last year) and so life without Roethlisberger is gonna be a whole 'nother animal for this 2-1 SU squad. Okay, so veteran Michael Vick (5-of-6 for 38 yards passing) delivered in that ugly 12-6 win in St. Louis in Week 3 after Roethlisberger went down but will he be a step above "adequate" in upcoming games against Baltimore, San Diego, Arizona, Kansas City, Cincinnati and Oakland the next six weeks? Hey, the Steelers don't quite catch a break as their bye week isn't till Week 11 - the $64,000 question is will a Roethlisberger-less Steelers team still be relevant by then?
On Thursday Night, it's BALTIMORE (0-3) at PITTSBURGH (2-1) - 8:25 p.m. ET,
Okay, so enough about the no-Roethlisberger Steelers ...The Baltimore Ravens are the ones facing do-or-die time when you check out the standings - did you realize John Harbaugh's bunch is the only AFC team without a win! - and it's safe to say that the team that won a Super Bowl a mere three years ago is now light years different (and worse, of course) on defense where Baltimore's yielded 84 points through the season's first three weeks and what's exactly happened to Baltimore's ground game that these days ranks a lowly 24th in the league (averaging 72.7 ypg)?
Our Jim Sez sources claim Harbaugh's not about to "give up" on RB Justin Forsett (39 carries for 124 yards rushing, a 3.2 ypg average and 0 TDs) - now the question is what gives if Forsett gets 23-to-25 carries, QB Joe Flacco (863 yards passing with 4 TDs and 4 INTs) finds a target other than WR Steve Smith, Sr. (25 catches) and the Ravens' defense slows down Pittsburgh RB Le'Veon Bell ... will that still be enough to win/cover here as 2.5-point road favorites?
Spread Notes - Pittsburgh's 2-0-1 ATS to start off the 2015 campaign and note the Steelers are a solid 19-12-1 spreadwise in divisional games the past five-plus seasons. Baltimore enters this prime-time game at 0-3 versus the juice this year and just 2-4-1 ATS versus the Steelers since the start of 2012.
Jim Hurley's Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to torch Las Vegas and the off-shore books with loads of NFL Week 4 and NCAA Football winners this week and that includes the Side & Totals winners on the Ravens at Steelers game on Thursday, so make sure you check with the Jim Hurley Network right here online or via our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 after 12 p.m. ET on week days and any time after 10 a.m. ET on Saturday Night. Plus, the college kids kick it off on Thursday too with Miami at Cincinnati (on ESPN) and there's a whole slew of great games on Friday/Saturday too including that Saturday night marquee matchup between #6 Notre Dame at #12 Clemson. And - of course - we're putting a wrap on the regular season with lots of Major-League Baseball action before we get to the wild card games next Tuesday/Wednesday.
THE COLLEGE GRIDIRON REPORT
The last two years at this very time - that's the first week in October - we unveiled a batch of "better-than-you-think" college football teams based mainly on the fact they were unbeaten versus the almighty vig ... so let's check out the teams that have been cashing regularly so far in 2015:
AIR FORCE - Fear the Falcons? Hey, the reality is this always-proud service academy has covered all three of its pointspread verdicts thus far (while going 2-1 SU) including an easy cover in a 35-21 loss to 24.5-point favorite Michigan State two weeks ago. Now comes a monster showdown at 5.5-point fav Navy and AF is counting on its second-best nationally-ranked ground game (367 ypg) to smash its way to big gainers against a Navy stop unit that ranks just 36th nationally against the rush.
CALIFORNIA - The Golden Bears are a perfect 4-0 SU to start off this season and Sonny Dykes' squad has notched spread wins in three of its four games including last weekend's 30-24 triumph at 1-point home dog Washington. Quarterback Jared Goff leads the nation's 11th-best passing attack (350.5 ypg) but what you really need to know is that the good folks in Las Vegas have been underrating the Bears right from season's start - true, Cal's been the betting fav in each of its first four outings but they've won these four games by a per-game average of 23.5 points a game. Interesting that Cal opened as a 13.5-point fav against wobbly Washington State and it immediately went up to 18 points - now that's more like it!
DUKE - Can we ask a question: When is the rest of the world gonna catch up with the Blue Devils? Date back to the start of 2013 and you'll see the Dookies are a collective 21-8 ATS (that's a resounding .724 winning rate) and yet seemingly year-after-year David Cutcliffe's crew slides under the proverbial radar. Now, here's Duke (3-1 SU) with three spread wins in four tries with last weekend's 34-20 triumph over 7.5-point road fav Georgia Tech and it's Homecoming Game this Saturday versus Boston College - and may we remind you Duke is 18-7-1 spreadwise as chalk sides since Mr. Cutcliffe arrived back in 2008.
MISSISSIPPI STATE - Roll back the calendar a few weeks and you'll note that the Bulldogs were one of the rare SEC teams not included in the Associated Press Top 25 to start off the 2015 season but four weeks into the campaign here's M-State at #21 with a bullet. The Dawgs - who've covered three in a row following a Week One non-cover win at Southern Miss - will have hands full at TD favorite Texas A&M this weekend in a key SEC West affair but get the feeling more than a few folks were "sleeping" on Dan Mullen's team this year?
SOUTHERN MISS - And you didn't think we'd ever have something nice to say about a team that entered this season a collective 4-32 SU the past three years? Hey, the USM Golden Eagles have covered all four of their games out of the chute this season and that includes "high-profile" covers against Miss State and Nebraska with last weekend's 36-28 loss at the three-TD favored 'Huskers a real taffy-pull affair (see 29-22 with 11-plus minutes remaining after Southern Miss once fell behind 22-0). It's been a long road back but Southern Miss has earned the respect/trust of "financial backers" out there - let's see what is ahead this weekend against 16-point pup North Texas as this is a very rare big-fav role for the Birds.
UTAH - Let's see ... The Pac-12 South squad has beaten Michigan, humiliated Oregon 62-20 last weekend in not-so-noisy Autzen Stadium and has climbed from outside the top 25 all the way to #10 in the rankings while heading into the Utes' Oct. 10th Homecoming Game against aforementioned California. Our Jim Sez insiders say the Utes - who have outscored their foes by 90 points though this sparkling 4-0 SU/3-1 ATS start - have more team speed than 90 percent of the FBS teams out there and now you wonder if the oddsmakers and the public are gonna "wise up" when it comes to this Utah team.
NOTE: Catch all our NCAA Football/NFL Week 4 Previews in the next edition of Jim Sez.