Ness Notes: Thursday, Oct 8

by Larry Ness

The NFL kicks off its Week 5 when the 5-1 Bucs visit Chicago to take on the 3-1 Bears. You may just have heard that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers signed Tom Brady in the offseason and after a 34-23 loss in Week 1 at New Orleans (in a showdown with Drew Brees), Brady has looked great in three straight wins completing 65.5% with nine TDs and just two INTs. The Bears are also 3-1 and Brady may just remember his "opposite number" tonight. It's Nick Foles, who played a "game for the ages" when he led the Eagles to a 41-33 win against the Patriots (and Brady) in Super Bowl LII. He was the game's MVP completing 28-of-43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns plus caught a 1-yard TD pass on the “Philly Special" trick play that ranks as one of the most famous plays in NFL history (note: Brady passed for 505 yards in the loss, with three TD passes and zero INTs in 48 attempts). The Bucs are favored by 3 1/2-points and the total is 44.5. Something to ponder? NFL games have averaged a combined 51.3, the highest through four weeks of a season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger. Much more NFL in Friday's Notes.

 MLB Playoffs: In the NL, Travis d'Arnaud and Dansby Swanson each homered for the second straight day, as the Braves beat the Marlins 2-0. Ian Anderson scattered three hits and struck out eight over 5.2 innings, after he fanned nine in six scoreless innings in a wild card win over the Reds. The Braves are now just the THIRD team in MLB history to pitch three shutouts in the first four games of a postseason, joining the 1966 Baltimore Orioles and the 1905 New York Giants. Clayton Kershaw followed up his gem in the clinching game of the first round against Milwaukee (13 Ks over eight scoreless innings) with six strikeouts and no walks over six innings, although he allowed three runs, including back-to-back solo homers by Machado and Hosmer in the sixth. However, he got the "W," as the Dodgers held on for a 6-5 win over the Dodgers. The Padres were down one with a runner on and two outs in the seventh when Cody Bellinger extended his glove above the 8-foot wall to rob Tatis of what would have been a go-ahead HR. Joe Kelly retired Eric Hosmer on a routine grounder to earn the save after Dodgers All-Star closer Kenley Jansen wobbled (AGAIN) in the ninth. How about this? The Padres became the first team in 20 games this postseason to lose when outhomering their opponent. 

Over in the AL, the Astros had a chance to sweep A's but the wasted leads of 2-1 and 7-4. Houston's bullpen had stifled Oakland in the first two games with seven shutout innings of one-hit relief but Oakland rallied for three runs in the 7th and two more in the eighth for a 9-7 win. The A's entered the day 1-29 when trailing by at least three runs after the sixth inning in postseason games all-time but saved their season under that very scenario. Liam Hendriks recorded the final NINE outs to preserve a 9-7 win. Giancarlo Stanton hit a two-run HR in the eighth inning of Game 3 for the Yankees to become the first player with a HR in each of his team's first five games of a single postseason (has six HRs and 13 RBI in those five games) but it wasn't enough, The Rays' Randy Arozarena homered for the THIRD straight game on Wednesday, while Kevin Kiermaier and Michael Perez also went deep for the Rays, who beat Yankees 8-4. Charlie Morton got the win after holding the Yankees to two runs (one earned) on four hits in five innings. He struck out six and walked two in winning his FIFTH straight postseason decision. Masahiro Tanaka took the loss after allowing five runs on eight hits in four-plus innings.

In Thursday's games (listed in order of start times), the Marlins, A's, Yankees and Padres all face elimination. I'd post lines for the games but with pitching staffs being taxed with NO days off in these series, we never quite know when the managers will name a starter, allowing linemakers to post a price and handicappers to make a pick..

The CFB weekend opens Thursday night with a C-USA game, as Tulane visits Houston (7:30 ET on ESPN). The Green Wave are 2-1 (0-1 in C-USA), while the Cougars will FINALLY actually get to play a game. Houston has had a Sep 3 home game with Rice, a Sep 19 game at Baylor and a Sep 26 home game with North Texas, all postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. NONE of those games have been rescheduled, so the Cougars will only play a maximum of EIGHT games this season (let's hope). The Cougars are listed as a 6.5 favorite. Friday night at 7:00 ET (also on ESPN), it's an ACC contest when 1-2 Louisville visits 1-2 Ga Tech. The Cardinals entered the AP poll at No. 18 after a season-opening 35-21 win over Western Ky but have since dropped out after conference losses to losses to Miami (47-34) and Pittsburgh (23-20). Ga Tech opened its season with a 16-13 win at Florida St but has since lost 49-21 at home to UCF and 37-20 at Syracuse. Louisville is favored by 4.5 points.

Before getting to Saturday's games, let me take a quick look back at last week's results. There were two contests last Saturday featuring ranked teams and as has been the case in the early going, the higher ranked team won and covered in each one. No. 2 Alabama beat No. 13 Texas A&M 52-24 and No. 4 Georgia beat No. 7 Auburn. In top-25 showdowns in 202, the higher ranked team sit 6-0 SU and 5-1 ATS. However, in something I have been following (and sharing) for years, playing on ranked teams when matching up against unranked opponents can be dangerous to one's bankroll. So far in 2020, that has surely been the case. There were 14 ranked teams playing unranked opponents last weekend and they not only went just 8-6 SU but also a 'money-burning' 4-10 ATS. That leaves ranked teams 32-10 (.762) SU vs unranked opponents in 2020 but an abysmal 14-27-1 ATS (that's just 34.1%).

The two most shocking Saturday upsets last Saturday, lead me into my preview of this Saturday's games. Texas (-11) lost 33-31 at home to TCU, when the Longhorns fumbled at the Horned Frogs goal line on a 1st and goal play with about four minutes to go. The 'Horns dropped from No. 9 to No. 22 in the latest AP poll. Then there was Oklahoma (-7.5) losing 37-30 at Iowa St, giving the Hawkeyes their first win in Ames over the Sooners since 1960! Oklahoma has now dropped back-to-back regular-season games (lost 38-35 at home to Iowa St on Sep 26) for the first time since 1999. The Sooners were No. 3 in the AP poll two weeks ago but the loss to Iowa St dropped them out of the top-25, after spending 64 consecutive weeks inside the AP top-25. As fate would have it, Oklahoma and Texas meet in the Red River Showdown for the 116th time on Saturday. Texas holds a 62-48-5 edge all-time but the Sooners have won 14 of the 21 meetings since 2000. However, the "vibe" is different in 2020 for MANY reasons. The Red River Showdown is one of the most unique games in college football. The are fans split down the 50-yard-line. The State Fair of Texas is bustling just outside the Cotton Bowl gates and the bus rides by the teams through the fairgrounds to the stadium are jam-packed with thousands of fans lining the streets either cheering or jeering. COIVID-19 has changed all that. "To pull into the fairgrounds without anybody there will be a little eerie," Sooners head coach Lincoln Riley said. "It'll be different, there's no doubt. And that's just 2020 right now, I guess." What's more, with Oklahoma unranked and Texas at No. 22, NEITHER school is in the top-20 for this game for the 1st time since 1999! Oklahoma is a 2.5-point favorite.

Point of interest, this contest is my 10* Rivalry Game of the Year! BE THERE!

Getting back to business, Texas is one of SEVEN games this Saturday in which a ranked team faces an unranked opponent, an unusually small number. No. 2 Alabama is at Ole Miss (favored by 24.5 points) and Notre Dame is home to Florida St (Irish are favored by 20.5 points), among top-10 teams. Notre Dame has won EIGHT straight games, tied for the longest active winning streak among Power-5 schools. However, after just SIX meetings between ranked opponents up until now, there are FOUR such meetings on Saturday. No. 1 Clemson gets its first real test of the season when it hosts No. 7 Miami-Florida (Tigers are favored by 14). No. 3 Georgia is home to No. 14 Tennessee, which also owns EIGHT straight wins (Bulldogs are favored by 12.5). No. 4 Florida is at No. 21 Texas A&M (Gators are favored by 6.5) and No. 8 North Carolina is home to No. 19 Va Tech (Tar Heels are favored by 4.5). One quick 'shout out' to Air Force. The Falcons played their first game of 2020 last Saturday when they routed Navy, 40-7. The MWC originally said the league would not play football in the fall, so Air Force was only scheduled to play Navy and Army. However, the MWC will now play a six-game conference schedule, meaning the 'Fly Boys' will play eight games in all. I mention this because Air Force's win over Navy gave them NINE straight wins, the longest active streak among FBS schools (note: Air Force is 7-2 ATS during its winning run). Air Force will next play Oct 24th at San Jose St.

Good luck...Larry

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