Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, December 19, 2011 at 9:29 AM
Just had to love the stat NBC's Al Michaels said in the post-game portion of Sunday night's 34-14 rollover win by the San Diego Chargers over the Baltimore Ravens ... the veteran pro football play-by-play voice informed viewers that the NFL Week 15 featured seven losing teams that happened to defeat six plus-.500 squads although nothing was as earth-shaking as Kansas City's 19-14 triumph over the once-perfect Green Bay Packers.
Meanwhile, Sunday's upset wins by Washington, Kansas City, Seattle, Carolina, Indianapolis (whoopee!), Philadelphia and San Diego really made it a "go-figure" type of day/night 'round the league but we now ask you the following question:
Can you possibly think of a bigger game in the league this year than tonight's Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers clash?
Not only do the Steelers now have "destiny in their own hands" as a run-the-table approach here gets 'em the #1 seed in the AFC but think about the implications inside the NFC where the Niners are trying hard to hold off the New Orleans Saints for the all-important #2 seed.
Think little brother Jim Harbaugh would like to do a great, big favor for older brother John here?
No doubt the elder Harbaugh's club laid a major egg with that aforementioned 20-point loss in San Diego on Sunday Night - no who would have believed the Ravens would have exited that game with zero sacks and without having to force a single Chargers punt? Safe to say the Ravens' road showing - the latest in a long line of horrible road games - will have ruined the team's season should Pittsburgh now beat 'em out for the top prize in the AFC North and so maybe big brother John and Company doesn't deserve a break with this Steelers-Niners prime-time affair.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time in NFL Week 15 action continuing with the Monday Night Football bash between the Steelers at the 49ers and than don't forget all the College Football Bowl Games continuing with Tuesday's aforementioned Beef 'O' Brady Bowl between Florida International versus Marshall and Wednesday's Poinsettia Bowl showdown between TCU and Louisiana Tech. Plus there is plenty of College Basketball action and the NBA (as if you didn't already know!) gets tipped off on Christmas Day - so make sure you're part of all the winning action straight through New Year's! And make sure you get all the Football and Basketball winners at our toll-free # of 1-800-323-4453 or else get it online right here as America's #1 Handicapper keeps up the winning beat!
Meanwhile, if you wish to believe that someone can beat Green Bay come January (and at Lambeau Field) than maybe it is these blue-collar 49ers - so let's get to it and check out tonight's bash on the left coast:
PITTSBURGH (10-3) at SAN FRANCISCO (10-3) - 8:35 p.m. ET, ESPN
The $64,000 question here is about Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger and his left ankle sprain that temporarily kayoed him from that recent 14-3 non-cover home loss against 14-point pup Cleveland back on Dec. 8th.
Remember Roethlisberger returned to that game after missing a handful-plus snaps and actually finished 16-of-21 passing for 280 yards with two TDs but he didn't practice at all till this past Friday afternoon and there were major medical concerns as to how Roethlisberger's ankle would hold up on that long cross-country flight to the West Coast.
Maybe that's why NBC studio analyst Tony Dungy - who has close ties with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin - strongly hinted that the Pittsburgh defense would have to win this game here because "Big Ben" just might not be able to function. Yes, that's a Pittsburgh defense that will be without LB James Harrison whose fierce helmet-to-helmet hit against Browns' QB Colt McCoy earned him a one-game league suspension here.
Don't you get the NFL memos, Mr. Harrison?
If the Niners are gonna turn the beat around after losing two of their last three games - including a 21-19 setback at 3 ½-point home dog Arizona last Sunday afternoon - than QB Alex Smith must get out of his funk as he completed just 18-of-37 passes for 175 yards and no TDs against the Redbirds. Smith may have to show some in-the-pocket mobility here against the Steelers blitzes and odds are the former #1 league draft choice must get clicking in the red zone where San Fran has scored just three touchdowns in its last 19 trips inside the enemy's 20-yard line.
Spread Notes - San Francisco is 10-2-1 ATS (against the spread) overall this season and note the 49ers are 6-0-1 vig-wise at home. On the flip side, Pittsburgh is 6-7 against the Las Vegas prices this season and did you know the Steelers are a dead-even and vig-losing 10-10 ATS in non-divisional games since the start of last year?
In other NFL Week 15 News & Notes ...
The gut-check win of the week award goes to the Detroit Lions who roared back from a 27-14 deficit with five-plus minutes remaining to beat the 2 ½-point home dog Oakland Raiders 28-27. Naturally, much is being made around Motown today of that epic QB Matthew Stafford-led 98-yard touchdown drive capped by a scoring toss to WR Calvin Johnson with 39 seconds left but keep in mind the game's biggest play was that overthrow by Raiders QB Carson Palmer to WR Chaz Schilens on a third-down pass with just a little more than two minutes left in the game - if that wasn't Dallas' Tony Romo-to-WR Miles Austin two weeks ago we don't know what was!
Meanwhile, talk about a "lost weekend" for Big Apple football teams as the New York Giants were simply awful in their 23-10 home loss to the 6-point underdog Washington Redskins. As it turned out, a QB Eli Manning-to-WR Hakeem Nicks pass that was a sure TD but dropped when Nicks lost it in the sun way back in the first quarter turned out to be a major omen but what about the fact the G-men converted on only three third-down plays and finished with one measly sack? Memo to DE Justin Tuck ... get yourself in shape next year and stop getting hurt on every other play!
The New York Jets didn't fare much better in their never-in-doubt 45-19 loss at 3-point fav Philadelphia. You can take your pick as to what disturbed you the most here from a J-E-T-S standpoint as QB Mark Sanchez was tossed about like a proverbial rag doll (sacked four times and hit/hurried a whole lot more) and this shaky defense surrendered 420 yards and Philly QB Michael Vick didn't even play in the fourth quarter.
Gee, did the Jets' LBs/DBs ever think it might be a good idea to cover Eagles TE Brent Celek (5 catches for a whopping 156 yards and one touchdown)!
TUESDAY'S BEEF 'O' BRADY BOWL PREVIEW
BEEF 'O' BRADY BOWL - at St. Petersburg, FL
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (8-4) vs. MARSHALL (6-6) - 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
In case you were wondering, two of last Saturday's three college bowl games went "over" on the last play of the game - no kidding. Here, 4-point favorite Florida International is hoping to bag a second consecutive bowl win (see 34-32 over 1-point pup Toledo in last year's Little Caesar Bowl) and the key to victory is wide-out T.Y. Hilton who enters this prime-time clash as the school's all-time leader in receptions (221) and overall scores (36 TDs) and here savvy QB Wesley Carroll (14 TDs and 4 INTs this season) will look to strike up a winning tune with Hilton.
Meanwhile, the Marshall key-to-victory is getting a handful of negative-yardage plays from DE Vinny Curry (see 11 sacks and 6 forced fumbles this year) as the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year looks to lead the Thundering Herd to its second bowl win in the past three years (see 21-17 win against Ohio back in the 2009 Little Caesar Bowl game).
Spread Notes - Florida International finished regular-season play riding a three-game pointspread winning streak (covers against Florida Atlantic, UL-Monroe and Middle Tennessee State) but the Golden Panthers are just 9-12 ATS as betting favorites the past three years. Marshall is a rotten 3-9 against the odds when playing away from Huntington the past two years.