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2019 MLB Win Total Opinions

NL EAST

BEST BET: UNDER 89 – Washington Nationals: Atlanta was by far the best team in the NL East last season and only won 90 games and while Washington being 82-80 last season despite +89 in runs signals a season of improvement, Washington might not have done enough to move up by seven wins. Patrick Corbin was a great add but the pitching staff wasn’t a major issue last season, allowing only 4.2 runs per game for an above average mark in the NL. Brian Dozier and Yan Gomes bounce-backs aren’t a given changing leagues and ultimately the case for the Braves, Phillies, and Mets to improve is strong. Losing Bryce Harper is replaceable on the field but it signaled to the roster that the team isn’t in it to compete for a title this year after falling short with great teams in several recent seasons. Washington had a huge 20-7 month of May last season that will be tough to replicate and this was a team that finished eight games below .500 from June 1 onward. It will be hard to match last season’s 11-7 mark vs. the Phillies and against the NL playoff teams Washington went a combined 17-28 last season as the great scoring numbers was built on a collection on blowout wins including outscoring the Marlins and Mets by 60 runs. Washington also went 5-1 vs. a historically bad Baltimore team in interleague play last season.

NL CENTRAL

BEST BET: UNDER 77½ Wins – Pittsburgh Pirates: There is a lot to like about the pitching staff in Pittsburgh but run support could be a problem and there is room for inconsistency with the rotation after possibly getting a few overachieving seasons last year. Ivan Nova is also gone as a stable starter and Chris Archer has been more flash than substance in recent years. Milwaukee, Chicago, and St. Louis look like NL contenders and Pittsburgh will have a hard time featuring a winning record vs. those three teams collectively as they did last season thanks to going 12-7 vs. the NL Central champion Brewers last season for a surprising outlier. Matching last season’s 14-5 mark vs. the Reds will also be a challenge with many expecting a rise for Cincinnati this season. Pittsburgh also went 15-5 in interleague play in 2018 beating up on the Tigers, White Sox, and Royals, three of the AL’s worst teams last season. In 2019 the interleague slate is featuring quality teams from the AL West, also adding to the travel miles on this year’s slate. For all that went right last season Pittsburgh still only won 82 games and getting close to that figure looks unlikely this season.

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NL WEST

BEST BET: OVER 93 – Los Angeles Dodgers: Starting the season with a losing record through May last season limited Los Angeles to only 92 wins last season but this was a .500 team in 44 one-run games. Los Angeles couldn’t run away with the West due to competitive Colorado and Arizona squads even though the Dodgers had the best scoring differential in the NL by a wide margin at +194. Signs are pointing downward for several of the other West squads and the pitching staff for the Dodgers should remain among the best in the NL. Los Angeles could be just as good at the plate and even better defensively with some of the changes they have made. As they have done several years in a row, if needed they will be mid-season buyers as this squad could get even better in the final two months ahead of the playoff push. This is a discounted price compared to last March on the Dodgers after a similar World Series finish in 2017 and ultimately a slide backwards from an overachieving Colorado team looks likely in 2019 while Arizona lost several key players as well. San Francisco and San Diego could improve but still appear to be far back from being contenders this season.

AL EAST

BEST BET: UNDER 74½ – Toronto Blue Jays: After being a huge disappointment last season many expect the Blue Jays to rebound this season. Getting better health from Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman is far from guaranteed and neither was consistently effective when they were healthy last season. The talented young offensive talent in the system doesn’t necessarily translate into instant success at the MLB level as well as this is a team with some exciting prospects but little proven MLB talent. Ultimately in a stacked division with Boston and New York likely to push 100 wins while Tampa Bay remains competitive, there aren’t going to be a lot of opportunities for the Blue Jays to pick up ground. Facing a likely significant deficit in the division race, valuable veterans could be shipped off as the trade deadline approaches as well as this looks more like a team building for 2020. Toronto isn’t likely to feast on Baltimore as they did last season as well going 14-5 in those matchups against a historically bad Orioles team. Despite the disappointment last season the Blue Jays were 10-6 in extra-innings games and 23-17 in one-run games while also going 13-7 in interleague play, records that simply aren’t likely to repeat.

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AL CENTRAL

BEST BET: OVER 74 – Chicago White Sox: Chicago didn’t have the off-season they envisioned with the front office coming up empty in pursuit of several prominent free agents. With a big jump from last year’s win total of 62 on this price many are likely looking ‘under’ on this team. The AL Central still looks like a marginal group of teams and improvement isn’t necessarily likely for any of the other foes. Chicago has room to improve after going just 7-12 vs. both the Twins and the Tigers in the division last season while the White Sox lost 25 one-run games. Chicago was 17-12 last August before folding in September as the young nucleus on this roster has potential and the rotation has another year of experience after enduring a lot of growing pains last season. Alex Colome can shore up the bullpen and a favorable late April schedule could allow the young unproven team a productive first month to catapult to a season of improvement. Unable to land a big fish in the winter, management could also be a surprise buyer mid-season as well knowing that they might have a tough time luring free agents again next winter and making a mid-season deal could provide an opportunity. It also won’t be a shock if no team in the AL Central has a great record and a playoff spot is attainable for a team willing to be aggressive, with Chicago the lone potential big spender in the division.

AL WEST

BEST BET: OVER 71 – Texas Rangers: Texas got off to a 4-11 start last season and never recovered. 2015 Manager of the Year Jeff Banister was fired in September and 42-year old Chris Woodward takes over with a fresh perspective after helping the Dodgers to great success the past three seasons.Most view Texas as again one of the worst teams in the AL but it is not hard to envision seasons of decline for the Athletics (97 wins in 2018) and Mariners (89 wins in 2018) in the AL West. The Angels are also turning a page with new management while Houston doesn’t have much room to improve after winning 103 games last season. Texas went just 34-47 at home last season 28-48 in the division last year as there is a lot of potential for picking up ground. Texas went 6-13 vs. both the Angels and Athletics last season and getting closer to even in those series would provide a significant boost. Texas was also 12-19 in one-run games last season while losing seven extra-inning games and after a respectable run from late April to June the Rangers closed the season 29-49 after July 1 after falling well out of the playoff race. The Rangers have won with a marginal starting pitching rotation in the past and the team could find modest success with a collection of veteran newcomers that includes Lance Lynn, Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez, and Shelby Miller. None looks like a home run pick-up but even if two of those veterans have respectable results it could stabilize the pitching staff. The lineup still has some potential even if former budding stars have not ever fully blossomed into franchise players and it won’t take a major improvement for Texas to hit this number with reasons to expect a slide back to the pack from several of the other AL West teams.

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NCAA Tournament: First 12 Tickets

03/14/2019

12
teams have punched their NCAA Tournament tickets with automatic bids in the
last few days and can sit back and enjoy the madness this week around the
country during the remaining conference tournament games. Here is a look at those
confirmed teams and what to expect in the Big Dance next week.

Murray State – Ohio Valley
(27-4) Projected #12 Seed

The
Racers were a popular #12 seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament but wound up with
an ugly 85-68 defeat against West Virginia as a 10-point underdog. Sophomore Ja
Morant is an expected NBA lottery pick scoring nearly 25 points per game and
the Racers didn’t look out of place in close losses on the road vs. Alabama and
Auburn in non-conference play early this season.  

Murray
State beat Belmont by 12 in the OVC Final last weekend and while Belmont is a bubble
team for an at-large bid, the conference as a whole did not rate as strong as
in past seasons with a big gap between the top four teams and the bottom eight
teams. Turnovers were a big problem for Murray State in last season’s game against
West Virginia’s pressure defense and a more favorable matchup could make the
Racers a threat to advance this season. This squad won’t likely present great
underdog value as they will surely be considered a popular Cinderella choice as
one of the most well-known small conference squads.

Gardner-Webb – Big
South (23-11) Projected #16 Seed

Gardner-Webb
went from a third place regular season finish in the Big South to punching a
ticket to the Big Dance with wins over the top two teams in the conference in
succession in a pair of true road games. The Runnin’ Bulldogs are likely to
face a tough opening matchup and could be considered for one of the First Four
games as they will likely be one of the worst rated teams in the field by some
measures.

In November opportunities playing up Gardner-Webb lost by 12 at VCU and by 28 at Virginia Tech but did take Furman to overtime on the road. With an 11-2 run to close the season the team is playing its best down the stretch but has also benefitted from four overtime wins on the season. Size will be an issue in most potential matchups with the entire roster 6’6” or shorter. Radford from the Big South won its First Four game by 10 points last season before being blown out by eventual national champion Villanova.

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Bradley – Missouri Valley
(20-14) Projected #14 Seed

Loyola-Chicago
was a Final Four team out of the Missouri Valley last season as while the conference
has lost a few heavyweights in recent years this league has a great postseason
track record over the past two decades. Bradley started the Valley season 0-5
before a great turnaround and ultimately winning three games in St. Louis in
three days by a combined total of eight points.

Bradley
plays gritty defense and is a strong outside shooting team and they will not be
an appealing draw for a top contender with Bradley a better team right now than
they will be seeded, likely in the 14-15 range based on the marginal season
record. Bradley beat SMU and Penn State in Mexico in November and a slow
deliberate pace of play could make the Bears an upset threat in the right matchup.

Liberty – Atlantic Sun
(28-6) Projected #13 Seed

Liberty
jumped from the Big South to the Atlantic Sun this season and finished tied
with Lipscomb for the regular season title, besting the Bisons in the
conference tournament final. The Flames won at UCLA in December and played competitively
in three other major conference losses in the non-conference season. This
veteran lineup will enter the tournament on an 18-2 run and will be a threat to
make some noise.

Liberty deploys
one of the slowest tempos in the nation on offense and excels in getting
quality shots, featuring the 13th best effective field goal rate in the entire
nation. The Flames are a 78 percent free throw shooting team and the team’s top
players Caleb Homesley and Scottie James have enough size to compete with major
conference opposition.

Wofford – Southern (29-4)
Projected #7 Seed

Wofford
was pushed in a tight Southern Conference final against UNC Greensboro but has
now won 20 straight games. Wofford beat South Carolina in non-conference play
and the only four losses came against major conference teams in NCAA Tournament
consideration including misses against North Carolina and Kansas. The Southern
will be deserving of more than one bid this season, ranking as the 11th best
conference in the nation, ahead of the A-10, Conference USA, and Sun Belt, though
many suspect deserving candidates UNC Greensboro and Furman will be left out.

Wofford
shoots a ton of 3-point shots and has four players hitting above 41 percent
from 3-point range. The Wofford defense could have some problems in certain
matchups, allowing 77 points per game in the five non-conference games vs. SEC,
ACC, and Big XII teams however. Mike Young’s team made the tournament in 2014
and 2015 with first round exits but this could be the program’s best team ever
and the Terriers figure to be in a tight first round pairing in a 7/10 or 8/9
draw.

Iona – Metro Atlantic
(17-15) Projected #16 Seed

Once
7-15 on the season, Iona won the final 10 games of the season to win the Metro
Atlantic regular season title and tournament title, now making a fourth
straight NCAA Tournament trip. The Gaels are going to be more of a threat to
win a game this season as they seem destined for a First Four matchup to start
the tournament against a fellow #16 seed instead of a national power.

Iona didn’t hold up particularly well in any of the recent NCAA Tournament appearances nor did they stay within double-digits in three top 100 non-conference games this season but Tim Cluess will get another short in the Big Dance with his up-tempo offense and a Gaels squad that shoots well from all over the floor. The starting five is all upperclassmen from a team that lost by 22 to Duke last March in the Round of 64 as a 15 seed.

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Northern Kentucky – Horizon
(26-8) Projected #14 Seed

The
Norse made the 2017 NCAA Tournament and gave Kentucky a scare in a 79-70 defeat
in a 2/15 matchup. This year’s team could climb to the #14 line with a strong
record even with no top 100 caliber wins. The Norse competed respectably in
road losses to UCF and Cincinnati and held a very tough home court with just
one home defeat all season.

This
team has pretty good size for a smaller conference program and statistically
was one of the better interior scoring teams in the nation. Free throw shooting
is a concern at just 67 percent on the season but this team could be a threat
to keep a tournament game tight as they also played Louisville to an
eight-point game in the NIT last season. John Brannen figures to get some looks
for around the nation after three straight strong seasons with this program
following a 9-21 first year in 2015-16.

Fairleigh Dickinson – Northeast (20-13)
Projected #16 Seed

The
Knights started the season 6-11 including going 1-4 in the first five conference
games before catching fire to the tune of a 14-4 run culminating with a
Northeast Championship win at St. Francis. While the overall profile isn’t a
strong one for FDU ranking outside the nation’s top 200 by most measures, they
had respectable losses to Providence and South Florida in the non-conference
season. As an over 40 percent 3-point shooting team this squad could shoot its
way into advancing if they wind up in a First Four contest.

The
Knights earned this spot despite a late season injury to Xzavier Malone-Key as
a team with a very limited bench had to make some late season adjustments. With
a defensive efficiency ranking near 300 nationally this could be a favorable
draw for a top seed to find its offensive rhythm early in the tournament. Last
year’s Northeast representative LIU-Brooklyn lost by 10 in the First Four,
though the 2017 representative Mount St. Mary’s was victorious in its 16/16
game.

Northeastern – Colonial (22-10) Projected #13
Seed

The
Huskies beat Alabama by 16 in November but lost badly vs. Virginia Tech,
Davidson, and Syracuse in other big non-conference tests. The Colonial did not
grade as a strong league this season but Northeastern was one of three quality
teams and the Huskies are in the tournament for the first time since 2015. That
team lost by only four to Notre Dame in a 3/14 contest in that appearance and the
Huskies are on a 16-1 run since early January with only an overtime loss.

This is an experienced team led by its offense, featuring the fifth rated effective field goal rate nationally, while a nearly 39 percent 3-point shooting team and a strong shooting team at the line that commits few turnovers. Coupled with a deliberate pace of play the Huskies have the potential to be a sleeper for an upset next week in the right draw with a roster full of upperclassmen ready for this opportunity.

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North Dakota State – Summit (17-15) Projected
#16 Seed

The
Bison finished just fourth in the Summit League but navigated the conference tournament
to earn this spot with league champion South Dakota State upset by the league’s
#8 team Western Illinois. North Dakota State could conceivably draw the Gonzaga
team they lost to by 42 in November while the Bison also lost badly in three
other top 100 non-conference tests on the season.

Size
will be an issue in a likely 1/16 matchup for North Dakota State but this squad
has good offensive shooting numbers while featuring a very low turnover rate
despite a roster without a senior. The Bison also faced Gonzaga in the 2015
NCAA Tournament with a respectable 10-point loss in a 2/15 contest. Defensively
it is hard to see North Dakota State competing well against a top contender but
this squad will hit some shots.

Saint Mary’s – West Coast (22-11) Projected
#12 Seed

The
Gaels would have been an interesting bubble discussion case but they didn’t
leave their Tournament inclusion to the committee, turning in a stunning 60-47
upset over Gonzaga in the WCC Final. That was the only top 50 win of the season
for Saint Mary’s who looked the part in close losses vs. Mississippi State and
LSU but ultimately didn’t have a lot of weight in the win column.

Saint
Mary’s plays at an incredibly slow pace and works for quality shots with strong
shooting numbers all over the floor, led by Jordan Ford who has scored over 21
points per game this season while a 42 percent 3-point shooter. Saint Mary’s
beat VCU in a 7/10 matchup two years ago in the Big Dance and the Gaels won two
NIT games last season. This squad has good size but limited depth and the
roster includes only one senior. Expect Randy Bennett’s team to control the
pace of play in whatever matchup they pull.

Colgate – Patriot (23-10) Projected #15 Seed

The
Raiders will take an 11-gmae winning streak into the NCAA Tournament after
winning by double-digits in all three Patriot Tournament games, which were played
on their home court. Colgate didn’t look too out of place in non-conference
defeats at Syracuse, South Florida, Penn State, and Pittsburgh including two
10-point losses.  The Patriot is also an
underrated league and last year’s representative Bucknell lost by just four to
Michigan State in a 3/14 contest while Bucknell lost by just six to West
Virginia in the 2017 tournament.

Like
many of the teams on this list Colgate plays at a slow pace and can shoot as a
39 percent 3-point shooting team and a strong free throw converting team. This
squad has enough size to compete with larger programs as 6’10” Rapolas Ivanauskas
leads the team in scoring. This could be one of the more dangerous #15 draws
and even could get #14 seed consideration depending on how the remaining automatic
bids fall.

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Free NBA Pick Wednesday

#519/520 ‘OVER 220.5’ Detroit Pistons at San Antonio Spurs 7:05 PM CT

Detroit has been on an offensive surge on the current 7-1 streak since early February, posting an average of 118 points per game on that span even with recent games against good defensive teams including Boston, Miami, and Indiana. The ‘over’ has collected in seven of those eight games and while today’s total is several points higher than the home meeting with the Spurs in early January, the elevated number is more than justified.

The ‘over’ is 12-2 in the last 14 Spurs games as a San Antonio franchise known for defense has been struggling mightily. On that ‘over’ run the totals in Spurs games have been at least 219.5 in 13 of the past 14 games but hit an over inflated with a 233.5 number in Brooklyn on Monday. That was the final game of a lengthy road trip for San Antonio spanning both sides of the All Star break.

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San Antonio has allowed at least 107 points in 13 of the past 14 games however and opponents have scored 120 or more in six of the past eight games with an average allowance of more than 122 points per game. San Antonio has been one of the league’s best ‘over’ teams at 38-24 on the season and both of these teams have allowed 48 percent shooting over the past five games.

The January meeting between these teams featured 226 points even with Detroit getting only 14 points at the line at home and connecting at just 28 percent from 3-point range. The Spurs shot well for the game but not from beyond the arc and there were few turnovers and only 221 fast break points in the contest as there was certainly room for more scoring.

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Nelly’s is 4-0 the past three days and we have hit over 63% since early December in basketball. Don’t miss a great opportunity Wednesday night.

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Free NBA Pick Wednesday

#560 Boston Celtics -11.5 over Phoenix Suns 6:35 PM CT

Boston needed overtime to beat Phoenix on the road in November as this matchup won’t be overlooked. The Celtics lost on Saturday in Detroit in what was a sixth game in nine days but hasn’t played since. The 8-0 run prior to Saturday’s loss featured an average margin of victory of nearly 23 points as Boston is emerging as a serious Eastern Conference force yet again following some early season inconsistency. Boston is just 18-11 overall to sit in fifth place but the Celtics have some of the best defensive numbers in the NBA while posting the third best scoring differential in the NBA. Phoenix has the third worst scoring differential in the league and the fewest wins in the league.

The Suns have won two of 15 road games but will somehow enter this game on a three-game winning streak while coming off a road win in New York. Prior to Monday’s upset the Suns had lost by double-digits in each of the previous five road games. The only hurdle for Boston is perhaps Friday’s upcoming game with the Bucks being a prominent spot on the schedule but off a loss Boston should be sharp and should pull away while having the depth to hold on to a margin of victory past this number if they build a big early lead. The Suns have just 21 road wins since the start of the 2016-17 season and they have won the next game out just four times while covering just nine times.

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NFL Close Calls – Week 14

NFL Close Calls – Week 14

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most
games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the
spread and total in the fourth quarter in Week 14 of the NFL regular season
with one of the wilder NFL Sundays in recent memory.

Kansas City Chiefs (-6½)
27, Baltimore Ravens 24 (49):
The
AFC-leading Chiefs led by seven at halftime with a spread that slipped from -7½
to -6 or -6½ by kickoff. Baltimore tied the game late in the third quarter following
a Patrick Mahomes interception. A big punt return put the Ravens in position
for the upset and with just over four minutes to go Lamar Jackson found John
Brown to give the underdog Ravens a seven-point edge. Mahomes cemented his MVP
case with a great drive that included a pair of 4th down conversions, the
second of which resulted in the game-tying touchdown in the final minute. That
score also put the scoring at 48 on a total that reached as high as 53 before
settling at 51 and dropping to 49 by kickoff. The Ravens had some time on the
clock but disaster struck as a sack led to a fumble and the Chiefs had the ball
in field goal range. Harrison Butker would miss from 43 yards at time expired
however. Kansas City had the ball first and survived a fumble inside the red
zone, ultimately giving Butker another opportunity and he was good from 35
yards. Baltimore crossed midfield but went backwards with a penalty and a sack
that saw Jackson exit the game. Robert Griffin III entered and made a good
throw on 4th-and-22 but Willie Snead couldn’t come up with it to extend the
game. Baltimore still cashed underdog tickets and there were likely mixed
results on the total.

Cleveland Browns (+1) 26,
Carolina Panthers 20 (48):
The scoring pace in this
game was hot early with a 17-17 halftime score as the Panthers and Browns
traded scores. Cleveland fumbled on its first play of the second half but Carolina
didn’t take advantage of the field position to add points and only later in the
frame added a field goal to lead by three as slight road favorite entering the fourth
quarter. Early in the fourth Nick Chubb put the Browns in front but the PAT was
missed for just a three-point edge. Cleveland added a field goal a few minutes
later but up by just six, all results were still in play. Carolina reached 1st-and-goal
with about four minutes remaining but Cam Newton’s eventual 4th down throw
sailed high. The Panthers would get another shot but Newton threw an
interception on 1st down with a minute to go as the Browns and the ‘under’ held
on.

Green Bay Packers (-4)
34, Atlanta Falcons 20 (50½):
Despite only
managing 300 total yards in the game the Packers pulled away with a 34-7 lead
late in the third quarter. Atlanta scored early in the fourth to put the total
scoring at 48, just below the closing total. The Falcons reached the Green Bay
8-yard-line with about seven minutes remaining but a fumble kept points off the
board. In the final minutes Atlanta kept a meaningless drive going with a 4th
down conversion and then with 14 seconds to go hit a 19-yard touchdown pass on
another 4th down play to bail out those on the ‘over’.

New Orleans Saints (-9½)
28, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 14 (55½):
The
Buccaneers led 14-3 at the half as they looked to sweep the season series with
the Saints. The game seemed to swing on a blocked punt late in the third
quarter as New Orleans got back in the game with a short-field touchdown. Early
in the fourth New Orleans scored on 4th-and-goal with a Drew Brees reach to put
New Orleans up by four and suddenly the hefty underdog cover was in danger for
the home team. Another 3-and-out gave the Saints the ball back in good field position
and New Orleans again scored to make the margin 11 points. The Buccaneers again
had to punt and the Saints added a field goal to lead by 14 with just over a minute
to go. A touchdown would still put the Buccaneers in position to cover however
and Tampa Bay reached the New Orleans 26-yard-line in the final seconds before
a holding call and an eventual interception in the end zone.

New York Jets (+4½) 27,
Buffalo Bills 23 (37):
The Bills led 20-13 early
in the third quarter after a short field goal after the Jets fumbled on the
halftime kickoff. The Bills didn’t add points after another Jets turnover and
then early in the fourth New York managed to tie the game. Buffalo missed a
field goal on its next possession but after forcing a quick punt managed three
points after a 62-yard drive, leading by three with just over two minutes to go
on a spread that sat at -3½ before reaching -4 or -4½. Sam Darnold led a great
late drive with the Jets rushing into the end zone on 4th-and-goal to take the
lead for the first time in the game. Josh Allen would get intercepted to end
the game for the Bills.

Miami Dolphins (+9) 34,
New England Patriots 33 (50½):
The Patriots
led 30-28 late in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite burn off the remaining
clock and didn’t find the end zone, ultimately kicking a 22-yard field goal
with 16 seconds remaining to lead by five when a touchdown could have put New
England by nine on a spread that bounced around between -7 and -9. The Dolphins
returned the kickoff to the 31 and had one play left, it turned out to be a
play that will be remembered for a long time as a two laterals after a Ryan
Tannehill completion left Kenyan Drake with room to maneuver, eventually going
the distance for a 69-yard game-winning score.

Los Angeles Chargers (-16½)
26, Cincinnati Bengals 21 (48):
The Bengals
were never out of position to cover the massive underdog spread in this game
but their late bid to tie the game had a huge impact on the total. The ‘under’
felt safe with just 32 points into the fourth quarter and matching field goals
didn’t change that trajectory. Cincinnati would complete a touchdown drive just
after the two-minute warning and lined up for a two-point conversion that would
have tied the game. The attempt was not a success as the Chargers led 23-21 and
the total sat just ‘under’. After holding the on-side kick attempt the Chargers
added a late field goal to secure the win and put the scoring at 46, just below
the closing figure of 48 after an opener at 47.

Dallas Cowboys (-3) 29,
Philadelphia Eagles 23 (45):
Eagles backers
had a right to be fuming early in Sunday’s big afternoon showcase game in the
NFC East with a Dallas fumble on the opening kickoff handed back to the Cowboys
on a simply unimaginable replay review decision. From there just 15 points were
scored through three quarters and the underdog Eagles tied the game at just 9-9
early in the fourth quarter. These rivals scored four touchdowns in the final
eight minutes for a 23-23 tie to incredibly hit the ‘over’ when the ‘under’
appeared to be in a very safe position most of the way. Dallas was in position
to have a game-winning field goal attempt at the end of regulation but had a
fumble and then a sack to cost the team 15 yards. In overtime Dallas again
appeared to stall in field goal range but opted to go for it on 4th-and-1 from
the 19-yard-line rather than kicking a relatively sure field goal. The Cowboys
got the conversion and then on 3rd-and-8 connected for a game-winning and
spread-covering touchdown on a lucky bounce as a deflected pass wound up in
Amari Cooper’s hands.

Oakland Raiders (+10) 24,
Pittsburgh Steelers 21 (51):
The heavy underdog
Raiders came to play in this old rivalry as the double-digit underdog was in
position to cover the entire way. The ‘under’ also seemed safe with a 14-10
score through three quarters which held until the Raiders took the lead 17-14 with
a touchdown with just over five minutes remaining in the game. Both teams would
score again for a 24-21 Oakland edge in the final seconds. The Steelers picked
up a huge gain on a lateral play to set-up a game-tying field goal that would
have put those on the ‘over’ miraculously back in play but Chris Boswell’s
plant foot slipped and his 40-yard attempt failed as the ‘under’ held on.

Seattle Seahawks (-3) 21,
Minnesota Vikings 7 (45½):
Both defenses were tough
in this Monday NFC showdown with a 3-0 lead for Seattle through three quarters
after Minnesota failed going for it on 4th-and-1 across midfield. In good field
position Seattle got the biggest play of the game to that point with a 31-yard
pass interference call on the first play of the 4th quarter, a play with
minimal contact on a debatably catchable pass. That put Seattle at 1st-and-goal
and Seattle got past the home favorite spread with a field goal to lead 6-0.
Minnesota would go right down the field on its next possession but stalled
inside the 2-yard-line and threw incomplete on 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard-line.
Minnesota’s defense forced a 3-and-out and returned to Seattle territory,
opting for a 47-yard field goal try. Bobby Wagner blocked the kick but was
flagged for pushing off teammates to leap over a gap, a new rule emphasized
this season. Without explanation the flag was picked up as for the second time
in the game a clear 15-yard penalty on Wagner was missed after he got away with
a facemask in the 1st quarter. With the block Seattle took over downs near
midfield when the penalty would have given Minnesota 1st down at the Seattle
14-yard-line in an egregious officiating mistake that created a huge swing in
the potential result of the game. A big Russell Wilson scramble put the game away
for the Seahawks who would also add a late score on defense before Minnesota
avoided the shutout with a garbage-time touchdown for a very misleading final
score.

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NFL Close Calls Week 13

NFL Close Calls – Week 13

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread and total in the fourth quarter in Week 13 of the NFL regular season.

Miami Dolphins (-3½) 21, Buffalo Bills 17 (40): The Dolphins led 14-6 at the half and 14-9 through three quarters on a spread that fell from -6 to just -3½. After both teams had interceptions late in the third quarter Josh Allen led a touchdown drive to put Buffalo in front at the 12-minute mark, with the two-point conversion making it a 17-14 edge. With the help of two penalties for 36 yards Miami answered with a touchdown drive in only six plays to go in front 21-17, past the favorite spread while inching closer to the total that closed at 40. The Bills missed a 55-yard field goal on their next drive with back-to-back sacks making that kick much more difficult. Miami only burned a minute of clock as the Bills got the ball back with more than two minutes remaining. Buffalo reached the Miami 25-yard line but a field goal wouldn’t be enough. A third down completion to the Miami 6-yard-line was overturned on replay review and on 4th-and-11 the Miami defense held to secure the narrow win while the ‘under’ also held on.

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New York Giants (+3½) 30, Chicago Bears 27 (43½): After the Bears had a comeback win last week and the Giants had a late collapse the same storyline looked to be unfolding in this matchup. The Giants led by 10 entering the fourth quarter and held Chicago to a field goal on an early drive to keep a seven-point edge. Chicago would get the ball back with more than two minutes remaining but fumbled immediately. With great field position New York had to settle for a field goal while only trimming 30 seconds off the clock. Still it was a 10-point game when the Bears got the ball back after the two-minute warning. Chase Daniel led the Bears to a field goal in just 36 seconds. Chicago got the onside kick and Daniel delivered a few big plays to tie the game as time expired. In overtime New York went first and got a 44-yard field goal. Daniel couldn’t deliver again, struggling to hold on to the ball and eventually failing on 4th-and-8 near midfield as the underdog Giants held on this week.

Los Angeles Rams (-10) 30, Detroit Lions 16 (53½): Detroit wound up holding the Rams to just 344 yards and trailed by only three points well into the fourth quarter as a heavy home underdog. Matthew Stafford would have another big late game turnover, fumbling on a sack near midfield to give the Rams great field position. Three plays later the Rams went up by 10 with fewer than seven minutes remaining in the game to match the spread. Detroit had a costly red zone holding penalty and settled for a field goal past the three-minute mark to get back within one score. The onside kick try was not recovered and the Rams nearly could have taken a knee with Detroit exhausting its timeouts. Instead Todd Gurley ran into the end zone after the two-minute warning to suddenly give the Rams a 14-point edge. The Lions were a threat to get back within the number late reaching the Los Angeles 14-yard-line in the final seconds before Stafford threw an interception in the end zone to end a loss for a second straight week.

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Arizona Cardinals (+13½) 20, Green Bay Packers 17 (41): In what turned out to be Mike McCarthy’s final game for the Packers, Green Bay never approached the heavy-favorite spread. A three-point edge at halftime was erased as Arizona scored 10 points in four minutes late in the third quarter to lead by seven. The Packers tied the game at 17-17 with five minutes to go but Arizona managed a late field goal after the two-minute warning. Those on the ‘over’ liked their chances with a late Green Bay score either clearing the number or forcing overtime. The Packers didn’t make the task easy with Aaron Rodgers unable to move further than the Arizona 31-yard-line and in windy, wet conditions Mason Crosby missed from 49 yards.

Kansas City Chiefs (-14) 40, Oakland Raiders 33 (54): The Chiefs led 33-16 entering the fourth quarter to sit past a spread that climbed as high as -15½ before settling right on 14. Derek Carr led two fourth quarter touchdown drives to suddenly put the Raiders within three with nearly seven minutes remaining. A big offside call converted a key 3rd down for Kansas City and the Chiefs wound up in the end zone just after the two-minute warning to seal the win up by 10. Oakland would wind up with a late field goal but only 28 seconds were on the clock when the Raiders failed on an onside kick attempt.

Los Angeles Chargers (+3) 33, Pittsburgh Steelers 30 (53½): With 10 points in the final three minutes before halftime, Pittsburgh had a commanding 23-7 edge in the Sunday night game. That margin held until the final two minutes of the third quarter with the Chargers completing a 13-play, 88-yard touchdown drive and also adding the two-point conversion. Pittsburgh still led by eight but a sack and a holding call had the Steelers facing 4th-and-24 and they punted back to the Chargers who delivered a 73-yard punt return touchdown. Another successful two-point conversion tied the game at 23-23. Pittsburgh went three-and-out on offense and the Chargers turned in another touchdown drive to suddenly lead by seven at the eight-minute mark. Pittsburgh regrouped for a 12-play touchdown drive that included a 4th down conversion but more than four minutes remained on the clock. The Chargers methodically used up the remaining clock to line up a game-winning field goal from just 39 yards. The kick was missed but offsides was called. On the second attempt the Steelers got the block but again offsides was called. It was called again on the third attempt but Mike Badgley was good from 29 yards as the Chargers were able to steal a huge road win in the AFC picture, with theses teams now having a good chance of meeting again in the wild card round of the AFC playoffs.

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Philadelphia Eagles (-5½) 28, Washington Redskins 13 (45): The Eagles led 7-3 in the second quarter Monday night when Washington had to turn to third-string quarterback Mark Sanchez after losing Colt McCoy to a broken leg a few weeks after losing Alex Smith to a broken leg. Adrian Peterson broke a long run to give Washington the lead and the Redskins then stepped up on defense with a goal line stand. Washington wasn’t able to take a lead into halftime however as the Eagles found the end zone after the two-minute warning to lead by four facing a favorite spread that slipped from -7 to -5½. Washington managed a field goal just before halftime to trail just 14-13. Josh Norman came up with an interception to keep Philadelphia points off the board in the third quarter as the underdog was still in position to cover despite Sanchez providing little for the Washington offense. Early in the fourth quarter the Eagles finally completed a touchdown drive and went for two successfully to lead by nine. Sanchez was picked off a few plays later near midfield and Philadelphia added a field goal despite picking up only seven yards. Down 12 Washington was still a touchdown away from covering but had negative yards on its final two possessions and the Eagles added a late field goal to complete a big NFC East win. The total also stayed just barely ‘under’ with several missed scoring chances in the game.

 

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4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 14

4th Quarter Covers – NCAA Week 14

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread in the fourth quarter last week from Championship weekend in college football. Each week there are several teams that cover despite not necessarily deserving it, as well as other teams that played much better than the final score shows.

Northern Illinois (+3½) 30, Buffalo 29: The Bulls led 22-10 at halftime and scored a touchdown to open the second half for a 19-point edge. The Huskies made some great defensive adjustments as Buffalo would pick up a net total of seven yards over its next five possessions. A marginal punt handed Northern Illinois good field position and late in the third quarter the Huskies closed the gap back to 12 points. After another 3-and-out for the Bulls, Northern Illinois needed only four plays to score again to cut the deficit to just five points with most of the fourth quarter still to play. After forcing two more Buffalo punts, the Huskies had the ball back at their own 30-yard-line with just over three minutes to go. Without great resistance Northern Illinois got the go-ahead score in eight plays, connecting for a 35-yard catch with just over a minute to go. Up one, Northern Illinois went for two and fell short leaving backers of the slight favorite still with hope for a late touchdown to get past the number. Buffalo would cross midfield thanks to a pass interference call but wound up ending the game with four straight incomplete passes.

UAB (+1) 27, Middle Tennessee State 25: UAB scored three touchdowns in the span of four minutes in the second quarter but Middle Tennessee State had a chance to tie the game in the third quarter, failing on a two-point conversion attempt to sit behind 24-22 heading into the fourth quarter. The Blue Raiders would take the lead on a field goal with about 10 minutes remaining but after an exchange of punts that put UAB at midfield, the Blazers did enough for the go-ahead field goal with just over three minutes to go to lead by two on a spread that fell from +3 to just +1 by kickoff. Middle Tennessee State crossed midfield in the final two minutes but ended its threat with three straight incomplete passes.

UCF (-1) 56, Memphis 41: The spread on this game opened at -4½ and fell to just -1 by kickoff with the injury to McKenzie Milton putting the UCF winning streak in jeopardy. Memphis had a 24-7 lead in the first quarter and led 38-21 at halftime. As they did in the regular season meeting, UCF battled back in the second half and cut the margin to just six points by the start of the fourth quarter. The Knights took a one-point lead early in the fourth quarter and Milton’s replacement Darriel Mack would wind up with three fourth quarter touchdowns as the Knights pulled away for a second straight AAC title and will head to a New Year’s Six bowl game.

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Oklahoma (-9½) 39, Texas 27: For very little of this game Oklahoma appeared in position to cover a spread that climbed from -7½ to -9½ as they led 20-14 at the half after overcoming an early deficit and the game was tied 27-27 through three quarters after the Sooners blocked a PAT on a late third quarter Longhorns touchdown. That kept overtime as a serious possibility but that changed when Oklahoma got a safety after hitting an early fourth quarter field goal. Texas was pinned deep following a fumble that thwarted a Sooners scoring opportunity but a blitz put Sam Ehlinger down in the end zone for a five-point edge for Oklahoma. Getting the ball right back Oklahoma converted three third downs and scored with two minutes to go for a 12-point edge to slip past the favorite spread. Texas looked like they would get back within the number with a new set of downs inside the 20 in the final minute but an interception sealed the win and cover for the Big XII championship for Oklahoma.

Fresno State (+1) 19, Boise State 16: The Bulldogs didn’t have much production in Boise Saturday night looking to avenge a tight loss in last season’s conference championship game as well as a regular season defeat this season. Fresno State managed field goals in the two middle quarters for a 13-7 edge but Boise State would complete an 87-yard touchdown drive with about eight minutes to go to the tie the game. The PAT was blocked as Boise State failed to go in front for what would have been a one-point win to match the closing spread on the game with the Bulldogs even briefly favored at some outlets late in the week. Neither squad posed much of a threat to score on late game possessions in regulation as overtime was needed. Boise State stalled inside the 10-yard-line and settled for a 23-yard field goal going first. Fresno State hit two big gains early and then on the second try from the one-yard-line rushed into the end zone for the win.

Clemson (-28) 42, Pittsburgh 10: The statistics suggested a blowout but this was a 14-10 game early before Clemson scored two touchdowns in the final five minutes before halftime. That 18-point edge was well short of the four-touchdown spread and Pittsburgh held Clemson off the scoreboard in the third quarter. Early in the fourth the Tigers put the game away with another touchdown but still seemed unlikely to slip past the favorite spread until Pittsburgh fumbled at the Clemson 30-yard-line with six minutes to go. Clemson broke a 31-yard run on second down and then a 28-yard run a few plays later, eventually putting the result-flipping touchdown on the board with just over three minutes to go.

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Ohio State (-16½) 45, Northwestern 24: Ohio State took advantage of a few big plays for a 24-7 edge at the break, just past the favorite spread in Indianapolis. Northwestern battled back in the third quarter with two touchdown drives as the heavy underdog sat within three with the ball back. An interception halted that momentum but Ohio State didn’t add points until late in the third quarter for a 10-point edge. Early in the fourth Ohio State missed a field goal and Northwestern succeeded on a kick to get within seven and two scores within the underdog spread. A broken coverage allowed Ohio State a 63-yard pass to set-up a Buckeyes touchdown for a 14-point edge with nine minutes remaining. Northwestern crossed midfield but eventually had to go for it on 4th down and came up short, allowing Ohio State to play with a short field and the Buckeyes added a late score for a 21-point edge in the final minutes. Northwestern was sacked twice on its final possession and ultimately opted to punt facing 4th-and-19 as Ohio State was able to win and cover despite being soundly out-rushed and only leading by a single-score much of the second half.

South Carolina (-28) 28, Akron 3: In rainy conditions South Carolina had a 28-3 edge at halftime with the help of a defensive touchdown that followed-up a red zone interception. The Gamecocks had turnovers on three consecutive possessions at one point in the second half while Akron was stopped on downs in South Carolina territory twice while having another fumble near midfield. Ultimately neither team added points and Akron held on to the narrow underdog cover with the scoreless second half in a game with seven turnovers and minimal offensive production on both sides.

Stanford (-3) 23, California 13: Down 13-6 at halftime California dominated the second half of this rivalry game as Stanford had 34 net yards on its first four possessions after halftime. Cal meanwhile had an empty drive into Stanford territory, an interception in the end zone, and a missed 34-yard field goal. The Cardinal would go up two scores after the four-minute mark in the fourth quarter and the Bears would wind up with another interception that with a long return put Stanford at the three-yard-line. The Cardinal scored to go up by 17 before allowing a late touchdown to the Bears in the final minute.

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Conference Championship Notes

Conference Championship Notes

Playing for a championship is the goal of every program and eight conference champions will be decided on Saturday. College Playoff berths are not likely on the line in the Conference USA, American, Sun Belt, and Mountain West games but all four contests will be rematches to fill out the championship Saturday schedule. One of these teams should also get called for the top Group of 5 spot in the New Year’s Six.

CONFERENCE USA CHAMPIONSHIP

Match-up: UAB Blazers at Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

Venue: At Johnny Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Time/TV: Saturday, December 1, 1:30 PM ET, CBSSN

Line: Middle Tennessee State -1, Over/Under 44½

Last Meeting: November 24, 2018 at Middle Tennessee State (+3) 27, UAB 3

UAB wasn’t playing football two years ago and after a successful bowl season in last year’s re-boot the Blazers look to take another step this season with a division title and a shot a the conference title. Middle Tennessee State is also in the Conference USA Championship for the first time looking to keep a run of four consecutive championships for the East division champion going.

Bill Clark stayed with UAB through the two-year hiatus after coaching the Blazers for his first season in 2014 following one year at Jacksonville State. UAB was perfect at home this season in a 9-3 campaign though the team enters this game off back-to-back losses, falling 41-20 to Texas A&M and then in last week’s game in Murfreesboro. Senior quarterback A.J. Erdely miss three November games before returning last week with freshman Tyler Johnston filling in with similar numbers as both could see the field this week.

Rick Stockstill won a Sun Belt title in his first season with the program in 2006 and this will be his first trip back to a championship game, leading mostly successful results over now 13 seasons with an 87-76 record and no losing seasons in Conference USA play. Last year’s team had a lot of potential but his son Brent was injured most of the year. Back as a senior quarterback the younger Stockstill has posted terrific numbers this season and he missed most of the one conference game the Blue Raiders lost at Florida International.

These schools are only about 200 miles apart as a good crowd should be expected even with some potential rain in the forecast for Saturday.

Regular Season Meeting: These teams met just last week on the same field. The incentives were vastly different however as Middle Tennessee State needed to win to get to this game and shortly after kickoff knew that Florida International had lost to make it a win-and-win-the-division-title game. UAB had already clinched its division and had little at stake last week and it showed, ultimately posting only 89 net yards of offense and not scoring again after taking a 3-0 lead on the opening drive in an eventual 27-3 result.

Series History: UAB won last season’s meeting 25-23 while Middle Tennessee State has won four of seven meetings since 1995 with a 3-2 ATS run in lined games since 2000.

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AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Match-up: Memphis Tigers at Central Florida Knights

Venue: At Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Florida

Time/TV: Saturday, December 1, 3:30 PM ET, ABC

Line: Central Florida -3, Over/Under 65

Last Meeting: October 13, 2018, Central Florida (-4½) 31, at Memphis 30

This will be the fourth meeting in two seasons for these programs with UCF looking to extend the nation’s longest winning streak to 25 games with a second straight conference title. The storyline however will be the absence of quarterback McKenzie Milton who was injured for UCF in last week’s win over South Florida.

In last year’s championship game these teams put on a show with Milton helping to deliver a 62-55 win in double-overtime with both teams eclipsing 700 yards of offense in a game with several big swings. UCF has won the regular season meetings the past two years as well, getting a lopsided home win last year and this year winning in Memphis by one-point with a second half comeback.

The Tigers are one of the nation’s top rushing teams with Darrell Henderson posting 1,699 yards so far and Memphis posting 6.4 yards per carry for nearly 276 yards per game. Replacing a highly productive quarterback, junior Brady White has been effective in his first season after transferring from Arizona State. Freshman Darriel Mack will start at quarterback for UCF with Milton out. Mack did play in entire game in the win over East Carolina but that has been his only meaningful action this season. He is much bigger than Milton and a serious rushing threat but likely not nearly the same caliber performer in the passing game at this point in his career.

Regular Season Meeting: In a highly anticipated rematch of the 2017 championship game Memphis took command early with a 30-14 edge until just before halftime. UCF trimmed the deficit to just six points in the third quarter and then took a one-point lead in the fourth. Memphis fumbled twice in the second half to wind up shut out in the second half at home and losing despite a 281-165 rushing edge.

Series History: Central Florida has won S/U 12 meetings in a row in this series going back to 2005 with the last win for Memphis coming in 1990 when UCF was not playing at the top college football level. Memphis has gone 4-2-1 ATS in the seven meetings going back to 2010.

 

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SUN BELT CHAMPIONSHIP

Match-up: UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns at Appalachian State Mountaineers

Venue: At Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina

Time/TV: Saturday, December 1, 12:00 PM ET, ESPN

Line: Appalachian State -18, Over/Under 59

Last Meeting: October 2, 2018 at Appalachian State (-25½) 27, UL-Lafayette 17

The Sun Belt split into two five-team divisions this season and will join the Championship Weekend with the inaugural title game this weekend after often featuring a full regular season schedule in this final weekend in previous years. There was great drama in determining the division champions this season with last week’s results meaningful and the heavy Sun Belt favorite to open the season, Arkansas State, did not make it.

Scott Satterfield led a 4-8 FCS squad in his first season in Boon in 2013 but has had a winning season every year since the program jumped to the FBS level in 2014. The Mountaineers are 3-0 in bowl games the past three years and 39-11 the past four years combined while going 28-4 in Sun Belt play in that span. Expect Satterfield to field interviews from prominent openings if he so chooses as he has done a remarkable job. This year may have been his best work as the roster appeared to be in a major transition with the loss of several key players from last season.

The one game in Sun Belt play that Appalachian State lost came without quarterback Zac Thomas at Georgia Southern and the numbers were dominant for the Mountaineers with a 255-108 scoring record in going 7-1 in league play. Appalachian State went 5-0 at home on the season and nearly upset Penn State in the opening week on the road.

Louisiana started the season 1-3 but losses at Mississippi State and at Alabama certainly are forgivable. The Ragin’ Cajuns beat Arkansas State at home 47-43 and last week earned this spot by besting rival UL-Monroe on the road 31-28. The Ragin’ Cajuns played both Appalachian State and Troy on the road for a difficult crossover draw and lost both games by 10 points in lower scoring games. In going 5-3 in Sun Belt play Louisiana outscored foes by just 24 points while being outscored overall on the season despite being 7-5.

Regular Season Meeting: As a massive home favorite Appalachian State led just 17-10 at the half before pulling away. The final score was 27-17 but Louisiana scored with 63 seconds to go to make the final margin tighter, though the yardage edge for the Mountaineers was modest at 372-328. The ground game was the key with a 266-140 rushing advantage for the Mountaineers at home.

Series History: These teams have met each of the last five years with five straight wins for Appalachian State, going 3-2 ATS including 2-1 in the home meetings.

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MOUNTAIN WEST CONFERNCE CHAMPIONSHIP

Match-up: Fresno State Bulldogs at Boise State Broncos

Venue: At Albertson’s Stadium in Boise, Idaho

Time/TV: Saturday, December 1, 7:45 PM ET, ESPN

Line: Boise State -2½, Over/Under 50½

Last Meeting: November 9, 2018, at Boise State (+2½) 24, Fresno State 17

These teams met in the Mountain West title game last season with a 17-14 win for Boise State with a 90-yard touchdown drive for the lead late in the fourth quarter. That was after Fresno State defeated Boise State at home the previous week to close the regular season. These teams also met in the 2014 MWC Championship, also a win but missed cover for Boise State.

The stakes are potentially higher this season as if UCF loses to Memphis now playing without its star quarterback, the victor of this game could be the highest rated Group of Five squad in line for a New Year’s Six bowl bid. Boise State is currently 22nd while Fresno State is 25th in those rankings. UCF is 8th and could potentially hold the highest ranked spot with a loss though that would be an unusual precedent to set as they wouldn’t be a conference champion and would likely look like a much less promising team without Milton.

Marcus McMaryion and Brett Rypien are both in the nation’s top 12 in QB Rating and both seniors are coming to the close of excellent seasons and careers. They have combined to throw only 10 interceptions in nearly 800 attempts. Defense has been the key for Fresno State however, second nationally allowing just 13.5 points per game with a significant edge in pass defense relative to Boise State. The Broncos are 119-7 S/U at home since 1999 for truly the toughest home field edge in the nation however.

Regular Season Meeting: As a rare home underdog Boise State fell behind 17-3 early in the third quarter. The Broncos rallied to win in the fourth taking a 24-17 edge while Fresno State had a missed field goal while getting stopped on downs in Boise territory on its final two possessions. Boise State had a 448-390 edge in yards and committed the only turnover in the game.

Series History: Boise State is 15-4 S/U in this series since 1996 with a 13-5 ATS record however Fresno State has covered in four of the past five meetings. This will be the MWC Championship matchup for the third time in the last five years with a 28-14 win for Boise in 2014 and a 17-14 win over Boise last season with the Broncos hosting all of those games. Fresno State did win S/U hosting Boise State in the regular season in 2013 and 2017 but has not won in Boise since 1984.

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MAC Championship Preview

MAC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

Championship weekend kicks off in Detroit with the MAC Championship Game Friday night in Detroit. Northern Illinois has now represented the West in seven of the last nine title games while this is just the second appearance for Buffalo. Here is a look at Friday’s closely-lined championship game in the MAC.

 

Match-up: Northern Illinois Huskies at Buffalo Bulls  

Venue: At Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan

Time/TV: Friday, November 30, 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2

Line: Buffalo -3, Over/Under 49

Last Meeting: 2017, at Northern Illinois (-8) 14, Buffalo 13

 

Buffalo has been the prominent MAC team all season since starting the year 4-0 with notable wins at Temple and at Rutgers. The Bulls started 6-0 in conference play to take a commanding lead in the East but slipped up at Ohio in mid-November before clinching the division title last weekend. At 10-2, it has been the best season record-wise in Buffalo history already and the Bulls will have two more opportunities to add to the win count.

 

This if the fourth season for Lance Leipold who won six Division III championships in eight years at Wisconsin-Whitewater and figures to be a candidate to be interviewed for major conference positions in the near future. Buffalo went 5-7 and 2-10 in his first two seasons before reaching 6-6 last year without getting a bowl invite.

 

Rod Carey took over Northern Illinois for the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2012 season after Dave Doeren was hired at NC State. In six-plus seasons he is 51-29 with the Huskies finishing in the top three in the West every season while this will be his fourth MAC title game, going 1-2 in three straight appearances from 2013 to 2015. A bowl win has eluded Carey, winless in five tries but the program has been a consistent force in the conference.  

 

The Dollar General Bowl in Mobile vs. a Sun Belt team has been the typical landing spot for the MAC Champion though there are not true ranked bowl tie-ins for the MAC. The Camellia, Famous Idaho Potato, Frisco, and Bahamas Bowls are also tied to the MAC with the conference featuring seven bowl-eligible teams including six that are at least 7-5 this year.

 

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West champion Northern Illinois is just 7-5 but the Huskies lost non-conference games to Iowa, Utah, and Florida State, while beating BYU for one of the nation’s most difficult non-conference schedules. The Huskies held this spot despite losing its final two MAC games to slide to 6-2 in league play, falling in single-score games hosting Miami and at Western Michigan in the final two weeks.

 

Northern Illinois has the top scoring defense in the MAC, allowing just 19.8 points per game while Buffalo was one of the conference’s top offensive teams, posting 35.5 points per game in conference play. These teams didn’t play in the regular season this year but Buffalo did face Eastern Michigan and Toledo in the crossover games for a fairly difficult schedule. Northern Illinois drew Ohio and Miami as both teams faced the second and third place teams from the opposing divisions.

 

Experienced mobile quarterbacks are on both sides with sophomore Marcus Childers playing significantly last season as a freshman for Northern Illinois. He posted worse numbers across the board this season however despite a similar record for the Huskies. Junior Tyree Jackson threw nearly twice as many touchdown passes this season compared with last season for Buffalo but he also saw major declines in most of his passing numbers compared with last season. At 6’7” Jackson is a difficult matchup for any defense but the Huskies have had great defensive numbers this season.

 

Only Clemson is allowing fewer yards per carry than Northern Illinois at just 2.6 yards per rush attempt on the season. The Huskies were only out-gained on the ground three times this season and never in MAC play with only Iowa, Florida State, and BYU holding a ground edge in this matchup while in six of eight MAC games Northern Illinois had a rushing edge of at least 96 yards.

 

Dominating the ground game has been the key to beating Buffalo this season as in the team’s two losses they had a major rushing deficit. In September Army out-gained Buffalo by 178 rushing yards and won 42-13 in Buffalo while in mid-November Ohio out-rushed Buffalo by 280 yards in a 52-17 result that prevented the Bulls from clinching the division at the time.

 

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Despite the 6-2 record Northern Illinois played almost exclusively close games in MAC play with seven of eight games decided by 10 or fewer points in either direction. The only lopsided result was a home win over 2017 MAC Champion Toledo but that game featured nearly identical production but a few big turnovers and special teams plays tilting the scales to the Huskies. Northern Illinois actually has a negative scoring differential on the season despite being 7-5, though they outscored MAC foes by an average of 5.3 points per game.

 

Buffalo outscored foes by an average of 11.0 points per game overall this season and 10.9 points per game in MAC play. Buffalo scored at least 31 points in nine of ten wins this season while five of seven wins for Northern Illinois came with 26 or fewer points scored by the Huskies as these teams have generally been in contrasting types of contests and whoever dictates the pace could have the advantage.

 

2017 Meeting: In mid-October Northern Illinois visited Buffalo and took 14-3 lead with a pair of early second quarter touchdown drives led by Marcus Childers who ran for the first score and threw for the second. Buffalo would answer with 10 points before halftime including getting a field goal following a fumble for a one-point game at the break, 14-13. Northern Illinois had 1st-and-goal early in third quarter before a Childers fumble and on the next possession the Huskies missed on a 43-yard field goal. Buffalo got zero points after an 81-yard drive early in the fourth quarter with a missed field goal that could have taken the lead and a few minutes later an interception in Huskies territory also cost the Bulls a chance to get in front. Northern Illinois missed another field goal in the final minutes as the 14-13 edge held after a scoreless second half filled with missed opportunities.

 

Series History: Northern Illinois is 10-0 S/U in this series since Buffalo joined the FBS ranks with the Huskies 7-3 ATS. Northern Illinois has been favored by at least seven points in every previous meeting as this will be the first time Buffalo has been favored in this series and in eight of the previous 10 meetings Northern Illinois has been favored by 14 or more points.

 

MAC Championship History: The MAC Championship has been won by the West representative in eight of the last 12 seasons and Northern Illinois has been six of the previous eight MAC championships, winning the title in 2011, 2012, and 2014, with the last title under current head coach Rod Carey.  

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NFL Close Calls – Week 12

NFL Close Calls – Week 12

11/27/2018

Glancing at the scoreboard won’t tell you the whole story in most games. Here are some of the games that went down to the wire relative to the spread and total in the fourth quarter in Week 12 of the NFL regular season.

Chicago Bears (-3) 23, Detroit Lions 16 (43): Chase Daniel filling in for Mitchell Trubisky brought the line on the early Thanksgiving game down from -4 to -3. The Lions trailed 9-7 at the half with the Bears getting a field goal and a touchdown in the final four minutes before halftime. Detroit took a 13-9 advantage into the fourth quarter but the Bears quickly answered to go up by three early in the fourth. The Lions went 73 yards on the next possession but had to settle for a 20-yard field goal to tie the game, after being unable to get in the end zone on a pair of plays inside the 3-yard-line. Detroit’s defense forced a punt but on 1st down Matthew Stafford was intercepted and Eddie Jackson put the Bears in front with a 41-yard return as the Bears suddenly led by seven and the ‘over’ was within a touchdown. Detroit had plenty of time to work with and eventually had a new set of downs at the Chicago 12-yard-line at the two-minute-warning. On 3rd down Stafford was intercepted again this time for a touchback to end the threat as the Bears escaped with the win and cover despite posting only 264 total yards.

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Buffalo Bills (+3) 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 21 (36½): The Bills and Jaguars were tied at 14-14 through three quarters after Josh Lambo missed a field goal from just 42 yards. The Bills haven’t been known as a quick strike offense but in three plays and with the help of 30 penalty yards, Buffalo got in the zone to take a 21-14 edge early in the fourth quarter. Four straight punts followed before the Bills added a field goal after intercepting Blake Bortles deep in Jacksonville territory. The Jaguars would add a touchdown with just over a minute remaining but didn’t get the on-side kick attempt as Buffalo held on for the minor upset and 17 fourth quarter points pushed the game ‘over’ one of the league’s lowest totals of the season.

Baltimore Ravens (-13) 34, Oakland Raiders 17 (41½): Baltimore led just 20-17 through three quarters but another rough fourth quarter was on the way for the Raiders. Former Oakland star Michael Crabtree caught a touchdown pass to put the Ravens up by 10 and Baltimore got a fumble return touchdown from Terrell Suggs a few minutes later after having scored earlier in the game on a punt return putting the Ravens up by 17 on a spread that climbed from -11 to -13. The defeated Raiders didn’t offer a much of a late threat to get back within the number, going backwards on a late 3-and-out.

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Philadelphia Eagles (-5) 25, New York Giants 22 (49):The underdog Giants had a 19-3 edge but the Eagles got eight points with about a minute to go before halftime and then added another three to trail by just five through three quarters. With 10 minutes to go Philadelphia went up by three with another touchdown with a successful two-point conversion, but that lead was not quite enough against a line that opened at -6 never fell past -4 during the week. The Giants tied the game with a short field goal with about six minutes remaining but Philadelphia burned most of the remaining time to hit from 43 yards for a three-point edge for a demoralizing loss for New York, though the effort was enough for the underdog to narrowly hold the cover.

New England Patriots (-13) 27, New York Jets 13 (47): The Jets were tied with the Patriots 13-13 with four minutes left in the third quarter but Tom Brady hit Julian Edelman for a 21-yard touchdown as the AFC East leaders took a seven-point edge in the final frame on a spread that climbed up to -13 from an early week price of just -9. The Jets crossed midfield on its next drive but early in the fourth quarter opted to punt after taking a 3rd down sack. New England then completed an 80-yard drive with nine minutes to go for that 14-point advantage. It looked like the Jets would earn the backdoor cover reaching the New England 4-yard-line at the two-minute warning. Josh McCown had two throws to the end zone fall incomplete however as the Patriots held the 14-point margin.

Seattle Seahawks (+3) 30, Carolina Panthers 27 (47): Carolina led by three through three quarters and took a seven-point edge with seven minutes remaining in a game where the Panthers finished with 476 total yards but had a few missed opportunities early to keep Seattle in the game. Seattle went 75 yards in just over three minutes to answer with a tying touchdown. Graham Gano then missed a 52-yard field goal try just after the two-minute warning for the Panthers and without a timeout the Seahawks went 45 yards for Sebastian Janikowski to connect from 31 for the upset win in Charlotte with the Seahawks posting 20 points in the final 22 minutes of the game.

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Denver Broncos (+3) 24, Pittsburgh Steelers 17 (49): These teams were tied at 3-3, 10-10, and then 17-17 through three quarters with Pittsburgh turnovers offsetting a significant production edge. The Broncos completed a 79-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter after a Pittsburgh fumble just outside of the red zone but it appeared the Steelers would tie the game to potentially force overtime. Pittsburgh wound up with a new set of downs at the Denver 3-yard-line just after the two-minute warning but on 3rd-and-goal Ben Roethlisberger rushed a pass up the middle after an awkward exchange and the errant throw was snagged by defensive lineman Shelby Harris for an interception in the end zone to seal the minor upset for the Broncos. That turnover also sealed the ‘under’ with the total likely to be eclipsed had the game headed to overtime.

Minnesota Vikings (-4) 24, Green Bay Packers 17 (49): The Sunday night NFC North battle appeared to be headed towards a shootout with a 14-14 score just four minutes into the second quarter but Minnesota would miss a pair of field goals before halftime. In the second half both teams punted on early possessions while the Packers failed near midfield going for it on 4th-and-1. The good field position allowed Minnesota to finally add three to take the lead with just over three minutes remaining in the third quarter with the spread climbing from -3 to -4 by kickoff after opening at -3½. The Vikings were able to take a 10-point lead just before the start of the fourth quarter and then halfway through the fourth the Packers defense got a big 3rd down sack to stay in the game, pushing Minnesota out of field goal range. On the punt disaster struck as the ball bounced into returner Tramon Williams and was recovered by Minnesota at the Green Bay 15-yard-line. Still no points were recorded as Mike Zimmer and the Vikings eventually opted to go for it on 4th-and-2 from the 7-yard-line up by 10. The Packers would face a similar decision on 4th-and-1 ahead of the two-minute-warning but opted to kick the 38-yard field goal to get back within one score, three points which were no help to those on the Packers, while the ‘under’ was also able to hold on.

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