Before we get to the Best Bets for the week, I'll use this space (and perhaps a lengthier column in the future) to salute the recently laid off employees at the soon-to-be-sold-and-renamed-and-lobotomized Comcast Sports Net Houston.
As you all are probably aware, painfully so if you're a non-Comcast subscriber, the fledgling Astros- and Rockets-owned network was never able to get distribution traction in Houston but, after a lengthy bankruptcy proceeding, is on the verge of being sold to AT&T/DirecTV fans rebranded as Root Sports Houston.
If you had a chance to watch the CSN product, then you know what I'm about to say -- the product itself was amazingly well done, as the slew of Emmy nominations for the network indicate. The crew there, on air and behind the scenes, are some of the best, most creative people I've worked with since getting into radio. I was fortunate to be a panelist several times on Sports Talk Live, and the place always had an air of fun and teamwork.
The issues that led to the network's demise were certainly not content-based; they were the product of a muddled distribution strategy and ownership partners with drastically divergent agendas. Again, the "why" of all this is another column for another time.
I just wanted to use a few paragraphs here to wish the best to all of those folks leaving CSN (and, many of them, likely leaving Houston), and thank them for making me better at what I do.
I think this seven minutes of video, a farewell between Bill Doleman and Calvin Murphy, perfectly sums up the culture of a network and a crew that deserved so much better than what they got...
That's just awesome.
Ok, onto the bets....
Ole Miss -3 over LSU The narrative for anyone picking LSU to pull the upset (or cover the 3 point spread) will center around the whole "I dunno, man...Baton Rouge?...Death Valley?....AT NIGHT??..." narrative. The smart money is on the more tangible aspects of this game, like the Ole Miss defense, which might be the best in the nation, having allowed just six touchdowns in 93 opponent's drives this season. That's bad news for a team that a) is starting a young QB (Anthony Jennings) who completes less than 50 percent of his passes and b) had the code cracked on them earlier this year at night in a loss to Mississippi State. Is there a concern that Evil Bo Wallace shows up? Sure. But the small three point number means the Rebels essentially just have to find a way to win, which they can do with defense and game experience. Also, the road team is 14-3 ATS in the last 17 meetings between these teams, so this game being at night in Baton Rouge means we just have to wait until the wee hours of the evening to celebrate a Rebels ATS victory.
Texas +10 over KANSAS STATE Amidst a sea of suspensions, injuries, and early season underperformance about a month or so ago, I don't know if I would have seen myself saying this so soon, but here goes -- there are good things going on at Texas under Charlie Strong! A narrow loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Shootout was followed with a gut check win over Iowa State in what's normally a letdown week post-OU (yeah, it was at home, but UT is at a "win's a win" stage in conference right now), and now they travel to Manhattan to take on Bill Snyder's Wildcats. I don't think the Longhorns pull the upset, but I think Tyrone Swoopes has shown enough dual threat ability to keep the game close, especially if Kansas State QB Jake Waters is less than 100 percent. Keep in mind, Kansas State is coming off an emotional road win over Oklahoma last week. If this stays at double digits, fire on the Horns.
Ohio State -13.5 over PENN STATE After a September loss to Virginia Tech kind of provided a jolt and a maybe a wake up call, Urban Meyer's squad is now in the portion of the schedule where they try to steamroll their way back into the playoff conversation. If this were a two team BCS title game season, the Buckeyes would probably be toast. But a one loss Big Ten champion has a decent chance at making the four team cut. Penn State, meanwhile, was 4-0 just a few weeks ago, and now they're reeling a bit, losing their last two games by an average of 14 points. (By the way, does any player miss a head coach more than Christian Hackenberg misses Bill O'Brien?) Classic case of two teams going in opposite direction. Venue doesn't scare me here, Ohio State is 35-15-1 ATS in its last 51 road games and 4-1 ATS against Penn State the last five times they've played.
Lions -3.5 vs Falcons (in London) You ever notice that, no matter what the sporting event is, if it occurs outside of normal sports watching hours, it's infinitely more fun to watch? Like I would never flip my television over to tennis or golf during an NFL Sunday, but when the British Open is on at 4:00 a.m., if I'm awake, I'm all in. The burgeoning popularity of the English Premier League (and it's slew of 6:30 a.m. Houston start times) shows that many of you feel the same way. I call it the "Nooner Theory." Outside-normal-hours sports viewing is like afternoon sex, there's something dangerous, salacious, and enthralling about it, like you're getting away with something. So imagine the NFL fan orgasm everyone is going to have on Sunday with an 8:30 a.m. CT kickoff from London with the Lions and Falcons. SKYROCKETS IN FLIGHT, BITCHES!! As for the game, Atlanta has always been a good home team, and a mediocre to horrendous away team. Now they're just a bad team overall, and Detroit is learning things about themselves as they win games without the injured Calvin Johnson. They are like a collective superhero gaining self awareness of their super powers. And with Jim Caldwell as their head coach! Who knew? (For the record, I think it's less about the addition of Caldwell and more about the removal of the perpetually mouth breathing Jim Schwartz.)
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JETS -3 over Bills Ok, here we go. Percy Harvin Era in New York begins on Sunday, and this will either be a match made in heaven or a dumpster fire made in hell. There will be no in between, because Percy Harvin is incapable of just blending into a roster. Hell, he could handle himself on a Super Bowl champion (a winning team) coached by Pete Carroll (a player's coach). So this thing in New York is going to work? Maybe it will. I could totally see Harvin liking Rex Ryan as his coach
for the next six weeks or so until Rex is fired. The Jets are still not a good team, but Geno Smith showed signs of life in the Patriots game. The key will be the Jets offensive line keeping him upright against the stout Bills front. The Bills go into this game with Anthony Dixon as their starting tailback against the league's sixth best running attack. In the end, I just have a hard time living in a world where a Kyle Orton quarterbacked Bills team is 5-3.
COWBOYS -9.5 over Redskins Generally speaking, over the last few years, the Cowboys as a home favorite have not been a great play. I mentioned last week they'd lost four in a row as a home favorite heading into the Giants game. Well, they showed against the Giants, this is a different Dallas team, a team that can lean on the more dependable results of a running game, as opposed to relying on the witchcraft (good and bad) of Tony Romo's arm and legs. Also, generally, Dallas has been pretty good as a BIG favorite (it's those pesky smaller spreads that've been an issue), having covered 4 of 5 games since 2010 in which they've been a seven point favorite or more. Colt McCoy, prepare to be Colt McCoy.
Last week: 4-2 Season total: 23-25