By Marc Lawrence, PlaybookSports.com — On tap is a big extended weekend for playoff positioning and a college football championship, too:
San Francisco over L.A. Rams by 8
While the Rams hold down the top spot in the NFC West division, and the No. 2 overall seed in the NFC playoff chase, it’s still unclear whether QB Matthew Stafford is worth the enormous price (three 1st round draft picks) the team paid for him in the offseason. Stafford threw another brutal pick-six in last week’s one-point squeaker over the Ravens, and has seven turnovers in the past three games. Nevertheless, a win today or an Arizona loss, clinches the No. 2 seed. Meanwhile, the Niners need either a win or a loss by the Saints, and they are in the playoffs as a wild card. Frisco upended Los Angeles, 31-10, as a 3.5-point home dog back in November, and has now won and covered each of the past three meetings in this series. After stumbling out of the gate 3-5 during the first half of the season, Kyle Shanahan’s troops have found their groove going 6-2 SUATS and 7-1 ITS (In The Stats) in their previous eight games. With the horned heads just 3-9 ATS at home when coming off consecutive road contests, and the 49ers sporting a 28-12 SU and 28-10-2 ATS record as a visitor in this series, the points become the play today. And, so says the well-oiled machine as it provides THE CLINCHER: The Rams are 1-7 SUATS at home in division games when coming off consecutive away wins, including 0-6 SUATS the last six.
Cincinnati over CLEVELAND by 14
With Cincinnati’s stirring win over the Chiefs last week (they trailed 14-0), and Cleveland’s lethargic loss at Pittsburgh on Monday night, the Browns are like the perch floating atop Lake Erie right now, dead and ready to be cast ashore. It was another rough day on the job for QB Baker Mayfield in Monday’s loss to the Steelers. The nine sacks were far from the only rough aspect of Mayfield’s night. He went 16-of-38 passing (42.1%) for 185 yards and two touchdowns, with two interceptions for a rating of 53.1, with fi ve of his passes batted or deflected near the line of scrimmage. The Steelers were credited with 11 quarterback hits, led by JJ Watt’s five coming against rookie RT Blake Hance. Mayfield is likely out for this contest as he prepares for surgery on his battered shoulder. In his stead, QB Case Keenum will take the snaps knowing he is 12-2-1 ATS against foes coming off consecutive losses, but also just 1-9 ATS in division games when his team is coming off consecutive losses. Choose your poison. Meanwhile, the Bengals can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race with a win here and losses by KC, New England, and Tennessee – or – losses by the Chiefs and the Titans and a Bills’ win. If that sounds like a variable of options, it is. Regardless, the black cats are celebrating their first playoff berth, division title, and season of double-digit wins since 2015. QB Joe Burrow passed for 446 yards and four TDs, giving him 971 yards and eight TDs, and zero interceptions over the past two weeks. And Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase has become the NFL ‘s most dangerous connection. With the Browns averaging a mere 4.4 PPG during the 4Q this season – only Atlanta was worse – look for the Bengals to avenge a 41-16 home loss suffered against Cleveland two months ago. Finally, we put a pin in the Browns with THE CLINCHER: Cincinnati is 10-0 SU and 8-2 in this series when the Browns are coming off consecutive SUATS losses, including 6-0 SUATS when Cleveland owns a losing record.
2021 COLLEGE FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP MATCHUP
Alabama over Georgia by 3
Trying to wade through the sea of superlatives that defined these teams in 2021 is as tough as figuring out how The Watkins Company from Winona, Minnesota, set the world’s record for most layers in a cake with 260 in 2018. So, let’s simplify things and start at the top. First and foremost, we don’t want to go against the Tide when they’re getting points. Think about this: over the last 158 games, Alabama closed as a lined underdog ONCE, against Georgia, and Bama won outright.
Then there’s Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban – the Nicktator, the Sabinator – whose standards of excellence and results on the fi eld have equaled those of the god-like Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant (Nick’s college coaching tree boasts 21 assistants that went on to secure a head coaching position). Even though he’s doing AFLAC commercials with Deion Sanders lately, we think he secretly longs to be the spokesman for d-CON after becoming the fi rst FBS coach in history to win three conference championship games as an underdog when the Tide beat the Dawgs, 41-24, as 6.5-points pups two games ago.
Afterward, Saban confessed to the media that his players used their rare underdog status as motivation. “You guys gave us a lot of really positive rat poison,” he said. “The rat poison that you usually give us is fatal. The rat poison that you put out there this week was yummy.” And what about Alabama’s resumé? Six national championships since 2009 (including two without winning the SEC) and 14 consecutive 10-win seasons, plus this will be its ninth title game appearance in 13 seasons. Whew!
While Georgia can’t match that level of success, head coach Kirby Smart (a previous Saban assistant) has put together a Bulldogs team that can go toe-to-toe with the Tide tonight, and finally get that elephant-sized monkey off their backs. The Dawgs shook off their loss to Bama by treating Michigan like they had every other team in 2021, delivering a one-sided smackdown of the Wolverines in the Orange Bowl’s semifinal matchup, and giving hope to Georgia fans that they’ve got their mojo back just in time. In the words of Jaybird The Bulldog, our SEC Scout,
“Georgia may NEVER have a better opportunity to beat these guys for years to come, so the Dawgs can’t let this slip away.” Before December’s SEC title game loss to the Tide, Georgia’s defense was virtually impenetrable. Considering Saban’s crew scored more points in the second quarter of the SEC Final (24) than the Dawgs had allowed in any game this season, the defense will need no further incentive to hit the field breathing fire.
But Bama has a defense, too, holding unbeaten Cincinnati to 6 points and 284 total yards in the Tide’s semifinal win – their 8th game this season in which the Tide managed to hold an opponent to season-low yardage. The offenses are very evenly matched, as well, with the loss of key WR John Metchie negating Alabama’s QB edge with Heisman winner Bryce Young over UGA’s Stetson Bennett. Just when things are looking more and more like a stalemate, our mean machine comes to the rescue with these gems.
Saint Nick stands 25-1 SU and 16-10 ATS against former coaches by an average margin of victory of 23.8 PPG, including 4-0 SU versus Smart by an average margin of victory of 11 PPG. He’s also a perfect 6-0 SUATS as a dog coming off four or more wins in a row – the same role in which he knocked off Georgia in the SEC title game last month. In addition, the Dawgs had better not let the Tide take a double-digit lead in this contest as Alabama is 60-0 SU in games when leading by 10 or more points (the longest skein in the nation).
The favorite in CFP championship games shows no real advantage, going 4-3 SU and 2-5 ATS all-time, including 0-3 ATS when not undefeated. Bad role for Georgia, too, as the Bulldogs are just 1-4 SU and 0-5 ATS as bowl chalk of 7 or fewer points when not coming off consecutive SUATS wins and facing foes coming off a SUATS win. We could go back-and-forth all day, but the bottom line is we cannot pass up an opportunity to back the No. 1 ranked team in the nation as a dog in the biggest game of the season. Look for the Tide to have their cake and eat it, too, as they kill off the hopes and dreams of yet another wannabe champion