Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:27 AM
'Tis the season to have some brand-new batteries in your TV remote control!
No doubt that the NFL Week 15 action will have you scurrying 'round the dial to keep track of all the goodies - and a "hats off" here to the NFL Red Zone channel that's an absolute blast on these busy pro football Sundays! - and since all but two NFL games this weekend truly have intense playoff implications (save for Miami at Buffalo and Cleveland at Arizona though many Cardinals fans might believe otherwise) we shall keep you busy here with quick-hitter previews of the Saturday/Sunday action plus the back-end of today's Jim Sez column gets you Saturday's Three (3) College Football Bowl Games that begin the absolute bowl blitz this holiday season.
Take a look at the NFL Week 15 menu and you'll find the following: Every game this week/weekend - save for Sunday's AFC East clash between Miami (4-9) and Buffalo (5-8) -- has some form of post-season meaning but just don't ask us to sit here and spell out each/every tie-breaker ... can we at least get to Week 17 before we gotta do that? Meanwhile, it all gets jump-started tonight and so let's get right to it with our Jim Sez quick-hitter preview ...
JACKSONVILLE (4-9) at ATLANTA (8-5) - 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
Here's something you may not have realized amidst all this talk that the Atlanta Falcons - last year's #1 NFC Playoff seed - had taken a major step back this year: The Birds actually have won six of their last eight games SU (straight-up) while dating back to mid-October and last Sunday's come-from-way-behind 31-23 win at 3-point underdog Carolina might go a long way in determining who does (and doesn't) make to the NFC Playoff party this winter.
The Falcons - who are expected to have fourth-year head coach Mike Smith back on the Georgia Dome sidelines here following a post-game medical scare last Sunday evening - trailed the Panthers 23-7 at halftime but roared back in large part because QB Matt Ryan aired four touchdown passes including three of 'em in the game's final 24 minutes of play.
No doubt that if Ryan can hook up here with speedy rookie WR Julio Jones (see 75-catch-and-run TD score to seal that latest Atlanta win) than the heavy-duty home favorites should stay in step for a playoff berth - right now the Falcs enter the new week tied with Detroit for the NFC's final playoff spot - but a major key here is slowing down Jacksonville RB Maurice Jones-Drew who has rushed for 1,222 yards and 7 TDs for a Jaguars team that's scored more than 20 points just once all year long (see last Sunday's 41-14 demolition of woeful Tampa Bay).
Spread Notes - Atlanta is a dead-even but vig-losing 6-6-1 ATS (against the spread) this season and note the Falcons are 25-15-1 vig-wise when playing non-divisional foes since the start of the 2008 campaign. Meanwhile, Jacksonville is 5-7-1 against the odds overall this season and the Jaguars are an ugly 1-5-1 spreadwise as road underdog sides while dating back to late last year.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will win big-time in NFL Week 15 action beginning with tonight's tilt between the Jacksonville Jaguars at the Atlanta Falcons and than don't forget the College Football Bowl Games this Saturday with three tilts all televised on ESPN: That's The New Mexico Bowl (2 p.m. ET), the Idaho Potato Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET) and the New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET) and we'll have previews on all these games below. 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!
DALLAS (7-6) at TAMPA BAY (4-9) - 8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network
If you're either a real cynic or a Cowboys fan that hopes for the best but expects the worst each week this 2011 season than you are probably asking yourself the following question: How are the 'Boys gonna blow this week's game? No question that QB Tony Romo (321 yards passing with 4 TDs and 0 INTs in last week's 37-34 loss to the New York Giants) did just about everything right in that NFC East clash except connecting with a wide-open WR Miles Austin with 2:21 left in the game ... and that's a play that will be replayed a gazillion times this off-season should Dallas not make it to the playoffs for a second straight season.
On Sunday, it's ...
WASHINGTON (4-9) at NEW YORK GIANTS (7-6) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Let's just say the Giants are looking for a bit of "same-season revenge" after the Redskins copped a 28-14 win way back in Week 1 and you might recall in that tilt that Tom Coughlin's club converted only 1-of-10 third-down plays in that game ... ugh! Hey, now that everyone 'round the league is recognizing the obvious fact that Giants QB Eli Manning is indeed "an elite quarterback" than the G-men can get nice-and-comfy in their own homes/apartments for these final three weeks ("at" New York Jets next weekend and than home to Dallas on New Year's Day) and let's see if that born-again Giants ground starring RB Brandon Jacobs (101 yards rushing and two TDs last week in Dallas) can strike some fear into Redskins hearts here after totaling just 75 ground yards in Week 1.
GREEN BAY (13-0) at KANSAS CITY (5-8) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Just how much longer are we all gonna be referring to them as the "Perfect Packers"? Well, at least one more week 'cause Mike McCarthy's gang isn't about to lose as a two-touchdown betting favorite here even if the Chiefs believe the installation of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel as the team's newest head coach will "energize" this sad-sack AFC West squad. Just one more thing: The Packers have seen nine different players catch touchdown passes this year (starring WR Jordy Nelson who has 10 TD grabs) and QB Aaron Rodgers (39 TDs and 6 INTs) has a QB Rating of 123.3 for the year ... wow!
NEW ORLEANS (10-3) at MINNESOTA (4-11) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
Hope you never "buried" the N'Orleans Saints this year! Okay, so Sean Payton's guys did lose in St. Louis and were beaten in both Green Bay and Tampa Bay but here sits the 2009 Super Bowl champs with the knowledge that a run-the-table approach and one loss by San Francisco more than likely gets the Saints a key #2 seed in the upcoming NFC Playoffs. Hmmm. Quarterback Drew Brees (4,368 yards passing) is closing in on icon QB Dan Marino's single-season passing yards record that's only 27 years old and good luck here to a Vikings secondary that's been toasted plenty (Minny's allowed 33 points per game in its last five outings).
SEATTLE (6-7) at CHICAGO (7-6) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
How will "Da Bears" bounce back from losing last week's 13-10 OT stunner in Denver? Well, if eighth-year head coach Lovie Smith has learned anything during his prolonged stay in the Windy City it's that a fierce/hard-hitting defense has a way of dictating the tone of a game and so look for defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli's club to try and send physical shock waves through Seahawks' RB Marshawn Lynch (969 yards rushing and 9 TDs this year) here and don't be surprised to see some bone-jarring off-the-edge blitzes against QB Tarvaris Jackson who didn't look all that smooth in Monday's 30-13 win/cover against woeful St. Louis.
CAROLINA (4-9) at HOUSTON (10-3) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
The big news here is that Texans ace defensive coordinator Wade Phillips - clearly the top coordinator in the league this year - won't be here as he has taken a medical leave of absence and that's only slightly ironic 'cause many of Houston's key players have taken their own medical leave of absences this year (see QBs Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and WR Andre Johnson, among others). Still, somebody always seems to come to the Texans' rescue - last week rookie slinger T.J. Yates did the trick with his arm and his legs - but the key here is containing Carolina QB Cam Newton who's started to slip late in this '11 season.
CINCINNATI (7-6) at ST. LOUIS (2-11) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
The Bengals really don't know if they've hit rock-bottom on this season that once upon a time started 6-2 SU (straight-up). Hey, if the Cincy kids lose here at TD underdog St. Loo than they'll know they hit rock bottom and to avoid this it's than a "must" to exploit the NFL's worst rush defense - how does 35 carries sound here for RB Cedric Benson (see 21 carries for 91 yards last week in the 20-19 home loss to Houston)? The Rams are one of the league's worst-looking squads in years and QB Sam Bradford ain't exactly 100 percent health-wise - why is he out there risking the franchise's future?
DETROIT (8-5) at OAKLAND (7-6) - 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox
Now that Lions DT Ndamukong Suh is back - yep, he's alive-n-kickin' (pardon the pun!) - the Motowners believe they will be able to put a halt to all this recent scoring by their opponents. Did you know that Detroit's allowed 28, 31, 27, 35 and 37 points in their five post-Week 9 bye games? If Suh can gum up the middle of the line here than you can almost count on Raiders QB Carson Palmer (9 TDs and 13 INTs this year) throwing multiple picks here, right? Meanwhile, Oakland's secondary has not located an opposing wide out the past two weeks with lopsided losses in Miami and Green Bay - think WR Calvin Johnson is indeed licking his proverbial chops here for a bust-out stat game?
NEW ENGLAND (10-3) at DENVER (8-5) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
It's the marquee matchup in NFL Week 15 play - but who among you NFL fans thought the Broncos would enter this clash on the longer SU winning streak (note that Denver's won its last six games while New England's won its last five games) and what were the odds that Patriots QB Tom Brady would be losing his cool all the while Denver QB Tim Tebow was calming the waters with week-after-week fourth-quarter (and OT) comebacks? It's true! If Tebow's mission here is to get the Broncos off to a better start than he might want to connect early/often with WR Demaryius Thomas (11 catches for 222 yards and 3 TDs the past two weeks) who dropped a slew of passes last Sunday in the win against Chicago but did snag a key TD grab with 2:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
NY JETS (8-5) at PHILADELPHIA (5-8) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Three down, three to go for the New York Jets who proclaimed to one-and-all that they needed to "run the table" in the season's final six regular-season weeks following that Nov. 17th prime-time loss in Denver (now that does seem like a long time ago, right?) and after back-to-back double-digit wins at Washington and home to Kansas City here comes a major test with an Eagles squad that last week allowed a first-quarter TD in Miami and than didn't flinch the rest of the way en route to a 26-10 win. Maybe Philly RB LeSean "Shady" McCoy can shake out of the doldrums following his 27-carry, 38-yard game against the Fish ... say what!
On Sunday Night, it's ...
BALTIMORE (10-3) at SAN DIEGO (6-7) - 8:25 p.m. ET, NBC
There's definitely a pulse with these here-and-now SD Chargers: Last week's rollicking 38-10 win against 7-point underdog Buffalo (following that 24-point win at Jacksonville) featured three aerial scores for QB Philip Rivers and a tidy 114-yard rushing performance by RB Ryan Mathews. On the flip side, Baltimore continues to show its "true colors" with RB Ray Rice (103 yards rushing last Sunday versus Indianapolis) and a defense that's now surrendered just 26 total points in the past three games (sorry if the Indy Colts got you with the last-second backdoor cover in Baltimore last week!) and here LB Terrell Suggs should be making a straight bee-line or two at Rivers who must show must mobility inside the pocket ... or else.
THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL BOWL REPORT - HERE ARE SATURDAY'S SHOWDOWNS
NEW MEXICO BOWL - at Albuquerque, NM
TEMPLE (8-4) vs. WYOMING (8-4) - 2 p.m. ET, ESPN
The first of three bowl games on this calendar day and - yes, you got it - all of 'em involve non-BCS conference teams but that don't make 'em bad as Mid-American Conference club Temple bucks heads with Mountain West Conference crew Wyoming.
Underdog Wyoming shoots for the stars here with freshman QB Brent Smith at the helm and note he sported an 18-to-8 TD/INT ratio this past season and only some foul-weather games in November kept him from expanding his stats that also include 2,495 yards passing and a zippy 60.5 completion percentage rate. If the winds are not howling too much here, than Smith will cut it loose for 40-or-so passes.
Meanwhile, Temple RB Bernard Pierce (1,381 yards rushing and 25 ground scores) says he's healthy for this clash after assorted shoulder woes and here he is challenging a Wyoming defense that allowed 230.1 yards rushing per game to rank 'em sixth-worst among FBS teams.
Spread Notes - Temple is an electric 8-4 ATS (against the spread) this season and note the Owls are 16-11 spreadwise as betting favorites while dating back to late in the 2008 season. Wyoming enters this bowl clash at 7-5 ATS overall this season and the Cowboys are 17-8-1 ATS as underdog sides in the coach Dave Christensen Era that began in 2009.
IDAHO POTATO BOWL - at Boise, ID
OHIO (9-4) vs. UTAH STATE (7-5) - 5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is the shortest pointspread on the board for this bowl-opening day as Utah State's listed as a 2 ½-point choice at press time and Aggies RB Robert Turbin (1,416 yards rushing and 19 ground TDs) may be the country's best back you've never heard of this year. If Turbin (10th in the country in yards per game at 118) can motor his way around Ohio's smallish defense, than this Western Athletic Conference crew could have a proverbial field day against the MAC guys.
Note that already this ranks as a what-could-have-been-type season for the U-State Aggies who lost four games by a TD or less including that gut-wrenching 42-38 loss at 23 ½-point fav Auburn ... remember?
Look for the Ohio Bobcats - now appearing in a bowl game for a school-record third consecutive season - to ask QB Tyler Tettleton for a well-balanced performance here. Tettleton - whose dad is one-time Detroit Tigers star Mickey Tettleton - threw for 3,086 yards with 26 TDs and rushed for another 627 yards and 9 scores this season. Expect Tettleton to tuck it and run on many third-and-short yardage plays.
Spread Notes - Utah State split its 12 pointspread verdicts this 2011 campaign but did you know the Aggies are 9-2 versus the vig in non-league affairs dating back to the start of the 2009 season (and that includes non-WAC covers this season against Auburn and BYU)? On the flip side, Ohio is 6-7 ATS this season and the Bobcats are a collective 14-6-1 ATS as pups the past three-plus seasons.
NEW ORLEANS BOWL - at New Orleans, LA
UL-LAFAYETTE (8-4) vs. SAN DIEGO STATE (8-4) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
If there is a player-to-watch here than no doubt it's San Diego State RB Ronnie Hillman who rushed for 1,656 yards (a 5.8 yards-per-carry average) with 19 TDs while finishing third in the nation while averaging 138 rushing yards a game. Still, even if Hillman thrives here against Sun Belt Conference member UL-Lafayette, than senior QB Ryan Lindley (2,740 yards passing with 20 TDs and 8 INTs this year) likely will have to make some clutch plays in the passing game - note State's scored 31-or-more points in four of its last five games.
Look for ULL Ragin' Cajuns QB Blaine Gautier (2,488 yards passing with 20 TDs and 5 INTs) to come out chuckin'. Gautier helped his team "cash" eight times in a dozen board tries and note that he completes nearly 64 percent of his passes. The Cajuns will look to get the ball into the hands of junior WR Javone Lawson who caught 54 balls worth 899 yards and 6 TDs ... the dude's electric!
Spread Notes - Did you know that UL-Lafayette has covered 12 of its last 17 games while dating back to late last season? The Ragin' Cajuns went a perfect 7-and-oh against the odds whenever taking points this year. San Diego State's 5-7 spreadwise this season but note the Aztecs have notched spread wins in eight of their last 10 season finale games.
NOTE: More NFL Week 15 goodies in tomorrow's Jim Sez!