By Marc Lawrence, Playbooksports.com —
Wake Forest over NORTH CAROLINA by 10
Let’s start the discussion with the fact that today’s Over/Under opened at 76.5 points. Doesn’t anybody play defense any more in college football except for Georgia? Wake Forest averages scoring 43.4 PPG while North Carolina isn’t far behind with 36.5 PPG – but the two programs are light years apart at this juncture of the season. Dave Clawson’s Demon Deacons stand 8-0, and made their debut in the year’s first CFB Playoff Top 25 rankings at No. 9. They also cracked the AP Top 25 for the fi rst time since 1947, but still show up here as underdogs to a four-loss non-ranked opponent in UNC. Huh? What a futile exercise in wheel-spinning it’s been by the Tar Heels this season, wasting one opportunity after another after landing in the AP Preseason Top 25 at No. 10. Mack Brown’s up-and-down squad are best exemplified by the fact that they beat Virginia 59-39, then got stampeded the next week by Georgia Tech, 45-22. We’re glad Brown’s hair was already gray when he took over the North Carolina job, because he’d be pounding the Grecian Formula after a season like this one. Ol’ Mackie also takes the fi eld here with a 22-38 ATS mark versus undefeated opponents, including 0-7 SUATS after allowing 35 or more points in his team’s previous game. The inconsistent Heels have won back-to-back games just once this year, but to their credit, they have not lost two consecutive games, either. That starts today, according to THE CLINCHER: Head coach Dave Clawson is 24-12 ATS against conference foes without a winning record, including 5-0 ATS when his team sports a .800 or greater win percentage
MEMPHIS over Smu by 11
The Mustangs had their balloon popped in last week’s heartbreaking loss at Houston when they fought back to tie the game in the final minute, then allowed a 100-yard return on the ensuing kick-off to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory (well, OT at least). We call that a “crushing bubble burst” and we’re not certain Sonny Dykes can get the chins of his troops back up off the mat for this game. Easy to say after the fact, but for the All-American return man, Marcus Jones, it was the 9th return for TD of his career, tying the all-time NCAA mark. Pooch it, roll it down the fi eld, do anything – but DON’T feed it to one of the game’s best kick-off returners! The 44-37 defeat was the fi rst loss of the season for SMU, and Dykes now runs into another prolific passing attack in Memphis, ranked 18th in the nation (296 YPG). He is also 4-11 ATS as conference road chalk, including 0-4 ATS versus greater than .333 opponents. Meanwhile, Memphis had covered six straight times in this series until getting nipped last season, 30-27, on a fi eld goal at the final gun. That sets up a conference revenge situation for the Tigers, a role in which they are 4-1 ATS at home. In addition, at 4-4 on the season, Ryan Silverfield’s squad is battling to earn a bowl bid for the eighth year in a row. A win today will help, and so does the fact that SMU is 2-9 ATS as a conference road favorite of 17 or fewer points, including 0-4 ATS from Game Nine out.
Tennessee over KENTUCKY by 10
After that brilliant 6-0 start, the Cats have dropped consecutive games and limp in at just 1-3 ITS (In The Stats) over the last four overall games. The low point of the season thus far came last week in Starkville – it was a Battle of the Wills, won clearly by Mike Leach pupil Will Rogers, who completed 92.3% of his passes to set an SEC record. Kentucky’s Will Levis was picked off three times, and managed just 150 yards through the air. The Wildcat rushing attack was also nearly non-existent, gaining just 53 yards on 16 carries. Toss in UK’s 5-29 SU record and 11-23 ATS mark against rested conference opponents, and the stage is set for the Volunteers to storm into Lexington with muskets blazing. In fact, after getting stomped by Alabama in the f nal quarter two weeks ago, the bye week came at a perfect time for Josh Heupel’s Vols. Several banged-up players have had a chance to get healthy, including QB Hendon Hooker, who was knocked out of the Ole Miss game on October 16th. He played against the Tide, but clearly was not 100%. Rocky Top has owned this series, going 7-2 SUATS recently, and is 5-1 ATS as road dogs of 10 or fewer points,. But more importantly, their 4-4 overall record is two games shy of Kentucky’s 6-2 mark, making this a virtual must-win as far as the post-season is concerned. So, this is where we turn it over to THE CLINCHER: Tennessee has been favored in 37 of the last 41 games in this series. The four times they took points they covered the spread all four times, winning the game straight-up on three occasions
Tennessee over L.A. RAMS by 6
Let’s be blunt. We love playing on wounded dogs, especially when value is added to the mix. Despite leading the AFC South by three games, the Titans received devastating news when star RB Derrick Henry broke his foot, and will likely miss the rest of the season. We realize that with Henry gone, QB Ryan Tannehill will be forced to make more difficult throws to the perimeter, and that is not a good thing going up against the likes of what figures to be the best defense in the league by the end of the season, with recently acquired LB Von Miller joining future Hall of Famers Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey now commandeering the Rams stop-unit. Over the last 5 seasons, Donald and Miller rank 1st and 4th respectively in pressures per game at 4.1 and 3.4 respectively. But this is not the end of the season. This is an NFL dog that arrives off three consecutive underdog wins, a role in which teams are 16-9 ATS during the second-half of the season, including 4-0 ATS against foes who were favored by more than 10 points in their last game. Furthermore, the Titans are 5-0 ATS as a dog versus .800 or greater opponents, as well as 5-0-1 ATS in this series. For the Rams, sometimes NFL scores can be misleading. This is one of those instances. The Rams dominated the Houston game from start to finish, eventually leading 38-0 before allowing the Texans 22 unanswered points in junk time. However, they will need to exert more of themselves against this red-hot juggernaut today. With a Monday night fight up next against division rival San Francisco, and just 2-8 ATS before Monday nighters, look for the Rams to fall prey to the wounded dog theory tonight. With it, we hand it off to Marc’s “One Of These Nights” BLACK BOOK system for THE CLINCHER: NFL Sunday Night dogs of more than 7 points are 18-4 ATS when facing a non-division foe coming off a win of more than 14 points
CAROLINA over New England by 7
Tom Brady’s 600th career touchdown pass came against the Justin Fields-led Bears last week, in a matchup of the largest QB age difference in NFL history (22 years). Yes, it was a mismatch from the get-go. In addition to boosting his regular-season career TD pass total to 602, the 44-year-old Brady has now thrown at least 20 TD passes in a season a record 19 times. He’s followed on the list by this group of “who’s who”: Drew Brees (17), Peyton Manning (16), Philip Rivers (15), and Brett Favre (15) – who are all retired. The Brady numbers become dizzying, and at some point we anticipate seeing some degree of regression. It actually happened in his final season with New England when he concluded the season with a career-low 55.7 QBR. But the move to Tampa was akin to finding the Fountain of Youth. Today, though, he takes on a team he knocked out of the NFC playoffs last season, and for that, we expect him to pay the piper. For openers, the Saints are 10-3-1 ATS as home dogs dating back to 2006, including 6-1-1 ATS with head coach Sean Payton. The Bourbon Street gang is also 5-0 SUATS in its last five regular season meetings with the Bucs.
Denver over DALLAS by 3
What a difference a year makes. Not only does Dallas hold a commanding 3.5 game lead in the NFC East, they are also the league’s only undefeated team against the spread (7-0 ATS) this season. A year ago at this time, Mike McCarthy’s troops were 2-6 SU and 0-8 ATS and looking for single-edged razor blades. Let’s hear it for Cowboys backup QB Cooper Rush, who played admirably in relief of Dak Prescott (sat out with a wobbly ankle) in the Pokes’ 20-16 win at Minnesota. Rush began the game slowly with several mistakes, but he settled in and played very well in the second half, finishing 24-of-40 for 325 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception and a lost fumble. Meanwhile, QB Teddy Bridgewater wasn’t great in Denver’s plodding 17-10 win over Washington, but he was efficient, going 19-of-26 for 213 yards and a touchdown without making any mistakes (that’s Bridgewater’s mantra). For what it’s worth, the most lucrative situation in the NFL this year has been that of road dogs coming off a win of 6 or more points. That’s because these canines are 12-6 SU and 15-3 ATS season to date. Sure, the resurgent Cowboys are 3-0 ATS at home this year, but they’re still dragging a 3-10 ATS log as non-division home favorites of 10 or fewer points. Will Prescott make it back? Or will Rush be asked to save the day again? We’re ambivalent since we’re backing a Broncos team that’s gone 5-0 ATS as non-division road dogs of 5 or more points. Time to lean on Teddy, as he provides THE CLINCHER: Denver QB Teddy Bridgewater is 23-5 ATS away as an NFL starter, including 10-0 ATS versus winning opponents.