I should not have to try to convince you that this is the best college football weekend of the season. Don’t quibble over a few meaningless games on the card [UMass/Florida International or Idaho/Georgia St. or South Alabama/New Mexico St.] and pretend not to notice that Florida State rescheduled a game they previously canceled against La-Monroe simply to get a 6th win for the season and become bowl-eligible. Focus on the important conference championship games as I will do here:
- Stanford vs. USC – 4 (58): The game is tonight in Santa Clara. When these teams met earlier this season, Stanford RB, Bryce Love ran wild on the USC defense (17 carries for 160 yards). Even that was not enough; USC won 42-24. Stanford has improved as the season has gone on, but Love has been playing on a bad ankle for a month. I think USC is still the better team; I think they will win and cover.
- Memphis vs. UCF – 7.5 (81.5): This game is in Orlando, FL making it a home game for UCF. The winner is the AAC Champion which normally engenders a reaction like, “Meh”; however, this year the winner will most likely get an invitation to play in one of the big New Year’s Day bowl games so this year the game is sorta interesting. These teams met earlier this year and UCF won easily. Both teams win by outscoring opponents and not by defense – hence the Total Line of 81.5. I have no strong opinion on this game and have no rooting interest either. So, just to be contrarian, I guess I’d take the game to stay UNDER.
- Georgia vs. Auburn – 2.5 (48): The game is in Atlanta. Three weeks ago, Auburn pushed Georgia around all day long; the final score was 40-17 and that was indicative of how the game unfolded. That game was in Auburn and the crowd was amped for the game; the Auburn team fed on that. Auburn shut down the Georgia run offense and forced Georgia to throw the ball 28 times; that is not how Georgia wins games; Georgia wins by pounding its running attack down the throats of opponents. Meanwhile, the Auburn run game will not be at 100% with workhorse RB, Kerryon Johnson “questionable”. I think this is going to be the best of the conference championship games and I like Georgia with the points.
- Miami vs. Clemson – 9.5 (47): The game is in Charlotte. Miami has escaped so many games that looked lost that they should adopt Harry Houdini as an honorary captain for this game. The string ran out last week against Pitt and even though Clemson lost to Syracuse earlier this year, Clemson looks much the better team to me. I think this will be a defensive game where Clemson’s defense will shut down Miami and where Clemson’s offense will just grind it out. I like this game to stay UNDER.
- Ohio St. – 6 vs. Wisconsin (51): The game is in Indianapolis. Both teams have relied on excellent defenses to win games; I do not expect that to change this weekend. If Wisconsin wins, they will be in the CFP; if Ohio St. wins, they do have 2 blow-out losses on their record and might not be in the CFP. If you are a conspiracy theorist, you might think that the Big 10 conference would prefer Wisconsin to win here to assure a conference rep in the CFP. Trust me; if Wisconsin does win on a controversial call by the refs, you will hear those cries from multitudes. I like Ohio St. to win and cover here.
- TCU vs. Oklahoma – 7 (63.5): The game is in Arlington, TX. When these teams met earlier this year, Oklahoma led 38-14 at the half and then put it on cruise control to win the game 38-20. If you are a TCU fan, you read that game differently; you say that TCU figured out the Oklahoma offense and shut it down in the second half. TCU can play defense; the question here is whether they can play defense well enough to keep Oklahoma’s offense from running wild. Purely a hunch, but I’ll take TCU plus the points.
I mentioned above the Florida St./La-Monroe game set up to allow Florida St. to attain bowl-eligible status. Other than saying that Florida St. ought to be ashamed here, the line on the game is interesting. Florida St. is a 27-point favorite and the Total Line is 64.5. La-Monroe does not lose because their offense is incompetent; they have scored 50 or more points 4 times this year and lost 1 of those games. I do not expect them to do anything of the sort here, but it is not unreasonable to think they can score 3 TDs against the Seminoles and still not cover. And that would mean the game would go OVER – – if you catch my drift here…
Notwithstanding the menu of top-shelf college games this weekend, the “student-athletes” still must share the stage with the pros this weekend. The NFL schedule maker has several interesting games and some important ones too. The Thursday Night Football game last night between the Cowboys and the Skins was an important one. The only way into the playoffs for both teams is via the wild card; yes, I know that if the Cowboys win out and the Eagles lose out the Cowboys will win the NFC East on tie-breakers; I also know that is not going to happen. So, with both teams standing at 5-6 for the season, this game meant a lot…
However, no one seemed to tell the Skins that it meant a lot because they came out flat; turned the ball over 4 times and when they needed a 3-and-out from the defense in the 4th quarter to make a game of it, the Skins’ defense gave up a 75-yard TD drive that took about 6 minutes off the clock. There is much weeping and gnashing of teeth on sports radio in the DC area today but if the history of the Skins’ franchise is any guide, it is about to go from the “hopeful season” to the “ugly season”.
The franchise loves to cannibalize its members. Look for the innuendos to begin this week with anonymous sources leaking stories from “inside the locker room” and “in the Front Office’. Weeping and gnashing of teeth always yields around here to finger-pointing and blame-assessing which leads to internal politics and turmoil. Let the games begin…
- Lions at Ravens: The Ravens are 3-point favorites at home. That situation has to be a vote of confidence for the Ravens’ defense because the Ravens’ offense has been AWOL for almost the entire season. Both teams are 6-5 and have their eyes on wild cards as entries to the playoffs. Unusually, the Lions are better on the road this year than at home; they are 4-1 on the road.
- Niners at Bears: The Bears are 3-point favorites in this dreadful game. This is the first half of a double-whammy for NFL fans in the Bay Area; after getting this game in the early time slot, they will then get the Raiders/Giants in the late time slot – – unless someone gets a Federal injunction to prevent that from happening on the basis that it would be cruel and unusual punishment for Bay Area fans. The Bears are 3-8 and have not yet been eliminated from the wild card hunt in the NFC. This is the Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
- Vikes at Falcons: The Falcons are 3-point favorites at home. This game means a lot to both teams; the Vikes lead the NFC North by 3 games with 5 to play; they cannot clinch the division this week, but a win here is important to them. The Falcons trail the Saints by a game in the NFC South; nevertheless, they would be part of the playoffs as a wild card if the playoffs started now; they need a win here. This is the second straight road game for the Vikes and this is a time when the Falcons seem to have found their stride after suffering “Super Bowl Hangover” earlier this year. Purely a venue call; I like the Falcons to win and cover.
- Pats at Bills: The Pats are 8.5-point favorites on the road. For the moment, the Pats would be the #2 seed in the AFC Playoffs, but they have an upcoming game against the Steelers – the current #1 seed. Therefore, a win here is a big deal for the Pats and that is bad news for the Bills.
- Broncos at Dolphins: The Broncos are 1.5-point favorites on the road. This is another dreary game even though both teams are still mathematically alive in the playoff chase. The Broncos have lost their last 5 games and they have failed to cover in any of those 5 losses.
- Texans at Titans: The Titans are 7-point favorites at home. The Titans are tied for the lead in the AFC South with the Jags; the Texans are 3 games behind those two teams and given their injury situation it looks as if they brought a knife to a gun fight. The problem is that the Titans’ offense has been woeful this year; Marcus Mariotta appears to have regressed and not progressed. The Titans only average 185 yards per game passing; their smashmouth running offense produces 90 yards per game; the Titans are offensively challenged. However, their challenge is nothing compared to the Texans who must rely on Tom Savage and/or TJ Yates to pilot their offense.
- Colts at Jags: The Jags are 9.5-point favorites at home. Given the Colts’ anemic offense and the Jags’ strong defense, the only way the Colts keep this close is if Blake Bortles reverts to his “Turnover Machine Incarnation”. Seriously, I would not be shocked to see that the Colts score 10 points or less in this game. The Jags are tied with the Titans for now; they need this game.
- Bucs at Packers: The Packers are 2-point favorites at home. The line opened the week with the Bucs as 1.5-point favorites but that has flipped significantly as the week went on. Jameis Winston is expected to be back for the Bucs in this game; Aaron Rodgers will be eligible to practice with the team starting tomorrow but will not be eligible to play in this game; Brett Hundley played well against the Steelers last week and he faces a far less fearsome defense here. The Bucs allow 395 yards per game to their opponents. The Total Line for this game is 45 points; in 14 of their last 18 games, the Packers have gone OVER. Just saying…
- Chiefs at Jets: The Chiefs are 3.5-point favorites on the road – – even though the Chiefs have lost 5 of their last 6 games outright. Maybe that is because the Jets have also lost 5 of their last 6 games outright? The Jets were in the game against the panthers last week until a “scoop-and-score” sealed their doom. The Chiefs have been horrible recently – particularly on defense. If I were in Las Vegas, I would be taking the points in this game…
- Panthers at Saints: The Saints are 4.5-point favorites at home. These teams have the same record (8-3) and lead the AFC South. Clearly, this is a big game for both teams; it is probably the best game of the weekend. The Panthers are 5-1 on the road this year and normally that record would weigh heavily in choosing a side here. However, the Panthers are facing a Saints’ squad who rank 1st in the NFL in passing yards at home and in offensive yards per play at home. In addition, the Saints rank 2nd in the NFL in points scored at home. I sure hope this is the late game carried here in the DC area this Sunday because it ought to be a good one.
- Browns at Chargers: The Chargers are 14-point favorites here. Last year, the Browns won one game; that game was against the Chargers in December. This year the Browns are winless; this game is in December. Does lightening strike again? The Chargers can make a playoff run – assuming they do not stub their toes in a game like this. In fact, if the Chiefs lose to the Jets this week and the Chargers win here, the Chiefs and Chargers will have the same record.
- Rams at Cards: The Rams are 7-point favorites on the road. The Cards beat the Jags last week with a strong showing from the defense and efficient QB play from Blaine Gabbert. Maybe the defense will have another good game this week; history says that Blaine Gabbert is unlikely to sustain high efficiency. I like the Rams here…
- Giants at Raiders: The Raiders are 8.5-point favorites at home. The Giants will not play Eli Manning; the Raiders will not have Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper missed practice earlier this week. This game will be a hot mess so let me call it the Co-Dog-Breath Game of the Week.
- Eagles at Seahawks (Sunday Nite): The Eagles are 5.5-point favorites on the road. Will Kam Chancellor be able to play efficiently this week? Can Carson Wentz function in the environment of the 12th man the first time he experiences it? The Eagles can clinch the NFC East with a win here; the Seahawks sit a game behind the Rams in the AFC West and would not be in the playoffs if the season ended today; this is a huge game for Seattle. The Eagles run the ball for 147 yards per game; that is 2nd in the NFL. The Seahawks defense gives up 98 yards per game on the ground; that is 9th in the NFL. I think that is the axis on which this game will be decided. There are some interesting trends at work here. The Seahawks have lost their last 2 home games outright; the last time they lost 3 home games in a row was in 2008. The Eagles have covered the spread in 8 consecutive games. This game is must-see TV and coincidentally, the game is on NBC.
- Steelers at Bengals (Monday Nite): The Steelers are 5.5-point favorites on the road here. As noted above, the Steelers are currently the #1 seed in the AFC with a game on the schedule against the #2 seeded Pats in a couple of weeks. The Bengals still have a pathway to the playoffs, but a loss here will make that a rocky road at best. The Steelers always play well against the Bengals, but the Steelers also always play less well on the road than they do at home. In terms of historical trends, this is a prime-time game and Andy Dalton’s record and performance in prime-time games is marginally better than horrid. The most likely scenario for this game is that the Steelers win on the basis of a 4th quarter meltdown on the part of one of the Bengals players; Dalton and Vontaze Burfict would be the prime suspects…
Finally, Dwight Perry had this observation regarding the NFL games over Thanksgiving weekend in the Seattle Times:
“Per presidential custom, Donald Trump pardoned two turkeys last week.
“He should’ve pardoned the Giants-Washington game.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………