Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 31, 2018 at 12:00 AM
FIRST LOOK AT NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND ...
PLUS, HERE'S THE NEW YEAR'S EVE BOWL MENU AND THE BOWL POINTSPREAD STANDINGS CHART
There's gonna be plenty of time later this week to preview/analyze/chew on this weekend's NFL Wild Card Round playoff games but here's some quick-hitter comments on the Saturday/Sunday action that's coming up ...
On Saturday, it's ...
INDIANAPOLIS (10-6) at HOUSTON (11-5) - 4:35 p.m. ET
These AFC South rivals split their regular-season tilts - they each won by 3 points on the other guy's field - but is this a major disadvantage for the Colts having to play on the "short week" and coming off a Sunday Night road win in Tennessee?
SEATTLE (10-6) at DALLAS (10-6) - 8:15 p.m. ET
The number shot up from Cowboys minus 1 to minus 2.5 faster than you can say Dandy Don Meredith but check this out: The 'Boys are a dazzling 6-1-1 ATS (against the spread) in their last eight games while the Seahawks are 5-2-1 vig-wise in their last eight tilts.
On Sunday, it's ...
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS (12-4) at BALTIMORE (10-6) - 1:05 p.m. ET
In case you were wondering, these Chargers have covered seven of their last nine games as underdogs dating back to early 2017 while the AFC North champion Ravens sport the conference's third-best points differential margin (+102) behind only Kansas City and New England. Not bad.
PHILADELPHIA (9-7) at CHICAGO (12-4) - 4:40 p.m. ET
All this chatter about the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles getting hot at the "right time" but the Bears sport the longer SU (straight-up) winning streak at four in a row to Philly's three straight ... so there! Plus, Chicago owns the NFL's best spread mark this year at 12-4 versus Mr. Vig.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL REPORT
The College Football Playoffs this past Saturday - maybe to no one's real surprise - turned into an all-game victory parade for both #2 Clemson and #1 Alabama:
Okay, so the 'Bama Crimson Tide didn't cover that whopping 15-point price tag in their 45-34 SU (straight-up) win against Oklahoma even though they galloped out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead - but there were few real dramatic moments in both playoff semifinal tilts and that seems to be the way things go since the CFP started back in 2014. There's been eight semifinal games (out of 10) decided by twin-figure margins including lopsided results of 59-20 (see Oregon over Florida State in 2014), 38-0 (see Alabama over Michigan State in 2015), 31-0 (see Clemson over Ohio State in 2016) and 30-3 (see Clemson over Notre Dame this year).
We'll have plenty to say in the coming days about this year's Clemson-Alabama bout for all the marbles, so stay tuned all week long here at Jim Sez and remember we'll have the Side & Totals winners on this showdown next Monday night on game-day afternoon. Got it?
Jim Hurley's Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have the College Football Bowl winners today and tomorrow plus there's NFL Wild Card Playoff action this Saturday/Sunday too - just call us on game days at the toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 or go online right here and also cash in with NBA / NCAA hoops.
COLLEGE BOWLMANIA - THE MONDAY SKED
MILITARY BOWL - at Annapolis, MD
VIRGINIA TECH (6-6) vs. CINCINNATI (10-2) -- 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Gotta go all the way back to the 2009 season to find the last time the Cincinnati Bearcats won more than 10 games (see 12-1 under current Notre Dame boss Brian Kelly) and so here's a shot at some modern-day history for the Cincy kids: No doubt this club can run the ball - the 'Cats rank 16th nationally while averaging 238 ground yards per) and Virginia Tech's a shaky 105th nationally in rush defense. If the combo of QB Desmond Ridder and RB Michael Warren (see 1,737 combined rushing yards) can power up here, then the VT Hokies will be in for a long day near the nation's capital. Note that the Techsters have failed to cover seven of their last 10 games when placed in the underdog role. Just sayin'.
SUN BOWL - at El Paso, TX
PITTSBURGH (7-6) vs. STANFORD (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, CBS
There's been plenty of doom-and-gloom when it comes to the Pac-12 playing in bowl games: In fact, already this year the conference is 0-3 against the odds (Arizona State, Cal and Washington State have failed to cash with Oregon, Utah and Washington still ahead on the bowl docket) and so there's pressure on this so-so favored Stanford squad to deliver the goods: Remember, no RB Bryce Love here for the Cardinal as he readies himself for the "next level" and so expect Stanford slinger K.J. Costello (3,435 yards passing with 29 TDs) to get plenty of opportunities to air it out against a Pitt defense that surrendered 37-or-more points on six different occasions. Note that Pitt has failed to cover five of its last six bowl tilts dating back to the 2011 season.
REDBOX BOWL - at Santa Clara, CA
MICHIGAN STATE (7-5) vs. OREGON (8-4) - 3 p.m. ET, Fox
The mid-week announcement that Oregon QB Justin Herbert will be back for the 2019 season is supposed to give the Pac-12 Ducks a boost ... we shall see. Herbert threw for 2,985 yards with 28 TDs and 8 INTs this year but wasn't always 100 percent healthy. If Herbert can hook up with favorite target WR Dillon Mitchell (69 grabs / 1,114 yards receiving / 9 TDs) then Michigan State might have to play catch-up all afternoon. Hey, the Spartans ranked 116th nationally in rushing and this offense scored a grand total of 26 points in its final three games, so 12th-year boss Mark Dantonio may need re-inserted starting QB Brian Lewerke to sine (hasn't started since Nov. 10th). Michigan State's a rotten 4-8 ATS overall this season but take note that Sparty has covered five of its last six bowl games.
LIBERTY BOWL - at Memphis, TN
#23 MISSOURI (8-4) vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (6-6) - 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPN
Old rivals from back in the Big 12 days clash here in the game with the largest pointspread on this New Year's Eve: Hey, Mizzou has a pro-bound slinger in QB Drew Lock (3,125 yards passing with 25 TDs and 8 INTs) and RB Larry Rountree II (1,012 yards rushing / 10 TDs) can scoot for big gainers too if Okie State's wobbly defense (allowed 31-or-more points on eight different occasions in 2018) can't hold the fort. Hard to believe that the OSU Cowboys lost outright five times when favored by 5.5-or-more points ... head coach Mike Gundy's looking to avoid his first losing season since 2005 ... his first year on the job. Missouri covered four-of-six games this season when it was laying a TD or more but the Tigers are just 8-14 ATS away since the start of '15.
HOLIDAY BOWL - at San Diego, CA
#22 NORTHWESTERN (8-5) vs. #17 UTAH (9-4) - 7 p.m. ET, Fox Sports 1
Everyone knows that Utah coach Kyle Whiitngham is 11-1 SU in bowls since arriving on the scene in Salt Lake City: He's also 9-22 versus the vig in these post-season tilts and the number - Utah's favored by 7 points - might appear a tad high 'cause it's expected that QB Tyler Huntley (1,788 yards passing with 12 TDs and 6 INTs) will be back after suffering a broken collarbone in mid-November. Note that Northwestern ranks dead last in the Big 10 in pass defense (258.1 yards per game) and two starters on "D: are out with injuries: LB Nate Hall (shoulder) and DT Jordan Thompson (knee). Northwestern's just 6-6-1 against the odds this year but the 'Cats do own a 22-10-1 spread log as underdogs the past five years and the Big 10 guys are 17-7 ATS away the past four years.
GATOR BOWL - at Jacksonville, FL
N.C. STATE (9-3) vs. #19 TEXAS A&M (8-4) - 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Interesting to note that - so far - the ACC is 5-2 odds-wise in this year's bowls (second-best among the power conferences only behind the Big 12 - see chart below) and here comes a pro-bound QB Ryan Finley (3,789 yards passing with 24 TDs and a 68 percent completion rate) looking to pull off the upset. N.C. State is a dead-even and vig-losing 35-35-1 ATS under sixth-year head coach Dave Doeren but note the Wolfpack's a solid 11-6 spreadwise in non-ACC games while dating back to early 2014 and they've won/covered their last two bowl games including a 52-31 beatdown of Arizona State in last year's Sun Bowl. On the flip side, first-year Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher had the Aggies at 6-1 ATS out of the starting gate - A&M wound up 8-4 ATS in the regular season - but whether the SEC crew covers the full TD price here depends on how State handles the one-two punch of QB Kellen Mond (2,967 yards passing with 23 TDs plus 389 rushing yards) and RB Trayveon Williams who has averaged 175 rushing yards in his last four games. Spread Note: A&M is 9-3 ATS as favs since the start of last year.