Ness Notes: Friday, Jan 8

by Larry Ness

This column will be available Monday through Friday (posted no later than 1:00 ET), EXCLUSIVELY at BigAl.com. I like to call it my daily 'random thoughts' on the sports betting world, although I'll pass along that my therapist refers to it as "thoughtful commentary."

CBB: There are no matchups between ranked opponents on Thursday but FIVE games between ranked and unranked ones. No. 1 Gonzaga (10-0) hosted 9-2 BYU, No. 5 Iowa (9-2) was at Maryland, No. 8 Wisconsin (9-2) was home to Indiana, No. 12 Illinois (8-3) was at Northwestern and No. 17 Oregon (8-1) was at Colorado. Oregon was the lone ranked team to lose, as the Ducks lost at Colorado, ending their eight-game winning streak. BYU had not played since Dec. 23 and it showed. No. 1 Gonzaga promptly opened a 23-2 lead and led by as much as 32 points in a 17-point victory (closing line was 17 points!). No. 5 Iowa rolled at Maryland but No. 8 Wisconsin needed two OTs to win 80-73 at home vs Indiana (non-cover). No. 12 Illinois was down 43-28 at the half at Northwestern but made 16 of 31 shots in the second half in a dominating 53-13 performance. Northwestern did not make a single field goal in the final seven-and-a-half minutes!

Ranked teams went 4-1 SU but 2-2-1 ATS. No top-25 matchups on Friday (higher ranked team are 22-10, .686 SU but just 17-15, 53.1% ATS in meetings between ranked opponents Y-T-D) while ranked teams are now 142-28 (.844) SU but only 92-85-3 (52.0%) ATS when taking on an unranked foe. No. 3 Villanova was scheduled to play at Marquette but the Wildcats have postponed all games until a Jan 15 date at UConn. No. 23 Michigan St has won back-to-back Big Ten games after opening 0-3 in league play for the first time since the 2001-02 season. The Spartans welcome the 7-5 Purdue Boilermakers to Breslin Center on Thursday, where they are favored by 4 1/2-points

NBA: In the first game of Thursday's TNT doubleheader, the Nets were without Kevin Durant due to COVID-19 safety protocols and also played without Kyrie Irving, who sat out due to unspecified personal reasons. No problem. Brooklyn beat Philadelphia, which entered with an NBA-best 6-1 record, 122-109. However, the bigger story may be that Seth Curry returned a positive test for the coronavirus, which the team learned of near the start of  the game. The Sixers are staying overnight in New York and will commence contact tracing Friday morning, sources said. The team will do a new round of testing Friday in accordance with the NBA's health and safety protocols. "Fingers crossed." In the nightcap, the Mavs went toe-to-toe in Denver against the Nuggets, prevailing 124-117 in OT. Doncic had 38-13-9 for Dallas and Jokic 38 & 11 for Denver. No national TV cameras were around to see the Spurs win 118-109 at the Lakers, snapping LA's four-game winning streak. How about those Spurs? They won Tuesday night at Staples Center as well, 116-113 over the Clippers. 

ESPN features a doubleheader on Friday, as the Hornets are in New Orleans to take on the Pelicans at 7:35 ET (Pelicans are favored by 6 1/2-points). Then at 10:05 ET from San Francisco, it's the Clippers at the Warriors with LA favored by  six points. The defending champion Lakers look to bounce back from last night's home loss to the Spurs when they host the 4-5 Chicago Bulls. LA is favored by 10 points and I'm using the Lakers as "free play" in the game. In researching the game I noticed this. SIX Chicago Bulls are averaging double digits in points and ALL six are 1st round picks (quite remarkable). View my free pick for all the details. 

Sunday's NFL Wild Card games: ABC/ESPN will televise the first of three NFL wild card games at 1:05 ET, as the 11-5 Ravens (No. 5 seed) are in Nashville to take on the 11-5 Titans (No. 4 seed). The then 14-2 Ravens were unceremoniously bounced from the playoffs last season, losing 28-12 at home to the Titans as 10-point favorites, as Derrick Henry ran for yards. These teams met in Week 11 of the 2020 season (again in Baltimore) and even with that playoff revenge, the Ravens blew a 21-10 third-quarter lead in a 30-24 OT loss. The Ravens were just 6-5 after their Week 12 loss to Pittsburgh but would go on a 5-0 SU & ATS run to finish 11-5 and earn the AFC's No. 5 seed. The Titans battled the Indy Colts all season long for the AFC South title but clinched the division (via a tiebreaker) with a 41-38 win at Houston in Week 17. Derrick Henry rushed for a career-high 250 yards and became the eighth player in NFL history to eclipse 2,000 yards in a season, in Tennessee's Week 17 win. Baltimore's Lamar Jackson became the first QB in NFL history to rush for at least 1,000 yards in multiple seasons in Baltimore's 38-3 win at Cincinnati in Week 17. Jackson rushed for 97 yards on 11 carries to give him 1,005 yards for the season. The Ravens finished with 404 rushing yards, which was the fourth most by a team since 1950. Is the THIRD time going to be the charm for Baltimore vs Tennessee? Baltimore is favored by three points and the over/under is 54 1/2.

CBS will carry the 8-8 Chicago Bears (No. 7 seed) visiting New Orleans to face the 12-4 Saints (No. 2 seed). The Saints beat the Bears 26-23 in overtime at Chicago back on Nov 1, Alvin Kamara had 163 yards from scrimmage, including a 20-yard run to set up Wil Lutz's winning FG. The NFL schedule makers gave the New Orleans Saints a break by scheduling this game on Sunday, not Saturday. Had the Saints been scheduled to play on Saturday, Kamara would not have been eligible to return after testing positive for COVID-19. As ALL will remember, Kamara tied an NFL record with six TDs in a victory over Minnesota on Christmas Day. Mitchell Trubisky will NEVER be mistaken for Drew Brees but since he regained his starting position, he has completed 70 percent of his passes for 1,495 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. Chicago has averaged 30.2 PPG in that stretch, even after the 35-15 loss to Green Bay last Sunday ended a four-game streak of scoring at least 30 points. Trubisky's return has also seemed to rejuvenate Chicago's running game. The Bears were averaging 78.2 rushing yards before Trubisky returned to the lineup but they are averaging 144.2 rushing yards since. New Orleans is favored by 10 points and the over/under is 47.

The Browns clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 2002 with a 24-22 win over the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, snapping the NFL's longest current playoff drought. Pittsburgh had clinched the AFC North and a playoff spot in Week 16, so they rested Ben Roethlisberger. Mason Rudolph got the start and completed 22 of 39 passes for 315 yards with two TDs and one INT. Now, one week later, the third-seeded Steelers (12-4) and sixth-seeded Browns (11-5) will "do it all over again" Sunday night in Pittsburgh (NBC at 8:15 ET). Mayfield  (26 TDs and 8 INTs for a 95.9 QB rating) and "Big Ben (65.6% for 3,803 yards with 33 TDs and only 10 INTs in 15 games) each had excellent seasons but while Cleveland running game comes in averaging 148.3 YPG on the ground (3rd-best), Pittsburgh's running game ranks last in the NFL (84.4 YPG). The defensive edge clearly goes to Pittsburgh, which allows 19.5 PPG (3rd) on 305.8 YPG (3rd), while the Browns are allowing 26.2 PPG. The Steelers have dominated this series dating back to 2004 (Big Ben's rookie year) with a 28-5-1 SU record! However, this is NOT your father's Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh is a six-point favorite (over/under is 47 1/2).

Good luck...Larry

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