Friday, February 5, 2016

Super Bowl 50

#1 Carolina Panthers (17-1) vs. #1 Denver Broncos (14-4) in Santa Clara, CA, Carolina favored by 6

It feels weird not writing Roman Numerals when talking about a Super Bowl, but that is where we are with the NFL's 50th version of the biggest game in American sports. The Carolina Panthers have been the best team in football this year and while it only took 18 weeks, most of the country seems to finally be buying into that notion. I admit I was slow to come around as well, but the Panthers are highly talented in every facet of the game and thus enter as favorites against the Denver Broncos.  The Broncos have one of the best defenses we have seen in recent memory, and in a sentence I never thought I would type, have made it this far in spite of Peyton Manning.

The best way to preview a Super Bowl is to sort out how the teams compare position wise. Starting at quarterback, Cam Newton is head and shoulders above Manning. Newton is going to be the MVP of the league and rightfully so. He accounted for an absurd 45 touchdowns this season, 35 through the air and 10 rushing the ball. Manning on the other hand, started just 9 games in the regular season and yet for most of the year, led all quarterbacks in interceptions with 17. Manning has played pretty well in the playoffs, but it is clear that he is a far cry from the Manning that used to single-handedly carry teams. The Panthers have the edge in the rushing game with Jonathan Stewart, Mike Tolbert and Newton versus the Broncos duo of Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson. Stewart and Tolbert each averaged 4.1 yards a carry this season, and Stewart was just 11 yards shy of a 1,000 yard season despite missing the final three games of the season. Newton rushed for 636 yards this season and gives the Panthers rushing attack a whole other dimension that Manning can't give Denver. Hillman and Anderson have each had their moments this year, but Denver's offense has never been committed enough to the run for either to have an overall huge impact. The Broncos get the edge in the passing game but they haven't been nearly as potent throwing the ball as in years past. A lot of that had to do with Manning's struggles but their receivers, Demaryius Thomas especially, have been terrible at holding on to the ball. It was also clear that the Broncos had no true replacement for Julius Thomas. Owen Daniels busted out in the AFC Championship game but was invisible for most of the year. The Broncos traded for Vernon Davis but Vernon stopped giving a shit about football two years ago. Emmanuel Sanders still has that big play, game changer potential, but far too many times this season he turned into a non factor. Sometimes in Super Bowls a receiving option will come out of nowhere and make plays, like Chris Matthews last season for the Seahawks. A possible Bronco that could do that is Jordan Norwood. He has been seeing a decent share of targets his last few games and since he obviously won't attract the attention that Sanders and Thomas will, he could make an impact. The Panthers biggest weakness coming into the regular season appeared to be at receiver. They weren't all that deep to begin with and then they lost stud #1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to injury in the preseason. However, in his absence guys stepped up, especially Ted Ginn Jr. who averaged over 16 yards per catch and scored 10 touchdowns. TE Greg Olsen led the Panthers in catches and yards, while other contributors include rookie Devin Funchess, veteran Jerricho Cotchery and second year man Corey "Philly" Brown. The Panthers have the edge at offensive line, with Pro Football Focus ranking their line the 2nd best in the league and the Broncos tied for 20th. Trai Turner was the Panthers best offensive lineman, but Michael Oher has been getting the most attention in the run up to the Super Bowl. Obviously, most of that has to do with The Blind Side effect but he also played well this year in protecting Cam when he dropped back to pass and has revitalized his career after bottoming out with Tennessee last season. Ryan Kalil and Andrew Norwell also have been consistent this season and a big reason for the Panthers having the best rushing attack in football. The Broncos received a massive blow before the season when they learned they would be without their best lineman Ryan Clady this season. I thought it would be a deathblow and fortified my thinking that the Broncos would be a bad team this season. However, much like how they overcame Manning's struggles, the Broncos did enough mixing and matching to make things work with their offensive line. Evan Mathis was a great pick up and the rest of the current lineman, including Michael Schofield (not the Prison Break character), second year man Matt Paradis and vets Louis Vasquez and Ryan Harris have played well enough.

Each team is strong defensively, and as has been talked about frequently the Broncos defense has been next level this season. Denver's 3-4 defense led the NFL in sacks this season, with DeMarcus Ware's 7 1/2 sacks, and LB Von Miller leading the team with 11 sacks. Brandon Marshall and Shaquil Barrett led the Broncos in tackles for loss. The Broncos defensive line of Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, and Malik Jackson are not household names but were a big reason that the Broncos defense led the NFL in allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, best in the league. The Broncos have a great linebacking corps, including the aforementioned Marshall, Miller and Ware, they also have Danny Trevathan. Another area where the Broncos defense ranked first in the league is pass defense. The Broncos secondary of corners Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, along with safeties T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart is unmatched. Stewart is questionable for the Super Bowl but expected to play. While the Panthers 4-3 defense wasn't as good overall as the Broncos, they were better than Denver at creating turnovers. LB Luke Kuechly has pick sixes in both Panthers playoff victories and Carolina's linebacking corps of Kuechly, Thomas Davis and not much talked about Shaq Thompson are one of the better units in football. Thomas broke his arm in the win against Arizona but all indications are that he will play against Denver. The Panthers were sixth in the league in sacks this season and have racked up 8 in the postseason. They have a stout defensive line, anchored by ends Charles Johnson and Jared Allen. Allen missed the NFC Championship with his foot injury, but he has sworn he will play on Sunday. A former first round pick, defensive tackle Star Lotulelei took some time but this year you started hearing his name more and more on Sundays, wreaking havoc. Kawann Short rounds out the Panthers defensive line. The Panthers have been battling injuries with their secondary and things got so bad they had to take terrible Cortland Finnegan off the streets and insert him into the lineup. The other corner Josh Norman has had a breakout season in his walk year. That means you can expect Denver to try to pick on Finnegan. I would expect Norman to be on Thomas, so Sanders could have a chance for some big plays going against Finnegan and other recent off the street pick up Robert McClain. Although, to his credit, Finnegan did well against Larry Fitzgerald in the NFC Championship game. Safety Kurt Coleman has had a breakout season and been an interception machine, while ole vet Roman Harper has been a reliable hand at the other safety position.

These teams are about even in special teams. Panthers kicker Graham Gano has been good this year and improved from his Redskin days. I could pretend like I know anything about punter Brad Nortman but I would be lying. Fozzy Whittaker is the Panthers kick returner and Ginn handles punt return duties and he can change a game in an instant with his speed. He will be a player to watch in the Super Bowl, not just on offense, because his return abilities could have a major effect on field position. Brandon McManus is mostly reliable and punter Britton Colquitt played a huge part in the Broncos upset of the Patriots, by continually pinning New England deep in their own end. Kick returns barely even happen in today's NFL so I don't expect Andre Caldwell to have much of an impact, but Sanders can be dangerous as the Broncos punt returner. Neither Panthers coach Ron Rivera or Broncos coach Gary Kubiak would be in many peoples top coaching lists. I think Kubiak is mostly mediocre and just stepped into a talented team in Denver. Rivera has improved the Panthers year to year so I would give him the edge over Kubiak, although I think having a once in a generation player like Newton has helped make him look even better.

I have gone back and forth in my mind on my pick. I initially was very confident in picking the Panthers, but then started thinking about the Super Bowl two years ago where the Seattle Seahawks mauled the Broncos. Denver came in with the great offense and was expected to roll over the elite Seattle defense but the exact opposite happened. So then I was thinking maybe this Broncos defense is so good that they can almost win the game themselves. But I don't feel like they have played a guy like Newton this season. The things Cam opens up for Carolina's offense is going to be too much even for a defense as good as Denver's. Newton and the Panthers rushing attack is going to wear out the Broncos defense with just enough runs and then that is when you will start to see play action come into play. Once the Broncos are focused on the rushing game, they will end up like every other defense this season and start being susceptible to those big chunk plays from the passing game that the Panthers have done so well this season. Plus, that super powered offense the Broncos had two years ago wasn't complemented by a top flight defense like the Panthers have this season. I also think that Manning will revert back to the mistakes we saw from him in the regular season. He has played clean in the playoffs and avoided the turnovers but he isn't going to be so lucky against a defense that are such ball hawks. Anderson and Hillman have had problems holding on to the ball, so I bet they are good for a fumble in this game as well. The Broncos defense will do their best to keep it close but will eventually wear down. The Broncos offense isn't good enough to have to score like they will need to in a game like this. Newton will win the MVP and the Panthers will have their first Super Bowl championship. If people are being honest then after Carolina wins on Sunday they should go down as one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

Prediction: Carolina 27, Denver 17

Monday, January 11, 2016

2016 College Football Playoff - National Championship

(1) Clemson (14-0) vs. #2 Alabama (13-1) at Glendale, Arizona

Despite their 14-0 record, the Tigers have faced doubters all season. The doubt hasn't been because of their play this season, which has largely been dominant, but because of the sins of their programs past. Clemsoning became a verb for the Tigers penchant for losing games they should win. Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has tired of the talk, but even with his team at 14-0, pretty much anyone outside of the Tigers program, is confident that Clemson won't beat Alabama tonight. While the Clemson program has a tortured history, the Tide have a decorated one. Clemson has one national championship in program history and that was 35 years ago. Alabama will be looking to win its 16th national championship and fourth in seven years. An interesting stat is that in all three of Nick Saban's national titles since becoming coach at Alabama, the Tide have had one loss. Some teams have been crippled by one loss and immediately tossed out of the national championship conversation. But the Bama brand is so strong, that the Tide have often overcome that one less and still been seen as the prohibitive favorites.

Both teams are strong offensively and defensively but the Tigers have the edge at quarterback with the dynamic DeShaun Watson. Watson is a dual threat quarterback and the Tigers unquestioned leader. Bama quarterback Jake Coker, while not spectacular, either in his play or in his acne treatment, has been a steady hand at quarterback for the Tide. To his credit he was spectacular against Michigan State but that isn't something Bama can count on happening each game. The edge in running back clearly goes to Alabama as they trot out Heisman trophy winning workhorse, Derrick Henry. Henry will have his work cut out for him against a tough Tigers defensive line, and Henry was held in check against Michigan State in the semis. Clemson RB Wayne Gallman was not held in check by Oklahoma, rushing for 150 yards and 2 touchdowns. He won't find things so easy against Bama's stout defense. Both offenses feature elite receiving options, for Bama it is freshman sensation Calvin Ridley. The Spartans had no answers for Ridley, who torched them for 138 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. Tigers sophomore Artavis Scott was the team's leading receiver but he is not nearly as dynamic as Ridley.

Shaq Lawson is the Tigers premiere defender but he is battling a knee injury. The Tigers were able to overcome being without him against Oklahoma and even though he will be on the field it is likely he won't be at 100% percent for this game. The Tigers have struggled to stop the run this season, so Henry could be in line for a big day. I wouldn't be surprised if Bama starts the game by trying to pound the Tigers into submission. A big part of that likely gameplan is also because the Tigers are so much better defending the pass than they are the run. Mackensie Alexander will get the assignment against Ridley. If the Tigers can play above themselves and slow down Henry, things will be very difficult for the Crimson Tide offensively. Not surprisingly, the Bama defense has many studs and their defense is good against both the run and pass. They are first in the country against the run and gave up less than 200 yards passing per game. They are led on the defensive side by All-American DE A'Shawn Robinson and All-American LB Reggie Ragland. Strong safety Eddie Jackson led Bama with 5 interceptions and returned two of those for touchdowns.

I suspect that it will become apparent early that the Tigers have not faced a team as physical as Alabama all season. I believe Henry will make his presence felt early, which will open up play action and get Ridley involved. I think Bama will jump out to an early lead and then Clemson will spend the rest of the game playing catch up. IT will get the Tigers out of their offensive game plan and put too much pressure on Watson to make things happen. I expect Henry to be the Player of the Game and Bama to once again put themselves at the top of the college football ladder.

Prediction: Alabama 34, Clemson 21

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 10

Sunday, November 15

New Orleans (4-5) at Washington (3-5), New Orleans favored by 1

Just when it looked like the Saints were building some momentum and might be players in the NFC playoff race, they lose at home to Tennessee. No one has any idea what we will see from the Saints week to week except we know that their Rob Ryan led defense will give up a ton of points and look like dog excrement. As expected the Redskins had no chance in New England, thought it was not the fault of Kirk Cousins. Cousins made some pretty good throws but his receivers, tight ends, running backs, hell even random people on the sidelines all seemed to have a case of butterfingers. If the Redskins want to keep alive their hopes or what some would call a pipe dream alive of winning the NFC East, they have to win this game. The Saints passing defense gives up over 300 yards a game, and their rushing defense over 100, so maybe Alfred Morris or Matt Jones will finally have a good game for all four quarters. The Redskins defense struggles against the run as well so it could be a big day for Mark Ingram. I expect a lot of points and fireworks in this game, and ultimately for the Redskins to pull out the win at home, where they have played well so far this year.

Prediction: Washington 37, New Orleans 33

Miami (3-5) at Philadelphia (4-4), Philadelphia favored by 6 1/2

All those good vibes the Dolphins had after Dan Campbell was named interim coach have disappeared after two blowout road losses within the division. Miami is in must win mode now if they want to keep alive any playoff hopes for what was supposed to be a breakthrough season. The Eagles got a huge win at Dallas last week, and if the Giants fall to the Patriots as expected, the Eagles could be alone in first place in the NFC East with a win in this game. The Eagles defense suffered a blow when rookie LB Jordan Hicks tore his pec against Dallas and was placed on injured reserve. The defense has surprisingly been the consistent part of the Eagles, its the offense that is up and down each quarter. However, recently DeMarco Murray seems to be getting going, so maybe the Eagles are peaking at the right time. Playing the toothless Dolphins should help Philly continue to feel good about themselves.

Prediction: Philadelphia 30, Miami 20

Detroit (1-7) at Green Bay (6-2), Green Bay favored by 11 1/2

The Packers desperately need a get right game after losing back to back road games to Denver and Carolina. The offense finally got going in the second half against Carolina, but it was the defense that was falling apart. Cameras caught Julius Peppers, B.J. Raiji and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix getting into it on the sidelines. The schedule worked out though because the Packers get to host the sorry Lions on Sunday. It will continue to get trotted out each year until the Lions finally break the hex, but here it is again. Detroit has not won at Lambeau Field since 1991, and to put that in perspective that was when my old, tired, 32-year old body was just a young, vibrant 8-years old. Matt Stafford had a week off and maybe he spent some of that time working with new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter since apparently he didn't really like the old coordinator Joe Lombardi. He most likely didn't but I just wanted an excuse to type Jim Bob Cooter, the greatest name in the history of the world. The Packers offense always plays well at home, especially Aaron Rodgers, so after a tough couple of weeks, I expect a much jovial group of Packers on Sunday.

Prediction: Green Bay 42, Detroit 21

Dallas (2-6) at Tampa Bay (3-5), Tampa Bay favored by 1

Time is running out on the Cowboys who are without Tony Romo for they hope the last this week Sunday. If they can pull off this victory then they would still have realistic hopes in the NFC East and Romo back to possibly lead a great revival. Tampa Bay is showing all the signs of a young, growing team. Up and down from week to week, usually competitive, usually not able to close out games. I think this is the one game that the Cowboys will get without Romo. Matt Cassel played well last week, aside from one really bad pick six. I think that game helped his confidence and will lead to more good things from the offense, including Darren McFadden on Sunday.

Prediction: Dallas 26, Tampa Bay 20

Carolina (8-0) at Tennessee (2-6), Carolina favored by 5

Damn, these Panthers are for real, aren't they? Cam Newton had quite the day against Green Bay. He started it by stealing Packers banners, then had Julius Peppers try to stop him from giving a touchdown ball to a child, had an awesome performance against that Packers defense, and closed it out with the Panthers 12th consecutive regular season win. The Titans showed that maybe the perpetual loser Ken Whisenhunt was what was holding them back, as they impressively won at the Superdome. Now, they will be looking for their first home win of the season. This will be a fun quarterback battle between Newton and the increasingly impressive Titans rookie Marcus Mariota. But I am starting to learn my lesson, don't pick against these Panthers, they are the real deal.

Prediction: Carolina 27, Tennessee 17

Chicago (3-5) at St. Louis (4-4), St. Louis favored by 7

The Bears and especially Jay Cutler showed a lot of guts on Monday night, coming from behind on the road to beat the Chargers. The win kept the Bears alive in the playoff conversation and with them playing the Rams this weekend, they could be in the picture even more if they can pull off another upset.  The Rams made news for a dirty hit on Teddy Bridgewater and more news when they signed Wes Welker. Welker barely contributed to Denver last year but the Rams and their anemic passing offense will look to almost anyone to try to produce. People are very concerned that Welker will suffer another concussion but its his and his family's decision, so if he wants to play, I won't be losing any sleep over it. As for this game, these teams are pretty even stat wise but the Rams defense seems to take it another level when they play at home, having not allowed a touchdown at home in their past two games. I expect to see Cutler on his butt a lot and looking very frustrated and in the perfect pose for a cigarette to be photoshopped into a picture of him.

Prediction: St. Louis 23, Chicago 13

Cleveland (2-7) at Pittsburgh (5-4), Pittsburgh favored by 5

Injuries have been killing the Steelers this season and once again Ben Roethlisberger will miss time with an injury. He should not be out as long this time as he was when he first was injured and instead of Mike Vick replacing him, it will be Landry Jones this time. Ben should only miss this game, as the Steelers have a bye next week, before going to Seattle on November 29th. Cleveland is hoping that Josh McCown can return, as Johnny Manziel only does anything well in spurts, including staying sober, hi yoooooooooooo! It is another lost season for the Browns and you have to wonder if another complete overhaul will be in order again after this season.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 24, Cleveland 17

Jacksonville (2-6) at Baltimore (2-6), Baltimore favored by 5 1/2

The Ravens were doing a lot of talking this week that they believe they can still make the playoffs, just being just 2-6. One positive is that their first half schedule was front loaded with five road games, so five of their last eight will now be at home. Their next four games are certainly winnable so maybe there is something to the confidence the Ravens are projecting. The Jaguars are also 2-6 but are just a game and half back in the AFC South. With the Colts now being without Andrew Luck for 2-6 weeks, you know the perpetually positive Jags coach Gus Bradley will be telling his guys that they still have plenty to play for. Jacksonville has followed a familiar script this season of being competitive but usually not being able to close out games. I think that script will have a sequel this Sunday in Baltimore.

Prediction: Baltimore 34, Jacksonville 27

Minnesota (6-2) at Oakland (4-4), Oakland favored by 3

This will be a fun game between two rising teams. The Vikings are now tied for first in the NFC North and currently winners of four straight games. The Raiders are coming off a heartbreaking loss at Pittsburgh, but appear set for a long time at quarterback with Derek Carr, who has 19 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions this season. Both teams also feature dynamic rookie receivers in the Vikings Stefon Diggs and the Raiders Amari Cooper. Teddy Bridgewater left the win against St. Louis with a concussion but has passed all the necessary tests and will start on Sunday. The Raiders biggest problem this season is their defense, and especially their secondary which gives up a whopping 325 yards passing per game. The problem for Minnesota is that while Bridgewater is improving, he isn't likely to kill anyone through the air right now. But on the other side, the Vikings pass defense is awesome, so it will be intriguing to see how Carr fares against them. I am a Derek Carr believer and I think the Raiders will have the edge in the Black Hole.

Prediction: Oakland 28, Minnesota 23

New England (8-0) at New York Giants (5-4), New England favored by 7

Another chance for the Giants to try to spoil an undefeated Patriots season. New England received some bad news this week as probable Comeback Player of the Year Dion Lewis was lost for the season with an ACL tear. However, much like Lewis emerged out of nowhere, I am sure Bill Belichick will have James White or Brandon Bolden come in and take right over, and the Patriots won't miss a beat. I also expect Belichick to help come up with a defensive scheme that will make Odell Beckham Jr. largely disappear on Sunday. Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski have to be licking their chops to face a Giants defense that gives up 429 yards per game, with 315 of those coming through the air. This game will turn into a shootout and the Giants and Eli Manning won't be able to keep up.

Prediction: New England 40, New York Giants 27

Kansas City (3-5) at Denver (7-1), Denver favored by 6

The Broncos suffered a disappointing defeat at Indianapolis and also saw Aqib Talib poke someone in the eye, which will cause him to miss this game with a one game suspension. The good news is they are playing Alex Smith who usually only throws it as far as the linebackers. The Chiefs have had a week of rest and two weeks to prepare for this game, which their defense needed as they have been pretty awful this season. That being said, Peyton Manning has been mediocre to bad against just about everyone and there is no reason to expect that to change this week. After an off week last week though, I expect the Broncos defense to up their game back to a high level, and carry Denver to another win.

Prediction: Denver 24, Kansas City 16

Arizona (6-2) at Seattle (4-4), Seattle favored by 3

A lot of teams are intimidated by the Seahawks 12th man but one team that should not be is the Cardinals. Arizona went to Seattle two years ago and knocked off the Seahawks when they weren't on Seattle's level. Now they are the better team but are still underdogs. Seattle's schedule is back loaded with home games and they are confident they will make a second half surge like they did last season. Carson Palmer has had his struggles against Seattle, so it is imperative that he and the offense get off to a quick start and limit the impact the Seattle crowd will have on the game. The Cardinals defense has been opportunistic all season, and Russell Wilson's offensive line has struggled to protect him. I believe that combination will lead to Wilson putting the ball on the ground, and putting the Seahawks defense in a situation where they will have to defend a short field. The Cardinals have been stout against the run so I also think they can limit Marshawn Lynch's impact on this game. I am going with the upset that is not really an upset, as the Cardinals show the world they are a Super Bowl contender.

Prediction: Arizona 22, Seattle 17

Monday, November 16

Houston (3-5) at Cincinnati (8-0), Cincinnati favored by 10

The Texans had to have some good feelings inside after hearing about Luck's injury as it makes them viable players in the AFC South going forward. Brian Hoyer has been quietly outstanding this season, throwing 13 touchdowns and just 3 interceptions. The Texans defense has seemed terrible this season, but interestingly enough they are allowing just 2 yards more per game than the Bengals defense is. Despite that stat, Houston is giving up 8 more points per game the Cincinnati, showing that the Bengals will bend, but not often break. Andy Dalton has continued his strong play and is likely giving Bengals fans some hope this this will finally be the postseason that he doesn't bomb out. The Texans have been blown out twice on the road this season but I expect a much more respectable effort from them in this game with two weeks of rest. While the effort will be respectable, it will not be a winning one. Too much pressure will be on Hoyer to do well now that Arian Foster is out for the season. The Texans had no rushing attack when Foster missed time earlier this year, so excuse me for not jumping on the Alfred Blue bandwagon.

Prediction: Cincinnati 35, Houston 24

Last Week Straight Up: 8-5
Overall Straight Up: 87-45

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-6
Overall Against the Spread: 63-65-4 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Cram Session - Week 11

Thursday, November 12

Buffalo (4-4) at New York Jets (5-3)

Rex Ryan returns to the Meadowlands, a place where he peaked early and then couldn't find that winning formula again in his later years. Rex feels like he was sabotaged in his last year in New York and Rex doesn't believe in being the better man or turning the other cheek. So to that end, he has made IK Enemkpali a captain for this game. For those that don't remember, Enemkpali was the guy that punched Geno Smith in the jaw, breaking it and costing Smith the starting quarterback job. Theatrics aside, this game is critical in the AFC Wild Card race. Neither of these teams are catching the Patriots, so that means they have to battle it out for two playoff spots. The Bills offense was healthy for the first time in weeks last Sunday against Miami and it instantly paid off. LeSean McCoy, Karlos Williams, Sammy Watkins and Tyrod Taylor all had big days. The Jets defense has been susceptible to big game passing games the last few weeks, even with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie lining up at corner. Cromartie could miss this game, but with how he has played recently that might be more of a blessing for the Jets. Something to watch for in what could be a close game is the Jets kicking situation. Nick Folk is out for the next month with a quad injury, and his replacement is former Texans flameout Randy Bullock. These two teams are about equal in talent, so I will lean towards the Jets homefield advantage on a short week. I think that Chris Ivory and Brandon Marshall could be in line for big games and push the Jets to a critical win.

Prediction: New York Jets 27, Buffalo 21

Games That Matter To Me

Nebraska (4-6, 2-4) at Rutgers (3-6, 1-5)

Mike Riley was definitely catching some heat for the Huskers lost season and even had some fans questioning if firing Bo Pelini was actually the wrong call. But then Riley did something that Pelini could never do and defeated a Top 10 team. The Huskers got what could be argued as a generous call from the officials on that game winning touchdown, but all that matters is what the record books say, which is Nebraska 39, Michigan State 38. With that win, the Huskers can now cling to faint hopes of winning their final two games and making a bowl game. They have to avoid a letdown spot at Rutgers this weekend. The Scarlet Knights were destroyed in their last two games by Ohio State and Michigan. They are a team that struggles mightily passing the ball, and does only marginally better running. They have a mediocre offense and a bad defense, hence why they are 3-6. When RB Robert Martin is able to get in a flow he is very productive. But Rutgers has been playing so much catch up lately that he is seeing a sporadic number of carries. It was evident how important Tommy Armstrong is to the Huskers offense. He isn't always pretty, but he does a great job of getting the ball downfield. Terrell Newby has been battling injuries so Imani Cross got the bulk of the carries last Saturday and responded well. I would be surprised if he isn't the main ball carrier in this game. The letdown spot does concern me, and this game will probably be close, but I like the Huskers to build off the momentum of last week's win and string together their first winning streak of the season.

Prediction: Nebraska 35, Rutgers 27

Top 10

#1 Clemson (9-0, 6-0) at Syracuse (3-6, 1-4)

The Tigers validated the playoff committee's faith in them by defeating Florida State at home last week. The win clinched the Atlantic Division for Clemson, setting them up for an ACC Championship showdown with North Carolina in the next few weeks. Until then, the Tigers look to navigate what on paper appears to be an easy schedule. I don't think people should overlook the game at South Carolina, as you never know with rivalry games. Cuse have lost six straight and their fans have moved on to basketball season. They will try to make a difference in this game but the Tigers have way too much talent and I expect Deshaun Watson to have his way with the Orange.

Prediction: Clemson 45, Syracuse 27

#2 Alabama (8-1, 5-1)  at #17 Mississippi State (7-2, 3-2)

The Tide crushed LSU at home, and made Leonard Fournette look mortal. Their home loss to a 3 loss Ole Miss team is ancient history to everyone and I am almost surprised the committee didn't make Alabama their number one team. Alabama does have a highly impressive resume and can add another strong road win as they play Dak Prescott and Mississippi State on Saturday. Prescott isn't getting the pub he got last year when he pushed the Bulldogs all the way to number one, but he has been spectacular this season. He has 18 TDs and just 1 interception, and leads the Bulldogs in rushing with 418 yards and 7 touchdowns. The Tide defense was up to the task against Fournette, but he can only run the ball, with Prescott they will have to be aware of both the run and pass. The problem with relying so much on just one guy though, as LSU learned, was if he is shut down, then what do you turn to? Alabama has multiple guys on offense they can turn to. Running back Derrick Henry is their best player and the Ride rode him to 38 carries last week. However, if he was to be slowed down, Jake Coker has shown he can make plays when called upon and avoid the big mistake. The Bulldogs defense follows the bend but don't break model. They can give up a healthy amount of yards, but have only given up 17 points per game this year. More often than not Nick Saban's Tide come up aces in huge games, be it on the road or at home. They will get Mississippi State's best shot, but I don't think it will be enough to officially unseat them as the kings of the SEC. The Bulldogs struggle against the run, so I expect another dominant Henry performance to carry Bama.

Prediction: Alabama 28, Mississippi State 20

 # 3 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0) at Illinois (5-4, 2-3)

The Buckeyes had another uninspiring Cardale Jones led victory last week against Minnesota and happily welcome back J.T. Barrett against Illinois this weekend. The biggest challenge for the Buckeyes won't be the Illini, it will be trying not to look past this game towards their home game with Michigan State next weekend. This is the last cupcake on the Buckeyes schedule, from here on out they are going to have to earn their playoff spot against top teams. When Barrett started Ohio State showed more of an ability to dominate teams they should, so I expect that sort of result on Saturday.

Prediction: Ohio State 41, Illinois 20

Wake Forest (3-6) at #4 Notre Dame (8-1)

I was very impressed with the Irish's performance at Pittsburgh last week. They played focused football and not like a team buying into the hype they received as the 5th ranked team in the first College Football Playoff rankings. DeShon Kizer has been excellent stepping in for Malik Zaire, so good, that I am not sure Zaire will be the starter next year when he is healthy. On paper, this week's game at home against Wake Forest should be a cakewalk. However, hopefully the Irish bring that same level of intensity they brought to Pittsburgh last week and don't lose this trap game. The Demon Deacons are dreadful on offense, having not cleared the 20 point barrier in their past five games. In fact their last win was a 3-0 victory over Boston College a month ago. Deacons QB John Wolford makes far too many mistakes and isn't accurate. The Wake Forest defense on the other hand, has been what has kept them in most games and what could possibly give the Irish some trouble. Honestly, the Irish could probably play all their backups and beat Wake Forest. They may be down to their third string running back, as C.J. Prosise left the game against Pitt with a concussion and is questionable for Saturday. As has been the story all season though, the next man stepped up, this time being Josh Adams and he rumbled for 147 yards rushing. I will be shocked if Will Fuller doesn't have another three touchdown game like he did last week. The march to Stanford and what could amount to a playoff eliminator should roll on this week as the Irish lay waste to Wake Forest and await Boston College for Senior Day.

Prediction: Notre Dame 42, Wake Forest 13

Minnesota (4-5, 1-4) at #5 Iowa (9-0, 5-0)

Boring Iowa will win a boring game while a nation yawns. Not sure why a win over Indiana bumped Iowa up four spots by the committee.

Prediction: Iowa 35, Minnesota 14

# 12 Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1) at #6 Baylor (8-0, 5-0)

We are starting to get into the meat of the Big 12 schedule, where the heavyweights start playing each other and will sort out the mess that the Big 12 currently is. Baylor has run roughshod over their easy scehdule but now they have to face the Sooners with freshman Jarrett Stidham under center. Stidham played well at Kansas State last week, throwing for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns. The rest of the Bears were not as good, as Baylor put up by far their lowest point total of the season with 31. Besides that inexplicable hiccup against Texas, the Sooners have been dominating this season. The amount of offensive talent on display in this game will be fun to watch. For Oklahoma you have QB Baker Mayfield and his 28 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. He is complemented by RB Samaje Perine and WR Sterling Shepard. Baylor is loaded with leading rush Shock Linwood and leading receiver Corey Coleman and his absurd 20 touchdowns. The defenses are really just window dressing in this game. If one of the offenses struggles it will more than likely be due to them shooting themselves in the foot and not anything the other team is doing to slow them down. I am tempted to pick the Sooners in this game but have been burned too many times by picking Oklahoma to win in big spots. I think they can match talent with Baylor and since the Bears are using their backup quarterback, I think Oklahoma should win, but they will Stoops it away somehow.

Prediction: Baylor 42, Oklahoma 38

Oregon (6-3, 4-2) at #7 Stanford (8-1, 7-0)

Stanford finds themselves in an interesting spot in this year's matchup against Oregon, they are actually the favorites. They did pretty well for themselves in an underdog role in years past against the Ducks, but the country would be stunned if they are unable to beat Oregon this year. The Ducks have been up and down all season but have had some hard fought victories lately and have looked far more potent on offense when QB Vernon Adams Jr. has been healthy, as he will be for this matchup. Oregon has always struggled with the physicality of Stanford and I expect their defense to have no answer for Cardinals star running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey is a big reason that Stanford has dominated time of possession this season, and why the Stanford defense is giving up just 20 points a game, 30th best in the country. The slow pace will mess up Oregon's rhythm and lead to Stanford pushing past the Ducks.

Prediction: Stanford 30, Oregon 17

#8 Oklahoma State (9-0, 6-0) at Iowa State (3-6, 2-4)

The Cowboys blew out TCU at home and now are receiving way too much hype and praise. Anyone who had slightly been paying attention this year knew how wildly overrated TCU was. They could barely beat bad Minnesota, Kansas State and Texas Tech teams on the road previous to losing to the Cowboys. Despite all this because of Oklahoma State's win all the media pundits felt compelled to place the Cowboys in their Top 4. Thankfully, the committee saw things correctly and while moving up Oklahoma State, is still taking a wait and see attitude. I need to see a little more from them before I consider them a playoff team. How they handle the accolades on the road in a trap game against Iowa State will be interesting to watch. If they can get past Iowa State this weekend, they have both Baylor and Oklahoma at home so everything is right there for the Cowboys. Paul Rhoads Cyclones have pulled off some pretty major upsets at home in the past, but those Cyclones were better than this year's team. The Cyclones have not been competitive against strong competition, and while I think they can make a game of this for a half, they will eventually be boat raced.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 52, Iowa State 28

Arkansas (5-4, 3-2) at #9 LSU (7-1, 4-1)

After a disappointing loss and performance against Alabama last weekend, it will be interesting to see how Les Miles Tigers respond against Arkansas. The Razorbacks are not a team that LSU can take lightly. They are highly talented on offense and have won for of their past five game, including a shootout at Ole Miss last weekend. After a rough go of it last week against Alabama, Leonard Fournette should return to form against a porous Arkansas run defense. Hogs quarterback Brandon Allen could find trouble trying to air it out against a stingy LSU pass defense. Arkansas has proven they can play with just about anyone in the country, so I expect a close, tight game, that won't be decided until the final few minutes.

Prediction: LSU 33, Arkansas 28

#10 Utah (8-1, 5-1) at Arizona (5-5, 2-5)

Before Utah moves on to next week's home game against UCLA, they have to focus on a reeling Wildcats teams. The challenge is that next week's game against UCLA could be what decides who wins the South division in the Pac-12. Despite their recent struggles Arizona should have some confidence going into this game as they have defeated Utah in each of their last three matchups. Utes QB Travis Wilson has had his troubles with Arizona, but I expect that to change on Saturday night. The Wildcats defense has been highly generous in allowing touchdowns, allowing the most in the conference. Utes coach Kyle Whittingham will have his guys ready and I expect Utah to win pretty comfortably.

Prediction: Utah 42, Arizona 27

Last Week: 9-1
Overall: 79-19

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 9

Sunday, November 8

Washington (3-4) at New England (7-0), New England favored by 14

The Redskins have had two weeks to bask in the glory of their come from behind win against Tampa Bay. That has meant two weeks for Redskins fans to continue to try to convince themselves that Kirk Cousins is good and more than just a placeholder for this season. Kirk Cousins is capable of having good games, he also is capable of having very bad games. He lives up to the definition of mediocre and if Redskins fans feel that putting up good stats against a middling Tampa Bay team makes him a franchise quarterback, then I can't convince you otherwise. I feel pretty confident in saying that against the Patriots on Sunday Cousins will throw multiple interceptions. The Patriots will get up big and then Kirk might put up some garbage time numbers and look halfway decent. The Redskins obviously have next to no chance in this game. They can't run the football so they won't be able to control possession and they can't rush the quarterback so Tom Brady is going to kill them. The Redskins just need to try to get out of this game with some dignity and prepare for a game they have a chance in when they play New Orleans next week.

Prediction: New England 38, Washington 20

Miami (3-4) at Buffalo (3-4), Buffalo favored by 3

The good vibes from the first two games of the Dan Campbell era quickly disappeared after the Dolphins were embarrassed on national television by the Patriots. The offense went back to looking toothless and the defense lost its best player, Cameron Wake for the season. With a week and a half to prepare and revenge on their minds, I am hopeful for a much stronger performance from the Dolphins this week. Last time they played Buffalo was at home and the Bills completely dominated the game. The Bills offense has been without Karlos Williams, Tyrod Taylor and Sammy Watkins the past few weeks, but are hopeful to have all of them back for this game. Miami has always struggled winning at Buffalo and I am not confident about Ryan Tannehill's ability to win in a tough road environment. The Dolphins will have to get Lamar Miller rolling in order to have a chance in this game.

Prediction: Buffalo 24, Miami 17

St. Louis (4-3) at Minnesota (5-2), Minnesota favored by 2 1/2

The Vikings are just one game back of the Packers in the NFC North. The Packers have a challenging game at Carolina, so Minnesota could possibly be in a first place tie if they can knock off St. Louis on Sunday. The emergence of Stefon Diggs at wide receiver has helped to improve Teddy Bridgewater's play and given a whole new facet of the Vikings offense that defenses have to account for. The Minnesota offensive line will be challenged all game by the fearsome Rams defensive front. Both teams can be offensively challenged at times, so more than likely this will end up being a defensive struggle. I think the defenses will cancel each other out, and the passing games will take a backseat to the powerful running of Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley. Fans will be in for a treat watching those two running backs, arguably the two best in the game right now. I think the Vikings will win with a late Blair Walsh field goal and keep rolling.

Prediction: Minnesota 20, St. Louis 17

Green Bay (6-1) at Carolina (7-0), Green Bay favored by 2 1/2

The Packers laid a big, giant turd on national television last Sunday night in the battle of the unbeatens with the Broncos. Aaron Rodgers had the worst game of his career, being held under 100 yards passing, something I wasn't sure I even thought was possible. They better brush themselves off fast though, because it gets no easier as they travel to unbeaten Carolina. Carolina did everything they could to choke away a fourth quarter lead against Indianapolis, but they eventually prevailed in overtime. Honestly, the Packers have been scuffling on offense for the past month, the Broncos game just brought it to a shinier light. I've been accused by some of being too hard on the Panthers, and it is hard to hate on 7-0. I will likely be called a hater for my prediction that the Packers will be the team to end their undefeated run, and also that they will hang 30+ on them. I feel like we will see a Packers team with a ton of fire after their embarrassing performance. They have a defense that lives and dies off of turnovers and Cam Newton has been turnover prone at times this season. Then you have Carolina having to recover on a short week after a Monday night game, and I think it will be too much for them to overcome.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Carolina 27

Tennessee (1-6) at New Orleans (4-4), New Orleans favored by 8

A three game winning streak has the Saints right back in the thick of things for the playoffs in the NFC. For the Titans, they have lost six straight and fired coach Ken Whisenhunt this week, replacing him with interim coach Mike Mularkey. Some people thought it was unfair that Whisnehunt only got to coach for four games with new franchise QB Marcus Mariota playing but to those people I say look at Whisenhunt's 4-30 record in his last 34 games as coach. Some guys are just meant to be coordinators and Whisenhunt is one of those people. I don't think we will see an initial Dan Campbell like effect on the Titans with Mularkey. This is a deeply flawed team, and one not filled with a lot of talent. Last week, Drew Brees had seven touchdown passes against the Giants and it looked like the Saints offense of yesteryear as they piled up 52 points. The Titans pass defense has been strong this year, but they have struggled stopping the run, so it could be Mark Ingram's time to shine on Sunday.

Prediction: New Orleans 38, Tennessee 14

Jacksonville (2-5) at New York Jets (4-3), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2

The Jets will have Ryan Fitzpatrick starting this game, busted up thumb and all. It is a must win for New York as they can't lost their third straight and start to feel in free fall mode. For Jacksonville, they are just a half game out of first place in the putrid AFC South. Blake Borkles is having a very strong season and has kept one of my six fantasy teams afloat while Tony Romo nurses back to health. The Jets defense had a poor showing last week, so I expect better out of that unit in this game. With Fitzpatrick back, even if he is hurt, I expect their offense to be much more in sync and Brandon Marshall to be a big factor in why the Jets snap their two game losing skid.

Prediction: New York Jets 27, Jacksonville 21

Oakland (4-3) at Pittsburgh (4-4), Pittsburgh favored by 4

Are the Raiders for real? They pounded the Jets in Oakland last week and sure it helped that they got to face Geno Smith instead of Ryan Fitzpatrick (never though I would type something like that), but they were still facing a good Jets defense and Derek Carr torched them. Michael Crabtree has benefited from all the attention being paid to Amari Cooper and is having a strong season. Crabtree always showed that he was good enough to be a number two in San Francisco, but it was trying to live up to the weight of being a number one that doomed him. The Steelers savior Ben Roethlisberger returned last week, then threw three picks and played no better than Mike Vick or Landry Jones had played. The Steelers are hoping that his poor performance can be chalked up to rust and he will be in for better play against Oakland. They really need him now that Le'Veon Bell has been lost for the season. De'Angelo Williams stepped in nicely the first two weeks at least, so the Steelers have to feel some security that he will be able to keep the running game afloat the rest of the season. I think the Raiders are definitely on their way up, but I am not convinced they can go cross country and win a tough road game just yet.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 33, Oakland 23

Atlanta (6-2) at San Francisco (2-6), Atlanta favored by 7

The big news out of San Francisco this week was the benching of Colin Kaepernick in favor of Blaine Gabbert. It is hard to believe that the guy who was lighting up the league just a few years ago and made Aaron Rodgers his bitch on a regular basis is now considered worse than the awful Gabbert. The falls of Kaepernick and RGIII have been stunning to watch. It seems like the end of the road for Kap in San Francisco and with the Niners losing week after week they might have a shot at trying to draft a franchise quarterback come April. The Niners have been decimated by injuries at running back as Carlos Hyde may be shut down for the season with a stress fracture in his foot and Reggie Bush tore his ACL sneezing. Then the other move the 49ers made this week was trading Vernon Davis to Denver. You may have forgotten Davis was still in the league since he has done next to nothing the past two seasons. But more than likely, he will go to Denver and start thriving, pouring further salt in the 49ers wounds. Matt Ryan has been the definition of mediocre this season but even if he doesn't play well, I am sure Devonta Freeman will run all over the 49ers. Plus, Ryan just has to hit Julio Jones with one or two throws, as the 49ers secondary will no doubt be burned constantly by him. Hey, they may even make Roddy White relevant again for a week. Sigh.

Prediction: Atlanta 23, San Francisco 9

New York Giants (4-4) at Tampa Bay (3-4), New York Giants favored by 2 1/2

The big story for this game is the return of Jason Pierre-Paul for the Giants. For those that don't know Pierre-Paul mangled one of his hands in a fireworks accident on the 4th of July. Pictures recently came out of what his hand now looks like and it isn't pretty. But JPP insists it won't stop him from rushing and sacking the quarterback. It is not often that you score 49 points and still lose but that is what happened to New York last week against the Saints. Eli Manning has been crushing it this season, throwing 17 touchdowns and just 4 picks. If the Giants had a true running game they would probably be a good team instead of a mediocre one. Tampa Bay had a very nice win at Atlanta last week and showed great resolve a week after blowing a game they should have won against Washington. Jamies Winston has been showing improvement week after week and the Bucs have been far more competitive this season than I think anyone expected. If they want to legitimize their playoff chances, a win against New York would go a long way towards that. Unfortunately, I think Eli is going to pick apart their defense, like he did New Orleans and the Giants will creep back over .500.

Prediction: New York Giants 34, Tampa Bay 31

Denver (7-0) at Indianapolis (3-5), Denver favored by 4

Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis a second time doesn't have near the luster it did the first time. The Manning these Colts fans will see is nothing like the Manning they watched for years and years. Peyton did play well against Green Bay last weekend, but still didn't throw any touchdowns. For the first time all season, the Broncos rushing game was on points with CJ Andreson going over 100 yards and Ronnie Hillman contributing as well. Earlier this week Denver traded for Vernon Davis, and are hopeful that a change of scenery can revive his career, as Virgil Green and Owen Daniels just weren't getting it done. The Colts made changes to the coaching staff this week, firing Andrew Luck's coordinator going back to his Stanford days, Pep Hamilton. Rumor has it if the Colts lose this game then Chuck Pagano could be next to go. It appears they are dealing with the same type of dysfunction that sunk the 49ers season last year. The Denver defense is not one you want to play if you are looking to get back on track, and I expect another long day at the office for Luck and the Colts on Sunday.

Prediction: Denver 28, Indianapolis 17

Philadelphia (3-4) at Dallas (2-5), Philadelphia favored by 2 1/2

Quite a bit has changed since Dallas defeated Philly in Week 2. The Eagles have gone 3-2 since then to creep back into the NFC Least race. It was that game where Tony Romo was injured and since his injury the Cowboys are 0-5. They are expecting Romo back in two weeks against Miami, but they need to at least scrape one victory while he is out to have any hopes of salvaging their season when he returns. This game will mark DeMarco Murray's return to Dallas and he will be hoping it goes much better than his first effort against the Cowboys this year. There has been talk that he should be supplanted in the starting lineup by Ryan Mathews, but Chip Kelly seems to prefer Mathews as more a change of pace kind of guy. The Cowboys defense has given up over 100 yards rushing in four of their past five games, so if Kelly is smart he will commit to the run. Sam Bradford and Matt Cassel will likely make plenty of mistakes, so each team will have ample opportunities to convert turnovers into points in this game. Dallas hasn't proven they can win without Romo and even with Dez Bryant back for a second straight game, it doesn't matter if he doesn't have a quarterback that can consistently get him the ball. I think Philly takes the win, splitting the season series and pushing Dallas closer to the brink of a lost season.  

Prediction: Philadelphia 26, Dallas 20

Monday, November 9

Chicago (2-5) at San Diego (2-6), San Diego favored by 4

A pretty lousy Monday Night game although seeing guh huh Philip Rivers and dope faced Jay Cutler play each other will bring back memories of their Broncos/Chargers tilts. Those two had a feud four years ago or so, but it seems to all be water under the bridge now. Both are fathers, I think Jay has one kid and Philip has his clan of 25 children. The Chargers lost Keenan Allen for the season, so it might be time for Stevie Johnson, Malcom Floyd and of course old dependable Antonio Gates to shine. It certainly won't be Melvin Gordon's time to shine because he is a bum.  The Bears have injuries of their own, as Matt Forte will miss this game and likely the next one with a knee injury. That means rookie Jeremy Langford should get the start and who knows, maybe he will teach Gordon a thing or two about being an effective rookie rusher.

Prediction: San Diego 29, Chicago 16

Last Week Straight Up: 9-5
Overall Straight Up: 79-40

Last Week Against the Spread: 6-7-1
Overall Against the Spread: 56-59-4

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Cram Session - Week 10

Thursday, November 5

Cleveland (2-6) at Cincinnati (7-0), Cincinnati favored by 10 1/2

I don't have a ton of interest in this game, but Johnny "Football" Manziel will be starting for the injured Josh McCown so that could be somewhat interesting. The Browns came close to trading their all world left tackle Joe Thomas to the Broncos, so when Manziel is getting sacked tonight he can remember that it could have been much worse. Looking ahead for the Bengals, it would be surprising if they aren't 9-0 heading into their newly flexed primetime game in Week 11 at Arizona. Nationally televised night games have been a bit of a bugaboo for Andy Dalton and Cincinnati, including an embarrassing loss at home on Thursday Night Football to Cleveland last season. I think the Bengals flip the script tonight and embarrass and add to the Brows misery.

Prediction: Cincinnati 35, Cleveland 13

Top 10

Thursday, November 5

#6 Baylor (7-0, 4-0) at Kansas State (3-4, 0-4)

This will be the Bears last tuneup game before their schedule kicks into high gear the next three weeks. After they obliterate Kansas State tonight, they next face Oklahoma at home and then travel to Oklahoma State and TCU. That would have already been a difficult challenge, but it was made even harder when starting quarterback Seth Russell was lost for the year due to a neck injury. Freshman Jarrett Stidham is the new starter and now we find out if the Bears offense just hums along like nothing happened, or if the Russell injury is what derails their promising season. This K-State game should at least allow him to get his legs underneath him, get in some sort of rhythm and gain some confidence going into their gauntlet schedule in November.

Prediction: Baylor 45, Kansas State 28

Saturday, November 7

#16 Florida State (7-1, 5-1) at #1 Clemson (8-0, 5-0)

This was the first week that the official College Football Playoff Top 25 was released and Clemson finds themselves at the top of the mountain. Now of course the rankings are merely just discussion fodder at this point and don't matter until after the season concludes but it does show the Tigers that even if they were to lose this game, and it was competitive they could still be in playoff contention. Of course, that isn't the attitude I expect Dabo Swinney or his players to take. Game planning for the Seminoles this week will be a challenge for the Tigers as we don't yet know if Sean Maguire or Everett Golson will get the start for Florida State. Seminoles star RB Dalvin Cook is also questionable, although I would be very surprised if he sits this game out. Cook spurned Clemson in the recruiting process and some Tigers have vowed to make him pay for that decision. Tigers QB Deshaun Watson has been excellent in the Tigers last two games and seems to be past the interception bug that had bit him previous to those games. Cook gets most of the headlines in the ACC but the Tigers also have an excellent running back in Wayne Gallman. These teams are both run heavy and the Seminoles defense has struggled stopping the run more than Clemson's. The last time Florida State was in Death Valley they mauled the Tigers and embarrassed them in primetime. Whether its Maguire or Golson the result will be the same. I expect a competitive, tight game, and as long as Watson doesn't become interception happy, the Tigers to further raise their playoff stock with a signature win.

Prediction: Clemson 28, Florida State 23

#2 LSU (7-0, 4-0) at #4 Alabama (7-1, 4-1)

Right now both these teams are playoff teams but after one of them loses to the other on Saturday I would expect that to change. For Alabama a loss should mean the end of their playoff hopes, although their brand always seems to get raised despite any losses they might have. The game might not be as crucial for LSU, but obviously any loss leaves you open to the subjectivity of the committee. Bama is the more complete team of the two. They can run and pass the ball and their defense is better than the Tigers. So with all that being said this should be a blowout right? As Lee Corso says, not so fast my friend. LSU has the transcendent Leonard Fournette at running back and he has shown that he can lead LSU to victories despite the Tigers having no semblance of a passing game for most of the season. Fournette's lowest rushing output this year was last game's 150 yards against Western Kentucky of all teams. Fournette is good enough to keep LSU in this game, but he alone can't beat a team like Alabama. That means that Tigers QB Brandon Harris will hav eto summon a performance similar to how he has played in his last three games. He has 7 touchdowns in those three games and no interceptions, passing for over 200 yards in each one. If Harris can maintain that level of play, the Tigers of LSU, not Clemson, are the best team in the country. He was able to do it against Florida, which has a stout defense, but that was at home. I'm not convinced he can go into a hostile atmosphere and replicate those performances. I expect Derrick Henry to wear down the Tigers defense, especially late in the game. Fournette will get his but the Tide will force Harris into mistakes, and Bama will quiet some of their playoff critics by knocking off unbeaten LSU.

Prediction: Alabama 22, LSU 19

Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) at #3 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0)

Ohio State will have just one more joke game left on their schedule after they host the Golden Gophers on Saturday. Cardale Jones will be back as the starting quarterback as J.T. Barrett will serve a suspension for this game after his OVI arrest. OVI is basically a DUI in Ohesian. The Golden Gophers had a heartbreaking loss last week at home against Michigan, as poor clock management and hubris doomed them. Interim coach Tracy Claeys got a little too excited and went for the win at the goal line, instead of going with the safer field goal option to take the game to overtime. He won't have to fret over such decisions this week.

Prediction: Ohio State 38, Minnesota 16

#5 Notre Dame (7-1) at Pittsburgh (6-2)

Red zone blunders, something that was a major problem last season, nearly cost Notre Dame at Temple last Saturday. However, DeShone Kizer continued showing his flair for the dramatic and connected with Will Fuller for the game winning touchdown in the closing minutes. This week presents another tough road test in an NFL stadium, when the Irish face Pittsburgh. Pitt had been in the Top 25 as recently as last week before losing to North Carolina. Pitt always finds themselves in close games, seven of their eight games this season have been decided by a touchdown or less. They are a stronger defensive team than they are an offensive juggernaut. That's not to say they don't have some players the Notre Dame defense will have to account for. QB Nathan Peterman hasn't thrown an interception since he threw two at undefeated Iowa in Week 3.  He completes 67% of his passes and while not spectacular, he is solid, sort of like the college version of Alex Smith. His favorite target is easily Tyler Boyd, who leads the Panthers with 63 catches, including 22 in his last two games. Freshman Qadree Ollison has been up and down at running back, as most freshman usually are. Pitt got down big at one point to Carolina last week so he was phased out of the game. However, when the Panthers have been able to establish the run, he has delivered. The Irish have the major edge on offense, but it could be a tough day passing for Kizer against a Panthers defense that gives up just 186 yards passing per game. That makes it imperative that C.J. Prosise doesn't disappear like he did against Temple last week. Prosises was held to just 25 yards on 14 carries and has played very poorly in the Irish's last two road games. I expect a bounce back performance from him this week and I also think Kizer will make things happen with the passing game. The Panthers might be able to spring the upset if Notre Dame can't get Prosise going early. I expect this game to be another tough one for Notre Dame, but if they can scratch out a victory here, they have two easy games at home against Wake Forest and Boston College, before traveling to Stanford to close the season. The top teams are all starting to play each other in this last month and could knock each other out, so if Notre Dame can take care of business, the playoffs are within reach.

Prediction: Notre Dame 30, Pittsburgh 24

#7 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4)

So when I wanted the Huskers to fire Bo Pelini because he couldn't get Nebraska over the hump, the idea I had was they wouldn't hire a mediocre coach out of Oregon State. I wanted to believe that athletic director Shawn Eichorst knew what he was doing when he hired Riley, but after last week's embarrassing loss at Purdue, it seems pretty clear Riley is in over his head. I remember a time when having to go to Nebraska and try to beat them in Memorial Stadium was a challenge, those were the days. Now, the Spartans probably see this game as merely a speed bump as they head to a battle in Columbus in two weeks. Spartans QB Connor Cook should have a field day against Nebraska's atrocious secondary. Besides their terrible secondary, what has really hurt Nebraska is their inability to establish a rushing attack this season. They can't count on Terrell Newby to do anything so their only hope in this game is Tommy Armstrong protects the football and the Huskers pretty lethal passing attack is able to take over. That will be tough since the Spartans have a pretty stingy pass defense. While a home game doesn't mean much as much anymore, Nebraska at least has remained competitive at home, so I don't think they will roll over and die against Sparty. Plus, Michigan State has shown a habit of struggling to put away bad teams. But I don't think their good enough defensively to pull off the upset and with Rutgers, and Iowa remaining on the schedule, a 4-8 finish to the season seems inevitable.

Prediction: Michigan State 30, Nebraska 21

#8 TCU (8-0, 5-0) at #14 Oklahoma State (8-0, 5-0)

By ranking the Horned Frogs eight, the committee seems to agree with me in how fraudy they think TCU is. Much like Baylor, TCU will have ample opportunity to prove themselves over the next month. TCU has survived three road scares against subpar teams, but this week they have a true road test against unbeaten Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have also beaten no one of note this season, so this game is crucial for them to make their undefeated record actually mean something. Defense will be optional in this game, like it is in most Big 12 matchups, so the game will simply come down to who makes more plays, Trevone Boykin or Mason Rudolph. Rudolph will have to avoid the pick bug. His team was able to overcome his three picks to beat West Virginia a few weeks ago, he throws even one pick in this game, Boykin will promptly march the Horned Frogs down the field and put TCU in control. The other Horned Frog the Pokes have to try to slow down is WR Josh Doctson. Doctson has 14 touchdowns this year and has had two or more touchdowns in six straight games. I've picked against TCU twice and came oh so close to getting it right, maybe the third time will be the charm?

Prediction: Oklahoma State 47, TCU 44

#9 Iowa (8-0, 4-0) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4)

Despite being unbeaten the only prayer Iowa has of reaching the Playoff is to win their remaining games, including the Big Ten championship and hope everyone around them loses. The only ranked team the Hawkeyes have played this year is Northwestern. A win against the Hoosiers will really do nothing to help Iowa, but if the Hoosiers keep the game close it can only hurt the Hawkeyes already suspect reputation. I think that is exactly the scenario that will play itself out on Saturday.

Prediction: Iowa 27, Indiana 23

Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3) at #10 Florida (7-1, 5-1)

With their win over Georiga last week the Gators locked up the SEC East and have basically guaranteed themselves a place in the SEC Championship game. They can make it official by beating Vanderbilt on Saturday, which they will do easily. Next week at South Carolina is a possible trap game, but besides that, their home game against Florida State is the only true challenge left on Florida's schedule before the SEC Championship. If the Gators take care of business their next four games, they will definitely be playing for a playoff spot when they face the SEC West representative in the championship game. Treon Harris played uneven against Georgia but if Kelvin Taylor continues gashing defenses and the Gators defense remains formidable, Harris simply needs to be adequate.

Prediction: Florida 38, Vanderbilt 9

#11 Stanford (7-1, 6-0) at Colorado (4-5, 1-4)

The Cardinal survived at Washington State, as the Cougars missed a field goal as time expired, giving Stanford their seventh straight victory.  The Buffaloes of Colorado won't be an easy out though for Kevin Hogan and stud RB Christian McCaffrey. The Buffs have a lot of offensive firepower that will test a pretty good Stanford defense. Plus, the early start was dangerous for Stanford in Week 1 at Northwestern and this game will have a 10 AM pacific start for Stanford. I wouldn't be surprised if the Cardinal aren't in another dogfight this week, but I expect them to once again prevail.

Prediction: Stanford 30, Colorado 23

Last Week: 5-1
Overall: 70-18

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Hail Mary - Week 8

Sunday, November 1

Detroit (1-6) "at" Kansas City (2-5) in London, England, Kansas City favored by 5

Prediction: Detroit 31, Kansas City 24

San Francisco (2-5) at St. Louis (3-3), St. Louis favored by 8

Prediction: St. Louis 24, San Francisco 12

Minnesota (4-2) at Chicago (2-4), Chicago favored by 1

Prediction: Minnesota 29, Chicago 21

Tampa Bay (2-4) at Atlanta (6-1), Atlanta favored by 7 1/2

Prediction: Atlanta 35, Tampa Bay 20

Arizona (5-2) at Cleveland (2-5), Arizona favored by 6 1/2

Prediction: Arizona 38, Cleveland 17

New York Giants (4-3) at New Orleans (3-4), New Orleans favored by 3 1/2

Prediction: New York Giants 27, New Orleans 24

San Diego (2-5) at Baltimore (1-6), Baltimore favored by 3

Prediction: Baltimore 33, San Diego 27

Cincinnati (6-0) at Pittsburgh (4-3), Line is even

Prediction: Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 25

Tennessee (1-5) at Houston (2-5), Line is even

Prediction: Houston 24, Tennessee 17

New York Jets (4-2) at Oakland (3-3), New York Jets favored by 2 1/2

Prediction: Oakland 26, New York Jets 20

Seattle (3-4) at Dallas (2-4), Seattle favored by 6

Prediction: Seattle 26, Dallas 17

Green Bay (6-0) at Denver (6-0), Green Bay favored by 2 1/2

Prediction: Green Bay 24, Denver 20

Monday, November 2

Indianapolis (3-4) at Carolina (6-0), Carolina favored by 7

Prediction: Carolina 31, Indianapolis 20

Last Week Straight Up: 11-3
Overall Straight Up: 70-35

Last Week Against the Spread: 7-7
Overall Against the Spread: 50-52-3