UL-LAFAYETTE over Appalachian St by 7
Believe it or not, these are the only two teams to participate in the Sun Belt championship game. Last year’s event was cancelled due to COVID, while both of these teams have appeared in the only other two Sun Belt title games against one another – in 2019 and 2018, with both games at Kidd Brewer Stadium in Boone, North Carolina, where the Mountaineers prevailed both times. The scene for this year’s title game shifts to Cajun Field in Lafayette, Louisiana – where the Ragin’ Cajuns find themselves in the “best of” category in this week’s SMART BOX on page 2. In addition to riding an 11-game win streak since an opening season loss at Texas, Louisiana beat ASU by 28 points in mid-October when they held the Mountaineers to a season-low 13 points and 211 yards. But as Jason Lee reminded Tom Cruise in ‘Vanilla Sky’, “Without the bitter, baby, the sweet ain’t as sweet.” And the Cajuns enter this afternoon’s contest having to swallow a particularly bitter pill: the loss of head coach Billy Napier, who is moving on to take over the Florida program after four seasons in Lafayette. Still, we like the fact that Napier is sticking around to coach his team in this contest before heading off to Gainesville, and we think they’ll put forth a solid effort to send him out a winner. That notion is backed up by ULL’s 13-8-1 ATS record as a conference home dog since joining the FBS, including 6-1 ATS against foes it beat in a most recent contest (ULL beat ASU, 41-13, as a 4-point home dog here in October). Much like the Baylor-Oklahoma State contest, these two own very similar numbers in the most important offensive and defensive team stats, but there is one area where the Cajuns own an overwhelming edge: Appalachian State is dead even when it comes to turnover margin in 2021, while Louisiana checks in at +11. With ULL’s defense allowing only 13 PPG in their last five outings, we’re set.
LA Chargers over CINCINNATI by 8
The Bengals swept the Steelers series for the first time in a dozen years with last week’s 41-10 pummeling of Pittsburgh, and as a result, are looking to win the division for the first time since 2015. Because of their feather-in-the-cap effort, the Bengals have won three in a row versus the Steelers for the first time since a Cincinnati six-game winning streak in the rivalry from 1988 through 1990. It’s also the Bengals’ first season sweep of the Steelers since the 2009 season when Cincinnati won the division. Yes, it’s nice being lauded for a change. Today, though, a horse of a different color invades from the West, led by eventual doctor-to-be QB Justin Herbert who completed 28-of-44 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns in last week’s upset loss at Denver. While on paper it appears the Chargers are wobbling at 2-3 SU and 1-4 ATS since Bye week, they are actually 4-1 ITS (In The Stats) in those games. They are also 6-1- 1 ATS away when coming off an away game. Cincinnati QB Joe Burrow appears to be leading the Bengals’ resurgence, yet he is just 2-6 ATS in games when coming off a win, including 0-4 SUATS against no-division foes. And then there is Cincy’s 2-11 SUATS ledger when coming off a pair of wins-exact. Speaking of which, we sew up the deal with THE CLINCHER: Cincinnati is 3-9 ATS since 1980 when coming off consecutive wins after facing Pittsburgh, including 0-5 SUATS in non-division games.
PITTSBURGH over Baltimore by 8
So how does a team throw three interceptions over the span of the final 2:40 of the second quarter and fail to surrender any points? Fortunately for the Ravens, they were facing the offensively-challenged Browns, as Baltimore managed to muster only ONE touchdown, yet walked away with a 16-10 decision. They will tackle Cleveland again next week but first must travel to Pittsburgh to take on the suddenly defenseless Steelers, who have allowed 41 points in each of the last two games. FYI: The Black and Gold also allowed 903 yards in the two losses. For what it’s worth, Mike Tomlin is 20-7 SU and 17-8-2 ATS in his NFL career after allowing more than 30 points in a contest, including 15-3 SU and 12-4-2 ATS at home. Meanwhile, through it all, the Black Birds are the new No. 1 seed in AFC playoff picture, largely because the Ravens’ rush defense stuffed the Browns top-rated ground game. Per Next Gen Stats: Entering Week 12, the Browns had an NFL-high 1,407 rushing yards outside the tackles. On Sunday, the Browns had 11 rushes for 27 yards on rushes outside the tackles (2.5 avg.). On the other side of the fi eld, Cincinnati outgained Pittsburgh in the opening half, 261-95, averaging 2.6 more yards per play, and it only got worse from there. The Bengals were up 41-3, and they pulled their starters before the Steelers scored their lone touchdown in garbage time. And once again Pittsburgh got nothing from its running game, as Najee Harris was limited to 23 yards on eight attempts. He caught three passes, but for only 14 receiving yards. As a result of Sunday’s 41-10 pummeling, Pittsburgh now resides in last place in the AFC North. There is nothing better than a red-faced angry dog who embarrassed us as a 5* Best Bet last week, especially at home in division games. With that being said, our Quarterback League Database reminds us that Big Ben is 8-4 SU and 9-2-1 ATS as a home dog in this league. However, we saved the best for last with THE CLINCHER: Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin is 8-1 SU and 8-0-1 ATS as a division dog against foes coming off consecutive wins.