Ness Notes: Saturday, Jan 2

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."

This is a special NFL week 17 edition of Ness Notes but first, some thoughts on the CFP semifinals. 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. Alabama scored on its first THREE possessions and seemed to get 'bored' after taking a 28-7 lead in the third quarter. It was another DISMAL performance by Notre Dame in a "big-time" bowl game, although Notre Dame bettors collected on a 'backdoor' cover with 56 seconds left. The 12-0 Crimson Tide move on to the CFP title game for the FIFTH time in the system's seven seasons (won in 2015 and 2017). 

Awaiting Alabama will be 7-0 Ohio St, the "11th-best" team in CFB according to seer Dabo Swinney! Trevor Who? 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 in a DOMINATING 49-28 win. Don't blame Trevor (400 passing yards and two TDs) but 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. No. 1 Alabama and 'No. 11' Ohio St will meet Jan 11 in Miami Gardens, Florida. Plenty of time to talk more about that game in the upcoming week.

NFL Week 17: I always like to "start at the bottom" and this week's 'bottom' is shared by 1-14 Jacksonville Jaguars and the division that has EARNED its title of NFC 'Least' in the 2020. season. In a land far, far, away and in one that 'time has forgot,' the Jaguars opened the 2020 season with a 27-20 win over the Indianapolis Colts (Jags were a 7-point home dog). To say the least, those respective teams have taken a different path since that Week 1 meeting, as this long-awaited "rematch" is set for Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in week 17. The Jags have lost 14 straight entering this game but have already won the Trevor Lawrence (Justin Fields?) sweepstakes. General manager David Caldwell was fired, QB Gardner Minshew has been benched and head coach Doug Marrone could be gone soon, too. Marrone is just 12-35 since leading Jacksonville to the AFC championship game following the 2017 season. What more could the Jags expect of him? As for the Colts, they enter this game 10-5 and could still win the AFC South title if Tennessee loses at Houston, as we HAVE to assume the Colts can beat the Jags, right? However, an Indy win only gets them into the playoffs if they get help by a loss from either the Cleveland Browns (10-5), Baltimore Ravens (10-5), Miami Dolphins (10-5) or Tennessee Titans (10-5). Indy is favored by 14 points and the over/under is 49 1/2.

There is ONE thing we are sure about in the NFC East and that is the division winner will finish with a losing record, making them the FIFTH team since the NFL-AFL merger to enter the playoffs with a losing record, and only the THIRD to do so during a 16-game season. However, there is one more thing we know and that is that the defending champion Eagles are the ONLY team in the division with NOTHING to play for on Sunday! The 6-9 Cowboys and 5-10 Giants meet at MetLife Stadium and the victor will keep its division title hopes alive for at least a few more hours. Both teams need a victory by the Philadelphia Eagles over the visiting Washington Football Team on Sunday night to clinch the crown. Talk about teams going in opposite directions. The Cowboys enter on a three-game winning streak and the Giants on a three-game slide Dallas is favored by 1 1/2-points and the over/under is 44 1/2.

Neither Dallas nor New York can advance if Washington wins its SNF game at Philadelphia but the news that the Eagles are fielding a 'JV team,' with players opting out, sitting out because of COVID and others just plain injured. Then again, who knows? After all, the Jets are on a two-game winning streak? Who'da thunk that? Washington began the season by abandoning a controversial nickname and caps it by moving on from a controversial QB. A 7-9 record is "just good enough" in this year's NFC 'Least.' Washington is favored by 3 1/2- points and the over/under is 43 1/2.

The oldest rivalry in NFL history features the 12-3 Packers visiting the 8-7 Bears. Green Bay can clinch a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win or a tie against the Bears. The Packers can also get a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks lose or tie against the San Francisco 49ers. As for Chicago, 'Da Bears can clinch an NFC playoff berth with a win but there also are two other pathways for the Bears to secure a postseason spot. They need 8-7 Arizona to lose at the 9-6 Los Angeles Rams OR, if the Bears and Cardinals each finish Sunday's games with tie scores. Wouldn't that be some 'Daily Double?' Green Bay is on a five-game winning streak and Chicago on a three-game run. The Packers are favored by 4 1/2-points and the over/under is 50 1/2. 

The 8-7 Arizona Cardinals are on the road vs the Los Angeles Rams and win gets them in the playoff field. However, while the Rams are a game better at 9-6, the Rams need a victory or a Chicago Bears loss to the Green Bay Packers to make the playoff field. The bad news for LA is that QB Jared Goff is out with a thumb injury and WR Kupp tested positive for COVID-19. Arizona is favored by three points and the over/under is 40 1/2. Staying in the NFC West, 11-4 Seattle will play the 6-9 49ers in their 'home-away-from-home,' Glendale, Az. The Seahawks can still earn the NFC's top seed and a first-round bye with a victory but only with a loss by Green Bay at Chicago and a loss or tie by 11-4 New Orleans at 5-10 Carolina. Seattle is favored by seven points and the over/under is 46.

Wrapping up the NFC, the 11-4 Saints (11-4) can clinch the overall No. 1 seed in the NFC if they win at Carolina along with a Seattle victory at San Francisco, as long as Green Bay loses at Chicago. It was hardly good news that Alvin Kamamra tested positive for COVID-19 and won't play here (playoff status is unknown). The Saints are favored by 6 1/2-points and the over/under is 47. The 10-5 Tampa Bay Bradys are home to the Falcons and have already clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 13 years and are in great shape to host the sub-.500 winner of the NFC East as the No. 5 seed. Tampa Bay is favored by seven points and the over/under is 50 1/2.

Back to the AFC, where the defending champions KC Chiefs (14-1) own the No. 1 seed and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The 12-3 Buffalo Bills have already clinched their first division title since 1995 but a win over the visiting 10-5 Dolphins would lock up the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. Miami needs a win in Sunday's regular-season finale at Buffalo to guarantee its first postseason berth since 2016. However, the Dolphins can also get into the playoffs with one loss by either the Browns, Colts or Ravens. Buffalo is favored by three points and the over/under is 42 1/2. The 10-5 Cleveland Browns will make the postseason with a win over the visiting 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh already knows it will be the No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the postseason (a Buffalo loss and a Pittsburgh win gives the Steelers the No. 2 seed), which led head coach Mike Tomlin declaring this week that Ben Roethlisberger will get the week off (Mason Rudolph will get his first start of the year). Cleveland could still sneak into the playoffs with a loss (provided the right combination of other teams lose and/or win) but when the Browns haven't made the postseason since 2002, they surely don't want to be 'scoreboard watching.' Cleveland is favored by 9 1/2-points and the over/under is 41 1/2.

The 10-5 Baltimore Ravens have won FOUR in a row and can 'punch their ticket' for a third straight trip to the playoffs with a win Sunday at 4-10-1 Cincinnati or if the Browns lose to the Steelers (12-3), or via a loss by the Colts to the Jaguars (1-14). Cincinnati has won two straight but beating the Ravens may be a 'bridge too far!' Baltimore is favored by 13 1/2-points and the over/under is 44. which has won two straight games. My final 'stop' is at NRG Stadium where the 4-11 Houston Texans host the 10-5 Tennessee Titans. The Titans currently sit atop the AFC South (win tiebreaker with the Colts) but with FIVE teams vying for four AFC playoff spots all sporting the same 10-5 record, there are no guarantees for the Titans. Tennessee is in if it wins but at this point, I'm too exhausted to look into what happens if the Titans lose. Maybe they can play Clemson? Tennessee is favored by 7 1/2-points and the over/under is 56.

Good luck...Larry

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