There have been some solid cards over the last several months, but the largely absent fans has been a big miss for Boxing as much as other s...
Thursday, 31 December 2020
The second part of the College Football Bowl Games can be read here.
I will update with selections through the remainder of the post-season and I will then have a separate post for the College Football National Championship Game.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane vs Mississippi State Bulldogs Pick: Most would have expected this to be a season of learning for the Mississippi State Bulldogs as Mike Leach took over as Head Coach and even a place in the post-season has to be considered a success. However the reality is that the Bulldogs have been invited in despite their 3-7 record and in normal seasons that would not have been good enough.
Having the extra Bowl practices could really help the Bulldogs in 2021 when we are all hopeful that things will look a lot different for all of us. Mike Leach has decided he will go with a youth movement which will hopefully pay dividends for the Bulldogs in the years ahead as he shifts the team into the shape Leach will want, although it does mean there are going to be teething problems as we have seen this season.
The competition is not as strong as the Bulldogs may see on a week to week basis in the SEC, but the Tulsa Golden Hurricane need to be given a lot of respect. They were only narrowly beaten in the American Athletic Championship Game and Tulsa have overachieved throughout 2020 and will be highly motivated to take a big scalp on Thursday.
Much is going to come down to the Mississippi State Offensive side of the ball as they will be going up against a very strong Tulsa Defense. If the 'Air Raid' Offense is not able to have the success they are used to in this system, the Golden Hurricane should be very comfortable in their bid to win a Bowl Game for the first time in four years.
It has been a strong year for Tulsa's Defensive unit although they do have to respect the fact they are going up against a SEC Offense in this one. The Offense run by Mike Leach has always tended to struggle to run the ball and instead focusing on the pass, but Mississippi State will be looking for Will Rogers to continue his development at Quarter Back against a Tulsa Secondary which has made some very impressive plays in the passing game.
There sounds like there will be quite a bit of wind in Texas on Thursday too which may make it more difficult to throw the ball so Rogers will have to be aware of turnovers, especially as Interceptions have been an issue for the Bulldogs. The Mississippi State Offensive Line have also had one or two issues in pass protection which Tulsa will be looking to exploit and there is a feeling that the Golden Hurricane can stall some drives.
A bigger question about the Golden Hurricane is whether they have enough Offensively to compete with a SEC Defensive unit even if you have faith in their own Defense being strong enough to contain the Bulldogs. Unlike their counterparts, I do think the Tulsa Offensive Line will be able to establish the run and that will be important as they look to move the ball down the field.
Finding balance Offensively will give the Golden Hurricane confidence and they should be able to have some success throwing against this Mississippi State Secondary. A motivation to play in Texas will really appeal to many on the Tulsa roster and I do think they can win this as a narrow favourite.
The Golden Hurricane have a very strong record in Bowl Games and I do think this is a team who have worked so hard to be here that they will want to prove themselves. Tulsa are also 5-1 against the spread in their last six games as the favourite and I like the Golden Hurricane to come through in this one.
San Jose State Spartans vs Ball State Cardinals Pick: Two teams who have been built in a similar way have achieved big successes already in 2020 and will be looking to round things off with a big time Bowl win. While some teams in College Football are unconcerned about the post-season if they don't make the College Football PlayOffs, teams like the Ball State Cardinals and San Jose State Spartans are all about reaching the post-season and having the players rewarded with a Bowl appearance.
Things have bene much better than that for both the Cardinals and Spartans in 2020 as both are heading into this Bowl Game off upset wins in their Conference Championship Games. Both were big underdogs against the Buffalo Bulls and Boise State Broncos respectively, but winning the Championship and looking to complete fantastic seasons will bring plenty of motivation to the table.
San Jose State are looking for an unbeaten season, while the Ball State Cardinals are 6-1 in 2020 and I do think there will be a confidence that can't be underestimated.
Both teams have been very strong Offensively which is going to produce a very good game, although the difference on the day looks to be the Spartans Defensive Line.
The Cardinals have been struggling to run the ball in their most recent games and I do think the San Jose State Defensive Line will be able to at least shut down that aspect of the Ball State Offense. Doing so will force the Cardinals to rely on the pass, but the Offensive Line have also had issues when it comes to giving the Quarter Back enough time to make the throws down the field and I do think San Jose State can at least rattle Drew Plitt when he is forced to drop back and pass the ball.
Even then I do think Plitt will have some successes and it will at least give Ball State the chance to be competitive.
They will have to move the ball if they are going to stay in this one because they are facing a balanced Spartans Offensive unit which should be able to have their way with the Ball State Defense. Unlike the Cardinals, San Jose State are expected to be able to establish the run and rip off some big gains against the Ball State Defensive Line and that will open things up for Nick Starkel who has found a home in San Jose.
Nick Starkel has produced some massive numbers throughout 2020 in leading the Spartans to a 7-0 record and he should be given plenty of time to expose the Ball State Secondary. With the ball being run, San Jose State should remain in front of the sticks and that will open up the playbook for Starkel who will be able to hit some big plays.
He should be aware of the Ball State tendency to bend Defensively, but also create Interceptions, but I think the Quarter Back has played well enough to believe he can help San Jose State score enough points to win this game.
The favourites should be much more comfortable in the weather compared with Ball State, especially at this time of the year, and that gives the unbeaten team another edge.
Ball State have been a very good underdog to back under Head Coach Mike Neu and I have to respect that, but San Jose State are 15-5-1 against the spread in their last twenty-one games against a team with a winning record. With a more balanced Offense and with the weather conditions more suited to the Spartans, I think San Jose State will pull away for a solid looking win in this Bowl Game.
Army Black Knights vs West Virginia Mountaineers Pick: There was some real surprise when the Bowl selections were announced that a 9-2 Army Black Knights had not been offered a chance to play in the post-season. Covid-19 has actually opened the door for the Black Knights when the Tennessee Volunteers decided they needed to withdraw having had an outbreak in the team, and I do think Army are going to be highly motivated for this one to prove a point.
They won't have an easy game in front of them against the West Virginia Mountaineers who need a win to finish with a winning record. The Mountaineers should have had enough preparation time to get ready to face the triple option Offense that the Black Knights like to run, although it will be a challenge for any team facing this team.
The West Virginia Mountaineers Defensive Line has struggled to clamp down on the run down the stretch and I do think the Black Knights will be comfortable in the conditions which is going to mean a lot of running the ball. Like many teams who have run this kind of Offense, the Black Knights have not really had a lot of success throwing the ball with the main ambition to wear down teams on the ground, but I do think they will have some joy in this one.
It is a tough task for the Mountaineers whose Defensive unit has actually been better defending the pass than they have in controlling the run. With that in mind I do think Army will be able to move the chains, although they will also have to respect the fact that West Virginia have played well Defensively for large parts of the 2020 season.
Matching up poorly on the Defensive side of the ball also factors into the West Virginia Offensive play and I think that is why this feels like a very big spread for the favourite to cover. The Mountaineers have gotten plenty from Quarter Back Jarret Doege, but he will be facing a very strong Army Secondary and it looks like it is going to be a game played in windy and wet conditions which will make it very hard to throw the ball with any kind of consistency.
Instead the focus for the Offensive Line is going to be in establishing the run and West Virginia may have a touch more success in this game than they have for much of the season. In recent games the Mountaineers have not really opened the kind of holes they would have liked up front, but the Army Defensive Line has not played as well as the Secondary and the Mountaineers should be able to score some points too.
However, they are not a team who will light up the scoreboard and I think that makes this likely to be a low-scoring game. That makes the points being given to the underdog look all the more appealing.
The Mountaineers are 1-9 against the spread in their last ten games as a favourite in a game being played on neutral field. They have also failed to cover in their last seven games as the favourite in a Bowl Game.
Army do not have the best recent record as the underdog in games, but I think they can run the ball well enough to control the clock and keep this one close.
Alabama Crimson Tide vs Notre Dame Fighting Irish Pick: Some will question whether the Notre Dame Fighting Irish deserve their place in the College Football PlayOffs after being blown away by the Clemson Tigers in the ACC Championship Game. The Fighting Irish barely held onto the Number 4 Seed, but they are a considerable underdog in this Semi Final on New Year's Day.
That isn't a big surprise if anyone had seen the performance in the Championship Game agains the Tigers that seemed to suggest Notre Dame are some way away from being one of the top teams in the nation despite the record. However I don't think it is ever wise to base an opinion on a team on one game and the Fighting Irish were unbeaten in the regular season which included a win over the Tigers, albeit it was a Clemson team missing Trevor Lawrence.
Now the challenge looks a very big one in front of Notre Dame as they get set to face the Alabama Crimson Tide who won the SEC Championship with an unbeaten record, although the Championship Game was closer than some anticipated. Even then it has been a rare occasion in 2020 when the Crimson Tide have been pushed and a balanced Offensive unit is going to be very difficult to slow down.
There is a balance on this side of the ball which makes it difficult to know how Clemson can stop them and especially if the Fighting Irish have not improved on the line on scrimmage. In their most recent games the Notre Dame Defensive Line have given up some huge plays on the ground and I have little reason to believe things will change when facing this Alabama Offensive Line.
Najee Harris might be the latest Alabama Running Back ready to make an impact at the next level and I expect him to put the Crimson Tide in front of the sticks which will make it very difficult for the Notre Dame Defensive unit to shut things down. Mac Jones has been brilliant at Quarter Back and is in the Heisman Trophy contention, and life becomes very comfortable for him if he is able to hand the ball off and see Harris rip off some big gains.
I expect Mac Jones to have considerable success throwing against the Fighting Irish Secondary while he has also been well protected so should have a strong outing.
Over the course of the season the Fighting Irish have impressed on this side of the ball, but the feeling is that they are going to have do more in what is likely going to be a shoot out at best. While the Fighting Irish can't expect to shut down the Alabama Crimson Tide, they will be looking for Ian Book to have a bounce back outing after what was a sub-par effort from the entire Offense in their defeat to the Clemson Tigers.
Unlike his counterpart, Ian Book is not likely to receive the same kind of support from the run as Alabama's Defensive Line have really clamped down on opponents up front. That will lead to plenty of pressure on the Quarter Back if the Notre Dame Fighting Irish fall behind in this one and I am not sure there is enough talent to challenge the Crimson Tide.
We have seen Florida and Mississippi have success against the Alabama Secondary, but those games have been few and far between and Ian Book has not really led the same Offensive firepower as those two teams. I do think he can make some throws, but Alabama's Secondary will likely be helped by the significant pass rush generated up front which should be able to breakthrough the Notre Dame Offensive Line whenever Ian Book steps back to throw.
If the Fighting Irish are not able to run the ball as they would like, Ian Book could be under intense pressure through much of the game and that should lead to a big Alabama win as turnovers and stalled drives take over.
Notre Dame have some solid numbers, but they are 3-7 against the spread in their last ten games as an underdog in a Bowl Game. The Crimson Tide are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight as the favourite and I think Alabama will find a way to cover a big number with their Offensive power producing the differential on the day.
Clemson Tigers vs Ohio State Buckeyes Pick: These teams met in the College Football PlayOffs last year and it ended up with a narrow win for the Clemson Tigers who needed a late Interception to confirm the win over the Ohio State Buckeyes. In that game the Tigers were a narrow favourite, but the spread is bigger this time and it may have something to do with the impressive dismantling of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the ACC Championship Game.
That victory showed the power of the Tigers and the layers may also be concerned with the lack of games that the Ohio State Buckeyes have played in 2020. While they remained unbeaten, Dabo Swinney was the first to mention the fact that the Buckeyes have not experienced the same kind of hardships as other teams in College Football have faced and his Ranking of the Buckeyes outside of the top ten will be motivation for the underdog.
However I think the point is a valid one because the Buckeyes have not impressed as much as some of the other teams that were chasing the PlayOff places. I would have had the Texas A&M Aggies Ranked above the Ohio State Buckeyes on their overall season performances and the fact the sole loss came to the Alabama Crimson Tide, but the Buckeyes are here and they will feel they have something to prove.
Justin Fields has not been at his best and his battle against Trevor Lawrence is not really going to impact the Number 1 Overall Pick in the NFL Draft as it may have done before the season began. Now it feels like Lawrence is the clear top choice, but that should serve as inspiration to Fields to show he belongs at the next level and is as good as any other Quarter Back in College Football.
The Quarter Back has struggled to avoid mistakes in the passing game in recent games and I do think Justin Fields is going to have his problems here. For the main part he has been able to lean on the running game to put himself in front of the sticks, but Fields is not likely to have that help here, at least not consistently. The Clemson Defensive Line has prided itself on being able to stop the run and they showed how much they have learned in their defeat of the Fighting Irish having been destroyed by the ground game when those teams met earlier in the season.
If the Tigers Defensive Line can control the line of scrimmage they will feel very confident in being able to slow down the entire Buckeyes Offense, although Ohio State's Offensive Line have bullied most teams they have faced. That will be so important for Justin Fields who has struggled to connect in the passing game as he would have liked, while the Offensive Line has been struggling in pass protection and is likely to be under intense pressure from the Clemson pass rush every time the Buckeyes get behind the chains.
Running the ball is likely going to be a tough task for the Clemson Tigers too, although they will benefit from the Quarter Back who is respected enough to maybe have teams pull players from the line of scrimmage to protect the Secondary. I do think Ohio State will be confident in their Defensive Line and will feel they can at least limit the damage done by Travis Etienne, but stopping Trevor Lawrence looks like it may be beyond this Secondary.
All season it has been seen that it is possible to throw the ball against the Buckeyes and in recent games there hasn't been much of a change in that regard. The fact that a generational talent like Trevor Lawrence will be doing that here will surely see Clemson pile up some big yards through the air and especially as the Quarter Back has been well protected.
He will have to be aware of the Interceptions that the Buckeyes can generate, but I like the Clemson Tigers to prove a point here and produce a big win. You know the Head Coach will be wanting to do that and Clemson have covered in the three previous meetings between these schools since 2014.
Dabo Swinney really does coach the Tigers up when it comes to Bowl Game results and I think that is key here. The Buckeyes are a very good underdog, but they were beaten in that spot by Clemson last season and I think they will cover here.
MY PICKS: Tulsa Golden Hurricane + 1.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
San Jose State Spartans - 9 Points @ 1.86 Bet Victor (1 Unit)
Army Black Knights + 8.5 Points @ 2.05 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Alabama Crimson Tide - 20 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Clemson Tigers - 7 Points @ 1.83 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Friday, 25 December 2020
Week 16 NFL Picks will be placed in this thread across the weekend. Merry Christmas to all those celebrating this weekend, even if we are not doing that in the usual way.
Minnesota Vikings @ New Orleans Saints Pick: The feeling was that the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings meeting in Week 15 was going to be an important one in determining which of those teams would miss out on the PlayOffs. Both may eventually do that, but the losing team was going to be dropping to two games below 0.500 and in a loaded NFC that is a difficult place to be with two games left.
The upset home defeat to the Bears means it is Minnesota who have been left at 6-8 and it is going to take something miraculous for the Vikings to return to the PlayOffs.
In Week 16 they face the New Orleans Saints who won't have forgotten about the PlayOff defeat to Minnesota in this Stadium last year and who have previously been beaten by the Vikings in the post-season on a 'miracle' play at the end of the game. That should focus the Saints, but the two losses in a row to the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs will only have underlined the need to turn things around.
Those losses look like they will cost the Saints the chance to finish with the Number 1 Seed in the NFC, but Sean Payton will be keen for his team to at least go into the Wild Card Round of the PlayOffs with some momentum in a couple of weeks time. Having Drew Brees is a boost for the team at Quarter Back, and I expect the veteran Quarter Back to find a way to get the better of the banged up Minnesota Defensive unit.
Drew Brees won't be throwing to Michael Thomas in the remainder of the regular season, but the Saints have yet to clinch the NFC South and I do think there are Receivers who have shown they can step up in Thomas' absence already this season. After a slow start last week, Brees found a rhythm at Quarter Back and that should mean Alvin Kamara is a bigger threat than he has been in recent weeks.
It will help New Orleans that they can ask Kamara and Latavius Murray to carry them towards success in this one with the Minnesota Defensive Line struggling to clamp down on the run. Keeping the Saints in front of the chains should make Drew Brees' life much easier in throwing the ball against the Vikings and a limited Minnesota pass rush should mean the Quarter Back has enough time to make his plays down the field and put up some points.
While the game is close I do think there is every chance that Minnesota can stay with the Saints and that is largely down to the fact that Dalvin Cook has been running the ball very well for them. The Running Back should be able to establish the run in this game as New Orleans have just struggled to contain the ground game in recent weeks and Cook will give the Vikings a chance to keep the New Orleans Offensive unit on the sidelines as they extend drives.
Moving the ball on the ground will also be a huge boost for Kirk Cousins at Quarter Back who has had his moments in the regular season, but who has also struggled for consistency. Making sure he is not having to hold onto the ball for too long will be huge for the Offensive Line who have struggled in pass protection and that is why Cook will be a hugely important weapon for Minnesota this week.
Any time the Vikings get behind the chains there will be issues for Kirk Cousins though and that will largely come from the pressure that is going to be in his face. He does have a couple of top Receivers that can make plays for him, but consistency may be an issue and it is very important for Minnesota to stay with New Orleans.
You have to respect the Vikings who are well Coached and they do have a tendency to perform well as the underdog. However they were blown out by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and I do think the New Orleans Saints will be able to take advantage of any disappointment in the visiting locker room after basically being eliminated from the post-season last week.
The Saints were beaten by the Vikings in the PlayOffs as a similar sized favourite at home last season, but I think Drew Brees and company will have a better balance Offensively than Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook may provide and that could prove to be the difference on the day. A couple of big plays from the Saints Defensive Line should swing this game in their favour and I think New Orleans will cover.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Detroit Lions Pick: The season is already over for the Detroit Lions and they will be thinking ahead to the off-season and bringing in some new faces to turn this franchise around. Darrell Bevell continues what is effectively a job interview, but the Lions have not really responded to him as he may have wished and I do think the Lions will be looking to bring in a new Head Coach and General Manager.
At 5-9 you do have to wonder how motivated the Detroit Lions are going to be, but that won't be an issue for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tom Brady's arrival in this part of Florida has sparked the Buccaneers, although they have perhaps not been as good as so many thought they would be. Bruce Arians and Brady have not always been on the same page and that has raised some tensions, but the Buccaneers can still win the NFC South if they win both remaining games and the New Orleans Saints were to lose both games.
The more immediate concern for Tampa Bay is simply securing a PlayOff spot and they can do that with a victory on Boxing Day. Ronald Jones will be absent, but the Buccaneers should still be able to establish the run and that is important for their Quarter Back as it really opens up the playbook when they are moving the ball on the ground.
I do think the Buccaneers can do that and Tom Brady should really be able to expose the Detroit Secondary especially with the limited pass rush that has been generated by the Lions. With time Brady has some top Receiving threats that will win their battles and the Buccaneers should be able to move the ball pretty consistently through the course of this Week 16 game.
If the Lions were fully healthy and motivated I would have little doubt that they could have some successes Offensively too, but there has to be question marks about this team. For starters the season is over for the Lions and secondly Matthew Stafford is very much banged up and that is not ideal for the home team.
The Detroit Offensive Line has struggled to open holes for their Running Backs on the ground all season and that has been the case recently too. This means it is hard to imagine the Lions being in third and short spots too often and instead they are going to have to rely on the passing game to keep the chains moving and that means needing a healthy Quarter Back.
Matthew Stafford has shown throughout his career that he is a very capable performer, but being banged up behind this Offensive Line means he really doesn't want to be playing in obvious passing down and distance. That is especially the case when you think of the pressure that Tampa Bay have generated from their Defensive Line when pinning back their ears and getting after the Quarter Back and I do think the Lions will have some problems.
I do think the Buccaneers will need to see a big improvement from their Secondary if they are going to have a deep run in the PlayOffs, but in this game I think the Lions might not be able to capitalise as they may have done if Stafford was fully healthy. Even then he would have been without Kenny Golladay and the Lions passing game is not as strong in his absence.
There will be moments from Matthew Stafford, but I am not sure he lasts the entire sixty minutes on Boxing Day. Chase Daniels is a capable back up Quarter Back, but I think between the two there will be issues moving the ball as consistently as Detroit will need to keep up with the Buccaneers in this one.
Detroit are 6-13 against the spread in their last nineteen games as the underdog, while the blow out loss to the Tennessee Titans suggests they may have called time on the season.
It is a big spread without a doubt, especially for a road team to cover, but Tampa Bay look like they can score enough points to make it hard for Detroit to keep up on the scoreboard. The Buccaneers may need a late stop Defensively to prevent a backdoor cover from Matthew Stafford, but they could just as easily knock him out of the game and win comfortably moving away from their hosts.
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals Pick: A win on Saturday will confirm that there will be PlayOff Football for the Arizona Cardinals next month, but anything else is going to leave them wondering if they have left the door open to other teams.
They have a home game against an eliminated Divisional rival, but one that has used this Stadium for home games over the last month so the San Francisco 49ers should be very comfortable in the surroundings. Being eliminated is a blow to the Super Bowl representatives for the NFC last season, but there should be a motivation to play spoiler for others within the Division in the remaining two weeks of the season.
Like for much of this season, San Francisco are banged up heading into Week 16 of the regular season. Jimmy Goroppolo has missed much of the year at Quarter Back and he is unlikely to be rushed back even though he is eligible to come off the IR this week.
That could mean the 49ers are down to a third string Quarter Back after Nick Mullens suffered an injury in Week 15 and it is almost certain that CJ Beathard will be given the opportunity for them. Some skill players are missing for the 49ers which makes it hard to believe they can move the ball consistently and that has to be the biggest worry on this side of the ball.
George Kittle is eligible to play, but Deebo Samuel, Raheem Mostert are both absent and I do think that takes away some of the San Francisco play-making talent on the Offensive side of the ball. They would likely have had some difficulties running the ball anyway, but losing a player like Samuel who can run the ball from sweep plays and make some big catches for the Quarter Back is much more difficult to cover up.
If Mullens was playing I do think there would be a reason to believe San Francisco would have success moving the ball, but CJ Beathard is hard to trust as would any third string Quarter Back. There are some spaces to attack in the Arizona Secondary, but Beathard may not expose those as much as other Quarter Backs could have done.
Instead the 49ers will have to lean on the Defensive unit to keep them in this game and I do think they match up pretty well with the Cardinals Offense. Kyler Murray is a very important player for the Cardinals, but he might be forced to rely on his arm in this one more than his legs as the 49ers Defensive Line have stiffened and clamped down on the run.
That may see the Cardinals having to make plays from third and long spots at times, but Murray should be able to target DeAndre Hopkins with successes in this one. However, he could be without Dan Arnold and Larry Fitzgerald on Saturday and that will just make things a little more difficult for Arizona when it comes to consistent drives ending with Touchdowns rather than having to settle for Field Goals
Games between these Divisional rivals have been very competitive in recent years and I do think this has the makings of one too.
The 49ers are 7-3 against the spread in their last ten games as the road underdog, while Arizona are 2-6 against the spread in their last eight as the home favourite.
The road team is also 6-2-1 against the spread in their last nine in this series and I will look to take the points in this one.
Miami Dolphins @ Las Vegas Raiders Pick: For the second season in a row, a late season collapse has cost the Las Vegas Raiders a place in the PlayOffs and they can only look to play spoiler through the remaining two weeks of the season. The Raiders have dropped four of their last five games to slip back to 7-7 and even though they are mathematically alive, the chances of making the post-season under Jon Gruden have all but disappeared in the 2020 season.
They will be hosting the 9-5 Miami Dolphins who have once again overachieved under Brian Flores who has to be given more time to keep the progression going under his watch. The Head Coach has been an excellent capture by the Miami Dolphins and another high pick in the NFL Draft is coming up thanks to the strong trade performances over the last couple of years.
While they control their own destiny, the likelihood is that the Dolphins have to win out if they are going to reach the post-season and that means beating two teams that do not have losing records. This looks to be the 'easier' of the two games left on the schedule, although the Miami Dolphins might be hoping the Buffalo Bills have nothing to play for in Week 17 when they are set to face the AFC East Champions Elect.
For now Brian Flores will be trying to focus the players on the task in hand and that means overcoming some injury concerns which have just hit the team in recent weeks. Offensively the Dolphins could be without Mike Gesicki and DeVante Parker in Week 16 and that would be a huge blow to Tua Tagovailoa despite the obvious improvements the rookie Quarter Back is making in each passing week.
The match up does look like one that Tagovailoa can take advantage of, but it won't be up to the Quarter Back alone. For starters he will have Myles Gaskin back in the backfield and coupled with Salvon Ahmed this is a big opportunity for the Miami Dolphins to control the clock with some huge gains on the ground.
Neither player may be considered amongst the best in the NFL at the Running Back position, but both play hard and the Miami Offensive Line has been bullying opponents up front. Add in the fact that there have been signs of real wear and tear on the Las Vegas Defensive Line and I think the Dolphins can hand the ball off to either Running Back and make sure the Offensive unit is in front of the chains.
That will open things up for Tua Tagovailoa who is capable with his legs, but who has begun to look comfortable throwing the ball at the pro level. The Quarter Back is facing a banged up Secondary and the lack of pressure generated by the Raiders pass rush should mean he is able to make some big plays down the field, while Tagovailoa will be even stronger if one or both of Parker and Gesicki line up.
There has been extra time for the Las Vegas Raiders to prepare for this game and it looks like it will be enough for Derek Carr to be passed fit to return at Quarter Back. He played one series last week before being knocked out of the eventual defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers, but Derek Carr has practiced this week and will likely be given the starting role despite the strong outing from Marcus Mariota.
If Mariota is given the start you could see the Raiders having more success running the ball as his own wheels have to be respected, but otherwise it could be a really difficult time for Las Vegas. Josh Jacobs is a very good Running Back, but he has not been at full strength of late and the Offensive Line have not been able to really open the kind of holes they had been managing earlier in the season.
Failing to run the ball will put a lot of pressure on whoever begins at Quarter Back because the Miami Secondary is filled with talented players. In recent weeks we have seen the Dolphins pass rush really pick up the pace, but protecting the Quarter Back has been a strength for the Raiders although that doesn't mean they will sustain drives against this tough Defensive unit.
The numbers produced by Derek Carr suggests he will have his moments in this one, but the Miami Defense is better than the ones that Carr has faced in recent games and that is important to note.
Miami are 5-0-1 against the spread in the last six games against the Raiders.
The Raiders have struggled down the stretch and have not covered in four straight games and effectively being eliminated on the final play in Week 15 might have dented all confidence or motivation. It hasn't been often I've believed in Miami to win a road game as a favourite, but I think that is what we will see in Sin City in Week 16 as the PlayOff hopes go into the final game of the regular season.
Cleveland Browns @ New York Jets Pick: It is only the second time since the Cleveland Browns have been reformed that the franchise have finished with at least ten wins and they can return to the PlayOffs for the first time in eighteen years by winning in Week 16. They actually failed to reach the post-season when finishing with ten wins in 2007, but the Browns control their own destiny and there is still an opportunity for them to win the AFC North with a strong end to the season.
Not many would have expected that when the Pittsburgh Steelers opened the season with an 11-0 record, but three losses in a row for the Steelers coupled with the Browns winning five of their last six has just opened the door. If the Browns win in Week 16 and the Steelers lose, Cleveland will be hosting Pittsburgh in Week 17 with a PlayOff spot locked up and the chance to win the Division.
That has to be encouraging for the Browns who head into this game as a big favourite against the one-win New York Jets. However that win was secured by the Jets in Week 15 and one that may have the fanbase tearing out their hair as it means the Jets could miss out on the Number 1 Pick in the Draft when Trevor Lawrence looks the clear selection for any team in that position.
It might have revitalised the franchise, but the Jets look more banged up this week and upsetting the odds two weeks in a row is a big ask. There are also rumours that Adam Gase will be relieved as Head Coach on Monday if the Jets were to lose in Week 16 and that may see some of the players begin to down tools now they are avoiding a winless season.
The Jets have struggled Offensively all season which is a devastating indictment of the Head Coach who has been considered an Offensive mind. They may have some success running the ball in Week 16 against the Cleveland Defensive Line which has just been a little banged up of late, but you couldn't really have a lot of faith in veteran Frank Gore to find the holes consistently as he reaches the twilight of his career.
It is all so important for the Jets to establish the run and make sure Sam Darnold is playing in front of the sticks, but any time the home team are in third and long it is going to be difficult for the Quarter Back. Time has not been given to him by the Offensive Line and the Browns do get after the opposition Quarter Back and that may protect a Secondary which has given up some big plays.
Ultimately it is hard to trust this New York Offensive unit to do enough to challenge Cleveland on this side of the ball and they will not be helped by the injuries on the Defensive side either.
No one will deny it is difficult to believe in the Browns as a big favourite on the road and especially as they only won by 2 points at the Jacksonville Jaguars a few weeks ago. Some of that is down to the inconsistent performances from Baker Mayfield, although we have seen some of the best from him in recent games that will encourage Cleveland fans as we approach the post-season.
The Cleveland Offensive Line is one of the strengths of the whole team, but they will be looking to establish themselves in the trenches more than they have in recent games. With Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt in the backfield, Cleveland will expect to run the ball and put their Quarter Back in a strong position to make plays even without Odell Beckham Jr in the line up.
They look like being helped by further injuries on the New York Defensive Line and I do think both Chubb and Hunt will have strong outings. Both can also be key in the passing game as they provide a safety blanket for Baker Mayfield who should be given enough time to expose the Jets Secondary which has been struggling.
A lame duck Head Coach and climbing down from the emotion of winning a first game in 2020 is going against the Jets here as well as the injuries that have piled up at the end of a long season.
Cleveland do struggle massively as a road favourite when it comes to covering the spread, but the favourite is 10-1 against the spread in the last eleven between these Conference rivals and I think the Browns may be able to do enough for a late cover.
Chicago Bears @ Jacksonville Jaguars Pick: The situation has really cleared up for the Jacksonville Jaguars- lose both remaining games and they are going to end up with the Number 1 Pick in the NFL Draft next year and that will likely mean the start of the recovery of the franchise. With Trevor Lawrence coming into the pro ranks, the obvious franchise Quarter Back will be sitting there for the Jaguars who have been given this opportunity thanks to the New York Jets win in Week 15.
Most professional players still have some pride, but the Jaguars have looked really bad the last couple of weeks as they have been blown out by the Tennessee Titans and the Baltimore Ravens. Even the return of Gardner Minshew at Quarter Back was unable to spark the Jaguars and you do have to wonder what their motivation will be in a non-Conference game with two weeks left of the regular season.
Motivation for the Chicago Bears will be easy to find as they control their own destiny as far as the PlayOffs go.
It has been a season of streaks for the Bears who have won two in a row just as it looked like 2020 would be a lost season and much of that has to be down to Mitchell Trubisky who has shown he is more than a bust at Quarter Back. No one associated with the Chicago Bears will be willing to put their neck on the line that Trubisky has finally got it, but the Quarter Back has really sparked the Bears and that has to be respected.
Injuries to the Jacksonville Defensive unit should make things easier for Trubisky, although the Chicago Offensive Line will be looking to put the game on their back. They have really begun to dominate the trenches of late and opened up some big holes for David Montgomery who has been playing at a very high level in the last few games.
I expect David Montgomery to have a very strong day running the ball and that should put the Bears in front of the down and distance and allow Mitchell Trubisky to hit some of his Receivers that have also stepped up their play. Allen Robinson is returning to Jacksonville and I expect him to have a strong game as the Bears move the ball up and down the field without too many issues.
The injuries on the Defensive side of the ball will be hurting Jacksonville, but they may also be without James Robinson who has played really well at Running Back for them. It could mean the Jaguars do have an issue running the ball consistently and that will mean leaning on Minshew at Quarter Back to throw the ball against what has been a banged up Secondary.
Gardner Minshew has shown he can do that and Jacksonville have Receivers who can make plays, but the Quarter Back is also likely going to be dealing with a strong Chicago pass rush and that can lead to mistakes.
Turnovers could really help the Bears pull away in this one and I do think they can be backed even though Chicago are another poor road favourite to back when it comes to covering marks.
However I haven't seen much fight from Jacksonville over the last two weeks and those were against Conference and Divisional rivals so I am not expecting a lot more from them here. The final game is against the Indianapolis Colts which may be the more important game left for the Jaguars and I expect a motivated Chicago Bears team to win well and then hope the Green Bay Packers clinch the Number 1 Seed in the NFC later in the day.
Denver Broncos @ Los Angeles Chargers Pick: There isn't anything but Divisional pride on the line for two franchises that are hoping 2021 will bring much better than 2020. At least the Los Angeles Chargers know the direction the team are heading in under rookie Quarter Back Justin Herbert, while the Denver Broncos might have lost faith in Drew Lock and could be looking for a new Quarter Back in the next NFL Draft.
Both teams are at 5-9 on the season and this game is as much to do with Draft positioning as anything else, although the Chargers have some momentum behind them. Los Angeles have won back to back games, while the Broncos have lost three of their last four as injuries have piled up on both sides of the ball.
The Chargers should also be playing with some motivation of wanting revenge against the Broncos who had a massive comeback to win the first of the Divisional games between these teams this season. It was part of a number of late sloppy play which cost Los Angeles a few wins and that should at least make Herbert and company more interested on the field to make sure they can show what they have learnt.
This should be an opportunity for Justin Herbert and the entire Offensive unit considering how Denver have declined through the injuries on the Defensive side of the ball. The Defensive Line has allowed an eye-watering 6.6 yards per carry on average in their last three games and teams have been able to pile up the yards on the ground which has just opened up a Secondary missing some important players.
While I am not sure that the Chargers can take full advantage of the ground game, they should at least offer Justin Herbert the chance to play from third and manageable spots and that is where the rookie Quarter Back can have a very strong outing. Last week he was very good against the Las Vegas Raiders having led the Chargers to consecutive wins and there isn't expected to be a very ferocious pass rush to disrupt drives.
I fully expect Justin Herbert to have a very good day and that is going to have to be matched by Drew Lock if the Broncos are going to beat Los Angeles for a second time in 2020.
As injuries have begun to clear up on the Chargers Defensive Line, the team have been able to clamp down on the run and doing that here will put a lot of pressure on Lock at Quarter Back. The Broncos will feel they can establish the run while the game is close, but the improvements shown by Los Angeles should make it very difficult for the Broncos to sustain drives and find Touchdowns instead of Field Goals or Punts.
Denver do have a very good record in recent years against the Chargers, but I think the home team are the right play here.
I have to respect the fact that the Broncos have been a very good road underdog to back and they do tend to bounce back from sub-par efforts, but Denver look banged up and I think the Los Angeles Chargers can ride their momentum to a win and a cover.
Tennessee Titans @ Green Bay Packers Pick: Both of these teams are looking very likely to be playing in the PlayOffs next month, but there is still a lot on the line despite being a non-Conference game. The Green Bay Packers are still working towards the Number 1 Seed in the NFC which will give them the sole Bye in this Conference, while the Tennessee Titans are trying to win the AFC South and earning at least one home game in the post-season.
The two teams have some solid momentum behind them with the Packers having won four in a row to move to the top of the NFC, while the Titans have won four of their last five to narrowly lead the AFC South.
On Sunday Night Football we should see plenty of strong Offensive play when these teams meet each other and I do think having the hook over the key number 3 will be huge for the road team.
Last week we saw the Green Bay Packers Offense just lose their way in the second half against the Carolina Panthers, but they have still be producing a huge effort behind Aaron Rodgers. You would imagine a bounce back from the whole team when going up against this Tennessee Defensive unit which has really struggled to stop teams throughout the year and especially more so in recent games.
Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams should be able to put the Offensive unit on their back if that is what the Packers want and they have combined to really make this team dangerous on the ground. That will at least get the Titans guessing about what is to come, but the Offensive Line is still a little banged up and so it is also important for the Green Bay Packers to make sure Aaron Rodgers is dealing with a clean sheet.
There will not be a massive concern about that because the Titans have gotten little pressure up front and I do think the Green Bay Packers are going to be able to have a lot of success throwing the ball. Tennessee's lack of pressure up front means the banged up Secondary has been exposed and I would be surprised if Rodgers doesn't bounce back from what is a relatively weak Week 15 performance from the expected MVP of the League.
Green Bay should move the ball when they have it, but Tennessee are likely able to do the same with their own Offense finding a rhythm. Derrick Henry is the main threat, but the Titans Offensive Line and the powerful Running Back are still very difficult to stop despite teams knowing what they are going to face.
In recent seasons the Green Bay inability to slow the run has proven costly in the post-season and that has to be the concern for the Packers in this game and going into January. In recent games teams have shown they can run the ball against the Packers Defensive Line and I have no doubt that Henry will get plenty of carries to wear down Green Bay up front while cooling Rodgers down on the sidelines.
Establishing the run is huge for the Titans who will know that the Green Bay Secondary and the pass rush is the strength of the Packers Defensive unit. Doing so will just slow the pass rush and also have the Safeties and Linebackers edging closer to the line of scrimmage which will give Ryan Tannehill a chance to hit Corey Davis and AJ Brown down the field.
I do think the Titans are going to be able to move the chains Offensively and that is why I believe this will be a very competitive game with the hook over the key number being key. Both teams should score plenty of points and it does feel like a late Field Goal could decide this either way.
The Titans have been a strong road underdog to back under Head Coach Mike Vrabel and I do think his demands of his team will help them keep this close. Derrick Henry should be tough to clamp down and I think taking the points is the right play here.
MY PICKS: New Orleans Saints - 5.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 8.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
San Francisco 49ers + 5.5 Points @ 1.92 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Miami Dolphins - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Cleveland Browns - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Chicago Bears - 7.5 Points @ 1.91 Betfair Sportsbook (2 Units)
Kansas City Chiefs - 10.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Houston Texans - 7.5 Points @ 2.00 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Los Angeles Chargers - 2.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (2 Units)
Tennessee Titans + 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Monday, 21 December 2020
In each of the last couple of seasons I have decided to split the Bowl Games thread in half because of the huge amount of games we get at this time of the season.
I am doing the same this year, although we don't have the same amount of Bowl Games as usual- at least this way the Bowl thread is not overloaded.
There are some big games to come, but it is going to be difficult to really nail down the motivation of teams with so many withdrawing from being selected and players also deciding, once again, that they would rather prepare for the NFL Draft than play in a Bowl Game.
This thread will not cover the College Football PlayOffs, but those should be the opening picks from the Part 2 thread which should be ready to go next week.
North Texas Mean Green vs Appalachian State Mountaineers Pick: There hasn't been a lot of time between the Bowl Games announcement and the first of the games to be played, but both the Appalachian State Mountaineers and the North Texas Mean Green will be happy to be playing in the post-season. While some teams have decided they don't wish to play in the post-season, these two teams will be happy to be here.
The Mountaineers are a big favourite having finished the season with a 8-3 record compared with the Mean Green who are below 0.500 at 4-5.
There is also an additional factor that North Texas will be missing their best Receiver Jaelon Darden and this is going to make it very difficult for the underdog to keep up with the Mountaineers. Even with Darden it would have been a challenge for the Mean Green to throw the ball against the Mountaineers Secondary which has been very strong defending the pass all season.
I do think North Texas could have some success running the ball, but there will be times when they are stuck in third and long spots and without their star Receiver I do think there will be an inconsistency that can't be ignored. The Mountaineers don't have the best pass rush so I do think North Texas will have time to make their throws down the field, but converting third downs regularly may be beyond them.
Moving the chains is not really going to be as much of a problem for the Appalachian State Mountaineers Offense especially as a run first team are ready to go up against the Mean Green Defensive Line which has not been able to stop the run all season. There are some Senior players looking to put up one more big effort for Appalachian State who have won all five previous Bowl Games played and I do think the Mountaineers should be in a strong position for a rare cover in 2020.
They have been ripping off big gains running the ball and in their last three games North Texas have allowed an average of over 300 yards per game on the ground. That can't be ignored and it should mean Appalachian State are comfortable getting their Offensive unit rolling in the manner they would be looking for.
Zac Thomas may not be asked to do a lot of throwing, but play-action could open up the field if North Texas are not able to make any plays at the line of scrimmage. The Quarter Back has not been given the best protection, but the Mountaineers being able to run the ball just slows down any pass rush and it should mean Appalachian State are in a position to rack up the points.
I will admit that Appalachian State do not have a very good record against the spread when it comes to be favoured, but that is balanced out by how poorly North Texas have done as an underdog. The Mean Green are also 1-4 against the spread in their last five games as the underdog in a Bowl Game and I do think the limited time to prepare for the game will favour Appalachian State whose normal Offensive schemes should be too much for North Texas to keep up with on the scoreboard.
Nevada Wolf Pack vs Tulane Green Wave Pick: Both of these teams playing in the Idaho Potato Bowl have finished the season with six wins, although the Tulane Green Wave needed to win three non-Conference games to finish with a 6-5 record. The Nevada Wolf Pack were not able to reach the Mountain West Conference Championship Game, but their 6-2 record deserves some respect even if it was all within the Conference.
That does raise some questions as to the quality of the opponents that the Wolf Pack have faced as they finished as one of four teams that had a winning record. A defeat to eventual Conference Champions San Jose State Spartans and another to the 4-4 Hawaii Rainbow Warriors are counter balances to the one win Nevada have had against a team with a winning record.
They are facing a Tulane Green Wave team who have not really found the consistency they would have wanted in 2020, but who look like they could potentially match up well with Nevada.
As with some many American Football games, the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball are going to be hugely important and that is where Tulane look to have an edge over Nevada. The Green Wave are able to run the ball effectively and I do think the Wolf Pack Defensive Line will have issues slowing down the ground game which brings them balance Offensively.
Tulane should be able to run the ball and that should set them up to attack the Nevada Secondary which have given up some big plays in recent games. If the Green Wave are attacking them from third and short down and distance I do think Tulane will be able to have plenty of successes Offensively and a team averaging over 35 points per game will be difficult to slow down.
Controlling the line of scrimmage with the Tulane Defensive Line is also going to have a big impact on this game and there is some real talent in that unit, especially at this level. No one will doubt that Nevada can run the ball efficiently, but that is going to be much more difficult against a Tulane Defensive Line holding teams to 3.9 yards per carry across their last three games and that will put pressure on Carson Strong at Quarter Back.
Carson Strong has had a very good season where he has thrown 22 Touchdown passes with 4 Interceptions and if this game had taken place a few weeks ago you might think he could have another good showing. He has some quality Receiving options to target, but the Tulane Secondary have really ramped up their play after a slow start to 2020 and that could at least slow one or two drives.
Stalling them and forcing Nevada to settle for Field Goals or Punts will give Tulane a significant edge in the game. Stopping the run will also mean the Green Wave pass rush is able to get after the pass protection issues Nevada's Offensive Line have had in recent games and that is another way to rush Carson Strong and maybe lead to the Tulane Secondary continuing their strong showing of turning the ball over.
You can't really predict when a turnover will come, but over the course of the season Tulane have been better at creating them than Nevada and earning an extra possession or two will certainly give the favourite an edge.
Both teams have strong trends to protect, but I do think Tulane might be the better team and winning at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball should give them enough of an edge to win and cover.
BYU Cougars vs UCF Knights Pick: The 10-1 BYU Cougars took a risk by taking on another unbeaten team at short notice in the regular season to improve their Bowl standings. The narrow loss to Coastal Carolina hurt the Cougars who had been a big favourite as an Independent, but they will still be happy enough to be involved in the post-season and with a chance to finish the year before Christmas Day.
They have been paired up with the UCF Knights who had won at least ten games in each of the previous three seasons, but who finished up with a 6-3 record in 2020. The Knights have won two of their last three Bowl Games, but this is a season where they have struggled as they have been beaten by the three teams who finished above them in the American Athletic Conference.
The Bowl Game is being played closer to the Knights home than the Cougars, but BYU are very happy to get to a warmer climate even for a few days.
Dillon Gabriel and the Knights Offensive unit have been piling up the yards throughout the season, and that will always give them a chance in any game they play. It says something that their three defeats came by a combined 12 points and Gabriel is motivated as his father used to have a real rivalry with the Cougars in his own playing days.
That is something Gabriel has mentioned as soon as the Bowl Games were announced this past week and the Knights should find the balance to at least keep the strong Cougars Defense guessing somewhat. It is a shame that Marlon Williams, the top UCF Receiver has withdrawn from the Bowl Game, but Dillon Gabriel should still have some success as long as the Knights Offensive Line can open up some holes to keep the team in front of the chains.
Throwing the ball against the Cougars Secondary will be a challenge though and players will have to step up to cover for the absence of Williams.
It is an absence which could shift the balance to the Cougars who look to have a lot more balance Offensively than the Knights. While they should be able to run the ball very efficiently, the Cougars are also throwing into a Secondary which has struggled to contain the pass for much of the season.
BYU's Offensive Line looks more capable of opening up big holes against the Knights Defensive Line than we are likely to see on the other side of the ball. That should offer Zach Wilson a chance to have another big game having thrown for over 300 yards in the last game which secured the Cougars their double digit win season.
Zach Wilson is attacking a Knights Secondary which have given up some big yards through the season and running the ball should ease the UCF pass rush too. That gives the Cougars an edge in this game and one where they can pull away for the victory even in conditions that may favour UCF a little more.
The Knights record as an underdog is impressive and dampens some enthusiasm for the BYU Cougars, but I think the latter look to have the balance which should give them the edge in this game. The spread has moved, which I believe is down to the absence of Marlon Williams, but I still think the BYU Cougars can be backed to cover here.
Houston Cougars vs Hawaii Rainbow Warriors Pick: With a huge number of teams deciding that they will not want to be selected for a Bowl Game this season it has meant that the selection eligibility was changed for the 2020 season. It has been a difficult year for so many and that has meant two teams who have not won more than four games this season will be meeting in Texas.
This is a short journey for the Houston Cougars, but the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors will be playing a Bowl Game on the mainland for just the third time in the history of the school. The Rainbow Warriors will be looking to mark a season with a winning record, while the Houston Cougars need to win this Bowl Game to return to 0.500, although Houston have lost their last three Bowl Games.
It will be the second time these schools are meeting in a Bowl Game, although there is no familiarity with one another since the last one was back in 2003. That saw the Rainbow Warriors narrowly beat Houston on home soil, but they are considered a big underdog in this one.
Momentum looks to be with the Rainbow Warriors who have won two of their last three, while the Cougars have lost three of their last four. However, there is no less motivation on either sideline and it should be a good game to watch ahead of Christmas Day.
I am surprised by the amount of points Hawaii are getting in this Bowl Game, although I think it is partly down to the fact they are making a long journey to Texas to take part. That could fatigue some of the players and the staff, especially as they won't have had a lot of time to settle in during the Covid-19 crisis that so many are dealing with and it may be a reason to believe Houston can wear down this opponent.
Both teams should be able to run the ball very effectively though and with that in mind I am expecting this to be a competitive game that may go all the way down to the wire. Neither Defensive Line has shown much ability to clamp down on the run and that should mean we have a game that sees the clock running very quickly and Houston may not have enough possessions to cover a double digit spread.
The feeling is that the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors have a better passing Offense than the Cougars, but the Houston pass rush is more effective than their counterparts to balance that out. Even then I think both teams can find some balance Offensively which will make them very difficult to slow down and a potentially high-scoring game could be won by either team.
Again that makes the points on offer for the Rainbow Warriors look very appealing here and this could honestly come down to the bounce of the ball as to which team will win. Turnovers are important in any game, but in this one they could be vital in deciding which of these teams win.
Neither team has any strong trend to lean on.
In my opinion only the long journey to Texas will be going against the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors and I think they can make use of the points to keep this one competitive at the very least.
Buffalo Bulls vs Marshall Thundering Herd Pick: The starts that both of these teams made this season would have had them hoping they would be playing in a bigger Bowl Game than this one. However the Marshall Thundering Herd finished up with a 7-2 record after a surprising upset loss to the UAB Blazers in the Conference-USA Championship Game, while the Buffalo Bulls could not complete an unbeaten season when upset in the MAC Championship Game as a big favourite.
There should be a motivation to bounce back and at least end this season with a positive result in the Bowl Game, although Marshall have lost twice in a row heading into the post-season.
One of the main concerns for the Thundering Herd has to be the performance of the Defensive Line in the last game. For much of the season Marshall's Defensive Line have clamped down on the run and forced teams to beat them through the air, but the Blazers were able to pile up the numbers on the ground and now they are faced with an extremely strong running game that has been put together by the Buffalo Bulls.
Winning at the line of scrimmage is going to be the big challenge for both of these teams when Buffalo have the ball Offensively, but the Thundering Herd could be fortunate in not having to deal with Jaret Patterson. The Buffalo Running Back has had a massive season, but he picked up an injury a week ago in the Championship Game and, while Patterson does want to go in the Bowl Game, he could be limited at best and perhaps out altogether.
I still think the Bulls Offensive Line will open up some holes for whoever is carrying the ball, but Patterson is a special player and not having him at 100% is a big blow for the favourites.
It could mean having to lean on a passing game which has not developed to the same level as the run and that should offer the Thundering Herd Defensive unit an opportunity to make some big plays on Christmas Day.
Marshall look like they can find a better balance Offensively than the Bulls and that could be key to perhaps earning the upset in this game. It has not been easy to run the ball against the Bulls Defensive Line, but Brenden Knox has been a strong Running Back in his time with Marshall and will be expected to hit one or two holes up front that open up the passing game.
There are some areas of the Buffalo Secondary which can be exposed in the passing game, although much will depend on Marshall's Offensive Line and whether they can offer the protection to Grant Wells to give him the time to make those plays. Grant Wells has to be careful when it comes to the Interceptions that could turn the game in favour of Buffalo, but if the Thundering Herd find a balance Offensively they can keep this close.
The Bulls are 1-4 against the spread in their last five games as the favourite on a neutral field, while Marshall are 7-1 against the spread in their last eight Bowl Games. The Thundering Herd are also 11-4 against the spread in their last fifteen games as the underdog and I think the points could be valuable in this Bowl Game.
Georgia State Panthers vs Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Pick: A late season surge has taken the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers to the brink of at least finishing the year with a 0.500 record, but they will need one more win to do that. The Hilltoppers have won three games in a row, but they are the underdog in this Bowl Game against the Georgia State Panthers who need a win to finish with a winning season and who are playing their third post-season game in four seasons.
There will be some revenge on the mind of some of the players at Western Kentucky considering they were beaten by Georgia State in a Bowl Game in 2017. On that day the Panthers were the underdog, but the situation has switched in 2020.
While the Hilltoppers have shown improvement down the stretch, the Georgia State Panthers will be no less confident having won three of their last four games. Over the course of the season the Panthers have shown more consistency than the Hilltoppers, but recent games suggest this has the makings of a very close contest.
For starters Georgia State have had almost a month off from play and that could leave them a little out of rhythm which is going to be a big challenge on both sides of the ball. Offensively the Panthers are going up against an improved Western Kentucky Defensive unit and this is a Defensive Line which can clamp down on the run and that is going to at least force Georgia State to become one-dimensional.
Cornelious Brown IV is the Quarter Back for the Panthers and he has continued to produce some huge yards in the air which will encourage the favourites. However Brown IV is going to be throwing into a Secondary which have really improved their numbers down the stretch and a Defensive Line which brings a pass rush that is going to make him speed up his decision making when he does have to drop back to throw.
If the Hilltoppers are able to shut down the run, Cornelious Brown IV will be needing time for Receivers to get down the field and at least move the chains, but that will be the big test for him. He has been guilty of some inaccuracy, although the Western Kentucky Secondary have not been turning the ball over with Interceptions as much as they would like.
There will be some questions about whether the favourites will be able to have consistent Offensive success and so the opportunity is there for Western Kentucky to earn the upset.
Having a dual-threat Quarter Back will give the Hilltoppers an opportunity to find a bit of balance Offensively that will at least keep the Panthers Defensive unit honest. Like Western Kentucky, Georgia State have been very good in the Secondary when it comes to defending the pass, but there have been one or two more holes on the Defensive Line which could allow the Hilltoppers to be ahead of the chains at least.
The Panthers pass rush is very effective and that could be a difference maker when it comes down to deciding a winner, but I do think this is a very close game. Having the hook through a key number is a potential importance in the contest and that is where the underdog has to be the team to back in what looks a close, low-scoring game.
Western Kentucky have long been a very good underdog to back against the spread and I will back the Hilltoppers to at least cover in a game that could be decided by a Field Goal either way. That makes the hook especially important here.
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers vs Liberty Flames Pick: These two teams are a combined 20-1 in 2020 and they have had a number of upsets to get into this position in what has been stellar years for the schools. The unbeaten Coastal Carolina Chanticleers are 11-0 and may have been hoping that would be good enough to earn a really big Bowl spot, but losing the Championship Game to Covid-19 might have adversely affected their chances.
That Sun Belt Conference Championship Game may not have been given huge respect by the Bowl Game selectors, but it would have at least underlined how well Coastal Carolina have played this season. This is already a memorable season for the players who have taken the Chanticleers to a Bowl Game for the first time and the team are one of just five who have yet to lose a game in 2020.
On the other side of the field the Liberty Flames have finished with a 9-1 record as an Independent and the upset wins over Western Kentucky and Virginia Tech should mean there is no fear going in against an unbeaten opponent. The work Hugh Freeze has done as Head Coach of Liberty has not been ignored by anyone in College Football and some feel this may be his last game here before moving to a Power 5 School.
Hugh Freeze will want his team to finish with a flourish and produce a double digit win season which would have exceeded all expectations.
A dual-threat Quarter Back will make Liberty very dangerous and there have been signs that the Chanticleers Defensive unit have just worn down in games down the stretch. Malik Willis should be able to attack the Secondary and also work behind the Flames Offensive Line to move the ball down the field on the ground.
Any time a team can find an Offensive balance they will be difficult to stop and Coastal Carolina have not been able to stop the run in their most recent games. With the Flames likely to be in front of the chains when they do have the ball, Malik Willis should have a strong game throwing the ball too with some serious holes in the Chanticleers Secondary which can be exposed.
Malk Willis should have time to make his decision to run or throw the ball, but he has to be wary of Interceptions with turnovers likely to be a big factor in this game.
While Liberty will have some balance Offensively, it has been the key for Coastal Carolina all season to produce their 11-0 record in the regular season. The Chanticleers Offensive Line have been able to help produce some huge rushing yards for the team, but Liberty have to have faith in a Defensive Line which has restricted teams to 128 yards per game on the ground and at 4 yards per clip.
Grayson McCall has also had a very strong season at Quarter Back for Coastal Carolina and he will be expected to make some big plays for his team. He should be able to have some success against the Flames Secondary despite how well Liberty have played throughout the course of the season, especially as McCall is likely to have time to make the right decisions.
The Quarter Back has largely looked after the ball, but it will be the challenge to do the same against the Flames Secondary which has picked up some Interceptions. However I do think Coastal Carolina are going to be able to move the chains too and this feels like a very close game.
With that in mind I do think the amount of points being given to Liberty is too much and you can still pick them up with over a Touchdown start. Both teams have over-performed this season and that means they have both put together some strong trends against the numbers, but I do think this will be competitive down to the end and there is also a big potential for Liberty to earn a backdoor cover at the very least.
Miami Hurricanes vs Oklahoma State Cowboys Pick: Both the Oklahoma State Cowboys and Miami Hurricanes would have been hoping for stronger 2020 seasons that may have offered up a bigger Bowl Game than this one. However both should be motivated to round off the season with a victory, although both are already guaranteed to finish up with a winning record regardless.
Like many teams not involved in the College Football PlayOffs, the Cowboys and Hurricanes have seen some top NFL Draft prospects decide they will skip the Bowl Game to prepare for life in the professional ranks. That means both teams are losing key figures in this one with Oklahoma State down Chuba Hubbard and Miami missing big time Defensive Ends Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche and it could be a vital factor in the outcome of the game.
The Hurricanes are looking to bounce back from a blow out loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels, while the Oklahoma State Cowboys have split their last six regular season games as both teams missed out on Conference Championship Games.
Even though Chuba Hubbard is out, the Oklahoma State Cowboys have been able to fill in at Running Back and they should be able to do that here. Over their last three games the Miami Hurricanes have given up some huge yards on the ground and the Defensive Line has been weakened by the absences of Phillips and Roche which suggests the Big 12 team will be able to put up some huge yards in this one.
The Cowboys have shown they can manage to do that without Hubbard and I do think they will be in front of the chains Offensively which can open things up for Spencer Sanders who has had an inconsistent season at Quarter Back. Running the ball should slow down the Hurricanes pass rush which is missing those Defensive Ends mentioned, while Sanders is capable of moving the ball with his legs as well as his arm.
I do think Oklahoma State will be able to move the ball with some consistency as any team that establishes the run is capable of doing, but it will be more difficult for the Miami Hurricanes. While there have been some signs of wear and tear on the Cowboys Defensive Line, the Hurricanes have not been dominating at the line of scrimmage and there is every chance Oklahoma State can make some plays to clamp down on the run.
D'Eriq King at Quarter Back has to be respected though with the former Houston Cougar coming in off another strong season. His dual-threat from the Quarter Back position makes him dangerous and I do think King will have success throwing against this young Oklahoma State Secondary that has given up some big plays down the field. If Miami are not running the ball as they like, King will still show off his talent to keep the chains moving although it does also mean he will be facing a fierce Cowboys pass rush that should win at the line of scrimmage.
That is the best way to stall some drives by hitting the Quarter Back or making his rush his throws and I think it is the reason the Cowboys will find a way to win this Bowl Game.
Miami have a strong record as an underdog when it comes to the spread, but they are just 1-8 against the spread in their last nine Bowl Games. On the other hand, Oklahoma State tend to be well Coached for these post-season games and have covered in four in a row in Bowl Games and I do think the Cowboys can be backed here.
Texas Longhorns vs Colorado Buffaloes Pick: There won't be much of a journey to be made for the Texas Longhorns who have a winning record, but will look back at 2020 with some regret. Tom Herman looked to be in the firing line and about to be outed as the Head Coach of the Longhorns, but the players have continued to play hard for him and that has seen Texas finish well and looking for another Bowl Game success.
There is plenty of experience in the Texas camp when it comes to the extra practices that come with a Bowl appearance, but the same can't be said for the Colorado Buffaloes who have a 4-1 record in 2020. The Buffaloes would have played in the Pac-12 Championship Game if another cancellation hadn't been needed in that Conference in 2020, but they are looking to bounce back from a blow out loss to the Utah Utes.
It has been some time since the Buffaloes have played in a Bowl Game, while they will be motivated to win a first post-season game since 2004. That excitement to perform in the post-season should make the Buffaloes dangerous, but there is a talent difference between these teams and Colorado have not run into any Ranked teams before facing Texas here.
The feeling is that the Buffaloes don't really match up very well with the Longhorns on the Offensive side of the ball and that could be an issue for them. While Colorado will want to run the ball first and then throw, the Longhorns Defensive Line has been able to at least clamp down up front while the Secondary have given up the yards.
A lack of experience has to be a slight concern for Colorado too, although that youthful exuberance could see them make more plays than you might anticipate. With that in mind I do think Colorado will have some success on the ground, while they will have time to throw the ball down the field against Texas, although I am not sure they can do it consistently to score enough points to challenge the Longhorns.
Sam Ehlinger would have been hoping to have had a bigger 2020 considering his experience as the starting Quarter Back in Texas, but he has not really been supported as well as he would have liked. The numbers have remained strong, but in this one Ehlinger may be looking to use his legs more than his arm.
He is capable of running the ball from Quarter Back, but Ehlinger may also be able to hand the ball off and see the Longhorns Offensive Line open up some big holes in the running game. Colorado's Defensive Line have struggled up front and Texas should be able to impose themselves on this game which will put them in a strong position to win this game.
Running the ball should slow the Colorado pass rush considerably, and I do think it will give the Longhorns the chance to prolong drives and eventually force the Buffaloes into throwing the ball more than they are comfortable doing. It should give the Longhorns the chance to pull clear for the win here and extend their run of Bowl Game successes under Head Coach Tom Herman.
Texas have some strong numbers against the spread when it comes to the neutral field games and playing those from outside the Big 12 and I think they can cover even with some key players missing as they prepare for the NFL Draft.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs Wisconsin Badgers Pick: The winner of this Bowl Game is going to be able to end 2020 on a high as it would secure a winning season for the year and I expect that to bring some motivation to the field. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Wisconsin Badgers have both been inconsistent to say the least and I do think the Badgers have more to prove after coming up short in their bid to play in the Big Ten Championship Game.
Wisconsin have not been helped with Covid-19 outbreaks that have prevented momentum being picked up, but they did at least finish the regular season with a win.
A big part of the problem for Wisconsin is the lack of consistency Offensively which has meant the Defensive unit has been under pressure to keep them in games. That may not be the case in this Bowl Game if the Wake Forest Defense plays to a similar level as they have shown for much of the season and I do expect the Badgers to have a better day all around when they have the ball in their hands.
Most teams have found a healthy balance against the Demon Deacons Defensive unit with an ability to run the ball and throw the ball against them. While we have not seen that consistently from the Wisconsin Badgers, I do think they should be able to have more success here even with the relatively poor showings we have seen for much of the season.
One problem that looks to have been resolved is the status of Quarter Back Graham Mertz who was knocked out of the final regular season game but has had some time to recover ahead of the Bowl Game. It is important for Mertz who will be expected to take the next step in his development next season and I think he can show off some of the talent against a vulnerable Wake Forest Defense.
The Defensive play has meant Wake Forest have had to take more risks Offensively to try and stay in games and we should see some of that here. However they are facing a tough Badgers Defensive unit which has prided itself on clamping down on the run and then forcing mistakes in the passing game.
Running the ball will be all the more difficult for the Demon Deacons when you think Kenneth Walker III will be missing having opted out of the post-season. The passing numbers have been strong mainly because the team have had to throw the ball to stay in games, but the Wisconsin Secondary have made big plays throughout the season and I think they are going to be able to do the same here which will give the favourites a real edge.
Wisconsin have not been a very good favourite to back in recent times and Wake Forest have excelled in the role of an underdog. That has to be a concern backing against the Demon Deacons, but they are arguably missing their best players on either side of the ball which should give the Badgers the chance to dominate the line of scrimmage and which should mean they have a real edge in the game.
It is a big mark, make no mistake about that, but Wisconsin should control the time of possession and grind down Wake Forest before a couple of late scores take them over the line.
Oklahoma Sooners vs Florida Gators Pick: This is a game that would not have been that out of place in the College Football PlayOff and I very much believe it would have been part of that post-season if the field had been extended to six or eight teams. The Oklahoma Sooners have long known they are unlikely to be selected for the PlayOffs having made a really slow start to the season, but they rallied to win the Big 12 Championship again and will believe 2021 is going to be a much bigger year for them.
On the other side of the field are the Florida Gators who came up short in the SEC Championship Game, but gave Alabama all they could handle in that game. Dan Mullen has to be given credit for the way he has had the Gators playing this season, but the post-season is not as valuable to the players as it would have been if they had made the PlayOffs.
While those attending will be highly motivated, it can't be ignored that the Gators are missing their top three Receivers as well as Tight End Kyle Pitts and that is going to mean Quarter Back Kyle Trask is likely to have a tough day. He should still be able to make plays thanks to the schemes that the Gators will put together, but the Oklahoma Sooners Defensive unit have been a strength of the team and they will believe taking on the second and third string choices for the Gators gives them an advantage.
It may all come down to how well Trask throws the ball because the Sooners have been able to clamp down on the run and Florida have not moved the ball behind their Offensive Line. I expect Kyle Trask to show why he had such a strong season, but he will also be under intense pressure from the Oklahoma pass rush and has to be wary of the play-making ability of the Sooners Secondary.
Kyle Trask was really a surprise this season, but the Oklahoma Sooners always knew what they had in Spencer Rattler even if he made a slow start as he found experience at this level. Now he is looking like the player that so many believed he would be and Rattler will have a chance to showcase that talent to a wider audience when taking on a SEC Defensive unit.
Like his counterpart, Spencer Rattler is not expected to have a lot of support from the running game, but he should have a chance to get into the Florida Secondary which gave up some big plays in the final two games played. He will have to watch out for the Gators pass rush, but Rattler has been careful with the ball and Florida have not created the same kind of turnovers as Oklahoma which could prove to be the difference on the day.
I expect Rattler to edge out Trask in the battle at Quarter Back and I think the Gators are missing enough big players to give the Oklahoma Sooners an edge.
Florida have played really well in recent Bowl Games and they have to be respected with how well they have done as an underdog, but I think they could be short here. The Sooners have also played well as a favourite and I think the favourites deserve the edge, while the money seems to have come down behind Oklahoma when you consider the spread move.
MY PICKS: Appalachian State Mountaineers - 21 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Tulane Green Wave - 2.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
BYU Cougars - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Sky Bet (1 Unit)
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors + 10 Points @ 1.91 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Marshall Thundering Herd + 5.5 Points @ 1.91 William Hill (1 Unit)
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers + 3.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Liberty Flames + 7.5 Points @ 1.86 Bet Fred (1 Unit)
Oklahoma State Cowboys - 1 Point @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Texas Longhorns - 7 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Wisconsin Badgers - 9 Points @ 1.86 Bet365 (1 Unit)
Oklahoma Sooners - 6.5 Points @ 1.91 Bet Fred (1 Unit)