Ness Notes: Monday, Jan 11

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 Update (Fri-Sun). There were just TWO games between ranked opponents the last three days, as No. 4 Texas won 72-70 at No. 14 West Va on Saturday and No. 5 Iowa won 86-71 at home over No. 16 Minnesota on Sunday. The Longhorns trailed for most of the game and didn't retake the lead until the final seconds. Texas would score the final SEVEN points of the game, avenging last year's 38-point loss at West Virginia. Luka Garza, the nation's leading scorer at 27.6 PPG, scored 33 points in helping Iowa beat Minnesota, avenging a 102-95 overtime loss to the Gophers on Christmas Day. Higher ranked team are now 24-10 (.706) SU but just 19-15 (55.9%) ATS in meetings between ranked opponents Y-T-D. There were 14 games featuring ranked teams and unranked opponents and the ranked teams went 11-3 (.786) SU but a more modest 8-6 (57.1%) ATS. No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor won handily but despite scoring 116 points, Gonzaga failed to covered as a 32 1/2-point favorite. Gonzaga is 12-0 but just 6-5-1 ATS, while 11-0 Baylor is a money-making 9-2 (81.8%) ATS. There are no ranked teams in action on Monday and later this afternoon the AP will release its latest poll. Recap in Tuesday's Notes. Also on Tuesday, I'll check in on the NBA, three weeks into its 2020-21 season.

It's 7-0 Ohio State vs 12-0 Alabama in the CFP Championship Game Monday night at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens (8:00 ET on ESPN). The Buckeyes advanced with a DOMINATING 49-28 win over Clemson on Jan 1 in the semifinals. Ohio St QB Justin Fields threw for 385 yards and six TDs, while RB Trey Sermon ran 31 times for 193 yards, as the Buckeyes avenged last season's 29-23 semi final loss to the Tigers. The Clemson defense had NO answer for Fields and the Ohio St offense, as the Buckeyes reeled off 28 unanswered points to take a 35-14 halftime lead. Mac Jones threw four TD passes, three to WR DeVonta Smith, plus RB Harris 'hurdled' his way to 125 rushing yards, as top-ranked Alabama rolled to a 31-14 victory over fourth-ranked Notre Dame to reach the CFP title game for the FIFTH time in the system's seven seasons (won in 2015 and 2017). Alabama scored on its first THREE possessions and seemed to get 'bored' after taking a 28-7 lead in the third quarter (won 31-14).

Justin Fields has some VERY sore ribs (broken?) but there's VERY little doubt he will be under center for this game. He's completed 73.4% for 1,906 yards (remember, just seven games) with 21 TDs and six INTs. WRs Wilson (40 catches / 16.8 YPC/ 5 TDs) and Olave (42 catches / 15.7 YPC / 7 TDs) are terrific, while TE Ruckert has just 12 catches but FIVE have resulted in TDs. RB Sermon enters off running for 331 yards in the Big Ten championship game vs Northwestern and following with 193 yards against Clemson.

Mac Jones completes 77.0% of his passes for 4,036 yards with 36 TDs and just four INTs, giving him a nation's best QB rating of 203.0. DeVonta Smith (105 catches / 15.6 YPC / 20 TDs) is considered the best WR in the nation and Nick Saban announced that WR Jaylen Waddle (25 catches / 22.3 YPC / 4 TDs in four games) has been cleared to return to practice and could play in this game. RB Harris can't match Sermon's heroics of the last two games but ran for 1,387 yards on 6.1 YPC with 24 TDs on the season.

Both offenses seem 'unstoppable,' as Ohio St averages 42.5 PPG (8th), while Alabama averages 49.7 PPG (2nd). Both defenses are strong with Ohio State allowing 21.0 PPG and Alabama 19.5 PPG. However, the Alabama defense has really 'found itself,' after a poor start. The Crimson Tide allowed 28.8 PPG through their first four games but just 14.1 PPG over their last eight. Note, that includes them giving up 46 points to Florida in the SEC title game. Eliminating that game and the Tide allowed just 9.6 PPG over SEVEN of their last eight! Alabama is favored by 8 1/2-points and the over/under is 75.

It was called the NFL's Super Wild Card weekend, as there were SIX games as opposed to the usual four. Home teams went 2-4 SU and 2-4 ATS and until Sunday night's 'explosion' in which the Browns beat the Steelers 47-38, the first five wild card games averaged a very modest 43.6 PPG. Three of the first five went over (counting Ind/Buf as an over, with that total closing 50 1/2 and ending 51). Obviously, Cle/Pit went over, making four overs and two unders for the weekend, as games averaged 50.5 points.

The No. 1 seeds were the only teams to get a bye in this season's expanded format and both No.2 seeds (Buffalo and New Orleans) advanced. Buffalo were AFC East champions for the first time since 1995 and hosted their first playoff game since 1996 on Saturday. The Bills' 27-24 win over the Colts snapped an 0-6 postseason skid, winning their first playoff game since a 37-22 win over Miami on Dec 30, 1995. The Saints beat the Bears 21-9, holding Chicago to 11 FDs and 239 yards, 99 of which came on the game's final drive. It ended with a 19-yard TD pass on the game's final play with no extra-point try (mattered to some).

However, both No. 3 seeds and No. 4 seeds lost at home. In the NFC, No. 3 Seattle never played with the lead against the Rams and was 2 of 14 on third downs. It was Seattle's first home playoff game in four years was a 'disaster, as the Seahawks saw their 10-game home playoff win streak snapped. The Rams allowed just 278 total yards and 11 FDs. LA had QB issues (Wolford was KO'd and Goff was far from healthy) but after a a terrific season, Seattle's Russell Wilson completed 11 of 27 for 174 yards, while throwing a "pick-6" and getting sacked FIVE times!

Over in the AFC, let me start with this. Pittsburgh's "Big Ben" threw for 501 yards and four TDs, leading the Steelers to 38 points. However, the Steelers were NEVER in the game. The Browns scored 14 seconds into the game and led 28-0 at the end of the second quarter! Cleveland was without head coach Kevin Stefanski, who tested positive for COVID-19, and assorted other coaches and players because of protocol related to the pandemic. The Browns had limited practice time NONE of that mattered. The Browns were playing their first playoff game since 2002 and walked away with the team's first playoff victory since beating the Pats on New Year's Day 1995 (1994 season). Think that's a big deal? Try this. It was the team's first playoff win on the road since Dec 28, 1969! The Steelers opened the 2020 season 11-0 but then lost FOUR of five, before Sunday' 48-37 loss to the Browns. 

Both No. 4 seeds also lost but neither result was a surprise. The No. 5 Bucs closed as a 10-point favorite at No. 4 Washington (7-9 record) and won 31-23, as Tom Brady threw for 381 yards and two TDs. It was 'old hat' for TB 12, who made his 42nd postseason start (31st win). However, it was his first not in a New England Patriots uniform and he led the Bucs to their first playoff victory since the 2002 season! However, Brady's counterpart made quite an impression. Taylor Heinicke made just his second pro start and first in the playoffs in place of injured starter Alex Smith. He was signed in early December to the practice squad and threw for 306 yards (one TD) and ran for 46 yards (one TD).

Baltimore was as hot as any NFL team down the stretch, closing 5-0 SU & ATS while outscoring opponents on average, 37.2-to-17.8 PPG. The Ravens had lost in the 2019 playoffs at home to Tennessee 28-12 and also 30-24 (OT) at home in Week 11, but were 3 or 3 1/2-point favorites at No. 4 Tennessee. The Ravens fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter but dominated the rest of the way in winning 20-13. Lamar Jackson finally got his first postseason victory (0-2), running for 136 yards and a 48-yard TD while throwing for 179 yards. The Baltimore D held Tennessee to its fewest points all season and smothered 2,000-yard rusher Derrick Henry. Henry had run all over the Ravens with 328 yards rushing combined in the last two meetings but had his worst performance of the season, gaining only 40 yards on 18 carries. The Ravens snapped a string of 21 straight games lost by the franchise in either the regular season or playoffs when trailing by 10 or more. Can we rename them the "Comeback Kids?"

My first look at the Division Round games will come in Wednesday's Notes and a final preview in Friday's Notes.

Good luck...Larry

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