Thursday, Dec 4, 2014

College Football Playoff Pairing

There’s one way for late Sunday morning, when the College Football Playoff pairings are announced, to be devoid of drama and controversy and it would be for the top four teams in the current rankings to win decisively on Saturday. Can Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Florida State do it? Here’s a look at the schedule and current lines…

  • Alabama is a (-14.5) favorite against Missouri at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta (4 PM ET, CBS)
  • Oregon is a another (-14.5) favorite, facing Arizona in the Pac-12 Championship Game at Santa Clara (Friday, 9 PM ET, Fox)
  • TCU is giving (-34) at home against Iowa State in a regular season finale (Noon ET, ABC)
  • Florida State is the short favorite, (-4) against Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game at Charlotte (8 PM ET, ABC)

TCU and Florida State need to not only win, but do so impressively. In their case, covering the spread might be about more than just rewarding their backers at the window, it might hold the key to survival in a style points race that has Baylor and Ohio State bearing down hard on the outside. Alabama and Oregon are popular teams to bet and face tall numbers against good opponents. Let’s down an overview look at all four teams, what they have going for them and where they might be vulnerable…

ALABAMA
The Crimson Tide have three clutch wins in November, at LSU and at home against Mississippi State and Auburn. But Alabama needed a late rally and overtime to beat LSU, and they trailed Auburn into the second half. In fact, ‘Bama has been one of the country’s most overrated teams, evidenced by their 4-8 record ATS. Now they have to face a Missouri team that’s been one of the true betting values, with an 8-4 ATS performance.

In two of Alabama’s big November wins they played dominant pass defense, against LSU and Mississippi State. There was a bad lapse in that area in the Iron Bowl, as Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall lit up the Tide for 456 passing yards, almost half of them to wide receiver Amari Cooper. Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauck has been inconsistent this year, perhaps more on a par with LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings, then with Auburn’s Marshall.

That’s the good argument for laying the points. The flip side is that Mauck has played his three best games of the season the last three weeks, on the road at Texas A&M and Tennessee, and then leading his team from 14-3 down to beat Arkansas last Friday. It’s asking a lot for him to beat Alabama in a high-profile game, but asking him to cover a (-14.5) line with the #13 defense in the nation working with him? You can make a pretty good case for the dog that way.

OREGON
Since losing to Arizona 31-24 in early October, a result that’s gotten understandable attention given Friday night’s impending rematch, Oregon has been blasting people. The Ducks have won seven in a row, scored 47.5 points per game and won their games by an average of nearly thirty points. Marcus Mariota has made the Heisman Trophy his to lose with a 69% completion rate, an outstanding 10.39 yards-per-pass attempt and a surreal 36/2 TD-INT ratio.

Right there is your case for laying the wood on Friday, along with the fact that after two losses in the last two years to Arizona, you’d have to think the Ducks would be ready to play. Before acting too quickly though, give the Wildcats a fair hearing though. They run the football very well with 1,200-yard rusher Nick Wilson. They rank 18th in the country in pass yardage behind Anu Solomon and do it by grabbing short chunks at a time - the type of strategy that keeps Mariota on the sidelines. And…well, they’ve beaten Oregon twice in the last two years, including up in Eugene. Is it asking so much to just stay within two touchdowns on a neutral site?

TCU
Iowa State is having a miserable season, and even at the betting window, they’re 4-5-2 ATS. Now they have to face a team with everything to play for, that has the third-most prolific offense in the country, has scored 82 points on Texas Tech and the Cyclone kids surely just want this season to end. When you add all that up, suddenly (-34) doesn’t seem like too much. And if the right TCU team shows up, it won’t be. But consider this pattern - after dropping 82 on Texas Tech, the Horned Frogs barely escaped at West Virginia, 31-30 in a game both teams played poorly. Then TCU rebounds with an impressive 41-20 blasting of Kansas State, which is followed by a terrible 34-30 narrow escape over lowly Kansas.

The pattern of shaky games following stellar outings is established, and TCU played an outstanding game their last time out, a 48-10 Thanksgiving Night shellacking of Texas. So, in a strange way, the fact TCU looked so good in their last game is something handicappers have to weigh with a little concern.

FLORIDA STATE
It was the latter part of October that the Seminoles grew into the team we all know today, which is the one that has mastered the narrow escape. In order, here are the results…

  • Survive Notre Dame 31-27 in a non-cover win as (-9) home favorite
  • Win and cover at Louisville 42-31 as a (-3.5) favorite, though only after falling behind 21-0.
  • Non-cover win at home against Virginia 34-20 while giving (-21).
  • Nip Miami 30-26 on the road and cover (-2).
  • Beat Boston College 20-17 on the final play, never close to covering (-19)
  • Another non-cover win over Florida, 24-19 at (-7)

Florida State has managed to go 12-0 while covering the Vegas spread only three times the entire season. It’s hard to thread the needle like that. The flip side is that bettors have caught on. In five of the six games noted above, the money moved against the Seminoles, in some cases substantially, after the opening numbers were posted.

FSU went from an opener of (-10.5) against Florida to (-7). The Notre Dame line opened at (-12.5) before falling into single digits. The Louisville line went from (-7) to (-3.5) a drop startling in the scope, the key numbers it crossed and the speed with which it happened for a Thursday night game. Only against Virginia did the money show for the ‘Noles, and it went unrewarded.

The question now is simple - have oddsmakers adjusted sufficiently? Georgia Tech is a nice team, one that’s gone 8-4 ATS and can take care of the football on offense with its option attack. But they aren’t a great defensive team, perhaps not as able as Florida was to force Jameis Winston into mistakes. Those are the key issues facing college football bettors as we all get set for Championship Week, starting Friday night and rolling into an all-day Saturday marathon.

Perhaps no one is better than Wayne Allyn Root at knowing which teams are ready to meet a big moment like this and which ones will fold under the limelight. Mississippi State was in the spotlight last week, and WAR went against them, taking Ole Miss (+3) for his College Rivalry Game of the Year. Ole Miss won outright 31-17, in control the entire way.

Now get on board for the best of Wayne’s Championship action, starting with a No Limit Play in Friday night's PAC-12 Title Game, and then come right back and win with his top play of Saturday, the Conference Championship Game of the Year.

Don't forget about the Root Trust on Sunday, where last week Wayne won his top 4 games and cashed his 10th 4-1 Week or better in 2014! In the season’s crucial moments, you want Big-Game Wayne in your corner!

Seattle Seahawks

Do the Seattle Seahawks have their swagger back? The defending Super Bowl champions certainly put on a quite a show for the Thanksgiving Night audience, going into San Francisco, forcing Colin Kaepernick into the worst game of his season and beating the 49ers 19-3. That came on top of a home victory over the NFC West frontunning Arizona Cardinals by the same score. Is it time to again see this team as one of the NFL’s elites?

When Seattle lost two straight games to drop to 3-3, it was fair to question that premise. Since then, the Seahawks have won five of six games. Here’s the rundown…

  • A non-cover win at Carolina 13-9, giving (-6)
  • A non-cover win home against Oakland 30-24 while giving (-13.5)
  • A decisive 38-17 home win over the collapsing New York Giants, covering (-8)
  • The one loss in this sequence, a tough 24-20 decision at Kansas City in a pick’em spot
  • The 19-3 win over Arizona, where Seattle laid (-7)
  • The 19-3 win over San Francisco, at (+1) on the road

You can see the pattern developing. The first two wins of this stretch weren’t particularly impressive and fell short of Vegas expectations. But what they did do was get a little confidence back, keep the team afloat and get them to 5-3. It also established that Seattle could still control the line of scrimmage - their defensive front was outstanding in both games.

The famed Seattle secondary, with Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor at the safeties and Richard Sherman on the corner, has also been playing at a very high level. The secondary was virtually impenetrable in the wins over the Cardinals and 49ers. Even if Arizona had Carson Palmer at quarterback, it’s hard to believe that the Cards could have won that game (and if Palmer had been healthy, Seattle would also have been a much shorter favorite).

Now the Seahawks get set to go to Philadelphia and face the 9-3 Eagles in the late afternoon national TV window (4:25 PM ET, Fox). After that, Seattle hosts San Francisco, goes to Arizona and then hosts surging St. Louis. If the Seahawks have their swagger back, that claim is going to be tested. What’s going to be the keys to continued success?

It has to start up front with Seattle. A review of the film of the Kansas City game showed the Seahawks beaten off the ball both offensively and defensively. When Seattle hits first, they win. When they don’t, they lose. This is a running attack, led by Marshawn Lynch, that’s the best in the NFL in yards-per-attempt and if the offensive line allows Lynch to get a head of steam, it’s going to be a long day for the opponent.

The defense continues to be one of the league’s best, ranking third in the NFL in points allowed. When the defensive line controls the trenches, as they’ve done so often the last several weeks, there’s nothing an opposing quarterback can do. No one is going to get open quickly against this secondary. Go all the way back to the opening game of the season - when Seattle whipped Green Bay’s offensive front, even Aaron Rodgers, the MVP frontrunner, was powerless to get anything done.

Now Seattle is again a (+1) road underdog against a playoff contender, in Philadelphia. The total is fairly high, at 48, reflective of the fact that the Seahawks rank 11th in the NFL in points scored and have played to the over seven times in 12 games. But it’s also reflective of oddsmaker respect for the Eagles, as none of the other totals during this stretch of Seattle revival have gone that high. Is another dominant effort awaiting the Seahawk defense, or will points flow a little more freely in this one?

Kelso Sturgeon is the man with the answer. He’s the man who gave you the St. Louis Rams (-6.5) over the Oakland Raiders as his 100-Unit NFL Turkey Shoot Game of the Year last week and then watched as the Rams stomped all over the Raiders to the tune of 52-0. Kelso is ready for another mammoth weekend.

Get on board for Conference Championship Weekend, with the winner of all 7 college championship games, including a 50 unit play on Friday, and the 100 Unit Chasmpionship Game of the Year on Saturday. Then be ready to double down with another big winner on Sunday, with Kelso's 100 Unit NFL Situation Play.

San Diego Chargers

The San Diego Chargers were left for dead on November 2, after a 37-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins left the Chargers on a three-game losing streak and with a 5-4 record. But San Diego quietly rebounded, won three straight and suddenly finds themselves alone at the top of the AFC wild-card race. As they get set to face the New England Patriots for a Sunday Night audience (8:30 PM ET, NBC), it’s time to ask how good are the Chargers?

New England isn’t the only game that will force this question to be asked. San Diego then hosts the Denver Broncos, after which they travel to face the San Francisco 49ers and the season finale is on the road against the Kansas City Chiefs. Every game the rest of the way is against playoff-caliber teams. After the loss to Miami, the Chargers got a well-timed bye week, which they turned into these three results…

  • A non-cover 13-6 win over Oakland as a (-10) home favorite.
  • Another narrow escape, 27-24 at home over St. Louis, while giving (-5)
  • Then last week’s come-from-behind win at Baltimore, 34-33 as a (+6.5) underdog

You can see San Diego’s problems didn’t miraculously disappear when they came back from the bye. The win over the Raiders was ugly, and was keyed by inside linebacker Kavell Connor controlling the interior and allowing San Diego’s offense to eventually piece together enough points to win.

The victory over the Rams was where things started to get interesting. The Chargers fell short of Vegas expectations in that game, but you can make a pretty good case that this was more about Vegas underrating the Rams - who have won outright against Denver, Seattle and San Francisco - then any shortcoming on the part of the Bolts.

Finally, Philip Rivers showed why he’s a tough veteran quarterback last week in Baltimore, pulling out a gutty comeback win. But even granting San Diego enormous props for that victory, it’s fair to be skeptical of their ability to continue winning against high-level competition.

The Chargers rank a pedestrian 14th on offense. Rivers is making enough plays to keep them going, his 7.1 yards-per-attempt ranking seventh in the NFL. But the running game, such a key to this team’s late-season push to the playoffs in 2013, has faltered. San Diego ranks 30th in yards-per-rush this season. That has to change and it has to do so immediately

That’s because, while San Diego’s defense is decent, it’s not outstanding, ranking 12th in the NFL. That’s plenty good enough to keep you in games. It’s good enough to beat lower-level teams. It’s not good enough to beat Tom Brady or Peyton Manning if your offense isn’t helping you out by running the football and keeping opposing quarterbacks on the sidelines.

Furthermore, there’s considerable evidence that Las Vegas is accurately pricing the Chargers, making it tough to even take them as a value dog. It worked like a charm for those who did it in Baltimore last week, but for the season, San Diego is 6-6 ATS, and their twelve games have split out evenly on the totals line. Something to consider as you evaluate the Chargers as a (+3) home favorite against the Patriots, with the total at 51.

Winning bets on San Diego’s games - for or against them - is going to require a finely honed level of detail that Jim Hurley’s Network has mastered over three decades of winning handicapping. Hurley has stat handicappers who crunch all the data, and then turn that over to computer programmers who run it through state-of-the-art simulations. Hurley consults with football experts who study film and know the unique personnel matchups that define every game. He talks with Las Vegas insiders, who clue him in where the smart money is going. When you get all that information and put it together, you can take a lot of little details and make them add up to BIG WINNERS.

On Thursday night Jim swept 3-0 in football, winning with the Cowboys (-3.5) over the Bears 41-28, and scoring with the (Over) and winning outright with UCF (+7) over East Carolina 32-30.

Get on board for Jim Hurley’s top plays of NFL Week 14 the December Mismatch of the Year, and Top NFL December Dog.

Even better, build bankroll with him on Saturday with his top bets on the college conference championships. December is here and that means it’s winning time for top teams. And no team has won these past thirty years like Jim Hurley’s Network.

Boise State

Boise State’s battle with Fresno State for the Mountain West Conference championship on Saturday (10 PM ET, CBS) isn’t generating the raw media attention that the games involving the playoff contenders are. But there’s a huge amount at stake - Boise is playing for a spot in one of the major New Year’s bowls, the six biggest games that will be played on either December 31 or January 1.

It’s a big payday for the school and a great opportunity for the program to play a top team from a power conference. Is Boise ready to not only win this big game, but cover a big number? The Broncos are a (-21) favorite over Fresno State.

Boise comes into the game on a strong roll. After losing to Air Force on September 27, their second loss of the season, the Broncos have ripped off seven straight wins. Here’s the rundown…

  • Won at Nevada 51-46 as a (-3.5) favorite
  • A non-cover win over Fresno, 37-27 as a (-18) home favorite
  • An impressive 55-30 home win over BYU while giving (-6)
  • Rallied to beat New Mexico 60-49, though did not cover (-18)
  • A non-cover win over San Diego State 38-29 as a (-14) home favorite
  • Crushed Wyoming 63-14 while giving (-13.5) on the road
  • Buried Utah State 50-19 at home, laying (-10).

You can see that on balance, the oddsmakers have priced Boise about right, as they went 4-3 ATS in that seven-game win streak, and are 7-5 ATS on the season as a whole. What’s most interesting is that the non-cover win over Fresno did not impact the line - in fact, Boise is a bigger favorite now than they were while failing to cover back October 17.

Saturday night will be a home game for Boise, per the rules of the Mountain West Conference, but so was the October game. What’s the case for giving that many points, especially if you’re a bettor who was burned before?

You can credibly argue that Fresno played over its head that night in October. The Bulldogs are a team that was, in the month of November, crushed by Wyoming 45-17, same 4-8 team that Boise dominated recently. Fresno has a straight-up record of 6-6 and is in this championship game only because their side of the Mountain West is perhaps the weakest division in any conference. Their offense, long the program’s calling card, ranks 65th in the country and the defense is a woeful 104th.

Nor has Fresno offered any real value for bettors, an even 6-6 ATS. Meanwhile, Boise ranks 9th in the country on offense, and running back Jay Ajayi is gaining steam along with the rest of the attack. Ajayi has rushed for at least 118 yards in all seven games of this current win streak. Furthermore, even if we reach back to September, neither of Boise’s losses was anything to be ashamed of. Air Force won nine games and the other defeat was to Ole Miss.

But before we start a Bronco bandwagon that careens out of control, there’s always another side the story.

We can begin with the fact that Boise is not good defensively. They rank 74th in the country, and the rush defense has been up and down. It was strong against BYU, but got overrun by New Mexico. Whatever Fresno’s flaws are, they’re a better football team than New Mexico. If Fresno can maintain possession, they’ll cover the number and have another shot at pulling off an outright upset.

It also needs to be emphasized that the Fresno-Boise game of October 17 was not a backdoor cover for the dog. The game was tied in the fourth quarter and only the Broncos scoring the final ten points got them the outright win. Now they have to beat the same opponent in the same place by more than three touchdowns.

When a pointspread seems curious, the man to ask is Richie Baccellieri. A former linesmaker, Richie is well-attuned to what the right number should be and how it got to its resting place, whether that be for good football-related reasons or to appease a betting public gone mad. Now that he’s on the other side of the counter, Richie is making a good living picking off the soft spots on the board for himself and his clients. He went 7-3 last weekend in football, and he’s primed for another big run starting Friday night with both the MAC and PAC-12 Championships.

On Saturday, along with the five title games, Richie has found his College Football Underdog of the Year, and Sunday is looking at a huge win with the Survivor Sunday Game of the Year.

Get on board with Richie for the Dollars of December and a Joyous January, and keep the win streak going right through the Super Bowl.

Cincinnati Bengals

On the night of November 6, the Cincinnati Bengals had every reason to be embarrassed. Playing in front of a Thursday Night audience on their homefield, against their archrival Cleveland Browns, the Bengals lost 24-3. Quarterback Andy Dalton had a QBR of 2 (based on a scale of 0-100). It would be a stretch to say the Bengals were written off after that—they were still 5-3-1. But the same skepticism that lurks about this team and this quarterback came flying back in full force.

A three-game road trip was lurking that could break the Bengals. But a funny thing happened on the way to irrelevancy—Cincinnati righted the ship. They won all three road games and covered the spread twice. Here’s what happened…

  • Cincy beat New Orleans 27-10 as a (+7) underdog
  • The Bengals won at Houston 22-13 as a (+2) underdog
  • Cincinnati survived Tampa Bay 14-13 as a (-3.5) favorite.

Last Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay was ugly, but it bears noting that mentally soft teams—as the Bengals have been accused of being—will often lose such a game. It’s also worth noting that by comparison, key division rivals weren’t so lucky—the Pittsburgh Steelers lost outright to Tampa Bay back in September, and the Browns have lost outright to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Cincinnati’s win over Tampa Bay didn’t reward bettors who laid the wood, but it showed some mental toughness.

It would be easy to say that Dalton is the key reason for this team’s turnaround. But while we don’t mean to take anything away from the quarterback, who did play well, that’s not the case. The reason for the turnaround is one dear to the heart of head coach Marvin Lewis and it’s defense.
Cincinnati has played to the Under all three times in this win streak. The defensive line was outstanding all three teams and no one more so than end Carlos Dunlap. He rushed the passer, he defended the run, he set the edge—he did it all.

Then we look at the offensive line—in the first two games of the road trip, where Cincinnati won and covered, they got great play across the trenches. The line as a unit didn’t play as well at Tampa, but left tackle Andrew Whitworth remains reliable almost no matter what.

When you’re defense is playing well and the offensive line is controlling the point of attack, playing quarterback becomes much more manageable. Dalton was at his best at New Orleans, completing 16/20 for 220 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was good enough to win at Houston and Tampa Bay.
Now the Bengals host the Steelers on Sunday. That’s followed by a road trip to Cleveland, a Monday Night date with Denver and a season finale at Pittsburgh. There’s no time for the Bengals to rest on their laurels.

Oddsmakers haven’t fallen in love with the Bengals just yet. They’re a (-3) home favorite over the Steelers, indicating that Las Vegas sees Cincinnati as even-up with a team that just lost at home to New Orleans and has also lost to Tampa Bay and the New York Jets. That’s a direct reflection of market confidence in Steeler quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, while lacking the same in Dalton.

We won’t argue with that. What we will point out is that Cincinnati has gotten into first place with a defense that ranks 10th in points scored, while the offense is 18th. The quarterback play is important, but it’s not everything. If this team controls the trenches and plays great on the defensive side of the ball, they can continue to win games. Those are the issues you should focus on when handicapping this team on Sunday and down the stretch.

Vegas Highroller Tony Salinas' focus is razor-sharp on the entire weekend starting with Friday night's MAC and PAC-12 Championships, and Three-Point Basketball plays.

Come back to sweep Saturday's Conference Championships and cash Tony's College Total of the Year.

On Sunday, Tony releases his top 5 NFL Contest plays and is itching for the sweep after going 4-1 two of the last three weeks.

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