Sean Pendergast

NFL Playoffs and CFB Playoff Title Game — This Weekend's Best Bets

The new year could not have arrived any sooner, for gambling purposes.
The new year could not have arrived any sooner, for gambling purposes. Photo by Jack Gorman
Well, that was an awful holiday week. No, not personally. Personally, it was delight! I got some gifts, I survived New Year's. Hell, I even got engaged over Christmas week (after dating my girlfriend for eight years, and yes, she is the most patient human being on the planet)! I'm talking about my best bets — 1-5 last week, with maybe, in retrospect, two of the worst college football plays I've ever given out. Let's re-live the dark magic:

Purdue +3.5 over Auburn (Music City Bowl)
If you read my work regularly here, then you know that I posted a piece here a couple weeks ago outlining the biggest "motivational mismatches" of this bowl season in college football. This game fits that bill. Auburn came into the season with hopes of improving upon last season's trip to the SEC Title game and Peach Bowl bid. They had playoff hopes! Now, they're 7-5, and playing in Nashville in late December. Purdue is a dangerous team on paper (see: 49-20 blowout of Ohio State), thrilled to be playing in Nashville in December, and have some extra step in their pep step from their head coach Jeff Brohm saying "NO" to go coach his alma mater (Louisville). I'm pretty sure the Auburn fans (and maybe some of the players) would rather Gus Malzahn not even show up for the game.

Notre Dame +13 over Clemson (Cotton Bowl)
Much of the handicapping of the Fighting Irish that I'm hearing this postseason harkens back to 2012, when Alabama absolutely decimated Notre Dame in the national title game. If you're looking for value, this is a great thing, because that bit of analysis is about as lazy as it gets. This 12-0 Notre Dame team is MUCH better than that 12-0 outfit, and it starts with QB Ian Book, who is among the nation's leaders in passing efficiency. This team has a game-breaking running back in Dexter Williams, gargantuan wide receivers in Myles Boykin and Chase Claypool, and athleticism at all three levels of the defense. Clemson has not been tested much this season in the ACC, but their stiffest tests, according to power rankings, Texas A&M and Syracuse, were both very close games. The Clemson defensive front is full of NFL talent, but the secondary is not great. I'll take two touchdowns and the focused underdog.
FInal scores: Auburn 63, Purdue 14. Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3

The lessons in all of this — 1. I am an idiot (but an idiot that does not shy away from admitting failure!), and 2. football in the state of Indiana stinks!

So now my selling point is this — I am DUE for a winning week. The failure of the holidays has chipped away at my once stellar overall record, and now I need a comeback. Well, the calendar has flipped to 2019, and I am here for that comeback, dammit!  Let's get some action down on these wild card round games, and some bonus action on the College Football Playoff title game, shall we?

I'll have a longer preview on this one for tomorrow, and honestly, I am typing this on Thursday morning, and I still don't know who I am taking. I need a morning of rewatching the first two games while sitting at Dunkin Donuts guzzling coffee to figure out what side I am on. One thing I can tell you — I think lots of points will be scored. If the Texans are going to win, they'll need 28 points to do it. So let's take the over.

Seahawks +1.5 over COWBOYS
Seahawks/COWBOYS OVER 43

Taking Seattle on the road isn't the easiest thing to do, but to me the biggest mismatch here is with the head coaches. Pete Carroll comes in with a ton of playoff experience and success — Carroll is 6-0 SU in opening round games as Seattle's head coach (4-0 in wild card round, 2-0 in divisional round) — and Jason Garrett comes in as, well, Jason Garrett, 1-2 all-time in the postseason. The Cowboys do not protect their home field all that well in coin toss games like these, 5-12 ATD as a favorite of less than a field goal at home under Garrett, and Seattle has been ridiculously good at protecting the football, turning it over just six times in their final 14 games after their 0-2 SU start to the season. I think their running game will travel well here, and I trust Russell Wilson more than Dak Prescott. Give me the points. Also, let's toss in the OVER, 43 feels low.

RAVENS -1.5 over Chargers
These are two of the hottest teams in the NFL — Chargers are 5-1 in their last six, Ravens are 5-1 in their last seven — with their only losses being the Chargers to THESE Ravens, and the Ravens losing in overtime to the 1-seeded Chiefs. These are two really good teams battling in a 4-seed versus 5-seed game. (SIDE BAR: Makes the Texans 3-seed that much mroe impressive.) The Ravens beat the Chargers (and beat them up) by a score of 22-10 a couple weeks in Los Angeles. I like the Ravens at home laying under a field goal, in one of the best home field advantages in football. John Harbaugh's team has dominated the AFC West of late (5-0 ATS, 4-1 SU with the loss to the Chiefs the only one), and like Pete Carroll, Harbaugh is usually good for at least one win in the playoffs when they make it, going 5-0 SU and ATD in the wild card round since becoming head coach in Baltimore. Fun fact: Since the start of the 2012 calendar year, the Ravens are 7-1 ATS, their only ATS loss? The Texans in early 2012, a 20-13 SU win, but as a 7.5 point favorite. (The magic of T.J. Yates!)

BEARS -5.5 over Eagles
Like many of these wild card round teams, the Eagles come in playing their best football of the season, having won five of six games just to qualify to defend their Super Bowl title. The "Nick Foles, super sub" narrative is in full effect again. Several handicapping trends point to taking the Eagles in this game, and the line has not moved at all this week, one way or the other, probably a function of it sitting on a "dead" number like 5.5, as opposed to a "football number" like 3 or 7. This is a game I'm going on more on gut feel (CAUTION: See the open to this post for recent gut feel tragedies.), as the Eagles don't have the cushy lair of the 1-seed this season, and Chicago — the team, the crowd — is going to be jacked for this game. The Bears are 7-1 SU and ATS at home this season, and in their last ten games, they've given up 15 points per game.

Alabama -6 over Clemson (at Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, CA)
Bonus pick on the college football title game! First off, these are clearly the two best teams, not only for this season, but for the last four seasons. This is like back in the day in WWE, when it felt like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock met in the main event at Wrestlemania every year. (EXACT same thing, trust me!) Alabama certainly has not played their best football down the stretch, with ATS losses to Georgia in the SEC title game and Oklahoma in the national semifinal, and they come in with their starting QB Tu'a Tagovailoa banged up (ankle). This is a play for me on the SEC versus ACC, and on Nick Saban versus a freshman quarterback. Any stat you see about "Clemson versus bowl teams" or any season-long trend of dominance has been piled up against the ACC, easily the worst of the Power Five conferences this season. Clemson played Pitt in the ACC title game, by gawd! Trevor Lawrence has been really good for Clemson this season, but this is a gigantic step up in weight class to go against Alabama, and I think the Crimson Tide did just enough things POORLY against Oklahoma — they got an early 28-0 lead and then allowed Oklahoma to ultimately cover a 14- point spread — to where Nick Saban made this week of practice even more miserable than he usually does. Give me the Tide and the experienced quarterbacks — yes, plural, as I think Jalen Hurts will factor in for Bama at some point.

Last Week: 1-5
Season Record: 52-53-3 (49.5 percent)

Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at and like him on Facebook at
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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts afternoon drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the post game show for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast