It's conference championship weekend in college football, which is always an interesting weekend to try to defy the gambling gods, as you're not only gauging the talent levels of the teams involved (as you would any weekend of the season), but also the motivation levels.
Thankfully, having lost a game already this season, No. 3 Clemson and No. 4 Washington — ACC and Pac-12 title game participants, respectively — sustained their only loss of the regular season in the last few weeks, so each of them needs to win in order to hang onto a spot in the playoff, especially because idle Michigan appears to be lurking, ready to be bumped into a spot vacated by a losing Clemson or Washington.
Then there's the SEC Title Game, in which No. 1 Alabama could probably lose to Florida and still retain the top overall spot, and could probably lose badly and still keep a playoff spot. So what's the Crimson Tide's motivation? Do they even have motivation to go balls-out to win the SEC Title? Well, I ask those questions here rhetorically because if I asked them of Tide coach Nick Saban, he might murder me with his bare hands...
(Fast-forward to about the 2:45 mark)
Florida/Alabama OVER 41
Alabama -23.5 over Florida
...solely out of fear that Nick Saban will eat my children if I take the points and the under.
WEST VIRGINIA -17 over Baylor
After opening the season with six straight wins, including what now has to be viewed by Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy as a catastrophic upset of the No. 10 Cowboys, Baylor's season has been turned on its head. Ever since a 35-34 loss to Texas, which finished 5-7 and now has a new head coach (maybe you heard), the Bears have lost four straight games, three to unranked teams, by an average of 23 points. They've lost each of their last three games by exactly 21 points. (CONSISTENCY!) Meanwhile, West Virginia is going for its first double-digit-win season since Dana Holgorsen's first season in Morgantown in 2011. The Mountaineers will have this one covered by halftime.
Broncos -4 over JAGUARS
When the entire AFC woke up Monday morning, for the first time (I would imagine) since the Josh McDaniels Era, pre-Peyton Manning and pre-latter day Tim Tebow in 2011, the Denver Broncos found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, even with a fairly stellar record of 7-4. Their spot was being occupied by the 7-4 Miami Dolphins, who won the tiebreaker, for now, based on conference record. If you're the Broncos, waking up to see the Dolphins in the No. 6 is like the CEO pulling into work to find someone from the mailroom occupying her reserved parking spot. I would imagine that Denver, even on the road, will be sufficiently amped and motivated to plunder a Jaguars team that is counting down time until their head coach is fired.
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Lions +5.5 over SAINTS
The Lions are proof that change and belief, even when your coach has the fire and demeanor of a cigar store Indian, can be powerful things. If I'm not mistaken, the Lions are now 13-6, dating back to last season, since promoting Jim Bob Cooter to offensive coordinator (the first documented time in the history of man that a guy named "Jim Bob" or "Cooter" has been promoted in any line of work), and they've won all seven of their games this season by seven points or less. In fact, all four of their losses have also been by seven points or less. Matthew Stafford has turned into Regular Season Joe Montana, which is the "Jim Bob Cooter getting promoted" development of the QB hierarchy in the NFL season. I don't know if the Lions will beat the Saints on the road, but I am confident they'll keep it within 5.5 points, since they pretty much keep it within 5.5 points against everyone they play.
Buccaneers +3.5 over CHARGERS
Speaking of "don't look now," after a 1-3 start to the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are on a 5-2 run and sit a half game back of the Washington Redskins for the No. 6 spot in the NFC playoff race, and they're riding the momentum of back-to-back wins over the 8-3 Chiefs and the 7-3-1 Seahawks, and they're doing it with stellar play from Jameis Winston and a stifling defense, allowing just 32 points in three games. The Chargers are coming off a road win here in Houston last weekend, and if we learned anything about the Chargers, it's that they will keep their opponents as hopeful as the score will allow until the final gun. As crappy as the Texans played offensively on Sunday (and they were REALLY crappy), they were still throwing a Hail Mary for a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. I'll happily take more than a field goal with the underdog and better team in this game.
Last Week: 4-2
Season Record: 49-28-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.