Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, January 7, 2016 at 12:59 PM
THE NFL PLAYOFFS ARE HERE!!!
WE PREVIEW SATURDAY'S TWO AFC WILD CARD ROUND GAMES ...
PLUS OUR COLLEGE NOTEBOOK FEATURES MORE #1 CLEMSON VS. #2 ALABAMA TITLE TALK
Talk about Halley's Comet!
At press time we actually had Four (4) Road Betting Favorites in this NFL Wild Card Playoff Round and can't say we remember the last time that happened.
P.S., the next time folks can view Halley's Comet will be in 2061 and that might be the next time you see all four road teams laying points in this playoff round!
Seriously, this is a strange occurrence and - perhaps even stranger - we've seen numerous "expert" predictions tabbing wild card round teams going all the way this year.
Not quite sure if some of that is a general lack of respect for the top seeds - that's #1 Denver and #2 New England in the AFC along with #1 Carolina and #2 Arizona in the NFC (they are all in action next weekend, of course) - but just checking out the twittersphere and all throughout the internet there's a whole lot of folks picking Pittsburgh or Seattle or Green Bay to "win it all" and there's plenty of sentiment that the league's best teams really are the ones playing right here in this Wild Card Round. We'll certainly see about that!
Get the Side and/or Totals of this weekend's NFL Wild Card Round games when you check with us here on game-day mornings 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 either here online or at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Plus, the College Football National Championship Game is set -- #1 Clemson versus #2 Alabama on Monday, January 11th from Glendale ... and we're ready to put a capper on what's been a great post-season with Side & Totals winners here!
On Saturday, it's ...
#5 KANSAS CITY (11-5) at #4 HOUSTON (9-7) - 4:35 p.m. ET, ABC
Now this is really the "Hard Knocks" crowd! Remember the Houston Texans were the summertime darlings of HBO's hit show by the same name while the Kansas City Chiefs learned all about the real "hard knocks" - see a 1-5 SU (straight-up) start - and still lived to talk about it with Andy Reid's club riding an NFL-best 10-game winning streak heading into this wild card opener. The Chiefs weaved major magic without the services of their Pro Bowl RB Jamaal Charles (injured knee in Week 5 and out for the year) but hats off to QB Alex Smith who at one point went nine consecutive games without throwing an interception. In this clash against sack-crazy DE J.J. Watt - the NFL's leader in quarterback sacks with 17.5 - Smith might have to change the game plan a bit and run/pass to the side of the field not occupied by Watt and gut feel is slick TE Travis Kelce will be the central focus of a short, ball-control passing game here.
Meanwhile, the Texans have some revenge in mind after losing at home 27-20 in this year's season opener against the Chiefs - when the above-mentioned Kelce nabbed a pair of touchdown passes from Smith. In fact, that's when Houston's quarterback "issues" really started as Brian Hoyer was benched after getting sacked four times while throwing a pick. Hoyer is one of four Texans' quarterbacks to have earned a win this year and now he's back in this little QB merry-go-round but whether he can avoid the likes of OLB Justin Houston (7.5 sacks in 11 games) is another matter - hey, will Texans' WR DeAndre Hopkins (111 receptions for 1,521 yards and 11 TDs) toast the KC secondary the way he did overrated New York Jets CB Darrelle Revis just a week ago?
Current Line: Kansas City (- 3) and 40 points
Spread Notes - Kansas City is a dead-even but vig-losing 8-8 ATS (against the spread) this year (yes, the Chiefs have covered seven of their last 10 games during this lengthy SU winning streak) and overall KC's 17-9 ATS away since the start of the 2013 campaign. Meanwhile, Houston is 9-7 against the Las Vegas prices this season and that includes a sour 4-6 spread mark when placed in the underdog role. Note that the Texans are just 10-14 ATS at home the past three years.
Here's the last three head-to-head meetings between the Chiefs and the Texans (note all home teams are in CAPS):
#6 PITTSBURGH (10-6) at #3 CINCINNATI (12-4) - 8:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Maybe they should be calling it "can't-top-this Saturday" in the NFL ...
After all, the above-mentioned Kansas City Chiefs have not won a playoff game since 1993 while the Cincinnati Bengals have gone 25 long years without a post-season victory. Go ahead and raise your hand if you remember the Bengals' 41-14 win over the Houston Oilers way back on January 6, 1991!
Throw into the mix the fact the Bengals - as everyone knows - have lost opening-round playoff games for the past four years in a row (and no other NFL team has done that) and now Marvin Lewis' AFC North champs must go it without QB Andy Dalton who suffered a broken right/passing thumb against the Steelers back in a Week 14 game and no reason to think he's gonna play here. If second-year man AJ McCarron (100.1 passer rating in his three-plus games of work) is gonna help put an end to this post-season drought for the Bengals, then avoiding the Pittsburgh pass rush (48 sacks is third-best in the league) and burning a sub-par secondary is key. Pittsburgh ranks 30th in the NFL in pass defense (allowing 272 ypg) - but will Cincy offensive coordinator Hue Jackson (and Lewis) allow McCarron to "cut it loose" or will they tend to play it safe?
Note that the Steelers - who've scored 30-plus points in half their games this year - have beaten the Bengals in four of their last five meetings (see our Jim Sez game-by-game chart below) but here the division's second-best team is likely without a top-flight running back with RB DeAngelo Williams (right leg) following Le'Veon Bell to the sidelines. All the more reason why QB Ben Roethlisberger (3,938 yards passing with 21 TDs and 16 INTs) has been "pepping up" WR Martavis Bryant to be a big-time contributor to go along with WR Antonio Brown (136 catches for 1,834 yards and 10 TDs) in the deep passing game ... but will the better-defense-plus-points theory be the correct handicapping formula for the Bengals or are they headed towards another post-season bomb?
Current Line: Pittsburgh (- 3) and 45.5 points
Spread Notes - Cincinnati is an electric 12-3-1 versus the vig this year and overall the Bengals are 16-7-2 ATS at home the past three years. On the flip side, Pittsburgh's 8-6-2 against the odds this season and the Steelers enter this playoff tilt with a 5-4 ATS post-season log under ninth-year head coach Mike Tomlin. Note that underdog sides are 15-5-1 ATS in this rivalry since the start of the 2005 season.
Here's the last five head-to-head meetings between the Steelers and the Bengals (note all home teams are in CAPS):
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL NOTEBOOK
#1 CLEMSON (14-0) - One measuring stick the NFL folks have utilized over the years for checking out "domination" is a 2-to-1 scoring margin and note the here-and-now Tigers have outscored their opponents 537-280 (a 38-to-20 per game average or, as you see, nearly 2-to-1).
Dabo Swinney's team also has mastered winning the close ones - a 3-point triumph over Louisville, a 2-point win against Notre Dame and a 5-point victory at South Carolina - and we remind you that Clemson has covered 5-of-8 games this year played against fellow bowl squads and that naturally includes the resounding 37-17 Orange Bowl/semifinal playoff game win against Oklahoma on New Year's Eve.
Note that Clemson ranks 11th nationally in total offense; the Tigers rank 6th nationally in total defense.
#2 ALABAMA (13-1) - Okay, so let's check out the scoring disparity between the Crimson Tide and their 2015 opponents ... this Southeastern Conference club has outscored its foes 481-to-187 (a 34-13 per-game scoring average) and we'll remind you that 'Bama bested 12 foes by double-digit margins with the lone hiccup coming in a 43-37 September loss at Ole Miss.
Nick Saban's team club is 7-5 ATS versus fellow bowl teams this year and that includes wins/covers against the likes of Wisconsin, Georgia, LSU, Miss State and Auburn ... all of whom won/covered their respective bowl games.
Note that Alabama ranks 2nd nationally in defense (and first in rushing defense) but just 51st nationally in offense.
In case you're wondering, Alabama is 12-3 SU lifetime against Clemson with the most recent matchup occurring in the 2008 season opener for both teams: Alabama (+ 4.5) squashed Clemson 34-10 in a game played inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.