Submitted by Jim Hurley on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 at 1:27 PM
THE NFL REPORT - EAGLES CLINCH NFC HOME FIELD BUT CAN THEY WIN IT ALL WITH QB FOLES? ...
COLLEGE BOWL BONANZA THE TUESDAY/WEDNESDAY GAMES
Network 2-0 Christmas Day With Raiders (+10) vs. Eagles 10-19 and UNDER 46!
The good news for the here-and-now Philadelphia Eagles is that they survived a chilly/ugly Christmas Night 19-10 win against the stubborn Oakland Raiders - the bad news is journeyman QB Nick Foles hardly looked the part of a potential Super Bowl-winning signal-caller.
Hey, the fact is the Eagles have no choice: We all saw multiple TV shots of injured Philly QB Carson Wentz (knee) who won't be back till the summer of 2018 and so Foles is clearly in the cross-hairs.
As it turns out, both the NFC #1 seed Eagles and the likely #2 seed Minnesota Vikings both will be "going to bat" this post-season with so-called journeymen slingers (see Minny's Case Keenum) and so guess we're all about to find out whether star quarterbacks (see New Orleans' Drew Brees) rule the roost in the playoffs or are they "not necessary" when trying to track down a championship.
If this overachieving 13-2 Philadelphia team is gonna be holding aloft the shiny Vince Lombardi Trophy come the first Sunday night in February, then Foles must do better than 19-of-38 for 163 yards with one TD and one INT - and the Eagles' "body language" must be better than what we all witnessed in Monday night's non-cover win against the Raiders.
In other NFL News & Notes ...
No such uninspired play by that other NFL team from the great state of Pennsylvania: The Pittsburgh Steelers' dominant 34-6 win/cover at 9-point underdog Houston on Monday was a message game from Mike Tomlin's team: They had to get over the mental hurdle of that Week 15 loss against New England - maybe the most talked-up regular-season game in years - and did so thanks to QB Ben Roethlisberger's 226 yards and two TDs (no end-zone INTs for Big Ben here!) and we're starting to believe that rookie WR JuJu Smith-Shuster (6 catches for 75 yards including an 18-yard score) might be one of the most important players in all the post-season whether or not sidekick Antonio Brown (calf) is ready to resume being the game's best pass-catcher ...
Meanwhile, as long as we're talking playoffs, the NFC's defending champion Atlanta Falcons (9-6) are in a do-or die spot here with Sunday's home game against 4-point underdog Carolina - hard to believe the Falcs already have lost home games against Buffalo, Miami and Minnesota and now this is a revenge game against the playoff-bound Panthers (see Carolina 20, Atlanta 17 back in Week 9) plus anyone that has "over" 9.5 wins for the Falcons is really sweating that season-long play, right? ...
On the AFC side, there's now four teams fighting for the two available playoff spots - that's Baltimore (9-6), Buffalo (8-7), Tennessee (8-7) and the Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) - and all of those games start at the same time on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET) and all but the Bills will be home for these potential win-and-you're-in games. In case you're wondering, Baltimore owns the longest SU (straight-up) winning streak of this group (two in a row) while the Titans have lost their last three in a row.
On Tuesday, Dec. 26th it's ...
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL - at Dallas, TX
UTAH (6-6) vs. WEST VIRGINIA (7-5) - 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
No QB Will Grier (34 TD passes this year) here for the WVU Mountaineers and so that's one major reason why Utah is a solid TD betting favorite for this clash in the Lone Star State - expect the Utes' RB Zack Moss to get his hands on the ball 25-or-so times behind a blocking all that averages better than 310 pounds per man.
Spread Stats - West Virginia is a rotten 1-8 ATS as a dog the past three years; Utah is 7-3-2 versus the vig overall this year and a collective 11-3-1 ATS when playing outside the Pac-12 the past four years.
QUICKEN LANE BOWL - at Detroit, MI
NORTHERN ILLINOIS (8-4) vs. DUKE (6-6) - 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
For bowl critics, here's a fact: The Duke Blue Devils lost six games in a row at one point this year and still made it to the post-season bowl party - now if the 5.5-point favored Blue Devils are gonna deliver a second win at bowl time in the past three years than blocking Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year Sutton Smith (14 sacks) is key. Note that the Dookies need QB Daniel Jones (12 TDs / 11 INTs) to steer clear of red-zone silly stuff.
Spread Stats - Duke is 63-46-6 ATS under 10th-year head coach David Cutcliffe (a solid .578 winning rate); Northern Illinois has failed to cover its last four consecutive post-season bowl games.
CACTUS BOWL - at Phoenix, AZ
KANSAS STATE (7-5) vs. UCLA (6-6) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
It's official: No QB Josh Rosen for the UCLA Bruins here and so thus the wild pointspread swing as Kansas State jumped from a 2.5-point betting favorite to a 6- or 6.5-point betting choice. Too bad 'cause Rosen had a hot finish for the Pac-12 team that is looking for its first bowl since 2014. Note that K-State is down to its third-string quarterback but Skylar Thompson has the goods - he had a three-TD showing against Oklahoma State and plays with a real edge.
Spread Stats - Kansas State has failed to cover five of its last seven bowl games since 2010; UCLA's an ugly 3-9 spreadwise in its last dozen away games.
On Wednesday, it's ...
INDEPENDENCE BOWL - at Shreveport, LA
SOUTHERN MISS (9-4) vs. FLORIDA STATE (6-6) - 1:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Now that the college football world has established the fact that the Florida State Seminoles are "eligible" for bowl play, the Seminoles shoot for their 40th consecutive winning season behind interim head coach Odell Haggins - he's replacing Texas A&M-bound Jimbo Fisher and keeps the seat warm for Willie Taggart. Lots of "name" players out for the 'Noles here as CB Derwin James (among others) has decided to forego this game as they head to the NFL Draft but Florida State's still a bloated 16.5-point betting favorite with QB James Blackman (1,997 yards passing with 15 TDs and 11 INTs) at the controls.
Spread Stats - Florida State is a rotten 4-10 ATS (against the spread) as twin-figure betting favorites since the start of 2014; Southern Miss is 8-4 ATS overall this year including four-of-six away pointspread covers.
PINSTRIPE BOWL - at The Bronx, NY
IOWA (7-5) vs. BOSTON COLLEGE (7-5) - 5:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
Get out the hot chocolate and the leather gloves ... this is gonna be a cold one at Yankee Stadium (kickoff could be in the low 20s and feeling colder than that!) where the more effective ground game figures to come out on top. If Boston College - averaging nearly 225 yards rushing - can get running back AJ Dillon (1,432 yards rushing and 13 TDs) heated up here, then 2.5-point fav Iowa could be in major trouble but the Big 10 Hawkeyes have their own star back in Akrum Wadley (1,021 yards rushing with 9 TDs) but the fact is the 'Eyes ranked a lowly 11th in their league in rushing yards per game.
Spread Stats - Boston College enters this bowl bash in New York City with a nifty 8-3-1 ATS mark that includes an 8-0-1 ATS log since late September; Iowa is 5-6-1 versus the vig this year and note the Hawkeyes have failed to cover their last three consecutive bowl games.
FOSTER FARMS BOWL - at Santa Clara, CA
ARIZONA (7-5) vs. PURDUE (6-6) - 8:30 p.m. ET, Fox
It's Pac-12 versus Big 10 in this bash at Levi's Stadium - and we're about ready to (pardon the pun) see who wears the pants here: Arizona's do-it-all QB Khalil Tate has thrown for 1,289 yards and rushed for 1,353 yards while accounting for 21 TDs after taking control of the position midway through the year - we're wondering if this Purdue defense has enough team speed to corral Tate when he cuts and turns upfield. Stay tuned.
Spread Stats - Arizona is 1-5 ATS in its last half-dozen bowl games and the Wildcats skid into this tilt having gone 0-3-1 spreadwise in their last four games; Purdue is 8-4 ATS under first-year head coach Jeff Brohm and that includes four spread wins in six underdog tries.
TEXAS BOWL - at Houston, TX
MISSOURI (7-5) vs. TEXAS (6-6) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Deep in the heart o' Texas comes this uber-interesting bowl clash: Mizzou - a 3-point betting fav at last check - roars into play here on a six-game SU winning streak in which the Tigers averaged 51.3 ppg behind QB Drew Lock who threw a nation-best 43 touchdowns this year. If Lock decides to return for his senior season, then he could be a legit Heisman Trophy candidate and his immediate test involves going against a Longhorns' defense that will be without DT Chris Nelson (elbow) and quite possibly without LB Malik Jefferson (turf toe). Note that Texas surrendered 51 points in its opener against Maryland than only allowed 30-plus points one time the remainder of the '17 season.
Spread Stats - Texas is a rock-solid 8-4 ATS under first-year head coach Tom Herman; Missouri is 7-1 spreadwise in its last eight games this year and the Tigers are 7-5 ATS overall after going a combined 7-15 ATS the past two seasons.
NOTE: More College Bowl coverage in the next Jim Sez.