You Defend ALL Rights for ALL People, Not Some of Them or Some People

Many moons ago, I defended this country as a United States Marine. It is, other than my wife and my son, one of the things that I’m most proud of and, surprisingly, I did it right. After a four-year stint with Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children, I’ve got the official documentation and diploma that says I was honorably discharged for my service to the country.

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Thus, this last weekend – hell, the last 25 years or so, but that’s a discussion for another time – was quite angering for a military veteran. The actions by the SCROTUS, Orange Foolius, and his ill-advised and quite ignorant commentary on the National Football League and, in particular, players who protest the indignities foisted on minorities by law enforcement personnel, last Thursday night lit a firestorm with people. In those comments in front of a group of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals in Alabama, the buffoon in chief whined about how football wasn’t a “real game” anymore because of the concern over head injuries that the players might suffer (let’s just forget the factor of the debilitating effects of CTE). Then he launched off into a topic that, until he brought it back, had pretty much died out.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners,” Orange Foolius blubbered to the slobbering masses, “when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch (and it wouldn’t surprise me if he wanted to go off on the tangent the Pennsylvania fire chief went on in describing Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin) off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Of course, the diatribe was in response to quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s 2016 season-long protest of police brutality and minority oppression by kneeling on the sidelines during the National Anthem. Don’t let the mere fact get in the way that it has since cost Kaepernick his position with the San Francisco 49ers, his team at the time, or the blackballing that has resulted from the other GMs in the league from his peaceful protest. In fact, other than a handful of players in the NFL (Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett most notably, who had a run-in with Las Vegas police that ended in a rather acrimonious situation), Kaepernick’s attempts to bring attention to the continued travesty that occurs far too often had pretty much been brushed under the rug.

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That was until the Tangerine Fool’s hacking of red meat to feed to a bunch of rubes.

After Herr Twitler finished his hissy fit, the entirety of the NFL spoke up as one voice. Instead of a couple of players, more than 250 took a knee. Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL, issued a blistering renouncement of Orange Foolius’ statements and entire teams, who would rather piss on the ground that Goodell stands on than join with him, linked together in a show of solidarity against the stupidity of the jackass in chief and him slobbering minions. This included the Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft (both donated to the presidential cause of the SCROTUS…wonder if they’re regretting that now).

These protests will continue probably for the remainder of the season, especially since this imbecile and his lobotomy-ravaged sycophants have tried to steal the concept of the protest, trying to make it about the “flag” and “the Anthem” and “the troops” instead of what it was about…the injustices facing minorities in this country, especially at the hands of law enforcement personnel. Be on the lookout for similar protests to begin in the National Basketball Association also.

Kaepernick’s protest was never about the military, nor the flag, nor even the Anthem. So why did he choose his moment last year to make his stand? Because every other means of protest had been taken from the people. Remember those idiots who said they would drive their vehicles into marchers in the street (they thought it was a great idea until a Nazi decided to do it and GOP legislators STILL want to reduce liability for drivers)? So, people don’t like marchers. Well, what about occupying an area and sitting or kneeling? Nope, that offends people too, unless you’re white, armed to the teeth and screaming about how “the gubment” is stealing your land…then you get acquitted. Kaepernick chose the least offensive way to go about making his protest (and, for those of you who say, ‘Why don’t he use his money to make his voice heard’…he has, to the tune of $1 million at the minimum) and it is one that the military men and women of this country should support wholeheartedly.

The military – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and National Guard – is 37% minority. That the dotard in the White House chose to go after minority football and basketball players (yes, we didn’t even touch on the Steph Curry and Golden State Warriors “visit” to the White House, but I’ve got to leave you some legwork to learning) is a damning sign when he doesn’t call out white supremacists, racists, or religious zealots (his very own “spiritual advisor,” the “Reverend” Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, suggested that football players should be thankful that nobody has “shot them in the head”) for their bullshit.

Beyond the racial factor, the military and its fighting men and women do not defend a flag. Those airmen and women, soldiers, sailors, and Marines do not defend a ditty written by a racist as he stood passively by in a boat, scribbling his screed, while watching those said defenders of the country die at the hands of British ships bombing the hell out of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. The men and women of the Armed Forces – be they active duty or reservist – defend the people of a country, ALL people, whether they are white, black, brown, red or polka-dotted.

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They defend the Constitution, the law of the land, and ALL that the document entails. They defend the Bill of Rights and the 27 Amendments that have been made to the Constitution over the past 240 years. That means, when it comes to the question of the “methods of protest” employed by one group or another, they stand for it, even if they don’t agree with it. As a Marine veteran, I support the right of protest. It is one of the many rights that citizens are granted and that I defended for them and for this country. Freedom of speech is arguably (I personally think there’s not an argument) one of the greatest rights we have, the ability to speak out against the government, its politicians, and its institutions. And yes, sometimes that freedom of speech can be used in areas that make you uncomfortable or you dislike. Allowing such speech is the true test of the freedom.

I recall when I was growing up in Illinois there was a small town near Chicago called Skokie, a predominantly Jewish and Polish enclave. There was a band of Illinois Nazis (you wonder where that line “I hate Illinois Nazis” in The Blues Brothers comes from?) that petitioned for the right to march through the villa. After several legal attempts to stop the march were denied – on the RIGHT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH – the Illinois Nazis marched and people peacefully protested it. Such raconteurs as Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos also have that same right to be heard; so does comedian Bill Maher, who sometimes takes angles on freedom that people don’t agree with.

Freedom of speech is exactly that…you have the freedom to express your ideas. Now, there is also that right to PEACEFULLY protest on the other side and there are also the consequences of the freedom of speech. If you are willing to accept the consequences of what your freedom of speech might entail – as Colin Kaepernick has been – then your freedom to do it is guaranteed.

The National Anthem is just a song. No military person is defending a song. Likewise, the same could be said about the flag. It is presented as a symbol of the country, not something to be worshipped on the altar of a god. If you are disturbed by someone who is making a peaceful protest by simply kneeling on the ground but you accept something like this…

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Then you are the one with a problem. And if you accept that – or accept a supposed leader in the SCROTUS who thinks that white Nazis are “good people” while calling minority athletes “sons of bitches” – then we can see where the problems in this country lie. And it goes beyond someone kneeling in silence to protest.

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Week 4 2016 NFL Predictions: Is it Parity or Bad Football?

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With the close of this weekend, we will have reached the end of the first quarter of the 2016 National Football League schedule. The number of well-known pros that have been injured in just the first few weeks of the year, including Adrian Peterson, Robert Griffin III, J. J. Watt and Jamaal Charles (who is supposed to make his season debut this week), has been unprecedented, but it is also (along with the preseason injuries and suspensions) making many ask an important question – is it parity between the teams in the NFL or is it just bad football?

Back when he was the commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle didn’t like the fact that a handful of teams – like the Miami Dolphins, the Dallas Cowboys or the Pittsburgh Steelers – dominated the pro football landscape. His thought was to see all teams finish as closely together as possible – hell, Rozelle thought that, in a perfect season, all the teams would finish 8-8 – something that Rozelle called “competitive balance” or parity. Over the years, there’s been situations where it has come close to that – recall the 2011 Seattle Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record. There’s also some occasions, though, when it is just bad football and the 2016 season may be one of those deals.

A look at the standings is an opening salvo for this discussion. At this time, only five teams – the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, Denver Broncos and two surprises, the Teddy Bridgewater-less Minnesota Vikings and the Carson Wentz rookie-led Philadelphia Eagles – are undefeated. On the other side of the spectrum, there are four teams – the New Orleans Saints, Chicago Bears, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns – that haven’t won a game as of yet. Of particular interest, however, are the 11 teams that have only one win after three games this year (and a twelfth team, the Miami Dolphins, went to 1-3 with a loss on Thursday night). Of course, this does leave the 11 teams that are 2-1, but none of them have been particularly powerful in reaching that record.

While you mull those numbers, take a look at the NFC West, where the Los Angeles Rams and the Seahawks are tied atop the division with a 2-1 record, despite the fact that neither team is averaging more than 20 points a game (Rams are averaging 15.3 points, Seahawks 17.3) or the fact that the Seahawks pounded the Rams to start the season by the score of 28-0 and have done little since. This type of situation can also be seen in the AFC South (the Houston Texans atop the division despite averaging 14 points per game) and in the AFC North (the Ravens are averaging 19 points per game).

In an era when the offenses have carte blanche to do whatever they please with opposing defenses, quarterbacks are flinging the ball like it’s an Arena Football League game and the running backs have become an afterthought in the offense (the leading rusher in the league is the Patriots’ LeGarrette Blount, who is averaging just under 100 yards a game; even the Atlanta FalconsDevonta Freeman, currently the fifth ranked running back in the NFL, is averaging less than 90 per contest (88.3), there should be some signs of dominance by teams (and maybe we’re seeing that with the Patriots). Instead, right now perhaps we’re watching the fruition of Rozelle’s “any given Sunday” dream, where parity is the rule and boring football becomes the norm.

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After this week, maybe some of these trends will be changed. But it will be a tough weekend for the prognosticators to find good value or good bets to take.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold.)

Seattle Seahawks vs. NEW YORK JETS (+2)

This is a game that could be greatly affected by two things. One, the weather conditions expected at game time – rain and wind on the Meadowlands plains – are going to favor the running game, admittedly a rarity for the 2016 NFL. In that parameter, the Jets have the player to keep an eye on. RB Matt Forte, no longer wanted by the Bears (and you know they wish they had kept him now), is the sixth ranked back in the NFL and, along with his pass catching abilities out of the backfield, provide headaches to an aggressive defense such as the ‘Hawks. Two, Seattle comes east for a 1PM game, traditionally believed (and statistically true) to be a detriment to the West Coast team.

The Seahawks aren’t aided by a gimpy QB Russell Wilson being under center, but that is offset by Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who is having confidence issues and isn’t playing well. This could be like the Seahawks’ season opener – when they won 12-10 over Miami – at which point it’s a push. I can see, however, the Jets perhaps taking this one outright.

Carolina Panthers vs. ATLANTA FALCONS (+3)

This is a juxtaposition game, one where you would expect the two teams to be switched. The defending NFC champion Panthers have been in some doldrums to start the season, surprisingly getting manhandled at home by the Vikings last week. Teams seem to be focusing much of their attention on league MVP QB Cam Newton in particular, forcing him to make decisions that take the ball out of his hands and force someone else to beat them. The Falcons are flying high right now, scoring almost 35 points per game and sitting atop the division.

Most telling in this game will be whether the Panthers defense can come to life on the road. They’ve been a bit silent early in the season and, with the ‘Birds making the scoreboard look like a pinball machine, they are going to have to staunch QB Matt Ryan, WR Julio Jones and Freeman early and often. They’ll also have to hope that Newton will figure out what’s going on or they’ll be going two games back of Atlanta way too early in the season.

Tennessee Titans vs. HOUSTON TEXANS (-4); UNDER 40

You might wonder why I’m taking the Texans, who haven’t exactly stunned anyone to this point in the season and especially after losing their defensive superstar Watt for the season. While I do like QB Marcus Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray for the Titans, they still don’t have enough to overcome a Texans defense that will be looking to show that they are more than Watt. Don’t expect this to be an offensive juggernaut, though. Both teams are averaging 14 points per game, so a 17-10 win out of the Texans wouldn’t be abnormal.

New York Giants (+4.5) vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS

The Vikings should be one of those teams that is beginning to change minds, especially after losing so many key players so early in the season. They’ve been able to overcome those issues, though, even to the point of beating the defending NFC champions last week on their home turf.

Win this week and I’ll believe you.

The Giants have quietly put together a 2-1 record, QB Eli Manning is doing a quietly excellent job and the triumvirate of WRs Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard and the rejuvenated Victor Cruz are quietly rambling all over the field making plays. The Giants ARE on the road this weekend so I don’t expect an outright win, but I do expect them to keep this game closer than the spread is saying.

Last Week:  1-4
2016 Season Overall: 8-9-1

Another week that was abysmal and saved only by the Eagles thrashing of the Steelers…perhaps I should just bet them for the rest of the year? A two-week losing streak is bad enough. It is time to turn it around and get back on the positive side of the ledger.

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Week 1 2016 NFL Predictions: Welcome Back, My Friends, To The Show That Never Ends…

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Although it has gotten to the point where it really doesn’t ever go out of season, the National Football League will kick off its 2016 season on Thursday night. That Thursday night game, which has become somewhat of a tradition in the last decade, is a special one as it features the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos taking on the team they beat in Super Bowl 50, the Carolina Panthers, in the Mile High City. With hope, it can wash away what has been another ugly offseason for the preeminent sporting organization in the intergalactic realm (we have to go there since the WWE now has a Universal Champion).

As soon as the confetti stopped falling from the sky at the conclusion of Super Bowl 50, the news for the NFL has been pretty bad. The reigning Most Valuable Player in the league, the Panthers’ Cam Newton, basically started the poo-poo platter of embarrassment in his sullen demeanor following the loss (you want to feel bad about something, Cam? Feel bad about the way you shafted your teammates and didn’t go all-out on that fumble when the game was on the line). He then doubled down on those actions by saying in his season-ending interview with the Charlotte media “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”

That was at least as a result of the actions on the field. It became apparent that the NFL still doesn’t have a grasp on the domestic violence situation. Former Dallas Cowboys’ defensive lineman Greg Hardy – who was paid quite handsomely last year after having his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, then laying the proverbial turd in a punchbowl with his play – lamented to ESPN’s Adam Schefter (who has become a joke as a reporter) that he was being punished and that he never hit a woman (this despite photos to the contrary). It seems fitting that, as of this moment, he is still looking for a team.

One player who isn’t, however, is New York Giants kicker Josh Brown. After receiving a slap on the wrist one-game suspension from the NFL from a domestic violence issue with his (now) ex-wife in 2015 that was later dropped, Brown was not only embraced by the Giants but re-signed to a new contract by the Giants management. Add in the substance abuse suspensions (including Johnny Manziel, now out of the NFL and looking to make a comeback; the Cleveland BrownsJosh Gordon and the Pittsburgh SteelersMartavis Bryant) and penalties for unsportsmanlike conduct (we’re looking at you, Cincinnati Bengals’ Vontaze Burfict), and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has to be glad the season is starting.

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But Goodell at least got that criminal Tom Brady! After initially suspending Brady last year – and having that suspension overturned by the courts – the NFL and Goodell went up the appeals ladder and found a court that reinstated the four-game suspension against the New England Patriots quarterback for his part in the “Deflategate” scandal. Brady, after pausing to think about a push to the U. S. Supreme Court for a decision, decided to drop his case and take the four-game suspension, ensuring that the Pats won’t have him for the start of the year (after that, however, look out…Brady will play with a vengeance).

Thank God the season’s starting…

Like last year, I’m going to make some picks. I didn’t do badly over the course of the 2015-16 NFL season, going 56-39-5 overall. Super Bowl 50 helped to drag that down a bit as I only went 1-2 (picked the Broncos and took the points, only to see them win outright), but missed on the “straight up” pick of the Panthers and missed terribly on the “over/under” of 44 (the final score was Broncos 24, Panthers 10). Despite the problems with the actual results from the game, I nailed six prop bets on the Super Bowl, pretty good by anyone’s standards.

As we get ready to head into the new season, remember, these are for entertainment only. If you’re locale allows for, you know, sports betting, then you can do what you want. By no means should you bet on sports outside of those areas! (OK, someone has to come up with a sarcasm font!) Without further ado, here we go into the season (and we already have some results for this season, thanks to college football).

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Minnesota Vikings vs. TENNESSEE TITANS (+2.5)

The Vikings were a trendy pick this year to actually make some noise in the NFC, but that was before QB Teddy Bridgewater’s knee exploded like the Space X rocket last week. The Vikings front office has shored up the quarterback position by making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for QB Sam Bradford, but he hasn’t exactly had repetitions under his belt in the Vikings offense, let alone getting used to meeting his new teammates. One teammate he should get acquainted with really quick is RB Adrian Peterson, who might be in his last year of productivity and would like to see something to hang his career on.

The Titans could be one of the surprises in the AFC this year. After an up-and-down rookie year, QB Marcus Mariota is beginning to grasp the concepts of playing quarterback in the NFL and the team has actually put some firepower around him. One of the big pickups in the off-season was the Titans getting RB DeMarco Murray, back after a year wandering in the wilderness of Chip Kelly’s offense in Philadelphia. A reenergized Murray – and an even more overlooked pickup in WR Andre Johnson – and the current Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry could present problems for many teams.

A road team…without their starting quarterback…and the oddsmakers are favoring them? Seems as though the sharps may need a preseason of their own to get things right.

Green Bay Packers vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (+5.5)

It would be easy to pick the Pack on this one – QB Aaron Rodgers has probably got his offense at its healthiest to start a season in years – but they’re stepping up in this game against a sneaky Jags team that has quietly built up a decent offensive effort. By catching up to what has been an underrated defense, the Jags should be much more competitive this year. I don’t expect the Jaguars to win this game, but I do expect them to keep it within the spread.

NEW YORK GIANTS (-1) vs. Dallas Cowboys; UNDER 46.5
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (+6) vs. Arizona Cardinals

Here’s a great example of how much the line can swing when just one player is in the mix. Prior to Cowboys’ QB Tony Romo being injured, the Pokes were a 3.5 favorite over the Gotham Giants in their home opener. Now, with rookie Dak Prescott at the helm and Mark Sanchez (now with his fourth team in four years) backing him up, the line swung 4.5 points to the Giants. Regardless of who is playing for either team, they aren’t going to ring up points on the scoreboard, so take the UNDER.

In the second game, the game was a “Pick ‘Em” even after the suspension of Brady was announced. Then came down the four-game suspension of Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich (the quarterback of the defense, essentially), which probably shouldn’t swing the line by a touchdown but did. Any team that has Bill “Dark Hoodie” Belichick as head coach, however, isn’t going to go down by more than a touchdown, thus I’m taking the Pats.

Last week:  3-0
2016 season overall:  3-0

Amid the furor of the start of college football last week, made three picks that came home strong for me. Took Western Kentucky (-16.5) against Rice and won, then made a dual pick of Tulane (+16) and that the Tulane/Wake Forest game would be under the 43 O/U (WAY under as it turned out…the two teams only scored 10 points). While we will concentrate on the NFL the rest of the season, decided to lop these three picks in to get off to a good start!

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Super Bowl 50, Part Two: So Who Wins the Big Game? Depends On What the Bet Is…

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After two weeks of hype, waiting, practice and some drama – people tried to turn Panthers QB Cam Newton’s “black quarterback” comments into a controversy, without much success, and the Broncos practice team player S Ryan Murphy was sent back to Denver (and will probably be cut from the team at first opportunity) after being questioned in a prostitution sting – we’ve actually come to the point where the teams will actually play the game. The Carolina Panthers, the champions of the NFC, will square off against the Denver Broncos, the victors of the AFC, to determine who will receive the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the 50th time in the National Football League’s history. The two teams that have made it this far have definitely shown they are worthy contenders for the crown.

For the Carolina Panthers, if you would have told them in Training Camp they would be playing in the Super Bowl, they would have thanked you. Coming off a 7-8-1 season – although the champions of the NFC South – the Panthers weren’t exactly scaring anyone. The team had let RB DeAngelo Williams go to the Pittsburgh Steelers, preferring to stick with Jonathan Stewart as the full-time running back, and during Training Camp lost their electrifying WR Kelvin Benjamin to a devastating knee injury. While Newton was a known commodity, it was expected that the Panthers would have some difficulties doing much of anything with a revamped offensive line, a no-name wide receiving corps and a suspect defensive unit.

For the Denver Broncos, it almost seemed as if this was their final shot. After being crushed by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos came back and won the AFC West again with a 12-4 record. After taking their first round bye, however, they were upset in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last year by QB Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. This led to the firing of John Fox, the hiring of new head coach Gary Kubiak and the “now or never” approach as QB Peyton Manning entered his third year at the helm of the Broncos and they came into this season with questions lingering about his health.

As they always say, that’s why they play the game. Carolina rocketed off on a 14-game winning streak, only losing to the Atlanta Falcons on the road late in the season, before righting the ship and beating their last three opponents (last regular season game against lowly Tampa Bay and two postseason games against Seattle and Arizona) by a combined 118-49 score. Denver, despite losing Manning for more than a quarter of the year, rode the #1 defense in the NFL to a punishing victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to reach the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

In taking a look at Super Bowl 50, we’re going to break down the offense, the defense, the special teams and the coaching. Then we’ll reveal our all-important pick…but be assured, there’s many ways to win on Super Bowl Sunday.

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks – When it comes to the men running the teams, it is difficult to say who has the edge. Athleticism definitely would go to Newton, but experience would by far go to Manning. Both fit perfectly into their own systems, have faced adversity during the season and pulled their team through the problems. If you’re really going to get nit-picky, Manning’s been to this dance four times now (he’s 1-2 in his previous trips), while Newton is making his first appearance. By the slimmest of margins, Manning will take the edge in this category. EDGE:  BRONCOS

Running Backs – This category is a no-brainer. When Manning is on the field, the running game is somewhat of a second thought, used more as a change-up from the passing game than the “run the ball to set up the pass” style of the Panthers. The Panthers will pound a defense mercilessly, even when it doesn’t look like it is doing anything. The Panthers philosophy is that, eventually, the running game will weaken a defense after enough time that Stewart will break out on a run. Stewart, who finished the season 11 yards short of 1000 yards (and missed the final two regular season games) has been outstanding during the playoffs; expect him to at the minimum keep the Broncos defense honest by adding the potential for a running attack alongside Newton’s running and passing abilities. EDGE:  PANTHERS

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – This one is going to be a push. Manning has WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders as his options but, even though he had a decent season, Thomas led the team in dropped passes, letting a ball hit the turf on roughly 5% of his targets. Newton’s favorite target, TE Greg Olsen, can be shut down if a team is willing to risk putting a defensive back on him. The Broncos may try this, but they have to be concerned that WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (who led the Panthers with 10 TD receptions) or Devin Funchess (5 TD receptions) doesn’t burn them somehow. As I said, this is…EDGE:  PUSH

Offensive Line – The Denver offensive line has been held together with baling wire and bubble gum for much of the year. The exact opposite holds true for Carolina, which has been able to have a relatively steady lineup through the entire year. This is going to benefit the Panthers greatly as the Broncos, with the #1 defense in the NFL, are a tenacious and aggressive unit who will look to pressure Newton into mistakes. Whichever side controls the game will probably dictate which way the Super Bowl goes but, for the purposes that we have spelled out here, I’ve got to give…EDGE:  PANTHERS

DEFENSE

Defensive Line/Linebackers – Both teams have front sevens that are the best in the game today. The Broncos are technically ranked as the #1 defense in the NFL, but the Panthers gave up fewer points per game than their counterparts from the Rocky Mountains. Both teams are led by a tandem of outstanding linebackers – Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware for the Broncos, Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis (who is expected to see a great deal of action despite having a broken arm sustained in the NFC Championship Game) for the Panthers – but it is the Broncos who have the better pass rush, sacking the opposing quarterback 59 times during the season versus the Panthers’ 44.

Defensive Backs – Counteracting the front seven is the fact that the Panthers led the league in takeaways (+20) versus the Broncos (-4). The Panthers intercepted the ball 24 times during the season versus the Broncos’ 14, with Panthers DB Josh Norman having a breakout rookie season in returning two of his four picks for touchdowns and, with teams trying to avoid him, Kurt Coleman ending the year among the league leaders in interceptions with seven. The best Bronco in that category was DB Aqib Talib, who could only pull in three on the season (although he did return two for touchdowns).

The effectiveness of Davis could very well be the linchpin of which defense will have the better success. Without Davis, the Broncos will be able to focus more on occupying Kuechly and be able to have their offense dictate more of the game. If Davis is able to play effectively, it could be a long day for Manning. Both teams, at their current strength this moment, have to be rated…EDGE:  PUSH

SPECIAL TEAMS

This is a category that the Panthers have firm control over. Ginn is the teams punt returner and he is a threat to break a game wide open at any moment with the ball in his hands. Their kick returning duties have been in the hands of Fozzy Whittaker, who averages nearly 24 yards per return. The Broncos counter with Sanders, who has more fair catches than returns this season on punts, and Omar Bolden, who has only 15 kickoff returns this season.

The kicking games rate about even, although the distance is going to be tough to judge. Denver’s kickers, P Britton Colquitt and K Brandon McManus, have the advantage of kicking in the rarefied air of the Rocky Mountains, thus their distance statistics might not be applicable kicking at sea level in California. Carolina P Brad Nortman and K Graham Gano did outstanding jobs in 2015, with Gano especially sound at distance through the season.

The pick in this aspect of the contest will have to go to the boys from the NFC. With both Ginn and Whittaker, they possess the threats that can break the game open…the Broncos, not so much. EDGE:  PANTHERS

COACHING

There is no way to choose one coaching squad over the other in this contest. Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak has been to the Super Bowl as a player (he backed up John Elway in Super Bowls XXI, XXII and XXIV, all losses) and as an assistant coach (with the winning San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX and with the winning Broncos in Super Bowls XXXII and XXXIII), but this is his first trip as the man in charge. The same can be said for Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, who was a part of arguably one of the greatest Super Bowl teams in history (the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears) as a player, but this is his first trip as a head coach. Thus, this is definitely EDGE:  PUSH

SUPER BOWL 50

As was stated at the start, it depends what you’re betting on as to which way to take the winner in this situation.

For some people, they want to just bet the straight game itself. I pick one team, you take the other and may the best team win. If that is the case, then I would have to say that you would have to pick the Panthers in this game. Both defenses are going to cause fits for Newton and Manning but, by the second quarter, I can see both of them beginning to figure out some things that will work. Manning might be able to get some of the passing game operational – if his patchwork line can keep the Panther D off of him long enough – and, for Newton, the Panthers might be able to start running the ball effectively enough to be able to start the freewheeling Panther passing game (it also would open up the pass/run option for Newton…look for the Broncos to play Newton for the run until he beats them with his arm a couple of times). Newton has more weapons at his disposal and a better defense, hence I believe the Panthers will take the game.

For the more traditional bettor out there, here’s how you’ve seen me put it all year:

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Carolina Panthers vs. DENVER BRONCOS (+5); OVER 44

Once Manning and Newton get things figured out, then the game will get exciting. The line originally opened up at Panthers -4 and, if it had stayed at that point, I would have taken the Panthers because I see a final of 28-24 with the Panthers winning (that would be a push, if you’re keeping score at home). That extra point going against the Panthers switches my pick to the Broncos, who I believe will cover the spread and, between the two teams, they will go OVER the 44 projected points; hell, it could be something along the lines of 38-34, even, if the offenses erupt early.

This isn’t a contradiction; this is simply a demonstration on how it depends on what your betting as to what your pick might be!

Conference Championships:  2-2
Overall Season:  55-37-5

All in all, it has been a good season. Once we add these three picks in (the straight game pick of the Panthers, the spread pick of the Broncos and the O/U), I will have an even 100 picks for the 2015-16 NFL season. I would have preferred a better record than 55% – and may earn it with the final three picks of the year – but it goes to show how difficult it is to bet any sporting contest. After Super Bowl Sunday, we will have to go into a slumber until next September, when the pigskin will come out for real once again and the prognostications will arise from their slumber…maybe for better but potentially for worse!

2015 NFL Postseason Picks, Conference Championships: My First Super Bowl Bet and What is the “Back Door?”

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We’re only two weeks away from the 50th rendition of what was originally called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game, meaning we have a whole afternoon of football this Sunday to decide the two teams that will represent the conferences that have descended from the lineage of that first game. Now the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference make up the National Football League and the Super Bowl has become a cultural phenomenon, nothing like that first game that was played so long ago. It makes you think back about your first experiences with the game…

My first experience with betting the Super Bowl came when I was in the Marines in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The Chicago Bears had dominated everyone that year, coming to the Louisiana Superdome to take on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX with a swagger that everyone knew was just going to crown them the champion. Thus, many were trying to find angles to bet the game and a gunny I worked with found one with me. He wagered that the Bears’ RB Walter Payton would fumble within his first ten carries for $20, a bet I willingly picked up knowing Payton’s abilities to protect the ball.

Gathered around the Enlisted Club at the Marine Barracks, we started watching the game and, sure enough, Payton would fumble on his ninth carry of the game. As I handed over the $20 to the gunny, I asked him how did he know such a bet was going to come through. He replied that, knowing how many times Payton had carried the ball since his last fumble and knowing his fumble frequency (how often he fumbled the ball), his computations were that Payton was due for a miscue such as that. And that, my friends, was my first experience with statistical measurements being used against me in a betting atmosphere.

Which brings us to something that has saved my…let’s say account…on a couple of occasions over the past couple of weeks, having a “back door” cover bets. The “back door” cover is one that comes through after it is previously thought that the game is a foregone conclusion. All we have to do is look at two games over the past two weeks to see perfect examples of this type of action.

In the National Championship game, Alabama scored with only 1:07 left in the game to take a 45-33 lead over Clemson, which was more than enough to cover the seven-point spread that the sharps had put out against the Tigers. Within 55 seconds, Clemson drove the length of the field to score a touchdown to bring the score to 45-39 and, after kicking the extra point for the 45-40 final score, had achieved the “back door” score that shifted an estimated $10 million in bets from one side (those that had chosen Alabama -7) to the other (Clemson +7).

It happened again last weekend in the Pittsburgh Steelers/Denver Broncos game. The Steelers, a 7.5-point underdog in the game, were down 10 points with 53 seconds to go in the game. Driving mightily, the Steelers drive stalled out and, knowing that one of their two scores needed to be a field goal, sent kicker Chris Boswell onto the field. His third field goal of the day made the score 23-16 – bringing the score under the spread – and, after the onside kick failed and a kneel down by Broncos QB Peyton Manning, another few million dollars shifted hands (by scoring a field goal, it also kept it under the O/U, another good thing for me especially).

These “back door” covers are lovely when they work in your favor (you know, if you’re in an area where you can bet on these types of events), but they are the most gut wrenching thing that can happen when it works in the other direction. To have a sizeable bet turn on a simple play that has no ramification on the overall game is perhaps the most indignant situation a bettor can find themselves in. This is why the late, great Yankee catcher Yogi Berra probably said, “It isn’t over ‘til it’s over” rather than anything associated with baseball.

(Home team in CAPS, picks in bold)

AMERICAN FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

New England Patriots (-3) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; UNDER 44.5

There is a myriad of reasons that I would rather see the Denver Broncos defeat the New England Patriots on Sunday, but the problem is that they are all sentimental ones. This will probably be the last time that Peyton Manning will have a shot at the Super Bowl – if he plays next year, it is going to be with a team that has far less talent and far less chance at getting to this pinnacle of success. The general arrogance of the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady do not lend themselves to being the team that is “liked” (as a fan of the New York Yankees, trust me, I know how this looks). Finally, it would be great to see Brady pout his way off the field – as he is wont to do when he loses – and Manning be able to graciously say “you know, he’s one of the greats, he’ll be back here” despite the fact that Brady’s only a couple of years younger than Manning.

Here’s the problem:  the Patriots are in much better shape, health-wise, than the Broncos. Despite backing into the home-field for this game, the Broncos are just too beat up to do much with it against a Patriots team that used the last few weeks of the regular season to get some guys rested up. Instead of having to fight to the end just to win their division (as the Broncos did), the Patriots were able to rest some players, lose their final two regular season games against divisional foes YET STILL GET THE #2 SEED after winning their division. Now that they’re in the AFC Championship Game, that’s where they will see it will pay off.

The Patriots won’t dominate this game by any stretch of the imagination, but they will do just enough to be able to cover the spread and punch their ticket to try to defend their Super Bowl title. Because of the weather conditions, however, it isn’t going to be an offensive showcase. Take the Patriots, give up the points and go with the UNDER in a game that is looking to be 24-17.

NATIONAL FOOTBALL CONFERENCE

Arizona Cardinals vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-3); UNDER 47

Strangely enough, these two teams met last year in the playoffs. This time around, however, it is for the NFC Championship, a much different circumstance than that game last year.

Last year the Cardinals, a team that was down to its fourth quarterback after starting QB Carson Palmer and his backup Drew Stanton were knocked out for the year three-quarters through the season, limped into Charlotte for the Divisional Round of the playoffs and put up next to no effort against QB Cam Newton and the Panthers. The depleted Cardinals were only able to generate 77 yards of offense, lost the game 27-16 and had to be left wondering what might have been without the rash of injuries that beset the team.

Flash forward to…well, tomorrow, and they might get their answer. The Cardinals are healthy this year and it shows. Palmer and the Big Red Machine have the best offense in the NFL and can strike through the air (2nd in the league) or on the ground (8th in the league) The problem is they are running into a Panthers team that is also markedly improved over the team that went 7-8-1 in the league last season, starting this season 13-0 before finishing the year with the best record in the NFL at 15-1. Their offense is nothing to sneeze at (11th overall in the NFL) and their defense can also stop someone (6th in the league).

The Panthers have been able to prepare for playing on the cold grounds of Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, where Winter Storm Jonas has just ravaged the area (and weather on Sunday could play a factor). The Cardinals, on the other hand, barely got into town on Friday night and may have had the chance to have a walkthrough on Saturday as North Carolina isn’t used to having to deal with winter weather. Due to the travel issues and the cold weather game (remember, Arizona is a dome team), I am taking the Panthers here, but it is going to be a defensive fight and way UNDER the O/U.

Last Week:  5-3
Overall:  53-37-5

Remember how we were talking about the “back door” above? That Steelers “back door” was the game that gave me a winning weekend. Without that field goal, it’s just another “meh” 4-4 slate that helps nobody but the cage collecting the juice. With only four potential bets this weekend, it would be great to sweep the board.

2015 NFL Postseason Picks, Divisional Round: What Does That Bye Week Do?

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The first round of the National Football League postseason is in the books and the games had a bit of everything for the fans. Fluke missed field goal to snatch victory away from your favorite team? We see you over there shaking your heads, Vikings fans. Inexplicable mental meltdowns letting your arch-rival get into position for a chip shot field goal? Put your hands up, Bengals fans. The other games…not really worth mentioning as they were beat downs. But it is a new week and it is time to ask that question…just what was that bye week that the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots, the Carolina Panthers and the Arizona Cardinals fought the entire season for worth?

Since 1990, when the NFL went to the 12-team format for the playoffs, the teams that took the #1 seed in the NFC or the AFC went on to win the Super Bowl on 11 occasions, with last year’s Patriots team the last to pull off the trick (and the Seattle Seahawks the year before the last NFC team to do it). The news isn’t quite so good when it comes to the #2 seeds, however; on six occasions, the #2 seed from the NFC or the AFC has been able to reach football’s ultimate prize. If you do the math, that means that the odds are pretty good that we should see a #1 or #2 seed win the Super Bowl.

So which ones will get there this year? And which ones won’t? That’s not the object when it comes to betting on the games (you know, if you’re in an area where you can do that type of thing). The object is to put the best bet down that you can and, with the way some of these games are looking this week, there should be a decent shot at making some money.

(home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Kansas City Chiefs vs. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-5); UNDER 43

The Patriots needed the week off more than they might have led the nation to believe, with WR Julian Edelman banged up but healthier now and another week of recuperation for WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski, who is still nursing a bum knee. It also gave QB Tom Brady a bit more time to shake off some nagging injuries that had plagued him. But just when things were going well for the Pats, the midweek incident regarding DE Chandler Jones and his hospitalization – for what? That’s the $64,000 question (it is rumored to have been synthetic marijuana that caused a bad reaction, not an overdose) – seems to have caused some consternation for Dark Hoodie (head coach Bill Belichick) and the rest of the Empire.

The Chiefs are just glad to have reached this point, especially with their #1 WR Jeremy Maclin expected to have little to no impact on the game due to leg injuries suffered in the win over the Houston Texans in the Wild Card round. QB Alex Smith has carried the team, without star running back Jamaal Charles and now Maclin, about as far as he can; it would take a Herculean effort from both sides of the Chiefs – offense and defense – for a miracle to be pulled out at Gillette Stadium.

Expect this game to be one where the weather has a tremendous effect on how the play is conducted. Temperatures are expected to be in the high 30s with light rain all through the afternoon, making moving the ball through the air difficult. Coming into the Patriots’ lair and beating them is difficult under the best of conditions, thus I am going to take the Pats but also the UNDER in the game.

Green Bay Packers (+7) vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS; OVER 49.5

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has already stated that this will not be a repeat of the two teams’ most recent game. In Week 16, Rodgers had arguably his worst week as a professional football player when he fumbled twice, had an interception and was sacked nine times as the Cardinals undressed the Packers 38-8 in front of a national television audience. The beating was so thorough that, the very next week, the Pack went out and lost at home to the Minnesota Vikings to lose the NFC North division title but still sew up a Wild Card berth.

That seems to have worked out well for Rodgers and the Packers, however. They seem to have righted the ship in thumping the NFC East Champion Washington Redskins 35-18 in the Wild Card round last weekend, while the Vikings are now sitting at home after their debacle against the Seahawks at home. The big question now is can Rodgers back up his words that this will not be a repeat of the game just three weeks ago.

The defense of the Packers will definitely have to find some answers against the #1 offense in the NFL. Cardinals QB Carson Palmer has Big Red running on all cylinders at this point in the season, averaging 30 points a game and racking up 408 yards in total offense. It isn’t just about the offense with the Cards, however, the defense is second against the pass and eighth against the rush (just ask Rodgers about that pass rush, too). I think that Rodgers and the Packers will keep it closer this time, they just won’t be able to pull off the win in a game that will be a shootout.

Seattle Seahawks vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (-1.5); UNDER 44

Something’s got to give here. These two teams look very similar on paper…they like to run the ball, have excellent quarterbacks who like to pass the ball but aren’t afraid to take off on the run and strong defenses who will punish the opposition. So who is going to be able to impose their will in this game?

The two teams met earlier this year and it was a barnburner. Seattle led for most of the contest but Panthers QB Cam Newton led his team to touchdowns on their final two possessions to take a 27-23 victory in the Pacific Northwest back in October to preserve what was then a still-unbeaten season. This time around, due to the Panthers’ #1 seed and the Seahawks’ unlikely victory over the Vikings last week, the game will be at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC, where rain is expected with temperatures in the 30s.

After sitting out the game against the Vikings, Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch is expected to be back on the field for the Seahawks and they could use him, especially with TE Jimmy Graham out. The Panthers are at full strength for the fight and they will need everyone for the battle. This is one game that I wouldn’t be surprised to see go either way (in fact, if it isn’t down to a “pick ‘em” by game time on Sunday, I will be surprised) but, due to the defensive strength of each team, it will be UNDER 44 points for both teams.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+7.5) vs. DENVER BRONCOS; UNDER 40

Call this one “The Game That Might Have Been If It Weren’t for Injuries.” Broncos QB Peyton Manning, who has been sitting since it seems the middle of the season with his plantar fasciitis injury – and with QB Brock Osweiler doing a fine job in his absence – will be under center when the team takes the field at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday, but the big question will be just how healed is the future Hall of Famer. The Steelers defense may not be the “Steel Curtain” of old, but they will pursue the veteran Manning and it might be something that has an effect on the game.

Oh, wait…this would be true if the Steelers offense didn’t resemble a M*A*S*H unit. After the brutal hit from Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict that knocked his head into the Ohio River, Steelers WR Antonio Brown will be out for Sunday’s tilt with a concussion, joining RBs Le’Veon Bell and DeAngelo Williams on the sidelines and marking the first time in playoff history a team will be without its leading rushers and receiver for a playoff game. QB Ben Roethlisberger might have been able to overcome this problem but, due to another hit from Burfict, his throwing arm is being held on by baling wire and bubble gum; a simple breath from Broncos LB DeMarcus Ware might send Big Ben to the sidelines.

There is a huge chance this game will be played between Osweiler and Steelers backup QB Landry Jones, especially if the defenses get to the fragile Manning and Roethlisberger early. With this in mind, it is going to be a close game, the Steelers will cover the spread and might steal it, and the score will be UNDER the 40-point line (think 17-14 or something like that).

Last Week:  4-2
Overall:  48-35-5

Nailed the Seahawks/Vikings game to start off 2-0 and picked right with Green Bay in a pick ‘em game (don’t even ask about the O/U). When it came to the National Championship, I was one of those that was the beneficiary of that “back door” touchdown at the end by Clemson; instead of going 0-2 on that one, that late touchdown allowed me to cover the spread and split (missed the OVER/UNDER badly!). With four games this weekend, it will be a chance to really make some moves!

2015 NFL Postseason Picks: During The “One and Done,” Always Look for Home Edge

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The 2015 National Football League playoffs began with a bang yesterday. Despite the fact that there was one snooze fest of a game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans (and, if I had made a choice, would have gone for the favored Chiefs team), the nightcap between the AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers was just what everyone loves about playoff football. A hard-hitting and aggressive contest between two teams that just didn’t like each other (and, for the sake of honesty, I have to say I’d have taken the home-dog Bengals there, with the Steelers without RB DeAngelo Williams), the final two minutes of the contest will go down in the annals of NFL history as to what NOT to do when it comes to playoff time. So how can Sunday’s action top what occurred on Saturday?

When it comes to these “one and done” playoff games – where one team wins and moves on and the other is “done” for the playoffs – you’ve always got to look at the home team and their edges for the game. Normally in the playoffs, the squad with the better record host these games to give them the perceived “home field advantage” and, as such, an extra two or three points when the line is set on the game (you know, if you can actually bet on something like that where you are). In the case of both of today’s home teams, that perceived advantage isn’t helping them much.

As an added bonus for those that have been following my prognostications for the season, we’ve come to the final game of the college football season. On Monday night, the College Football Playoff National Championship Game (couldn’t come up with something with a little more pizazz, NCAA?) will take place between the #1 Clemson Tigers and the #2 Alabama Crimson Tide. We’ll take a quick look at that (for entertainment pleasure, of course) as the college guys we’ll be watching next year on Sundays decide their ultimate champion.

(Home team in CAPS, pick in bold)

Seattle Seahawks vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+4); UNDER 39.5

This sounded like it was going to be a great matchup when it was set under the playoff format, then Old Man Winter raised his ugly head. The Vikings no longer play in the Metrodome (they are playing at the University of Minnesota’s stadium until a new, publicly-funded domed stadium can be built in downtown Minneapolis for them), but they have acclimated themselves well to playing outdoors football in the North. The question will be can either team play in the conditions that are expected on Sunday.

The HIGH temperature on Sunday is expected to be -1 degree, with winds gusting up to 20 MPH making the wind chill dip even deeper on the dial (I’m no meteorologist, but those conditions produce around a -22-degree wind chill, if my calculations are correct). It doesn’t lend itself well for any type of passing game, which has developed into a strength for Seahawks QB Russell Wilson, but sets up for a “ground and pound” game from both sides. The Vikings hold the edge there with the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian Peterson, and the Seahawks cannot counter him as Marshawn Lynch is out for the game.

Taking the Vikings here may sound crazy – especially considering that the Seahawks thumped the Horned Norsemen 38-7 only a month ago – but these are now two totally different teams. Back then, it was the Vikings who were bitten by the injury bug; now it is the Seahawks. They may not win outright, but I see the Vikings keeping this closer than the spread. With the running games being prominently featured, don’t expect a massive amount of scoring, either.

Green Bay Packers (PICK ‘EM) vs. Washington Redskins; UNDER 46

After leading their division for much of the season, the loss in the final game of the year to the Vikings by the Packers has sent them on the road for essentially the entirety of their playoff run (the only way the Pack can have a home game is if Seattle makes it to the NFC Championship Game with the Packers). They did get a bit of a reprieve for that loss, however, as they get to face Washington on the road rather than face the Seahawks at home. If there’s a better choice in the playoffs, it hasn’t made itself apparent yet.

In contrast with the conditions the fans in Minnesota will be subjected to, the Washington area will be positively balmy at 55 degrees. This doesn’t serve well for the ‘Skins, who will have to watch as Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, whose offense has slowly gotten healthier around him, wields his magic. This isn’t to say that QB Kirk Cousins, who has done an admirable job leading a team that wouldn’t have even made the playoffs in another division, doesn’t have his weapons, he just doesn’t have as many as Rodgers does. Add into the fact that the Packers defense is looking to feast (ranked 15th, compared to the 28th ranked Redskins) and I’ve got to go with the Pack and the UNDER in the game (there’s a reason we are going under here; 9 of the top 10 rushing attacks are in these playoffs and rushing games make for lower scoring contests).

NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Alabama Crimson Tide vs. CLEMSON TIGERS (+7); UNDER 50.5

After playing since the halls of higher education opened up this fall, these two teams – Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide and Dabo Swinney’s Tigers – have emerged from a complicated computer program, a meeting between the supposed brightest minds in the collegiate football world and a four team playoff system to enter the field tomorrow with the chance to take home college football’s second-ever National Championship game. From the time that the two teams were determined – with Alabama rolling the Michigan State Spartans 38-0 and Clemson popping Oklahoma in the mouth 37-17 – Alabama has been the favorite of the books, with the line not budging an inch off that mark. Only the O/U has come down (three points) in the last week.

The way that the Tide decimated Sparty, that line isn’t out of line (no pun intended), but this is something that Swinney and the Tigers have thrived on all season. They have gotten little to no respect from anyone on their march towards the championship. First they were supposed to lose to such football powerhouses as Notre Dame and Florida State; they defeated them. Oklahoma was actually favored over the Tigers in the Orange Bowl, but the Tigers silenced the critics. The final step would be a defeat of Saban and his Tide and it isn’t out of the question. At the least, Clemson will cover the spread and the score will go UNDER.

Last Week:  2-4
Overall:  44-33-5

Not a great way to wrap up the regular season. But that is a foregone situation now, it is time to go about getting some great scores in the postseason!