Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 21, 2015 at 9:42 AM
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NFL WEEK 15 NEWS/NOTES
THE PANTHERS STAY PERFECT (BUT JUST BARELY) AND WE EXAMINE THE PLAYOFF PICTURE
MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL PREVIEW: LIONS-SAINTS SQUARE OFF IN THE NOT-SO-SUPERDOME
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT: TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY GAMES
Let's make two things here perfectly clear: The Carolina Panthers (14-0) are still the best team in football and New York Giants WR Odell Beckham, Jr. is a grade-A jerk.
Okay, so we had both confirmed during the course of Sunday's rollicking 38-35 non-cover win by the Panthers against the G-men - yes, Carolina fell asleep at the wheel after motoring out to a 35-7 lead and then having to win it "at the buzzer" with a PK Graham Gano field goal - but MVP-to-be QB Cam Newton showed off his magnificent talents once again with five passing touchdowns and an uber-important run for a first down that set up the game-winning kick and Beckham proved to be a spoiled brat who should have been benched by head coach Tom Coughlin (he didn't have the guts when he needed 'em to win!) and/or should have been ejected from the game for all his classless hits in a head-to-head showdown with Carolina CB Josh Norman that spiraled out of control all game long.
Meanwhile, in terms of NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy claiming the Arizona Cardinals (12-2) are now the "best team in the NFC", hey, the former Tampa Bay and Indianapolis head coach has the right to his paid opinion but count us as being more impressed that Carolina blew a four-TD lead on the road and still won as compared to Arizona smoking gutless (but still-alive) 5.5-point home pup Philadelphia 40-17 on Sunday night with a ground game that ran tire tracks over the Eagles' defense.
Heck, when you get right down to it you've gotta say it would qualify as a shame if we don't get an Arizona versus Carolina showdown in the NFC Championship Game next month ... right?
As far as the NFC playoff picture goes, those Eagles (6-8) still "control their own destiny" thanks to regular-season-ending games against Washington this Saturday night and (if they win that one) at the Giants come Week 17 ... so don't bury Chip Kelly's carcass just yet while in the AFC it's sure looking as if the New York Jets will get squeezed out of a wild card berth even if the J-E-T-S finish with 11 wins. The sked is not kind to Todd Bowles' squad - home to New England this Sunday, at Buffalo in Week 17 - and don't look now but it's entirely possible that Pittsburgh (9-5) and Kansas City (also 9-5) will zoom into the post season as the true two-best teams in the AFC. Really think the defending champ Patriots want a part of either one of these guys in a divisional round affair?
My handicappers and bloggers have everything all mapped out and you can get all the upcoming College Football Bowl Games 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 here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Sign up now and get the remaining 35 bowl games this year - don't delay! 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!
On MNF, it's ...
DETROIT (4-9) at NEW ORLEANS (5-8) - 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
The Lions (in Week 14) and the Saints (here in Week 15) were officially eliminated from the NFC playoff picture but that doesn't mean this will be a snooze job game inside the Louisiana Superdome:
For one, we're quite sure ESPN play-by-play voice Mike Tirico and sidekick Jon Gruden will be discussing the coaching futures of Detroit's Jim Caldwell (he's a goner) and New Orleans' Sean Payton (less than 10 percent shot he's back with the Saints in 2016) and so that's entertainment plus we'll see if Detroit QB Matthew Stafford can rattle the league's 29th-best passing defense (allowing 278.8 ypg) while Saints slinger Drew Brees uncorks the NFL's second-best passing attack (averaging 301.2 ypg) here plus we'll be keenly interested to see if N'Orleans RB Tim Hightower (85 yards rushing and 1 TD last week in the 24-17 win at 6-point fav Tampa Bay) can shake-and-bake his way past a Detroit defense that has held four of its last five foes to 21 points or less.
Spread Notes - New Orleans is 6-6-1 ATS (against the spread) this year and the Saints are 5-13-1 spreadwise as betting favorites since the start of last year. Meanwhile, Detroit's 4-9 vig-wise overall this year and 14-26 ATS away since the start of the 2011 campaign.
THE COLLEGE BOWL REPORT - TUESDAY, DECEMBER 22
FAMOUS IDAHO POTATO BOWL - at Boise, ID
AKRON (7-5) vs. UTAH STATE (6-6) - 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ready for some blue turf football? The Mid-American Conference - which put seven teams into the bowls this holiday season - squares off against the Mountain West Conference that boasts eight bowl teams in all but these teams come from some different worlds: Akron's not gone bowling since 2005 (a Motor City Bowl loss versus Memphis) while Utah State's shooting for a fourth consecutive bowl win these past four years but is sharing snaps at quarterback - that's Kent Myers and oft-injured Chuckie Keeton - really the way to go here? Akron's upset hopes rest with a defense that ranks third nationally against the rush (allows 89.8 ypg) with star LB Jatavis Brown fresh off a 10.5-sack season. Note the totals price has come down from 50 to the current price of 487 points ... just sayin'.
Current Line: Utah State (- 6.5) and 47 points
Spread Notes - Utah State staggers into this bowl bash on a four-game pointspread losing streak and overall the Aggies are 5-7 ATS this year but a tidy 30-19-1 against the odds since the start of 2012. On the flip side, Akron is 7-5 vig-wise this year including a current four-game spread winning streak.
BOCA RATON BOWL - at Boca Raton, FL
TOLEDO (9-2) vs. #24 TEMPLE (10-3) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
Hey, just about every other bowl game this year has a coach-out-the-door theme and here it's Toledo looking to step up to the plate with new head coach Jason Candle stepping into the fray after Matt Campbell exited for the Iowa State job. No doubt Candle will be well-advised to allow RBs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson to spearhead the charges after they combined for 1,764 yards rushing and 17 TDs this season but nationally-ranked Temple knows plenty about sticking it to enemy offenses: The Owls allowed 24 points or less on 10 different occasions and Nagurski/Bednarik Trophy winner LB Tyler Matakevich (a whopping 481 career tackles) will have sights set on this dynamic duo of backs here. Temple started off this 2015 campaign at 6-0 SU (straight-up) but wallowed in the season's second half - maybe the time off (17 days since the American Conference Championship Game loss at Houston) will re-freshen the legs of Owls' RB Jahad Thomas (1,257 yards rushing and 19 total TDs).
Current Line: Temple (- 2.5) and 49.5 points
Spread Notes - Temple's 9-4 against the prices overall this year and the Owls have covered 13 of their last 20 away games since late in the 2012 season while Toledo is an electric 8-3 ATS this season. The Rockets, however, have failed to cover three-of-four bowls since 2010.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23
POINSETTIA BOWL - at San Diego, CA
BOISE STATE (8-4) vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-5) - 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Power 5 leagues, step aside! Two of the country's best non-power conference teams the past decade or so have at it in southern California where, truth be told, this is more a consolation prize bowl game for teams that had bigger/better dreams (note Boise State was ranked #23 to start off this campaign) but there's still plenty at stake here as Northern Illinois attempts to snap a three-game bowl losing skid while the B-State Broncos look to cop their sixth bowl win in seven tries. If the TD-plus favored Broncs get soph RB Jeremy McNichols (1,244 yards rushing and 18 TDs) untracked than this could be blowout city but the Huskies believe MAC-leading rusher RB Joe Bouagnon (1,269 yards rushing and 18 ground TDs) can find some creases against a defense that surrendered 91 points in Boise State's final three regular-season games. An X-factor is Boise State might be able to throw to just one side of the side as Northern Illinois CB Shawun Larry (9 INTs tied for FBS best) usually locks down one side.
Current Line: Boise State (- 9) and 56 points
Spread Notes - Boise State is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6 ATS this year and note the Broncos have covered six of their last nine bowls since 2006. Meanwhile, Northern Illinois is 8-4-1 against the odds this season and the NIU Huskies own an 8-4 ATS mark as underdogs since early 2013.
GODADDAY.COM BOWL - at Mobile, AL
GEORGIA SOUTHERN (8-4) vs. BOWLING GREEN (10-3) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
Ch-ch-ch-changes. In this case, there's interim head coaches on both sidelines after Bowling Green waved bye-bye to Dino Babers (he's headed to Syracuse) while Georgia Southern bid farewell to Willie Fritz (headed to Tulane) and so let's see what short-term sideline general wins out here: Bowling Green's Brian Ward will trust a high-powered attack that registered 34-or-more points on 10 different occasions this year with QB Matt Johnson having thrown for 4,700 yards with 43 TDs and just 8 INTs; Georgia Southern interim coach Dell McGee calls the shots for the country's top-ranked rushing attack (that's 355.6 ypg) with RB Matt Breida (1,540 yards rushing and 16 TDs) the bust-out star of this Sun Belt show. It's worth mentioning that the Sun Belt Conference failed to cover all three of its opening-day bowl games - Appalachian State, Georgia State and Arkansas State all sunk their backers the Saturday-before-Christmas - while Bowling Green covered three-of-four non-league games this year including pointspread "W's" versus Maryland, Memphis and Purdue.
Current Line: Bowling Green (- 7.5) and 66.5 points
Spread Notes - Bowling Green is 10-3 versus the Las Vegas prices this year and that includes a 5-2 ATS mark against fellow bowl squads while Georgia Southern's 8-4 vig-wise and overall the Eagles have covered 15 of their last 23 games since the start of last season.
NOTE: Catch our Jim Sez Mid-Week Report next - there's plenty of NFL Week 16 News/Notes and more College Bowl Previews!