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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, January 6, 2019 at 12:00 AM

COLLEGE FOOTBALL'S TITLE TILT IS ON TAP TONIGHT - GET OUR #1 ALABAMA VS. #2 CLEMSON PREVIEW
PLUS, ALL THE KEY SPREAD STUFF ...

NFL WILD CARD WEEKEND'S IN THE BOOKS - JIM HURLEY GOES 3-1!! - NOW AN EARLY-BIRD LOOK AT THIS WEEKEND'S DIVISIONAL PLAYOFF GAMES

Play it again, Sam! The College Football National Championship Game tonight pits a real oldie-but-goodie matchup:

It's Alabama versus Clemson for the fourth year in a row in these playoffs, the third time in four years these powerhouse squads will battle it out for the right to be the sport's champion and there's surely no shortage of storylines.

Okay, so you've heard / read most of 'em including Alabama head coach Nick Saban vying for a sixth school title in the past 10 years (and what would be his seventh overall), the famed quarterback matchup that pits a should-have-been (and could be next year) Heisman Trophy winner Tua Tagovailoa of 'Bama against Clemson's Trevor Lawrence who wouldn't shock a soul if he copped the Heisman in either or both of the next two seasons and, lastly, all the chatter about first-round NFL Draft picks that abound. Folks, there could be as many s seven or eight players all told from these teams that wind up getting snagged in the opening round of the next NFL Draft.

Yeah, plenty of star power, power of glitz. Plus, a betting line that - interestingly enough - has come tumbling down in recent days (Alabama opened as a 7-point favorite and it's the Crimson Tide minus 4.5 points at last check) ... a Jim Sez preview is straight ahead plus we've got plenty to say about the NFL Playoffs but first this key reminder ...

Folks, Jim Hurley's Network of Handicappers and Bloggers have tonight's Side & Totals winners of the College Football National Championship Game and all of this weekend's NFL Divisional Playoff winners - 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 and NCAA basketball too!


#2 CLEMSON (14-0) vs. #1 ALABAMA (14-0) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN ... at Santa Clara, CA

First things first: One of these teams is gonna emerge from tonight's game a perfect 15-and-oh SU (straight-up) and that's never happened before in the grand history of college football ... and here's our little "laundry list" of items that the winner must accomplish here at the home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers:

  • Run the football. Okay, it's fundamental football, we know, but keep in mind that the more you run the ball well, the more it keeps that other team's quarterback off the field and here's an interesting twist: Clemson ranks 10th in the country in rushing (averaging 256.3 yards per game) while 'Bama ranks only 34th nationally while averaging 202 ground yards per outing. It says here that 'Bama must rush the ball a minimum of 35 times here, even if that means a few designed runs by the still somewhat gimpy (ankle) Tagovailoa. P.S., Alabama runnin' it well will keep this star-studded Clemson defensive line off Tagovailoa as well. The Tigers' RB Travis Etienne (1,572 yards rushing / 22 TDs) is the best back on either side ... if he's the game's bet back here, Clemson wins.
  • Don't be afraid to take some chances: In other words, enhance the playbook, don't shrink it. If you're Clemson, allow QB Lawrence to catch a "Philly Special" pass or two and make that hard pursuing 'Bama defense think twice as to whether or not a reverse is coming at 'em; if you're Alabama's offense, allow Tagovailoa (3,671 yards passing with 41 TDs and 4 INTs) to play-fake into some deep throws on first down - if WR Jerry Jeudy (1,176 yards receiving and 11 TDs) is the recipient of four-or-more chunk plays (20-or-more yards) then Alabama will stay #1.
  • Finally, play to your strengths: The Clemson D-line - even without the suspended Dexter Lawrence - needs to flex its muscles and especially when playing red-zone defense; the Alabama secondary - again, one of the best in the Saban Era - must smother QB Lawrence's downfield targets and force a couple of turnovers. No question Alabama's corners and safeties will play with an uber-aggressive nature, let's see if Clemson can burn 'em with medium-range /long-range chucks here.

Spread Notes - Alabama is 8-6 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and that makes 'em 86-69-1 vig-wise all time under 12th-year boss Saban (a solid .555 winning rate). The Tide, however, is a shabby 3-6 against the odds in all playoff/ bowl games since the 2013 season and that includes last week's 45-34 non-cover win against 15-point pup Oklahoma in this year's Orange Bowl / national semifinal game. On the flip side, Clemson is also 8-6 against the juice overall this year, thus making the Tigers a collective 74-59-2 ATS under 10th-year head coach Dabo Swinney (a .556 winning percentage) and note Clemson's covered eight of its last nine bowl / playoff games dating back to the 2012 campaign and that includes last weekend's 30-3 win/cover against 10.5-point dog Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl / national semi.

 

THE NFL PLAYOFFS

The just-completed NFL Wild Card games had a real déjà vu feeling to it ... last year all four underdog sides cashed; this year all four underdog sides cashed.
Last year the NFL Playoffs / Super Bowl Betting Favorites wound up going 1-9-1 ATS. Are they headed for a similarly disastrous post-season here this January / February ... stay tuned!
As we look ahead to what's on the menu for this weekend's NFL Divisional Playoffs, here's some early-bird thoughts:

On Saturday, it's ...
INDIANAPOLIS at KANSAS CITY - Since 2010, the KC Chiefs are 0-3 SU (straight-up) and 0-3 ATS as home betting favs in playoff games but the number really jumped when posted for this clash with the Chiefs going from - 4.5 points to - 6 points faster than you can say Elvis Grbac! Truth is the visiting Colts - fresh off a dominant 21-7 win at 1.5-point fav Houston - now have covered five of their last six games with RB Marlon Mack (148 yards rushing / 1 TD vs. Houston) now a not-so-secret weapon.

DALLAS at LOS ANGELES RAMS - We're all gonna see if the Rams have learned their lessons following last year's one-and-done playoff mess (see 26-13 home loss to Atlanta) and the week off should give Sean McVay's club plenty of time to get RB Todd Gurley and that secondary healthy - but are the 7-point underdog Cowboys ultra-dangerous here now that they got over the hump with last Saturday's 24-22 non-cover win against Seattle? Note that Dallas WR Amari Cooper comes off the quietest 106-yard catch game in recent playoff memory.

On Sunday, it's ...
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS at NEW ENGLAND - The Bolts probably took a very deep breathe following yesterday's 23-17 win at 3-point fav Baltimore (we're still wondering how it got so close late!) but biggest thing we took from that game was that the defensive front took over the game for three-plus quarters, so we'll see if Melvin Ingram and friends can hammer down on Patriots' QB Tom Brady here. One spread note to digest: The Chargers - currently a 4.5-point pup -- are 8-2 ATS as dogs since early '17.

PHILADELPHIA at NEW ORLEANS - The NFC's top-seeded Saints don't exactly rock-n-roll their way into the playoffs as Sean Payton's crew has failed to cover its last three in a row (and four of its last five) and yet the Vegas price tag went from 7.5 to 9 points in this game after the line was first posted. Hey, Philly's 16-15 win at 6.5-point fav Chicago was full of last-minute drama but the bottom line is the Eagles' ground game went nowhere fast (23 carries for 42 yards) and that ain't no way to beat Da Saints.

NOTE: Catch our Alabama vs. Clemson recap in tomorrow's Jim Sez.
  

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