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|Date||Match Up||Rating||Score||Result||Profit||Lead Time||Analysis|
|01-15-18||Kansas +5 v. West Virginia||Top||71-66||Win||100||23 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up:The Jayhawks and Mountaineers are both 4-1 in Big 12 play, leaving them as half of the four teams atop the conference standings (Texas Tech and Oklahoma are the other two). Kansas is 14-3 overall and currently ranked No. 12 in the AP poll, while West Virginia is 15-2 and currently ranked second. However, Texas Tech ended West Va's 15-game winning streak with a 72-71 home win over the Mountaineers, so West Va. will not be No. 2 when the AP's new poll is announced on Monday afternoon. Kansas has taken a slightly different route to its share of the Big 12 lead, losing its second conference contest (85-73 to Texas Tech) but then reeling off three straight wins, with the latest being Saturday’s 73-72 victory over visiting Kansas State.
Kansas: The Jayhawks may have won three straight league games but each have been hard-fought, nip-and-tuck affairs, with the three wins coming by a combined total of just 10 points. Senior guard Devonte’ Graham scored a game-high 23 points vs. the Wildcats (his ninth straight in double figures) and continues to pace the team at 18.4 PPG and by handing out 7.4 APG. Three other guards also average in double figures, Saviatoslav Mykhailiuk (16.5), Lagerald Vick (14.9 & 6.0) and Malik Newman (10.7 & 4.5). Center Udoka Azubuike averages 14.8 PPG and a team-high 7.7 rebounds. However, no other Jayhawk averages as much as four points per game. Kansas leads the Big 12 in field-goal (51.0) and three-point (41.5) percentage. Those figures rank 9th and 8th in the nation, respectively. Kansas also ranks 17th nationally by averaging 85.8 PPG.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers saw an 11-point lead slip away in the final 13 minutes of Saturday’s 72-71 road loss to Texas Tech. Guard Javon Carter scored a game-high 28 points and junior forward Esa Ahmad, playing his first game of the season since returning from an academic suspension, added 18 points and six rebounds off the bench. However, it wasn’t enough to keep Bob Huggins’ team alone atop the conference standings. “We just had guys (who) were really out of character,” Huggins said in his post-game news conference. “We’ve got our center shooting whatever that was, a three-pointer from the top of the key. We just did a lot of things out of character from what we normally do.” What is in character for West Va, is a excellent offense (82.1 PPG ranks 39th) and a formidable defense (65.4 PPG allowed ranks 34th). Carter’s 28 points Saturday were just one off his career high. He is averaging 16.8 points and a team-high 6.5 assists and is joined in double figures by guard Daxter Miles Jr. (13.2) and forward Lamont West (12.2 & 5.5). The 6-8 Konate averages 8.9 PPG and a team-high 7.6 RPG and of course, the 6-8 Ahmad is now the 'wild card,' after his 18-point season debut.
The pick: Kansas has won seven of the 11 meetings since West Virginia joined the Big 12 in 2012 but the Mountaineers are 4-1 in Morgantown, including an 85-69 win last season. Will Kansas suffer a fifth straight loss in Morgantown, something the program hasn't experienced since losing at Oklahoma from 1987 to 1991? My bet say N-O! Make Kansas a 10* play.
|01-15-18||Sharks v. Kings OVER 5.5||Top||4-1||Loss||-100||18 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up: The San Jose Sharks completed a 1-2-2 road trip before making a brief 'pit stop' at home by outlasting Arizona 6-5 in overtime at SAP Center on Saturday. The 22-13-6 Sharks head back out on the road Monday, as they begin a three-game road trip against the 24-14-5 Los Angeles Kings. The Kings have 53 points to the Sharks' 50 but enter this contest on a three-game losing streak after Saturday's 4-2 setback against Anaheim. That dropped them to 0-2-0 on their four-game homestand. Jonathan Quick has allowed 11 goals during the team's three-game skid.
San Jose: Defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic scored the winner 2:42 into the extra session while Joonas Donskoi recorded two goals, including the game-tying tally with 16 seconds remaining in the third period. He also added an assist to lead four players with three-point performances for the Sharks, who halted their three-game slide (0-1-2). Joe Thornton recorded a goal and two assists Saturday, moving him one point ahead of Adam Oates (1,420) for 17th place on the all-time list. Reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns, who leads the team with 33 points, has landed on the scoresheet in 13 of his last 15 contests, recording seven multi-point performances in that span. He will carry a five-game point streak (one goal, seven assists) into Monday's matchup.
Los Angeles: The Kings trailed 3-0 early in the third period and rallied to within one score on goals by centers Anze Kopitar and Nick Shore but could not get equalizer against Anaheim goaltender John Gibson It was the team's third straight loss and the sixth of its last 10 (4-4-2). LA head coach John Stevens spoke about the Kings' uneven play after the loss to Anaheim, saying he needs more from the entire roster.
The pick: The Sharks are looking for their third consecutive win over the Kings. San Jose dropped a 2-1 decision in Los Angeles on Oct. 7 but rallied for a 2-1 win on Nov. 12 at Staples Center and a 2-0 victory on Dec. 23 at HP Pavilion. After three tight, low-scoring games, look for that to change in this one. San Jose goaltender Martin Jones was pulled Saturday after allowing three goals on six shots, but is expected to be in net against the Kings (bad news for San Jose). As noted above, LA's Jonathan Quick has allowed 11 goals during the team's three-game skid and a loss here would match the longest of the season for Los Angeles. Staying away from calling for that but I will make the Over an 8* play.
|01-15-18||Youngstown State +13 v. Wright State||Top||67-77||Win||100||18 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up: It's a late-afternoon Monday game in the Horizon League, as the Youngstown State Penguins visit the Wright State Raiders at Nutter Center in Dayton. The Penguins have lost their last two games versus Oakland and Detroit Mercy, to fall to 5-13 overall, ruining a 3-0 start in Horizon play. Meanwhile, the 13-5 Raiders welcome the Penguins to Nutter Center with a perfect 5-0 start in Horizon play. Youngstown State is off a 13-21 season (5-13 in Horizon) and Wright State off a 20-12 season (11-7 in Horizon) but did not play in a postseason tourney.
Youngstown State: Veteran guards Morse (15.2 & 4.6) and Hartfield (14.2) are the team's lone double digit scorers and 6-6 freshman forward Bohannon (6.2 & 7.2) is the team's top rebounder. However, scoring hasn't been Youngstown State's Achilles Heel, but rather it's been the team's inability to stop opponents from scoring that has hurt them. The Penguins are allowing 83.5 PPG, ranking 339th in the nation.
Wright State: Senior guards Benzinger (15.6 & 4.6) and Mitchell (11.1 & 7.1) are tge etam's top-two scorers but two freshman have made huge impacts. There is the 6-9 love (10.8 & 9.1) plus guard Hall (8.3). Unlike Youngstown State, Wright State plays very solid defense, allowing 66.5 PPG (54th).
The pick: Youngstown State may have lost its last two Hotizon games (after opening 3-0) but the Penguins covered them both and head to Wright State a perfect 5-0 ATS in Horizon play this season. Wright State is the better team and the more disciplined one under second-year head coach Scott Nagy, who won big at South Dakota State in this previous stop, but I won't ignore the Penguins' 5-0 ATS record in league play. Also, Mitchell will miss due to personal reasons and his 11.7 PPG and 7.1 RPG will be missed. Make Youngstown State an 8* play.
|01-15-18||Ducks -113 v. Avalanche||Top||1-3||Loss||-113||17 h 43 m||Show|
The set-up: The Colorado Avalanche may currently be seventh in the seven-team Central Division but that hardly tells the whole story. The Avalanche finished seventh in the Central last season but with just 48 points, 21 less than the next-worst team. However, while still in seventh place this season, the Avs are 23-16-3, giving them 49 points with just about half the season to go! Colorado is in the midst of a stretch during which it plays nine of 10 at home, and will take the ice tonight against the Anaheim Ducks, looking to extend their winning streak to seven games.The 20-15-9 Ducks have 49 points, which leaves them fifth in the eight-team Pacific Division. The Ducks will be wrapping up their month-opening five-game road trip during which they are 2-1-1, after Saturday's 4-2 triumph at Los Angeles.
Anaheim: The Ducks will be without iron man Andrew Cogliano in this contest, as the veteran left wing received a two-game suspension for an interference infraction against the Kings' Adrian Kempe. Cogliano, who has not missed a contest since making his NHL debut with Edmonton on Oct. 4, 2007, will have his streak of 830 consecutive games played - the fourth-longest run in league history - come to a halt. Wth Cogliano out, newcomer J.T. Brown could make his debut for Anaheim on Monday. The 27-year-old right wing was claimed off waivers on Sunday from Tampa Bay, with which he registered one goal and three assists in 24 games this season. Ondrej Kase recorded his second career two-goal performance on Saturday to tie Jakob Silfverberg (11) for second on the team in tallies and added an assist for his first three-point effort in the NHL. Center Rickard Rakell leads the team in goals (15) and points (32). Anaheim captain, center Ryan Getzlaf, has collected 18 points over his last 13 contests, giving him 25 points on the season (he is one assist shy of 600 for his career).
Colorado: The Avs lost 3-1 at home to Arizona back on Dec. 27 but have followed with six straight victories, the first five at home and a sixth this Saturday 4-1 at Dallas. Rookie Alexander Kerfoot recorded a goal and an assist in the win, giving him four points in his last two contests. All-Star Nathan MacKinnon, who leads the team with 53 points, had his five-game assist streak halted Saturday but scored a goal to give him points in six consecutive contests. The 22-year-old center has collected four tallies and nine assists during the run. Colorado is winning despite top goaltender Semyon Varlamov being sidelined with a groin injury that will keep him out until the All-Star break or longer. Jonathan Bernier has filled in admirably and has won a career high-tying five straight decisions while filling in for the injured Varlamov (Bernier is 10-7-1 with a 2.77 GAA & .911 SP on the season).
The pick: Anaheim got a boost for Saturday's 4-2 win over Los Angeles with the return of third-line forward Ondrej Kase. He had three points against the Kings and gives the Ducks their full complement of forwards starting the second half of the season. Kase, who returned Saturday from a battle with the flu, has 11 goals and seven assists already after only having five goals and 10 assists all of last year. The Ducks may need everyone to stop the resurgent Avalanche, whose six-game inning streak is their longest since a six-game run from March 25-April 5, 2014. The Ducks are a solid road team and are a small favorite against the red-hot Avs for a reason. Make Anaheim a 10* play.
|01-15-18||Hornets v. Pistons UNDER 205||Top||118-107||Loss||-105||14 h 13 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-19 Detroit Pistons have yet to master the art of winning on the road (just 9-14) but they are 13-5 at home on the season and tonight against the 16-25 Charlotte Hornets, will look to extend their current home winning streak to six games. Detroit snapped a five-game road slide with a 114-80 rout of the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday and had a chance to come home off a winning three-game road trip but they dropped the finale 107-105 at Chicago on Saturday. The Pistons are 2-4 their last six games, with all four losses on the road. The Hornets had a chance to end a three-game homestand with a winning mark but, like the Pistons, they dropped the finale 101-91 to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday, while totaling 32 points in the second half. "It looked to me like we ran out of gas in that second half," associate head coach Stephen Silas told reporters after the game.Charlotte: The Hornets got excellent play from their backcourt duo of Walker and Batum last season but this year, while Walker has played pretty much the same (21.8 & 5.7 APG), Batum was sidelined early with an injury (has played just 27 of 41 games) and is down almost five PPG, from 15.1 to 10.2 Charlotte has failed to reach 100 points in either of its last two games and shot 39.8 percent from the floor in Saturday's setback. The backcourt combination of Walker and Batum combined to go 9-of-30 from the floor and committed nine of the team's 14 turnovers. Batum is battling through a particularly rough stretch while averaging 7.8 points on 31 percent shooting in the last four games and his backup, Jeremy Lamb (who has made 14 starts in place of Batum and is averaging 14.1 & 4.7 on the season), was only able to muster six points off the bench on Saturday.
Detroit: The Pistons have been erratic lately but continue to get strong performances from center Andre Drummond (14.6 & 15.0), who averaged 19.7 points and 16.3 rebounds on the three-game trip. Drummond (21 & 15) and SG Avery Bradley (26 points) were solid against the Bulls but leading scorer Tobias Harris (18.2 & 5.2) slumped to seven points on 3-of-14 shooting in Saturday's loss. Bradley (15.7) and PG Jackson (14.6 & 5.5 APG) form a nice starting backcourt but along with Harris and Drummond are the onlt Detroit players in double figures on the season.The pick: Detroit returns home to Little Caesars Arena tos play 14 of its next 17 games. That stretch begins with a matchup against the Charlotte Hornets, whom the Pistons defeated 102-90 in the inaugural regular-season game in the new building. Detroit rank just 25th in scoring but allows just 101.5 PPG, to rank 5th. With Charlotte struggling to score as of late (see above), expect the final to mirror the first meeting, when the teams combined to score only 192 points. Make the Under a 10* play.
|01-14-18||Pacers v. Suns +4.5||Top||120-97||Loss||-110||22 h 36 m||Show|
The set-up: The Indiana Pacers overcame a 22-point deficit to knock off the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-95 on Friday, handing the Cavs their third straight loss. As for the Pacers, they have now won three of four since Victor Oladipo returned to the lineup The 22-20 Pacers will venture to Phoenix Sunday night to open a five-game road trip against the 16-27 Suns. Phoenix has lost three of its last four, after falling 112-95 at home to Houston on Friday, despite holding the Rockets to just 41.5 percent shooting (note: Houston shoots 46.1% on the season).
Indiana: The Pacers have received strong contributions from Oladipo and Sabonis, the players it received from Oklahoma City for free-agent-to-be Paul George over the summer. Oladipo is averaging 24.4 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists, and second-year player Sabonis has broken out, averaging 12.5 points and 8.0 rebounds. Sabonis is one of seven players behind Oladipo to contribute between 7.7 and 13.9 PPG. Myles Turner (13.9 & 6.5) owns second-highest scoring average on the team but has missed the last two contests with an elbow issue and is day-to-day. Swingman Lance Stephenson collected 16 points and 11 rebounds on Friday, but it was his willingness to guard and irritate Cleveland star LeBron James that may have been the difference in the game.
Phoenix: The Pacers have Oladipo and the Suns have Devin Booker, who averages 24.9-4.4-4.4. However, the only other regular double digit scorer Phoenix has is small forward T.J.. Warren (19.7 & 5.5). Center Monroe averages 11.5 & 8.4 but has played in just two of the team's last 13 games and only 14 for the entire season. PG Canaan was picked up in mid-December and he's averaged 10.0 PPG and 4.9 APG but has played only 10 games, while missing the last three.
The pick: The Pacers had dropped seven of their previous nine games ATS prior to Friday's upset of the Cavs and they must now travel west to play in Phoenix tonight and Utah tomorrow. A let down seems likely off that Cleveland win and don't expect another 16 & 11 effort from Lance Stephenson, without LBJ as motivation. The Pacers have covered only two of their last 13 games against the Suns, so make Phoenix a 10* play.
|01-14-18||NC State +15 v. Virginia||Top||51-68||Loss||-110||19 h 28 m||Show|
The set-up: The Virginia Cavaliers were unranked and projected by most to be a middle-of-the pack squad in the ACC by pundits in the preseason, while under first-year coach Kevin Keatts, the N.C. State Wolfpack were picked to finish among the bottom teams of this brutally tough conference. However, Virginia welcomes NC State to Charlottesville for this Sunday matchup at 15-1 (lone loss 68-61 at WVa) and ranked No.3 in the latest AP poll. That's no small feat, as the Cavaliers are the fifth team in ACC history to move from unranked in preseason to inside the top-three, joining Miami (2012-13), Georgia Tech (2003-04), Wake Forest (1980-81) and North Carolina (1972-73). The Wolfpack were just 10-5 on the season (including 0-2 with two blowout losses to open ACC play), before upsetting Duke (then-No. 2) last Saturday and just this past Thursday, knocking off No. 19 Clemson. It marked the school's heir first consecutive wins against ranked teams since 2007.
N.C. State: The Wolfpack committed just four turnovers against Clemson (their fewest in nearly six years), while converting 17 Clemson miscues into 23 points. Grad transfer Allerik Freeman, averaging a team-high 15.2 PPG (along with 4.7 rebounds, & 3.0 assists) added 14 points and also tied his career high in assists for the second straight game with five. The Wolfpack boast five double-digit scorers, which is to be expected in first-year coach Keatts’ up-tempo style. Right behind Freeman are Torin Dorn (13.1 & 7.2), the 7-0 Omer Yurtseven (12.7 & 6.8), the 6-8 Lennard Freeman (11.3 & 5.4). and freshman guard Braxton Beverly (10.2 & 4.5 APG). The Wolfpack are averaging 83.1 PPG, which ranks 31st in the nation.
Virginia: Sophomore guard Kyle Guy (15.4) led the Cavaliers with 22 points in the team's last outing, becoming the first player in coach Tony Bennett’s tenure at the school (since 2009-10) to play 40 minutes. Senior guard Devon Hall (11.9-4.2-3.4) added 13 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Those two are the only players averaging in double figures for UVa but a third guard, Ty Jerome, just misses at 9.8 PPG. All three are deadly three-point shooters, with Hall connecting on 44.6%, Guy 44.2% and Jerome at 43.7%. The Cavs don't score like NC State (70.7 PPG ranks 271st) but few teams play better defense. Virginia ranks first in points allowed (53.0 per) and second in FG percentage (36.1%).
The pick: The Cavaliers are 44-4 SU at home in ACC games over the past six seasons and Virginia is 10-0 against N.C. State in its last 10 regular-season matchups. In fact, the Wolfpack haven't beaten the Cavaliers in their last seven tries at John Paul Jones Arena and Virginia has held the Wolfpack to 55 points or fewer in their last five meetings. All signs point to another Virginia triumph over N.C. State in this one but the Wolfpack have proven to be giant killers this season. A win over Virginia would give N.C. State its third consecutive victory over a top-25 opponent and fourth this season (beat then-No. 2 Arizona back on Nov. 22). PG Markell Johnson (8.7 PPG & 6.6 APG) is expected to return to the floor for NC State against Virginia on Sunday, after missing the last seven contests due to a suspension stemming from a legal issue. He should provide a big boost and first-year coach Kevin Keatts will remember that Virginia defeated his former team, UNC Wilmington, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season. Take the points and make NC State a 10* play.
|01-14-18||Saints +4 v. Vikings||Top||24-29||Loss||-110||161 h 6 m||Show|
The set-up: The Saints visited Minnesota in Week 1 of the 2017 season and the Vikings came away with a 29-19 victory. The two teams meet again Sunday in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs, after both teams captured their respective divisions. The Saints won the NFC South and then edged the Carolina Panters 31-26 in last weekend's wild card round, setting up this re-match with the 13-3 Minnesota Vikings, winners of the NFC North and owners of the No. 2 seed. In most cases, the Saints and Vikings would take a strong look at their Week 1 matchup as they prepare for Sunday's NFC playoff game but taht won't be the case here. Both teams have undergone significant changes since that Sep. 11th meeting. Minnesota QB Sam Bradford completed 27-of-32 passes for 346 yards and three TDs that one, earning NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. However, Bradford played only a single half the rest of the season, as Case Keenum has replaced injured Bradford and put himself in MVP consideration.
As for New Orleans, the Saints jettisoned former Vikings RB Adrian Peterson after a miserable four-game run and have thrived with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara, becoming one of the league's most dangerous running back duos.
New Orleans: Drew Brees completed 23 of 33 last Sunday for 376 yards with two TDs and one INT. He made up for a Minnesota running game which struggled, as Kamara led the team in rushing with 23 yards on 10 carries with Mark Ingram adding just 22 yards on nine carries. That's not indicative of that duo's play during the regular season, as Ingram ran for a career-high 1,124 yards (12 TDs) and Kamara added 728 yards (8 TDs) plus had 81 catches for another five scores. Michael Thomas was the team's leading receiver on the season (104 catches) and led the team with eight catches for 131 yards, while Ted Ginn Jr. (53 catches) added four catches and a TD. The Saints made great strides defensively this season but couldn't stop Cam Newton (349 yards and two TD passes), as the Panthers rolled up 413 total yards.
Minnesota: Case Keenum came into this season 9-15 as an NFL starter but became a dark-horse MVP candidate after recording career highs in completions (325), attempts (481), yards (3,547), touchdowns (22) and passer rating (98.3) while posting an 11-3 mark as a starter. The QB position wasn't Minnesota's only notable change from the season opener ,as Latavius Murray's workload was nondescript before impressive rookie Dalvin Cook saw his season end due to an ACL injury. Murray recorded eight TDs in his last 10 games of the season (finished with 842 yards rushing), while fellow RB Jerick McKinnon (570 yards rushing) caught 43 of his 51 receptions over the last 12 games. Minnesota ended the regular season averaging 122.3 YPG on the ground, ranking 7th. WR Stefon Diggs overcame injury issues to catch 64 passes and matched TE Rudolph (57 catches) for a team-high eight TD receptions. Thielen led all Viking receivers with 91 catches and 1,276 receiving yards. Minnesota had a better than expected offense but it was the defense which was he "star of the show," ranking first in the NFL in points allowed (15.8 per) and total defense (275.9 YPG) on the season.
|01-14-18||Flames v. Hurricanes UNDER 5.5||Top||4-1||Win||100||17 h 36 m||Show|
The set-up:The Calgary Flames own a six-game winning streak and at 24-16-4, are 'climbing up the ladder' in the Pacific Division standings with 52 points. They currently hold down third-place, just one point behind the LA Kings. Calgary is hoping to complete a four-game sweep of its current road trip when the Flames visit the 20-16-8 Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon. Carolina and its 48 points are tied for sixth in the Metropolitan, but only one point behind the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Calgary:Johnny Gaudreau increased his team-leading point total to 52 by scoring in each of the last two games and has two goals and nine assists during a six-game point streak. Sean Monahan (team-high 21 goals) has also registered at least point in the last six contests with four goals and six assists during that span. Mike Smith (19-13-3, 2.50 AA & 922 SP) is expected to be in goal, after backup David Rittich made 41 saves in Friday's 4-2 victory over the Panthers. He is 4-0-0 (1.98 GAA & .938 SP) in four January starts but is only 3-10-4 (2.73 GAA & .918 lSP) in his career versus Carolina.
Carolina: Sebastian Aho owns club highs of 16 goals and 37 points and comes in having scored in three straight games (he has nine goals in his last 10 contests). Lee Stempniak made his season debut Friday after missing the first 43 games because of upper-body injuries and recorded an assist. Elias Lindholm (12 goals, 25 points) and Joakim Nordstrom both missed Friday's game because of illness, while Derek Ryan (nine goals, 23 points) sat out with an upper-body injury. Center Jordan Staal (13 goals, 28 points this season) recorded his 200th career tally Friday to give him goals in consecutive games and three in his last four contests.
The pick: Calgary has five days off after this contest, before beginning a three-game homestand. The Flames should be forewarned, as Carolina won the first of two meetings this season, 2-1 back on Oct. 19 in Calgary. Expect another low-scoring contest here, as Calgary's 17-game stretch of allowing three or fewer goals is the longest such streak in the NHL this season. Make the Under a 10* play.
|01-14-18||Jaguars v. Steelers -7||Top||45-42||Loss||-110||158 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The Jacksonville Jaguars made their first playoff appearance since 2007 last weekend vs. the Buffalo Bills, after winning the franchise's first division title since 1999 by winning the AFC South with a 10-6 record. That Jags were a huge surprise in 2017, as the team entered the season with a pathetic 22-74 (.229) record the previous six seasons. The Jags' 10-3 victory over the Bills was generally said to be "unwatchable" at times but so be it, the Jags will head to Pittsburgh's Heinz Field on Sunday with a chance to advance to the AFC championship game. The postseason is nothing new to the Steelers, as Pittsburgh is in the playoffs for the 8th time in Mike Tomlin's 11 years as the team's head coach. A highly controversial 27-24 home loss to the Patriots in Week 15, is the only thing keeping the 13-3 Steelers from being the AFC's no. 1 seed (that loss cost them the tie-breaker with the 13-3 Pats). However, Pittsburgh could just as easily blame its 30-9 Week 5 home loss to Jacksonville as the culprit for failing to earn the No. 1 seed.
Jacksonville: Blake Bortles was almost replaced as the team's starting QB in the preseason but the Jags really had no "Plan B." The former UCF star had a solid season, keeping his TOs to a minimum (21-13 ratio) and benefiting from the NFL's No. 1 ground game. The Jags averaged 141.4 YPG in the regular, led by rookie Leonard Fournette (1,040 yards and 9 TDs but just 3.9 YPC). The Jacksonville offense kept putting its defense in trouble last season but that all changed in 2017. The Jags' D is the reason this team went 10-4 to clinch its playoff berth. The Jags did lose their final two games but the defense still ended the regular season second in both scoring D (16.8 PPG) and total D (286.1 YPG). The defense showed up last week vs. Buffalo, holding the Bills to 263 yards and only a mere FG. However, the Jags' offense was awful, Leonard Fournette had just 57 rushing yards on 21 carries in his playoff debut and Blake Bortle's passing numbers were just plain 'ugly!' He was 12 of 23 for a pathetic 87 yards (76.8 QB rating, although he did pass for the game's lone TD (did not throw a pick) and added a game-high 88 yards rushing. Still, one wonders how the Jags will fare against Pittsburgh's defense?
Pittsburgh. The 2017 Steelers' D is not the dominant "Steel Curtain" of years past but it's a quality stop-unit allowing 19.2 PPG (7th) on 306.9 YPG (5th), while leading the NFL with 56 sacks. After that 30-9 loss to the Jags, Pittsburgh won 10 of its last 11 games down the stretch to finish 13-3. Ben Roethlisberger completed 64.2% for 4,251 yards with 28 TDs and 14 interceptions. RB Le’Veon Bell led the team with 1,291 rushing yards (9 TDs) plus caught 85 balls for two TDs. WR Antonio Brown led Pittsburgh’s receiving corps with 101 catches for 1,533 yards and 9 TDs, despite sitting out Weeks 16 & 17. JuJu Smith-Schuster chipped in 917 receiving yards and seven TDs in his 58 catches. He had 15 receptions and two TDs in the final two weeks with Brown sidelined.
The pick: Roethlisberger wondered aloud "if he still had it" when meeting with reporters after that 30-9 Week 5 loss to the Jags. He had thrown five interceptions in that contest, two of which were returned for TDs by the Jags. However, Big Ben would throw 22 TDs and just seven INTs over his final 10- games, then sat out Week 17. He's still "got it" plus owns arguably the NFL's best all-around RB in Bell and its best WR in Brown. That's not to mention an always excellent defense to "have his back." Pittsburgh owns the most playoff victories in league-history at 36, while Jacksonville's 10-3 win over Buffalo was just the team's second playoff win in the new millennium. It's Big Ben vs. Blake Bortles! You make the call? Then again, let me. Make Pittsburgh an 8* play.
|01-13-18||Pistons +1 v. Bulls||Top||105-107||Loss||-105||20 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-18 Detroit Pistons are currently the East's No. 6 seed but the team's playoff position can change quickly, as there are just 2 1/2 games separating the No. 4 seed and the No. 8 seed. Detroit ended its five-game road losing streak in emphatic fashion on Wednesday, routing the Nets 114-80 in Brooklyn and tonight will try to make it back-to-back road wins when the Pistons wrap up a three-game trip by visiting the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. The Bulls also claimed a win in New York on Wednesday, edging the Knicks 122-119 in double-OT at MSG. However, that victory was just the second in the last seven games for the 15-27 Bulls.
Detroit: The Pistons limited the Nets to 36.5 percent from the floor, forced 20 turnovers and allowed just 26 points in the paint on Wednesday. "I thought our defense was outstanding tonight and everybody was involved," Detroit head coach Stan Van Gundy told reporters. "We got everybody doing their job. I thought (centers) Andre (Drummond) and Eric (Moreland) on pick-and-roll defense put a lot of pressure on the guards and made it really tough. Our perimeters did a good job pulling in and taking the roll and for the most part getting back out to the shooters." Drummond (14.4 & 15.0) collected 22 points and 20 rebounds in Wednesday's win, but it was his defense that stood out the most. Small forward Tobias Harris is averaging 24.7 points over the last three games while going 8-of-15 from three-point range. He leads four Detroit players in double digits with 18.5 PPG and 5.2 RPG, joining Drummond plus guards Bradley (15.4) and Jackson (14.6 & 5.5 APG). However, the Pistons are playing without starting PG Reggie Jackson, who has been out since Dec. 26 with a severely sprained right ankle.
Chicago: Nikola Mirotic's (17.4 & 7.0) Dec. 8 return sparked the Bulls at first, as they ripped off seven consecutive wins (also 7-0 ATS). Chicago was 10-2 in his first 12 games back but the Bulls then lost four of their next five. Mirotic has missed the last two games with a stomach illness (1-1) but will play Saturday against Detroit. Chicago is also about to get another weapon back on the offensive end on Saturday, with Zach LaVine (acquired from Minnesota in the Butler trade) slated to make his team and season debut after recovering from ACL surgery. LaVine will be joining an offense thriving behind rookie forward Lauri Markkanen (15.4 & 7.6), who scored a season-high 33 points in the win at New York while knocking down eight 3-pointers and adding 10 rebounds.
The pick: However, the Bulls have really been struggling on the defensive end, allowing an average of 120.9 points over their last seven contests. It seems that Mirotic's 'magic' has somewhat 'cooled' and he's rumored to be on the trading block (Pistons are reportedly interested). Chicago's defensive woes could be "just what the doctor ordered" for a Detroit team coming off a 34-point win in Brooklyn. Make the Pistons a 10* play.
|01-13-18||Thunder v. Hornets OVER 211||Top||101-91||Loss||-105||17 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: Just when it looked as if the OKC Thunder were finding their groove, the team has lost three straight games, all by at least 11 points. Wednesday's 104-88 setback at Minnesota was the most lopsided of the bunch and the now 22-20 Thunder, who are just 1 1/2 games inside the West's playoff 'cut line,' will look to snap what's been an 'ugly' three-game skid by winning Saturday night in Charlotte. The 16-24 Hornets won 116-103 at Oklahoma City last month (Dec. 11) but then proceeded to lose five of their next six games. However, they've recovered to win five of their last eight, including Friday's 99-88 triumph over Utah in the second contest of their three-game homestand. Kemba Walker followed a 41-point performance in a loss to Dallas with 22 against the Jazz, as Charlotte improved to only 11-11 at home.
Oklahoma City: "We've got to lock in and get a win," Thunder guard Russell Westbrook told reporters after recording 38 points and 10 rebounds in the recent loss to Minnesota. "That's all I can say." Westbrook is averaging 25.1-9.6-10.0, while George chips in 20.7 & 5.5 and Anthony (17.6 & 5.8). Is this combo really working? Oklahoma City is a lackluster 9-8 against teams that currently are seven or more games below .500, a group that will include the Hornets on Saturday. "We were just going out there and playing, and when we got punched, it was like, 'Oh, we got punched. Let's punch back. Let's start fighting back,'" Carmelo Anthony told reporters. "A lot of times when you give teams - those types of teams - that confidence, it's hard to fight out of that hole, because you have to make all the right plays, make every shot, and we can't rely on that." Anthony always seems to be well versed in why his teams are not be successful.
Charlotte: Walker is averaging 24.8 points while making 39.5 percent of his three-point attempts over his last five games and he has made at least three 3-pointers in four consecutive home contests. Walker is having another very good season (21.8 & 5.8 APG) but while Dwight Howard is averaging a double-double on the season (15.5 & 12.2), wasn't he supposed to make this team better? As with the Thunder, just when things seemed to be trending in a positive direction, the Hornets dropped the opener of a three-game homestand, 115-111 to sad-sack Dallas on Wednesday night. Charlotte did bounce back with a 99-88 home win over Utah on Friday, but the game result took a back seat to better news the team received earlier in the day. Head coach Steve Clifford, who left the team on Dec. 6 for health reasons, announced he would return to his coaching duties starting Tuesday at practice.
The pick: Westbrook has recorded at least a double-double in 12 consecutive contests but the Thunder continue to be an inconsistent group. They own excellent victories (as against Houston and Toronto around Christmas time), but regularly toss in ugly losses along the way (see above). Charlotte's Dec. 11 victory in OKC was its third consecutive win over the Thunder in a series that OKC has otherwise dominated, as the Thunder had won 11 straight before the three-game skid. There’s no doubt OKC has more talent than Charlotte plus going against the Hornets, who played last night and have gone just 18-42 at home when unrested the last six-plus seasons, could make sense. However, can we (anyone?) really trust OKC? I will say make the Over an 8* play.
|01-13-18||Falcons v. Eagles OVER 41||Top||10-15||Loss||-115||137 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up: Surely no one reading this would be unaware that the Atlanta Falcons led the New Patriots 28-3 in last year's Super Bowl before a monumental collapse led to the Patriots winning 34-28 in OT. No one knew quite what to expect from the Falcons in 2017 but it was hardly a surprise that the team struggled throughout the entire regular season. In fact, the Falcons were forced into a "must win" situation in Week 17 of this year in order to qualify for the NFC's final playoff berth as the No. 6 seed. However, Falcons began their quest to return to the Super Bowl as the NFC's representative last Saturday with a wire-to-wire 26-13 win over the Rams in Los Angeles. The Philadelphia Eagles boasted the NFL's top mark throughout much of the season and tied a franchise record with 13 wins but as everyone knows, the team was 11-2 when Carson Wentz was lost for the season due to injury. Nick Foles finished off that game against the Giants in style but looked very 'shaky' as the Eagles went 1-1 with him as as a starter (more in a bit). So, the Eagles find themselves as the first No. 1 seed to enter its opening playoff game as an underdog in league history.
Atlanta: QB Matt Ryan (personal reasons) and WR Julio Jones (ankle, ribs) both missed practice Tuesday but are expected to start on Saturday. Ryan was 21 of 30 for 218 yards and a touchdown in the 13-point win over the Rams., giving him his first road playoff win in three starts. Jones reeled in nine receptions for 94 yards and a TD grab last week. The Falcons also possess a potent RB tandem in Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman (combined for 1,493 rushing yards and 12 TDs this season). PK Matt Bryant nailed four FGs against the Rams and the Atlanta defense held the Rams (the league's highest-scoring team in the regular season at 29.9 PPG, to just one TD and 13 points. Speaking of that Atlanta defense, it has stepped up its game by allowing just 16.3 PPG over its last six games.
Philadelphia" Without Wentz, it's difficult to note Philly's offensive numbers during the regular season. Foles was outstanding in relief of Wentz vs. the Giants (24 of 38 with four TD passes) but was a combined 23 of 49 for 202 yards (one TD / two INTs) in Weeks 16 & 17. He hasn't given Philly's fickle fans much to cheer by leading the Eagles to just 16 points in their last nine quarters. Philly does have a solid running game though, averaging 132.3 YPG on the ground (3rd-best). The Philly defense has been terrific all season and comes in ranked 4th in scoring (18.4 PPG) and total D (306.5 YPG). Philly's No. 1 rush D (79.2 YPG) will be a real test for Atlanta's running game.
The pick: The Eagles can silence the critics on Saturday when they host the sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field, where they went 7-1 SU As alluded to above, the Eagles are the first top seed to be a home dog in the Division Round since the seeding system was introduced in 1975. However, last season's NFL MVP, Matt Ryan told reporters after the win over the Rams, "We're not here just to get here. We want to make noise while we're here." Ryan had just recorded his fifth consecutive playoff game with at least a 100.0 passer rating in Atlanta's 26-13 win over the Los Angeles Rams Motivation abounds on both sides and while Foles is no Ryan, he did have that 'magical' 2013 season for Philly back in 2013 when he threw 27 TDs and just two INTs (119.2 QB rating) in 13 games. Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-13-18||Islanders v. Rangers -130||Top||7-2||Loss||-130||13 h 13 m||Show|
The set-up: The 21-18-4 New York Islanders and the 22-15-5 New York Rangers will both return from their respective NHL-mandated five day breaks for a game at Madison Square Garden. Both teams stumbled into their breaks with the Rangers dropping five of eight contests to fall into fourth place in the Metropolitan Division (49 points), while the Islanders reside in the division 'basement' with 46 points, after losses in five straight before forging a shootout win over New Jersey.
NY Islanders: The team's win over the Devils not only snapped a five-game losing streak but left them just two points behind the Hurricanes and three points behind the Rangers in the wild card races. The Islanders are hoping the five-day break won't cause them to lose any momentum gained from last Sunday's win, a contest in which they trailed by two goals in the third period before storming back to beat the Devils. "You don't want to go into the break with five, six straight losses," said Islanders rookie defenseman Sebastian Aho, who scored his first career goal to begin the comeback before assisting on the game-tying score by Cal Clutterbuck. "You could feel it on the bench, everybody decided we're going to take this game." Then again, the Islanders remain undermanned. Head coach Doug Weight said Friday that center Josh Bailey (lower body), defenseman Johnny Boychuk (lower body) and left winger Andrew Ladd (undisclosed) will not play Saturday. Bailey and Ladd, each of whom were injured against the Penguins on Jan. 5, will miss a second straight game while Boychuk will be sidelined for a seventh consecutive contest.
NY Rangers: The five-day break wasn't enough to restore the Rangers to 100 percent health-wise, either, Head coach Alain Vigneault said Friday that center Kevin Hayes, who suffered a lower-body injury against the Golden Knights on STunday, is not expected to play Saturday. Mika Zibanejad scored for the second time in three games in Sunday's 2-1 loss to Vegas, as the 24-year-old Swede bids to regain his rhythm on the heels of missing three-plus weeks due to a concussion. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is heading to his fourth All-Star Game as the Rangers' lone representative.
The pick: The Rangers currently have sole possession of the first wild card in the East but are just one point ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes. This game against the Islanders marks the first of three straight games against teams barely on the outside looking in of the wild card race for the Rangers, who will visit the Philadelphia Flyers (46 points) on Sunday before returning home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins (47 points). "I think everybody understands we're facing playoff hockey right now," Rangers head coach Vigneault said following practice Friday afternoon. However, the Islanders' 4-3 triumph on Oct. 19 over the Rangers marked their eighth win in nine outings versus their crosstown rivals. Then again, besting Lundqvist, the former Vezina Trophy winner and Swedish Olympian, has been tough sledding for the Islanders. Lundqvist has yielded two goals or fewer in 34 of 57 career appearances versus the club, posting a 30-19-7 mark with five shutouts. Make the Rangers a 10* play.
|01-13-18||Michigan +9.5 v. Michigan State||Top||82-72||Win||100||12 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: The Michigan State Spartans lost their No. 1 ranking last Sunday by getting blown out 80-64 by at unranked Ohio State (the defeat ended a 14-game winning streak) and then barely survived at home against unheralded Rutgers on Wednesday, before pulling out a 76-72 overtime victory. Now ranked No. 4, Michigan State (16-2 , 4-1 in Big Ten play) will host in-state rival Michigan on Saturday in conference action at the Breslin Center. The 14-4 Wolverines (3-2 in Big Ten play) also played this past Wednesday when they saw their seven-game winning streak snapped as they lost 70-69 at home to No.5 Purdue. Michigan leads the all-time series between the rivals 98-81, although Michigan State has won 25 of the last 35 meetings. This marks the rivals' only regular-season matchup this season.
Michigan: "We thought we had them," said guard Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. "We just didn't make some plays down the stretch." The Wolverines now face their second top-5 opponent in a row, this time on the road..John Beilein has a perimeter-based team, as the 6-11 Wagner (13.9 & 7.1) is the lone frontcourt player averaging more than 5.0 points. Guard Charles Matthews (15.6 & 5.1) leads Michigan in scoring (followed by Wagner) and is joined on the perimeter by Abdur-Rahkman (10.8-4.4-3.30, Robinson (9.9), Poole (5.9) and Simpson (5.7 & 3.4 APG). Beilein teams always play excellent defense and Michigan is allowing 62.1 pPG (12th), while asos ranking 17th in turnover margin at plus-4.2. Abdur-Rahkman ranks second nationally with an assist-to-turnover ratio of six-to-one.
Michigan State: Despite its recent "mini-slump," many feel that this could be Izzo's most talented team. All five starters average in double digits, led by 6-7 swingman Bridges (16.5 & 7.5). The 6-8 Ward (14.8 & 7.1) and 6-11 freshman Jackson (11.1 & 6.4) start up front, joined by the backcourt duo of Winston (12.8 & 7.1 APG) and Langford (13.8). MSU knows a lot about playing good defense too, holding opponents to 63.0 PPG (19th). However, this team scores better than almost all Izzo teams of the past, averaging 85.9 PPG (10th) on 52.0% shooting (2nd).
The pick: Bridges is the only player in the country averaging at least 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, three assists and one block per game, but the Spartans' two losses, as well as in Wednesday's close call against Rutgers, Bridges' unselfishness became a liability. Izzo wants Bridges to stop deferring so much to his teammates. Bridges went scoreless in the first half against the Scarlet Knights and finished with just 11 points. He has scored fewer than 20 points the last six games. The Wolverines are coming off that agonizing 70-69 home loss to No. 5 Purdue on Tuesday., when the 6-11 Moritz Wagner was called for a foul with four seconds left and Boilermakers center Isaac Haas sank one of two free throws to give his team the lead. Charles Matthews' desperation half-court heave at the buzzer bounced off the rim. Michigan is getting significant points in this one and in its only game against Michigan State last season, the Wolverines snapped a five-game losing streak in the series with an 86-57 victory at Crisler Center. Michigan will be seeking its first win at the Breslin Center since 2014 and while the Wolverines may not accomplish that feat, I'm taking the points. Make Michigan a 10* play.
|01-12-18||Idaho +2 v. Eastern Washington||Top||58-51||Win||100||16 h 34 m||Show|
The set-up: It's Big Sky college hoops Friday night from Cheney, Washington as the 10-6 Idaho Vandals visit the 8-9 Eastern Washington Eagles. The Vandals are trying to gather up some consistency after alternating wins and losses in each of their last six games and come off a 73-72 home loss to Portland State in their last outing. Meanwhile, the Eagles will look to stay hot, having won three in a row and five of six after an 82-67 home victory over Sacramento State in their last outing to climb within a game of .500 on the season.
Idaho: The Vandals are coming off a 19-win season plus returned all five starters. Guard Victor Sanders led the team with 28 points on 10 of 18 shooting in the one-point loss to Portland State and checks in averaging a team-high 19.6 PPG. He's joined in the backcourt by PG Callandret (9.9 & 3.3 APG) plus the Vandals feature a nice tandem of forwards in the 6-7 Blake (13.9 & 9.6) and the 6-8 Sherwood (10.2 & 5.2). Idaho averages 72.8 points PPG but relies more on a defense holding opponents to 65.2 PPG (34th) on 39.4% shooting (26th).
Eastern Washington. The Eagles won 22 games last season but despite some recent good fortune, remain a game below .500. Eastern Washington's Cody Benzel led the team with 25 points in the win over Sacramento State, while Benas Griciunas chipped in 16, Jack Perry added 14 points and six assists, Mason Peatling added 12 points in 13 minutes, plus Sir Washington added 10 points. However, none of those players average in double digits on the season. 6-6 guard Bogdan Bliznyuk scored just two points the last time out but averages 18.5 PPG and is the lone player scoring in double digits on the season. He also leads the team in assists (3.6) and is the second-best rebounder (6.3) behind only the 6-7 Hunt (9.1 & 6.6). Eastern Washington averages 75.8 PPG but allows 73.9 PPG (220th) on 44.1% shooting (205th).
The pick: Eastern Washington is the hotter team right now (see above) and checks in at 5-0 SU at home. However, Idaho is a veteran team (all five starers are back) and is significantly more balanced that the Eagles, who are more of a "one-man team" in Bliznyuk. Idaho is also the better defensive team and that's why I'm making them a 10* play.
|01-12-18||Jazz v. Hornets -4||Top||88-99||Win||100||12 h 19 m||Show|
The set-up:The Utah Jazz put together a six-game winning streak to reach 13-11 at the end of play on Dec. 4 but have since won just four 17 games to fall to 17-24. However, the Jazz won their first road game in nearly a month at Washington this past Wednesday and tonight in Charlotte will try to make it back-to-back triumphs for the first time since bridging November and December with that six-game streak. The 15-24 Charlotte Hornets returned from a 3-1 trip on a west coast road trip, including a win at Golden State, but promptly lost their first game back home 1115-111 on Wednesday to the Dallas Mavericks (Mavs are just 15-28).
Charlotte: The Hornets lost on Wednesday despite Kemba Walker (21.8 & 5.8 APG) going off for 41 points. Charlotte is just 2-8 in its last 10 home games, to drop to 10-11 overall in its own building on the season. Walker's scoring is not translating into wins of late, with Charlotte dropping its last eight games in which Walker scored 20 or more points but winning four straight when he scored 19 or fewer. Walker could use some help from his starting backcourt partner Nicolas Batum, who is 4-of-18 from the floor in the last two games. Batum had an excellent season last year (15.1-6.2-5.9) but he's been limitred to 25 games this season due to injury and his numbers are down across the board (10.1-4.2-4.8).The Hornets' biggest problem against the Mavericks was Dwight Howard's free throw shooting. He missed 13 of 18, almost single-handedly sabotaging Kemba Walker's 41-point night. One could look at Howard's numbers (15.6 & 12.1) and say "good job" but when is the last time this big man has really improved the team he's played for?
The pick: The Hornets are, to say the least, a poor home team (2-8 SU & ATS run) but anyone think Utah's Edoh and O'Neale (6.5 PPG combined on the season) will combine for 26 points again, here? The Jazz are a woeful 4-17 SU on the road, allowing 107.1 PPG. The Jazz haven't won back-to-back games since that six-game winning streak and have not won back-to-back road games all season. Charlotte can win (and over) in this one. Make the Hornets a 10* play.
|01-12-18||Canucks v. Blue Jackets OVER 5.5||Top||5-2||Win||110||8 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: The Vancouver Canucks have struggled to a 16-21-6 mark and the team's 38 points leaves them well out of playoff position at the moment (2nd-lowest point total in the Western Conference). The Canucks fell to 0-2-1 on their current seven-game road trip with Tuesday's 3-1 setback at Washington and will be in Columbus tonight to take on the Blue Jackets, looking for their first road victory since winning in Nashville back on Nov. 30 (0-4-2 run away from home since that triumph). The 25-17-3 Columbus Blue Jackets have 53 points, leaving them four points back of the first-place Washington Caps in the top-heavy Metropolitan Division. Columbus is looking to bounce back after dropping a 3-1 decision at Buffalo on Thursday, after having won two straight and three of four. Columbus has performed well at home of late, capturing four of its last five contests at Nationwide Arena, while going 15-7-0 on home ice this season.
Vancouver: Daniel Sedin has notched two goals and two assists over the first three games of the Canucks' road trip, netting the lone tally against the Capitals to reach double digits in goals (10) for the 16th time in his 17 NHL seasons. Brock Boeser was selected to participate in the All-Star Game later this month in Tampa Bay at the age of 20, becoming the third-youngest Canuck and second rookie in franchise history (Dale Tallon, 1971) to be chosen. Boeser has captured back-to-back NHL Rookie of the Month honors and leads Vancouver - and all league rookies - in points (40), goals (22) and power-play tallies (six). Daniel's brother, Henrik, has just two goals bt leads the team with 27 assists.
Columbus: Artemi Panarin recorded the lone goal in the loss at Buffalo, extending his team scoring lead to 37 points. Alexander Wennberg returned to the lineup Thursday after missing eight games with a back injury. He hadn't played since Dec. 21, when he was kept off the scoresheet at Pittsburgh after collecting two goals and three assists during a four-game point streak. Panarin, who reached the 30-goal plateau while with Chicago in each of his first two NHL seasons, trails Josh Anderson (14) by two for the team lead.
The pick: This marks the Blue Jackets' final game before their five-day break and they'd like to go into it on a positive note after the loss in Buffalo. "We've got to bounce back," Blue Jackets center Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "That's what's fun about back-to-backs. The next day you get to bounce back and play a better game. We've got the break coming up and we want to finish off with a win." Vancouver should play the perfect foil, entering this contest having lost five straight contests overall (0-4-1), last winning on Dec. 28 versus Chicago. The Canucks have allowed four-plus goals in three of their last five games and on the season, the etam's 3.26 GPG average ranks 27th of 31 teams. Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-11-18||Clemson -4 v. NC State||Top||77-78||Loss||-105||13 h 29 m||Show|
The set-up: The Clemson Tigers entered the current season off 16, 17 and 17-win seasons and little was expected of them. However, Clemson has opened 14-1 (3-0 in ACC play) and comes into this contest on a 10-game winning streak. Clemson has won three straight against the Wolfpack, including a 78-62 home win on Dec. 30 to open conference play. The Wolfpack hardly looked ready for prime time in losing their first two ACC games, averaging just 60.0 PPG in losing to Clemson and Notre Dame, while allowing 83.0 PPG. However, N.C. State rebounded for a 96-85 home win over the then-No. 2 Duke Blue Devils last Saturday. The Wolfpack welcome Clemson to PNC Arena standing at 11-5, including 1-2 in ACC play.
Clemson: Head coach Brad Brownell’s teams typically are known for their stingy defense and that's true again this season, as the Tigers are allowing 63.5 PPG (22nd) on 40.2 shooting (45th). However, all five of the Tigers’ starters average double-digits in scoring. Guard Marcquise Reed (15.9 & 4.6) and 6-8 forward Grantham (14.6 & 7.3) lead a balanced attack that averages 77.9 PPG on 48.2% shooting (47th). PG Mitchell (12.4 & 4.2 APG), fellow guard DeVoe (11.6 & 4.5) and the 6-9 Thomas (11.6 & 8.3) round out the group.
N.C. State:The Wolfpack also boast five double-digit scorers, which is to be expected in first-year coach Kevin Keatts’ up-tempo style. Guards Allerik Freeman (15.3 & 4.8 ) and Torin Dorn (13.4 & 7.3) lead the way but but freshman guard Braxton Beverly (10.4) has increased his output to 12.3 PPG during ACC play. The frontcourt consists of the Lennard 6-8 Freeman 11.7 & 5.3) and the 7-0 Omer Yurtseven (11.7 & 6.9). The Wolfpack average 83.4 PPG (34th) but allow 72.6 PPG (190th) on 43.9% shooting (200th).
The pick: The victory over Duke was the second major upset of the season for N.C. State, which also beat then-No. 2 Arizona back on Nov. 22. However, the inconsistent Wolfpack also had a head-scratching 81-76 home loss to UNC Greensboro on Dec. 16. Fresh off another major upset, North Carolina State looks to take down a second consecutive ranked opponent when it hosts No. 19 Clemson. The Tigers are riding a 10-game winning streak and have won their first three ACC games for the first time since 2006-07, and only the sixth time in history. Clemson Big man Elijah Thomas posted a double-double (10 & 10) and recorded a career-high six blocks in the first meeting, while Donte Grantham was one rebound shy of a double-double ( 13 & 9), as the Tigers dominated inside. Only two opponents have exceeded 70 points against Clemson and the Tigers have the ACC's second-best defensive rebounding percentage at 75.4 percent of opponents' misses. Can N.C. State handle Clemson's frontcourt any better this time around? Probably not plus the recent suspension of soph gaurd Markell Johnson (8.7 PPG and a team-high 6.6 APG) sure doesn't help. Make Clemson a 10* play.
|01-11-18||Flames v. Lightning OVER 5.5||Top||5-1||Win||100||12 h 4 m||Show|
The set-up: The Calgary Flames have pushed their way back into serious playoff contention with four straight wins (all one-goal games!), after Dougie Hamilton’s overtime goal gave them a 3-2 victory at Minnesota on Tuesday. They are now 22-16-4 (48 points) on the season. The term "playoff contenders" hardly describes what the Tampa Bay Lightning have accomplished so far in the 2017-18, as the Lightning welcome the Flames to Amelie Arena where they have earned points in 18 of their 21 games this season (17-3-1), after edging visiting Carolina 5-4 on Tuesday. Tampa is 31-9-3 on the season overall and its 65 points are eight more than any other Eastern Conference team and five points more than the West's top team, the Vegas Golden Knights!
Calgary: “These last 40-some games are extremely important, and we’ve put ourselves in a good spot to push to make playoffs here,” Calgary right wing Johnny Gaudreau, who was named to the All-Star Game on Wednesday, told reporters. “If we keep playing the way we’ve been playing the last few games here, we can go (through) the road trip and into the (upcoming) break feeling pretty good about ourselves." Calgary leans heavily on Gaudreau, who has 13 goals and 36 assists for a team-high 49 points. Goaltender Mike Smith, who spent parts of four seasons with Tampa Bay, has not allowed more than three goals in the last 12 games and stopped 33 of 35 shots in Tuesday’s victory. “I don’t think we’re in these games if it’s not for him,” Dougie Hamilton told reporters of Smith, who owns a .921 save percentage overall.
Tampa Bay: Nikita Kucherov leads the league with 60 points but fellow forward Tyler Johnson has been a major factor of late while putting up 12 goals and 11 assists with a plus-18 in his last 17 games after scoring a hat trick Tuesday. “We made a switch with lines and I’ve found chemistry to (Brayden) Point and (Ondrej) Palat,” Johnson said. “Things have just kind of taken off and it’s really fun playing with those guys.” Defenseman Victor Hedman recorded 16 of his 33 points in the last 14 games and boasts a plus-22 rating since Dec. 1 and was named to the All-Star Game along with Kucherov, captain Steven Stamkos and goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (NHL-best 27 wins). Kucherov, who shares the NHL lead with Alex Ovechkin at 27 goals, has built a four-game point streak and Stamkos owns three assists in that span to push his season total to a team-high 35.
The pick: Tampa Bay ranks first in the league in scoring (3.67 GPG) and third on the power play (converting 24.7%), even though they've won their last two games -- 5-2 at Detroit and 5-4 against Carolina -- without going on the power play. Here at home, Tampa Bay averages 3.86 GPG and I expect this game to go "over the total." Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-11-18||Celtics -1.5 v. 76ers||Top||114-103||Win||100||8 h 43 m||Show|
The set-up: The Boston Celtics roared out to a 22-4 start but then had an 11-game stretch where the team was just 5-6. However, since its Christmas home loss to Washington, Boston has ripped off six straight wins (4-2 ATS) and continues to owns the East's best record at 33-10. That's three games better than the Raptors and 5 1/2 games clear of the Cavs. The Philadelphia 76ers are streaking in the right direction again and have won their last four games while averaging 114.0 PPG. Philly has also won five of six and sits at 19-19, which puts them on pace for a 41-win season, quite an improvement after consecutive seasons of 28, 10, 18 and 19 (that starts from last season and goes backwards). Boston and Philly will meet tonight in London's O2 Arena.Boston: The Celtics' sixth straight win came when they edged the Nets 87-85 last Saturday in Brooklyn. Boston stopped five shots in the final 7.5 seconds of that triumph and leads the NBA in scoring defense at an average of 97.6 PPG allowed, as well as in defensive field-goal percentage (42.9%). Rookie forward Jayson Tatum is going through a bit of a shooting slump at 16-of-43 from the floor over the last four games but he's had a strong 'freshman' season (13.9 & 5.5). 'Sophomore' Brown (14.1 & 5.7) ranks second in scoring to PG Kyrie Irving (24.1 & 5.0) while the unsung hero of the team remains veteran center/forward Al Horford (13.4-7.9-5.3). Guards Smart (9.9) and Rozier (9.3) have been key contributors throughout the season. Philadelphia: The 76ers are coming off their most impressive victory of the season with a 114-78 rout of the Detroit Pistons on Friday. "We're getting healthier, and we're starting to find ourselves again," 76ers center Joel Embiid told reporters. "It's good to see, but I think we still got a lot to work on defensively. I think we've been taking care of the ball better. We just got to keep playing together." Embiid (23.8 & 10.9) has played in 29 games this season (team is 17-12) and since Philly hasn't played since that Friday win, he'll be ready to go here. PG Ben Simmons never got on the court last season but the wait has been worth it, as he averages 16.9-8.4-7.5. The team's starting-five is quite good with Embiid and Simmons being joined by SG Redick (17.3), SF Covington (13.9 & 6.0) and PF Saric (13.6 & 6.9).
The pick: The Sixers have the league’s toughest January schedule (in regard to opponent strength) and traveling 'across the pond' to play the league's best defensive team, is among the team's "tough games." ,Boston's Horford (calf) sat out Saturday's win but is expected to play Thursday. The Celtics have beaten the Sixers twice this season, 102-92 on Oct. 20 in Philly and 108-97 on Nov. 30 in Boston. Why won't they complete the 'hat trick' by winning here in London? Make Boston an 8* play.
|01-10-18||Hawks v. Nuggets OVER 215.5||Top||110-97||Loss||-105||21 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The Atlanta Hawks opened the season having made 10 consecutive playoff appearances, the second-longest active run in the NBA. In contrast, the Denver Nuggets opened the season off four consecutive losing seasons and unsurprisingly, no postseason appearances in that span. Talk about franchises going in opposite directions. The Hawks roster "looks nothing" like last year's and Atlanta heads to Denver tonight with a 10-30 record, the worst mark of any NBA team. Meanwhile, the Nuggets check in at 21-19, good enough for the No. 7 seed in the West (only ONE game out of the No. 5 seed!).
Atlanta: The Hawks have reached the midway point of the season on pace for a 61-loss season, following Monday’s 108-107 setback at the LA Clippers. The Hawks trailed by 11 at halftime but rallied to take a two-point lead with 23 seconds left, before surrendering C.J. Williams' game-winning three-pointer with nine seconds to go. So what else is new? PG Dennis Schroder leads the Hawks in scoring at 19.8 PPG and is handing out 6.5 assists per contest, as well (tied for 11th in the NBA). Taurean Prince led Atlanta with 20 points Monday and finished 4-for-8 from three-point range, one night after dislocating his right ring finger in a loss to the LA Lakers. Prince (13.0 & 5.6) leads group of six other double digit scorers behind Schroder, which includes impressive 6-10 rookie John Collins (10.9 & 6.9) out of Wake Forest.
Denver: The Nuggets have played their best basketball this season at home, winning 14 of 18 games. This contest opens a stretch in which they enjoy 11 of the next 14 contests at the Pepsi Center. The Nuggets enter Wednesday in seventh place in the Western Conference standings (again, just one game out of fifth) but the Nuggets have dropped four of their last six despite battling to the end in Monday's 124-114 loss at Golden State. "We never quit working,” Denver head coach Michael Malone told reporters Monday after the Nuggets pulled within six points with 1:26 to go after trailing by 18 with 7:17 remaining. “We forced them to bring their starters back in. We forced them to finish that game out.” Gary Harris and Nikola Jokic each scored 22 points against the Warriors while Jamal Murray and Trey Lyles added 21 apiece as the quartet combined for 75.4 percent of Denver’s offense. Harris (16.7) leads the team in scoring and Murray is second at 16.2 PPG. Center Jokic (15.9 & 7.6) has been excellent up front and as for Lyles (up to 10.7 & 4.9 on the season), he's made the most of extra "PT" with PF Millsap (15.3 & 6.2) sidelined. Lyles averaged 14.7 PPG in December and has upped that to 20.5 PPG through four January games.
The pick; The Hawks are a poor defensive team. allowing 108.5 PPG (25th) on 47.6% shooting (29th). Atlanta is a woeful 3-19 SU on the road, while allowing 109.9 PPG. That hardly bodes well against a Denver team which ranks 8th in both scoring (107.6 PPG) and FG percentage (46.5%). As noted, Denver is 14-4 SU at home but let me add that the Nuggets also up their scoring at the Pepsi Center, averaging 111.7 PPG. Make the Over an 8*
|01-10-18||Pelicans -1 v. Grizzlies||Top||102-105||Loss||-105||20 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans and Memphis Grizzlies opened the 2017-18 season at FedExForum, with Mike Conley leading the Grizzlies to a 103-91 win with 27 points. The two teams reunite in the same venue Wednesday night but both teams look very different from when they last squared off back on Oct. 18. Memphis, which has made the playoffs each of the past seven years, opened the season 7-4, but the Grizzlies lost Conley (17.1 & 4.1 APG) to an Achilles injury two games later and have since plummeted to near the bottom of the Western Conference at 12-27. Meanwhile, the Pelicans, who have reached the postseason just once in the last six seasons, struggled offensively early on, scoring 100 or more points just four times in their first 10 games. However, they have the Cousins (25.8 & 12.5) and Davis (25.8 & 10.3) duo for an entire season this year and when veteran PG Rajon Rondo made his season debut on Nov. 13, New Orleans' offense has come together and the Pelicans currently sit at 20-19, which would give them the West's final playoff spot (No. 8 seed) if the playoffs would begin tomorrow.
New Orleans: The Pelicans are used to dealing with injury scares related to Anthony Davis and they are likely to be without him tonight. Davis left Monday's 112-109 win over the Detroit Pistons with an ankle injury and is considered doubtful. Davis missed five of the first 39 games with various injuries and watched his team go 3-2 without him. However, his latest injury doesn't appear to be something that will keep him out an extended period. "We've done it, and we've won games without him," New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry told reporters of Davis, who had x-rays come back negative. "That gives the team confidence right there. Obviously, we would rather have him in the game, but if he goes out, I think it's great that our guys can maintain what we were trying to do, and even lose a lead, execute at the end of the game and be able to win a close game." New Orleans is confident it can win without Davis because it has another double-double machine on the inside in DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 16 of his 20 points after Davis' injury on Monday and added 10 rebounds for his sixth consecutive double-double. That improved offense I was talking about earlier is "for real." The Pelicans are averaging 110.8 PPG (4th) on 49.0% shooting (2nd).
Memphis: The Grizzlies sure aren't about to feel sorry for any team going through injury problems after their season went off the rails when Conley, went down nearly two months ago with an Achilles issue. Memphis is 5-22 without Conley in the lineup and has been off since Friday, after dropping the opener of the two-game homestand 102-100 to the Washington Wizards. Memphis has its own star big man in center Marc Gasol (18.3 & 8.5) but he is carrying a much heavier load with Conley out. He says he likes the challenge but the bottom line is, he just doesn't have much help. The exception is swingman Tyreke Evans, who is averaging 25.3 points over the last eight games. That surge has him taking over the team lead in scoring at 19.7 PPG, while adding 5.1 rebounds and 4.7 assists.That said, no other player scores in double digits and the team averages only 98.9 PPG (29th) on 44.5% shooting (26th).
The pick: Memphis has beaten New Orleans in eight of its last 10 meetings but this Memphis team now owns the West's worst record and only the 11-30 Hawks own a worse record in the entire NBA than the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies are long gone from the playoff discussion in the West, looking ahead instead to the draft lottery, as Conley has no timetable for a return. Meanwhile, when New Orleans PG Rajon Rondo is on the court, the Pelicans offense is 4.6 points per 100 possessions better. Make New Orleans a 10* play.
|01-10-18||Wild v. Blackhawks -113||Top||2-1||Loss||-113||20 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: The 21-15-6 Chicago Blackhawks will welcome the 22-17-4 Minnesota Wild to the United Center for the opener of the team's six-game homestand. Patrick Kaner registered a career-high five points in Chicago's 8-2 triumph at Ottawa on Tuesday, meaning the Blackhawks have a chance for their first three-game winning streak since mid-December when they face off tonight against the Wild. Chicago had a five-game winning streak from Dec. 8-17. Minnesota comes in having dropped two straight after Tuesday's 3-2 overtime defeat at home to Calgary. The Wild did erase a two-goal deficit in the third period to collect one point in the standings but are winless in their past two games after winning four of the previous five contests. Along with Chicago, they are one of a half-dozen teams separated by a couple points in a crowded Western Conference playoff race.
Minnesota: Mikael Granlund (12 goals and 32 points) notched a goal and an assist in last night's loss. Nino Niederreiter, who sits third on the team with 13 goals (but has only six assists), is back on the shelf with a nagging ankle injury that sidelined him two previous times this season (he's expected to miss at least one week). Eric Staal leads the team in goals and is one shy of reaching the 20-goal plateau for the 11th time in 14 seasons (19 goals and 37 points). Minnesota will likely turn to Devan Dubnyk in net, after he rested Tuesday against the Flames in the first game of a back-to-back set. Dubnyk is 15-9-2 with a 2.72 GAA and .916 save percentage this season and he is 11-8-0 with a 2.90 GAA and .915 save percentage in 22 career appearances against Chicago.
Chicago: The Blackhawks have surged recently despite the absences of No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford and veteran center Artem Anisimov, both of whom have upper-body injuries. Minus Crawford, the Blackhawks have split time between goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass. Forsberg started Tuesday in Ottawa and made 25 saves to improve to 3-5-3 on the season. In his only career start against Minnesota, he stopped 29 of 31 shots but drew the loss. Glass, a 32-year-old rookie, has yet to face Minnesota in his brief NHL career. He has a 2-1-1 record with a 3.51 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in his first four starts. It wasn't just Kane (18 goals & 45 points) last night for Chicago. Nick Schmaltz (12 goals & 31 points) recorded two tallies and an assist, extending his goal-scoring streak to four games in the process, while captain Jonathan Toews (14 goals & 312 points) also scored twice as 12 of the Blackhawks' 18 skaters landed on the scoresheet.
The pick: Both teams will play on short rest after each played last night. "It seems that every team is up there, and it's very close, and one win or one loss takes teams in or out of the playoffs," Wild captain Mikko Koivu said to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "That's the way it's going to be all the way to the end. That's why every game is critical." This is the fourth meeting of the regular season between the division rivals. The Wild won the first game 5-2 on Oct. 12 at the United Center. The Blackhawks responded with a 2-0 win on Nov. 4 at the Xcel Energy Center and a 4-1 win on Dec. 17 back at the United Center. Chicago is 11-6-2 at home this season. Minnesota is 8-13-1 on the road.Is Chicago ready for its first three-game winning streak since mid-December? I think so. The Blackhawks have scored four-plus goals in four consecutive games and five of their past six, including that 8-2 shellacking of the Ottawa Senators last night. Make Chicago a 10* play.
|01-10-18||Northern Iowa +1.5 v. Indiana State||Top||67-69||Loss||-101||19 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The 8-8 Northern Iowa Panthers will travel to the Hulman Center in Terre Haute to take on the 7-9 Indiana State Sycamores this Wednesday night in MVC action. For UNI, back-to-back second round NCAA appearances (in 2015 and 2016) seem 'light years' away right now, after the Panthers went 14-16 last season and have opened the current season 8-8. As for Indiana State, the Sycamores came into the current season off 15, 15 and 11-win win seasons, so this yerars 7-9 start (2-2 in MVC play), is "business as usual."
Northern Iowa: Making the Panthers' 8-8 record much worse than .500 is the fact that they have lost six in a row, including opening MVC play at 0-4. Northern Iowa held a 48-45 lead late in the 2nd half in its most recent game against Loyola-Chicago but struggled offensively down the stretch and allowed the Ramblers to come away with a 56-50 victory last Saturday, after the Panthers scored just two points over the final 4:30 of regulation. Leading the way for the Panthers was 6-10 senior Bennett Koch who had 17 points, nine rebounds and five blocks. Koch (13.9 & 6.8) is the lone UNI player averaging in double digits and the team averages only 64.6 PPG (336th) on 41.8% shooting (301st).
Indiana State: The Sycamores lost 75-72 this past Saturday against Drake. Indiana State struggled offensively in the first half and although the Sycamores fought back, they couldn’t overcome the 39-29 lead Drake entered halftime with. Indiana State allowed Drake to shoot 53.1% from the floor, which is unacceptable. Leading the way for the Sycamores was guard Brenton Scott who had 25 points and seven steals. This is a guard-oriented team, with the team's top-four scorers all playing on the perimeter. PG Barnes leads in scoring (16.5) and assists (4.3), followed by Scott (14.8 & 5.2), Davis (10.4 & 5.2) and Key (8.2). Murphy is an undersized 6-7 center (7.9 & 4.2) and the best frontcourt contributor. Indiana State averages 74.1 PPG but also allows 73.5 points.
The pick: Not used to seeing Northern Iowa on a six-game slide and note that despite its woes, the Panthers are an excellent defensive team, holding opponents to 60.8 PPG (7th) on 38.2% shooting (13th). Take Northern Iowa and the points as a 10* play.
|01-09-18||Tennessee -2 v. Vanderbilt||Top||92-84||Win||100||12 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Tennessee Vols are 10-4 on the season. They dropped their first two SEC games but a 76-65 home win over Kentucky kept them in the AP's latest poll at No. 24. The Vols travel to Nashville on Tuesday to face the 6-9 Vanderbilt Commodores, who have also dropped two of their first three league contests, after falling 71-60 Saturday at South Carolina. Vanderbilt knocked off Alabama with strong three-point shooting last Tuesday,but finished just 8-for-29 from three-point range and were hindered by turnovers and charging fouls in the defeat to the Gamecocks. “If we erase four of those charges and kick it out for 3’s, it could have been a much different ending to the game, a lot tighter,” Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew told the media afterward.
Tennessee: Rick Barnes had publicly challenged his team last week regarding its lack of "toughness" but the Vols rallied from eight points down at halftime to beat Kentucky by double digits. “We showed toughness,” 6-5 Tennessee forward Admiral Schofield (12.9 & 5.6) told reporters after scoring 20 points with nine rebounds against Kentucky. “It’s time to get that back. I think we are the hardest-playing team in the country, and we’ve just got to go out and show it.” 6-7 forward Grant Williams (15.8 & 6.8) provided a huge boost against the Wildcats, scoring 16 of his 18 points after halftime and finishing with eight rebounds. Guards Bowden (10.5), Turner (9.9), Bone (9.0 & 3.4 APG) and Daniel (6.9 & 3.7 APG) plus the 6-11 Alexander (5.6), join top scorers Williams and Schofield in getting 20 minutes-plus per game. Tennessee leads the SEC and ranks 18th nationally in assists per game (17.9), finishing Saturday with 23 assists on 25 made field goals.
Vanderbilt; The 6-6 Roberson (14.5 & 8.1) is the 'Dores best player, supported by a trio of guards including the 6-5 Fisher-Davis (12.3 & 5.3), LaChance (10.9) and freshman Lee (10.5), who scored a team-high 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the floor against South Carolina and is averaging 17.7 points through three SEC games. However, the Commodores are last in the SEC in shooting from the floor (40.9 percent) and scoring (71.0 points per game).
The pick: These in-state rivals meet Tuesday night in Memorial Gymnasium. Tennessee leads the series 118-75 and the Vols have had their share of success in Memorial\ Gym. Starting with Vandy's 72-69 win in 2007-08 over then then-top-ranked Tennessee, the teams have alternated wins each season at Vanderbilt, including Tennessee's 87-75 upset last year. The Vols' strength is in their balance. Seven players average 20 minutes or more, and five average nine points or more (see above). Why not take teh road team here? Vanderbilt is 3-13 ATS in their last 16 games overall and 0-7 ATS in their last seven home games. Make Tennessee a 10* play.
|01-09-18||Panthers v. Blues -160||Top||7-4||Loss||-160||11 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The St. Louis Blues are hoping to snap a two-game losing streak when they host the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night. After that, St. Louis embarks on its week-long league-mandated bye week. Scottrade Center has been kind to the Blues, who have won three straight and four of their last five games on their home ice, going 15-8-0 on the season. The Blues are 26-16-3 (55 points) on the season and sit just two points back of the first-place Winnipeg Jets in the Central Division. The Florida Panthers come to St. Louis only 17-18-6 on the season and the team's 40 points leaves them with seven teams owning more points, as teams vie for two Eastern Conference wild card spots.
Florida: The Panthers are coming off a 3-2 shootout loss at Columbus on Sunday night, as the shootout went eight rounds. "It was a good point," Panthers head coach Bob Boughner told NHL.com. "It was a hard-fought point against a real good hockey club. Both teams had good goaltending. We've just got to take this and move on." However, it was Florida's third straight loss and the Panthers check in at 7-12-3 on the road this season. The Panthers are searching for some consistency, after splitting their last 12 games. The Florida averages 2.71 goals per game (23rd) and convert on just 15.9 percent of its power play opportunities. Defensively, the Panthers are allowing 3.17 goals per game (25th), while their goaltenders, the now injured Roberto Luongo and James Reimer, have faced the most shots on goal (35.4 per game) of any goaltending team in the league.
St. Louis: The Blues were playing at an elite level when forward Jaden Schwartz got hurt (he had 14 goals with 21 assists in 30 games). St. Louis recently got good news on the injury front as Schwartz is no longer on crutches or a walking boot. He was placed on IR after taking a puck off of his foot Dec. 9 at Detroit. However, it doesn't mean a return is close, but according to Blues coach Mike Yeo it does mean he's on schedule. The team said Schwartz will be re-evaluated in six weeks at the time of the injury. The Blues have struggled without Schwartz (6-8-1) and this weekend's games at Philadelphia and Washington, both losses, was the first time the Blues had scored three goals in regulation in back-to-back games without him.
The pick: The Panthers beat the Blues 5-2 at Florida on Oct. 12 but St. Louis is 8-3-0 in its last 11 games against Florida. The Panthers are just 9-23 in their last 32 road games and 3-9 in their last 12 vs. Western Conference opponents. Meanwhile, the Blues are 20-9 in their last 29 vs. Eastern Conference foes. The Blues have beaten up on losing teams for quite awhile now, going 22-8 in their last 30 vs. a team with a losing record. With Luongo out, James Reimer will make his 15th consecutive start and as noted above, the Panthers are just allowing too many shots against their goaltenders. Make St. Louis an 8* play.
|01-09-18||Heat v. Raptors -5||Top||90-89||Loss||-108||9 h 24 m||Show|
|01-08-18||Alabama v. Georgia OVER 45||Top||26-23||Win||100||148 h 28 m||Show|
The set-up: The SEC has been CFB's unquestioned top conference for some time now and it's only fitting that the 2017 SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs will square off in this year's CFP national championship game against their SEC rivals, the Alabama Crimson Tide. The winner will claim the national title for the ninth time in the past 12 seasons for the SEC. That said, the Bulldogs will be looking to win their first national title since the Herschel Walker-led team won the 1980 crown, while the Crimson Tide are striving for their fifth during Nick Saban's amazing 11-season tenure at Alabama. The Georgia Bulldogs are coming off a 54-48 double-overtime victory over the Oklahoma Sooners (arguably the best and most exciting game of the 2017 season, to-date), while Alabama left no doubt that it was fully deserving of being included in this year's 'Final 4' (despite not even winning the SEC West), by completely dominating No. 1 Clemson 24-6.
Georgia: The Bulldogs fell behind Oklahoma 31-14 but then scored the game's next 24 points to take a 38-31 lead. Oklahoma re-took the lead 45-38 but Georgia sent the game to OT tied at 45-all. After exchanging FGs in the first OT, Georgia blocked Oklahoma's FG attempt in the second OT and clinched a spot in the title game on Sony Michel's 27-yard TD run. Michel ran for 181 yards (16.5 YPC and 3 TDs) while Nick Chubb ran for 145 yards (10.4 YPC & 2 TDs). Georgia's freshman QB Jake Fromm has been seen a possible weak link for Georgia but he was 20-29 for 210 yards (2 TDs / 0 INTs) against Oklahoma, after going 16 of 22 for 183 yards (2 TDs & 0 INTs in the SEC title game vs. Auburn. No defense is capable of stopping Oklahoma's offense (Georgia allowed 48 points and over 500 yards) but note that Georgia entered the Rose Bowl matchup allowing just 13.2 PPG on 270.9 YPG.
Alabama: Speaking of defense, how about 'Bama's? The Crimson Tide stepped up last week and looked like the Alabama Crimson Tide of old, playing physical, nasty defense and doing just enough offensively to pull away. Make no mistake about it. Alabama won that game with its defense, giving the offense a short field with an interception and then getting a pick six. Alabama entered its game with Clemson allowing an FBS-low 11.5 PPG on 258.9 YPG and held Clemson to 188 totals yards (64 rushing yards) and six points. BTW, Clemson came in averaging 35.4 PPG and almost 450 YPG , including 244.1 YPG on the ground. Jalen Hurts continues to be under appreciated, but while he threw for just 120 yards he had two TD passes and did not throw an INT in 24 attempts. Hurts has passed for more than 200 yards in only two games this season but the Tide scored 37.9 PPG, and a multi-headed rushing attack ranks 10th nationally led by slashing RB Damien Harris (983 YR & 7.6 YPC / 11 TDs) and slamming 235-lb. Bob Scarbrough 573 YR / 4.8 YPC & 8 TDs). Plus, the elusive Hurts added another 808 YR (5.5 YPC & 8 TDs). Hurts is more feared as a runner but has 17 touchdown passes against just one interception (248 attempts) and enters this contest 27-2 as a starting QB.
The pick: Nick Saban will meet his former DC in Georgia's Kirby Smart, who is adamant that it doesn't give him crucial insights to the methods of the Crimson Tide. "There's not a lot of tendencies that he has that are just going to be ground-breaking to allow us a benefit," Smart said during a press conference. "The bottom line is our players got to go out and we've got to play a really good football game to stay with these guys." Saban also downplayed the situation, saying "I don't think the game is about the coaches. I think it's about the players." Aabama leads the nation in rushing defense at 92.8 YPG and will receive a big test from Georgia's senior duo of Nick Chubb (1,320 yards) and Sony Michel (1,129) bu that's what we thought against Clemson's running game, too. Athens may be in the same state as Atlanta but don't think this venue creates an edge for Georgia. The Crimson Tide are 6-0 in the Georgia capital overall since 2014. "We treat Atlanta like it's our home," Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson said. "We win a lot of games there." Should I close with the fact that Saban is 11-0 SU in his career vs. his former assistant coaches? Maybe, but instead, I expect to see a score closer to the Rose Bowl final than to what we saw in the Sugar Bowl. This total is TOO low. Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-08-18||Rockets -5 v. Bulls||Top||116-107||Win||100||21 h 32 m||Show|
The set-up: The Chicago Bulls went a perfect 7-0 SU & ATS when Nikola Mirotic returned to the court and won 10 of the first 12 games in which he played. However, the Bulls have dropped four of their last five games, although only Saturday's 125-86 loss at Indiana was non-competitive. The Bulls will try to put that ugly loss behind them when they welcome the Houston Rockets to the United Center on Monday. Things have not gone well for the Rockets lately, as their Saturday 108-101 loss at Detroit in the opener of a two-game trip was the team's seventh time in its last nine games. Houston was once 25-4 but now checks in at 27-11. In contrast, after opening 3-20, the Bulls are now 14-26.
Houston: "I don't know if we're a tired team or what, but even starting the game our offense flowed," Houston head coach Mike D'Antoni told reporters. "But, you're only up six and I didn't think the intensity on defense was there and sometimes that caused some tired legs or whatever. So, we've got to regroup and get ready for the next game." The Rockets owned the NBA's best record before their recent slump and shot just 42.2 percent from the floor in Saturday's loss. "We just couldn't get in the flow of knocking down shots," shooting guard Eric Gordon told reporters. "I thought we battled pretty hard, but when you're not knocking down shots, it's kind of tough." Making it harder to knock down shots and loosen up opposing defenses is the absence of James Harden (32.3-5.0-9.1), who sat out the last two games and reportedly could miss up to six weeks due to a hamstring strain. Gordon (19.5), Chris Paul (17.2-5.4-9.3) and the recently signed Gerald Green (16.5 in six games) will need to make up the slack. Can they?
Chicago: With Mirotic back and leading the team in scoring at 17.4 PPG in his 17 games), Chicago averaged 111.3 points in 16 games prior to Saturday, when it shot 37.5 percent from the floor and was out of the game after totaling 37 points in the first half. Second-year point guard Kris Dunn is trying to become a consistent scoring threat but followed up a career-high 32-point outburst in Friday's win at Dallas with eight points on 4-of-10 shooting in 28 minutes against the Pacers. Still, Dunn (13.7-4.7-6.2) looks like he's going to be a good player and 7-0 rookie Laurie Markkanen (14.9 & 7.5) just may be the league's best 'freshman.'
The pick: Is Chicago falling back to earth after its recent surge? We also need to find out just how well the Rockets can function with Chris Paul running the offense. However, Houston's recent slide has more to do with its struggles, defensively. Houston was allowing 110.9 points per 100 possessions,(26th in the league) in the last 10 games thru Jan. 3). All the above noted, Houston is still a significantly better team than the Bulls and Green has done all (and more) than Houston good have expected, shooting 50.8% from the floor, including 51.0% from three-point range. Center Capela is a double-double man now (14.2 & 11.) and I'll lay the short price with Houston. Make the Rockets a 10* play.
|01-08-18||Blue Jackets v. Maple Leafs OVER 5.5||Top||3-2||Loss||-115||9 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Maple Leafs ended a three-game slide with a pair of shootout victories over San Jose and Vancouver to reach 25-16-2. They continue a six-game homestand (2-1-0 so far) when they welcome the 24-16-3 Columbus Blue Jackets to the Air Canada Centre. Columbus won for only the second time in six games (2-3-1) as it outlasted Florida 3-2 in an eight-round shootout on Sunday. Toronto will try to avenge a 4-2 loss at Columbus back on Dec. 20 and break a string in which the Blue Jackets have won five of six in the series.
Columbus: Rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois notched a goal and an assist. in Sunday's win, becoming the fifth player to reach the 20-point plateau for Columbus thi season (Dubois has nine goals & 12 assists). Left wing Artemi Panarin snapped a three-game drought with his team-leading 35th point Sunday, while defenseman Seth Jones had a pair of assists in the shootout win to tie forward Oliver Bjorkstrand for second on the team with 26 points and boasts four goals while setting up seven others in his past 12 contests.
Toronto: "Whenever you get down and come back, it builds a lot of confidence within the group,” Maple Leafs center Tyler Bozak told reporters after scoring the tying goal and the deciding tally in the shootout Saturday. “It’s not an easy thing to do, to come back in this league, so it’s nice to be able to do that and build our confidence.” The Maple Leafs impressively rallied from two goals down to edge Vancouver in that one. Center Auston Matthews has scored four times in the last four games and owns six in seven since coming back from an upper-body injury. He leadis the team in goals (19) and points (33) overall. Toronto defenseman Travis Dermott, a second-round pick in 2015, made his NHL debut Saturday and finished with an assist, one shot and two hits in 12:03 of ice time. “I thought he was confident, moved the puck, skated good, looks like he has good hockey sense,” coach Mike Babcock told reporters of the 21-year-old. “It looked like the (overall) situation didn’t intimidate him at all.”
The pick: In Bobrovsky and Andersen we have two excellent goalies but I look for this game to surprise and go over the total.
|01-07-18||Panthers v. Saints OVER 48||Top||26-31||Win||100||120 h 30 m||Show|
The set-up: The Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be the site of the last of four NFL wild card games this weekend. The Carolina Panthers and the New Orleans Saints both finished 11-5 in 2017 but New Orleans won both regular season meetings, earning the Saints home field advantage for this contest. After opening 0-2, the Saints won 34-13 at Carolina in Week 3, jump-starting an eight game winning streak. The Panthers were just 4-3 after seven games but won seven of their final nine but the team's 31-21 Week 13 loss at New Orleans plus a 22-10 Week 17 loss in Atlanta, cost Carolina a chance to host this wild card contest. Conventional wisdom states that "it's hard to beat the same team three times in one season." However, teams that swept the regular-season series also won the playoff rematch 13 out of 20 times since 1970. So here we are.
Carolina: Cam Newton threw for for just 180 yards with one TD and three interceptions on 14-of-34 passing in the Week 17 loss in Atlanta. Newton clearly needs to bring his "A game" to this contest as he's basically a one-man show. He's far off his MVP numbers of 2015 (59.1% with a 22-16 ratio and an 80.7 QB rating) but Newton 's 754 rushing yards (5.4 YPC and six TDs) is a team high and his effectiveness is the main reason why Carolina ranks 4th in rushing on the season at 131.4 YPG. Stewart is the leading RB with 680 yards but he averages only 3.4 YPG. Rookie McCaffrey has added 435 yards (3 TDs) but his biggest contribution is his team-leading 80 catches (5 TDs). Devin Funchess is the team's best (only?) WR, with 63 catches and a team high 8 TD grabs. Carolina's D is allowing 20.4 PPG (11th) on 317.1 YPG (7th).
New Orleans: Discussions surrounding the Saints always start (and mostly end) with Drew Brees. However, things have changed in 2017. It's not that Brees has not been terrific but rather that the Saints' ground game and much-maligned defense, have made major improvements. The seemingly ageless Brees will turn 39 on Jan. 15 and had another 4,000-plus passing season (4,334 yards) and completed 72.0% of his passes. His TDs were down (23) but he threw just eight INTs and his QB rating checks in at 103.9. Anyone hear lately how the Saints made a mistake in sending A.P. to the Cards? Ingram ran for 1,234 yards (4.9 YPC & 12 TDs), while rookie RN Kamara ran for 728 yards (6.1 YPC & 8 TDs) plus caught 81 passes for another five TDs. Then there is the New Orleans' D, which after allowing 29.8 and 28.4 PPG the last two seasons, allowed just 20.4 PPG (10th) in 2017.
The pick: The Panthers haven't been able to slow the Saints in either of the two regular season meetings (allowed 34 and 31 points) and why should the Saints struggle to score here? After all, the Saints are 7-1 SU at home, averaging 31.0 PPG. That said, I expect Newton to be effective in this, his first postseason game since he and his team was dominated by the Broncos' D in the Super Bowl after the 2015 season. I'll stay away from the side but will make the Over an 8* play.
|01-07-18||Jazz v. Heat -4.5||Top||102-103||Loss||-105||14 h 30 m||Show|
The set-up: The Miami Heat opened 11-30 last season and despite a 30-11 mark the remainder of the way to finish 41-41, the Heat missed the postseason field by losing a tie-breaker to the 41-41 Bulls. Miami matched its longest winning streak of the season by beating the New York Knicks in overtime for a third consecutive triumph on Friday, giving Miami a 21-17 record which puts them in much better position as the current season nears its mid-point. The Heat will try to keep rolling on Sunday when they host the slumping Utah Jazz, who have lost 12 of their last 15 games to fall to 16-23, leaving them in 10th-place in the West, 3 1/2 games out of the final playoff spot.
Utah: The Jazz got off to a promising start but the team has unraveled, quickly. It hasn't helped that 7-foot center Rudy Gobert )11.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 2.3 blocks) has been out with a left knee injury since Dec. 15. He should return later this month but without Gobert, 6-10, 265-pound power forward Derrick Favors has slid to the center spot and Utah is diminished on the boards and in terms of shot-blocking. Favors is averaging 12.6 & 6.8 but just 0.9 blocks. Backup center Ekpe Udoh doesn't get much playing time, averaging 2.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.2 blocks. The bright spot continues to be rookie guard Donovan Mitchell (18.2-3.3-3.4), who is averaging 22.6 points since the beginning of December.
Miami: The Heat have opened up their offense in the team's current winning streak, averaging 111.7 PPG (season average is 100.8 PPG, which ranks 28th). Shooting guard Wayne Ellington hoisted up a franchise-record 16 3-point attempts (made six) on Friday and finished with a team-high 24 points. Ellington averages 10.5 PPG and is shooting 41.5 percent from beyond the arc on the season. The Heat have finally settled into a groove and currently sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. "We're definitely heading in the right direction," Heat power forward Kelly Olynyk (10.5 & 6.0) said. "We're getting bodies back (from the injured list). We're playing together and playing hard. You can see the chemistry is starting to come together."
The pick: Olynyk's remark about injured players is true, as center Hassan Whiteside (14.0 & 11.6 in 20 games) recently returned to the lineup. Reserve forward James Johnson (10.7-5.0-4.0) is also back, and point guard Goran Dragic (16.7-4.1-4.8) is getting better from a nagging elbow injury. Utah opened is four-game road trip with a 99-91 loss at Denver on Friday, as the the defense fell apart during a third quarter in which it was outscored 38-16. The Jazz are now 3-16 SU (6-13 ATS) on the road and it doesn't figure to get any better, here. Make Miami a 10* play.
|01-07-18||Sharks v. Jets OVER 5.5||Top||1-4||Loss||-102||14 h 59 m||Show|
The set-up: The Winnipeg Jets were 40-35-7 last season and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, they have played well throughout the first 42 games of the 2017-18 NHL season, going 24-11-7 (55 points), which has them in first-place in the West's Central Division. The Jets won for the fourth time in five games overall and improved to 15-3-1 on home ice with a 4-3 victory Friday over Buffalo. They now welcome the 21-12-6 San Jose Sharks to Bell MTS Place. The Sharks couldn't hold a 5-2 lead after two periods Friday at Ottawa, surrendering three goals in the third period before falling 6-5 in overtime. “There are no easy points on the road,” Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told the media after San Jose dropped to 1-1-2 on a road trip that ends Sunday. San Jose's 48 points are currently good enough for third in the Pacific Division.
San Jose: Center Logan Couture recorded three assists Friday, his first points since returning to the lineup Dec. 31, following a head injury. Defenseman Brent Burns has 22 points in his past 20 games after recording a goal and an assist against. Brett Burns, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, is starting to heat up with a goal and three assists in his last three games, He shares the team lead in points (29) with Couture, who has a team-high 15 goals but hasn't scored a goal in seven games. The Sharks are concerned about their recent goalie play and started backup goaltender Aaron Dell against the Senators, as starter Martin Jones has surrendered six goals on 50 shots over his last two outings.
Winnipeg: Center Blake Wheeler finished with a goal and an assist.Friday. He has five goals and eight points in five games since moving from forward to center for the injured Mark Scheifele. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien snapped a 33-game goal drought with his first of the season on Friday. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, the reigning NHL first star of the week, is 6-0-2 in his past eight games with a .936 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average.
The set-up: The Sharks are one of only two teams to shut out the Jets this season, winning 4-0 in San Jose back on Nov. 25. However don't expect the Jets to be shut out here. Winnipeg ranks fourth in scoring at 3.31 GPG and its power play percentage of 24.8%, ranks second. I noted Winnipeg's great home record (a reminder above) and will add here that the Jets are averaging 4.11 GPG on home ice. Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-07-18||Bills +9 v. Jaguars||Top||3-10||Win||100||117 h 55 m||Show|
The set-up: The 9-7 Buffalo Bills visit the Jacksonville Jaguars in an AFC Wild Card matchup in Sunday's first game. I doubt there is anyone not aware that the Bills will be making their first postseason appearance since 1999, ending the longest playoff drought in the NFL, as well as in all four major sports. The last time the Bills made the playoffs the team became victim of "The Music City Miracle." Google this if you need a refresher. Buffalo ended its playoff drought by benefiting from a minor miracle of its own, when the Bengals beat the Ravens by connecting on a 49-yard TD pass with 44 seconds remaining, on a 4th-and-12 play last Sunday! The 10-6 Jacksonville Jaguars will be making their first playoff appearance since 2007, with their first AFC South championship and speaking of 1999, the team's first division title since that 1999 season. The Jags' playoff drought was just nine seasons but entered this season without a single winning season in the span. In fact, the Jags opened the 2017 season with a pathetic 22-74 (.229) record the previous six seasons.
Buffalo: It's safe to say the Bills are hardly "all in" on QB Tyrod Taylor (see the Nathan Petrerman 'experiment') but h'es completing 62.6% with 14 TDs and just four INTs (in 420 attempts). He can extend plays with his mobility and has run for 427 yards (5.1 YPC) but Buffalo ranks 31st in passing yards at 176.6 per game. LeSean McCoy rushed for 1,138 yards and a team-high six rushing touchdowns plus was also the team's leading pass-catcher with 59 receptions. Buffalo ranks sixth in rushing yards at 126.14 YPG but that's down almost 40 YPG from 2016, when the team led the NFL with 164.4 YPG on the ground. Buffalo's D is no better than average, allowing 22.4 PPG (18th).
Jacksonville: Blake Bortles was almost replaced as the team's starting QB in the preseason but the Jags really had no "Plan B." The former UCF star had a solid season, keeping his TOs to a minimum (21-13 ratio) and benefiting from the NFL's No. 1 ground game. The Jags average 141.4 YPG, led by rookie Leonard Fournette (1,040 yards and 9 TDs but just 3.9 YPC). Marqise Lee led the team with 56 catches but he has an ankle issue and no other player has as many as 45 catches. The Jacksonville offense kept putting its defense in trouble last season but that all changed ion 2017. The Jags' D is the reason this team went 10-4 to clinch its playoff berth. The Jags did lose their final two games but the defense still ended the regular season second in both scoring D (16.8 PPG) and total D (286.1 YPG).
The pick: The Jacksonville Pass D has been terrific, holding opposing QBs to 56.8% completions and a QB rating of just 68.5 (No. 1 in both categories). The Jags' 55 sacks rank second to only Pittsburgh's 56. Taylor will surely be tested but his counterpart, the Jags' Bortles, is coming off back-to-back games (both losses) in which he threw five INTs, after throwing just eight in the team's 10-4 start. Then there is RB Leonard Fournette, who has only 300 yards rushing on 3.2 YPC over his last four games. Getting back to Buffalo QB Taylor, I may like him more than Buffalo's management does. Expect him to be able improvise and extend plays vs. the Jacksonville pass rushers. Taylor is playing the best football of his career right now, having completed 57 of 94 for 709 yards & two TD passes and no interceptions over the last three games. As for the Buffalo D, it has been strong the last six weeks, except in two games against the Pats and Tom Brady. In the four games against teams NOT led by Brady, Buffalo has allowed just 12.3 PPG. Anyone think Bortles resembles Brady in any way shape or form. Make Buffalo a 10* play.
|01-07-18||Davidson -4 v. George Mason||Top||86-59||Win||100||11 h 53 m||Show|
The set-up: Bob McKillop has had some career at Davidson. He's currently in his 29th season and has led the Wildcats to eight NCAA berths, including the school's memorable 2008 run to the Elite 8 (ever heard of Steph Curry?). However, last year's team was a disappointing 17-15, coming off five 20-win seasons, including three NCAA berths. However, Davidson lost only one starter from last season, so this year's 6-7 start is a big disappointment. The Wildcats will visit EagleBank Arena in Fairfax, Va. on Sunday to take on the George Mason Patriots, who also check in under .500 at 7-8.
Davidson: The Wildcats have won two of their last three and will square off against GMU with pretty much a "three-man team." The 6-7 Ekwu hasn't played this season and the 6-10 Kovacevic went down with an injury in early Dec. The 6-7 Aldridge (21.1 & 6.9) has been excellent, as has freshman guard Grady (15.7). However, the only other player averaging more than 6.2 PPG is sophomore guard Jon Axel Gudmundson (13.7-6.1-5.0).
George Mason: The Patriots' glory days are long gone, although GMU did go 20-14 last year, after winning 11, nine and 11 games the previous three seasons. The Patriots' five starters all play about 27-plus minutes with four in double figures. Guard Livingston (15.5 & 4.4 APG) leads the way, joined on the perimeter by Grayer (13.9 & 7.5) and Kier (11.9 & 4.5). The 6-7 Mar (11.9 & 4.4) joins that trio in double digits.
The pick: Both teams have been disappointments but I'll take Davidson's "pedigree." GMU has been a poor pointspread team for awhile, going just 19-42-2 ATS in the team's last 63 games following an ATS win. GMU is just 1-5 ATS in the team's last six games overall and 1-6 ATS in its last seven home games. Make Davidson a 10* play.
|01-06-18||Nuggets -4.5 v. Kings||Top||98-106||Loss||-108||13 h 10 m||Show|
The set-up: The 21-17 Denver Nuggets are gaining confidence by winning five of their last seven games. Sure it's too early to be looking at one's playoff positioning "too hard," but the Nuggets do currently own the West's No. 6 seed and find themselves 3 1/2 games clear of the West's playoff 'cut line.' Again, it may be too early to write any team off, but the Kings have dropped five of their last six games and allowed a season worst for points in Tuesday's 131-111 loss to the Charlotte Hornets. Sacramento enters this contest 12-25 and the team is already seven games out of the West's final playoff berth with four teams in between them and that final spot (that means five teams to climb over!).
Denver: The Nuggets have rarely been known for their defense but the team's current 5-2 run began with them allowing an average of 83 points during a three-game winning streak that included an epic effort while holding the potent Golden State Warriors to just 81. Denver's defense was also at its best in the third quarter of Friday's game when the club outscored the Jazz 38-16 to take a 19-point lead into the final quarter. Third-year forward Trey Lyles scored a career-best 26 points against his former teammates on Friday and has suddenly scored in double digits in 12 of the past 13 games. Lyles (10.2 & 4.8) was given a larger role after All-Star power forward Paul Millsap suffered a wrist injury and his latest performance included four 3-pointers as well as seven rebounds. Guards Harris (16.5) and Murray (16.0) are the team's top scorers but the team's most important player, especially with Millsap sidelined, is 6-10 center Jokic (15.9 & 10.2). Jokic had a rare off night Friday, scoring just eight points on 3-of-13 shooting, to end a string of nine straight double-digit efforts.
Sacramento: About the only good news in Friday's 20-point loss to the Hornets was that rookie PG De'Aaron Fox (quadriceps) returned from a six-game absence to score 17 points. PF Zach Randolph (15.4 & 6.9) has been the Kings' best player this season and he recorded 24 points and 10 rebounds versus Charlotte, but it was his first double-double since Dec. 10. Buddy Hield was the key piece in Sacramento's trade of Cousins to the Pelicans but while he's connecting on 45.5% from three-point range, the Kings must have been expecting him to score more than the 10.6 PPG he's averaged so far. Getting back to rookie PG Fox, he's averaging a modest 9.7 PPG (in about 25 minutes per) but more troubling is his 40.3 FG percentage, including 28.6 from three-point range (remind you of Lonzo Ball?).
The pick: The Nuggets have won this season's first two meetings by an average of 16.5 PPG, extendng their winning streak over the Kings to four in a row. Sacramento's defense was horrid in the loss to Charlotte as it allowed the Hornets to shoot 57.3 percent from the floor, including 15-of-32 from three-point range. "It has me speechless, there's nothing to say," guard Garrett Temple told reporters. "We have to guard. We have to man up and play defense, defend guys. ... I don't care how young we are, we have to defend." The Kings are allowing an average of 118.7 PPG over the past three games (all losses) and I see no reason for them to get things turned around here vs. a Denver team which seems to be jelling (10-2 ATS run!). Make Denver a 10* play.
|01-06-18||Wild v. Avalanche OVER 5.5||Top||2-7||Win||100||22 h 11 m||Show|
The set-up: The Colorado Avalanche were far and away the NHL's worst team last season, as the team's 48 points were 21 fewer than the next-lowest point total of any other team (Vancouver had 69 points on the season). However, the Avalanche are far from the NHL's worst team so far in the 2017-18 season, sitting 21-16-3 (45 points) at about the mid-point of the season. Colorado managed only just 22 victories in 2016-17 but enter this contest at home vs. the Wild on a four-game winning streak. A fifth consecutive win and the Avs would match last year's win total for the entire season. The Wild are no pushovers, as they come in playing some of their best hockey of the campaign, winning four of their last five games, plus are as healthy as they have been all season after Nino Niederreiter returned from a five-game absence due to an ankle injury to register a hat trick in Thursday’s 6-2 win over Buffalo. Minnesota is 22-16-3 with 47 points (one point out of the West's final wild card spot).
Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk has allowed a total of five goals while posting three victories since returning from a lower-body injury to pass Manny Fernandez (113) for second place on the franchise wins list. Eric Staal has scored three of his team-leading 17 goals in his last five games (he also leads the team with 35 points), while Mikael Granlund has registered eight points in the same span to push his season total to 30. Jared Spurgeon has been quite productive of late, collecting a goal and five assists over his last five contests (now has 21 points) to give the Wild three defensemen with at least 21 points. Ryan Suter (24) and Matt Dumba (21) are the others.
Colorado: Nathan MacKinnon is among the league's scoring leaders after recording two goals and seven assists in his last four games, pushing his team-high total to 49 points. Mikko Rantanen continues to pile up points as well, notching 16 of his 38 in his last 13 contests, while Landeskog has collected 12 (six goals) in his last nine games to increase his season total to 31. Jonathan Bernier (8-7-1, .906 save percentage) started in place of the injured Semyon Varlamov (lower body) on Thursday, turning aside 34 shots en route to his second shutout of the season, and is expected to be in net against Minnesota.
The pick: Both teams enter brimming with confidence but I'll note that Minnesota is allowing 3.48 GPG on the road, while Colorado;s averaging 3.80 GPG at home. That spells a 10* play on the Over for me.
|01-06-18||Duke -11 v. NC State||Top||85-96||Loss||-110||21 h 15 m||Show|
The set-up: The No. 2 Blue Devils (13-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) have played just twice since their Dec. 9 loss at Boston College. They've won each of those home games, first against Evansville and then 100-93 vs. No. 24 Florida State last Saturday. "That was an amazing game, because both teams played great,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski told reporters after his team survived allowing 15 makes from three-point range by FSU and missing 11 of its own 25 free throws. “We couldn’t stop each other. And the will to win and will to score was evidence by both teams. For us to win that game, is sensational for our group of four freshmen.” Duke travels to play the 10-5 Wolfpack at PNC Arena, where N.C. State will be making its ACC home debut under first-year coach Kevin Keatts. The Wolfpack opened with two ACC road games for the first time in a decade, falling to Clemson and Notre Dame in lopsided results.
Duke: Marvin Bagley III continues his outstanding freshman season as the 6-11 forward is making 63.0 percent of his FG attempts with 11 double-doubles while averaging 21.9 points and 11.6 rebounds. Senior guard Grayson Allen scored 22 against Florida State and has connected on 41 of 94 attempts from three-point range overall (43.6%), averaging 17.4 points and dishing out 4.4 assists per contest. Freshman forward Wendell Carter Jr. (6-10) is shooting 61 percent from the floor overall and averaging 13.7 points (16.5 over the last four contests) along with 8.9 rebounds. Rounding out Coach K's "Fab 4 Freshmen" are Gary Trent Jr. (13.0 & 4.5) and Trevon Duval (12.0 & 6.6 APG). Duke is the nation's second-highest scoring team (94.5 PPG) and is shooting 51.3% as a team (9th).
N.C. State: The Wolfpack hardly looked ready for prime time in losing their first two ACC games. They averaged just 60.0 PPG in losing to Clemson and Notre Dame, while allowing 83.0 PPG. “I just try to tell my team to not keep their heads down,” senior forward Abdul-Malik Abu told the Raleigh News & Observer. “There are a lot more coming. There are a lot more teams. This is not the end of the world, but it’s not a good feeling at the same time.”Senior guard Allerik Freeman leads a normally productive offense (82.5 PPG ranks 43rd) while averaging 15.3 points and junior backcourt mate Torin Dorn is second on the team in scoring with 13.2 PPG plus a team-high 7.6 RPG. The 6-8 Lennard Freeman (11.6 & 5.3) plus 7-0 center Omer Yurtseven (11.4 & 8.7) are both in double digits, as is guard Beverly (10.2). PG Johnson chips in 8.7 PPG and a team-leading 6.6 APG.
The pick: Duke has been off since beating FSU last Saturday and the week off will help with four games in the next 10 days, including trips to Pittsburgh and Miami (Fla.. The Blue Devils' offense was hitting on all cylinders vs. FSU and "The Pack" will have Coach K’s full attention after the Wolfpack's 84-82 upset win at Cameron Indoor last season. N.C. State seems doomed to be a doormat in the 'loaded' ACC this season. Lay the points and make Duke a 10* play.
|01-06-18||Falcons +6.5 v. Rams||Top||26-13||Win||100||100 h 55 m||Show|
The set-up: Not many are unaware that the Atlanta Falcons led the New Patriots 28-3 in last year's Super Bowl before a monumental collapse led to the Patriots winning 34-28 in OT. No one knew quite what to expect from the Falcons in 2017 but it was hardly surprise that the team struggled throughout the entire regular season.. In fact, the Falcons were forced into a "must win" situation in Week 17 of this year in order to qualify for the NFC's final playoff berth as the No. 6 seed. The 10-6 Falcons will begin their quest to return to the Super Bowl as the NFC's representative this Saturday night in Los Angeles, when they face the 11-5 Rams, who won the NFC West. The Rams have been one of NFL 2017's biggest surprises, going from 4-12 in 2016 to 11-5 in 2017. The Rams are in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, after winning their first NFC West crown since 2003. Atlanta: The Falcons reached the playoffs in the last week of the season with a 22-10 home win over Carolina (actually, Atlanta didn't actually need to win, as Seattle lost at home to Arizona). Matt Ryan threw for 317 yards and a TD on 28 of 45 passing but for the year, came nowhere his MVP numbers of 2016. Ryan threw for 4,095 yards with 20 TDs and 12 INTs, compiling a 91.4 QB rating this season. However, he just missed throwing for 5,000 yards in 2016 (4,944), while throwing 38 TDs against just seven INTs (117.1 QB rating). Freeman and Coleman were once again a very good RB tandem plus Julio Jones (88 catches on 16.4 YPC but just three TDs) remains among the very best WRs in the NFL but after leading the NFL with 33.8 PPG in 2016, the Falcons are a middle-of-the-pack 15th (in a 32-team league) in scoring here in 2017 at 22.1 PPG. Defensively, the Falcons have held their own, allowing 19.7 PPG (8th) on 318.4 YPG (9th). LA Rams: First-year head coach Sean McVay has transformed the Rams, as after LA averaged NFL lows in points (14.0 PPG) and total offense (262.7 YPG) in 2016, this year's team was the NFL's highest scoring team at 29.9 PPG. The Rams are the second team in history to lead the league in scoring, after ranking last the previous season. Jared Goff became an accomplished QB over night (3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns and 7 interceptions for a QB rating of 100.5) and RB Todd Gurley could possibly be the 2017 MVP. He has 1,305 yards rushing and 13 rushing TD, sin addition to finishing 2nd on the team in receiving yards with 788 yards with a team-high 64 receptions (plus six more TDs). WR Cooper Kupp led the team with 869 receiving yards on 62 catches (5 TDs), while Robert Woods added 781 yards and 5 TDs on 56 catches. Sammy Watkins caught just 39 passes but leads the team with eight TDs. The offense got most of the glory but LA's defense has allowed 20.6 PPG to rank a respectable 12th. The pick: It’s been a while since the Rams played a postseason game at the venerable Coliseum. The answer to that trivia question would be, the 1978 NFC title games in a 28-0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and Roger Staubach. Are the 31-year-old MvVay and his second-year QB (Goff) really up to this kind of pressure? Let's not forget that Atlanta's entire season has been about redemption after blowing that 28-3 Super Bowl lead and the Falcons come in having won six of their last eight, with the only two losses coming against division winners Minnesota and New Orleans. 'Matty Ice" is no MVP in 2017 but he's thrown 12 TD passes and just one interception over his last four playoff games. Take the points and make the Falcons an 10* play.
|01-06-18||Titans +9 v. Chiefs||Top||22-21||Win||100||96 h 21 m||Show|
The set-up: The 9-7 Tennessee Titans are in the postseason for the first time since 2008, earning a wild card bid as the AFC's No. 5 seed. The Titans will head to Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday for a game against the 10-6 KC Chiefs, who won the AFC West after a season of streaks (more in a bit). Tennessee has not won a playoff game since 2003 but it's also worth noting that the Chiefs haven't won a home playoff game since Jan. 8, 1994, having lost five straight postseason home contests (OUCH!).
Tennessee: The Titans' offense has shown flashes of brilliance but has been inconsistent. QB Marcus Mariota leads a passing offense that ranks just 23rd in the NFL (199.4 YPG), throwing more interceptions (15) than TD passes (13). His QB rating is awful, at 79.3. Tennessee relies on its running game but after Murray (1,287 yards on 4.4 YPC) led the way in 2016, with the team ranking ranking third with 136.7 YPG (4.6 YPC) on the ground in 2016, things have not gone as well in 2017. Murray has just 659 yards (3.6 YPC!) and while fellow RB Henry (744 yards) has had his moments, the Titans rank just 15th in rushing this season (114.6 YPG), with the team's average falling from 4.6 YPC to 4.1 (that's big!). The Titans are scoring a modest 20.9 PPG (19th) and the defense ranks 17th, allowing 22,2 PPG.
Kansas City: The Chiefs opened the 2017 season by beating the Patriots up in New England in the NFL's Thursday night season opener. Led by veteran QB Alex Smith and rookie RB Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs opened 5-0 SU & ATS. The team then "hit a wall," going 1-6 SU & ATS, before going 4-0 SU &ATS down the stretch. Smith's had a career-season, completing 67.5% for 4,042 yards with 26 TDs and just five INTs (104.7 QB rating). Hunt had a mid-season slump but ran for a league-high 1,327 yards (4.9 YPC with 8 TDs) and caught 53 passes with three more TDs. TE Kelce led the team with 83 catches and 8 TDs, while WR Hill added 75 catches and 7 TDs. Defensively, the Chiefs are allowing 365.1 YPG (28th) but some better news is that they rank higher in the most important defensive category, points allowed (21.2 PPG ranks 15th).
The pick: KC has the better offensive weapons and the defense played much better down the stretch, allowing just 13.7 PPG in the first three of the team's four-game season-ending winning streak (allowed 24 points n a meaningless Week 17 win). However, I can't ignore the fact that the Chiefs have lost FIVE consecutive home playoff games and here, they have a significant pointspread to cover (note: it seems to be rising by the day!). Four of the Titans' seven losses came by six points or less and over Tennessee's last 10 games, the Titans' allowed more than 20 points just three times. Take the big points and make Tennessee an 8* play.
|01-06-18||Oilers v. Stars -140||Top||1-5||Win||100||16 h 2 m||Show|
The set-up: The Oilers were one of last year's biggest surprises (103 points) and because of that performance, were expected to be one of the West's best teams this season. That has not been the case. The calendar has recently turned to 2018 and most teams are at right about the mid-point of their seasons, Edmonton sits 18-20-3, nine points out of the final wild card spot in the West. The Oilers will be in Dallas tonight to take on the 23-16-3 Stars, as they kick off a stretch of five straight on the road. The Stars welcome the Oilers to American Airlnes Center, having earned points in seven of their last nine games (5-2-2), after recording a 4-3 home victory over New Jersey on Thursday. Dallas is currently fourth in the the Central Division but holds down the top wild card spot in the West with 49 points (10 more than the Oilers' 39 points).
Edmonton: The Oilers are hoping that their 2-1 shootout victory at home over Anaheim on Thursday will be a spark and a turning point for their disappointing season. Connor McDavid, notched his first point in four games on Thursday (assist) but has a team-leading 46 points overall (goals). Leon Draisaitl (32 points) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (29) both have been kept off the scoresheet for three straight games while Milan Lucic snapped a four-game drought against Anaheim. The Oilers added goaltending depth on Thursday, acquiring Al Montoya from Montreal for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft. Montoya hasn't played since early November due to a concussion but will meet the team in Dallas. No. 1 goalie Cam Talbot (has been a disappointment (15-13-2, 3.00 GAA & .905 SP), while backup Brossoit has been unacceptable (3-7-1, 3.22 GAA & .886 SP).
Dallas: Speaking of goaltending, head coach Ken Hitchcock said Friday that Ben Bishop (18-1-2, 2.55 GAA & .915 SP) will start in goal again on Saturday, Bishop's 10th consecutive start (he's allowed 13 goals in his last seven contests). "Ben's played awful well, so we're just going to run with it until it looks like he's tired or we need a break," Hitchcock said. "Because we had this big break coming up, it's going to give him a chance to take a rest too. We're going to need every point we can get our hands on, so as long as he keeps playing well and has great energy, stays healthy, then he's going to get the majority of the games if he plays at this level." Dallas is getting plenty of production from its top players as captain Jamie Benn has notched nine of his team-leading 38 points over his last eight games while Tyler Seguin (37 points) has scored six of his club-high 20 goals in his last seven contests. Defenseman John Klingberg has recorded five of his 36 points in his last four games while Alexander Radulov has collected three goals and three assists in the same span to push his total to 35 points. Mattias Janmark is one of six members of the Stars to reach 20 points (21) after tallying three times and setting up a pair of goals over his last five contests.
The pick: Edmonton has posted a winning record on the road this season (9-8-2) but the Stars come in playing well and are 15-5-1 on home ice this season, averaging 3.48 GPG. Make Dallas an 8* play.
|01-05-18||Raptors v. Bucks +1||Top||129-110||Loss||-108||12 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The Bucks have won three of four and at 20-16, currently own the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference. The team's lone loss in that aforementioned span came just this past Monday, when Milwaukee lost 131-127 in OT at Toronto. The Raptors visit the Bradley Center in Milwaukee tonight on a three-game winning streak which leaves them 26-10 on the season, good enough for the East's No. 2 seed (Toronto is 2 1/2 games back of the Celtics and two games up on the Cavs).
Toronto: The Bucks could not figure out how to contain Toronto star DeMar DeRozan in Monday's loss, as the shooting guard scored a Raptors franchise-record 52 points. The backcourt duo of DeRozan (25.2-4.3-5.0) and Lowry (16.2-5.1-6.9) is top-notch plus PF Ibaka (13.8 & 6.1) and center Valanciunas (10.6 & 7.60 are quality players. DeRozan has been especially hot since the calendar flipped to 2018, averaging 48.5 points in Toronto's last two contests. While DeRozan, Lowry, Ibaka and Valanciunas have been the driving force this season, Delon Wright (8.8) set a career high against Chicago in Toronto's most recent game with 25 points and 13 rebounds, plus Fred VanVleet (6.3) added 13 on 5-of-7 shooting, marking his ninth double-digit scoring game of the season. The Raptors are the NBA's third-highest scoring team at 111.6 PPG.
Milwaukee: The Bucks are creeping up the standings in the Eastern Conference and quickly bounced back from their Jan. 1 loss in Toronto by cruising past the Indiana Pacers 122-101 on Wednesday. The rout allowed Giannis Antetokounmpo to sit out the entire fourth quarter. "We would all like to have a game like this where you can keep them under 30 minutes, but unfortunately that hasn't happened a lot this year," Bucks head coach Jason Kidd told reporters. "So, this is a good win, especially having that game in Toronto (on Monday)." Milwaukee shot 58.7 percent from the floor and handed out 33 assists on Wednesday, with Matthew Dellavedova (nine), Malcolm Brogdon (five) and Eric Bledsoe (five) joining Antetokounmpo (five) in getting the whole team involved. Antetokounmpo (29.1-10.4-4.3) is a superstar but SF Middleton (20.6 & 5.7) and guard Bledsoe (18.2-4.1-4.5) are players any team would want.
The pick: I realize that Toronto has won 15 of 18 but this is a quick "re-hook" for these two teams from a New Year’s Day contest. I feel confident in saying that DeRozan won't get 52 points again and remember, even with his record output, the Raptors needed OT (at Home!) to edge the Bucks.by just four points. The Bradley Center setting gives Milwaukee the edge in this quick turnaround. Make the Bucks a 10* play
|01-05-18||Panthers v. Red Wings -121||Top||2-4||Win||100||12 h 57 m||Show|
The set-up: The Red Wings beat the Ottawa Senators 2-1 on Wednesday, giving them three straight wins for the first time since Jan 14-18, 2017. They welcome the Panthers to Detroit Friday night, having also won four in a row at home for the first time since Oct. 17-25, 2016. Things are suddenly going right for the Detroit Red Wings, who have evened their record at 16-16-7. The same could have been said of the Panthers, who were riding a five-game winning streak until it came crashing to a halt with a 5-1 loss at Minnesota to on Tuesday. Florida had its five-game road trip reduced to four when Thursday's contest in Boston was postponed due to the severe winter storm that impacted the area. The Panthers head to Detroit tonight with a 17-17-5 record on the season.
Florida: The Panthers entered their trip with a season-high five-game winning streak but had it snapped Tuesday at Minnesota (see above). Jonathan Huberdeau scored the lone goal in the setback, giving him five in as many games and drawing him within one of team leader Vincent Trocheck's 15 (both have 37 points). Thursday's postponement likely benefited goalie James Reimer, who left Tuesday's game with a neck injury but figures to make his 13th consecutive start against the Red Wings. Reimer has started 12 straight games while No. 1 goalie Roberto Luongo is dealing with a lower-body injury. Luongo is expected back later this month. Harri Sateri made his NHL debut versus the Wild in relief of Reimer and stopped 13 of the 14 shots he faced.
Detroit: Detroit is 3-0-0 on its five-game homestand and carries a six-game point streak at Little Caesars Arena (4-0-2) into Friday's contest. Andreas Athanasiou hopes to remain hot as he scored both goals in Wednesday's 2-1 triumph over Ottawa, including the winner six seconds into overtime to tie the NHL record for the fastest tally to be recorded in an extra session. Dylan Larkin looks to extend his point streak to five games in tonight's contest. The 21-year-old center leads the team with 33 points and has a goal and three assists during his four-game run. Captain Henrik Zetterberg ranks second on the club with 21 assists, as well as 27 points. RW Anthony Mantha returned to the lineup Wednesday after missing two games with a groin injury and notched an assist. He leads the team with 13 goals.
The pick: Athanasiou's goal gave Detroit its first overtime win this season (had been 0-6) and that just could be a good omen. Florida got a scare in Tuesday's loss to the Wild when goalie James Reimer was forced to leave the game after suffering a neck injury. During their winning streak, the Panthers allowed only six goals, with Reimer posting a pair of shutouts and a .966 save percentage. However, all that came unraveled in the loss to Minnesota.Will he bounce back? Note that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard has won his last three starts, turning aside 107 of 11 shots. That's a save percentage of .964! Make Detroit a 10* play.
|01-05-18||NC-Wilmington v. Towson -11||Top||71-89||Win||100||11 h 22 m||Show|
The set-up: The NC-Wilmington Seahawks will travel to SECU Arena to take on the Towson Tigers this Friday night in Colonial Athletic Association action. The Seahawks improved to 4-10 (1-1 CAA) on the season after defeating Drexel,107-87 this past Tuesday. As for the Tigers, they opened the season with a conference loss at Old Dominion (how rare is that!), before running off 10 consecutive wins. However, Towson comes into this contest having lost four straight games to fall to 10-5. Tuesday's 75-72 defeat at the hands of Elon, also leaves the Tigers 0-2 in CAA play.
NC-Wilimington: The Seahawks had little trouble putting up points against the Drexel defense and had a double-digit lead throughout the second half after taking a 57-40 halftime lead. UNC-Wilmington shot 58.7% from the floor. However, that effort is the exception, not the rule, so far this season. The Seahawks have two excellent players in the 6-7 Cacok (18.1 & 13.4) and PG Talley (16.4 & 5.1 APG) but while the team can score (81.3 PPG), it's defense is a sieve. NC-Wilmington is allowing 85.0 PPG (343rd) on 47.8% shooting (318th).
Towson: The Tigers returned four starters from last year's team and their current skid is surprising. Guards Martin (18.7) and Morsell (12.1) are supported by six players all getting 15-plus MPG, while chipping in between 3.1 and 8.5 PPG. SF Keith (7.8 & 5.4) and the 6-7 Gorham (7.2 & 5.5) are the team's best frontcourt players. Towson (74.3 PPG) can't quite score with Wilmington but the Tigers play solid defense, allowing a modest 65.8 PPG (51st), while holding opponents to just 39.6% shooting from thge floor (34th).
The pick: The Seahawks won and covered their last game but prior to that, had b 0-9een ATS in lined games this season, including 0-4 SU & ATS in lined true road games. Towson's four-game skid has all come in road contests and the Tigers are a perfect 5-0 SU at home this season (5-1-1 ATS run at home, going back into last season). Make Towson a 10* play.
|01-04-18||Thunder -1 v. Clippers||Top||127-117||Win||100||15 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: The OKC Thunder will play a second consecutive game in Staples Center, having defeated the LA Lakers 133-96 on Wednesday. The Thunder righted themselves from a two-game skid that had followed a six-game winning streak. The Clippers have won four straight games and six of their last seven. Five of those six victories have come at Staples Center, as the Clippers are in the midst of one of their longest home stretches of the season. Tonight's game will be the Clippers' fifth consecutive at Staples Center (one game was as the visiting team against the Lakers) and they will run that streak to seven consecutive when they host the Warriors on Saturday and the Hawks on Monday.
Oklahoma City: The Thunder "took no prisoners" in last night's win over the Lakers, the team's seventh in its last nine games. OKC (20-17) shot a season-best 60.2 percent from the floor plus established a season best for points scored in Wednesday's 133-96 rout. Reigning MVP Russell Westbrook had 20 points and 12 assists to run his streak of consecutive 20-point outings to 11, while reaching double digits in assists for the sixth time in seven games. Westbrook's numbers are down from last year but the team seems to be finally finding "a balance" between its three superstars. OKC is 13-5 since Dec. 1 suggesting that head coach Billy Donovan has finally figured out how to fit Paul George (20.7 & 5.4) and Carmelo Anthony (17.6 & 6.0) around Russell Westbrook (24.7-9.5-10.1).
LA Clippers: Blake Griffin (23.5-7.7-5.3) has been back for the last three games (all wins), after missing 14 straight. However, the team's most explosive player over the last seven games has been veteran guard Lou Williams (13th year). Williams (21.7 PPG and 4.8 APG would both be career single-season bests) is on a scoring spree and it is equating to victories. He'll look to score 30-plus points for the fifth time in the past seven games tonight against OKC, as the Clippers go for their seventh win in the last eight contests. Los Angeles (17-19) has won six consecutive home games and nine of its last 13 overall contests as it closes in on the .500 mark after getting off to a poor start.
Thge pick: If a team has to play back-to-back games on the road, it can't ask for more than this situation, as OKC players didn't even have to check out of the hotel after beating the Lakers right here at Staples Center last night. Griffin may be back for LA and as noted, Williams has been great but Beverley (12.2) is out for the year, Gallinari (13.4 & 4.4) won't be back for awhile and Rivers (15.8) is listed as questionable after sitting out the past two games (Achilles). I've already noted that the offense is beginning to "find a groove" but OKC's defense is allowing just 100.4 PPG on the season, third-best in the NBA. Plus, how about this? George and Westbrook are first and second in the league in steals, collecting 2.45 and 2.00 respectively. Make OKC a 10* play.
|01-04-18||USC v. California +7||Top||80-62||Loss||-115||23 h 41 m||Show|
The set-up: USC returned all five starters from last year's 26-win team and after a 3-0 start was ranked No. 10 in the AP poll. The Trojans were still No. 14 after suffering their first loss of the season (at home to A&M), dropping them to 4-1. However, two more losses followed and at 4-3, USC was out of the top-25. The Trojans are currently 10-5 (have wons six of eight since that three-game skid), including going 1-1 in Pac 12 play after opening with a home loss to Washington last Friday, but then beating Washington State on Sunday. Cal came into this season off seasons of 23 and 21 wins but also with a first-year heads coach in Wyking Jones, who would have just one starter coming back. Cal checks in 7-7 but most of its wins have come against some mediocre-to-bad teams, including a 77-74 victory over Stanford in the team's Pac 12 opener. The Bears had to crawl back from 17 points down against Stanford, a 6-8 team which has lost to Eastern Washington (6-9), Portland St. and Long Beach St. (6-10).
USC: The Trojans feature an excellent starting-five, led by the 6-11 Metu (17.8 & 7.6) and the 6-10 Boatwright (16.8 & 7.0). Rounding out the group are guards McLaughlin (12.9-4.0-8.0), Stewart (12.5) and Mathews (9.4). The team's sixth-man is the 6-11 Rakocevic (6.5 & 5.2). Metu is considered a potential NBA lottery pick but was ejected late in the first half against Washington State after he ran by Washington St. guard Carter Skaggs, who was shooting a three-pointer in front of the Trojans' bench, and punched him in the groin. USC coach Andy Enfield said Metu will sit out the first half against the Bears, surrender his captaincy and sent a letter of apology to Skaggs,
Cal: The Bears have a mix of veterans and freshman in both the backcourt and frontcourt. Junior guard Coleman (20.1) is the team's leading scorer and his backcourt partner is freshman McNeill (13.4). Up front, 6-11 senior Lee (12.6 & 7.8) is paired with 6-7 freshman Sueing (12.0 & 5.7). Cal sputtered out of the gate with a 3-6 start that included head-scratching losses to UC Riverside (74-66), Central Arkansas (96-69) and Division II Chaminade (96-72) but the Bears have been better since. Cal does own a nice win at Mountain West heavyweight San Diego State (63-62) and while Stanford is going nowhere in the Pac 12 this season, when a team can come back from 17 points down to win, it deserves some props.
The pick: USC won't have Metu and while Haas Pavilion may not be the most intimidating venue in the Pac 12 these days, Cal is still 37-8 straight up its previous 45 home games. Take the points and make Cal a 10* play!
|01-04-18||Golden Knights v. Blues OVER 5.5||Top||1-2||Loss||-100||20 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: Right from the opening of the season (Vegas came out of the gate 8-1-0), the Golden Knights have been the feel-good story of the 2017-18 season. Vegas will visit St. Louis tonight having won eight straight, while boasting a 13-game point streak (12-0-1). Both are NHL records for a first-year club, giving the expansion team a 27-9-2 (56 points) record, good enough for first place in the Pacific Division (only the Lightning, with 60 points, have a better record in the entire NHL). The 25-15-2 (52 points) St. Louis Blues sit in second-place in the Central Division, just one point behind Winnipeg. The Blues have hopefully righted the ship with two straight victories, following a 2-7-0 stretch.
Vegas: With the team's 3-0 win over Nashville on Tuesday, Vegas improved to a spectacular 17-2-1 at home. ""We just keep playing our game and have good success," Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant told reporters after the win. "It's about competing and getting ready for the next game. If we keep playing the kind of hockey we're playing, we're going to win a lot of hockey games." Jonathan Marchessault (team-high 37 points) signed a six-year, $30 million contract extension Wednesday and has scored in three straight contests. He owns a seven-game point streak (five goals, six assists). He's getting plenty of help, as Vegas has five players with 10 or more goals. William Karlsson (club-best 20 goals) has five tallies in his last five contests, James Neal (17) has gone five games without scoring after recording one in three straight contests and Erik Haula, who played his 300th career game Tuesday, has 14.
St. Louis: Vladimir Tarasenko now shares the team lead in goals with Brayden Schenn after scoring his 17th of the season in Tuesday's 3-2 shootout victory over New Jersey. Schenn (club-high 41 points) has only two goals and two assists in 12 games since Jaden Schwartz was lost with an ankle injury scoring just once in the past 11 contests. Vladimir Sobotka registered his eighth goal of the season Tuesday and is one shy of matching his career high set in 2013-14. In net, Carter Hutton might be the backup goalie on the St. Louis Blues depth chart but he's certainly playing like a No. 1. He is 11-3-0, with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .937 save percentage, and one shutout in his last 14 starts.
The pick: Marc-Andre Fleury is back healthy for Vegas (8-1-1, 1.77 GAA & .943 SP), so at first blush, it may seem like an Under with Hutton on a roll, as well. However, Vegas is a different team on the road (10-7-1) and a typical road game this season for the Golden Knights averages just slightly over 6 1/2 goals. Make the Over a 10* play.
|01-04-18||Hurricanes v. Penguins -148||Top||4-0||Loss||-148||19 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The Pittsburgh Penguins may be the two-time defending champions but at just 20-18-3 (43 points), they are looking up in the Metropolitan Division at every team but the 16-15-8 (40 points) Philadelphia Flyers. The Pens are seventh in the eight-team division and will welcome the 18-13-8 Carolina Panthers to town, a team which currently sits in fifth-place, with 44 points. A 5-1 victory at Philadelphia on Tuesday prevented Pittsburgh from falling into the basement of the division and the Penguins will now try to win consecutive games for the first time in more than a month.The Hurricanes are in the midst of a brutal schedule as they prepare to play the opener of a four-game road trip. Carolina followed a 7-1-0 stretch with one-goal losses to St. Louis and Washington and the Panthers will now visit three of the best teams in the Eastern Conference (Boston, Tampa Bay and Washington), after Thursday's contest.
Carolina: Victor Rask scored three times in a 23-game stretch before notching six goals in his last 13 contests. Rask scored his ninth and 10th goals in Tuesday's 5-4 overtime loss at Washington.Carolina was not exactly at the top of prognosticators' lists as Stanley Cup contenders entering the season but the etam's 7-2-1 run over its past 10 games has boosted the Hurricanes into the final wild-card spot in the East. Hurricanes center Lucas Wallmark left the Washington loss after taking a skate to the groin. "He's sore and doubtful for (Wednesday)," head coach Peters said, adding that Wallmark wasn't cut.
Pittsburgh: The Pens received a boost on the blue line with the returns of Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, who were sidelined for three and 11 games, respectively, due to lower-body injuries. “When they're not in our lineup, it's fairly evident we don't come out of our end zone as clean,” head coach Mike Sullivan told reporters. "They're both mobile guys. They can get back to pucks quickly.” The Penguins had won just three of nine before the 5-1-win Tuesday at Philadelphia. Sure, Pittsburgh had a rousing 5-4 shootout win against Columbus in which they overcame three two-goal deficits on Dec. 27th, but then came a dud Friday with 2-1 loss at Carolina, followed by a 4-1 loss at Detroit..
The pick:The teams are taking opposite approaches with their schedule. The Penguins canceled practice Wednesday and will hold a morning skate. The Hurricanes practiced briefly before flying to Pittsburgh and Peters indicated they probably won't hold a full morning skate. Matt Murray will get the start in net for Pittsburgh, after Tristan Jarry was hurt against the Flyers. Thge good news for Pittsburgh fans (bettors) is that Murray went 3-0-0 with six goals allowed in four appearances versus the Hurricanes last season. Make Pittsburgh an 8* play.
|01-03-18||Warriors v. Mavs OVER 216||Top||125-122||Win||100||10 h 8 m||Show|
The set-up: The Warriors are well aware that wins and losses in December are not 'life and death. Golden State made sure to wait until Stephen Curry was 100 percent before bringing him back from an ankle injury, keeping him out for 11 straight games (Warriors were 9-2 in that span). Curry certainly appeared healthy in his first game back going 12-of-17 from the floor in 26 minutes (including 10-of-13 from three-point range), while scoring 38 points in Saturday's 141-128 win over the Memphis Grizzlies. "I was just happy to be back out there with my guys," Curry told reporters. "You sit and watch for 11 games, you just wonder what it's going to be like to get back out there, and I finally got that opportunity. I really didn't know what to expect. I just wanted to get some good reps, get up and down, see how my wind was and, surprisingly, I think my body felt way better than I expected." The Warriors' 29-8 record is an NBA-best as they visit the 13-25 Dallas Maverick. It's been a rough start for Dallas but the Mavs do welcome the Warriors to town on the heels of a four-game winning streak. Dallas is back home after an impressive (surprising?) three-game road trip in which the Mavs bested the Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Pelicans and Oklahoma City Thunder. "We're playing better, and we're doing better in these situations," Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after his team held off the Thunder 116-113. "Guys just hung together and found a way to close it out, and it's not easy with those three superstars that they've got. But we did it as a team with stops, made some big plays, and it will be a happy new year."
Dallas: The Mavs' four wins have come by an average of five PPG but a ":W" is a "W." Rookie PG Dennis Smith Jr. is one reason the team is beginning to pull out close games. Smith recorded his first career triple-double in Friday's win at New Orleans and followed that up with 19 points and six assists in the victory over the Thunder. "(Smith) was great tonight," Carlisle told reporters after beating Oklahoma City. "He finished the game with a couple of big baskets and some big free throws.Smith is averaging 13.8-4.1-4.3 on the season and is the team's second-leading scorer. SF Harrison Barnes (18.4 & 6.7) leads the team in scoring (like last year) and while Dirk (12.1 & 5.7) is not the player he once was, his presence is a plus. Guards Barea, Harris and Matthews are also all in double digits, with backup PG Ferrell just missing at 9.9 PPG.
The pick: The Warriors have won the last eight in the series (including a 112-97 home win on Dec. 14), as Dallas' problem is trying to keep up with the Warriors on the scoreboard. The math just doesn't work. The Warriors average 115.2 PPG (2nd0 on 50.8% shooting (1st), including 39.0% on threes (also 1st). Meanwhile, Dallas averages just 101.0 PPG (27th) and must try to match Golden State basket-for-basket going against a defense holding opponents to an NBA-low 43.0% from the floor. Do not expect Dallas to in any way contain Golden State but I will note that Dallas has scored 100-plus points in five of its last seven (two misses came when the team scord 98 points), including ringing up 128 and 116 points in the team's last two outings. Make the Over an 8* play.
|01-03-18||Raptors -5 v. Bulls||Top||124-115||Win||100||12 h 25 m||Show|
The set-up: The 25-10 Toronto Raptors have quietly moved into second-place among all Eastern Conference teams, one game better than the Cleveland Cavaliers and 2 1/2 games behind the Boston Celtics, who hold down the East's top spot. Toronto (25-10) went 11-3 in December and will head to 13-24 Chicago Wednesday night having won eight of its last 10 games. Chicago won 10 of 12 games following Nikola Mirotic's return from facial fractures but has dropped the its last two games two at Washington and home against Portland. The two defeats have come by a total of just eight points and the Bulls have squandered leads late in each of the setbacks.
Toronto: DeMar DeRozan set a Toronto franchise record with 52 points in a 131-127 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday (the previous team record of 51 points shared by Vince Carter and Terrence Ross) . "He was playing with a lot of juice, oomph," Raptors head coach Dwane Casey told reporters of DeRozan. "You could see the bounce in his step in the first quarter, the force he was playing with coming off pick-and-rolls, bouncing up, and he maintained that throughout the whole game, which was huge for him." DeRozan (24.9-4.3-4.9) made17-of-29 from the floor and was 13-of-13 from the line (he also handed out a team-high eight assists). PG Lowry (16.2-6.1-7.0) joins DeRozan to give Toronto one of the NBA's best backcourt while PF Ibaka (13.7 & 6.1) and center Valanciunas (10.9 & 7.6) are the team's frontcourt stalwarts. Toronto is the NBA's third-highest scoring team at 111.2 PPG and do a decent job on the defensive end as well, allowing 103.5 PPG (10th).
Chicago: Mirotic is averaging a team-high 18.3 PPG in his 14 games, while adding 7.3 PPG. However, while his return has been the spark that led to Chicago's recent run of strong play, it wasn't the only factor. Second-year PGKris Dunn is averaging 15.8 points and 8.1 assists over his last 13 games and scored 22 points in Monday's 124-120 overtime loss to the Trail Blazers. "We're clicking right now," Dunn told reporters. "We're playing good basketball. These two losses, they definitely hurt. When they're down the stretch, and you feel like you can win the games, it's hard to swallow. But we're playing good basketball, and I like what we're doing so far." Let's not forget to mention rookie Markkanen, who is easily been one of the league's best 'freshman' so far, averaging 14.7 & 7.4.
The pick: The Raptors have taken each of the first two meetings this season with the Bulls, although both games were in Toronto. The Bulls are a money-making 13-2 ATS their last 15 but are entering a stretch in which most of their games will be against teams with winning records.Chicago has begun to have some trouble closing out tight games. The Bulls will enter Wednesday's game attempting to overcome a pair of losses in which they couldn't finish games when it mattered most. After a four-point loss Sunday against Washington when the Wizards scored the final seven points, Chicago again lost by four against Portland and again blew a lead in the final minute with the Trail Blazers playing without leading scorer Damian Lillard. I see that happening here. Make Toronto a 10* play.
|01-03-18||St. John's v. Creighton -12||Top||71-78||Loss||-105||12 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: It's Big East action tonight from CenturyLink Center in Omaha, as the St. John’s Red Storm visit the Creighton Bluejays. The Red Storm went 10-2 in non-conference play but have opened Big East action 0-2, losing to Providence and Seton Hall. St John's is 10-4 (0-2 Big East) as it takes the court against 11-3 Creighton, which has split its first two league games, losing to Seton Hall back on Dec. 28 but bouncing back to beat Providence in its most recent outing.
St. John's: This is Chris Mullins third season coaching at his alma mater and after seasons of six and 14 wins, he has to be happy about his team's 10 wins before Jan. 1. The Red Storm have five players scoring in double digits,, led by PG Ponds (20.1-6.2-4.8) and fellow guard LoVett (14.9). The problem is that Ponds is questionable with a knee injury and LoVett is out with an ankle injury (he's missed the last seven games). A pair of 6-7 forwards in Ahmed (11.7 & 4.7) and Clark (11.5 & 4.2) plus 6-5 guard Simon (10.6-7.9-4.8) will be asked to do more. Mullins will also hope that the 6-11 Tariq Owens (7.7 & 6.3) can repeat his season highs of 19 points and 14 boards (vs. Seton Hall), here. However, even at 100 percent, St. John's averages a modest 73.8 PPG (214th), although the defense has done well, allowing 65.9 PPG (52nd) on 39.0 percent shooting (29th).
Creighton: The Bluejays have been one of the nation’s most productive offensive teams, averaging 91.1 PPG (4th) on 51.4% shooting (8th). Guards Foster (19.0) and Thomas (14.8) lead the way with the team's best frontcourt player being the 6-9 Krampelj, who is chipping in 12.6 & 7.0. The Slovenian has averaged 18 points and nine rebounds in the first two Big East games. The Bluejays also have excellent depth, contributing to the team's offensive success.
The pick: We knpw LoVett will miss and Ponds may, so it seems highly unlikely the Red Storm have the firepower to 'hang' vs. the Bluejays, who have won the last four meetings between the two schools, scoring at least 80 in all four contests. Make Creighton a 10* play.
|01-03-18||Senators v. Red Wings -125||Top||1-2||Win||100||12 h 54 m||Show|
The set-up: The 12-17-8 Ottawa Senator are in Detroit on Wednesday to take on the 15-16-7 Red Wings. The teams' records speak for themselves. Both saw their respective seasons take a downward turn with seven-game losing streaks beginning in mid-November. Detroit's skid ignited a tailspin in which the team lost 13 of 16 games (3-8-5), before posting impressive victories over the New York Rangers (3-2 in a shootout) and Pittsburgh Penguins (4-1) to open its current five-game homestand. As for Ottawa, the Senators have not shown any signs of halting their spiral, suffering a 17th loss in a 21-game span (4-14-3) in a 5-0 thrashing by visiting Boston this past Saturday night.
Ottawa: I guess Ottawa can hope 2018 brings a fresh start? Things can't get worse, can they? Ottawa held its annual team skills competition one day after the drubbing by Boston. Yet the most glaring issue facing the team is scoring as the Senators were shut out in five of their last 13 games. "We've put ourselves in a hole where we are going to need a fantastic run and we're going to need help," said forward Mark Stone, who leads the team with 15 goals and 34 points. "We've put ourselves in a deep, deep hole.Ottawa takes the ice averaging 2.62 GPG, ranking 28th in a 31-team league. Defensively, the Senators are allowing 3.32 GP, which ranks 29th.
Detroit: Unlike Ottawa, at least Detroit can feel good about the final two games of the calendar year (see above). Gustav Nyquist dipped to 12 goals last season, after amassing 72 goals over a three-season span. However, he matched last year's total by scoring twice in Sunday's win over the Penguins. Captain Henrik Zetterberg assisted on both of Nyquist's tallies, giving him 11 points in nine games (27 points on the season). Center Dylan Larkin leads Detroit with 32 points but has only six goals.Good news is on the way as Anthony Mantha, who leads the team with 13 goals, practiced fully Tuesday and pronounced himself ready to return to the lineup.
The pick: The Red Wings have been playing better at home lately, as they've won three in a row at at Little Caesars Arena, the first time since last Jan. 14-18 that Detroit's put together three consecutive home ice wins. It's also good news that goalie Jimmy Howard has allowed just seven goals in his last four starts, plus in two meetings with Ottawa this season, he's allowed just three scores. Make Detroit a 10* play.
|01-02-18||Grizzlies v. Clippers -5||Top||105-113||Win||100||15 h 28 m||Show|
The set-up: Blake Griffin has made a faster return than expected from a sprained knee and has averaged 24.5 PPG in his two games back on the court. The Clipps have won both of them but had begun a turnaround before he got back on the floor, as they'll go for a sixth victory in their last seven games. The now 16-19 Clippers will welcome the Memphis Grizzlies to Staples Center on Tuesday, a team which has also had a sudden surge, winning three of its last five.
Memphis: In fairness, the Grizzlies have (had) nowhere to go but up. PG Mike Conley (17.1 & 4.1 APG) has been shelved since last playing on Nov.13 to deal with his Achilles. Memphis would lose 17 of its next 19 before little 3-2 "mini-run." Swingman Tyreke Evans has been excellent (19.6-5.1-4.6) and center Marc Gasol (18.5 & 8.5) is an established All Star but no other player is averaging in double digits on the season. To put it mildly, the Grizzlies have struggled offensively for most of the season (98.7 PPG ranks 29th) but are suddenly averaging 112.6 points while winning three of their last five contests. "I think if you take a look at our past five games, our scoring is up, our shooting percentages are up, our assists are up and our turnovers are down," interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff told reporters. "So that's the growth that we've been looking for in our offense." Memphis is a stellar 29-of-51 from three-point range over the past two games, going a torrid 15-of-21 in a loss to the Golden State Warriors and following up with a 14-of-30 effort in Sunday's 114-96 road win against the Sacramento Kings Evans had 26 points versus the Kings for his eighth 20-point outing in the past nine contests. "He's had that edge all year," Memphis center Marc Gasol told reporters after Evans torched his former team. "He's had that same mentality, so don't take it like he came in here and did something he hasn't done every game. He's come with that aggressiveness."
LA Clippers: Griffin missed14 games due to his knee injury (Clippers were 6-8).but he contributed 25 points, seven rebounds and six assists as Los Angeles recorded a 106-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday (he had 24 points in his return in Friday's win over the Lakers). Guard Lou Williams (in his 13th season) has found teh 'fountain of youth,' pouring in 40 points and contributed eight assists in Sunday's 106-98 victory over the Charlotte Hornets. He made six 3-pointers in the contest and has made 24 threes over the past five games while averaging 30.4 points. "I always feel like I can get it going, but to see it early, it puts me in a different mindset, in an attack mode," Williams said afterward. "Once I get two or three early, that way I can just get everybody else involved." Williams checks in averaging a career-high 21.4 PPG (also 4.8 APG would be a career-high, as well).
The pick: Surprisingly, the Grizzlies are 2-0 against the Clippers this season, including a 115-112 victory on Dec. 23 despite a career-best 38 points from LA's Austin Rivers (15.8 PPG). However, .Rivers (Achilles) is questionable after sitting out Sunday. Still, the Clippers have centere Jordan (11.0 & 15.3) to match up with Gasol and I expect the Clippers to exact some revenge here. LA's lone loss in winning five of its last six is that Dec 23 loss in Memphis. Lay the points and make LA a 10* play.
|01-02-18||Georgetown +4.5 v. DePaul||Top||90-81||Win||100||14 h 9 m||Show|
The set-up: It's Big East basketball tonight from Chicago at WinTrust Arena, as the Georgetown Hoyas take on the DePaul Blue Demons. Both schools check in at 0-2 in Conference play, so the victor will earn its first conference win. The Hoyas opened 8-0 under first time head coach Patrick Ewing before losing to former Big Est rival Syracuse. After reaching 10-1, Georgetown lost its Big East opener 91-89 at home to Butler and then lost 74-65 at Marquette. The challenge will be easier here vs. 7-7 DePaul, which is coming off back-to-back nine-win seasons in the return of head coach Dave Leitao (Blue Demons have gone 5-31 in Big Est play under Leitao the last two seasons).
Georgetown: The Hoyas are led by the 6-10 Govan (18.4 & 12.2), who has nine double-doubles in 13 games. Guards Derrickson (14.6 & 7.5) and Johnson (10.8 & 5.0) also average in double figures. Patrick Ewing's team has had trouble with ball control during its non-conference schedule but it has been downright atrocious in the Big East. The starting lineup racked up 19 giveaways, including five from point guard Jonathan Mulmore, as the Hoyas finished with more than 20 for the second straight game. The Hoyas have also shot less than 44 percent in their first two league games. An argument could be made that Georgetown’s lightweight schedule is starting to catch up with the Hoyas and their early strong start was no more than a product of weak opposition.
DePaul: Yes. DePaul is also 0-2 in Big East play but those losses came against Big East and national 'heavyweights' Villanova and Xavier. Max Strus led the team with 33 points on 10 of 18 shooting while Justin Roberts added 16 points to join Strus as the only Blue Demons to score in double digits in the 77-72 loss to Xavier, last time out. Strus (18.6 & 4.6) is the team's leading scored but Roberts is a freshman who is averaging just 4.9 PPG. Joining Strus in double digits are the 6-11 Maric (12.7 & 5.8), PG Cain (11.5-4.2-3.7) and the 6-7 McCallum (11.0 & 6.0).
The pick: DePaul’s two losses came to the best in the conference and could be a positive sign of turning the corner in the Big East. However, I'm not 'biting.' This team has been a league laughing stock for quite some time now (Leitao's return hasn't change anything) and prior to a win in the second meeting last season, DePaul had been on an 0-15 run against Georgetown in Big East games. Make the Hoyas a 10* play.
|01-02-18||Blue Jackets v. Stars OVER 5.5||Top||2-1||Loss||-105||13 h 28 m||Show|
The set-up: The Columbus Blue Jackets will be in Dallas to take on the Stars, as both teams take the ice tonight with identical 22-15-3 records and 47 points. Columbus is tied with the NY Rangers for third-place in the Metropolitan Division, while the Stars find them selves in fourth-place in the Ventral Division. However, Columbus enters this contest beginning to show the effects of having three of its top nine forwards and a top-four defenseman out with injuries, by losing three in a row (0-2-1) and managing just two wins in its last eight outings (2-4-2). In contrast, the Stars' top performers are doing their jobs and the supporting actors are chipping in as Dallas is climbing up the standings in its division by notching at least a point in six of its last seven games (4-2-1). Tonight, the Stars look to continue that trend and earn a fifth straight victory.
Columbus: “No one’s coming to help us,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told reporters after the 5-0 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. “No one’s feeling sorry for us. The league keeps coming. We’ve got to find a way out of it. It starts with our mentality of who we are as a team.” Columbus won’t have forwards Cam Atkinson (foot), Alexander Wennberg (back) and Brandon Dubinsky (facial fracture) back in the near future while defenseman Ryan Murray (upper-body) could return soon. Left wing Artemi Panarin registered 18 of his team-high 34 points in 15 games during December and reportedly skated with Foligno and rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois as coach John Tortorella shuffled his top two lines at practice Monday. Josh Anderson, who owns a team-high 14 goals, dropped down to team with Sonny Milano and Boone Jenner on the second forward unit.Dallas: The Stars come in 13-6-2 over their last 21 games. Leading scorer Jamie Benn (37 points including 16 goals) owns a six-game point streak, while Tyler Seguin (team- high 19 goals) has five goals in the last five contests. Goaltender Ben Bishop (of Tampa Bay fame) is finding he likes Dallas just fine, boasting a .946 save percentage over his past five outings for . “I think the fans are starting to see that this is a team that has an identity,” Stars head coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters after Sunday’s 6-0 victory over San Jose. “They can see it on the ice, they can see the way we play, and I think they’re really into what we’re doing right now." The pick: Bishop is now 17-10-2 on the season with a 2.55 GAA and .914 SP. However, his opposite number, Sergei Bobrovsky, has just one win (1-2-2) and an .896 save percentage over his last five games..Columbus has allowed 14 goals over its past three games and the Blue Jackets are 3-5-2 over their past 10 games. Meanwhile, the Stars are 14-4-1 on home ice, one of the NHL's best home records, where they are averaging 3.58 GPG. make the Over a 10* play.
|01-02-18||Devils v. Blues -140||Top||2-3||Win||100||13 h 48 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-10-6 New Jersey Devils look to avoid a third consecutive defeat when they continue their four-game road trip Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. New Jersey had its five-game overall winning streak and six-game run at home halted with an overtime setback against Buffalo on Friday and began its trek the following night with a 5-2 loss at Washington. The Devils' 50 points leaves them one point back of the first-place Caps in the Metropolitan Division. St. Louis halted its two-game skid Saturday with a 3-2 triumph over Carolina. The 24-15-2 Blues squandered a 2-0 lead in the second period but Scottie Upshall tallied 8:58 into the third to help give the team just its third victory in 10 games. Like the Devils, the Blues have 50 points, one behind Nashville and two behind first-place Winnipeg in the Central Division.
New Jersey: Travis Zajac celebrated appearing in his 800th NHL game by recording a goal and an assist, matching the point total he produced over his first 20 contests of the season. Also reaching a milestone on Saturday was Marcus Johansson, who registered a pair of assists to increase his career total to 300 points. No. 1 goaltender Cory Schneider has made nine consecutive starts, going 6-1-2 while allowing three goals or fewer in each of the first seven games before yielding four in each of the last two.
St. Louis: Center Brayden Schenn notched an assist on the goal, increasing his team-leading point total to 41 (including 17 goals) while ending his three-game drought. Jay Bouwmeester was activated from injured reserve and returned to the lineup Saturday. The 34-year-old defenseman, who sat out St. Louis' first 21 contests this season after fracturing his ankle during training camp, had missed nine games with a lower-body injury. Blue-liner Alex Pietrangelo collected four assists during his current three-game streak but has gone 20 contests without a goal. Two of Upshall's six goals this season have been game-winners.
The pick: The Devils look to avoid a third straight loss but the Blues have won eight straight games against the Devils dating back to Jan. 21, 2014 and have won 11 of the last 12. In fact, New Jersey hasn't won at St. Louis since Dec. 30, 2008. Why would the Devils win tonight? Make the Blues an 8* play.
|01-01-18||Alabama -1.5 v. Clemson||Top||24-6||Win||100||648 h 46 m||Show|
The set-up: I must admit that I was more than a little surprised that there was so much suspense surrounding the CFP Selection Show back on Dec. 3. Clemson, Oklahoma and Georgia were 'locks,' and everyone knew that. The drama revolved around "Who was No. 4?" Was anyone really all that surprised that the committee chose Alabama, which set up a 'rubber match' contest with Clemson? The Tide and Tigers have met in the lat two championship games, Alabama winning the first 45-40 and Clemson winning the rematch, 35-31. As for Ohio State, not only did the Buckeyes have two losses to the Crimson Tide's one but Ohio State's two losses came at home to Oklahoma (31-16) and at Iowa, 55-24. Then there was the fact that Clemson had embarrassed Ohio State in last year's semifinal game, 31-0. Choosing Alabama over Ohio State to set up Clemson/Alabama III, seemed like a "no-brainer" to me.
Alabama:The Tide opened as the nation's No. 1 team in both preseason polls and stayed there until their loss at Auburn in the team's regular season finale. Alabama relies on an outstanding running game (265.3 YPG ranks 9th) and a dual-threat QB Jalen Hurts (2.005 passing yards with a 15-1 ratio plus 768 YR on 5.6 YPC with 8 TDs) to average 39.1 PPG (11th). Combine that with a defense which allows an FBS-low 11.5 PPG on 258.9 YPG (2nd-best) and it should come as no surprise that Alabama has become a "regular" in the CFP's 'Final 4.' However, Hurts' passing issues popped up again when he went 12-of-22 for 112 yards in the loss to Auburn,.
Clemson: The Tigers have great offensive balance, averaging 244.1 YPG through the air (52nd) and 244.1 YPG on the ground (32nd). That adds up to an offense averaging 35.4 PPG (21st). QB Kelly Bryant is no Deshaun Watson (few are) but he was accurate (67.4%) and productive this season, as he threw for 2,678 yards with 13 TDs and six INTs. Bryant added 646 RY with 11 TDs, helping Etienne (744 YR / 7.2 YPC / 13 TDs) and Feaster (659 YR / 6.4 YPC / 7 TDs) give Clemson a strong rushing attack which ranks 32nd (205.1 YPG). Like Alabama, Clemson has a terrific ""stop unit!" Clemson ranks second (to only Alabama) in allowing 12.8 PPG and the Tigers rank fifth in total defense (277.9 YPG ranks 5th).
The pick: This game should be a "classic" bu then again, one never knows.I realize that Clemson's 'excuse' for losing at Syracuse was that Bryant got hurt during that game but c'mon, 4-8 Syracuse lost all five games after shocking the Tigers (as a 24-point home dog!), allowing 43.2 PPG. Think there is ANY way Alabama would/could lose to Syracuse? It's rare that Alabama comes into a game with a "chip on its shoulder" and with "something to prove." However, that is exactly the case here. I'm "all in" on the Tide. Make Alabama a 10* play.
|01-01-18||Magic +2 v. Nets||Top||95-98||Loss||-105||12 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: The Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets met twice during the first week of the season with the Nets claiming the first meeting on Oct. 20 in Brooklyn 126-121, while the Magic rebounded four days later for a 125-121 win in Orlando. The Magic opened the current season 8-4 but they've dropped 21 of 25 games since that hot start, including Saturday's 117-111 home loss to Miami in which they squandered an 18-point lead. As for the Nets, Brooklyn hasn't been above .500 since it was 3-2 after a upsetting the Cavs at home back on Oct. 25th, a victory that left them 3-2. The teams meet Monday night at Barclays Center for the third time this season and both are fighting to keep themselves out of the basement in the Eastern Conference. The Nets check in at 13-23 and the Magic at 12-25.
Orlando:The Magic still aren't winning but they may finally be getting Aaron Gordon and Evan Fournier going at the same time after injuries hindered each player. Gordon scored 39 points on 14-of-22 shooting against the Heat while Fournier contributed 23 on 9-of-17, their best totals since coming back from calf and ankle injuries, respectively. PF Gordon leads the team in scoring at 18.9 PPG plus adds 7.9 RPG. Swingman Fournier is right behind him averaging 18.3 PPG. Orlando needs those two healthy with center Nikola Vucevic (17.4 & 9.3) lost to a broken hand. Bismack Biyombo has recorded two straight double-doubles and is averaging 11.7 rebounds over the course of three straight starts since Vucevic went down.
Brooklyn: The Nets know all about losing key players to injury, as Jeremy Lin was lost for the season in the team's season opener and DeAngelo Russell (20.9 & 5.7 APG) went down with a knee injury after just 12 games (he's expected back later this month). Currently, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (15.1 & 6.5) is carrying Brooklyn through its rocky stretch, scoring 22 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in Saturday's loss while helping make a tight game of what looked like a blowout early on. "We stayed poised to make a comeback," Hollis-Jefferson told reporters. "That's basketball. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. But for us, now we're definitely competing. It starts with the starting unit, we've got to come out that way. And I feel like the effort's there." He is averaging 17.2 points and 8.2 rebounds over his last five games, leading six active Net players in double digits on teh season.
The pick: The last time the Brooklyn Nets played a home game, they produced their best showing of the season, delivering a resounding 119-84 win over the Washington Wizards on Dec. 22. The Nets will get several chances in the upcoming weeks to produce more home victories starting tonight, as they play eight of their next 10 games at home. Yes, Orlando has lost six straight on the road but the Magic have also won seven of the last nine meetings with the Nets. Make Orlando a 10* play.
|01-01-18||Texas -3 v. Iowa State||Top||74-70||Win||100||11 h 26 m||Show|
The set-up: The Longhorns are coming off an awful 11-22 season, so the team's 9-3 start was a welcome sight. Texas easily handled Alabama 66-50 on Dec 22 in the Vulcan Classic at Birmingham, Al. but Kansas was a little too much for the Longhorns in their Big 12 opener, as they fell 92-86 at home to the Jayhawks on Friday. Texas (9-4 / 0-1 Big 12) will visit Hilton Coliseum on Monday to take on the 9-3 Iowa State Cyclones. Iowa State also lost its Big 12 opener, falling on Friday as well, 91-75 at home against Kansas State.
Texas: The 6-9 Osetkowski (14.8 & 7.8) is the team's leading scorer and guard Andrew Jones is second on the team with 14.1 PPG. Jones sat out four games with a broken wrist but returned against Kansas but was only able to play nine minutes. Jones' status means more will be expected of guards Roach (11.2) and Coleman (8.0 & 4.2 APG). Coleman sure stepped up vs. Kansas, scoring 17 points with five assists plus matched a season high with six boards. Freshman Mohamed Bamba is 6-11 and regarded as one of the top incoming freshmen in the country this season. He set career highs of 22 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks vs. Kansas. He enters averaging 11.8 & 10.2 as well as 4.5 blocks per game.
Iowa State The Cyclones had a nine-game winning streak going before falling to Kansas State in their last outing. Iowa State had to be disappointed by the home loss but freshman Lindell Wigginton (16.2 & 4.2) wasn’t intimidated in his first Big 12 game, scoring 23 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He's one of four starters in double digits, joined by fellow guards Jackson (15.0) and Weller-Baab (12.6-7.4-7.1) plus the 6-9 Lard (10.3 & 6.1), who comes off the bench.
The pick: Texas coach Shaka Smart got an unexpected surprise last June when the 6-11 Mohamed Bamba chose the Longhorns over expected destinations of Kentucky or Duke, as he's transformed Texas into an NCAA Tournament-caliber team. He, plus the 6-9 Osetkowski will make for tough match ups for Iowa State. The 6-8 Solomon Young (6.8 & 5.7) is the Cyclones' tallest starter and 6-9 Cameron Lard, the team's tallest reserve. Hilton Coliseum is a tough venue but Kansas State didn't have much trouble. Texas has lost fout times but all have all come seven points or less and all have come against quality opponents (Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan and Kansas). Make Texas a 10* play.
|01-01-18||Georgia v. Oklahoma +2.5||Top||54-48||Loss||-105||52 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The first of two Jan. 1 CFP semifinal games will take place at the Rose Bowl, as the 12-1 and No.2 Oklahoma Sooners (champions of the Big 12) will take on the 12-1 and No.3 Georgia Bulldogs (champs of the SEC). Both schools went 8-1 in their respective conferences with Oklahoma dominating TCU 41-17 in the Big 12 title game (Sooners also beat the Horned Frogs 38-20 during the regular season), while Georgia avenged its lone regular season loss (40-17 at Auburn), with a easier than expected 28-7 victory over Auburn in the SEC title game.This is not a "traditional Rose Bowl (Big Ten vs. Pac 8, 10 or 12) but it is a meeting of two legendary football programs which will be meeting for the very first time!
Georgia: The Bulldogs feature one of CFB's best ground games, averaging 263.5 YPG (10th). Nick Chubb leads the team with 1,175 rushing yards (6.2 YPC) and 13 TDs, while Sony Michel added 948 rushing yards (7.2 YPC) and 13 TDs of his own. Freshman QB Jake Fromm remains a question mark, as Georgia ranks just 110th with its 170.1 YPG through the air. However, Fromm made few mistakes (five INTs in 230 attempts) and was excellent in the SEC title game, completing 16 of 22 for 183 yards with two TDs and zero INTs. Fromm leads an offense good enough to average 34.9 PPG (23rd). That Georgia D has been terrific, holding opponents to 19 points or less in all but two of the team's 13 games. Georgia will take on Oklahoma's explosive offense allowing an average of just 13.2 PPG (3rd) on 270.9 YPG
Oklahoma: Any discussion of Oklahoma begins with its offense, led by Heisman winner Baker Mayfield. He's thrown for 4,340 yards, while completing 71.0% with 41 TDs and just five INTs (in 369 attempts). Not a single receiver has topped 1,000 yards but 13 different players have caught a TD pass. That group is led by WRs Brown and Lamb plus TE Andrews. That trio has accounted for 21 TD catches. The ground game averages 215.9 YPG (27th) and 5.6 YPC. Anderson leads with 960 yards (5.9 YPC & 11 TDs) but Sermon (710 YR / 6.0 YPC) and Adams (542 YR / 9.2 YPC) are also dangerous. All together, Oklahoma enters averaging 583.3 YPG (tops in the nation) and 44.9 PPG (4th). There have been concerns all season about Oklahoma's defense (Sooners allow 25.0 PPG to rank 50th) but over the final four games of the season, Oklahoma has looked significantly better on the defensive side of the ball, allowing 17.8 PPG.
The pick: Both storied programs Both are playing in the “Grandaddy of Them All” for just the second time. Georgia is making its 21st consecutive (15-5 SU & 14-6 ATS), while it’s 19 in a row for Oklahoma (just 9-9 SU & 7-11 ATS). Not sure those stats mean much here. The Sooners have been a "team on a mission" since its 38-31 home upset loss to Iowa State in early October, capturing eight straight games and going 5-1 ATS its last six. Oklahoma has covered four in a row vs. SEC opponents, including bowl wins over Alabama (45-31 in the 2013 Sugar Bowl) and last year's 35-19 victory over Auburn in the Sugar Bowl. Make Oklahoma an 8* play.
|01-01-18||Sabres v. Rangers OVER 5.5||Top||2-3||Loss||-100||6 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up: The Buffalo Sabres hosted the first Winter Classic back in 2008 and will participate in the event exactly 10 years later on Monday afternoon, when they take on the New York Rangers in frigid temperatures at Citi Field in Queens (it was 10 degrees last night in Times Square for New Year's Rockin' Eve!). The 10-20-8 Sabres are at the bottom of the Eastern Conference with 28 points but have been playing better hockey of late with points in three of their last four games. Meanwhile, the 20-13-5 New York Rangers have earned points in six of their last seven games (4-1-2). The Rangers' 45 points leave them fourth in the top-heavy Metropolitan Division but New York would qualify as a wild card if the season ended right now. The Sabres lost 2-1 in a shootout against Pittsburgh in the inaugural Classic, while the Rangers are making their second appearance in the Winter Classic as well, having beaten Philadelphia 3-2 in the 2012 outdoor event.
Buffalo: Head coach Phil Housley said there is a good vibe around the team and Buffalo is coming off an exciting 4-3, come-from-behind overtime victory at New Jersey on Friday. The hottest player in the league could be Sabres center Jack Eichel, who has scored seven goals in his past six games. Eichel scored two goals Friday, giving him 15 this season. "Most kids, I think, dream of playing in this game, and I was no different," said Eichel, who brings a four-game point-scoring streak into Monday. "I am just so excited to be a part of it." He has taken over the scoring lead (1 5goals & 35 points). LW Evander Kane has registered 11 of his 34 points in the last 12 contests. He also has 15 goals.
NY Rangers: New York will be without Chris Kreider, who is tied for second on the team with 11 goals, for about two months due to a blood clot in his right arm. Mats Zuccarello (team-high 29 points) has not landed on the scoresheet in three games, J.T. Miller has notched one point in five contests, Pavel Buchnevich has gone without a goal for seven matches and Mika Zibanejad is pointless in his last seven outings. New York will need the previously mentioned players and others, to step up.The Rangers are relying a lot on Henrik Lundqvist (422 career wins), who went 5-3-2 with a .936 save percentage in December.
The pick: The Rangers sit just six points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division but they are also just five points above the bottom! This may be a showcase game for the NHL but the Rangers need the two points! Lundqvist is a perfect 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .933 save percentage in outdoor games but I'm expecting this to be an entertaining game with enough goals to make the Over a 10* play.
|01-01-18||Central Florida v. Auburn -10||Top||34-27||Loss||-109||48 h 47 m||Show|
The set-up: The Peach Bowl will be played Jan 1 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, the site of the 2017 National Championship Game. It's quite a story that the UCF Knights, a school that went 0-12 in 2015, will take a 12-0 record into this contest with a chance for the school's first-ever undefeated campaign. UCF"s opponent will be SEC stalwart Auburn (10-3), that came within one win of becoming the first two-loss team to make the four-team CFP field. The Tigers ran out of gas against Georgia in the SEC championship game but still have a chance to win at least 11 games for the third time in the last eight.
Central Florida: UCF will try to complete its historiic season with the head coach that led this team to its remarkable two-year turnaround leaving for Nebraska right after the game. Scott Frost took over a UCF team that was winless in 2015 and turned them into a 12-0 team two years later. The pull to "come home" was too great for Frost to ignore but he will coach the Knights before moving on to his new job. "It’s gonna take us being together every step of the way,” UCF senior linebacker Shaquem Griffin told the Orlando Sentinel. “Ups and down, we’re gonna have to be able to stick it out. Auburn is an amazing team, but we’re an amazing team also.” Dual threat QB McKenzie Milton lead an offense averaging an FBS-high 49.4 PPG. Milton is completing 69.2% for 3,795 yards with 35 TDs and just nine INTs. He's the team's second-leading rusher with 497 yards on 5.3 YPC with seven TDs. Killins is the team's best RB (762 yards on 6.7 YPC with 10 TDs) and WR Smith has 54 catches while averaging 20.0 YPC with 13 TDs. With an offense generating 540.9 YPG (4th) and just under 50 PPG, the defense does not need to be great and that pretty much sums ups UCF's stop unit, which is allowing 25.2 ppg (52nd) on 428.5 YPG (94th).
Auburn:The Tgers lost early on 14-6 at Clemson and 27-23 at LSU but then made a great late-season run, including knocking off No. 1 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama in a three-game span. However, both the games were played in Auburn and after its emotional win over the Tide, the Tigers drew Georgia in a re-match but this time the game was played in Atlanta, a distinct advantage for the Bulldogs. Auburn just ran out of gas in the second half and Georgia pulled away for a 28-7 win. Auburn's had some time off to re-group and brings outstanding offensive balance into this game. The Tigers have run for 228.2 YPG (21st) and pass for 225.8 YPG, leading to an average of 34.4 PPG (25th). QB Jarrett Stidham is completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 2,827 yards with 17 TDs and only four interceptions. RB Kerryon Johnson leads the way with 1,320 yards rushing and 17 TDs. Defensively, Auburn is allowing 17.3 PPG (9th) on and 317.3 YPG (13th). Those numbers are even more impressive when one considers Auburn faced five ranked teams this season, including four games against team ranked in the top-six when they met!
The pick: Clearly, there is a huge difference in class in this game, SEC vs. AAC. However, let's note that the last time UCF came into a bowl of this magnitude riding a 'Cinderella-like season," was in 2013. That year , as 16 1/2-point underdogs, the Knights upset then-No. 6 Baylor 52-42 in the Fiesta Bowl.This year's UCF is better than the 2013 edition, so just maybe it's "deja vu all over again." I will note that Auburn is just 1-3 in bowl games underrMalzahn and that the Tigers, like those Baylor Bears in 2013, come as a top-10 team (No. 7). Make UCF an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Jets v. Oilers -143||Top||5-0||Loss||-143||21 h 22 m||Show|
The set-up: The 22-11-6 Winnipeg Jets (50 points) are in second-place in the Central Division, just a single point behind the division-leading Nashville Predators. The Jets are one of the league's surprise teams, coming off a middling 40-35-7 (87 points) season in which they missed the playoffs. The Edmonton Oilers were one of last year's surprise teams (47-26-9, 103 points) and one of the 'sexier' picks to win the Western Conference this season., However, the Oilers have 'laid an egg,' checking in at 17-18-3 (37 points), which leaves them a distant sixth in the Pacific Division. These two teams meet to close 2017 tonight in Edmonton, after the Jets just won 4-3 in Winnipeg over the Oilers on Wednesday.
Winnipeg: Forward Kyle Connor continues to forge his way into a conversation among the Jets' talented youth, that typically centers around Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers. Connor scored his 12th goal and recorded an assist in the Jets’ 4-2 home victory Friday over the New York Islanders, moving the 21-year-old into the top-10 among NHL rookies with 23 points. “The growth has been spectacular,” Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice told reporters after Friday’s victory in assessing the development of Connor, who recorded five points in 20 games last season. “He’s a completely different player.” Fellow young players Laine (31 points) and Ehklers (30 points) join top scorers Wheeler (10 goals & 44 points) and Schefle (15 goals & 38 points) to give the Jets plenty of firepower. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck is tied for third in the NHL in wins with 20, after making 42 saves in Friday's win (2.45 GAA & .941 SP).
Edmonton: the Oilers have their share of youthful talent, most notably center Connor McDavid, who entered Saturday seventh in the league in points (45). However, Edmonton followed a four-game winning streak by losing 4-3 at Winnipeg on Wednesday and then lost 4-3 in overtime to Chicago at home on Friday. “We were able to come back and earn the point, but it was a frustrating night for our team and for some individuals,” Edmonton head coach Todd McLellan told the media afterward. Center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (15 goals & 29 points) scored a goal with two assists against the Blackhawks, snapping a two-game point drought and giving him seven points in his past six games. Goaltender Cam Talbot allowed four goals for the second consecutive game, dropping his record to 14-11-2 (2.93 GAA & .906 SP), one season after he shared the NHL lead with 42 wins last season.It's rae when teams enjoy playing on New Year's Eve abut it cedrtainly benefits the home team.
The pick: The Jets have outscored Edmonton 9-5 in winning the first two meetings this season but in this quick turnaround "revenge" game from Wednesday, I have to favor the Oilers. After going 25-12-4 at home last season, the Oilers are just 8-10-1 at home this season. However, a win would be just the right way to end a frustrating 2017 so far and jump start the 2018 portion of their schedule. Make Edmonton an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Nets v. Celtics OVER 209.5||Top||105-108||Win||100||20 h 53 m||Show|
The set-up: Star FA acquisition Gordon Hayward was lost in Boston's season opener (a close loss at Cleveland) but got off to a blistering 22-4 start, anyway. However, with the Houston Rockets coming to the TD Garden this past Thursday, the Celtics were in a bit of rut, having gone just 6-6 in their previous 12 games. The Rockets jumped out to a 32-12 lead over the Celtics after the first quarter but then that old "Boston Celtic magic" came into play. The Celtics pulled off the biggest NBA comeback of the season, rallying from 26 points down in the third quarter and leading only once, on Al Horford's basket with 3.7 seconds left in the game, which gave teh Celtics a 99-98 win! The Celtics will try to avoid a letdown from a phenomenal comeback win when they host the 13-22 Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. The Nets have been a busy team, with five games in an eight-day stretch, including four straight on the road capped by Friday's 111-87 victory in Miami, which represents Brooklyn's second-largest margin of victory this season.
Brooklyn: "We weren't perfect but we were more perfect than the other night," coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters after Friday's, referring to a 15-point loss at New Orleans two nights earlier. "The challenge for us is to do it more consistently. That's what we're searching for." Brooklyn's most consistent performer of late has been forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14.8 & 6.3), who made 8-of-9 shots and had 18 points and eight rebounds at Miami. The third-year pro is averaging 16.5 points and 8.3 boards over the last six games and recorded multiple steals in his last two contests. Jefferson is one of six Nets averaging in double digits. This team also knows about losing key players to injury, as Jeremy Lin was lost for the season in the team's season opener and DeAngelo Russell (team's leading scorer at 20.9 PPG through 12 games) was lost to a knee injury. The good news is, he appears to still be on track to return sometime in early-to-mid-January.
Boston: "I've had a few comebacks, but this is a special one. From just how we started, it was just so ugly," guard Kyrie Irving told reporters after a 26-point effort. "They came out firing. We just had to battle back. It took a lot. It took everybody." It was just the second win in the last five home games for the Celtics, who entered Saturday having played two more games than any other team in the league. Marcus Smart chipped in 13 points, six rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals against Houston, but it was his ability to draw two offensive fouls against Rockets superstar James Harden in the closing seconds that made headlines. "It just shows the value of Marcus Smart to our group and what he does for our team. It all started with him in the second half," Horford told the media. "It was just a domino effect. That's how special he is. And when he plays at that level we're just a different team." Irving (24.7 & 5.0 APG) is the clear team-leader but the veteran Horford is the unsung hero, averaging 13.8 PPG but also leading the team in rebounding (7.9) AND assists (5.3).
The pick: Brooklyn has covered the last three trips to Boston and the Celtics barely covered the first meeting between these two this season, winning 109-102 (as a 6 1/2-point choice) at Barlcays Center. Both Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown are playing on gimpy knees and Boston's defense does not figure to be up to snuff. Meanwhile, Brooklyn allows 110.9 PPG on the road, so the play here is a 10* on the Over.
|12-31-17||Bills -3 v. Dolphins||Top||22-16||Win||100||115 h 16 m||Show|
The set-up: AFC East rivals the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins meet Sunday in Week 17 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The 6-9 Dolphins will finish with a non-winning season for the eighth time in the last nine seasons. It's particularly disappointing because the Dolphins lone winning season in that span was last year's 10-6 mark. Miami limps in with losses in seven of its last nine games and the team will miss the playoffs for the 14th time in the last 16 seasons. As for the 8-7 Bills, they find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they remain in contention for a playoff berth entering the final week of the regular season. However, in order for that to happen, the Bills would not only have to win in Miami, they need help. The most direct way to earn a playoff spot, which would end a 17-year drought, would be a Baltimore home loss to Cincinnati. They other path would require Tennessee and the LA Chargers to lose to Jacksonville and Oakland, respectively. "It's exciting, I've got to believe, for this city," Bills head coach Sean McDermott said. "(This organization is) in a position that we haven't been in, this city hasn't been in, for a number of years."
Buffalo:The Bills rank dead last in passing at 175.9 YPG and the running game has fallen off from last year as well, averaging 126.1 YPG (6th), which is down from 164.4 YPG in 2016, which ranked first in the entire NFL. The QB situation is strange, as the team is not sold on Tyrod Taylor but there is no current "Plan B." Taylor completes 62.1% but as noted, the team ranks last in passing yards. He's thrown just 13 TDs but also has just four INTs in 393 attempts. Also, he can make plays with his feet (392 rushing yards on 5.0 YPC) and is also capable of extending plays with his mobility. The defense has not had its best season, allowing 22.9 PPG (18th) on 355.1 YPG (25th).
Miami" Once upon a time, the Dolphins were 4-2 but a 40-0 Thursday night loss at Baltimore sent the team's season on a downward spiral from which it never recovered. Jay Cutler was never the answer at QB and in Miami's first game against the Bills in Buffalo, he was done in by three interceptions. Miami traded away its best (only?) RB before the trade deadline in Ajayi and enters this game 28th with 86.3 YPG on the ground. The Dolphins offense scores a modest 17.7 PPG, which ranks 27th. The defense is Buffalo-like, allowing 24.7 PPG (28th) on 337.3 YPG (18th).
The pick: As noted above, there a few scenarios that could qualify Buffalo for its first playoff berth since 1999 and while none are "all that likely," ALL scenarios involve Buffalo winning here. Miami has 14 players on injured reserve, including six projected Opening Day starters. Two key players listed as questionable for Sunday are running back Damien Williams and rookie CB Cordrea Tankersley. With only 1 TD pass the last two weeks, the Jay Cutler era is ending quietly for the Dolphins and Adam Gase might be tempted to go with Matt Moore, if his foot has healed. The problem there is, he also stinks! The Dolphins are minus-13 in turnover differential, while their 28 turnovers are tied for second most in the league. Throw in that Miami is 5-14 ATS in its last 19 December games and why not take the Bills? Make Buffalo an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Panthers v. Falcons OVER 45||Top||10-22||Loss||-110||115 h 15 m||Show|
The set-up: The 9-6 Atlanta Falcons may never get over having a 28-3 lead in last year's Super Bowl, before losing in OT. However, the team can take a "first step" towards doing just that by winning here at home in its showdown with NFC South rival Carolina. It's hardly been smooth sailing for the Falcons this season but the scenario is quite simple, beat the Panthers and no matter what happens in Seattle, the Falcons will advance to the playoffs as the NFC's No. 6 seed. The 11-4 Panthers have rebounded nicely from last season 6-10 'disaster,' but with a win here and a loss by the Saints (home to the Bucs), Carolina would win the NFC South. Even better, if the Rams lose on Sunday too, the Panthers would wind up with the NFC's No. 2 seed and a first-round bye! Carolina: Cam Newton didn't match his MVP numbers of 2015 but without much offensive help, he's led the Panthers back into the postseason. Newton has 3,122 passing yards with 21 TDs and 13 INTs. He's also the team's leading rusher with 695 yards (5.4 YPC) and six TDs. Stewart has 680 yards rushing but averages just 3.4 YPC. Rookie McCaffrey added 421 yards (2 TDs) but also leads the team with 75 receptions (5 TDs). Carolina ranks 11th with 23.5 PPG and its defense has been very good, allowing just 313.5 YPG (7th) and 20.3 PPG (12th). Atlanta: Despite all the teams ups and downs this season, the Falcons could have captured the NFC South by beating the Saints last Sunday in New Orleans and then beating the Panthers here in Atlanta in Week 17. However, Atlanta was knocked out of contention for the division title with a 23-13 loss at New Orleans last week.That means Atlanta must beat the Panthers here, as they can hardly expect Seattle to lose at home vs. the Cardinals. Matt Ryan has a modest 19 TD passes (with 12 INTs), giving him a QB rating of 91.4. That's quite a drop-off from his MVP numbers of 2016, when he had 38 TDs (17 INTs) and a 117.1 QB rating. Atlanta was the NFL's highest scoring team last season (33.8 PPG) but enters Week 17 averaging just 22.1 PPG (15th). The Atlanta defense has held its own, ranking 11th in allowing 20.3 PPG on 323.1 YPG (10th). The pick: No one is quite sure how Carolina will play this one, as if the Saints win at Tampa Bay, the Panthers can't do much about their playoff seed. However, both of these games start at 4:25 ET. I'm betting the Panthers go "all out" and that's exactly what I expect from the Falcons, as well. Make the Over an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Cardinals v. Seahawks -9||Top||26-24||Loss||-101||115 h 14 m||Show|
The set-up: Arizona's 13-3 regular season and appearance in the NFC championship game seems a lot further away than 2015. The Cardinals beat the Giants 23-0 last Sunday and end their season with a Week 17 viist to CenturyLink Field in Seattle with a chance to finish the year at .500, after climbing to 7-8 with that victory over the NY Giants. Seattle won 21-12 last Sunday in Dallas, despite accumulating just 136 yards of total offense. The victory gave Seattle a 9-6 record but a win here does not ensure a playoff berth. The only way Seattle can make the 2017 playoff field, extending its streak of consecutive playoff appeaarnces to six (assuming the Seahawks win here), is if the Falcons lose to the Panthers in Atlanta (or of course, tie). is if
Arizona: The Cards are relying on Drew Stanton these days at QB and he completed 20 of 34 for 209 yards with two TDs but also two INTs in the 23-0 win over the Giants. A.P. made a big splash when he first arrived but has been on IR since late November. The Arizona rushing game ranks 30th, averaging just 84.7 YPG. Despite a revolving door of QBs due to injury (Palmer, Gabbert and Stanton), WR Larry Fitzgerald checks in with 101 catches and six TDs (he's a remarkable player). Fitzgerald signed a contract for next year but hasn't yet committed to playing despite another standout campaign. The 34-year-old is the fifth player in NFL history to record five straight 100-catch seasons and his first against the Seahawks - provided he doesn't get shut out - will stretch his streak to 211 games with a reception, which would tie Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest in league history. Athe Cards are also allowing 22.5 PPG (17th).
Seattle: The injury-plagued Seattle defense came through last Sunday in Dallas with three sacks, a forced fumble that they also recovered and a pair of INTs, including a 30-yard pick-six from Justin Coleman. QB Russell Wilson has carried this team all season with 3,762 passing yards, 32 TDs and just 11 INTs (94.7 QB rating). He's also the team's leading rusher with 550 yards (6.1 YPC) and three TDs. However, over the last two weeks, he's thrown for just 142 and 93 yards! Seattle's "Legion of Boom" defense has been plagued by injuries but still checks in 13th in both points allowed (20.4 per) and total defense (327.5 YPG).
The pick:Seattle has to win and then hope things turn out well for them in Atlanta but the team has to be concerned that the Cardinals are 3-1 in Seattle during Bruce Arians' tenure.Then again, isn't forewarned, forearmed? Make Seattle an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Browns +14 v. Steelers||Top||24-28||Win||100||112 h 2 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cleveland Browns will meet the Pittsburgh Steelers for this Week 17 game at Heinz Field. Can we actually call it an AFC North rivalry game? At one time it was and there is still likely no love lost between the two teams but with the Browns sitting at 0-15 an d the Steelers at 12-3 (need a win and a New England loss at home to the Jets to earn the AFC's No. 1 seed), the two teams operate in separate 'universes' in NFL 2017. The Browns are down to their last chance to get a win this season, after falling 20-3 at the Chicago Bears last Sunday, while the Steelers come in off clinching a first round bye with a 34-6 win over Houston on Christmas Day.
Cleveland: The Browns have lost five in a row to Pittsburgh, including a 21-18 setback at home in the season opener. Cleveland enters having been limited to 10 points or less in four of its last six games, as QB DeShone Kizer's rocky rookie season continues and will come to an end with this contest. Kizer is completing 53.6% for 171.1 YPG with 9 TDs and 21 INTs (QB rating of 57.9). Running back Isaiah Crowell rushed for a career-best 152 yards in the 2016 regular-season finale against Pittsburgh and has had a decent 2017 season, with 832 yards (4.4). Fellow RB Johnson has just 328 yards (4.3 YPC) but is the team's leading receiver with 68 catches. Speaking of receivers, WR Josh Gordon has been back on the field for the last four games and has 14 catches, while averaging 15.7 YPC. Still, the bottom line is that the Browns rank dead-last in scoring (14.0 PPG) and despite allowing a modest 326.8 YPG (12th), allow 25.5 PPG (30th). A league-high 39 giveaways, including a league-worst minus-28 TO margin, has a way of doing that!
Pittsburgh: Here's the rub. Pittsburgh's only chance at wresting the top overall seed from New England is to have the Patriots lose at home to the New York Jets. Tomlin said it will likely be an "11th-hour decision" as to how much playing time to give his starters but insisted there will be no "empathy" toward the plight of the Browns factoring into his thoughts. "More important than anything is we lay a foundation of our plan and get going in terms of things we need to do to play well. That's always been our mentality," Tomlin insisted. "Those are things (playing) we'll decide later in the week." WR Antonio Brown, who has 101 receptions and NFL-best 1,533 yards, has already been ruled out for the second straight game with a calf injury. Despite his absence, Pittsburgh rolled over Houston 34-6 last week as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 226 yards and two scores, including one to promising rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has 32 of his 49 receptions over his past six games. RB Le'Veon Bell, the NFL's third-leading rusher with 1,291 yards, managed only 32 in the season opener and could be a candidate to sit out or see limited time. It's expected he will and that Big Ben will sit as well. Pittsburgh's defense ranks second in the league with 50 sacks. The defense ranks 4th in yards allowed (302.4 per) and unlike with the Browns, the Steelers allow just 18.9 PPG (5th).
The pick: The Steelers expect the Pats to beat the Jets (both games start at 1;00 ET) but who knows? Still, Tomlin is unlikely to take too many chances. Taht said, the Browns did play teh Steelers close in Week 1 and Pittsburgh has more that its fair share of 'close shaves' against poor team sin 2017. I was able to take 14 points with the Browns and even though that line is long gone, I'm recommending taking the Browns. Remember Crowell's success vs. them l in last season's finale and also note that Josh Gordon has 21 catches in his last two versus the Steelers. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|12-31-17||Cowboys -2.5 v. Eagles||Top||6-0||Win||100||112 h 1 m||Show|
The set-up: Cowboys/Giants and Cowboys/Redskins may be more intense rivalries but Cowboys/Eagles has always been a traditionally heated rivalry in the NFC East, as well/ However, this Week 17 meeting between the two clubs will conclude the 2017 season on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field as almost an afterthought. The 13-2 Eagles have already clinched home-field advantage throughout the postseason following their 19-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Christmas night. As for the 8-7 Cowboys, they were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday after a disappointing 21-12 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
Dallas: The Cowboys just couldn't make the key plays against Seattle last Sunday. Dak Prescott threw for 182 yards and two interceptions, while Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 97 yards on 24 carries in his first game back from his six game suspension. It's frustrating to lose a game by nine points, when Dallas held Seattle to just 136 yards of total offense! Elliott's return from his suspension helped but in the end, turnovers hurt the Cowboys and ultimately ended their hope of a playoff berth. Dak Prescott was intercepted twice and the offense was unable to produce a touchdown. Prescott has tossed 13 interceptions this season against just four a season ago."It's really disappointing," tight end Jason Witten told reporters. "We had a chance and fought there at the end. It's not overly complicated. Opportunities in this league are fleeting. You have to take advantage of them when you can. We just weren't able to do that well enough."
Philadelphia:Nick Foles was brilliant taking over for an injured Wentz against the Giants (237 yards with 4 TDs and 0 INTs for 115.8 QB rating) but that was not the case last Monday night vs. the Raiders. He completed just 19 of 38 passes for 163 yards with one TD and one INT, giving him a QB rating of 59.4. The Eagles gained just 78 yards on the ground, way below the team's average of 136.2 YPG (2nd). In fact, Philly had just 216 yards of total offense (average 375.5 YPG on the season to rank 4th) and team's 19 points were well below the team's average of 30.5 PPG, the second-best total in the NFL. While Philly's offense struggled, the defense rose to the occasion. he Eagles had three INTs interceptions and three forced fumbles. All three were recovered, including a fumble return for a TD for Derek Barnett as time expired. All while holding Oakland to just 274 yards of total offense and a 3 for 13 mark on 3rd down in the win. Philly's defense heads into its final game allowing 19.3 PPG (6th) on 306.9 YPG (5th).
The pick: It's unclear how many snaps the Cowboys' starters will receive given that Sunday's game solely is about pride or for that matter, how the Eagles will handle things with the NFC's No. 1 seed already clinched. However, I'm siding with Dallas, which is playing for nothing but pride. "Zeke" is within 120 yards of joining Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett as the only RBs in Dallas history to begin their careers with consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. As for Dak, the 2016 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, his worst game of the season came in Philly's 37-9 blowout win over the Cowboys in Dallas, when he threw for 145 yards without a TD and three INTs, 'earning' a QB rating of 30.4. Make Dallas an 8* play.
|12-31-17||Savannah State +39 v. Michigan State||Top||52-108||Loss||-105||14 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The No. 2 Michigan State Spartans will play their final non-conference game on New Year's Eve day, welcoming the Savannah State Tigers to teh Breslin Center..No. 1 Villanova lost for the first time this season yesterday at Butler, so Michigan State (BTW...No. 3 and unbeaten Arizona St. also lost Saturday) will almost certainly open the 2018 as the AP's new No. 1 team. The 13-1 Spartans come into this contest having won 12 straight and have reached triple digits in their last three wins. Meanwhile, the Tigers come in off five straight losses, falling to 3-11 on the season.
Savannah State: The Tigers really struggled to shoot the ball during a stretch of four road games over 10 days in mid-December, creating some frustration for head coach Harold Broadnax, Savannah State missed its first nine shots in a 31-point loss to Virginia last time out on Dec. 19, a sign of the fatigue the team was feeling. A pair of 6-5 guards, McClanahan (13.6) and Fenner (10.7) are the only two players averaging in double digits for a team averaging a respectable 79.6 PPG (80th) but on just on 37.8% shooting (347th). Defensively, the Tigers have been in over their heads playing "up in class," and check in allowing 96.8 PPG (351st) on 50.2% shooting (346th)
Michigan State; Tom Izzo (and previous MSU squads) have had good offensive teams before but this year's team is very likely the most-balanced stating-five a MSU team has been. Surely in the Izzo era, as all five starters are scoring in double figures plus izzo is able to go to his bench without seeing too much of a fall-off in point production. 6-7 swingman Bridges (16.8 & 6.8)( is one of the nation's best players and is joined in the starting lineup by guards Langford (14.3) and Winston (12.9 & 6.7 APG) plus big men like the 6-8 Ward (15.0 & 7.3) and the 6-11 Jackson (10.5 & 7.5) Bench players are guard McQuaid (7.2) plus forwards Schilling (3.5 & 3.9) and Tillman (3.4 & 23.8) both are solid interior players who can score in the paint. Michigan State is averaging 86.3 PPG (20th) on 52.3% shooting (2nd) plus as always, Izzo teams play defense.The Spartans are allowing 62.1 PPG (15th) on 33.4% shooting, which ranks first in the nation!
The pick: It's a 12 noon ET start and both teams would likely rather be elsewhere on this day. Is there any reason for Michigan State to "pour it on?" Sure, Izzo is a pro and demands his team play hard but the good news for the Tigers is that the team has finally had a break (last played Dec. 19th) and fresh legs will help the team's shooting and it's effort on defense. Take the HUGE points and make Savannah State an 8* play.
|12-30-17||76ers v. Nuggets UNDER 216.5||Top||107-102||Win||100||13 h 43 m||Show|
|12-30-17||Bruins -163 v. Senators||Top||5-0||Win||100||11 h 48 m||Show|
The set-up: The 20-10-6 Boston Bruins fell 4-3 in a shootout at Washington on Thursday but will head to Ottawa Saturday for a game with the 12-16-8 Senators riding a seven-game point streak (5-0-2). Ottawa is coming off a 5-4 home triumph over Columbus on Friday, in which it overcame a 3-1 deficit by scoring four consecutive goals. Mark Stone netted a tally and set up another as the Senators halted a four-game slide that included a 5-1 setback at Boston just this past Wednesday.
Boston: The Bruins' 46 points has them sitting in third-place in the Atlantic Division. David Backes continued his surge in Thursday's loss, scoring a pair of goals for his third consecutive two-point performance. The right winger has collected three goals and three assists during Boston's 5-0-2 run. Tuukka Rask has been a beast in the crease of late, going 9-0-1 with a 1.41 goals-against average and .946 save percentage in his last 10 starts. "I'm seeing the puck well, making saves," Rask told the team's website after Friday's practice. "As a team, we've played very good hockey, and as I've said before, that's very helpful for goalies. When they clear out the bodies in front of you and if there's any rebounds, they clear out the rebound as well. That's a big part of it."
Ottawa: While the Bruins are currently in good playoff positioning, the Senators' 32 points leaves them 7th in the eight-team Atlantic and well behind in the wild card chase. Mark Stone leads the team with 34 points (15 G / 19 A) and while seemingly unhappy regarding his upcoming contract negotiations, Karlsson is second with 25 points (3 G / 22 A). However, Mike Hoffman (third-leading scorer) has been kept off the scoresheet in each of his last four contests and enters Saturday with a 12-game goal-scoring drought. Stone's goal in Friday's win against the Blue Jackets was his first in 13 games but did give him nine points over his last eight contests.
The pick: The Senators surprised the Bruins 4-2 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring and the Bruins remembered just this past Wednesday, winning 5-1 in Boston. I don't believe the change in venue will help Ottawa much and it's surely no help that the Senators are playing the second of back-to-back games.Boston goalie Rusk is on a roll (see above) and I'm making the Bruins an 8* play.
|12-30-17||Texas A&M v. Alabama||Top||57-79||Loss||-110||10 h 38 m||Show|
The set-up:Texas A&M is off a 16-15 season last year but will open SEC play Saturday in Alabama, off an impressive non-conference run of 11-1 which has teh Aggies ranked 5th in the latest AP poll. A&M's lone loss came back on Dec. 5 at Phoenix, when the Aggies feel 67-64 to Arizona. A&M won four straight since losing to the Wildcats and is coming off an 89-73 win over Buffalo on Dec. 21. The 8-4 Crimson Tide are looking to bounce back from their worst offensive performance of the season, 66-50 loss to Texas on Dec. 22, which marked their fourth loss in seven games. The good news for Alabama fans is, Alabama leads the all-time series 10-5, including a 5-1 mark at home against the Aggies and has won three of the past four meetings.
Texas A&M: The Aggies will be short-handed for this one, as the 6-9 DJ Hogg (14.5 points) serves the second contest of a three-game suspension for violation of school policy and guard Admon Gilder (12.7) is out with a knee injury. A&M is scoring 81.6 PPG (59th) but really shines on the defensive end of the court, holding opponents to 64.4 PPG (31st) on just 36.2% shooting (4th). The Aggies are also an excellent rebounding team thanks to 6-10 center Tyler Davis (13.9 & 8.4) and the 6-10 Robert Williams (7.3 & 10.1). Also, freshman swingman Savion Flagg (8.3 & 5.1 rebounds) has stepped up in Hogg and Gilder’s absence. He was named SEC Freshman of the Week after averaging 16.5 points and nine rebounds in two wins. Also, PG Duane Wilson (12.3 & 4.6 APG) has averaged 19.5 points and seven assists in two games last week.
Alabama:The Crimson Tide have gone 4-2 in contests decided by five points or fewer but that's "living on the edge," especially since the team's top-two scorers are freshman. Guards Collin Sexton (20.5 7 3.5 APG) and John Petty (12.9) lead the way, although Alabama has also gotten good production from 6-9 forward Donta Hall (11.1 & 7.5) and 6-5 swingman Dazon Ingram (10.9 & 6.7). Alabama scores less (76.9 PPG) than A&M and allows more (71.8 PPG).
The pick: I;m not sure the fact that Alabama leads the all-time series 10-5, including a 5-1 mark at home, means all that much.A&M is playing with great confidence and I'll ride them here in making the Aggies a 10* play.
|12-30-17||Washington v. Penn State OVER 55||Top||28-35||Win||100||21 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The University of Phoenix Stadium is the setting for this year's Fiesta Bowl, featuring the 10-2 Washington Huskies and the 10-2 Penn State Nittany Lions. Each school was 7-2 in their respective conference schedules, the Huskies in the Pac-12 and the Nittany Lions in the Big Ten. Washington opened 6-0 but was then upset, losing to Arizona State on October 14. The Huskies won four of their last five games, including an Apple Cup rout of Washington State. Penn State began 7-0 but coughed up a big lead in losing 39-38 at Columbus to Ohio State, then lost the following week 27-24 at Michigan State. Penn State closed out with three straight wins, averaging 52.3 PPG.
Washington: The Huskies have an excellent QB in Jake Browning and a big-time RB in Myles Gaskin. Browning is completing 68.8% for 2,544 yards with 18 TDs and just five INTs. Gaskin (1,282 yards / 6.2 YPC / 19 TDs) leads a ground game averaging 189.8 YPG (38th). Washington will check in averaging 36.9 PPG (16th). Browning has seen a dip of nearly 900 yards and 25 TDs from his phenomenal 2016 campaign, but he is the school's all-time leader with 77 TD passes and is on the verge of becoming its second 9,000-yard career passer. Washington's defense is top-notch, allowing 14.5 PPG (5th) on 278.3 YPG (6th).
Penn State: RB Saquon Barkley was an early Heisman front-runner but he ended the regular season with 1,134 yards (5.7 YPC) and 16 TDs, while catching 47 passes for another 594 yards with three TDs. QB Trace McSorley led the Big Ten in passing (3,228 yards) and added 431 yards and 11 TDs on the ground to pace the nation's sixth-ranked scoring attack (41.6 PPG). The defense checks in allowing 15.5 PPG (7th) on 329.4 YPG (17th).
The pick: Penn State is 9th in the CFP rankings and returns to the area, if not the exact site, of one of its greatest bowl triumphs, the 14-10 victory over then-No. 1 Miami in the 1986 season. Penn State enjoyed a wonderful history in the Fiesta Bowl, going 6-0. Both teams had designs on a berth in the College Football Playoff (Washington for the second straight season) but both suffered two single-digit losses on the road, which was just enough to keep them on the outside looking in. While both teams owns outstanding defenses, expect the offenses to rule the day. Make the Over a 10* play.
|12-30-17||Tennessee +6 v. Arkansas||Top||93-95||Win||100||5 h 38 m||Show|
The set-up: The Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks open their SEC schedules with this afternoon tip from Bud Walton Arena. The Vols are coming off a 16-16 season and were picked 13th in the preseason SEC media poll. Howecver, Tennessee's 9-2 start has them ranked 19th in the latest AP poll. The Vols' SEC opener will be a tough one in Fayetteville, as the Razorbacks are 10-2, are the SEC's highest scoring team at 90.0 PPG (8th in the nation) and check in at 13th in the latest RPI rankings (the Vols are 8th).
Tennessee: The Vols look like a potential cSEC title contender, as their only losses have come against top-10 teams Villanova (85-76) and North Carolina (78-73). Tennessee's list of 'victims' includes nationally-ranked Purdue (78-75 in OT) plus three ACC schools, N.C. State (67-58), Georgia Tech (77-70) and Wake Forest (79-60). Forward Grant Williams is pacing the squad in scoring (15.4 points) and rebounding (6.6) while guard Jordan Bowden (12.0) and small forward Admiral Schofield (11.9 & 5.2) also are averaging double figures. Guards James Daniel (3.6 assists) and Jordan Bone (3.5) are setting the table for the offense, which has recorded assists on 66.9 percent of its made field goals, a rate which ranks only behind SMU (67.8) and Michigan State (67.3) nationally. The Vols can't match Arkansas on the offensive end of the court (Tennessee is averaging 77.5 PPG) but Tennessee is holding opponents to 65.8 PPG (51st) on 39.0% shooting (30th).
Arkansas: Mike Anderson’s Razorbacks are off a 26-win season that ended with a second round loss in the NCAAs. The team enters on a five-game winning streak and checks in at 7-0 SU & 6-1 ATS at home, where Arkansas has outscored opponents 95.0-to-69.4 PPG. Guard Jaylen Barford leads five double-figure scorers with 18.6 points and is shooting a team-best 46.4 percent from three-point range. Guards Daryl Macon (15.3 points), Anton Beard (12.1) and C.J. Jones (10.5) plus forward Daniel Gafford (11.7) also average double digits for the Razorbacks who rank 21st nationally in field-goal percentage (50.3).
The pick: The series is tied at 19 wins apiece but Arkansas has won five straight and six of the last eight, including four straight in Fayetteville. Does that mean the play is on the Razorbacks? Tennessee coach Rick Barnes said in a post-practice news conference Thursday regarding the Razorbacks, “Arkansas is a great transition team which can really explode on you.” The Razorbacks can score in bunches and are a multiple defensive team with a lot of depth. It should be a game that’s really an up-and-down game.” However, Barnes' team ranks ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency and matches up well. Make Tennessee an 8* play.
|12-30-17||Iowa State v. Memphis -4||Top||21-20||Loss||-115||18 h 7 m||Show|
The set-up: 7-5 Iowa State (5-4 in the Big 12) and 10-2 Memphis (7-1 in the AAC) will square off in this year's Liberty Bowl from Memphis, Tn. The Cyclones come in having lost three of their last four games but they own wins at Oklahoma (then-No. 3 in the AP poll) 38-31 and at home '14-7 over TCU (then No.4 in the AP poll). Memphis made it all the way to a second overtime in the most entertaining of all the conference championship games before falling 62-55 at UCF, the lone unbeaten team in FBS. The loss cost the Tigers a chance to go to a New Year's Six bowl.
Iowa State: Senior QB Kyle Kempt had thrown just two passes in his career before taking over for Jacob Park, who went on leave for undisclosed personal medical reasons. His first game was the upset of Oklahoma and he's thrown for 1,473 yards with 13 TDs and just three INTs, since. RB David Montgomery leads the Iowa State rushing attack with 1,094 yards (4.7 YPC) and 11 TDs. Iowa State averages 29.9 PPG (52nd) but has relied more on its defense, which comes in allowing 21.0 PPG (28th) on 368.4 YPG (45th). Iowa State managed to hang onto its head coach, as Matt Campbell (named the Big 12 Coach of the Year) signed a six-year extension worth a reported $3.5 million annually. Campbell's defense limited eight of its last 10 opponents to 20 or fewer points.
Memphis:The Tigers had a great run going with seven straight wins but fell in their last outing to UCF in two overtimes. In that one, Memphis QB Riley Ferguson put up 471 yards and four TDs with one INT but it wasn't enough. Ferguson has 3,971 passing yards with 36 TDs just nine INTs. RB Darrell Henderson is the top Memphis rusher with 1,161 yards (8.9 YPC with 9 TDs) and was supported by Taylor, who ran for 807 yards on 5.8 YPC with 13 TDs. WR Anthony Miller has 92 catches for 1407 yards (15.3 YPC) with 17 TDs. Memphis checks in averaging 47.7 PPG (2nd) on 548.2 YPG (4th).
The pick: Iowa State was "looking good" at 6-2 at the end of October but the Cyclones got off track in their last four games with only a win over Baylor in that time, while scoring 23 points or less three ttmes in that span. Sure, Memphis couldn't best nemesis UCF in two tries but the Tigers come in scoring at least 41 points in seven of their last eight games. Just in case you may not be aware, the Liberty Bowl is Memphis' home stadium. The Tigers enter 22-4 SU at this venue the last three seasons, including 7-0 tn 2017, while outscoring opponents 50.1-to-30.9 PPG. Make Memphis an 8* play.
|12-30-17||Louisville -6.5 v. Mississippi State||Top||27-31||Loss||-115||18 h 38 m||Show|
The set-up: Louisville opened the season ranked No. 16 in the AP's preseason poll and were led by 2016's Heisman Trophy winner, QB Lamar Jackson. However, while Jackson actually improved on his 2016 season (more on that, later), Louisville, was only 4-3 following a 45-42 home upset loss to Boston College on Oct. 14. The Cardinals did finish strong though, winning four of their last five, including their last three. Louisville's opponent in the Taxslayer Bowl (Jacksonville, Fl.) is Mississippi State. The Bulldogs (23rd in the CFP rankings) also come in 8-4 but without two major pieces. QB Nick Fitzgerald was KO'd in the Egg Bowl vs. Ole Miss plus head coach Dan Mullen left to take the Florida job, taking several coaches with him. Running backs and special teams coach Greg Knox will serve as the interim coach, before former Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead takes over the program in 2018. The Cards are 'bowling' for the 8th straight time (4-3 ATS), as are the Bulldogs, who are 5-2 SU in the postseason under former HC Dan Mullen.
|12-29-17||Kansas -2.5 v. Texas||Top||92-86||Win||100||13 h 24 m||Show|
The set-up: The Kansas Jaywhawks opened the year as the AP's -ranked team in it preseason poll. Kansas completed its non-conference schedule 10-2 (ias currently ranked 11th), losing only to Washington and Arizona State in back-to-back games (note: ASU remains unbeaten) .The Jayhawks last played on Dec. 21, routing Stanford 75-54 in Palo Alto. They now open Big 12 play by traveling to Austin to take on the 9-3 Texas Longhorns. The The Longhorns are coming off an awful 11-22 season, so the team's 9-3 start is a welcome sight. Texas last played on Dec 22, beating Alabama 66-50 in the Vulcan Classic at Birmingham, Al.
Kansas:The Jayhawks own quite a starting-five, with all scoring in double digits. Vick (17.1) leads the way, joined in the backcourt by PG Graham (16.8 & 7.6 APG) and Newman (10.4 & 4.8). Up front, it's the 6-8 Mykhailiuk (16.3) and the 7-0 Azubuike (15.5 & 8.0). The Jayhawks average 20 assists per game, which ranks tied for third nationally, and Devonte' Graham (7.6 per game) has an assist-to-turnover ratio approaching 3-to-1. Kansas is averaging 87.5 PPG (13th) on 52.3% shooting (4th). That goes nicely with the team's excellent defensive play, as the Jayhawks are holding opponents to 65.7 PPG (50th) on 38.6% shooting (28th).
Texas: Freshman Mohamed Bamba is 6-11 and he registered 17 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks in the win over Alabama. He's regarded as one of the top incoming freshmen in the country this season but has been somewhat of an enigma to this point. His per game stats (10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 4.3 blocks) are solid but he has not made his teammates better (four assists in 310 minutes) and is shooting poorly from behind the three-point line (3-of-19) and the foul line (61 percent). Returning guards Jones (15.3) and Roach (10.9) are off too good starts, as is the 6-9 Osetkowski (14.6 & 7.8), although he is coming off perhaps his worst game of the season vs. Alabama, an eight-point clunker in which he shot 3-of-11 from the floor and had five turnovers.Texas can't match Kansas on the offensive end (72.2 PPG ranks 233rd and the team's 45.4% shooting ranks166th) but Texas can defend with the best of them. The Longhorns are holding opponents to 60.4 PPG (8th) on 37.4% shooting (10th).
The pick:Texas' three losses have all come seven points or less and all have come against quality opponents (Duke, Gonzaga, Michigan). The Longhorns won't be pushovers but Kansas has won 12 of its last 13 meetings with Texas and just has too much "O" for the Longhorns to keep it close enough. Make Kansas a 10* play.
|12-29-17||USC v. Ohio State -6.5||Top||7-24||Win||100||575 h 27 m||Show|
The set-up: The latest Cotton Bowl will be played on December 29 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, when the 11-2 USC Trojans take on the 11-2 Ohio State Buckeyes. Both schools had designs on making the 2017 CFP's 'Final 4,' as Ohio State opened No. 2 in the AP's preseason and USC began at No. 4..Ohio State and USC each won their respective conference championship games but both also had 'ugly' losses which kept them out a place in this year's Final 4.Ohio State's 55-24 loss Nov. 4 was, in the end, too much for the committee to overlook (Buckeyes ended No. 5 in the final CFP rankings. As for USC., the Trojans were never really considered for a Final 4 spot, as the school's final ranking was No. 8 (USC's 49-14 loss at Notre Dame on Oct. 21 was a deal-breaker). USC and Ohio State have had many memorable Rose Bowl meetings and the hope is that these two powerhouse programs deliver a Cotton Bowl Classic .
USC: After that loss at Notre Dame, the Trojans finished the year on a five-game win streak against Arizona State, Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Stanford (Pac-12 championship game). QB Sam Darnold threw for 325 yards with two TDs. in the win over Stanford. He struggled early (9TDs and 8 INTs thru five games) but over USC's last eight games, he had 17 TDs and just four INTs. RB Ronald Jones is one of the least appreciated RBs in the nation, rushing for 1,486 yards with 18 TDs. USC's offense is just fine (34.5 PPG ranks 24th) but its defense allows 405.5 YPG (78th) and 26.3 PPG (62nd).
Ohio State: Two of the most successful QBs in the nation meet in thsi one, as Sam Darnold's opposite number is Ohio State's J.T. Barrett. He has thrown for career highs of 2,939 yards and 35 TDs (just INTs), while rushing for yards 732 yards (4.9 YPC with 10 TDs). Last year's star freshman RB Mike Weber struggled early with injury issues but checks in with 608 yards on 6.3 YPC and 10 TDs. This year's star freshman has been J.K. Dobbins, who has run for 1,364 yards on 7.5 YPC with seven TDs. Ohio State's great run/pass balance has led to the team averaging 42.5 PPG (5th). Defensively, despite allowing 31 and 55 points in the school's two losses, the defense is allowing 19.9 PPG on the season (22nd)
The pick: This will be the 24th matchup between the schools with rich football histories with seven of the previous games coming in the Rose Bowl (USC won four of those). If one believes in series history, the Trojans enter this contest having won seven straight meetings, including the last showdown in 2009 when they defeated the Buckeyes 18-15 in Columbus. However, that means these schools haven't met in almost 10 years, so how much do past meetings really mean? USC 'limps' in just 3-9-1 ATS this season (talk about underachieving) and just 1-4 ATS in its last five bowl games. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are 6-1 ATS in their last seven neutral-site games and 10-2-1 ATS in their last 13 versus the Pac-12. Make Ohio State a 10* play.
|12-29-17||Mavs v. Pelicans -6.5||Top||128-120||Loss||-108||13 h 30 m||Show|
The set-up: The New Orleans Pelicans traded for DeMarcus Cousins around last year's All Star break, banking that he and fellow former Kentucky Wildcat Anthony Davis would form a 'Twin Towers' duo that would make the Pelicans relevant in the Western Conference. It's likely true that the Pelicans will only go as far as Davis and Cousins can take them but the hope is also that PG Rajon Rondo is capable of pushing the two big men to even greater heights. Rondo became the seventh player in NBA history, the first since 1996 and the first in franchise history to hand out 25 assists in a game when he hit that mark in a 128-113 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday. "The number one thing is we got the win," Rondo told reporters. "And then me personally, I love passing the ball. When everyone touches the ball, it gives you energy and life on defense. That's what I'm a big believer in, giving everyone touches and energy on both ends of the floor." The 18-16 Pelicans will welcome the t11-25 Dallas Mavericks to teh Soothie King Center on Friday, looking for a fourth consecutive win. The Mavericks still own the worst record in the Western Conference but just finished holding a pair of high-powered offenses in check in wins over Toronto and Indiana. Wednesday's 98-94 triumph at the Pacers snapped an eight-game road losing streak for Dallas, which comes to New Olreans with a 3-14 SU road record on the season.
Dallas:Toronto averages 110.6 points but was held to 93 by Dallas on Tuesday before Indiana, which averages 107.5 points, was held under 95 on Wednesday. “We stuck with it,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle told reporters after beating Indiana. Offensively, 39-year-old forward Dirk Nowitzki showed little wear on the back-to-back and scored a combined 33 points on 15-of-23 shooting in the two wins. However, getting back to reality, Nowitzki is averaging only 12.1 & 5.5 on the season and Dallas struggles on offense, averaging only 99.9 PPG, which ranks 27th of 30 teams.
New Orleans: Even 24 hours later, all anyone associated with the New Orleans Pelicans could talk about after practice on Wednesday was the dazzling passing display from point guard Rajon Rondo, who set career and franchise records with 25 assists in a 128-113 victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday night. "We call him 'Coach' Rondo," said Pelicans guard E'Twaun Moore, who benefited from Rondo's passing prowess by going 8 of 11 from the floor and scoring 20 points in the victory over Brooklyn. "He's always orchestrating and putting people in the right places." However, let me again offer a reality check. Injuries have limited Rondo to just 20 games this season and he averages 6.8-4.0-8.3, so he's not exactly Russell Westbrook. The Cousins (25.9 & 12.1) and Davis (25.6 & 10.4) duo is backed by guard Holiday (18.1-4.3-5.3), who is quite the complete player. New Orleans has no trouble scoring, averaging 111.1 PPG (3rd) on 49.1% shooting (2nd). However, the team's defense leaves a lot to be desired, allowing 110.9 PPG (29th).
The pick: It's difficult to ignore Dallas' 3-14 SU road record plus the Pelicans come in with a 6-2 ATS record their last eight. Three Pelicans are averaging 20-plus points this month, Cousins (27.3), Davis (25.1) and Holiday (22.2) plus Rondo's return has solidified the backcourt, as he's averaging 8.3-5.1-9.8 in December. Lay it with New Orleans, making the Pelicans a 10* play.
|12-29-17||Penguins v. Hurricanes OVER 5.5||Top||1-2||Loss||-115||12 h 60 m||Show|
The set-up: The two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins are struggling so far in their bid for a "Three-Peat." However, they are coming off a win that many of their players felt was their biggest of the season.The Penguins erased a two-goal deficit on three occasions and eventually prevailed 5-4 in a shootout over Columbus on Wednesday..Unfortunately, the afterglow of the come-from-behind victory did not last long. Goalie Matt Murray will be among four players sidelined when 19-16-13 Pittsburgh opens a three-game road trip at the resurgent Carolina Hurricanes on Friday night. 17-12-7 Carolina has turned things around since a four-game skid early in the month, winning three straight and six of seven to move into a tie with Pittsburgh (both clubs have 41 points) for sixth place in the Metropolitan Division (with two games in hand).
Pittsburgh: Star defenseman Kris Letang missed Wednesday's 5-4 shootout victory over Columbus. However, the victory came at a cost as Murray, forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Chad Ruhwedel suffered injuries, with the latter two expected to miss significant time. Murray (upper body) missed the first six games this month due to a lower-body injury and is listed as day-to-day but has been ruled out Friday along with Letang. Rust was listed as longer-term and Ruhwedel is week-to-week, both with upper-body injuries. Tristan Jarry, who started all six games when Murray was hurt, is 5-2-2 with a 2.43 goals-against this season and will get tonight's start.
Carolina: The Hurricanes' turnaround has been sparked by veteran goalie Cam Ward, who seemingly had been relegated to backup goalie status before winning five consecutive starts as part of a seven-game point streak (6-0-1) in December. He has started three in a row for the first time this season and surrendered just four goals. At the other end of the ice, the biggest boost for the Hurricanes during their successful run has been production on the power play. They have four power-play goals in a three-game span, following a five-game stretch without any power-play goals.
The pick:This is the first of four meetings between Pittsburgh and Carolina this season. The Penguins went 4-0-0 last season against the Hurricanes.Pittsburgh will arrive in Charlotte with the NHL's second-best power play (converting on 25.2 percent) and that unit will test Ward. I realize Jarry's numbers look fine but Pittsburgh likley can't wait for Murry to be get back between the pipes. The Over is a 10* play.
|12-29-17||Kentucky v. Northwestern -7.5||Top||23-24||Loss||-110||19 h 2 m||Show|
The set-up: The Kentucky Wildcats enter this bowl game 7-5 but sure don't head into it with much momentum. The Wildcats lost four of their last six games but still have, with a victory, a shot at eight wins for the first time since 2007. However, Kentucky hasn't won a bowl game since the 2008 season. The Wildcats will square off with the 9-3 Northwestern Wildcats in the Music City Bowl at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Northwestern enters this game on a seven-game winning streak and has a shot at double-digit wins for the third time in the last six years. However, the Wildcats are just 3-10 all-time in bowl appearances. These two Wildcat schools have only one prior meeting (way back in 1928!) and while Northwestern is making its first trip to the Music City Bowl, this is Kentucky's fifth.
Kentucky:The Wildcats ended the regular season with four losses in six games, including a 42-13 loss to Georgia and a 44-17 loss to Louisville. QB Stephen Johnson is completing 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,048 yards, 10 TDs and four INTs. The Kentucky Wildcats ground game is averaging 169.8 YPG (57th), led by sophomore RB Benny Snell, Jr. Snell ran for 1,091 yards as a freshman and surely had no sophomore jinx, running for 1,318 yards on 5.1 YPC with 18 TDs. However, Kentucky's 25.8 PPG (84th) hardly makes up for a defense allowing 28.6 PPG (80th) on 425.7 YPG (90th).
Northwestern: QB Clayton Thorson is completing 60.6 percent of his passes for 2,809 yards with 15 TDs and 12 INTs. The ground game is averaging 160.9 YPG (70th) and Justin Jackson leads the way with 1,154 yards (4.5 YPC) and nine TDs. The senior has topped 1,000 rushing yards in each of his four seasons at Northwestern. The Wildcats average 29.7 PPG (52) and unlike Kentucky, have a strong defense, allowing 19.8 PPG (16th) on 358.8 YPG (37th)..
The pick: "That bad taste in our mouth from that last game hasn't gone away," Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson said, speaking of the team's 44-17 rout at the hands of in-state rival Louisville. "A lot of us are really trying to go out and get this win. Last year, we were really excited because we beat Louisville, our rival, and now we have that bad taste in our mouth and we are eager and anxious to go out and win that last game." Northwestern has won seven consecutive games - its longest winning streak since the memorable Rose Bowl run in 1996 - and is also a perfect 7-0 ATS, as well. Northwestern also has a chance to cap off a successful campaign by posting back-to-back postseason victories for the first time in program history. The Northwestern defense is for real, allowing only 20 points in its last three games, and it faces a Kentucky team that is 2-9 ATS its last 11 outside the SEC. Meanwhile, Pat Fitzgerald’s team won all seven games last season by seven points or more and has won all nine this year by at least a TD. Lay the points and make Northwestern an 8* play.
|12-29-17||NC State -6.5 v. Arizona State||Top||52-31||Win||100||18 h 56 m||Show|
The set-up: The 8-4 NC State Wolfpack (6-2 in the ACC) will take on the 7-5 Arizona State Sun Devils (6-3 in the Pac-12) in the Sun Bowl from El Paso, Texas. North Carolina St surprised many by challenging Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division crown and has a shot at its first nine-win season since 2010. The Wolfpack finished No. 24 in the final College Football Playoff rankings. The Sun Devils averaged 40 points while winning three of their last four games to reach bowl eligibility but head coach Todd Graham was fired at the end of the regular season. However, he is staying on with his staff to coach the bowl game, with Herm Edwards set to succeed Graham as Arizona State's new head coach.
NC State:QB Ryan Finley has 3,200 yards passing (63.9%) with 16 TDs and just six INTs. WRs Harmon an Meyers combined for 121 catches with each snaring four TD throws. TE Samuels led the team with 69 catches (4 TDs) but also was a short-yardage back, leading the team with 11 rushing TDs. RB Nyheim Hines rushed for a team-high 1,040 yards and nine TDs, for a ground game averaging 177.8 YPG (51st). The Wolfpack enter the game averaging 30.6 PPG (49th). The defense allows 24.8 PPG (50th) on 377.2 YPG (54th). The Wolfpack gave up just under 25 points per game, while giving up 377 yards of total offense per game this season. Senior defensive end Bradley Chubb leads the defense. He's a consensus All-American, winning the Bronko Nagurski and Ted Hendricks awards as the best defensive lineman in the nation. He has 60 tackles for losses, including 26 sacks, in his career.
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are in their fifth bowl game in the last six seasons but ASU's inability to get to the Rose Bowl since 1997, plus a general downward trend, cost Graham his job. The Sun Devils had 28 victories in his first three seasons after replacing Dennis Erickson and reached the Pac-12 championship game in 2013, but they have only 18 wins over these last three seasons. QB Manny Wilkins is a dual threat. He's completing 63.5 percent for 2,918 yards with 17 TDs and just five INTs. He also has 269 rushing yards (6 TDs), to go along with RBs Richard (972 yards / 5.7 YPC / 12 TDs) and Ballage (657 yards & 6 TDs). WRs Harry and Williams have combined for 132 catches for 13 TDs. ASU has a nice pass (247.7 YPG)/run (180.7 YPG) balance, leading to 31.9 PPG (40th. )New head coach Herm Edwards is keeping most of the coaching staff but defensive coordinator Phil Bennett elected to leave. Maybe with good reason, as ASU is allowing 31.2 PPG (88th) on 447.2 YPG (110th).
The pick: The argument for ASU would be that the team is "circling the wagons" one last time for Graham. I'm not buying it, as NC State is easily the superior defensive team and Finley gets to throw against a pass defense ranked 118th, allowing 268.1 YPG. Make NC State an 8* play.
|12-28-17||Maple Leafs -169 v. Coyotes||Top||7-4||Win||100||20 h 36 m||Show|
The set-up: The Toronto Maple Leafs continue their five-game road trip Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes. Toronto (22-14-1) had lost four straight in opposing rinks before posting a 3-2 victory over the Rangers in New York on Saturday. Auston Matthews scored the winning goal and added an assist, after missing six games with a concussion as the Maple Leafs improved to 1-1-0 on their current trip. The 9-25-5 Coyotes are coming off their second win in three games, a 3-1 triumph at Colorado on Wednesday that earned them a split of the home-and-home set. Arizona is looking to complete a sweep of the season series, after posting a 4-1 victory at Toronto on Nov. 20 .
Toronto: William Nylander (7 goals & 18 assits) also registered a goal and an assist against New York, giving him two of each during his three-game point streak. Center Mitch Marner (4 goals and 22 assists) also is riding a three-game point streak during which he has recorded two goals and four assists. James van Riemsdyk leads the team with 16 goals but has recorded just one in his last five contests. However, the bottom line is, the Maple Leafs need Matthewsz in the lineup. He has missed 10 games this season, first with a probable back injury and most recently with concussion symptoms. The difference he makes was readily apparent Saturday night when he notched a goal and an assist as the Leafs snapped a four-game road losing streak with a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers. Despite the limited playing time, he still has 14 goals and 14 assists in 27 games. "I feel good," said Matthews. "I don't think it (the concussion) is really something you talk about every day but I feel good and back to normal. It's in the past now."
Arizona:Cllayton Keller (13 goals & 17 assists) enters Thursday with a six-game point streak after notching an assist against the Avalanche. The 19-year-old rookie, who leads Arizona with 30 points, has collected two goals and five assists - one in each of his last five contests - during his run. Lawson Crouse, who was recalled from Tucson of the American Hockey League a day earlier, scored his first goal of the season on Wednesday after going seven games without a point during a stint with the Coyotes in October. Head coach Rick Tocchet fields a young team and the results have been decidedly mixed. Arizona endured a seven-game losing streak encompassing the first three weeks of December but have won two of their past three, including a 3-1 road victory over Colorado last night, five days after being routed by the Avalanche 6-2 at home.
The pick: Toronto, which sits second behind Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division with 45 points (although the Lightning have 54!) and has spent much of the month of December on the road, playing seven of 10 games away from the Air Canada Centre. Can Toronto win consecutive games away from home for the first time since the end of November? Why not, the Coyotes played (and won) last night and are looking for their first win of the season in the second of back-to-back games, having posted an 0-5-1 mark thus far. make Toronto an 8* play.
|12-28-17||Michigan State v. Washington State OVER 47||Top||42-17||Win||100||20 h 35 m||Show|
The set-up: This year's Holiday Bowl from San Diego will feature 9-3 Michigan State (7-2 in the Big Ten) and 9-3 Washington State (6-3 in the Pac 12). Michigan State bounced back from last season's awful 3-9 season to make a run at the Big Ten's East Division. The Spartans finished with three wins in their final four games (checking at No. 16 in the last CFP rankings), including an impressive 27-24 home win over then-No. 7 Penn State on Nov. 4. However, the very next Saturday, the Spartans were crushed 48-3 at Columbus and wound up one game back of the 8-1 Buckeyes, who went on to win the Big Ten championship game. The Cougars ended the 2016 season with three straight losses (including a bowl loss to a depleted Minnesota team) but opened 2017 in the AP's top-25 poll at No. 24 and closed at No. 21 (Washington St. is 18th in the latest CFP rankings).
Michigan State: The Spartans have been up and down offensively this season. The passing game averages 215.4 YPG (76th) and the ground game 162.9 YPG (67th). QB Brian Lewerke has thrown for 2,580 passing yards and 17 TD (just six INTs) but note that 845 of those yards and six of his scoring passes came over a two-game span bridging October and November (445 yards at Northwestern and 400 yards at home against Penn St.). Similarly, leading rusher LJ Scott (785 yards / 4.3 YPC / 6 TDs) gained 341 and had three TDs in two wins, at Minnesota and home against Maryland. Looking back at his season and we find that he had fewer than 40 yards rushing in four games this season. Teams coached by Mark Dantonio have always been known for defense and this yera's Spartans come in 9th in total defense (297.4 YPG allowed) and 24th in scoring defense at 20.2 PPG.
Washington State: The Cougars will challenge MSU's defense with one of the best offensive passing attacks in the country (374.8 YPG ranks 2nd), led by their record-setting QB, Luke Falk, who has thrown 3,593 yards with 30 TDs and 13 INTs (he became the Pac-12's all-time career passing leader in November)..Falk has thrown to a deep group of receivers throughout his three seasons as Washington State's starting QB, while operating behind a stout offensive line. This season's leading receivers for the Cougars has been Tavares Martin Jr. (70 catches / 9 TDs), Isaiah Johnson-Mack (60 catches / 5 TDs) and Kyle Sweet (50 catches / 2 TDs). Then there is RB Jamal Morrow who had 56 catches and four TDs. However, the Cougars' running game ranks 129th, averaging a woeful 71.1 YPG. WSU averaged 38.2 YPG but this year's team checks in at a more modest 31.4 per. A challenge will be that Tavares Martin Jr. was dismissed from the team and Isaiah Johnson-Mack left the program. However, that doesn’t mean the team won’t continue to go to the air, especially with seven players remaining that have caught 24 or more passes this season. Mike Leach has always been known for his "Air Raid" offense but after his first three Washington St. teams allowed 33.7, 32.5 and 38.6 PPG, his next two dipped under the 30 PPG mark. This year's unit checks in at 24.4 PPG (45th) and in allowing only 313.9 YPG, ranks 13th.
The pick: Washington State was 6-0 and ranked 8th in the country after beating Oregon 33-10 on October 7. However, the Cougars were "no-shows" at Cal the following week in a 37-3 loss. Two weeks after that, they gained 653 yards at Arizona, yet lost by 21! Washington was still alive for the Pac-12 North title its final game against Washington (Apple Cup) but were humiliated 41-14. Welcome to Mike Leach's world. This is nothing new! Michigan State will be 'bowling' for the 10th time in the last 11 seasons but head coach Mark Dantonio still feels a bit slighted nationally. When unranked Michigan (the school's biggest rival which lost to the Spartans this year) was selected for a New Year's Day bowl rather than MSU, it didn't sit well. Dantonio got into a bit of a Twitter war with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh about the perceived snub and many of the Michigan State players made their unhappiness known as well. Something tells me MSU is out to prove something here and Washington St. needs to wash the bitter taste out of its mouth after a second staright embarrassment in the Apple Cup. What's in store? How about an 8* play on the Over.
|12-28-17||Stanford v. TCU -3||Top||37-39||Loss||-109||20 h 30 m||Show|
The set-up: The 9-4 Stanford Cardinal and the 10-3 TCU Horned Frogs meet Thursday in the Alamo Bowl, fittingly played at the Alamodome. Both team's lost in their respective conference championship games. Stanford in the Pac-12 (to USC) and TCU in the Big 12 (to Oklahoma). The Cardinal are 4-2 in bowls under head coach David Shaw and a win would also give Stanford at least 10 wins for the sixth time in Shaw's seven seasons. A victory would give TCU at least 11 games for the 12th time in school history and for the 10th time under head coach Gary Patterson.
Stanford: Bryce Love is arguably the best RB in college football (maybe, not many would argue). He was a Heisman finalist and enters this game with 1,973 yards (8.3 YPC) and 17 TDs. The problem was, the Cardinal's offense was fairly one-dimensional before K.J. Costello took over as the starting QB late in the season (replacing Keller Chyrst) and finished with a total of 11 TDs against just two INTs. Costello’s favorite targets are wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside (43 catches / 16.7 YPC / 6 TDs) and TE Dalton Schultz, an All-Pac-12 First-Team selection. Stanford will check in averaging 32.0 PPG (39th), a good number when the team's defense is allowing just 21.5 PPG (29th).
TCU: QB Kenny Hill is completing 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,838 yards with 21 TDs and just six INTs. TCU averages 237.7 YPG through the air and that's balanced nicely by ground game that is averaging 176.3 YPG (52nd). RB Darius Anderson led the way with 768 yards (6.0 YPC) and eight TDs but an injury in the Big 12 title game will keep him out here. The Horned Frogs are scoring 33.2 PPG (33rd) and play defense even better than Stanford, allowing 17.6 PPG (11th) on 328.5 YPG (18th). In fact, TCU had five All-Big 12 First-Team selections on defense, including DEs Mat Boesen and Ben Banogu, LB Travin Howard, safety Nick Orr and CB Ranthony Texada.
The pick: Two of TCU's three losses came to Oklahoma and the San Antonio location won't hurt the team from Fort Worth. TCU's elite rush defense will get its toughest test here vs. Love but it has allowed just 99.8 YPG (4th) on 3.2 YPC (eighth in the nation). Stanford's an old-school grind it out team and TCU's defense should handle that better than it did Oklahoma's high-powered passing game. Make TCU an 8* play.
|12-28-17||Wolves v. Bucks -2.5||Top||96-102||Win||100||19 h 37 m||Show|
The set-up: The Minnesota Timberwolves are "making a move" with a five-game winning streak as they go for a sixth consecutive win Thursday night in Milwaukee.The Timberwolves are 22-13, which gives them the West's fourth-best record, a heady place for a franchise which last made the playoffs back in the 2003-04 season. The 17-15 Milwaukee Bucks will try to slow down the T-wolves, as well as halt a stretch during which they have lost five of their last seven games. Giannis Antetokounmpo (knee) is expected to play, though the club is closely monitoring the injury that caused him to miss Saturday 's game.
Minnesota:The Timberwolves made more than a few moves in the off-season but none was bigger than the acquisition of three-time All-Star Jimmy Butler. He has helped spur the team's improvement, this season and he scored a season-high 39 points in Wednesday's 128-125 overtime win over Denver. Butler is a big reason why a club that hasn't made the playoffs since 2004 is nine games above .500 at the 35-game mark. "He's got an unbelievable will to win, and that's what makes him so special," Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau told reporters of Butler. "When his best is needed, he's always at his best. Always been that way, and that's not going to change." Butler (21.2-5.5-4.8) is now leading the team in scoring but he's hardly the only newcomer contributing. PG Jeff Teague (13.4 & 7.3 APG), PF Gibson (11.8 & 8.1) and reserve gauard Crawford (10.0) are all making solid contributions. Then there are the etam's two standout holdovers, Anthony -Towns (20.3. & 11.7) and Wiggins (17.6 & 4.0).
Milwaukee: Antetokounmpo (29.5-10.4-4.6) played through the pain on Tuesday and scored 28 points on 11-of-17 shooting to mark his 22nd consecutive 20-point effort. Coach Jason Kidd said the club will remain proactive in its observation of the 23-year-old star, who ranks second in the NBA with an average of 29.5 points. Kidd was less than thrilled with the club's rebounding in Tuesday's 115-106 loss to Chicago, saying, "That's just who we are, we can't rebound the ball. We just hope and pray that someone gets it. When that happens, we're going to get killed, and we got killed again." Milwaukee swingman Khris Middleton () was just 5-for-18 in the loss (16 points), after averaging 29.5 over the previous two contests.
The pick: Thee could be bad news for Minnesota, as PG Teague (left knee) departed Wednesday's game in the fourth quarter and will undergo an MRI exam on Thursday. I like Minnesota but have become leery (and weary) of trusting them. Many expected the Bucks to emerge as a rising power in the Eastern Conference but instead, they have been something of an enigma; capable of dominant performances against the league's better squads while looking flat-out overwhelmed against some of its' worst. The Bucks have won five of the last six meetings with the T-wolves and I'm expecting Milwaukee's "A-game" in this one. Make the Bucks a 10* play.
|12-28-17||Valparaiso +1 v. Indiana State||Top||64-73||Loss||-110||18 h 31 m||Show|
The set-up: The 9-4 Valparaiso Crusaders are off a 73-60 loss at UC-Riverside on Dec. 20 and will look to get back on the winning track Thursday night at the Hulman Center when they take on the 5-7 Indiana State Sycamores, who lost their second straight game 73-68 this past Friday at Elon. Valpo has won 28, 30 and 24 games the previous three seasons but first-year head coach Matt Lottich lost four starters off last year's team, including the irreplaceable Alec Peters. Indiana State is off an 11-20 season and had won just 15 games each in the previous two seasons.
Valparaiso: This year's team has been led by returning guard Tevonn Walker (16.4 & 5.8) plus Joe Burton, a 6-10 trdansfer from Oklahoma Sttae, who sat out last year. Burton is averaging 11.5 PPG and 3.4 RPG but is currently suspended. Walker has missed some games with mono but is expected back here and is joined in the backcourt by PG Evelyn (10.4 & 3.6 APG). Valpo hasn't scored like in recent years but the team is allowing a modest 65.8 PPG (56th).
Indiana State:The Sycamores are a perimeter-oriented team, with guards Jordan Barnes (17.1 & 4.3 APG), Brenton Scott (13.8 & 5.7) Qiydar Davis (10.9 & 5.4) checking in with double digtts, while Tyreke Key (9.2 & 3.8 rpg) just misses. However, this team is the very definition of average, scoring 74.9 PPG (185th) and allowing 74.7 PPG (229th).
The pick: The return of Walker is important for Valpo and this middle-of-the-pack MVC team won't put up much of a fight, even at home. Make the Crusaders a 10* play.
|12-28-17||Virginia Tech v. Oklahoma State -5.5||Top||21-30||Win||100||16 h 51 m||Show|
The set-up A pair of 9-3 teams will square off in the Camping World Bowl on Thursday in Orlando. Both the No. 22 Hokies and No. 19 Cowboys opened 7-1 and both flirted with CFP hopes. However, each faltered in November (each went 2-2), proving they didn't belong. The reward is a trip to 'Disney World.'' Mason Rudolph (QB at Oklahoma State) was once recruited by Virginia Tech, while current Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente, once a highly recruited QB in the state of Oklahoma, was recruited by Gundy, who was then a graduate assistant with the Cowboys. Hokies offensive line coach Vance Vice played with Gundy in Stillwater from 1986-88 where the two won the 1987 Holiday Bowl and 1988 Liberty Bowl alongside Thurman Thomas and Barry Sanders. The schools ]have only met twice before, with each winning once. Virginia Tech: The Hokies' 7-1 start was derailed by losses at Miami (28-10) and Georgia Tech (28-22) but Virginia Tech finished up with wins over Pitt and Virginia. Freshman QB Josh Jackson has thrown for 2,743 yards with 19 TDs and eight INTs. He gets very little help from his running game, as no RB has as many as 450 yeards but the team has managed to average 167.2 YPG (61) and overall, Va. Tech averages 28.8 PPG (62nd). The fact that Travon McMillian, who led the Hokies in rushing (439 yards), has decided to transfer and will not play, won't really hurt. Veteran DC Bud Foster is still around to work his magic and the Hokies allow just 13.5 PPG (5th) on 305.2 YPG (11th). Another edge the Hokies often hold over opponnets is special teams, as they rank in the top-30 nationally in all four major special teams categories – punts, punt returns, kickoffs and kickoff returns. Oklahoma State: QB Mason Rudolph comes in completing 65 percent of his passes for 4,553 yards with 35 TDs against nine INTs. He led FBS in passing yards and points responsible for per game (22.5). He has two extremely talented tragets, as WRs Washington and Ateman have both have over 1,000 yards. Washington has 69 catches (20.6 YPC / 12 TDs) and Ateman 54 catches (19.4 YPC / 8 TDs). Sophomore RB Justice Hill ran for 1,347 yards, the most by a Cowboy in five years, averaging 5.5 YPC with 14 TDs. and 14 TDs. It all adds up to an offense averaging 46.2 PPG (3rd) on 578.9 YPG (2nd). However, the team's Achilles Heel is a defense allowing 30.1 PPG (86th) on 400.2 YPG (75th). OSU's final two losses both came at home when the Cowboys allowed 62 points to Oklahoma and 45 points to Kansas State. The pick:This will be the Hokies' 25th consecutive bowl game but in the end, I believe Oklahoma's State's offense is just too much. The Cowboys put up at least 40 points in each of their last five games, while.the Hokies' offensive scored just 30 points over their last two games and no more than 22 in any of their last four (15.5 PPG in that span). Make Oklahoma State a 10* play.
|12-27-17||Cavs -9.5 v. Kings||Top||95-109||Loss||-110||15 h 5 m||Show|
The set-up: The Cavs lost the opener of their three-game road swing on Christmas Day in Oakland 99-92 against the Curry-less Warriors. It was just the team's third loss in its last 22 games. It's not hard to believe that the Cavs would have loved to get the best of the Warriors in Monday's game, a rematch of teams that have met in each of the past three NBA Finals. However, Cleveland's 31.8 percent shooting percentage was the lowest of the season by a Warriors' opponent and star LBJ had a sub-par performance (7-of-18 shooting for 20 points). The Cavaliers hope to bounce back here against a Sacramento team that was awful in last night's 122-95 road loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The 11-22 Kings are opening a six-game homestand but are only 5-8 at the Golden 1 Center.
Cleveland: LeBron has scored at least 20 points in 17 consecutive games but Monday's outing marked just the third time all season that he shot less than 40 percent from the floor. However, while LBJ (28.1-8.1-9.1) was off his game, Kevin Love (20.1 & 10.4) was outstanding with 31 points and a season-high 18 rebounds for his third 30-point performance of the season.The bigger problem vs. the Warriors was Cleveland's reserves. Normally, Cleveland's reserves average about 40 points per game on 45 percent shooting but against Golden State they struggled to contribute only 21 points on 6-of-26 shooting. As for Cleveland's defense, or lack of it, the Cavs will have to improve on it if the team hopes to challenge the Warriors. Cleveland is allowing 107.3 PPG (23rd) on 46.8% shooting (25th).
Sacramento: The Kings allowed 71 first-half points against the Clippers and coach Dave Joerger was disappointed in his young club's effort. "The level of focus, and being ready to go and being experienced in preparation and taking it out (onto the court), a lot of these guys are learning these things on the fly," Kings coach Dave Joerger told reporters. "We've been making a lot of strides but (we) took a step back." Sacramento misses rookie PG De'Aaron Fox (9.4-2.8-3.7) will miss approximately two more weeks with a quadriceps issue. FA, veteran PF Zach Randolph, leads the Kings in scoring (15.5) and rebounding (6.9). It's a good sign that center Willie-Cauley Stein is averaging 17.3 points (on 23-of-37 shooting) and nine rebounds over the past three games but on the season, those totals are a modest 11.0 PPG and 6.1 RPG. Buddy Hield, the key piece in the Cousins trade with the Pelicans, is connecting on 45.3 percent of his threes but the Kings expect more (and need more) out of him than is average of 12.6 PPG.
The pick: Coming off the loss at Golden State, one would think that Cleveland would be focused, even against the Kings. It likely helps that on Dec. 6, Cleveland almost got caught napping, edging the Kings 101-95 as a 12 1/2-point favorite at home. The Cavs haven't lost back-to-back games since that four-game slide during the season's first month, so the Kings are likely in the wrong place at the wrong time. Make Cleveland a 10* play.
|12-27-17||Missouri v. Texas +3||Top||16-33||Win||100||24 h 48 m||Show|
The set-up: This year's Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium in Houston will feature 7-5 the Missouri Tigers (4-4 in SEC play) and the 6-6 Texas Longhorns (5-4 in Big-12 play). Missouri's season is quite remarkable, as the Tigers opened 1-5 but rebounded to win six in a row, while averaging 51.3 PPG, never scoring less than 45 points in any game. The Texas Longhorns are looking for a victory which will give them the school's first winning season since 2013 and its first bowl victory since 2012. Both teams are back in bowl games for the first time in three years.
Missouri: A win by the Tigers would give Missouri at least eight wins for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons. QB Drew Lock is completing a modest 58.2 percent of his passes but for 3,695 yards, 43 TDs and just 12 INTs. WRs J'Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall have combined for 1,834 receiving yards and 18 TDs while freshman TE Albert Okwuegbunam has just 25 catches with 11 TDs. Missouri's ground game is averaging 199.6 YPG (35th), led by Ish Witter (992 yards / 5.8 YPC / 5 TDs). Defensively, The Tigers had their share of trouble, especially against the pass (261.8 YPG which ranks 110th). Overall, the Tigers are allowing 31.8 PPG (94th).
Texas: Sam Ehlinger is completing 56.5 percent of his passes for 1,803 yards, 10 TDs and seven INTs, while Shane Buechele has passed for 1,350 yards with six TDs and four INTs (65.8% completions)..No runner has as much as 400 yards rushing, as Texas has run for 141.8 YPG (94th) and enters this contest averaging 29.2 PPG (59th). The defense has played well, allowing just 21.7 PPG (31st) on 363.6 YPG (40th). Remember, the Longhorns play in the offense-dominated Big 12, so their defensive stats are impressive.
The pick: Missouri comes in on quite a roll on offense but the Texas D should be up to the task. Texas is the more physical team and is capable of handling the smaller Missouri Tigers in the trenches. We also need to see whether or not Missouri can sustain its success with someone else calling the plays, after offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was named the new head coach at UCF. The Longhorns own a 17-6 all-time record against the Tigers and have captured 15 of the last 17 meetings. Houston is not Austin but Texas should be seeing plenty of orange in the stands. More importantly, head coach Tom Herman’s 9-1 ATS mark as underdog mark (including brief time at Houston), is tough to ignore. Make Texas a 10* play.
|12-27-17||Purdue v. Arizona -3||Top||38-35||Loss||-115||23 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: The 6-6 Purdue Boilermakers (4-5 in the Big Ten) will take on the 7-5 Arizona Wildcats (5-4 ion the Pac-12) in the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Wednesday night. Purdue lost its final seven games last year for its fifth consecutive losing season and then lost starting quarterback David Blough to a knee injury Nov. 4 against Illinois. However, the Boilermakers rallied to win their final two games and qualified for a bowl game for the first time since 2012. Arizona was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South but won five of six conference games from Oct. 7 to Nov. 11. Yes, Arizona lost three of its last four games but a 7-5 finish is hardly a disappointment for a team with such low preseason expectations. Purdue won both prior meetings between the two schools but they occurred way back in 2003 and 2005. Each school is making its first appearance in this Bay Area bowl, which has had four different names (Think we need more bowl games?).
Purdue: Starting QB Blough (65.0% / 9 TDs & 4 INTs) has been replaced by Elijah Sindelar,who has completed 55.8% of his passes for 14 TDs and six INTs while averaging 154.8 passing YPG. No RB reached 500 yards on the season, as Purdue averages just 150.9 YPG on the ground (83rd). Injuries in the backfield have opened the door for junior Markell Jones to emerge as the primary ball carrier and he was exceptional in the final regular-season game, rushing for a career-high 217 yards on 31 carries in the 31-24 victory against Indiana. Jones (480 yards / 5.2 YPC) surpassed D.J. Knox (460 yards / 5.8 YPC) as the leading rusher on the season and Knox is expected to be limited against Arizona after undergoing thumb surgery shortly after the Indiana game. The defense is allowing just 19.3 PPG (16th) on 372.3 YPG (49th) and has forced 19 turnovers on the season, finishing the regular season with an overall turnover margin of plus-3.
Arizona: The Wildcats own one of the most exciting players in the nation in sophomore QB Khalil Tate. He didn't take over full time until the fifth game against Colorado, when starter Brandon Dawkins was injured on a late hit on the opening drive of the game. He stepped in to rush for 327 rushing yards in the 45-42 victory, an FBS rushing record by a QB. Tate would total 1,207 rushing yards and 11 TDs over a six-game span, before Oregon and Arizona State found ways to contain him during the final two games, resulting in losses by the Wildcats. However, he did finish the regular season with 1,353 rushing yards on a nation-leading 10.2 YPC (12 TDs). He passed for 1,289 yards (completed 61.4%) with 9 TDs and 8 INTs.Tate led the way fro Arizona's 324.8 YPG on the ground (3rd), as the team averages 41.8 PPG on the season (6th). However, the defense allows 34.1 PPG (109th) on 467.0 YPG (117th).
The pick: Purdue is looking for its first winning season since 2011 (also the last time Purdue won a bowl game) and has transformed quicker than expected under 1st-year head coach Jeff Brohm, who led Western Kentucky to three consecutive bowl victories. Arizona's Rich-Rod is a money-burning 2-8 ATS in bowls dating back to his West Virginia days but I just can't help but side with the 'electric' Tate. Make Arizona an 8* play.
|12-27-17||Blue Jackets v. Penguins -150||Top||4-5||Win||100||11 h 17 m||Show|
The set-up: The two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves on the wrong side of the playoff picture after losing five of seven to drop into seventh place (18-16-3, 39 points) in the highly-competitive Metropolitan Division. The NHl returns from its Christmas break and the Penguins hope to fight their way back into playoff contention, beginning with a home game Wednesday against the rival Columbus Blue Jackets (beat them right here on Dec. 21). The Blue Jackets are 22-13-2 (46 points) and currently tied for second-place in the Metropolitan Division.
Columbus: The Blue Jackets have cooled off a bit with losses in four of seven and will be forced to cope with the expected four-to-six weeks absences of last season's all-everything RW Cam Atkinson (broken foot) and center Alexander Wennberg (back). "We just have to deal with it," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. "It's going to be a great test for our depth, and a great opportunity for some other guys to play more significant roles right now, and we'll just have to deal with it." Columbus has some recent improvement with its power play but the team still ranks 31st with the man advantage, converting only 12.1 percent. Defenseman Seth Jones carries a four-game power-play point streak (two goals, two assists) into Wednesday's contest.
Pittsburgh: Evgeni Malkin scored a goal in his third straight game against Columbus in the Dec. 21 win (3-2 in a shootout) to increase his point total to 11 (five goals, six assists) in 10 games in December. However, Pittsburgh followed that win by getting blanked 4-0 by Anaheim prior to the Christmas break (Dec. 230. Malkin and captain Sidney Crosby found themselves venting frustration late in the second period of the first meeting with Columbus, as the former was given five minutes for fighting captain Nick Foligno while the latter received an uncharacteristic roughing double minor versus Jones. Ignited by the physical play, the Penguins scored twice in the third period and Malkin tallied in the shootout as the Penguins rallied to win.
The pick: "It's disappointing. We were hoping we'd get some traction from (a 3-2 shootout win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday), but it didn't work out that way," Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan said. However, the Penguins will have an opportunity to make up ground with seven of their next 14 games against Metropolitan Division rivals. Columbus makes a quick return to Pittsburgh in this one and I expect a similar result. Make the Pens an 8* play.
|12-27-17||Eastern Michigan v. Syracuse -12||Top||47-62||Win||100||11 h 12 m||Show|
The set-up: The Eastern Michigan Eagles play in the MAC and will visit the Carrier Dome on Wednesday to take on the Syracuse Orange of the ACC. EMU is 8-3 and this marks the team's second-to-last non-conference game before the Eagles open MAC play Jan. 2 at Ball State. For the 10-2 Orange, this marks the team's final 'tune up,' as ACC play will begin Dec. 31 at home vs. Virginia tech.
Eastern Michigan: The Eagles are coming off a 16-17 season (7-11 in MAC play) and have to be happy with their 8-3 start. However, the Eagles do come in off a loss, as the team's three-game winning streak was snapped Dec. 22 when they lost 86-81 at Oakland (had beaten Oakland 95-89 at home on Dec. 6). EMU has three quality scorers in the 6-9 Minnie (18.0 & 6.8) and the 6-10 Thompson (17.7 & 12.4), as well as PG Jackson (17.0 & 4.8 APG). The Eagles shot nearly 50 percent from the floor against Oakland but were doomed by 5-of-16 three-point shooting and the inability to get stops on the other end. The Eagles could use more help from their bench, which totaled four points on 2-of-10 shooting last time out, but on the bright side, Paul Jackson continues to elevate his game after transferring from Eastern Kentucky. The 6-2 junior recorded a season-high 25 against Oakland and has scored in double figures every game since the season opener.
Syracuse: The team's offense revolves around guards Battle (19.9) and Howard (15.5 & 6.1 APG) plus 6-8 freshman Brissett (15.6 & 9.8). However, those three shot a combined 12-of-47 against St. Bonaventure, so it's not hard to see how Syracuse lost. Even with that poor effort, the Orange took the game into OT on Friday., before losing 60-57. Syracuse only made 18 FGs in 45 minutes and misfired on 16 of its 19 attempts from three-point range. "It's hard to win when you shoot 30 percent from the floor and 15 percent from the three-point line, but this team fights as hard as they possibly can," Boeheim told reporters. Boeheim's right about that, St Bonny only reached 60 points in OT. On the season, Syracuse is holding opponents to just 64.0 PPG (30th) on 38.5% shooting (29th).
The pick: James Thompson IV is a quality big man for EMU but freshman Brissett is off to a great start and should match up just fine. Expect the Orange to bounce back off that home loss to St. Bonny's, with ACC play beginning on New Year's Eve. Make Syracuse a 10* play.
|12-27-17||Southern Miss v. Florida State -14.5||Top||13-42||Win||100||16 h 18 m||Show|
The set-up: The 8-4 Southern Miss Golden Eagles will take on the 6-6 Florida State Seminoles in Wednesday's Independence Bowl. Florida State needed to win its last three games, including a 38-22 victory at Florida on Nov. 25, to become bowl-eligible for the 36th straight season. The Seminoles erupted for 157 points (52.3 PPG) during that span with wins over Delaware State 77-6 on Nov. 18 and Louisiana Monroe 42-10 on Dec. 2, after scoring 163 in their first nine games (18.1 PPG). Southern Miss also finished strong, winning its final three games while a scoring 137 points (45.7 PPG), including a 66-21 rout of Charlotte. The two schools have met 22 times (FSU leads 13-8-1) but this 23rd meeting is the first time that Florida State and Southern Miss have met in a bowl.
Southern Miss:The Golden Eagles are led by QB Kwadra Griggs,with 1,793 yards, 15 TDs and just two INTs. Second-year head coach Jay Hopson effectively alternated QBs (Keon Howard had 1,199 passing yards with 8 TDs and 5 INTs) but Griggs is the established starter now. RB Ito Smith is the team's leading rusher with 1321 yards (5.7 YPC) and 13 TDs. WR Korey Robertson has 72 receptions for 1,070 yards and 11 scores. The offense is well-balanced, passing for 249.3 YPG (48th) and 189.0 rushing YPG (39) to average 30.5 YPG (50th). The defense is good, allowing 23.0 PPG (39th) on just 321.9 YPG (17th).
Florida State: The Seminoles were No. 3 in the AP's preseason poll but as No. 11 Alabama pulled away for a 24-7 win on Sep. 2, Heisman hopeful QB Deondre Francois was lost in the 4th0quarter with a season-ending knee injury. True freshman QB James Blackman didn’t get an immediate chance, as subsequent games vs. ULM (which would have been a good tuneup) and Miami were postponed due to Hurricane Irma. That three-week layoff hurt , as the season never got back on course, disrupted irreparably by injuries and the weather in September. At 3-5, the Seminoles had to win four of five (including theri last three), to reach bowl-eligibility. The final win Oover ULM) came after Jimbo Fisher left to take the Texas A&M job. Interim head coach Odell Haggins will coach in Shreveport before Florida native Willie Taggart, hired away from Oregon in mid-December, takes over. It's hard to judge FSU by its season stats, as he Seminoles' winning streak coincides with the improved play of Blackman (57.2 percent completion rate, 15 touchdowns, 11 interceptions), who has thrown six TDs and three INTs while completing 60.3 percent of his passes during that span. Running back Cam Akers (930 yards, seven TDs) needs 79 yards to break the school record for rushing yards by a true freshman set by Dalvin Cook in 2014. Junior running back Jacques Patrick (687 yards, six TDs), who rushed for a season-high 155 yards and two touchdowns versus ULM, is another strong threat out of the backfield.
The pick: This is Southern Miss' third appearance in the Independence Bowl and the Golden Eagles won their other two appearances. However, even though it's a "down year," for the Seminoles, this is still a game against Florida State for Southern Miss, which faces one of the nation's top programs for the last 30 years. This C-USA school is stepping up in class here vs. FSU and was handled by a combined 48-27 score vs. modest SEC East foes Kentucky and Tennessee. The Golden Eagles were also easily outclassed by Washington two years ago at Dallas in its last bowl vs. a “Power 5" foe, 44-31. Make FSU an 8* play.
|12-26-17||Jazz v. Nuggets -6||Top||83-107||Win||100||14 h 40 m||Show|
The set-up: The Denver Nuggets have had excellent success at the Pepsi Center this season (11-3) but are a modest 7-12 on the road. However, one could not tell that by the team's shocking 96-81 win Saturday night in Oakland, over the Warriors. Sure, Golden State is less than 100 percent but the Nuggets were 8 1/2-point road dogs and the victory ended the Warriors' 11-game winning streak. After a brief (but successful) 2-0 road trip, 18-15 Denver will host the Utah Jazz on Tuesday, beginning s a stretch of four home games in a five-game stretch. Utah has won the first two meetings this season with Denver but the struggling Jazz come into this contest at 15-19, having followed up a six-game winning streak (Nov.22 thru Dec. 4) by losing eight of their last 10. Not coincidently, some of those losses have come since center Rudy Gobert (11.6 & 9.5) went down with a left knee injury that is expected to sideline him for two to three more weeks.
Utah: Rookie guard Donovan Mitchell returned from a toe sprain that robbed him of two games to score 29 points on 12-of-16 shooting in the team's most recent loss, 103-89 to Oklahoma City. Mitchell leads the team in scoring at 18.0 (also 3.1 RPG & 3.3 APG) and fellow guard Hood (17.7) is right behind him. The duo is among seven players averaging in double digits (including the currently sidelined Gobert) but the Jazz are averaging a modest 101.7 PPG (23rd). While the Jazz rank 7th in three-point percentage (38.1), the etam's triples have been hard to come by of late. Utah made just 6-of-26 long-range attempts in Saturday's loss to Oklahoma City. The defense remains good, allowing 100.7.5 PPG (5th).
Denver: The Nuggets' perimeter defense held the Warriors to a 3-for-27 shooting from beyond the arc. "I can't remember seeing many teams hold that team to 3-of-27 from the three-point line," Denver coach Michael Malone told reporters. "So it's a hell of a win for us and it's going to make Christmas obviously that much merrier." Center Nikola Jokic averaged 22.5 points, nine rebounds and five assists in the two wins and he has shot 50 percent or better in four straight games. Jokic has sure found a home in Denver, averaging 16.1 & 10.3. His inside presence is desperately needed with PF Millsap (15.3 & 6.2) sidelined for most if not all of the season. Guards Harris (16.2), Murray (15.0) and Barton (14.8) are consitsent contributors and another guard, Mudiay (9.6), is expected to return Tuesday from an ankle injury of his own after missing the previous four games.
The pick: The Jazz own a pair of wins (and double-digit covers) in the first two meetings this season but when one looks at Denver's 11-3 home nmark and Utah's 3-13 road record, it's tough to make a case for the Jazz. That's especially true with Gobert still sidelined. Make Denver a 10* play.
|12-26-17||Kansas State v. UCLA UNDER 60.5||Top||35-17||Win||100||26 h 33 m||Show|
The set-up: The 7-5 Kansas State Wildcats (5-4 in Big-12) will take on the 6-6 UCLA Bruins (4-5 in Pac-12) in the Cactus Bowl at Chase Field in Phoenix. The Wildcats finished the season strong, winning four of their last five games and will be participating in their 8th consecutive bowl game. The Bruins had an up and down season but were able to reach a bowl game after their 30-27 victory over the California Golden Bears on the last weekend of the season. However, after its Nov. 18th loss to USC, UCLA decided to part ways with head coach Jim Mora. The Bruins have already made a big splash with the hire of Chip Kelly but that's for next season, UCLA will be led by interim head coach Jedd Fisch in this one.
UCLA: QB Josh Rosen finished the regular season 10th in the FBS in passing yards with 3,717 (62.5% with 26 TDs and 10 INTs) but he has been slowed by injuries the past two seasons and twice was unable to finish a game this fall. He was replaced against California after getting sacked three times in the first half but he has since returned to practice and appears ready to go against Kansas State.
The pick: Some (many) expected QB Zach Rosen to go the Christian McCaffrey-Leonard Fournette route and opt out of the bowl before his likely early entry into the NFL draft (more than a few believe he's the best prospect) but all indicators are that he’s a go for this game. Why not? The Kansas State pass D is awful, ranking 129th in allowing 310.2 YPG. However, given the coaching situation and distractions in preparation caused by fires in the L.A. area, I'm not all that convinced the Bruins will bring their "A game." Kansas State is making its eighth consecutive bowl appearance -- a streak that is tied for 13th in the FBS -- and its 19th under coach Bill Snyder, who twice has turned the program around, once following a short retirement.I say Under is worth an 8* play.
|12-26-17||Northern Illinois +6 v. Duke||Top||14-36||Loss||-110||31 h 46 m||Show|
The set: Ford Field in Detroit is the setting for the Quicken Lane Bowl featuring 8-4 Northern Illinois out of the MAC and Duke from the ACC. The Huskies were 6-2 before finishing 2-2 and at 8-4 are back 'bowling' after having a streak of eight consecutive bowl appearances snapped last season. Duke's 2017 journey was quite a bit different. The Blue Devils opened 4-0 but then dropped six consecutive games. However, Duke was able to beat Georgia Tech and Wake Forest in its final two games to reach 6-6. The Blue Devils ended a long bowl drought by playing in 2012's Belk Bowl (previous bowl appearance had been in 1994) but last season's 4-8 record ended a four-year bowl run. Northern Illinois: The Huskies finished in a tie for second place in the West Division of the MAC (6-2) with the tewam's signature victory coming in a 21-17 win at Big Ten-member Nebraska. QB Marcus Childers took over under center in early October after Ryan Graham suffered an elbow injury in Week 1 and Daniel Santacaterina battled turnover issues. Childers completed 57.3 percent of his passes for 1,440 yards with 15 TD against five interceptions plus added 454 rushing yards with five more TDs. He was named the MAC Freshman of the Year. Childers has five receivers that caught between 28 and 39 passes, while senior RB Jordan Huff had 740 rushing yards (5.8 YPC) in nine games. The ground game averaged 190.0 YPG (37th) but Huff is out with an ankle injury. NIU's defense has been quite good, led by sophomore defensive end Sutton Smith, the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year and first Huskie since 1993 to be named to the Walter Camp Football Foundation All-America first team. Toledo ranks 18th in total defense (328.4 YPG) and 27th in points allowed (20.8 per game). Duke: The Blue Devils looked pretty miserable during their six-game losing streak, scoring more than 17 points only once during that stretch. However, the good news is that the Blue Devils put up a total of 74 points in their last two of games (both wins). In the team's 31-23 triumph over Wake Forest on Nov. 25 (which clinched a bowl bert), QB Daniel Jones had a career-high 346 passing yards and three total TDs (two passing / one rushing). Jones is completing just 55.7% on teh season for 2,439 yards with 12 TDs and 11 INTs. He's added 432 rushing yards (six TDs) to go along with senior RB Shaun Wilson (743 / 5.1 YPC / 5 TDs) and freshman RB Brittain Brown (660 yards / 5.6 YPC / 6 TDs). Duke averages 168.2 YPG on the ground (57th) but just 25.8 PPG (84th). Sophomore linebacker Joe Giles-Harris was a first team All-ACC and second team All-American pick and Duke's D is solid as well, allowing 20.8 PPG (26th) on 338.8 YPG (25th). The pick: Prior to Jones' big outing against the Demon Deacons, the Duke QB had passed for more than 200 yards only twice in his seven previous games.His struggles are why the Blue Devils ranked last in the ACC in passer efficiency rating (110.3) and greatly contributed to why Duke ranked 12th in ACC scoring offense (25.8 points per game). NIU's Sutton Smith will likely be the most impactful player on the field, as the DE leads the FBS in sacks (14), tackles for loss (28.5), pressures (73) and defensive touchdowns (two), all school records. He enters just 3 1/2 tackles for a loss away from the NCAA single-season record of 32 set by Western Michigan's Jason Babin in 2003. The Huskies are no strangers to Detroit and Ford Field, playing here in six consecutive MAC championship games from 2010-15. Make Northern Illinois a 10* play.
|12-26-17||Utah v. West Virginia +7||Top||30-14||Loss||-113||40 h 48 m||Show|
The set-up: The Heart of Dallas Bowl will be played at the Cotton Bowl and features the 6-6 Utah Utes and the 7-5 West Virginia Mountaineers.The Utes opened the season 4-0 but lost six of their last eight games and with a loss here would experience a losing season for the first time since 2013. The Big Ten couldn’t fulfill its allotted slot opposite the Big 12’s West Virginia but the officials still wanted a matchup of Power Five teams. Utah needed a 34-13 win over visiting Colorado in its regular-season finale to become bowl eligible, giving the Pac-12 nine postseason teams. West Virginia heads into the bowl season splitting its last eight games and has a shot to earn at least eight victories for the third straight year.
Utah: The Utes have used two QBs in 2017, Tyler Huntley and Troy Williams. Huntley has seen the most action, throwing for 2,246 yards with 15 TDs and 10 INTs. Williams has thrown for 812 yards with two TDs and four INTs. Huntley is probable for this game and was 5-4 as a starter, ranking 15th nationally with an average of 302.9 YPG of total offense. If Huntley can’t play, the Utes have a capable backup in senior Troy Williams, who is 10-6 as a starter over the last two seasons, including a 9-4 mark a year ago. Whomever is throwing passes, WR Darren Carrington II, an Oregon transfer, is the No.1 target (68 catches / 6 TDs). The rushing attack averages 161.2 YPG (69th) and Utah's 29.5 PPG ranks 57th. The defense is solid, allowing 23.9 PPG (43rd) on 353.5 YPG (32nd).
West Virginia: Will Grier, was the nation’s seventh-ranked passer in terms of efficiency with 3,490 yards and 34 TD passes but had surgery after breaking the middle finger on his throwing hand in the first quarter of the Mountaineers’ loss to Texas on Nov. 18. Head coach Dana Holgorsen said the chances of him playing against Utah are “not good.” That would leave Chris Chugunov, who is completing 54.8 percent of his passes for 407 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. Chugunov enters this game with 67 career pass attempts under his belt. WRs Gary Jennings (94 catches but just one TD), David Sills V (60 catches and 18 TDs) and Ka'raun White (58 catches and 11 TDs) make up a remarkable trio. RB Justin Crawford leads the way with 1,061 yards and seven TDs for a ground game averaging 160.8 YPG (72nd). Defense has been an issue for West Va, as the Mountaineers are allowing 31.6 PPG (92nd) on 425.5 YPG (111th).
The pick: The Utes own an impressive 16-4 all-time bowl record and Kyle Whittingham has accounted for 10 of those wins for an NCAA-best postseason record of 10-1, including victories in the 2005 Fiesta Bowl over Pittsburgh (as a co-head coach) and the 2009 Sugar Bowl over Alabama. “Our secret formula is our players prepare hard and do it the right way, and that’s what it’s all about,” Whittingham said in the Dec. 3 bowl media conference call. “We don’t have a routine or a process that’s top secret. It’s just our guys in the program taking a lot of pride in bowl games, and they prepare the right way.” West Virginia RB Justin Crawford has decided to pass on this game to focus on his preparation for the upcoming NFL draft. However, his backup is Kennedy McKoy, who has proven he’s a valuable commodity, rushing for 1,037 yards (5.6 YPC). and 11 TDs in two seasons as a backup. Will Grier's absence is a bigger deal.That said, Utah limps into this contest with six losses in its last eight games. Utah's outstanding bowl record woun't help them here! Make West Virginia an 8* play.
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