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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, January 2, 2019 at 1:00 PM

It’s shaping up as one of the most exciting Wildcard Weekends in years. The stars have really aligned because we have high quality Wildcards, divisional winners who could go deep if they can clear this first hurdle, and good quarterbacks rather than injury-riddled teams limping into the postseason with helpless backups.

Is there any team playing this week that has NO chance to run the table? The biggest underdog is the defending Super Bowl champion, led by a quarterback who has peaked against his toughest challenges!  Anything can happen this weekend…and then next weekend as well.

Of course, the danger there is that there are no obvious “fade” teams. Everybody belongs. Everybody has at least one way to move the ball. Handicappers will have to dig deep to find edges. JIM HURLEY can’t post his service selections for free here in the HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK. That wouldn’t be fair to paying customers. But, he can direct you to important factors you need to study.

*QUARTERBACK EXPERIENCE: This is probably going to matter. Early betting is already suggesting that it’s a key factor. First money in took the experienced Andrew Luck over the relatively inexperienced DeShaun Watson, and the experienced Philip Rivers over rookie Lamar Jackson. It’s also taking Nick Foles at +6 over Mitchell Trubisky, though that great Bears defense was getting respect at lower lines.

Quarterback experience could be a tie-breaker because so little separates this week’s opponents. Which offense will get that one extra third down conversion that puts points on the board rather than punting? Which offense will score touchdowns in the red zone rather than field goals? Which offense will avoid the killer turnover that sends the game careening toward their opponent? If you want to bet Houston, Baltimore, or Chicago, you’ll have to make the case that your young QB won’t be a negative influence in his playoff debut.

*RED ZONE DEFENSE: This looms large every season, and may be more important than ever after rules changes that have helped offenses. Most defenses are allowing yards in the middle of the field. The difference between winning and losing is often holding a team to 3 points in the red zone instead of allowing the full 7. Maybe just doing that ONCE will be the difference-maker. Doing it more than once will send you to the second weekend. JIM HURLEY has been telling you since this web feature began that DEFENSE WINS CHAMPIONSHIPS. We’re going to stick to that theme until reality tells us the world has changed.

*COACHING SAVVY: This is likely a tie-breaker as well. Which teams will punt when they should go-for-it. Seriously…ONE mistake in this area might decide who wins and covers an important game. The league is evolving toward smarter coaching strategies thanks to analytics. That’s why so many guys who couldn’t cut the mustard were fired earlier this week (or earlier this season). Be sure you spend some time thinking about each head coach…and the chances that he’s going to make the right call in the fourth quarter of a close game.

Weather only has a chance to be a factor in two of the four games. So, we won’t make that a separate bullet point. But, once you’re confident of the game-day conditions in Baltimore and Chicago, try to evaluate which teams are best-suited to thrive in those conditions. It’s not always obvious. Think about skill sets rather than what part of the country teams are from. It wouldn’t hurt to go back through the regular season to study how the Chargers, Ravens, Eagles, and Bears performed in similar conditions.

As always, JIM HURLEY’S unique TEAM HANDICAPPING approach is ideally suited for big events like WILDCARD WEEKEND. Our SCOUTS AND SOURCES are reporting from all four cities to let us know about preparation and readiness. Our STATHEADS are crunching the numbers from the regular season, focusing on what’s happened when these teams faced playoff-caliber opposition. Our COMPUTER PROGRAMMERS have been running their simulations ever since the matchups were locked in. And, our WISE GUY CONNECTIONS offshore, in Las Vegas, and in Atlantic City are letting us know what the smart money is doing…and what the dumb money is doing.

It’s all going to add up to BIG, JUICY WINNERS for NETWORK clients!

You can purchase JIM HURLEY’S top plays right here at the website with your credit card. If you have any questions about long term or multi-sport combination packages, please call us in the office during normal business hours at 1-888-777-4155. Sign up for basketball through March Madness or the NBA Playoffs, and the rest of football can be included for a nominal charge.

Ideally, you’ll be building bankroll in basketball the next few days to get ready for the NFL Wildcard games and Monday night’s National Championship game in college football featuring Alabama and Clemson. If you haven’t been betting the baskets, it’s time to start!

We’ll be back again next week at this time to talk about handicapping the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. This weekend’s winners will advance to face the New Orleans Saints, Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City Chiefs, and New England Patriots. It’s already a lock that THOSE will be fun games because there are no duds in the brackets.

JIM HURLEY is really looking forward to this season’s playoffs. He knows his clients are going to GET ALL THE MONEY. When championships are on the line, YOU NEED WORLD CHAMPION HANDICAPPER JIM HURLEY!

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