First off, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and an in-advance Happy New Year to all of you! I appreciate your support and your reading these posts, even if some of you have been reading the "Best Bets" the last few weeks just to fade my picks (which would have made you very wealthy, as I have admittedly stunk lately).
We are now into the treacherous part of the gambling calendar — largely meaningless bowl games and largely meaningless Week 17 NFL action. Gauging the "want to" of college kids and NFL backups is a slippery slope. Still, we can't be scared! We must trudge forward! After all, there are Christmas gifts to pay for, dammit!
So let's find six games that we can cash in on over the next few days....
TCU -2.5 over Stanford (Alamo Bowl)
To me the biggest question with this game is "Will the Horned Frogs, after nearly a full season of being in the playoff conversation, feel fully motivated in a second tier bowl game a couple days before New Year's?" I think they will be. Gary Patterson does a great job of getting his team ready to play, and the crowd should be decidedly in favor of TCU, with the game in San Antonio and Stanford fans not exactly being Nebraska fans in terms of their willingness to travel. Between the lines, this is a Stanford defense that has been leaky against the run all season long, and I think TCU's skill guys are in line for a big night. Also, games against Big XII offenses should be a stiff enough test for the Horned Frogs to be ready for Heisman runner-up Cardinal RB Bryce Love.
USC +7 over Ohio State (Cotton Bowl)
This is another game where we can ask the question of motivation — how does Ohio State internalize the disappointment of being snubbed for Alabama for that fourth spot in the College Football Playoff? Beyond the emotional element of the Buckeye players, the facts are that they've let average teams hang around in games all season long (think Michigan), and they've needed every minute to put away good teams (Penn State, Wisconsin)... that is when they're not losing by double digits (Oklahoma, Iowa). In short, the only time that Ohio State has been a reliable bet this season was in early October when they covered three straight weeks against Rutgers, Maryland, and Nebraska. USC was one of the least reliable ATS teams for the first two months of the season, but this number is just too big for a team with the speed and weapons that USC has. Sam Darnold should be looking to make a statement in what might be his final collegiate game.
Wisconsin/Miami, FL UNDER 45 (Orange Bowl)
I look at this game, and what jumps out at me is that, among the handful of teams still in the playoff conversation at the end of the regular season, these two teams employ easily the least inspiring quarterbacks — Malik Rosier of Miami and Alex Hornibrook of Wisconsin. Rosier has completed under 50 percent of his passes over his six games, and Hornibrook is the quintessential soft-tossing lefty, a classic nondescript Badger quarterback who will one day blend right in with the likes of Jim Sorgi, Joel Stave, and Brooks Bollinger in the tapestry of plucky white Badger QB's. I say all this to say TAKE THE UNDER. (These defenses are both really good, too.)
Redskins -3.5 over GIANTS
This line is hovering around a measly field goal because the Redskins are on the road, but the Giants have been freaking TERRIBLE at home this season, 1-6 SU and 2-5 ATS. Washington QB Kirk Cousins is still playing for a new contract next season, from the Redskins or some team willing to shell out about $27 million per year (for a guy who has yet to win more than nine games in a season), so there should be sufficient motivation for him. The Giants are on the cusp of going 2-14 and their defensive leader (safety Landon Collins) is calling one of his secondary-mates (cornerback Eli Apple) a "cancer." If we're picking which team just wants to get this over with, the Giants are the overwhelming choice.
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Panthers +3.5 over FALCONS
In case you haven't looked at Sunday's NFL schedule, the league has decided to forego a Sunday night game on New Year's Eve and instead they have backloaded the afternoon slate with a ton of playoff shaping games going on simultaneously. In all, there will be nine games starting in the late afternoon window, making it the strangest day of Red Zone Channel watching ever, since usually the late afternoon is less hectic with four or five games, at most. The NFC South is still the division with the most playoff collateral out there. The Falcons can make it a three playoff-team division with a win over the Panthers clinching a wild card spot, while the Panthers, who have clinched a wild card spot, can still win the division with a win and a Saints loss. The Panthers have been a force on the road this season, going 5-2 SU and ATS, so we will take them to cover here.
Saints -7.5 over BUCCANEERS
This smells like a business trip for the Saints, where they have a job to do — clinching a home game in the first round of the playoffs — and they go in and whoop an inferior opponent and get the job done. The Saints have become a team whose style travels on the road much better than past Saints teams, as their strengths are their defense and running game (Mark Ingram, Alvin Kamara). I think the Saints ultimately represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
LAST WEEK: 4-2
SEASON RECORD: 55-45-2 (55.0 percent)
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.